Reading, Pleasure and Play

Article excerpt

This edition of EDM celebrates and explores the role of children's reading and play in developing literacy. The emphasis here is unashamedly on the pleasure that stories and songs bring children (and adults); the message is that working with and exploiting such pleasure in the classroom is a vital route to success in reading and writing.

Learning at school cannot of course be pure pleasure, pure play; but children's pleasure in engagement with narrative and song is a resource that, many of the writers here argue, should be used to the full. Unfortunately, recent developments in the teaching of English and Literacy have not always recognized this. Despite overwhelming evidence that immersing children in enjoyable creative and imaginative activity--music, art, drama, story, song--is a powerful tool for developing motivation, social skills and literacy, there has been little concerted attempt to bring these to the heart of the school experience.

Recent literacy strategies and frameworks may have contained many commendable features, but such bureaucracies of learning surely cannot succeed if the creative experience is subordinated to them. In its latter years, the previous government attempted to shift the balance; but now, in Cameron's new philistine Britain, we shall have investment in neither bureaucracy nor creativity. Still, as our contributors seek to show, there is much that can be done in English classrooms, and it is possible that the less prescriptive curriculum that we might be moving towards can provide us with valuable opportunities.

The opening article, by Gabrielle Cliff Hodges (University of Cambridge), is a powerful reflection on the importance of reading aloud--not only for children, but for our culture and language more generally. The role of the reading of the 'whole class' novel in English teaching--once the very core of what happened in the classroom--is now disputed; and there may have been good reasons for renewing, re-thinking, re-contextualising the practice. But Cliff Hodges reminds us that the baby in this particular bathwater is very precious and should not be allowed to slip away. The drama of hearing narratives read aloud is, she argues, a socially powerful aesthetic experience that contributes significantly to the development of literacy, and remains with us in our adult lives.

Teresa Cremin (Open University) also focuses on the social construction of literacy, and the links between child and adult reading, in her article on teachers as readers. …


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