Motivational Reading Environments for Children

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What is a motivating Reading Environment? How are children encouraged to become independent readers for pleasure in primary school?

The Annual Literacy Survey in 2016 states that there has been an increase in the number of children and young people reading for pleasure from 54.8% in 2015 to 58.6% in 2016 (Clark and Teravainen, 2017). This trend reflects the annual research undertaken by the National Literacy Trust (NLT) that has found numbers increasing each year since 2010. However, these figures illustrate that almost half of all children and young people still do not enjoy reading for pleasure (Clark and Teravainen, 2017). The Independent Review of the Teaching of Early Reading led by Jim Rose in 2005, despite its focus on developing the mechanics of reading, argues that developing a positive relationship with reading and literature has important implications on children’s reading ability and achievement (DfES, 2006). Evidence also suggests that motivating children to read for pleasure has a positive impact on their social and emotional development and individual outcomes as future citizens (Clark and Rumbold, 2006. The Reading Agency, 2015). In considering the development and motivation of independent readers it is first necessary to define the differences between the terms ‘reading’ and ‘reading for pleasure’ in the context of the primary classroom. The physical elements required to provide a motivating reading environment and how space and resources can be used to promote reading for pleasure will then be discussed, including the benefits and constraints in practice. Consideration will then be given to the cultural perspective; the impact that the reading ethos of schools and professional practice has on fostering a positive reading environment and developing reading for pleasure within and outside of the primary classroom.

Reading as a process can be defined as a cognitive skill that develops word recognition, comprehension and interpretation to gain meaning from text (Williams, 1984). The National Curriculum for England and Wales defines reading as having two dimensions; word reading and comprehension. The programme of study has an emphasis on the skills of decoding, whole word recognition, phonetic and phonemic awareness, vocabulary, punctuation and grammar (DfE, 2013). Reading as a functional skill that is explicitly taught has been observed in own practice. Children are taught the skills to decode text and information through phonics development and word recognition, and then developing comprehension skills through the ‘Language of Thinking’ programme to move children from concrete to abstract language comprehension (Parsons and Branagan, 2017). The National Curriculum also places importance on reading for pleasure and it is stated that children should read a wide range of “fiction and non-fiction to develop their knowledge of themselves and the world in which they live, (and) to establish an appreciation and love of reading” (DfE, 2013, p. 4). Reading for pleasure differs from the cognitive and functional skill development inferred from the term ‘reading’ to include using these functional skills to read texts for enjoyment, as a free choice. Nell (1988) defined reading for pleasure as a form of play where children can have new experiences beyond their reality taking on different roles and developing new ideas. The skill of reading as a process is important for children’s academic and literacy development, and it is essential they develop the functional skills and fluency to become proficient readers (NRP, 2000). However, studies have shown that reading for pleasure not only improves reading ability and comprehension but develops children’s social and emotional intelligence and understanding of the world (Billington, 2015). Sullivan and Brown (2013) argued that reading for pleasure had a greater impact on children’s overall development and outcomes than parental educational achievement and socio-economic status. To develop a love of reading and to motivate children to choose to read, there is a need to ensure they have autonomy over the material they are reading and that the range of material available to them is broad and appealing (Clark and Rumbold, 2006. DfE, 2012). In own practice, reading for pleasure has been observed primarily when children are able to choose their own books from the library to take home, although it should be noted that the selection of literature is limited. The physical environment and resources available to children within a primary setting has a profound impact on their choices and therefore their access to developing independent reading for pleasure.

