Reading for pleasure in the 21st Century
Submitting InstitutionOpen University
Unit of AssessmentEducation
Summary Impact TypeSocietal
Research Subject Area(s)
Education: Curriculum and Pedagogy, Specialist Studies In Education
Summary of the impact
Our research has transformed teachers' understanding of reading, leading
to more effective practices. Teachers reconceptualised reading from a
solitary to a social and multimedia practice, resulting in improved
attitudes to reading amongst pupils. Championed by five English Local
Authorities (LAs), one project was implemented in 800 schools (36,000
pupils per year group) with 61% of reading scores rising at twice the
average rate. It was later developed in several other LAs. Embedded in the
training of national literacy consultants (550) and initial teacher
education lecturers (290), this research shaped policy and practice in
England. Using new media, the Our Story app has influenced
teachers' perceptions and children's reading enjoyment in diverse
Research on reading within the Centre for Research in Education and
Educational Technology (CREET) builds on theoretical insights of literacy
as social practice (Maybin, 2004; Swann, 2007), and has been undertaken in
the context of a national decline in reading for pleasure. The research
revealed that teachers' knowledge of children's literature is too limited
to enable reader development, that the diversity of children's informal
multimedia reading practices at home is underestimated by teachers, and
that reading and talk are mutually supportive learning experiences for
children and adults. The work exposed an urgent need for primary
practitioners to reconceptualise reading in the 21st century. It developed
strategies to enable them to challenge their assumptions about the
solitary nature of reading, align their understandings with the lived
experiences of learners, and broaden what is recognised and validated as
reading in the early years and primary schooling.
From 2006 we carried out seven research projects, total funding £493k
These involved developing close partnerships with teachers, as
co-researchers and change agents, and with national organisations
including the UK Government's Primary National Strategy (PNS), the UK
Literacy Association (UKLA), the National College for School Leadership
and Management, Ofsted, The Reader Organisation, and the Chartered
Institute for Librarians and Information Professionals.
These projects produced 7 reports, 30 academic papers, 3 books, 17
professional articles, a smartphone/tablet app Our Story and
considerable website material, including a podcast.
Examples of our research studies include:
Teachers as Readers: Building Communities of Readers project
led by Cremin with Safford and Drury and researchers from Roehampton,
Canterbury Christ Church University and Birmingham LA. Phase I (2006-07)
surveyed 1200 teachers' personal and professional reading practices
(Cremin et al, 2008). Phase II (2007-08), shortlisted for the IRA
European Reading Award, involved teacher-researchers from five LAs
(Barking and Dagenham, Birmingham, Kent, Medway and Suffolk) documenting
and developing their own and children's reading practices and identities
(Cremin et al, 2009). Phase III (2009-11) involved 18 teachers from five
LAs adopting an ethnographic stance and visiting homes, researching
children's literacy lives and building on their new understandings in
Multimodal Literacies project (2007-10), led by Flewitt,
enabled practitioners in a Sure Start Centre to reconsider the everyday
experiences of 3 and 4 year-olds reading texts in print or electronic
iPads project (2011), led by Messer with Flewitt and Kucirkova,
enabled teachers in two East Midland cities to explore the potential of
touch-screen technology to support literacy development in early years,
special and primary.
Our Story project (2010-ongoing), led by Messer with Kucirkova,
developed a tablet/smartphone app to promote children's engagement with
narrative-and story-sharing (Kucirkova et al, 2012). Available in iTunes
for iOS and Google for Android as a free public download.
Discourse of Reading Groups (2007-08), led by Swann with
O'Halloran and Allington, worked with reading groups across England in
institutional/informal settings, documenting the power of literary
argumentation to build reader identities and understandings.
Understanding Literary Reading (2011-12) led by Cremin and
Swann, identified the key features of extra-curricular reading groups
within the Carnegie and Kate Greenaway shadowing scheme.
T. Cremin, Professor of Education (Literacy); D. Messer, Professor of
Education; J. Swann, Professor of English Language; Dr D. Allington,
Lecturer; Dr D. Attar, Senior Lecturer; Dr R. Drury, Senior Lecturer; Dr
R. Flewitt, Research Fellow (to Feb. 2013); Dr J. Soler, Senior Lecturer;
Dr K. O'Halloran (to Nov. 2011) Researcher; N. Kucirkova, Research
Student; K. Safford, Senior Lecturer, and D. Whitelock, Professor of
Technology Enhanced Assessment & Learning.
