Shared reading; a different definition of ‘reading’?

The parents in the Shared Reading Project who did not have a good personal relationship with reading spoke about reading as an activity that they did not enjoy. They also spoke about their secondary school years as being a time when their reading was on public display and was governed by expectations, both in terms of their ability to read with accuracy and the social expectation that they should be enjoying reading certain books. However, this stood in sharp contrast to the way in which they came to define reading within the context of their shared reading activity with their children. For many of these parents, shared reading was not only about reading a book together but was seen as a valuable opportunity for them to spend protected time with their child. This was evident in Natalie’s interview when she spoke of shared reading as:

It’s our little bonding time really, that time together. It goes off books as well, just because we’ve got books in our hand, we talk about the rest of the day, we get a story in, but then that’s our time.

Natalie is here articulating that her shared reading encounters with her children are about much more than reading the book. Having stated that the activity provides time for her to bond with her children, she goes on to explain that the parent-child interaction occurs because they have a book to share together but is not limited to reading the book. Just because they have ‘books in (their) hand’, their interaction is not restricted to just getting ‘a story in’, but includes talking together about their day, ‘bonding’ and generally having ‘time’. In other words, the book appears to be acting as a catalyst in facilitating the opportunity for parent and child to spend quality and protected time together, which includes talking and indeed bonding.

Very similar sentiments were expressed by Hadra. Interestingly, Hadra reported that it was her husband who tended to read to their daughter; however, unlike Hadra, who became interested in reading at a later stage in life, she spoke of her husband as being someone who ‘doesn’t read at all’. When describing the shared reading interaction between her husband and daughter, Hadra emphasised the fact that the activity again extended beyond reading. She reported:

So he gets her changed and reads her book, and then just tells her some stories and asks her about her day. So they talk -1 wouldn’t say rubbish (laughs), they talk randomly, and then he’ll tell her a story, and I take her up to bed.

Not only is Hadra’s husband another example of a parent who appeared not to have a good personal relationship with reading, but had developed a strong shared reading relationship with his child, but this again illustrates how reading, within a shared reading context, includes time for talking and for parent and child to enjoy one another’s company. This clearly differs from the way in which these participants spoke about their schooled reading, which was embedded in a discourse of expectation and judgement.

To take this point further, these parents also spoke about their aims and purposes in maintaining shared reading, which was often focussed on gaining enjoyment. To stay with Hadra for the moment, when asked to talk about the reasons why she and her husband engaged in shared reading practices with their daughter she told us:

To be honest, at the moment, importance in terms of how her reading is and how good she is with it, it doesn’t come into it. I think, that’s not why we do it. We do it because she enjoys it and it’s something we can do together.

As discussed at length in Chapter 6, many parents across the study reported that what they ultimately wanted to achieve from shared reading activity was for their child to enjoy the experience. This underlines the finding that these participants, who had not enjoyed reading for themselves, were not only enjoying reading to their children but appreciated the fact that the purpose of this reading was to enjoy the experience together, rather than focus on decoding print. This was also evident in Bina’s interview who stated that both she and her husband ‘have the same kind of end goal’ for shared reading,

‘which is to make her (daughter) laugh’. This again shows that these parents viewed shared reading as an activity to be carried out with the main purpose of promoting enjoyment rather than achieving proficiency in reading.

This is significant because when asked to talk about their own personal relationship with reading, these parents described a range of proficiency judgements that were attached to schooled reading, which included judgements from teachers and peers on their ability to decode text with accuracy and read aloud with fluency. They also judged themselves against other people who enjoyed reading (‘I’m the only one on this Earth who doesn’t like reading’). In contrast, the reading that these parents described doing with their children was not only a very different experience from their own schooled reading, but actually seemed to carry a different definition of what ‘reading’ actually is. These parents were describing an activity that was not forced, that did not carry proficiency judgement, where enjoyment was prioritised and, importantly, included factors such as talking to their child and enjoying spending time together. This may very well explain why these parents succeeded in developing a positive reading relationship with their children despite the fact that they had a poor relationship with reading themselves. This is a very positive finding; however, the data also suggested that in some cases, the parents not only developed a good reading relationship with their children, but that their own relationships with reading improved as a result of this as now discussed.