Do Children Read Purely For Enjoyment Education Essay

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The term reading for pleasure is the one used most often in official British curriculum documents. Pleasure and enjoyment are both words that occur, for example, in England's National Curriculum (NC) programmes of study for reading (DfEE/QCA, 1999: 46). Reading is an important first step to personal development, and to social, economic and civic life (Holden, 2004 cited in Clark and Rumbold, 2006). It allows us to learn "about other people, about history and social studies, language, science, mathematics, and the other content subjects that must be mastered in school. The National Literacy Trust defined reading for pleasure as

"reading that we do of our own free will, anticipating the satisfaction that we will get from the act of reading. It also refers to reading that having begun at someone else's request we continue because we are interested in it"

Nell (1988), also states that reading for pleasure is a form of play that allows us to experience other worlds and roles in our imagination. This is supported by Holden (2004 cited in Clark and Rumbold, 2006) who also regarded reading as a "creative activity" that is far removed from the passive pursuit it is frequently perceived to be. Others such as Graff (1992) have described reading for pleasure as an interpretive activity, which is shaped by the reader's expectations and experiences as well as by the social contexts in which it takes place.

However, reading for pleasure could be described as being much more than just a form of play and escapism; it is also a way of connecting with a text. Pullman (2004), wrote on the features that make reading pleasurable:

"Consider the nature of what happens when we read a book...It isn't like a lecture: its like a conversation. There's a back-and-forthness about it. The book proposes, the reader questions, the book responds, the reader considers.

And we are active about the process...We can skim or we can read it slowly; we can read every word, or we can skip long passages; we can read it in the order it presents itself, or we can read it in any order we please; we can look at the last page first, or decide to wait for it; we can put the book down and...we can assent or we can disagree."

This extract has been taken from a Guardian article, and is written by the author Phillip Pullman. He describes reading as a democratic activity because the reader can take charge of what they read. On the other hand, he states that theocracies have a narrow idea of what literacy is, in that they believe it contains only one thing, and has only one purpose (Pullman, 2004). Although the article was most likely to have been written with adults in mind, the extract taken could be applied to readers of all ages.

All definitions fit in with idea of reading for pleasure. Connecting with a text enables the reader to engage fully in what they are reading. However, when engaged in a text we are able to experience different worlds and roles which can expand our imaginations.

Are children reading for pleasure?

According to Clark and Rumbold (2006), research suggests that a growing number of children do not read for pleasure, and that there appears to be a decline in the numbers of children reading for pleasure over time. Between 2000 and 2009, on average, the percentage of children who reported reading for enjoyment daily dropped by 5%, from 69% to 64% (OECD, 2010). This signals the challenge for schools to engage young people in reading activities that they find relevant and interesting.

The primary aim of the research conducted by Clark and Rumbold (2006) was to explore reading for pleasure, with the main focus being on children. Their research has been used a great deal within this paper for its relevance to the assignment title.

This finding is supported by evidence from the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS), which indicated that attitudes to reading have declined slightly in England (in 2006 compared to 2001) (Twist et al. 2007 cited in ESARD, 2012). What was found highlighted that children in England had less positive attitudes to reading than children in most other countries. It was also identified that girls generally enjoy reading more than boys. This is looked at, more in depth, further on in the paper.

Additionally, a survey by the publishers Pearson, who questioned teachers, identified that 74% warned that pupils did not spend enough time reading outside the classroom (BBC News, 2012). Children's author Frank Cottrell Boyce highlights the issue by saying, "It's worrying to think that so many young children are not being inspired to pick up a good book and get lost in a story." (BBC News, 2012). This highlights a clear need to make sure that children are being provided with the right types of books which stimulate their interest, capture their imagination and make them want to turn the next page.

Why do children read?

Evidence suggests that reading for pleasure is not always cited as the main reason for children reading. Studies have explored the issue of why children read and there have been comparable results. The majority of children surveyed responded with skills based reasons, reasons to do with learning and understanding, or emotional reasons (ESARD, 2012). This is supported by a survey conducted by the National Literacy Trust (NLT) as part of Reading Connects (Clark and Foster, 2005), who found that the majority of children emphasised skills related reasons for reading. Half of the children said they read because it is a skill for life and because it will help them find what they want or need to know. More boys than girls reported that they read because it will help them get a job or because they have to. Girls indicated that reading is fun, teaches them how other people live and because it gives them a break.