References to the research
1. Cremin, T., Mottram, M. Bearne, E. and Goodwin, P. (2008) `Exploring
teachers' knowledge of children's literature', Cambridge Journal of
Education, vol. 38, no. 4, pp. 449-64. ISSN 0305- 764X.
2. Cremin, T., Mottram, M., Collins, F., Powell, S. and Safford, K.
(2009) `Teachers as readers: building communities of readers', Literacy,
vol. 43, no. 1, pp. 11-19. ISSN 1741-4350.
3. Kucirkova, N., Messer, D. and Whitelock, D. (2012) `Parents reading
with their toddlers: the role of personalisation in book engagement', Journal
of Early Childhood Literacy, March, doi: 10.1177/1468798412438068.
4. Maybin, J. (2004) `Researching children's language and literacy
practices in school' in A. Goodwyn and A. Staples (eds) Learning to
read critically in language and literacy education, London, Sage,
pp. 86-106, ISBN 0-7619-4473-7.
5. Swann, J. (2007) `Designing "educationally effective" discussion', Language
and Education, vol. 21, no. 4, pp. 342-59. ISSN 0950-0782.
All journals named above employ an anonymised peer review process.
2006-07: £10,000 awarded by The UK Literacy Association (UKLA) to Prof.
T. Cremin, for a project entitled `Teachers as Readers: Phase 1,
Teachers' Reading Lives and Practices'.
2007-08: £107,903 awarded by AHRC to Prof. J. Swann for a project
entitled `The Discourse of Reading Groups'.
2007-08: £159,000 awarded by The Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and UKLA to
Prof. T. Cremin for a project entitled `Teachers as Readers: Phase II,
Building Communities of Readers'.
2007-10: £69,894 awarded by ESRC to Dr R. Flewitt for a project entitled
`Multimodal Literacies in the Early Years'.
2008: £10,000 awarded by The National Strategies (DCSF) and UKLA to Prof.
T. Cremin for the production of `Building Communities of Readers:
Professional Development Guide'.
2009-10: £115,000 awarded by The Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and UKLA to
Prof. T. Cremin for a project entitled `Phase III, Building
Communities: Researching Literacy Lives'.
2010: £2,000 awarded by The Reader Organisation to Prof. J. Swann for a
project entitled `Evaluation of Find Your Talent/Liverpool Reads School
2011-12: £17,213 awarded by Carnegie UK Trust and CILIP to Prof. T.
Cremin and Prof. J. Swann for a project entitled `Understanding Literary
Reading in the Carnegie Greenaway Shadowing Scheme'.
Details of the impact
Our research has had a positive impact on children's motivation to read,
reading frequency, reading repertoires, and confident participation in the
shared social experience of reading. In Teachers as Readers: Building
Communities of Readers (Phase II), 43 teachers from five LAs
identified disaffected readers and, through exploring their informal
reading practices, transformed their own and pupils' understanding of
reading. Their changed practice included talk-based activities, validation
of textual diversity and recognition of the importance of readers'
identities. One teacher noted, `I see reading differently now - I'm not
sure why I didn't recognise how social it is' (Cremin et al., 2009).
The External Evaluation Report (2008) identified significant impact on:
- pupils' attitudes and attainment, e.g. `61% of reading scores rose by
twice the usual rate over the year'
- teachers' knowledge and use of children's literature, e.g. `teachers'
views of pedagogy in the teaching of reading have undergone a seismic
- local and national policies.
The core group of LAs systematically built on our `powerful model for
professional learning' (External Evaluation, 2008) developed by the
project and rolled it out locally (800 schools with approximately 36,000
pupils in each year group). Sustained impact was noted, e.g. by Kent's LA
Manager, `the project's roll-out has made a sustained difference to
fostering reading for pleasure right across the authority' (2012).
The External Evaluation recognised that by maximising extensive
face-to-face and virtual networks, the project's recommendations shaped
policy and practice, locally and nationally. For example, Phases II and
III of the Building Communities work were embedded in the PNS training for
the national team of Literacy Consultants (approximately 550, in both 2009
and 2010). Supported by the project's Professional Development Guide
(funded by the PNS), several LAs mirrored the approach (e.g.
