Earlier this year the Copyright Agency’s Cultural Fund announced the Reading Australia Fellow for 2021: Edwina West from Oakhill College (NSW). Edwina’s project focuses on aliteracy in schools and aims to find a more flexible approach to connecting students with diverse and engaging Australian texts. In this article, she explains why this research matters and how we might reverse a worrying trend.
It’s no secret to any teacher that young Australians simply do not read ‘for fun’ as much as they used to. It seems that reading for pleasure is declining, eclipsed by ever-growing preferences for digital devices.* Not only is reading less desired by young people, but Australian Census Data indicates that reading for pleasure declines as we age.† There seems to be a worrying trend – as we have the capacity to become more literate, we also become more aliterate: the state of being able to read, but choosing not to. This trend is so worrying to me that I chose to make it the focus for my Reading Australia Fellowship.
There are, of course, many implications for a decline in reading. Teachers see first-hand the relationship between reading and increased educational outcomes. Research correlates reading enjoyment more strongly with educational success than socio-economic status;‡ regular reading with positive personal and social behaviour;§ and the amount of time spent reading (both for pleasure and as required) with achievement.‖
So, what do we make of a future where kids don’t read?
Before we panic and reshelve Fahrenheit 451 in the non-fiction section, let’s consider the question: what can we do to reverse this decline and ‘make reading great again’?
The good news is that a lot can be done to increase reading for pleasure, including explicitly helping students learn ‘text choosing strategies’,¶ and ensuring quality texts are available for them to choose. This encapsulates the aim of my Fellowship research, in addition to a very important question of representation: how can Australian students be better exposed to quality contemporary Australian texts that represent their world? While there will (and should) always be a place for Lawson and Paterson, does classic Australian literature deeply connect with young readers in a rapidly changing world?
Ultimately, in my research, I hope to be able to help teachers, librarians and schools to support their students in prioritising reading for pleasure.
* Manuel, J & Carter, D. (2015). Current and historical perspectives on Australian teenagers’ reading practices and preferences. Australian Journal of Language and Literacy, Vol. 38, No. 2.
† Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2012). Children’s Participation in Cultural and Leisure Activities, Australia. Retrieved from https://fal.cn/3kofm.
‡ Department for Education (2012). Research evidence on reading for pleasure: Education standards research team. London: Author. Retrieved from https://fal.cn/3kofn.
§ National Endowment for the Arts. (2007). To Read or Not To Read A Question of National Consequence. Retrieved from https://fal.cn/3kofO.
‖ Manuel, J & Carter, D. (2015). Current and historical perspectives on Australian teenagers’ reading practices and preferences. Australian Journal of Language and Literacy, Vol. 38, No. 2.
¶ Merga, M. K. (2017). What would make children read for pleasure more frequently? English in Education, 51(2), 207–223. https://fal.cn/3kofR.