However, a study conducted by Dungworth et al (2004) showed results that pointed more strongly towards pleasure being a reason for children reading. This fitted in with the idea that reading was emotional, and related to the way reading made them feel. Some children also said that they read because it was relaxing. It should be noted that this survey was only conducted with year 5 pupils and therefore does not perhaps show a true representation of primary school children of all ages.

The literature suggests that there is a split between reasons why children read. On the one hand there are the children who read for enjoyment and for relaxation, whilst others do it primarily because it is educational and informative. However, the majority of children do appear to lean towards more skill related reasons as to why they read. This indicates that the pleasure may be taken out of reading for them.

The benefits linked with reading for pleasure?

Research with children has shown that reading for pleasure is positively linked with many benefits. Clark and Rumbold (2006:8-9) identified these main areas as the benefits to reading for pleasure in the National Literacy Trust's Reading for Pleasure:

Reading attainment and writing ability;

Text comprehension and grammar;

Breadth of vocabulary;

Positive reading attitudes;

Greater self confidence as a reader;

Pleasure in reading in later life;

General knowledge;

A better understanding of other cultures;

Community participation, and

A greater insight into human nature and decision-making

According to the National Literacy Trust, they are dedicated to building a literate nation and stress the importance of reading for pleasure as one way to advance literacy attainment in children. Similarly, Clark and De Zoysa (2011), who have been referred to below, also focussed their research on young people. Due to the complexity of some of the questions and concepts, they decided to restrict the age range of participating pupils to upper KS2 (9-11 years and older), therefore the findings cannot perhaps be generalised to all pupils in lower KS2 and KS1. Reading for pleasure in KS1 and lower KS2 is an area that does require more focus and research.

Clark and De Zoysa (2011) found a significant positive relationship between enjoyment and attainment. This indicates that children who read more are also better readers. However, they made no implication regarding cause and effect, therefore higher attainment may lead to more enjoyment of reading or greater enjoyment may lead to higher attainment. In a large scale survey, Clark (2011) similarly found that those who reported enjoying reading were six times more likely than those who did not enjoy reading to read above the expected level for their age. In contrast, children who reported not enjoying reading at all were 11 times more likely than those who enjoyed reading to read below the level expected for their age. It was also found that only one in ten children who read rarely or never, scored above the level expected for their age compared with one in three of young people who read everyday. This is again strongly supported by PIRLS, who reported that "there is a strong association between the amount of reading for pleasure children reported and their reading achievement."

Guthrie and Wigfield (2000) also discovered that children, who become engaged with reading, provide themselves with "self-generated" learning opportunities that are equivalent to several years of education. They also identified that children with a positive attitude to reading are more likely to practice the reading skills they are learning at school. Similarly, like Clark and Rumbold (2006), Guthrie and Wigfield have focussed mainly on young people, through discussing engaged reading, with its attention being on the contribution of children's motivation.

In addition to this, research has shown how developing a love of reading is important for children's life chances. According to the OECD (2002), discovering ways to engage pupils in reading may be one of the most effective ways to influence social change. Their analysis showed that pupils whose parents had the lowest occupational status, but who were highly engaged in reading, obtained higher average reading scores than students whose parents had high or medium occupational status but who were poorly engaged in reading (NUT, 2011).

"Reading for Pleasure" is a key policy for the National Union of Teachers (NUT, 2011:4) their guide proposes that,

"the National Curriculum and its statutory assessment system, Ofsted inspections and the accountability regime, target setting, school improvement and action plans all exert a significant influence on what teachers do in the classroom."

As a result, reading for pleasure can be viewed as a luxury and occurs rarely in the classroom. Also, the tendency towards using extracts from books rather than whole texts for practice and preparation, the attractiveness and immediacy of a range of digital media, the shrinkage of school and public libraries and the time demands of ensuring full curriculum coverage have all gone against schools encouraging pupils to read for pleasure.

Other research into benefits of reading for pleasure has identified that children who are read to everyday, at age three, have a vocabulary of a child aged five which is nearly two months more advanced than those who are not (Washbook and Waldfogel, 2010).