The physical reading environment can have a positive or negative impact on children’s relationships with reading and how they value literature (Lockwood, 2008). Morrow, Reutzel and Casey (2006) argue that how the physical elements in the classroom are arranged can promote reading by encouraging children to access available materials. Book areas in classrooms and the school library should, therefore, be attractive and accessible (CLPE, 2014). When designing the reading environment, it is also necessary to consider the range of needs and abilities of the pupils including those with English as an Additional Language (EAL) or with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND), the material should be accessible to all pupils. The area should also be comfortable and inviting, a place where children can enjoy reading and fully immerse in the experience (Gamble, 2013). Reading should not only be promoted in the book corner or the library; labels with words and pictures can be used across the classroom and the school to expose children to a range of written language in a variety of contexts (Dorrell, 2002). Constraints when creating the ideal classroom reading area include a lack of space. In own setting, it has been observed that although all classrooms have a dedicated area for books, this does not necessarily infer a dedicated area for reading. Lack of space has an impact on the area available for children to relax and read. Some classrooms have beanbags and cushions, though these are not always accessible. Books are however visible, and in most classrooms and the school library, there is storage that allows for books to be displayed front facing which encourages pupils to engage with the material available (Morrow and Weinstein, 1986). Limitations of space require that teachers be creative in how the physical space is arranged and enabling children’s access to a wide range of material (UNESCO, 2004).

The range and quality of literacy materials available to children in the reading environment has a direct impact on the opportunities given to developing language, motivating children to read independently and increasing autonomy over what they read, all of which are required to create a motivating reading environment (Clark and Foster, 2005).  Having a range of material available increases choice, and studies have identified a clear link between choice and motivation, and that reading for pleasure is fostered when children can choose their own reading material (Gambrell, 2009, 2011). The range of books will also need to be more interesting and engaging than other available activities to positively impact the reading behaviour of pupils (Clark and Rumbold, 2006). Ofsted, in 2004, found that available books tended to reflect what teacher’s believed children should be reading over children’s own interests. These findings are reflected in own setting where many of the books in the library and the classrooms have links to learning and the curriculum. Having different types of literature for children to choose from will increase their range of choice and expose them to range of literary style and influences. Books that are not integrated into the curriculum or part of a school’s reading list can also inform children’s social and emotional intelligence. To illustrate, a study by Vezzali, Stahi, Giovannini, Capozza and Trifiletti (2015) argued that children that had read Harry Potter books demonstrated a greater tolerance and understanding of minority groups.

Providing a wide range of fiction and non-fiction books is not enough to create a motivating reading environment. Teachers must support children to make appropriate choices while allowing them control over their own learning as children that struggle with reading often choose reading material that is too advanced for them which can demotivate them (Gambrell, 2011). The Ofsted report in ‘Reading for Pleasure and Purpose’ also identified that most schools had good library facilities and encouraged children to use the library, however, not enough input was given to children to use the library effectively and research information independently (Ofsted, 2004). A motivating environment that encourages children to read for pleasure should therefore provide a range of physical resources and scaffold children’s access. Evidence suggests that reading frequency is also an important factor (Clark and Douglas, 2011).

The frequency of reading has a direct impact on the relationship children have with literature as well as their reading ability (Clark and Douglas, 2011). Therefore, teachers should provide daily opportunities where children are able to experience books for their own enjoyment, beyond the demands of the curriculum, either as an individual or whole-class activity (Times Educational Supplement, 2018). The NLT Survey in 2016 reported an increase in the number of children reading for pleasure, however, there was 11% decrease in children reading daily than in the previous year (Clark and Trevainen, 2017). Research from the Oxford University Press (OUP) in 2016 found that over half of teachers surveyed cited time as a challenge in developing children’s love of reading. However, it should be noted that the OUP research highlighted that a love of reading can still be fostered in children using classic literature and other texts from the curriculum (OUP, 2016). Observations in own practice reflect the NLT and OUP findings. Most reading in the classroom, individual and group-based, is directly linked to the curriculum or undertaken for assessment purposes. Children have opportunities to take books home that they have selected from the library, though time is seldom found to share these books within the school setting and the expectation is that parents will read with their child outside of school. For this approach to be effective there needs to be good communication and relationships between school, children and parents (Clark and Rumbold, 2006. Cremin, Mottram, Collins, Powell and Safford, 2009).

