The downward trend for young people’s reading comprehension and reading habits has hardly escaped anyone. Concerns about substandard literacy levels and declining reading habits have resulted in a call for action by numerous educational and other authorities, including the Swedish Arts Council. The Swedish Arts Council has since the 1990s allocated funds to reading promotion projects. A series of successful projects has been carried out, but the challenges are still considerable, especially in terms of reaching out to disadvantaged groups and/or reluctant readers. There is therefore reason to stop and reflect: what is the purpose of reading promotion, what are the strategies for promoting reading, and what do we know about the effects? On behalf of the Swedish Arts Council, I was given the opportunity to ponder on these questions, examine some of the research done in this field and take a close look at the many activities dedicated to motivating children and adults to become lifelong readers.
The essential factors for improving reading motivation among young people has by researchers in the field been identified as the literature’s and reading tasks perceived relevance to their own lives, access to a wide range of reading materials, a generous amount of time for reading, freedom of choice and opportunities to socially interact with others about the text they are reading. Interestingly, after consulting a large research overview on reading instruction in Swedish primary School done on behalf of The Swedish National Agency for Education, I was able to conclude that reading instruction in Swedish primary School runs completely contrary to what researchers on reading motivation holds as most important for young people’s motivation to read. Along with numerous studies indicating that parents and the home environment is crucial for children’s reading habits and attitudes to reading, a picture emerges of reading in Sweden where the socio-cultural factors is to a very large extent allowed to determine who becomes a reader and who does not. In short, there are good reasons for engaging in reading promotion activities outside of school. There is also good reason for evaluating results.
So, how do we motivate children and adults to become lifelong readers? In my book, I´ve sorted out reading promotion activities into six basic categories: early literacy, reading role models, reader’s advisory and booktalk, social reading, summer reading and strategies to make books available. On the basis of the findings in my research, the following general recommendations can be suggested to proceed with the work to promote reading outside of school:
– Start early (and continue). The importance of early literacy cannot be stressed enough and Family Literacy initiatives are recommended. Initiatives aimed at encouraging and informing about the importance of reading aloud is of particular priority. In particular, men are to be encouraged and engaged in reading aloud to their Children.
– Identify relevant target groups in order to close reading gaps.
– Provide a wide range of reading materials. Access to a wide range of reading materials has positive effects on reading motivation. To provide a rich and varied reading material also communicates that reading is a valuable and rewarding activity.
– Promote social reading. There is a connection between reading motivation and the opportunity to interact socially with texts. Social interaction involves talking with others about books, read together with others, borrow and share books with others, talk about books and share written text about books with others.
– Make use of reading role models. Everyone, and particularly men, should be encouraged to be reading role models for their children. Promote activities that involve older children reading to younger ones. Such mentoring brings double benefits: younger children receive attention from older peers who strengthens their confidence by being role models.
– Emphasize freedom of choice. Reading motivation is related to the ability to choose what to read. Note that the choice of what to read does not necessarily exclude certain goals in terms of how much to read.
– Work on the basis of different target groups’ identified (reading) interests.
– Opt for summer reading programs. Encourage cooperation between schools and public libraries. Emphasize the educational benefits to parents.
– Formulate clear, achievable goals and evaluate.
Jonas Andersson works with reading promotion at the Swedish Arts Council and holds a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature. He´s also the author of a new book on methods and research in the field of reading promotion in Sweden; The target of reading. On methods and research in the field of reading promotion