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Fostering Reading for Pleasure in Children: Benefits & Creative Approaches

How and why does it enable children to do better at school? What can we do to foster it?

It has become increasingly popular in the field of education to focus on Reading for Pleasure (RfP). There are numerous resources available on the subject, including books and booklets written by organizations such as the National Literacy Trust, CLPE, UKLA, Booktrust, Reading Rocks, and Teresa Cremin at the Open University. These resources delve into the research and best practices for promoting and fostering RfP. Additionally, gov.uk has several pages dedicated to presenting research evidence for the benefits of RfP. The NUT has also published an insightful booklet on RfP written by children's author Alan Gibbons. The author of this message has also written a booklet on the subject.

However, there is also a pushback against RfP, as evidenced by the closing of school libraries and local libraries, and skepticism from some school administrators about the value of teachers simply reading with students. With this in mind, it is important for advocates of RfP to clearly demonstrate not only its positive impact but also explain how browsing, choosing, and enjoying books can help improve academic performance in children and young people.

Language

Reading widely and frequently is a crucial component of becoming proficient in written standard English. It is important to note that written standard English differs significantly from spoken language in terms of grammar, vocabulary, and syntax. In speaking, we often use filler words and interrupt ourselves, as context provides enough information for communication. However, written standard English is typically more formal and requires the use of complete sentences with a finite verb, as well as frontloading, which involves placing key information at the beginning of the sentence. This type of language is less common in spoken language. By reading various forms of writing, including fiction and non-fiction, individuals can gain exposure to written standard English and become more familiar with its different forms. This in turn can greatly improve their writing skills and overall proficiency in the language.

As a writer, it is interesting to note that the narrative in children's books cannot be easily spoken like a conversation. This distinction between spoken and written English is significant for young readers, as they must learn to navigate between the two forms. The more exposure children and young people have to written standard English, the easier it will be for them to understand and engage with unfamiliar and challenging texts in school, whether they be fiction or academic texts. It is reasonable to assume that frequent exposure to written standard English will aid in their overall understanding and success in academic settings.

The Strategies of Writing

Writing encompasses more than just language. It involves the various strategies employed in writing such as using paragraphs, plot lines, methods of narration, and ways of indicating speech, reported speech, and inner thoughts. Other elements of writing include the use of figurative language, how time is indicated, the use of flashbacks and flashforwards, the way people or things are 'foregrounded,' revealing-concealing, allusions to things outside of the text, motifs, tropes, archetypes, stereotypes, and symbols. While some of these techniques are taught in schools, children and young people who engage in Reading for Pleasure (RfP) have a much easier time grasping and understanding these concepts.

The Strategies of Reading

The passage explains the strategies involved in reading, specifically how our experiences, memories, and knowledge of other texts help us understand what we are reading. The act of reading involves making comparisons between our lives and those of the characters in the text, as well as making connections between the text we are reading and other texts we have read in the past. This intertextual knowledge helps us recognize different genres and types of characters. Reading also involves solving puzzles, as all texts have "gaps" that require the reader to ask questions, make interpretations, and come up with alternative meanings. The intellectual effort required to understand a text is a fundamental part of the reason why reading widely and often can improve one's education. In essence, successful reading requires both emotional and intellectual engagement, as well as the ability to reason and make connections within the text.

Analogising

We often draw analogies between the events or feelings in a text and our own experiences, as well as analogies between different texts. When we come across something unfamiliar in our reading, we may use comparisons to help us understand and make sense of it. By making these analogies, we take the first step towards abstract thought, which involves forming generalizations and abstract ideas.  Whether we study science or humanities, we are frequently called upon to reach abstract conclusions. Often, we arrive at these conclusions by grouping together similar things and analyzing the differences and similarities between them. For example, if we're studying erosion, we might be asked to list different ways in which a cliff can be worn away, such as wind, rain, frost, and waves. We can then group these different ways under one heading, "erosion," and analyze how they each affect the cliff.

This type of thinking is a fundamental aspect of education, but it also occurs when we read for pleasure. Whenever we read, we are constantly making comparisons and drawing analogies in our minds. By reading widely and often, we hone our ability to think abstractly and make connections between different ideas and concepts.

How to Foster this Kind of Reading

There is another crucial aspect to this that needs to be addressed: how to make reading an enjoyable experience that takes into account the processes that I have been discussing. These processes include the kinds of questions we ask children and students, the activities we engage them in related to books, and the exploration of texts that we encourage. For example, we can ask open-ended questions that allow children to monitor their emotions and how they relate to characters or scenes in the book. Older children can even make graphs to represent this. We can also ask if there is anything in the book that reminds them of something that has happened to them or someone they know, as well as any other links they may notice between the book and other media they have experienced.

To address moments of confusion, we can ask if there was anything they found puzzling, and then explore different interpretations to 'fill' the gaps. Alternatively, we can collect questions from the children that they would like to ask the author or characters in the story, and invite others to role-play and help answer these questions. Learn with Koala is an online platform that provides interactive reading material for children, aiming to encourage and nurture a love for reading in them. One of the standout features of Learn with Koala is the availability of human tutors, who work alongside children to develop reading skills and help them make sense of the material they are reading. The tutors are experienced educators who can help to create a personalised learning plan to suit the needs of individual students. With this unique combination of online resources and human guidance, Learn with Koala is an effective tool for parents and teachers looking to cultivate a love of reading in children.  You can find and book those classes at this page.

Happy Learning!

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