Academic journal article High School Journal

The Impact of Social Influences on High School Students' Recreational Reading

Academic journal article High School Journal

The Impact of Social Influences on High School Students' Recreational Reading

Article excerpt

Aliteracy, the state in which the skill to read has been acquired, but not the will, is a growing concern in research on adolescence internationally. The West Australian Study in Adolescent Book Reading (WASABR) aimed to discover current attitudes toward and levels of engagement in recreational book reading among 520 adolescent students from 20 Western Australian schools. It also explored the role of social agents in influencing recreational book reading in this cohort, examining the influences of parents, English teachers, the peer group and friends on adolescents' recreational book reading in order to understand how adolescents' engagement in recreational book reading is affected by social factors. These understandings were sought with a view to ultimately enhance the participation of high school students in recreational book reading. This paper outlines the current body of research findings from the WASABR, drawing together the broad areas covered within the study into a cohesive whole.

Keywords: adolescents, recreational reading, independent reading, reading habits

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Recreational book reading, also termed "independent reading," "reading for pleasure" (Clark & Rumbold, 2006) or "Free Voluntary Reading" (Krashen, 2004), is the reading of books by choice, in contrast to reading assigned by a teacher. It reflects the reader's personal choice of the books to be read, as well as the time and place to read. No one assigns this reading; no one requires a report or checks reading comprehension (Cullinan, 2000). Choice is paramount. While recreational book reading occurs primarily outside the school, schools and teachers can impact on students' attitudes and frequency of engagement in recreational book reading, and recreational book reading can significantly influence school achievement, particularly in the field of literacy (Merga, 2015a). Schools can also encourage parents to embrace their potential as positive social influences to foster increased recreational book reading in their children, by providing insight into efficacious mechanisms of intervention and support, and encouraging parents to develop a sense of worth and agency as key literacy supporters in their children's lives beyond the early years of reading skill acquisition.

Adolescents both in Australia and internationally have shown increasing aliteracy (OECD, 2011a). This means that while these students have acquired the skill to read, they are not reading for pleasure. Levels of engagement in recreational book reading tend to decline in adolescence (Maynard, Mackay & Smyth, 2008; Nieuwenhuizen, 2001; Nippold, Duthie & Larsen, 2005; Stedman, 2009), particularly in boys (Hall & Coles, 1999). While it can be argued that the term aliteracy is deceptive, on the basis that adolescents are reading every day as they participate in recreational and functional literacies, at this stage, none of these other written text types offer a comparable level of established benefit according to the literature. International findings suggest that "in most countries, students who read fiction for enjoyment are much more likely to be good readers" (OECD, 2011b, p. 100), and that "students who read newspapers, magazines and non-fiction books are better readers in many countries, although the effect of these materials on reading performance is not as much pronounced as the effect of fiction books" (p. 101). An Institute of Education Sciences (IES) study in the U.S. also found that reading for information through sources such as the Internet did not offer the same positive benefit as storybook and novel reading on a combined reading literacy scale (Baer, Baldi, Ayotte & Green, 2007). The disparity in benefit could be due to the paucity of research evaluating the benefit of other text types, though emerging research suggests that the cognitive processes involved in reading other text types, such as internet-based sources, may be different (Liu, 2005). …

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