Reading for pleasure has many benefits to a child’s education, but how has educational technology transformed how we approach it? A discussion from Ian Turner.

Teachers know that reading for pleasure can significantly impact a child’s education in terms of their performance in reading tests and their general well-being, vocabulary development, appreciation of other cultures, and knowledge.

The implications of COVID-19 on reading for pleasure

The pandemic’s wide-ranging impact on reading for pleasure comes as no surprise to anyone in the education sector. It is encouraging to see children and young people’s attitudes towards reading for enjoyment improve post-COVID lockdowns.

In 2020, The National Literacy Trust reported:

  • Children and young people’s levels of reading enjoyment continued to decline and were at their lowest since 2005.
  • Children and young people’s daily reading levels were at their lowest recorded, with just 25.8% of children saying they read in their free time in 2019. 1

In 2021, The National Literacy Trust reported:

  • 1 in 2 (51%) of children and young people said they enjoyed reading. This is slightly lower than he percentage during the first Spring lockdown of 2020 (55.9%) but higher than the beginning of 2020.
  • 2 in 5 (44.6%) children and young people agreed that reading made them feel better.
  • ‘Reading to relax’ was one of the main reasons that children and young people were reading in early 2021. 1
  • Reading to relax 52.7% 52.7%
  • Helping to learn new things 51.4% 51.4%
  • Learning new words 49.8% 49.8%

Reflecting on the impact of the pandemic

Rather than being a blight on the future of a generation of children, the pandemic has led teachers and leaders to adapt and find alternative ways to inspire, engage, and accurately assess their pupils’ progress. The coronavirus outbreak highlighted the vital importance of technology for learning and as a tool to encourage reading for pleasure. As schools closed, well-stocked school libraries were locked, and physical books could no longer be swapped and taken home. Many schools looked towards technology as a solution.

Educational technology as a solution

Access to texts to read online through programmes such as Reading Plus were a lifeline for schools and children during extended periods of home learning. (Reading Plus is an online reading programme that improves comprehension, vocabulary, and motivation by providing individualised scaffolds to build fluency). Programmes were developed in response to the pandemic; others were already embedded in schools’ reading curriculum offering. And while some are designed purely to provide access to online texts, those that explicitly model best practices for reading development have enabled children to progress their reading skills, despite the closure of schools.

Schools have been urged to seek out technological solutions to teaching, learning and assessment. This ensures a smooth transition between year groups and key stages so children can continue developing age-appropriate skills. The vulnerable and the most disadvantaged now have more opportunities, thanks to teaching ingenuity and technology.

In addition, some children have perhaps read more during home-schooling than the traditional route. And, while many children may not have a physical book in their house, being given hardware and software by their school has given them access to hundreds of online texts that are age-appropriate, ability levelled, and that provide direct and explicit instruction to improve their vocabulary comprehension, and fluency. 

Technology does not replace a book, the same way it does not replace teaching, but it can unlock the skills that children need to read with metacognition.

The impact of reading for pleasure

A child who does not enjoy reading is less likely to read. A child who doesn’t read is less likely to develop reading efficiency, will not be exposed to a wide range of vocabulary, and is less likely to develop strong comprehension skills. These pupils are more likely to find reading difficult, become further disengaged with reading, and lose confidence in their reading ability.

How then do you teach a child to enjoy reading? To do that, you need to remove the obstacles that prevent reading from being a pleasurable experience.

Obstacles to reading for pleasure

The obstacle of inefficient readers with low fluency

To encourage reading for pleasure, we need to develop reading competence. Understanding why inefficient readers are so, is a good place to start. Inefficient readers expend energy and attention simply trying to read the text, diverting attention from the critical step of information processing and understanding. As a result, inefficient readers may struggle with comprehension and motivation to read – reading is slow and laborious, and their reading level is well below age-related expectations. Slow readers also read less and take in less information which sets them back further. As with any activity, the more a pupil reads, the better they are at it. By making the act of reading more fluent, working memory can take in the meaning of the text. Weaker readers need well-structured, adaptive, and personalised reading interventions.

The importance of automaticity in reading for pleasure

One factor that distinguishes more successful readers from their less able peers is automaticity. That is, the ability to navigate lines of text, decode common words, and construct meaning from text without having to devote a great deal of conscious effort or attention to the process of reading. Automaticity develops from reading practice and the development of efficient, silent reading habits. With practice, word decoding speed increases, sight vocabulary expands, and word recognition becomes increasingly automatic.

At some point, given sufficient exposure to appropriately levelled texts, an adequate percentage of words in a text will be sight words, and, according to prevailing theories, cognitive resources formerly required for word decoding can be redirected toward processes that support comprehension.

How reading technologies can help

Instilling a lifelong love of reading

The motivation to read and continue to read comes from a sense of curiosity about the text, knowing what you are successful at and the associated sense of achievement – and from knowing what to do to be even more successful. Where parental engagement does not support this, or when the practical logistics of providing one-to-one support to all pupils to develop their reading efficiency is not possible, technology can provide a solution.

Supporting ongoing learning

The provision of electronic texts that are suitably challenging, age-appropriate and of interest to children is a key consideration for schools. Schools should look towards an adaptive, personalised reading programme. When pupils need support, the Reading Plus programme automatically adapts to the needs of each learner, providing scaffolds as and when necessary. For the teacher, formative assessment provides actionable reports and resources, together with teacher-directed instruction in specific comprehension skills and strategies. Through its design, pupils may move seamlessly between home, school or a blended approach.

Identifying the best educational technology

The best educational technology follows the same format as the best teaching: explicit instruction, scaffolding, cognitive and metacognitive strategies, and adaptability to the pupils’ needs. Well-researched technology is ahead of the curve and had anticipated the needs of our changing world – well before the pandemic.

Digital teaching solutions do not replace high-quality teaching, but employing the same pedagogical strategies, can complement it, support it, and offer children further opportunities to practice and develop their reading curiosity and confidence outside of the classroom.

References

  1. National Literacy Trust (2021) ‘Children and young people’s reading engagement in 2021’, Available at: https://cdn.literacytrust.org.uk/media/documents/Reading_in_2021.pdf

Author

  • Ian Turner

    Ian spent 15 years as an English teacher, a Head of Department, a Director of English across a Multi Academy Trust, a Vice Principal of a secondary school and the Deputy Head of a middle school. He now works as a Reading Development Consultant for Reading Solutions UK and is completing an MA in Creative Writing.

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