A wide reading programme is promoted as a key vehicle for learners of English as an additional language (EAL) to improve their English language skills and become successful readers in English. Typically, such a programme involves learners being exposed to an extensive variety of reading materials both as independent readers and in structured sessions facilitated by a teacher or teaching assistant. The underlying rationale is that this type of programme exposes learners to a broad range of language – both vocabulary and language structures – which will support their English language development.
However, adopting a singular focus on the mechanics of learning to read ignores the importance of learners reading for pleasure, for example, by concentrating too heavily on reading by decoding or reading for fluency, and ignoring the wider picture. In fact, whether learners enjoy reading a book or specific text is just as important as their phonemic awareness, knowledge of phonics, vocabulary development, reading fluency and reading comprehension. Clark and Rumbold (2006) define reading for pleasure as reading we choose to do and expect to enjoy, even though we may have begun the reading at someone else’s direction. Promoting reading for pleasure offers lifelong benefits – both educational and personal. It needs to be a key consideration as we select materials and encourage our learners to explore the literature around them.
When learners read for pleasure, they gain multiple recognised benefits, most notably in terms of their academic performance and future prospects. Clark and De Zoysa (2011) note that the educational advantages gained from reading for pleasure include enhanced reading and writing ability, text comprehension, and depth of grammar and vocabulary knowledge. Additional important benefits are increased self-confidence as a reader, general knowledge, understanding of other cultures, and insight into human nature and decision-making. In 2002, Kirsch et al. pointed out that the socio-economic status of a learner’s family is less important in relation to their academic success than whether that learner enjoys reading or not.
Our EAL learners’ ability to read in English will have an impact on their opportunities to engage in a wide range of ways, including their ability to approach, process and evaluate the sea of information so readily available to all of us these days. Choosing the right materials and resources is a critical factor in encouraging and motivating our EAL learners to read in English for enjoyment. Increasing their enjoyment of reading is dependent on how we engage them in reading – their ability to choose what they read is a key consideration, as is access to books that are of interest to them. Other factors are how often they read and for how long.
However, the strongest influence on a learner’s motivation to read and subsequent enjoyment is having readers around them. According to Ziegenfuss et al. (2014), the cultural and linguistic knowledge our EAL learners bring to our schools is not universally recognised and acknowledged. They cite the importance of being culturally responsive in our choice of reading materials by seeking out texts that feature our EAL learners’ ethnic and cultural backgrounds.
In addition, DeHart (2022) recommends looking for texts that include authentic experiences that our EAL learners ‘can relate to and/or learn from’ or that relate to the learning outcomes in their curriculum subject areas. He argues that this requires us as teachers to become active readers ourselves, as we continuously look for texts that will ignite our EAL learners’ interest.This can be a daunting ask on top of what is already required of us as busy teachers, but DeHart addresses this for himself, in part, by networking with ‘critical friends who read extensively’ and engaging with librarians. A useful strategy might then be to establish an informal network of like-minded colleagues and create a shared database where everyone can add new discoveries.
Ultimately, we all want our EAL learners to succeed in their language learning, and meet their broader educational goals, so they can participate fully in the world in which they find themselves. Being able to access information presented in the written form is a critical contributor to being included in this way. There is ample evidence to show that taking pleasure from a good read is something that can and must be fostered at any age.
The resource accompanying this article might be a useful tool to act as a prompt for your learners as they seek out books to ignite their passion for reading. You can download it by clicking on the buttons at the top and bottom of this article.
Author: Christine Hanley, EAL Specialist
Clark, C. and De Zoysa, S. (2011). Mapping the Interrelationships of Reading Enjoyment, Attitudes, Behaviour and Attainment: An Exploratory Investigation. London: National Literacy Trust
Clark, C. and Rumbold, K. (2006). Reading for Pleasure: A Research Overview. London: National Literacy Trust
DeHart, J. (2022, June 6). How to Help Striving Adolescent Readers. Retrieved 20 July, 2022: How to Help Middle School Students Who Have Difficulties Reading | Edutopia
Kirsch, I., de Jong, J., Lafontaine, D., McQueen, J., Mendelovits, J., Monsieur, C. (2002). Reading for Change: Performance and Engagement across Countries: Results from PISA 2000. OECD.
Ziegenfuss, R .G., Odhiambo, E., Keyes, C. (2014). How Can We Help Students Who Are English Language Learners Succeed? Current Issues in Middle Level Education, 19 (1), 58-62. EJ1087693.pdf (ed.gov)