Literature in Common: Reading for Pleasure in School Reading Groups

Cremin, Teresa and Swann, Joan (2016). Literature in Common: Reading for Pleasure in School Reading Groups. In: Rothbauer, Paulette M; Skjerdingstad, Kjell Ivar; McKechnie, Lynne (E.F.) and Oterholm, Knut eds. Plotting the Reading Experience: Theory/Practice/ Politics. Wilfrid Laurier University Press, pp. 279–300.


This chapter considers the reading experiences of voluntary reading groups in schools, their collaborative interpretation of children’s/young adult literature, and their construction of reader identities. We focus on a study of secondary school reading groups in different parts of the UK as they took part in a scheme to ‘shadow’ the judging of two prestigious children’s book awards: the Carnegie Medal and the Kate Greenaway Medal. The groups spent part of the summer term reading and discussing books that were short-listed for one or both of these awards. They were then able to compare their views with those of the judges. Our study of this process was carried out in collaboration with the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP), who run the awards and the shadowing scheme and wished to evaluate the success of shadowing. The work was funded by the Carnegie UK Trust.
A strong theme that emerged in the study was that, despite their institutional settings and, to some extent, their alignment with curricular priorities (e.g. many were reported as contributing to their school’s literacy strategy) the groups presented themselves as determinedly extracurricular. While reading for pleasure is part of the curricula for English in the UK, group leaders and members saw English as dominated by objectives-led approaches to reading and by assessment. By contrast, reading group experiences were characterized as being about ‘fun’, ‘enjoyment’ and ‘choice’. Groups were partly defined by their contrast with curricular reading, and considerable work went into creating and sustaining this distinctiveness. But also, in a context in which reading is often regarded as ‘geeky’, an activity for ‘boffins’, groups sought to create reading communities in which the pleasure of reading could be shared.
In the chapter we consider, in turn, evidence from interviews and conversations with reading group members, and observations and audio-recordings of reading group meetings. In combination, these demonstrate how ‘non-school’ reading practices, relationships and identities are worked at and maintained: both accounted for in talk about reading and enacted within reading group practices.

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