Furthermore, evidence also illustrates that reading for pleasure can benefit children beyond the classroom and into their adult life, therefore enriching the world around us. The International Reading Association (1999) believes that children who enter the adult world in the 21st century will read and write more than any other time in history. They will need advanced levels of literacy to perform their jobs, run their households and conduct their personal lives etc. They deem literacy to be that important that they will need it to cope with "the flood of information they will find everywhere they turn." This is supported by Hargreaves Macintyre (2005) who stated that poor reading skills show a relationship with lack of employment, lower wages and fewer opportunities for advancement.

According to Clark and Rumbold (2006), reading for pleasure has not been a huge research priority. Nevertheless, studies are accumulating that emphasise the importance of reading for pleasure, for both educational as well as personal development. These studies show that promoting reading can have a major impact on children and their future. However, it should be noted that the majority of these studies are based on connected research and would benefit from a more rigorous approach.

Motivation for reading

Research into reading has identified the importance of reading motivation in explaining literacy behaviour. Guthrie and Wigfield (2000), define reading motivation as.

"the individual's personal goals, values and beliefs with regard to the topics, processes, and outcomes of reading."

They suggest that reading motivation is a multi-faceted "construct" that includes reading goals, intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, self-efficacy and social motivation for reading.

In addition to this, the National Literacy Trust (2006) state that research has repeatedly shown that motivation to read decreases with age, especially if children's attitudes towards reading become less positive (McKenna et al, 1995). Consequently if children do not enjoy reading when they are young, then they are unlikely to do so when they get older.

In motivation research, investigators and practitioners have focused primarily on task-mastery orientation, i.e. succeeding at a task. Individuals with a performance orientation endeavour to maximise favourable evaluations to their ability (Thorkildsen and Nicholls, 1998). Performance orientation is seen as extrinsic motivation. It is associated with the use of surface strategies for reading and desire to complete a task rather than to understand or enjoy a text (Meece and Miller, 1999 cited in Guthrie and Wigfield, 2000).

Wigfield and Guthrie (1997 cited in Guthrie and Wigfield, 2000) inform that extrinsic motivation was made up of three aspects. The first being reading for recognition, this is the pleasure in receiving a tangible form of recognition for success. Secondly, reading for grades, whereby a child desires to be favourably evaluated by the teacher, and lastly competition in reading is the desire to outperform others in reading.

In contrast, Ryan and Deci (2000) refer to intrinsic motivation as engagement in an activity that is based on personal interest in an activity itself. Hidi (2000), state that readers who are intrinsically motivated are more likely to find a variety of topics that interest them, and benefit from an accompanying sense of pleasure.

It should be noted that although the studies by Meece and Miller (1999), Thorkildsen and Nicholls (1998), Ryan and Deci (2000) and Hidi (2000) focused primarily on children, they were conducted in America and therefore attitudes towards reading may be different to those in the UK. However, a survey carried out by the International Reading Association (1995) identified that like the UK, girls possessed more favourable attitudes than boys at all grade levels.

Self efficacy is another aspect of reading motivation. Bandura (1986) defines it as "people's judgements of their capabilities to organise and execute course of action required to attain designated types of performances." An individual's beliefs about their capabilities can influence motivation and behaviour (Bandura, 1982). Therefore, in this context, it could be said that when a child evaluates their own competence in reading and, believes their efforts have been successful, their confidence is increased and willingness to try similar and more challenging books occurs. Additional studies by Quirk et al (2009) and Jackson (2002) have supported Bandura's theory.

Much research into this area has concluded that students with high intrinsic motivation, a task orientation, and high self efficacy are relatively active readers and high achievers (Guthrie et al, 2000).

Boys vs. Girls

According to ESARD (2012) studies have revealed that boys enjoy reading less than girls. A survey conducted by Clark and Douglas (2011) for The National Literacy Trust, identified that there has been a significant gap between boys and girls who enjoy reading. In 2005, 10.7% more girls than boys enjoyed reading; by 2009 this had widened to 15%.

As a result of these statistics, Clark and Douglas (2011) made this bold statement:

"Its implications are significant not simply for literacy but for boys' wider educational attainment and ultimately their life prospects."

