Specific books do not appear again until I was 15. I had a serious rugby accident tearing knee ligaments and needing an extended period of R&R. In that time, I read Solzhenitsyn’s Cancer Ward, which left an indelible impression. At the same time, 1984 and Animal Farm also made an appearance. Were they read for pleasure, or just because I had time to read them?
Children “reading for pleasure” appears to have been a cause of concern for the whole of my career in education, during which, having undertaken a post grad diploma in reading and language development, I have done surveys of reading at home, including numbers of books in the home. As a result, during home visits, I have met adults who rarely read anything in book form, have no books in the home and couldn’t tell you the name of any children’s author, whereas I have also visited homes where there have been library rooms and parents read to their children almost from birth.
If we were to consider reading for pleasure as something that one does outside a requirement to do so, inevitably, the approach by children to reading at home will vary considerably.
Reading at home, as mandated by schools as part of homework, can often mean children reading aloud to an adult. This then becomes a situation where a child performs to an adult, who may or may not appreciate any nuanced difficulties that the child might encounter in a specific book. If the adult then chooses to be judgemental, this can demotivate the child.
If schools were to allow children to take home books that they can read with ease, alone or to another, they may well derive greater pleasure from the experience, as they might be able to demonstrate greater facility and receive praise. In some households, too, the busyness and pressures of some family lives can mean limited time available, so reading is something that must be done, rather than a pleasant shared experience.
I have to admit to being a fan of colour coded systems, originally started by Cliff Moon for the Reading Reading Centre, where a wide range of books is sorted into broad categories of challenge.
Some will say that children judge each other, based on their colour book. They always have and always will, even if/especially if whole class reading from one book is the norm; see above and replace one parent with twenty-nine peers as was my early school reading diet.
Within a colour coded system, teacher-level, guided books were also colour coded. As a result, a nominal decision was taken to allow children to take home any book on a colour below their guided level book, so that they could go home and read for themselves or with a parent. They were able to change their books daily if they wished. In every colour there were at least fifty books, so a child could have ten weeks of self-chosen reading, during which time, hopefully, they had moved on in teacher reading challenge.
When they finished the scheme, they had “free choice”, but with the rule of thumb of the “five finger rule”; if they read the first page and found more than five words that slowed them down in their reading, they might choose to come back to that book at a later stage.
In addition, each class had an author of the term, with books selected to provide extension, broader challenges. Letters or postcards to the authors were seen as alternatives to book reviews. One or more of the books might become the teacher read aloud book.
There needs to be thought on three layers of books; fluency, mild challenge (teacher led, five finger rule), frustration- too many words unknown reducing fluency and understanding (10 words per page as a simple rule).
Mentoring and coaching were embedded in the approach, as teachers and children regularly shared what they were reading with each other, were active in book selection from our termly bookshop, from Wessex Books (now Wells, Winchester), so were able to guide children/peers individually to books that might interest them.
Books were freely available, read by children and teachers, not just in a(n) ERIC (everyone reading in class) way, but through lots of book sharing, with enthusiasm for the process, the activity and the outcomes. Book walls shared some of the reading; eg an “I liked this book” wall.
Ease of access and availability of good quality books, time to read, share, model and talk books, all contribute to a reading culture. With tablets and laptops having recording facilities, children can read aloud to themselves and listen back, to embed some self-assessment/adaptation.
If schools don’t create a reading culture, home cannot always be relied on to do so. If children are to learn that reading can be pleasurable, they must have access to material that allows it to be so and to have time and space in which to develop independent reading habits.