Teachers’ love of reading inspires ākonga

Issue: Volume 102, Number 1

Posted: 2 February 2023
Reference #: 1HAZ8G

Reading for pleasure provides multiple benefits. It builds educational, cognitive, and general literacy skills, and supports health and wellbeing.

Sue McDowall says a teacher who is a reader has something extra that makes a difference to ākonga.

Sue McDowall says a teacher who is a reader has something extra that makes a difference to ākonga.

Research shows how important reading for pleasure is,” says Jo Buchan, reading engagement lead with National Library of New Zealand | Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa.

“We know that there are educational and social benefits: it impacts development of vocabulary, general knowledge, health and wellbeing, communication skills and general literacy skills. Reading also underpins digital literacy and critical literacy,” she says.

However, the New Zealand Council of Educational Research (NZCER) has found that, while a wide range of initiatives have been designed to lift the reading achievement of New Zealand students, over the past 15–20 years there has been a steady decline in the time they spend reading and their reported enjoyment of reading.

Recent research has shown that teachers who share their love of reading can play an important role in addressing this decline.

Exploratory study

A small exploratory study was undertaken by NZCER for the National Library as part of the Pūtoi Rito Communities of Readers initiative.

NZCER researcher Sue McDowall explored the experiences of nine primary and intermediate teachers and leaders who are passionate readers to get a sense of the context they bring to their teaching, along with the relationship between their personal reading habits, and how that translates to engagement with text in their classrooms.

“We’ve got national data to show that children’s enjoyment of reading and the amount of time they spend reading has decreased steadily over several decades. We also know from the international research that having a teacher who is a passionate reader may help children to become readers themselves. I was curious about how that happens,” explains Sue.

“The big takeaway from talking to these nine teachers is that if you are a teacher who is a reader yourself, you have something extra that makes a difference to the children in your classroom and in your school because they can see you being a reader,” she adds.

A principal or school leader who believes in the value of reading for pleasure is also important, says Sue.

“One of the leaders we interviewed for the study would visit the school library just so she could chat with students about what they were reading; or she would eat her lunch in the playground and read a book so students could see her reading – she modelled that.”

Successful strategies

Teachers in the research who supported reading for pleasure used some of the following strategies:

  • Reading to students purely for pleasure and providing them with opportunities to read alone or in small groups.
  • Conversing about books as fellow readers with students.
  • Using, supporting, and promoting the school library.
  • Building cross-school communities of readers among students (for example through competitions such as book or author quizzes, or through student book clubs.
  • Reading, recommending, and sharing their own books with other adults, such as teachers, support staff and whānau.
  • Establishing a staffroom library of books for recreational reading.
  • Establishing book clubs that included other teachers and sometimes whānau.

“What interested me most was the opportunity teachers provided to children to talk about the books they read.

“There was a lot of that community building and conversation around reading. It’s different from the kind of talk you would engage in if you were doing a shared or guided reading lesson,” says Sue.

Sue was interested in the fact that while the conversations were not intended to be instructional, teachers reported that some of the student analysis was quite sophisticated.

“Although the purpose of the conversation wasn’t to instruct children on how to analyse character or theme, in actual fact that was the nature of many of the conversations they were having, but it was done in the way that readers do with each other when talking about books,” she says.

Robust evidence

While data about achievement wasn’t collected from the small study, anecdotally teachers talked about the large shifts in engagement and achievement they saw in students or in the wider classroom as the year progressed, which they put down to the engagement and motivation they created around reading for pleasure.

“There’s robust evidence in international research that shows the link between reading often and for pleasure as a child and positive outcomes and achievement. That link is already established in the research literature, so we don’t need to prove that association,” says Sue.

The NZCER study focused on what is happening in classrooms between teachers and students to encourage reading for pleasure.

“I think many of the things that these reader teachers did in their classrooms are things that all good teachers do – they read to children, they provide children with opportunities to read on their own, they go to the library, they have lots of books available, they have a reading space in their classroom,” she says.

Authentic sharing

Sue acknowledges that not all teachers are passionate readers, but she believes that most can share an authentic enjoyment of reading.

“People say, ‘What about teachers who don’t read?’ In fact, I think most people do read. It doesn’t have to be highbrow literary texts that count as reading. It doesn’t even have to be hardcopy paper text – a lot of people read material online, like fan fiction or Wikipedia entries. Some people like reading food writers or cookbooks, graphic novels or romance, biographies. There’s such a range of material that counts as reading.

“I think that teachers can find the things they’re passionate about reading and bring that to school because it’s the authenticity in being a reader that matters,” she concludes. 

There is a strong link between reading for pleasure and positive outcomes and achievement.

There is a strong link between reading for pleasure and positive outcomes and achievement.

More resources, research, news, and information on reading for pleasure and literacy education

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero, reporter@edgazette.govt.nz

Posted: 9:33 am, 2 February 2023

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