When you think about reading, do you anticipate an enjoyable hour or two in which you get absorbed in a story? Do you look forward to learning new information by perusing an article or the material on a website? Or do you dread the prospect of having to read something even when reading it is a requirement of your job? Do you get a headache or start to yawn when you think about spending some time reading?
Our attitudes toward reading influence how much we read, how often we read, and ultimately how well we read. Our attitudes toward reading come, in large part, from our prior reading experiences. And our attitudes toward reading influence others—our own children, the students with whom we work—because we unconsciously communicate our attitudes through our actions, words, and body language.
This overview focuses on the connection between experiences with reading and attitudes toward reading. It talks about the trail of influences that leads from your upbringing and formative years to your impact on the students whom you are helping learn to read. The graphic to the right illustrates the connections. A brief discussion of each step follows.
Your Childhood Reading Experiences
If your parents liked to read and had sufficient leisure time, you probably observed them reading. And, because of their own positive experiences with reading, they probably read books aloud to you when you were a young child. You may have owned some books of your own or borrowed books from the library. Depending on the text materials in your home and the places you visited often, you may also have looked at magazines, newspapers, encyclopedias, or used the Internet to find information.
Your early childhood experiences with books and other textual materials most likely shaped your initial attitude toward reading. Then, if you were like most children, you started school. Depending on your experiences there, your attitude toward reading might have become more positive, stayed the same, or become more negative.
- If your teachers gave you interesting books to read, encouraged your progress, and made you feel good about reading, your attitude is likely to have become more positive.
- If your school experiences with reading reinforced your home experiences, your attitude probably stayed the same.
- If you had trouble learning to read, felt frustrated by reading lessons, or had unsupportive teachers, then your attitude toward reading may have deteriorated.
Your Attitude Toward Reading
An attitude is a way of looking at something based on how that something makes you feel. Attitudes can be viewed as positive or negative, supportive or unsupportive, or warm or cold. But whether we call our attitude “positive,” “supportive,” or “warm,” we typically mean that we feel good about the activity, person, or circumstance about which we hold the positive (supportive or warm) attitude. In general people try to get more of the things or activities about which they hold positive attitudes and to avoid the things or activities about which they hold negative attitudes.
With reading, a positive attitude encourages a person to read more often, to share reading with others, to participate in activities that require reading, and to feel more confident about his or her reading abilities. But a negative attitude causes a person to avoid reading, to worry about his or her reading abilities, and to steer clear of activities that require reading. The person with a negative attitude engages in “avoidance” behaviors that tend to strengthen his or her negative attitude; and the person with a positive attitude engages in “approach” behaviors that tend to strength his or her positive attitude.
The reading behaviors that negative or positive attitudes promote have a significant impact on the speed with which someone learns to read and his or her reading ability. Attitudes toward reading and learning to read are associated because learning to read and increasing one’s reading ability depend on the amount of practice with reading that a person gets.
Your Adult Experiences as a Reader
Many of us form attitudes toward reading during childhood and maintain those same attitudes into adulthood. But others have a different experience.
Some people, for example, might overcome early reading difficulties and begin to enjoy reading in early adulthood. Others might find a new way to read (or reason for reading) that increases their engagement. Correspondence via email, for instance, might motivate some people to do more reading and to derive greater pleasure from it. And some might prefer to read a text on a computer screen rather than to read that text on paper.
Frustrations with reading may begin for some people, however, during postsecondary schooling or in the workplace. For example, someone may have read and enjoyed fiction during the K-12 years, but then have to read non-fiction (perhaps even highly technical material) during his or her postsecondary program or on the job. Non-fiction, technical materials, of course, may interest some readers; but they tire or even bore others.
For a paraprofessional, there are two reasons to think about your adult experiences as a reader. First, it will help you understand that your attitude toward reading is complex, reflecting your early experiences, your school experiences, and your experiences with reading as an adult. So what you communicate about reading might also be complex. Second, it will show you that attitudes toward reading can change, even in adulthood. This second point is especially important to consider if your experiences have led you to have a negative attitude toward reading, but now you hope to communicate a positive attitude toward reading to the children with whom you work.
What You Communicate to Students About Reading
As suggested by the discussion above, your attitude toward reading will influence what you communicate about reading when you tutor a student or provide other instructional supports for learning to read. Even if you say positive things about reading and encourage the student to enjoy reading, your body language may communicate something different.
If your current attitude toward reading is negative, you might try to hide your discomfort and frustration from the students you tutor. But this approach may not work very well. A better approach would be to try to read more often, perhaps selecting particularly interesting types of reading materials, so that a newfound enjoyment of the experience can help you shift your attitude in a positive direction.
Students’ Attitudes Toward Reading
Students develop attitudes toward reading in the same ways you did. What takes place in their homes has an impact. But their school experience of reading also has a powerful influence on their attitudes. Because neither you nor the teacher can control what happens in a student’s home, it’s important to concentrate attention on what can be done at school. In particular, educators can make sure that all students have lots of good experiences with reading, encouraging them to develop positive attitudes and increasing levels of confidence in themselves as readers.
Students’ Reading Behaviors
Students with positive attitudes toward reading approach the reading tasks they are assigned with the expectation that those tasks will be enjoyable. These students also exhibit confidence because they believe they will succeed with the reading tasks they encounter. In addition, they often choose reading as something enjoyable to do during their leisure time. They share reading activities with peers—trading favorite books and talking about books with their friends, or sending written messages back and forth.
Students who have negative attitudes toward reading, by contrast, avoid it. Sometimes they ignore homework that involves reading; sometimes they try to gather information from the pictures in a book rather than reading the words. Sometimes they even misbehave in order to divert attention away from the reading lesson.
Reading behaviors provide a clue to students’ attitudes toward reading. Helping students change their reading behaviors, interestingly, is a good way to help them improve their attitudes toward reading. For example, if you point students toward highly interesting reading materials, they might end up spending more time examining texts. Or if you encourage them to concentrate on passages to the point of really understanding them, you might help them build confidence.
Students’ Reading Performance
Reading is a complex activity, developed over time. Furthermore, different individuals pull together the various skills needed for reading at different rates. For some learners, all of the language, cognitive, and visual and auditory processing skills needed for reading seem to emerge at the same time. But for quite a few other learners, the skills develop more unevenly—with certain skills well in place while certain other skills are just beginning to emerge.
Because reading is complex and the process of learning differs from person to person, the best instruction in reading is supportive and personalized. It encourages engagement with reading without frightening the learner. It links reading to the life experience of the learner and provides a way for the learner to have new life experiences through his or her engagement with text.
Some educational practices, in fact, get in the way of the natural progression involved in learning to read. For example, a focus on skill mastery might make reading seem like a chore. And continual formal testing of reading performance might worry students about their competence and undermine their self-confidence. In-class oral reading embarrasses some children; and timed reading activities can interfere with reading comprehension and enjoyment. Attitude toward reading is such an important factor in eventual reading performance that teachers and tutors should emphasize activities that build positive attitudes and limit activities that might erode confidence or turn students off to reading.