Motivating Young People to Read and Write for Pleasure: Shared Values

5 June, 2024
In the light of ever-decreasing levels of engagement with reading and writing amongst children and young people, an understanding of the approaches that nurture reading and writing for pleasure has never been more pressing. Recently published research from The Open University offers some important insights.

 In the first of two blogs for Literacy Hive, Professor Teresa Cremin and Dr Helen Hendry, co-authors of the ‘Reading and Writing for Pleasure: A Framework for Practice’ report, with Professor Liz Chamberlain and Samantha Hulston, introduce the research project and explore the first of five key elements that support a reading and writing for pleasure culture.

A Framework for Success

Reading and Writing for Pleasure: A Framework for Practice is the distillation of a three-year research project commissioned by the Mercers’ Company (Literacy Special Initiative – Reading and Writing for Pleasure 2020-2023). The project involved a systematic review of the existing research literature on volitional reading and writing, as well as the analysis of data gathered from six different London-based literacy programmes. The Framework is designed to be a guide to the approaches that have been demonstrated to be effective in nurturing reading and writing for pleasure amongst children and young people aged 5-13. We hope the Framework will raise awareness of these evidence-based principles and encourage teachers – and everyone working with children in extra-curricular activities or outside school – to reflect on their current practice and the nature of their interactions with young people around volitional reading and writing.

Figure 1: Research insights regarding the effective development of reading and writing for pleasure.

It is important to stress that this is a complex area and there are still aspects where more research is needed. The Reading and Writing for Pleasure Framework is not about promoting a set of activities that can be implemented in order to ‘tick the box’ of reading and writing for pleasure. However, from the research literature and the data collected from the literacy projects, we have been able to identify five interrelated strands that combine to create effective ways of working that motivate children to become volitional readers and writers:

  • Shared Values
  • Texts and Time
  • Individually Oriented Approaches
  • Socially Oriented Approaches
  • Responsive Adult Involvement

In this blog we explore the first of these five strands – the shared values that underpin a culture of reading and writing for pleasure.

Developing Readers and Writers vs Doing Reading and Writing

In order for young people to be motivated to read and write for pleasure, a positive reading and/or writing identity is key. Children’s literate identities are constantly evolving and are influenced by their experiences of reading and writing, the text choices available, their perception of their own reading and writing skills and self-efficacy, and the perceptions of others. Both the research literature and the data from the literacy programmes are very clear that environments that foster reading and writing for pleasure are those that nurture positive literate identities. In these environments, practitioners see their role as developing readers and writers rather than ‘doing reading and writing’.  Interactions are learner-led and centred around the young people’s reading interests or writing aims – What is it you want to say? How do you want to say it? – rather than focusing on improving reading or writing skills.

What Counts as Being a Reader and/or a Writer?

Part of helping young people to develop positive literate identities involves expanding our definition of what it means to be a reader or a writer. Too narrow a definition – one that focuses only on reading as proficiency, for instance, and sidelines the affective, social and behavioural aspects of being a reader – risks marginalising many of our young people. We need to acknowledge and validate young people’s wider reading and writing practices – the instructions for a new video game, for example, or the text messages between friends – if we want to support them on their journeys as authentic, socially engaged readers and writers.

Promoting Self Efficacy

We know from the wider research that there is a very strong relationship between young people’s literate identities, their sense of self-efficacy and their motivation: these three strands consistently play out together. This was borne out by the data from the six literacy programmes involved in the research project. These programmes focused on children in areas of socio-economic disadvantage who often had low self-efficacy as readers and writers – ‘I don’t think I’m any good at this. I’ve never been told I’m good at it.’ A key feature of the programmes was a focus on shifting that sense of self-efficacy by valuing the children’s contributions, respecting their interests and views as readers, and treating them as authors who have something worthwhile to say.

One programme talked about being ‘relentlessly positive’ and this is something that we can all reflect on as practitioners. Even in a classroom situation where we are helping children move towards curriculum goals, we need to think about the messages we are communicating around reading and writing and consider how students may be switched off if they never experience any positive reinforcement for their own ideas or interests. That is not to say that we shouldn’t have curriculum objectives or that we should stop teaching those core reading and writing skills. Children need those skills to become readers and writers. However, if we want to nurture the will to read and write, we also need to recognise the value of children’s literate identities, their desire to engage and their sense of self-efficacy as readers and writers.

Reading and Writing for Pleasure Matter

Motivation and self-efficacy predict performance. If we want to improve levels of attainment, then we need to pay attention to how we motivate and engage our young people. Furthermore, literate identities play a key role in children’s wider sense of self as human beings and as learners. Positive reading and writing identities can help shift a young person’s openness to learning right across the curriculum. The evidence is clear: if we want to ensure the best possible outcomes for all our young people, nurturing their motivation and desire to read and write for pleasure matters.

 Further  Resources

  • Interested in learning more about the latest research into reading and writing for pleasure? Join us at our Reading and Writing for Pleasure Conference on Saturday 15th June at the Open University, Milton Keynes for a day of engaging talks and evidence-based workshops led by expert practitioners. Only £45!

  • You can read the full Reading and Writing for Pleasure: A Framework for Practice report here.