This statement stresses the importance of reading for enjoyment. Also, despite a large number of national promotions of reading, focused on boys between 2005 and 2011, they are still not reading for pleasure as much as girls. Had these not occurred, the gap may have been even wider.

Strategies that have been introduced to encourage boys to read have focussed on two approaches. Through programmes such as the National Literacy Trust's Reading Champions project, the aim is to change attitudes to reading. Also, boys are given the opportunity to read by being provided with free reading materials from schemes such as Boys into Books.

According to Maloney (2000), the author of Boys and Books: Building a Culture of Reading Around Our Boys, boys generally like to read books that reflect their image of themselves, particularly what they aspire to be and what they want to do, i.e. something that they can relate to. Also, books that can make them laugh and appeal to their sense of mischief and fiction that focuses on action more than emotions. Interestingly, boys enjoy books that are part of a series, such as the Harry Potter series as they appear to provide boys with a sense of comfort and familiarity. Perhaps unsurprisingly, many boys tend to be passionate about science fiction and fantasy. Finally, newspapers, magazines, comic books, sports cards and instruction manuals, these are materials that are often not available in the classroom. Research suggests that when boys read these materials, they do not consider themselves to be reading at all, because these materials are not valued at school.

It could be said that The National Literacy Trust provides fairly valuable and reliable information. 17,089 pupils aged 8-16 from 112 schools from England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales participated in the online survey on young people's attitudes towards reading in November and December 2009.

One piece of research that has been prevalent throughout looking at gender differences and reading for pleasure is that access to reading materials for boys seems still to be an issue and seems to relate to parental attitudes towards reading. Clark and Douglas (2011) state that boys are less likely to say that they have access to a computer, magazines, newspapers or books compared with girls. Also, whilst 79.1% of girls say they have books of their own at home, only 66.5% of boys say they do. This indicates that there may be a need for campaigns to address social attitudes around boy's reading, and the parental role in resource provision suggests that parents may have a role to play in addressing the gender gap.

Interestingly on placement more boys read and appeared to enjoy reading more, however this is only one class and cannot be generalised to the population.

The current standard of teaching of reading in schools

The Literacy Guide for Primary Schools 2012-2013 announced that the standard of teaching of literacy, in primary schools around the United Kingdom is better than it ever has been. They state that schools are delivering lessons which are thorough, innovative and creative and, as a result children are motivated and learning takes place (National Literacy Trust, 2012).

However, there was still one in five children failing to achieve the expected level at Key Stage 2 in 2011.

In terms of change, the new draft curriculum for English (2012 cited in National Literacy Trust 2012) puts a strong emphasis on the teaching of systematic synthetic phonics. Furthermore, the Teachers' Standards require for all teachers to "demonstrate an understanding of and take responsibility for promoting high standards of literacy, articulacy and the correct use of Standard English." (DfEs, 2012).

Ofsted (2010) characterised excellence in reading by establishing phonic knowledge and skills and their application through reading, writing and comprehension of what they're reading. Also broadening and extending the range and quality of reading, and finally, enhancing the teaching of reading by its application across the wider curriculum.

The 12 schools chosen for the Ofsted (2010) study all had above average results in both KS1 and KS2. They represented a range of ethnic and socio economic backgrounds, and the schools were widely distributed and included urban and rural settings. Although the amount of schools chosen is somewhat small, the fact that they represent a spectrum of different backgrounds highlights the fact that any school can achieve excellence in teaching children to read, and encourage reading for pleasure. However, one criticism of putting so much focus on phonics and children being tested on their reading at the age of six is that children may be put off reading for pleasure (Guardian, 2011).

The report dismisses past concerns regarding fears about the effect of structured learning and teaching on three and four year olds by saying that they have little foundation. However, they make the strong point that some of the principles of synthetic phonics, such as inflexibility and adhering only to decidable books until the child no longer needs formal systematic phonics teaching, could introduce an "artificial ceiling and reduce the motivation of children who want to explore books and take on the challenge of reading for themselves" (Ofsted, 2010). It is agreed that what is important is that children who struggle to acquire the vital skills of blending and segmenting are given as much help as possible (Ofsted 2010).

Encouraging reading for pleasure in the classroom

Aside from ensuring a depth of subject knowledge in the principles, theory and progression of phonics, teachers need to "immerse the children in a rich reading environment" by reading a wide range of quality texts (National Literacy Trust, 2012:4).

