The Power of Good Book

Reading for pleasure has a powerful influence on learning. How can you foster a love of reading?

It doesn’t matter what age you are, there’s nothing quite like losing yourself in a good book. But, did you know that reading for enjoyment is also associated with higher academic achievement?

Research shows reading for pleasure has ‘a powerful influence on children’s learning’, particularly in developing vocabulary, but also on spelling and maths skills. Yet, in most countries, enjoyment of reading among school students is on a downward trend. In Australia, 45 per cent of Year 4s say they only read if they have to.

How can educators encourage youngsters to read for fun?

Make time available during the day for free reading of a book chosen independently by the student - including in secondary school. A US survey from Scholastic found only 17 per cent of 6 to 17-year-olds take part in free reading every or almost every school day; 61 per cent of 15 to 17-year-olds don’t do it at all.

When it comes to reading for fun, students want to pick the book. As an adult, you probably like getting recommendations from friends and colleagues, but if every time you went to the library one of the staff picked out your books it’s a fair bet you may start to lose interest. It’s not hard to see why 91 per cent of children in the Scholastic survey said their favourite books were the ones that they’d picked out and 90 per cent were more likely to finish reading a book they’d chosen.

In Australia, academic Margaret Merga suggests six key nourishing practices and qualities of teachers who encourage recreational reading:

  • Personal enjoyment of reading is clearly apparent;
  • A willingness to instigate and support student centred discussion around books;
  • A broad knowledge of both young adult texts and youth popular culture;
  • Effectively communicated expectations that students will read at school and at home;
  • A knowledge of the interests and aspirations of the students; and
  • The use of in-class practices that encourage reading for pleasure, such as reading aloud to students and silent reading.

The Scholastic survey looked at reading aloud in a home context, but it offers some pointers for teachers – 83 per cent of children said they love or like it a lot, with reasons including it’s fun, they get to access books that may be too hard for them and they like to hear the different voices.

So, if you want to foster a love of reading among your students then setting aside some time to read aloud (just for the fun of it) could be a good place to start.

This is an edited version of an article that first appeared in Teacher magazine and has been reproduced with the permission of the Australian Council for Educational Research. To read the full article and to read more articles like this visit www.teachermagazine.com.au.