Reviews 2017

Building Communities of Engaged Readers: Reading for Pleasure

Building Communities of Engaged Readers: Reading for Pleasure. Teresa Cremin, Marilyn Mottram, Fiona M. Collins, Sacha Powell, and Kimberly Safford. London: Routledge, 2014. 178 pages. £27.99 (paperback).

Building Communities of Engaged Readers: Reading for Pleasure presents the aims, organisation, findings as well as effects, conclusions and implications of UK Literacy Association (UKLA) project led by Teresa Cremin. It focuses on new pedagogic strategies for the development of children’s satisfaction from reading. The premise of the project itself was that subject knowledge development is critical to building rich pedagogic practice necessary to support reading for pleasure.

The project included three phases: Phase I, Teachers as Readers, carried out in 2006-2007, centred on surveying 1,200 primary teachers’ personal and professional reading practices. It revealed that whilst the majority of teachers read independently for pleasure, professionally they rely on a limited canon of children’s authors and can name only a narrow range of picture fiction creators and poets. Phase II, Teachers as Readers: Building Communities of Readers (2007-2008), whose main goal was to improve teachers’ knowledge and use of children literature to help them increase children's motivation and enthusiasm for reading, especially of those less successful in literacy. The data was derived from 43 teachers working in 27 schools in five regions in England. This empirical research used multiple methods and tools (surveys, interviews, case studies, naturalistic observations in the classroom, teachers’ written reflections etc.), which enabled the triangulation of data collection and analysis. The data focused on teachers’ responses to children‘s literature and other texts, pedagogic practices and reflective awareness of being a reader. The five authors of Building Communities of Engaged Readers wrote ten articles in which they discuss the methodology, effects and problems of Phase II. At the beginning of the project, the teachers participating in it noticed gaps in their knowledge of children’s literature, very often limited to their childhood or previous experience, with new authors and titles absent. Then they applied practices necessary to be a conscious reader with a broad subject knowledge, including literature, to children’s reading choices outside school. The teachers started to explore how readers could use texts by relating them to their everyday experience in specific cultural and social contexts. This activity encouraged the teachers to change their attitude to literature present at school and recognize it not only as instrumental in teaching phonics, or vocabulary, but also as important for its own sake.

Notwithstanding the empirical research conducted during Phase II, another pedagogical experiment took place in several schools. The pedagogical practices implemented during the project were called "Reading for Pleasure Pedagogy" and are discussed in the chapter by Kimberly Safford. This pedagogy encompasses four core practices: reading aloud to the class for pleasure, creating social reading enviroments (for example reading corners), book talk and reciprocal text recommendations to individuals and the whole class, creating frequent opportunities for children to read independently for pleasure, and providing them opportunities to make choices about what to read. The teachers involved in the experiment declared that all those strategies were very effective and that particularly previously reluctant readers became keen to read and talk about texts. Also, all the child participants’ intrinsic motivation to read increased. Safford highlights the need to provide easy access to a broad range of reading materials in comfortable environments where the conversation, choice and sharing are possible.

Another important issue brought up in the books is what Teresa Cremin and Sacha Powell define in their chapters as a holistic approach to reading pedagogy aimed at encouraging children to develop their interests, tastes, preferences and a positive reader’s identity. The approach is feasible as long as teachers become conscious and reflective readers with a broad knowledge about texts read in the classroom. It also requires professionals to become more mindful of the diversity of pupils’ reading preferences and practices, and especially of the ways in which they engage emotionally in reading. Although the latter is extremely significant, it is rarely present in school reading practices concerning obligatory reading or in the curriculum. Engagement in reading demands involvement, which is an aspect of intrinsic reading motivation, so often neglected in obligatory reading. The authors strongly suggest that reading for pleasure is not foregrounded enough in school curricula and assessments. Their conclusions should lead to public debate about and further studies of the relation between reading in school and beyond it, and the ways of integrating spontaneous reading preferences and experiences with obligatory reading. Building Communities of Engaged Readers also includes the analysis of the interviews with teachers and pupils, which reveals the effects of the new reading strategies and pedagogical practices. The authors of all chapters point out a whole range of good practices emerging from the experience of the project participants. Those examples could be the inspiration for all who are engaged in the promotion of reading for pleasure.

Finally, Building Communities of Engaged Readers is about the social dimension of reading. Readers have more fun if they read together, share reading and engage in it. Such an observation is close to John Guthrie and Alan Wigfield’s conception of reading motivation and social dimension of reading, according to which social interactions connected with reading practices should be seen as an important aspect of motivating especially children and adolescents to read. Such an idea of reading stresses the common role of parents, librarians, and teachers in supporting children’s reading development. The chapter by Marilyn Mottram specially concerns this issue as it argues for the reciprocity in reading literature in the classroom context.

The authors of Building Communities of Engaged Readers formulate an important and empirically valid argument for the significant impact of pedagogical practice and reading repertoires on pupils’ reading engagement in reading and their academic achievement. It is an important signal for policy makers and practitioners not only in the UK. I highly recommend Building Communities of Engaged Readers not only to those who teach reading in schools, but also to educational policy makers to help them to see reading as multidimensional practice.

Zofia Zasacka
National Library, Poland

Works Cited

Guthrie, John T., and Allan Wigfield. “Engagement and motivation in reading.” Handbook of Reading Research: Volume III. Ed. Michael L. Kamil, Peter B. Mosenthal, David Pearson, and Rebecca Barr. Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum, 2000. 403-22.