Links between enjoyment and feedback
The project data clearly showed that a key factor in parental enjoyment of shared reading activity was parents receiving feedback from their children, which indicated that the children were benefitting from the experience. The feedback that parents reported that they gained from their children included: evidence of learning, confirmation of the child understanding the book or story or signs of their enjoyment. Very often these factors were combined. For example, this was exemplified in Jo’s interview. When asked how she felt about reading with her youngest child, Jo stated:
I think at this stage, because she likes them (books), then I can (enjoy it). I wouldn’t do it if she didn’t like it, because I couldn’t be bothered. But she’s so engaged with books she does like, you know, counting, like the bits of toast there, or whatever it is.
In many ways Jo’s comments mirror those of Latika, introduced in the section above. Latika went on to make the link between her child’s enjoyment of the activity and her (Latika’s) commitment to shared reading when she stated, ‘She likes listening to the story, if she didn’t like listening to the story I won’t read to her.’ What is clear is that both Latika and Jo are saying that certain conditions must be met if they are to read with their children. In Jo’s case she is saying that her daughter is not only enjoying the activity, but is ‘so engaged’, manifest in the fact that she is counting, which was encouraged by the book they were sharing. Crucially, it is the evidence of this engagement that is impelling Jo to maintain shared reading activity with her daughter.
For many of the parents in this study, their enjoyment of shared reading was strongly linked to their child’s enjoyment. This became a very familiar theme in the data and was evident within most of the interviews, in one way or another. For example, when asked about her views on the importance of shared reading, Hadra replied that she and her husband do it ‘because she (daughter) enjoys it and it’s something we can do together’ and that importance, in terms of learning to read, ‘doesn’t come into it’. Katie also reported that her son ‘loves’ being read to and ‘really enjoys it’, while Kerry stated that her daughter ‘enjoys it’ and it makes her (Kerry) ‘feel nice to know that she likes sitting listening to me reading’.
These parents were telling us that they valued getting feedback from their children to show that they (the children) were enjoying shared reading; as demonstrated, in some cases parents were quite clear that if they perceived this feedback to be missing, they would be less inclined to continue reading to their child. We will shortly discuss the different ways in which feedback was presented to, and interpreted by the parents, but before we come to this, it is important to examine this concept of child enjoyment in feedback in more detail. As already discussed, many of these parents seemed to believe that enjoyment was a distinct aim of shared reading; however, much of the data also suggested that for many parents, child enjoyment was also linked to the concepts of ‘learning’ and ‘understanding’.
This was emphasised in several of the interviews, with Tania’s being one such case. Tania spoke with enthusiasm about the pleasure that both she and her son derived from shared reading. There was no doubt that Tania saw mutual enjoyment as being a critical outcome of the activity, talking specifically about ‘bonding’ and ‘quality time’ as features of their shared reading. For example, Tania reported that, aside from bonding, her son ‘gets enjoyment’ out of shared reading, meaning that she would ‘happily sit, if he wanted to carry on reading, for half an hour, which might mean that bedtime’s done later’. What is more, Tania went on to make instinctive connections between this enjoyment, the feedback she was getting from her son, and the learning that was also taking place. Talking of being physically close when reading, Tania explained:
It’s always been like a bonding thing for us. And yeah - what he gets out of it. I can SEE him literally ... I mean you can see him taking it in. We both gain from it, definitely, it a good quality time.
What is clear from Tania’s interview is that the enjoyment for her is embedded in the fact that she can see that her son is ‘taking it in’. Tania provides further clarification on this when she later reported:
The more questions he asks, the more ... you know ... he wants to learn, he really does, and I just ... he’s so receptive I’ll sit there all day, d’you know what I mean? If he wants to talk about blurbs on every book in the house I’d go through them with him.
Interestingly, while Tania’s data supports previous research, which claims that bonding and enjoyment are key goals of shared reading for parents (Audet et al, 2008), we can see that for Tania, these factors are strongly linked with Tania’s pleasure in seeing that her son is not only enjoying the activity, but is also learning from it. Further evidence to support this could be found towards the end of the interview when Tania again spoke about shared reading being ‘good quality bonding time’, before also saying ‘and it’s all going towards his future isn’t it?’
Like Tania, Lisa also spoke about the relationship between enjoyment, feedback and learning in shared reading activity; however, she talked about her child’s learning almost as a welcome consequence of the activity, rather than an actual aim. When first asked why she engaged in shared reading, Lisa’s response was initially hesitant. She told us, ‘I don’t know. I just thought to start reading to them. I don’t know. I think it’s good to read isn’t it?’ Following on from this, Lisa then made the point that she reads because her daughter ‘is enjoying it’ before continuing with ‘and I’m enjoying it as well’. As evident in many of the other interviews, when asked what it was about reading with her daughter that she enjoyed, Lisa responded, ‘Mainly because I know she enjoys it, do you know what I mean? That’s why I like reading with her’. This again shows that Lisa, like many other parents in this study, enjoyed reading to her child because she was getting positive feedback from the child in the form of seeing that her child was enjoying the activity; however, she was also making a natural connection between this and her child’s learning. This is evident in the following extract from her interview. Having talked about her child’s enjoyment, Lisa immediately stated:
And I think it’s just made her talk quicker, you know, things like her communication skills and stuff. Yes I think it’s very important to read, and carry on reading ... So I’ll carry on reading with her until she asks me not to.... So it’s just seeing her enjoying it, and seeing how much her talking and her writing and things like that is coming on. Do you know what I mean - I think that’s all down to reading.
