Academic journal article Reading Horizons

Café Culture: Promoting Empowerment and Pleasure in Adolescent Literacy Learning

Academic journal article Reading Horizons

Café Culture: Promoting Empowerment and Pleasure in Adolescent Literacy Learning

Article excerpt

Abstract

The 160 third, seventh, and eleventh-graders involved in this study agreed, almost unanimously, that readingwas "important." Participants cited the empowering benefits of reading as they justified this opinion. However, with regards to the enjoyment of reading, fewer middle and high school participants reported "liking" reading than their elementary counterparts and fewer reported reading in their free time.

One solution to this dilemma involves providing adolescent students with a context devoted solely to pleasure reading. In doing so, educators can look to an institution that boasts both an historical link to literate culture and current-day pop culture appeal: the coffeehouse. When combined with more traditional forms of literacy instruction, the coffeehouse provides a viable model for promoting both empowerment and pleasure in adolescent literacy learning.

Introduction

Most educators would agree that the ability to read is empowering. After all, success in everyday lite- whether it be work, school, or community involvement- demands individuals who are "highly skilled in reading for understanding" (Learning Point Associates, 2005, NCLB Act, \ 2). The long-term empowering benefits of reading are numerous, and yet, as Newkirk (2003) points out, "We all regularly avoid tasks that do not give us some form of pleasure, no matter how beneficial they might be for the future" (p. 33). Furthermore, not only do people regularly avoid unpleasant tasks, but they seek out other, more pleasurable activities with which to fill their time (Nell, 1988).

Indeed, this phenomenon plays itself out when it comes to adolescents and reading. Although most adolescents can read, many do not find it pleasurable, and, therefore, avoid it when they can (Baker, Dreher, & Guthrie, 2000; Strommen & Mates, 2004), choosing to fill their time with other activities. This disturbing trend makes the issue of reading for pleasure and its link to motivation and engagement an important one, despite the argument that "reading for pleasure is a 'cuddly' activity that some people like to indulge in but that is essentially without further merit" (Clark & Rumbold, 2006, p. 5) and/or the misconception that issues related to motivation represent "the opposite of having high standards" (Goodson, as cited in Cassidy, Garrett, & Barrera, 2006, p. 35). Such claims hold no merit; after all, much research exists linking motivation and engagement to increased learning (eg: Guthrie & Wigfield, 2000; Teale & Gambrell, 2007) thus making pleasure reading an important issue in adolescent literacy.

Our research was initially guided by two general research questions. First, we wanted to know how middle and high school students' beliefs about reading differed from their elementary counterparts'. Second, we were interested in the reasons elementary, middle, and high school students gave for their beliefs about reading. However, as we began to examine students' justifications for their beliefs, we became interested in the idea that motivation for reading could spring from a variety of sources, including the desire for "empowerment" and "pleasure." The emergence of these two categories caused us to consider the importance of promoting both sources of motivation within adolescents' school-based reading experiences. Finally, further reading and contemplation led us to consider the role an institution that boasts both an historical link to literate culture and current-day pop culture appeal, the coffeehouse, might play in achieving such a goal.

Conceptual Frame

A joint position statement of the International Reading Association and the National Middle School Association reports that, while elementary students fare quite well in international comparisons of reading performance, "the data indicate that the level of student performance drops off in the middle and high school years" (International Reading Association, 2002, II 4). …

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