Therefore, many teachers absolve themselves of the responsibility to ensure reading becomes part of students’ lifestyles and is not a forgotten practice of a bygone era.
But why is a culture of reading for pleasure important? Studies have found it improves academic performance, emotional intelligence, creativity, and empathy.
However, despite obvious benefits, according to Scholastic’s Australian Kids & Family Reading Report, “opportunities to read independently as a class rarely happen frequently and decrease with age”.
What is troubling is that according to research “adolescent aliteracy may be inadvertently perpetuated by withdrawn encouragement from both parents and teachers,”
Margaret Kristin Merga wrote for media outlet The Conversation.
Such trends beg the question: how can teachers respond to a cultural shift that is evidently creating barriers to kids developing an interest in reading?
Teachers often lament how crowded curriculums limit their ability to set aside reading time.
However, I argue that teachers cannot afford not to invest time encouraging student interest in reading.
This year, I have intentionally cultivated a reading culture in my classroom.
Four principles that influence the reading culture in my classroom include student choice, access to interesting books, not incentivising reading for pleasure, and teacher modeling.
Student choice in text selection is integral, as researchers Christina Clark and Kate Rumbold say “there [is] a positive relationship between choice and affective aspects of reading, such as motivation”.
As well as utilising library resources, I bring to class a box of novels purchased second-hand.
If students have forgotten a book or have difficulty selecting one, they can borrow from my collection, allowing me to unobtrusively make recommendations that suit students’ reading levels and interests, while still giving them choice.
This approach has worked well; recently I matched a biography about soccer player Cristiano Ronaldo with a sporty student who was previously a disinterested reader.
Meanwhile, a more confident reader selected Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.
Reading for pleasure must not be incentivised if we want students to be intrinsically motivated. Jenna Cambria and John T. Guthrie assert, “students who read only for the reward of money, a grade, or a future job are not the best readers.”
When students are given time and encouragement to read for pleasure only, they experience reading as something joyful and are more likely to continue to read.
Lastly, “when children see their teachers enjoy reading … it reinforces the idea that reading is valuable and important”.
It would be easy for me to spend our weekly reading time catching up on other work.
Instead, I quietly read for pleasure as well, demonstrating that reading is a valuable, life long practice.