• Sabine Little

How Children Learn...To Love or Loathe Reading

Updated: Mar 26, 2019

This public lecture took place as part of Sheffield's 2017 Off The Shelf Festival. The session focused on how research participants recounted positive reading memories, and what factors played a part in positive memories attributed to reading.

In many positive memories of reading, the actual "reading" is just part of a multi-sensory, multi-modal, and social experience. Positive reading memories involve memories of comfortable sofas, snuggly beds, sitting on laps, hearing a parent's voice, smelling pipe smoke. Furthermore, positive reading memories were associated with choice and freedom - trips to the library, having a certain amount of money to spend at the school second-hand book fair. Finally, positive memories of reading involved an exploration of voice and opinion - expressing one's thought about a book, developing a stance, realising that it is "okay" to like one book but not another.

Appleyard (1990) proposes various phases in "Becoming a Reader":

  • The Reader as Player (the early years) – understanding the concept of stories, engaging with a fantasy world, exploring how the fantasy world relates to reality, using this to safely explore alternate realities.

  • The Reader as Hero/Heroine: Identifying with characters, using reading as a way to escape or access a different (less complex?) world

  • The Reader as Thinker: During adolescent years, choosing literature that questions the status quo and is critical/rebellious of surroundings

  • The Reader as Interpreter: Systematic reading to explore a topic, often as part of formal learning

  • The Pragmatic Reader: Appleyard states that, once all these avenues have opened up to the reader, we happily use and adopt the various roles to match our mood and our lifestyle, swapping as necessary and preferred.

While these phases are useful in exploring the way in which children and adolescents engage with books, there needs to be more exploration of social and multi-modal reading experiences.

Reading for heritage language children

The model also appears to assume that readers have synchronous language development - what happens to those heritage language children where one language is more dominant than the other? Below are two books which my son read simultaneously, both at the age of 9.5 years. The one on the left is Irina Korschunow's "Es muss auch kleine Riesen geben". On the right is "Never Say Die", the 11th Alex Rider book by Anthony Horowitz. Both are great books, but it is not surprising that my son read them for different reasons - the one on the left to "get better at reading German", so that he could get to books which he felt were intellectually and narratively (I am making that a word!) at a level he would enjoy, and the one on the right "for fun". This means that reading in the heritage language - even for children who do enjoy reading - can easily become a chore, unless we remember that reading - in whatever language - is more enjoyable when it is a social, multi-modal, multi-sensory experience, and that choice and opinion matter. This isn't always easy, and some languages are far better supported, resource-wise, than others. See this blog post for some tips on reading and sharing stories in the heritage language.