Careful analysis of this data suggests that both Tania and Lisa value the learning that they can see taking place, and this contributed towards their enjoyment of shared reading activity; however, in both cases it appeared to be unlikely that either of these parents read to their children with the express purpose of promoting their child’s learning. Rather, the main goals were to enjoy spending time with their child and to enjoy bonding; however, when the parents saw that the activity was also promoting learning, they felt even more committed to sustaining shared reading.
Interestingly, this emphasis differed from some of the parents in the study who were within a higher income bracket, who also spoke about the importance of their children enjoying shared reading; however, they also spoke specifically about the association between shared reading and their children’s learning. For example, when asked about the reasons why she read to her son, Elizabeth responded:
At the beginning it was kind of ... showing him pictures and teaching him things, like, pictures of balls. I suppose it’s a teaching aid, but the first and foremost is just to enjoy the stories, it’s an enjoyable thing to do with him. But then, yeah, it’s been, I suppose, a kind of a teaching thing as well. He’ll see something in a book and then he’ll see it in the real world and he’ll make the connection ... When he was younger it was like teaching him the words for things, so it’s a language thing as well. But, yeah, mainly it’s just enjoyable to sit and have a cuddle and read a story, it’s a quite nice bonding time with him.
While Elizabeth appears to agree that the enjoyment of reading should be the ‘first and foremost’ aim of shared reading, it is interesting to note that she is also talking about shared reading as an opportunity for not only ‘learning’, but for ‘teaching’. In other words, Elizabeth is arguing that she can use the opportunity created by shared reading, to teach her son in various ways. This was further evidenced a little later in the interview when she again stated that shared reading should be ‘enjoyable’ but went on to say that it is important ‘for his language and stuff’. She continued:
I think at this age it’s really important that he starts to learn to read and write and speak and he’s starting to express an interest in actually learning to read, so he’ll look at the pages and say ‘I don’t know the words’, and I’ll say ‘well we’ll learn the words, we’ll start learning them’, and we’ve started doing like letters with him, and a bit of writing and a bit of reading.
Similarly, both Hannah and Victoria commented on the fact that shared reading offered an opportunity for their child to learn. When asked what drove her to initially start looking at books with her son, Hannah spoke in detail about societal expectations and her own perceptions of the importance of reading. She reported:
I think there was probably an expectation that that’s what you do with children, so, we went to the library and they have Baby Time sessions don’t they, where they read to them and sing a few songs, that kind of thing. And, you know, I recognise the importance of reading in terms of inspiring minds and opening up doorways to people as they get older.
Victoria also spoke about the ‘importance’ of reading in terms of a child’s learning; however, she also emphasised that she wants her son to have a ‘love of reading’. When asked what she wants her son to get out of shared reading activity, Victoria responded that it is about having nice ‘family time’ and that
‘it’s nice to bond in that time and have a cuddle’. However, Victoria had also bought phonics flashcards to use with her son, though she was quick to point out that she is ‘not pushing the sounds’, and does not want him ‘to be bored’. That said, like Hannah and Elizabeth, Victoria was clearly aware that shared reading could support language development, which was something she was keen to encourage. She told us:
I think it sort of helps with concentration and listening skills, and I know how important it is for vocabulary, and I know how important that is for young children, because if they’ve got the vocabulary they can express themselves. I know he’s quite a shy child, so it’s quite hard to express yourself in a social situation, like at school, nursery, so if he has got the words, that will help him. I also think it’s (shared reading) a really good learning tool, a learning opportunity to find out about something new.
In pulling this together we can see that parents’ enjoyment of shared reading is embedded in a cycle of reciprocity between parent and child. Many of the parents in this study were clear about the fact that their enjoyment was strongly dependent on their child providing feedback to show that they were getting something from the activity, such as enjoying it. This suggests that shared reading is a highly reciprocal activity, where both child and parent are not only jointly focused on a text but must be sharing a sense of enjoyment which is transmitted to one another. What is more, while enjoyment of shared reading remained a central concern for most of the parents in this study the data also indicated that this was linked to conceptualisations of child learning. While it was not the original intention of this study to compare the participants with one another, it became clear from the analysis that there was a difference in how some of the families from lower-income groups perceived child learning within shared reading, in comparison with some families who were in a higher income bracket. Most families across the whole data set reported that child enjoyment should be a key aim of shared reading activity; however, families from within lower income brackets were more inclined to report that they needed to see evidence of their child’s enjoyment in order to maintain shared reading activity. What is more, some of these families went on to state that while the goal of shared reading was enjoyment, they were also aware that the activity was simultaneously promoting an aspect of their child’s learning. Seeing evidence of this learning further encouraged the parents to enjoy shared reading with their child, therefore strengthening the cycle of reciprocity.
In contrast, parents from within a higher income bracket also stated that child enjoyment should be a main goal of shared reading; however, some of these parents also said that a goal of shared reading was to promote learning - especially language development. This is important because this suggests that these parents may be less dependent on gaining positive feedback from their children given that they were also motivated to read to their children because it would support their child’s learning. In fact, when asked directly if they would still maintain shared reading even if their children were not responding as positively as they were, Victoria reported that she ‘would do it, but probably not as much’, while Elizabeth also said that she would carry on reading and ‘hopefully it’ll sink in’.
This suggests that while receiving positive feedback from their children was clearly important for all parents, this may be especially important for some families within lower income groups. This, however, raises questions about what positive feedback looks like. How do parents interpret the feedback they are receiving from their children and how does this impact upon their motivation to maintain shared reading activity with their children? This is discussed next.