Why is it too easy to forget about reading for pleasure?

Towards the end of last year, I had a conversation with one of my co-workers. She’d told me that she had just finished reading 60 books. Essentially, she had been reading around one book a week. I was amazed and shocked.

Our discussion led to her introducing me to new authors and stories and a revelation of our mutual disinclination to Jane Austen. She helped to reignite that love of reading, my once-favourite hobby, that I hadn’t really tapped into since my first year of uni. I’ve always been an avid reader, but I’d realised then that it had been a long while since I’d read a book for fun. It had been a long while since I’d made the trip to the bookshop, purchased Tony Birch’s Shadowboxing, and committed myself to reading one book a week.

Kids who read for fun enjoy a range of social and educational benefits.Credit:iStock

The benefits of reading had been drilled into me by every English teacher I ever had and by my dad long before that. Going to the library across the road from where my brother took piano lessons is among my earliest memories.

However, it is said that our engagement with books decreases as we age. Teenagers are considered to be reading less and honestly, I don’t blame them. It seems the older we get, the less free time we have. This means that the time we could spend reading books is also time that could be spent on our extracurricular activities, such as swimming or saxophone lessons, and on the internet. When I was already doing dozens of readings every week for university, I much preferred catching up on the latest Netflix series than spending an hour looking at another printed text.

But kids who read for fun are met with a range of social and educational benefits. In fact, research shows that a student’s reading enjoyment is more closely linked to their educational success than their family’s socio-economic status. So it is well worth helping our youth discover a love of reading for fun. This can be achieved in a variety of ways. For example, when I was in year seven I completed a simple assessment task that involved choosing a book and presenting it to my class. This task introduced me to 20 other novels, each with diverse characters and storylines. But most importantly, this task gave me complete control over what I was reading and the chance to tell my peers why I valued it.

In high school we’re often told what to read and why these texts are important. But giving students the opportunity to choose their own novels grants them a sense of agency and the chance to decide the sorts of books that they themselves value. We could encourage students to work with their teachers to select texts to be studied for a particular unit. Who knows what novels or articles they’d introduce and what discussions would arise? What we do know is that allowing students to control elements of their learning is highly motivating. And this could be the first step to creating intrinsically motivated readers.

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