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Reporting on reading: a survey into the reading attitudes and personal reading habits of year 2 children.

Background

Good reading ability is the key to success in school (Swalander and Taube, 2007) and reading is an important factor in many language and cognitive skills and in the development of general knowledge and vocabulary (Logan and Johnston, 2009). However, despite widespread efforts to prevent reading problems, reading continues to be exceptionally difficult for many pupils (Martinez, Aricak and Jewell, 2008).

Understanding the role of attitude in developing readers is important for two main reasons. Firstly, attitude may affect the level of ability eventually attained by pupils, through its influence on engagement and practice (Adam and Wild, 1997). Secondly, even for confident readers, poor attitude may lead to a choice not to read when other options exist, a condition known as aliteracy (McKenna, Kear and Ellsworth, 1995). Consequently, teachers cannot afford to ignore the attitudes of pupils since these are often important in the attainment of reading skills and in the continued use of reading for information and recreation (Alexander and Filler, 1976).

The aim of this study was to establish the reading attitudes and personal reading habits of Year 2 children in an attempt to assess how one impacts on the other. Factors that have been shown to affect children's attitudes towards reading include age, achievement, gender, reading materials, home influences and the role of teachers, and several of these areas were examined in the study.

Methodology

The research was conducted within the post-positivism research paradigm, using a survey method (Pickard, 2007). Quantitative data was obtained about reading attitudes and reading habits by administering a questionnaire to an entire Year 2 class at one school in the North East of England, a total of 51 children (26 boys and 25 girls). The questionnaire contained questions relating to attitudes to reading at home and school, along with reading frequency, the types of materials read, the support children received from significant others and their attitudes towards this, and reading on the internet.

Qualitative data was also collected from three teachers (a literacy co-ordinator and two Year 2 class teachers) using face-to-face, semi-structured interviews, in order to establish their opinions and feeling towards assessing reading attitudes and reading habits and to give a better understanding of the practices used in schools.

Results

The findings from this study reveal that the majority of children have positive attitudes towards reading. In respect of attitudes towards reading at home, the mean figures reveal that 68.65% of children feel positively about this, compared with 31.4% who gave negative responses. However, there were some interesting results within the questions. Although 92.2% of the children felt very positively about reading for fun at home, when asked how they felt about reading in the holidays and reading instead of playing, this fell to 51% and 39.2% respectively, supporting McKenna's (1994) theory that as more leisure options compete with reading in school holidays, or when there is a choice between reading and playing, even though children may view reading as pleasurable, other activities may be viewed as more so.

In respect of reading at school, 80.7% of children had a positive response to academic reading. Interviews showed that the teachers felt their role was vital in fostering the development of a positive attitude towards reading in children. Comments included:

'It's the foundation of a good reader--having a positive attitude towards reading. We begin with those steps and model how to be a good reader in terms of enjoyment, before we start to focus on reading skills'.

All the teachers viewed a positive attitude as more or equally important as the development of reading skills. This contradicts the findings of some researchers that emphasis on enhancing reading proficiency ignores the role played by attitude (Lever-Chain, 2008). The teachers listed a wide range of initiatives undertaken to promote reading in school, and the enthusiasm and commitment of the teachers in this area appears to be paying dividends in encouraging the children's positive attitude development.

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One of the main findings of the study was the lack of gender differences that were found in other research, which generally suggest that girls have significantly more positive attitudes towards reading than boys (Askov and Fischbach, 1973). Overall, scores for boys revealed that 68.25% had positive attitudes towards reading at home, compared with 69% of girls. Indeed, boys (82.08%) had slightly more positive attitudes towards school reading than girls (78.81%), although this was not significant. However, the results do concur with the findings of Mortimore et al. (1988) that gender differences were not seen in Years 1 and 2 and only became noticeable in Year 3.

Discussions with teachers revealed that although they agreed that there was a general assumption that girls had more positive attitudes towards reading than boys, they felt that this was not necessarily true. Two teachers commented that it was more a question of finding the right things for boys to read. McKenna, Kear and Ellsworth (1995) pointed out that gender-specific beliefs concerning what others expect may explain differences in reading attitudes of boys and girls. However, as the teachers in this school do not appear to subscribe to this view, this could explain why boys exhibit such positive attitudes in this sample. Another teacher stated that sometimes it might be the background of the child, rather than their gender, that influences them and therefore you've 'got to look at the child, not just the gender issue.'

A further explanation for the very positive attitudes found in boys in this study was that in the recent past the school had experienced issues due to a gender imbalance in the school, with two-thirds of the children being boys. Consequently, the school placed a great deal of focus upon boys' reading and took steps to address their needs by purchasing a greater variety of reading materials to appeal to them. As McKenna, Kear and Ellsworth (1995, p.952) explain 'encouraging a positive image of reading in the minds of boys may tend to offset the gender effect' and it appears that the teachers in this school may have successfully achieved this.