Gloucestershire, Hampshire, Lancashire). Significantly, the findings were
presented and integrated into the PNS ITE training for higher education
lecturers nationally (2009 and 2011). As a result, eight university ITE
courses ran modules developed from the model, promoting wider knowledge of
children's literature and reading for pleasure pedagogy.
Both PNS consultants and ITE lecturers were provided with the project
outputs (1, 2), the second of which was awarded the Wiley Blackwell
Research Award (2009) and became a Literacy Journal Top Ten
Download 2009-12. The work was also profiled on government and
professional websites (e.g. DCSF, Welsh government and International
Reading Association). The PI has advised on establishing similar projects
with ITE students and teachers in five countries.
Project recommendations have featured in leading practitioner magazines
(e.g. Scholastic), media (e.g. TES, Guardian), and
professional conferences (28 keynotes, e.g. National Union of Teachers)
reaching 7500 practitioners in the UK and internationally.
The research resulted in the UKLA Children's Book Awards (2008 onwards),
uniquely judged by teachers and shadowed by approximately 500 ITE students
in 19 universities. Our findings influenced the aims and selection
criteria for this award. Oxford University Press has employed Cremin as a
consultant over two years to build the project's insights into an
extensive online reading resource (available March 2014). Findings have
influenced the design of the site, for example, text recommendations and
strategies for developing classroom practices.
The research influenced national policy, which now foregrounds reading
for pleasure. The team presented at policy seminars at the Department for
Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) and the DCSF English Board (both
2009). The impoverished professional knowledge of poets for children,
identified in Phase I, influenced the creation of the strategic UK Poetry
Summit and informed the Ofsted poetry review.
The research formed a focus for three Qualifications and Curriculum
Development Agency conferences in 2009 and influenced the current
government's position on wider reading. Cremin was invited by the
Department for Education to lead a National College for School Leadership
and Management e-discussion on reading for pleasure (17/06/11-4/07/11), to
join the National College working party contributing to the draft reading
curriculum, and to be an expert witness at the All- Party Parliamentary
Commission on Boys' Reading (2012). The research is extensively quoted in
the Commission's report, the Government's Education Standards Research
Team's Research Evidence on Reading for Pleasure (2012) and
reflected in Ofsted`s Excellence in English (2012).
Exploring multimedia reading, the Our Story app was second
in the Top Ten Free Apps when launched (2011). It has been used with
children aged from 3 to 13 years in diverse settings. Examples include
supporting literacy in Gaelic medium nurseries in Scotland, reading
engagement in a Nottinghamshire Pupil Referral Unit and storytelling
amongst children and parents in a Haringey community project.
Adopted by professionals in UK, Japan, Spain and Slovakia, the app has
been employed for history and literacy, with Milton Keynes practitioners
appraising it and recommending features for inclusion in the second
version. A new version of the app based on their feedback delivers an
improved user interface and functionality. Evaluation of this work
indicates it is changing teachers' conceptualisations of multimedia
reading and influencing children's confidence and enthusiasm as readers.
Sources to corroborate the impact
Building Communities of Readers:
Teachers as Readers: Building Communities of Readers, Phase II,
Independent Evaluation Report (2008)
http://www.ukla.org/research/previous_ukla_funded_research/ukla_research_on_teachers_as_readers/ (accessed 15.10.13)
Building Communities: Researching Literacy Lives, Phase III,
Independent Evaluation Report (2010) (impact on children, teachers and
the national agenda)
http://www.ukla.org/research/previous_ukla_funded_research/_uklaou_building_communities_researching_literacy_lives_/ (accessed 15.10.13)
- Director: National Literacy Trust (impact on national policy)
- President, UK Literacy Association (impact on national policy)
- Her Majesty's Inspector: HMI, Ofsted and previously Birmingham Local
Authority: Senior Curriculum Adviser (practitioner impact across Local
- Barking and Dagenham Local Authority: Senior Primary Adviser
(practitioner impact across Local Authorities)
Our Story app:
- The Haringey Brilliant Stories' project http://somebrilliantstories.wordpress.com/
- Family Learning Coordinator, Haringey Adult Learning Service, Haringey
Our Story for iPad, available from Apple iTunes.