The NUT (2011) discusses the benefits of children being read aloud to in the classroom. Studies have shown that children who are read to are more likely to do better in school both academically and socially. Alan Gibbon, author and teacher, knows firsthand the benefits of effective, reading aloud time. In his 'Reading for Pleasure' guide, for the NUT, he states that reading aloud is about creating a positive reading experience to engage the students. Therefore teachers need to model their enthusiasm for books and reading them. This can be achieved through performing the voices of the different characters in the books: asking questions every so often to find out what everyone thinks might happen next to help build suspense and to make it more interesting for the listeners and, finally, stopping the story at an exciting point. This will make the listener want to come back and read some more.

On placement, the teacher demonstrated these skills excellently and it was evident that the children loved being read aloud to. It was clear that the teacher was familiar with the book as there was no stumbling over words and phrases which made it much more enjoyable for the listener. The voices were executed brilliantly and the children were kept engaged and always looked forward to reading more.

Obviously, providing the children regular time to read self-chosen books silently is also really important. Schraw et al (1998 cited in Clark and Rumbold 2006) found that there was a positive relationship between choice and affective aspects of reading, such as motivation. Children are much more likely to choose a book that looks interesting to them. Research from the United Kingdom Literacy Association (UKLA) highlighted the need for quality time for independent reading in the classroom. In school, it was observed, that the children usually read silently when they came into the classroom first thing in the morning, however, more time is perhaps needed whereby children get a set amount of time to read silently as it appeared that the amount of children reading for pleasure was relatively low. One strategy to be considered is Drop Everything and Read (DEAR) (NUT, 2011). At a set time of the week, everyone in the school (including all staff), stops what they are doing and read something they enjoy for 20/30 minutes.

Finally reading promotion programmes need to be implemented that make reading an experience that is actively sought out by students (Clark and Rumbold, 2006). There is also a need for schools to recognise that a wide range of reading materials will encourage students to read.

From practice, it was made aware that schools tend to read aloud extracts rather than the whole book. A study commissioned by the educational publisher Heinemann, part of Pearson Education, was the first wide-scale research into the use of books in literacy teaching in the UK. The research involved over 500 primary teaching staff from 500 schools in the country. Amazingly, 12% of primary school teachers said they had never read a complete book with their class. It appears that this depicts a worrying picture of dependence on small extracts, rather than whole books, for literacy. The research also identified that nearly two-thirds of teachers felt that reading only extracts in class could potentially turn children off reading, at the same time a further one in five say they saw evidence of this already happening. It was also found that six in ten teachers believe that reading whole books in their classrooms would have real academic benefits on their pupils, both in exam performance and academic success (Edinger, 2009). The problem that appears to arise here is that if children aren't getting the experience of reading whole books in class, they may never get that appreciation for them. Reading extracts only, may also mean that you are missing out on the best and most vital bits of a book.


To conclude, the research suggests that there has been a slight decline in children reading for pleasure. It is also evident that girls tend to read for enjoyment more so than boys. However, there are gaps in this area, and more research is required. Boys who do read are more likely to do so for skills-related reasons, such as, to help them to get a job in the future (Clark and Foster, 2005). It has also been made apparent that there are many benefits to reading for pleasure; these include reading attainment, positive reading attitudes and greater self confidence as a reader (Clark and Rumbold, 2006).

There are various ways to get children reading for pleasure in the classroom. Including the teacher reading aloud to them; putting on the voices of the different characters and, stopping to ask questions relating to the book. Also, giving the children the opportunity to read silently to themselves and giving them the freedom choose their own book. Finally, there are strategies currently in place to encourage children to not only read more but to also read for pleasure.

Overall the subject of reading for pleasure has been fairly well researched. However, there are gaps. One topic that requires more focus is whether higher attainment leads to more enjoyment of reading or greater enjoyment lead to higher attainment as there is little research in this area. Although the majority of researchers state that children who read more and, enjoy reading are better readers, there is no implication of its causality. Also, although there is evidence of research into the area of reading motivation, much of it has been conducted in America and therefore it is unknown whether it can be made relevant to the UK. For this reason it would be interesting to conduct work in the UK to see if the findings are the same or if they differ.