Academic journal article Australian Journal of Language and Literacy

Current and Historical Perspectives on Australian Teenagers' Reading Practices and Preferences

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Language and Literacy

Current and Historical Perspectives on Australian Teenagers' Reading Practices and Preferences

Article excerpt

'Give them books ... given them wings.' (In memory of Maurice Saxby, 1924-2014)


A recent piece in the Australian Financial Review (2014) reported that national book industry sales figures were being 'propped up' by 'young adult fiction--and its teen fans': 'young adult fiction sales are up 26% this financial year, while adult fiction has declined by 11%' (p. 3). Book industry sales point to a flourishing young adult fiction market, depicting various trends in intentional reading preferences. From these statistics, however, it cannot be assumed that purchase patterns in any category of books are directly indicative of young people's actual reading lives, within and beyond the parameters of formal school-based education.

To more fully comprehend the lived experiences that lie beneath these sales statistics, it is necessary to consider the range of empirical and other research in the field, together with results of assessment programs, such as for example, the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). Such research sheds light on young people's motivations to read; the frequency of their reading in general and their reading for pleasure; the types of reading they choose to engage or not engage with; the satisfactions and benefits they derive from reading; and the correlations between reading habits, literacy development and student performance in reading and other literacy assessments. A deeper understanding of teenagers' reading lives may better equip educators and others to consciously nurture young people's 'intrinsic purposeful engagement' with reading to 'feed their imaginations so they can create the world of the future.' (Moore, Bean, Birdyshaw & Rycik, 1999, p. 3).

With this in mind, and against the backdrop of

national curriculum reform agendas and mounting pressures on teachers to 'teach to the test' (Gallagher, 2009), this paper reports on aspects of the findings of an Australian study of the reading habits of more than 2000 young people, aged 12 to 16 years. (1) The research study sought to further explore the fabric of young people's personal, socially-situated and school-based reading lives. It was informed by a number of research questions addressing the 'what, when, where, how and why' of teenagers' reading. What are teenagers choosing to read and for what purposes? What are their attitudes towards reading? When are they reading and how are they reading? How do they spend their leisure time and where does reading for pleasure sit (if at all) within and beyond the classroom? What are the continuities and disjunctions between school and beyond-school reading? And what are the implications of these findings for classroom teaching and learning?

Background to the study: research on young people's reading practices and preferences

We know that reading as a communicative act requires the capacity to decode, interpret, respond to, and derive meaning from a myriad of print, visual, oral, nonverbal multi-modal texts. We also know that success in schooling is heavily dependent on a student's facility with and command of language across the spectrum of modes, although the modes of reading and writing continue to hold pre-eminent status in the curriculum and in assessment regimes in many subjects (Department of Education, 2012). It is equally evident that each experience of reading and the motivations that fuel our engagement with language can be as multitudinous and idiosyncratic as readers themselves--a factor recognised by Rosenblatt (1938) when she argued that 'there is no such thing as a generic reader or a generic literary work; there are in reality only the potential millions ... the novel or poem or play exists ... only in interactions with specific minds.' (p. 32)

Like other age groups, we know that adolescents read for a wide variety of purposes with personal 'tastes' in reading often well-established by the time they reach secondary school (cf. …

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