In respect of where children do most of their reading, an overwhelming 80.4% said home, whilst only 19.6% said school. This figure is reassuring as it seems to suggest that children are engaging in reading outside school. A greater percentage of girls claimed to do more reading at home (88%) compared to boys (73.1%). This could be related to the fact that girls have slightly more positive attitudes towards reading at home than boys. It could also be that internet use and playing computer games is particularly prevalent in boys (Smith, 2004), which may be competing for their time.

In terms of how often the children read at home, 66.7% of children read every day or most days. However, a third of children do little or no reading at home, which is particularly concerning. Additionally, only about half of the children could confidently answer that they were read to at home. However, more encouragingly, 84% of children did say that a grown-up at home listened to them read and therefore the children do appear to receive support for their reading, although this study also found no significant relationship between the support received at home and the frequency of reading undertaken.

All of the teachers felt very strongly that the home background was very influential for a child's reading habits and ability and they tried very hard to work in partnership with parents to support their child's reading. Initiatives included literacy open mornings and family learning, with the aim of promoting a fun-based approach to reading and giving parents ideas to use at home. However, it must be remembered that a child's home background is hard to influence and teachers can only do so much in attempting to get parents on board. As one teacher commented:

'It's really hard as a teacher to develop skills and attitudes if parents don't see it as a priority'.

School factors can be easier to address and the teachers in this study appear to be working successfully to influence these.

In terms of where children get the books from that they read at home, the study showed that the majority of children have access to their own books at home and encouragingly, over half of the children questioned used the library. 43.1% of children read online, although it is not clear exactly what types of material they are reading.

Children's favourite types of reading materials are story books (28%), comics (22%), finding-out books (20%), magazines (16%), newspapers (8%) and poetry (6%). The findings do reveal differences in the types of materials children read at home, compared with school, mainly in respect of comics and magazines. However, the literacy co-ordinator stated that she was looking to equip the school library with comic books, football programmes, sports magazines and High School Musical books, showing an awareness of the materials that children are interested in. She explained that children are consulted about the books they would like, supporting Clark and Foster's (2005) view that an effective approach is to give pupils an opportunity to select and purchase reading materials for classrooms. The study revealed gender differences in reading preferences and interestingly, finding-out books, which are often associated with boys, scored more highly amongst girls. Teachers believed this could be due to the previous school focus on boys' reading and the materials acquired to support this.

This child-centred approach to the reading materials used in school could explain why the children are so positive about reading at school and appears to dispel the notion that educators believe that they must exert control over the materials that are available for school reading or feel under pressure to provide and use quality literature in the classroom (Sainsbury and Schagen, 2004). The teachers have a positive attitude towards all types of reading matter and avoid limiting the children to certain resources. As one teacher commented:

'I don't have a problem because I think that if it is getting them reading then it's better than them not reading at all.'

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The teachers confirmed that there is no formal assessment of reading attitudes or reading habits in children, although these are assessed informally, and there appears to be more emphasis on formally assessing reading skills. However, the teachers appear to have a good knowledge of the children in their care, mainly obtained by questioning the children and encouraging communication with parents via reading record books. As the children's attitudes are so positive, it could be argued these informal assessments are sufficient in providing the information needed by teachers. Nevertheless, if there is no formal assessment, it does raise the question of how teachers can check how successful their strategies have been in improving children's attitudes to reading (Francis, 1997) and exactly what types of reading materials are preferred by certain children.

Overall, the results reveal that there is a strong positive and significant correlation relationship between reading attitudes at home and the frequency of reading, with the more positive the attitude towards reading at home, the more often children read at home. However, no relationship was found in this study between attitudes towards reading at school and the frequency of reading at home. It is clear that the teachers in this study place great emphasis on children establishing positive attitudes towards reading and their role in assisting with this. They do consider children's reading attitudes in curriculum planning and undertake many activities specifically to encourage these, with a considerable degree of success.

It is hoped that this study has provided a useful insight into the reading attitudes and reading habits of Year 2 children. However, the researchers acknowledge that the findings do only apply to one school, at one point in time. The small sample size may have limited the study and the extent to which these findings can be generalized to other settings cannot be ascertained without additional research. Further studies should examine the research aims with a larger and more diverse population, in terms of backgrounds, abilities and ages, perhaps employing a qualitative element to gain a deeper understanding of children's' attitudes. Additionally, longitudinal research would provide a valuable insight into how beliefs and attitudes towards reading change as children move through the primary years (McKenna, Kear and Ellsworth, 1995).

