The National Library of New Zealand describes recreational reading as an “act of play“. Recreational reading is reading that we select for ourselves with no reports, no grading, no rewards or comprehension tests (Krashen, 2004).
“According to Nell (1988), reading for pleasure is a form of play that allows us to experience other worlds and roles in our imagination. Holden (2004) also conceived of reading as a “creative activity” that is far removed from the passive pursuit it is frequently perceived to be. Others have described reading for pleasure as a hermeneutic, interpretative activity, which is shaped by the reader’s expectations and experiences as well as by the social contexts in which it takes place (e.g. Graff, 1992).”
Clark, Christina, and Kate Rumbold, 2006
There is a lot of discussion in schools about what taking action looks like for students. Taking action is commonly associated with a social cause or a challenge facing society that compels us to take action. Often the goal of action is to find solutions to help those in need. One of the big challenges associated with taking action, particularly in elementary school, is to help facilitate student led action that is age-appropriate, authentic and effective. Students taking action discover what it is to be agents of change.
By definition, recreational reading is defined as students choosing what they read, where they read and when they read. Reading for pleasure is entirely student led and therefore can also be considered to be students taking action.
We may be tempted to consider reading for pleasure to be a passive action however there is far more going on than meets the eye. A student curled up in a comfortable spot, sometimes for hours at a time, is an example of a student taking action. Research into the benefits of reading for pleasure include improvements in reading attainment, in writing ability, text comprehension and grammar, self-confidence as a reader, general knowledge, reading in later life, understanding of other cultures, community participation, and insight into human nature and decision-making (Reading for pleasure – a door to success, by National library of New Zealand services to schools). In the moment, reading for pleasure is simply the enjoyment of story and the rapture of new insight, however the incidental learning (read more about “incidental learning” here) associated with this action goes far beyond the moment to connect to the significant outcomes that lead to further actions throughout their lives.
If we want our students to participate in positive civic engagement and take action to affect change, we need them to read for pleasure.
We know that reading for pleasure begets more reading and more enjoyment of reading. Students who read for pleasure have high scores on cognitive and social competency test, they score consistently higher in mathematics, reading, logic problem solving and attitude, they have higher levels of engagement in school, positive communication and relations with family, and positive friendships. They show less risky behaviour and have high motivation towards school (NatLibNZ). The act of reading for pleasure begets further action.
Not least of these is the impact of reading for pleasure on empathy and social skills. Reading for pleasure improves well-being, increases empathy, brings a greater knowledge of other cultures, and reduces the symptoms of depression and dementia.
Also significant is that reading for pleasure facilitates interactions with others over books developing social and oral skills leading to greater social interaction, oral language development and leading to reading as a source of pleasure throughout life.
Reading for pleasure also stimulates the imagination – a vital component to problem-solving and engaging with complex challenges. As Neil Gaiman says “using our imaginations, and providing for others to use theirs, is an obligation for all citizens“.
The act of reading for pleasure should be considered in the array of actions students can undertake. Reading for pleasure can have the deepest and most long lasting impact on student learning and a civic engagement as a whole. The sustainability of building a love of reading has a ripple effect that continues throughout a students life and should therefore be considered a powerful action. If we want our students to participate in positive civic engagement and take action to affect change, we need them to read for pleasure.
Clark, Christina, and Kate Rumbold. “Reading for Pleasure: A Research Overview.” National Literacy Trust, Nov. 2006, www.literacytrust.org.uk/research/nlt_research/271_reading_for_pleasure_a_research_overview. Accessed 26 Feb. 2017.
Gaiman, Neil. “Neil Gaiman: Why Our Future Depends on Libraries, Reading and Daydreaming.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 15 Oct. 2013, www.theguardian.com/books/2013/oct/15/neil-gaiman-future-libraries-reading-daydreaming. Accessed 26 Feb. 2017.
Krashen, Stephen. “Compelling Reading and Problem-Solving: The Easy Way (And the Only Way) to High Levels of Language, Literacy and Life Competence.” Stephen D Krashen, www.sdkrashen.com/content/articles/2016_krashen_eta_compelling_reading_and_ps.pdf. Accessed 26 Feb. 2017.
Krashen, Stephen. “Free Voluntary Reading: New Research, Applications, and Controversies.” Stephen D Krashen, Apr. 2004, www.sdkrashen.com/content/articles/singapore.pdf. Accessed 26 Feb. 2017.
“Reading for Pleasure – a Door to Success.” Services to Schools, National Library of New Zealand, schools.natlib.govt.nz/creating-readers/creating-reading-culture/reading-pleasure-door-success. Accessed 26 Feb. 2017.