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Building a Reading Culture — some practical steps

While many adolescents are avid readers and lovers of literature, it is highly likely that we can all think of a teenager or two who would be more accurately classed as “aliterate”, the term given to those who are able to read but for a variety of reasons, choose not to do so.

Aliteracy or disengagement with reading can be the result of a number of barriers, such as limited time availability, insufficient concentration, lack of encouragement, restricted access to appropriate and enticing reading material or inadequate understanding of strategies to successfully choose amongst that reading material (Merga, 2016).

There are a number of ways that parents, teachers and other significant adults in a teenager’s life can help them to overcome these barriers and together build a culture of reading engagement and enjoyment amongst our young people. One thing we know is that intrinsic motivation tends to be more powerful than extrinsic motivation. This means that while external enticements to read, such as rewards, grades or praise and recognition might have a place in encouraging teenagers to read, the personal belief that reading is enjoyable, interesting or otherwise worthwhile is what is going to make teenagers into readers. Evidently, in order to overcome the aforementioned barriers, our efforts need to promote the joy of reading.

Some key factors in promoting this joy include:

Making sure that young people have access and choice:

For reading to be pleasurable, adolescents need to be able to find reading material that they find enjoyable or interesting. Being encouraged to visit the school library, visiting public libraries or bookstores as a family and being taught how to navigate these spaces, and being made aware of eBook and audiobook platforms that can be accessed for free are all helpful strategies. We want to make sure that every potential reader has the opportunity to find “their” book” - the one that gets them hooked and reminds them how interesting reading can be.

Foster reading as a social activity:

Promoting, supporting or facilitating both formal and informal opportunities for adolescents to discuss their reading interests and to share recommendations allows reading to become a pleasurable shared or social activity. When readers feel like they are part of a community and have a sense of connection, their intrinsic motivation to read increases. It is important, though, that these discussions are supportive and encouraging, without criticism of reading choices or pressure to read different or more 'academic' types of text.

Make time for reading:

Even adolescents (and adults) who already enjoy reading often feel like they do not have time to engage in reading for pleasure. Furthermore, in several studies, adolescents have reported that time spent reading is viewed as less important or valued by parents and teachers after primary school. As such, a crucial part of building a reading culture is finding ways to carve out regular periods of time for pleasure reading. This can happen in schools, by allocating time within the school day for free reading, but also in homes by deliberately incorporating reading time into daily or weekly routines (just like the 'bedtime stories' of early childhood). We can also place value on reading for its own sake in both conversation and modelled behaviour. Adults in the household modelling this behaviour also emphasises that reading is a valued activity long after the competency of 'sight words' and 'take-home readers' has been reached.

If you are interested in finding out more about building a reading culture for our young people, a great resource to check out comes from the National Library of New Zealand (click to view).

Hajnalka Molloy
Learning Resources Manager

Jessica Smith
English Teacher and Library Assistant