Although it is merely a starting point, it is hoped that the results can be used to enhance children's attitudes towards reading which is particularly important since:

'Encouraging the love of reading is a vitally important priority that has positive consequences for our students' literacy growth, both now and in the future. Teachers and administrators who embrace this... will help develop future generations of citizens who not only are able to read but also want to read.' (Sanacore, 2006, p.37)

Acknowledgements

The research was conducted as part of Michelle Austin's dissertation for the award of MA in Information and Library Management at Northumbria University. It was funded by an award from the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

References

Adam, N. & Wild, M. (1997) Applying CD-ROM interactive storybooks to learning to read, Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 13, pp. 119-132.

Alexander, J. E. & Filler, R. C. (1976) Attitudes and reading. Delaware: International Reading Association.

Askov, E. N. & Fishbach, T. J. (1973) An investigation of primary pupils' attitudes toward reading, Journal of Experimental Education, 41 (3), pp. 1-7 Periodicals

Archive Online [Online]. Available at: http://pao.chadwyck.co.uk/PDF/1244215030475.pdf (Accessed: 5 June 2009).

Clark, C & Foster, A. (2005) Children and young people's reading habits and preferences: the who, what, why, where and when. London: National Literacy Trust. Available at: http://www.literacytrust.org.uk/Research/Reading_Connects_survey.pdf (Accessed: 23 May 2009).

Francis, H. (1997) 'Teaching beginning reading: a case for monitoring feelings and attitudes?' Reading, 31 (1), pp. 5-8.

Lever-Chain, J. (2008) 'Turning boys off* Listening to what five-year-olds say about reading, Literacy, 42 (2), pp. 83-91.

Logan, S. & Johnston, R. (2009) 'Gender differences in reading ability and attitudes: examining where these differences lie' Journal of Research in Reading, 32 (2), pp. 199-214 Wiley Interscience [Online]. Available at: http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/journal/117986938/home?CRETRY=1&SR ETRY=0 (Accessed: 24 May 2009).

Martinez, R. S., Aricak, O. T. & Jewell, J. (2008) 'Influences of reading attitude on reading achievement: a test of the temporal-interaction model, Psychology in the Schools, 45 (10), pp. 1010-1022 Wiley Interscience [Online]. Available at: http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/cgi-bin/home (Accessed: 1 March 2009).

McKenna, M. C. (1994) 'Toward a model of reading attitude acquisition, in Cramer, E. H. & Castle, M. (ed.) Fostering the love of reading: the affective domain in reading education. Delaware: International Reading Association, pp. 18-40.

McKenna, M. C., Kear, D. J. & Ellsworth, R. A. (1995) 'Children's attitudes toward reading: a national survey, Reading Research Quarterly, 30 (4), pp. 934956.

Mortimore, P., Sammons, P., Stoll, L., Lewis, D. & Ecob R. (1988) School matters: the junior years. Somerset: Open Books.

Pickard, A. J. (2007) Research methods in information. London: Facet Publishing.

Sainsbury, M. & Schagen, I. (2004) Attitudes to reading at ages nine and eleven: National Foundation for Educational Resarch, Journal of Research in Reading, 27 (4), pp. 373-386. WileyInterScience [Online]. Available at: http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/journal/117986938/home?CRETRY=1&SR ETRY=0 (Accessed: 1 March 2009). Sanacore, J. (2006) 'Nurturing lifetime readers, Childhood Education, 83 (1), pp. 33-37 Infotrac [Online]. Available at: http://find.galegroup.com/itx/paginate.do?qrySerId=Locale%28en%2CUS%2C% 29%3AFQE%3D%28JN%2CNone%2C21%29%22Childhood+Education%22%3A And%3ALQE%3D%28DA%2CNone%2C8%2920060922%24&inPS=true&sort= DateDescend&searchType=PublicationSearchForm&tabID=T002&prodId=SPJ. SP01&searchId=R1&userGroupName=unn&currentPosition=21 (Accessed: 30 March 2009).

Smith, S. (2004) 'The non-fiction reading habits of young successful boy readers: forming connections between masculinity and reading' Literacy, 38 (1), pp. 1016.

Swalander, L. & Taube, K. (2007) 'Influences of family-base prerequisites, reading attitude, and self-regulation on reading ability, Contemporary Educational Psychology, 32, pp. 206-230 ScienceDirect [Online]. Available at: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science?_ob=HomePageURL&_method=userHo mePage&_lg=Y&_acct=C000010138&_version=1&_urlVersion=0&_userid=737 4795&md5=730a0dfbcf5b133255f48c8daa2f3111 (Accessed: 11 March 2009).

* Michelle Austin ba (Hons), ma is a former Northumbria University student. Biddy Casselden ba (Hons) is Senior Lecturer/ProgrammeLeader in Information and Library Management by Distance Learning at Northumbria University.
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Author:Austin, Michelle; Casselden, Biddy
Publication:School Librarian
Article Type:Survey
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Sep 22, 2010
Words:2740
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