What counts as reading? PIRLS, EastEnders and The Man on the Flying Trapeze

Maybin, Janet (2013). What counts as reading? PIRLS, EastEnders and The Man on the Flying Trapeze. Literacy, 47(2) pp. 59–66.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/lit.12005


After briefly reviewing how reading is conceptualised in the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) and the English National Curriculum, this article examines two unofficial reading activities in a class of 10-11 year-olds, to see how far these activities match up with the official definitions of reading, or whether they involve a different kind of interaction with text. While the children’s unofficial reading appears trivial, fleeting and fragmentary, analysis shows that they are applying, albeit it in a rudimentary way, the comprehension skills of retrieval, inference, interpretation and evaluation promoted by PIRLS and the National Curriculum. These skills, however, are driven by children’s emotional, critical and creative responses to the texts. The children’s reading is more imaginative and dialogic than is possible within official curriculum activities; they interweave emotional and moral response with argument and critique in one example and respond humorously to poetic rhyme, rhythm and tone in another. These spontaneous reading activities, where children are active, animated and engaged, provide evidence of important dimensions of literacy which are not adequately addressed in official surveys and curriculum assessment.

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