Shared reading interventions

It is not unusual to find interventions that have been designed with the express purpose of encouraging parents to read with their children. Yet research has suggested that such interventions are not always successful. For example, Justice et al. (2015: 1852) argued that:

It is most certainly the case that implementation of shared-reading interventions by caregivers within the home environment does not always reach the levels intended by the intervention developers.

As a result, Justice et al. (2015) set out to identify barriers affecting caregivers’ implementation of shared-reading interventions with their children with language impairment, concluding that the reasons why caregivers did not implement the intervention as designed related to ‘time pressures’, ‘difficulty with reading’, ‘discomfort with reading’ and ‘lack of awareness of reading benefits’. When we consider these factors, in the light of findings from the Shared Reading Project, what becomes immediately apparent is that these are barriers to the implementation of an intervention, rather than barriers to shared reading as such.

This raises serious questions about the extent to which these interventions fitted with the everyday practices of the families involved. As we have seen repeatedly in this book, shared reading in families cannot be understood in isolation from the everydayness of family life, culture and practice. The parents in our study told us that they read with their children because it worked for them in their homes. For many of the parents, this was the ultimate driving force in maintaining shared reading activity, and if it did not work then they would not do it. If, therefore, an intervention does not fit within the construct of the family’s everyday life, or is asking parents to behave in a manner that is not natural for them and their children, then it is not surprising to hear that caregivers are not implementing the intervention activities as the developers had hoped.

What is more, these perceived barriers are also suggesting a degree of judgement on the part of those involved in the creation of the intervention. Parents are being described as having ‘a lack of awareness’ about the benefits of shared reading, together with having ‘difficulty’ or ‘discomfort’ in reading. Yet the project data suggests that such perceptions may be seriously misguided. By describing parents in this way, shared reading is being situated within a narrow discourse that privileges certain constructions of reading, usually attached to a school-focused agenda. Within this discourse, parents are constructed as being unknowing and unable. However, findings from the Shared Reading Project strongly refutes this. Findings suggest that when we begin with the family, and take time to understand how shared reading operates within the home, we can learn much about the skill, confidence, motivation and agency of parents, including those who may have not enjoyed reading for themselves. The remainder of this chapter now considers exactly how the findings from this study can be used by practitioners working with families, to encourage and support the development of shared reading activity in the home.