The home environment has a huge impact on whether children read for pleasure and their reading frequency (Clark and Poulton, 2011). Therefore, schools should build strong parental relationships and support parents to provide access to literature, share books and promote the value of reading.  In the first NLT Annual Survey, Clark (2011) suggests parents that provide a range of books at home increase their child’s reading ability, choices over what they read and influence early reading for pleasure. In own practice, where the home environment has difficulty in providing books, extra books can be sent home from the library as well as reading books for children to enjoy with parents and siblings. This promotes the value of reading across children’s home and school experience and increases their exposure to literature. Having a strong culture of reading in school that is valued and supported by parents at home also has a greater impact on children’s chances of become “lifetime readers” than socioeconomic status or parental level of education (Clark and Rumbold, 2006. Hume, Lonigan and McQueen, 2015). Consideration should be given to parents that have difficulties in understanding or reading language themselves, as well as parents that are not engaged with school (DCSF, 2009). In these instances, a greater effort is needed from teachers to build relationships and provide support. Where parents still do not engage the role of the teacher in fostering a love of reading will be of even greater importance.

Teachers knowledge of the types of literature to make available in the classroom and how to make appropriate recommendations to children has a deep impact on developing independent readers for pleasure (Ofsted, 2004. Cremin, Mottram, Collins and Powell, 2008).

Teachers shoud regularly reflect and change the areas and the literature content to maintain interestMateerial and literature shouldinclude a wide range and cover the interest of all pupils to maximise engagement – including boys girls sen eal.

Teachers also need to model reading for enjoyment to enable children to develop positive relationships with the texts they encounter them (Cremin, Mottram, Bearne and Goodwin, Lockwood, 2008). This approach is particularly effective in encouraging reluctant readers to find enjoyment in reading Krashen, 1999). In some settings the ‘Drop Everything and Read’ initiative, where for twenty minutes all pupils and staff stop what they are doing and read, has been implemented. This initiative and others like it provide opportunities for teachers to model pleasure in reading (The Guardian, 2014). However, it has been seen that these initiatives are not available in all schools. Teachers can also model appropriately by reading out loud to the class, this also enables children to access and enjoy literature beyond their reading ability (Chambers, 2011). In own practice working with children with SEND, it has been observed that modelling reading makes text accessible to all abilities and creates engagement. Whole class reading also enables children “to hear, share and discuss a wide range of high quality books to develop a love of reading” (DfE, 2013, p.9).

In recent years the importance of developing reading for pleasure in children and young people has gained greater impetus. The impact on educational attainment and overall academic, emotional, social and cultural development has seen school continue to move away from only teaching the mechanics of reading to creating independent readers for pleasure (The Reading Agency, 2015).  To create a motivating reading environment and encourage children to read for pleasure a culture and ethos of reading should be fostered within the classroom and across the whole school.

This is achieved through providing regular, daily opportunities to read for pleasure; independently, in groups and as a class. (REF). The main challenge facing teachers in the classroom is facilitating time for children to read. Teachers can overcome the challenge of time constraints by encouraging parental involvement and providing children with books of their own that they can take home to share (REF). Children need access and opportunity to experience books of their own choosing and guidance from teachers where needed to make appropriate choices (REF). Children’s positive relationships with books can be fostered in an environment where shared reading and appropriate adult modelling and scaffolding enables them to enjoy literature of all types regardless of ability or disability (Chambers, 2011). The reading environments should reflect the importance of reading as a skill and as an experience to immerse in, that children are engaged with and have some control over (Hudson and Williams, 2015). Areas should be designed appropriately to facilitate enjoyment and positive experiences while providing wide range of engaging and interesting literature. (REF). The role of a teacher in encouraging children to become readers for pleasure is vital and requires practitioners to consider all aspects of the learning environment. It is essential that the value placed on reading for pleasure is applied to the ethos and culture in schools and teacher pedagogy to ensure the best outcomes for children and young people.

References:

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         Vezzali, L., Stathi. Giovannni, D., Capozza, D. and Trifiletti, E. (2015). ‘The Greatest Magic of Harry Potter: Reducing Prejudice.’ Journal of Applied Psychology. 45 (2), pp.105- 121.

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