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Developing Lifetime Readers: Suggestions from Fifty Years of Research

Teri S. Lesesne
The English Journal, Vol. 80, No. 6. (Oct., 1991), pp. 61-64.
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Tue Aug 14 18:08:51 2007

Developing; Lifetime Readers:

Suggestions from Fifty Years of Research

Teri S. Lesesne
How can we encourage lifetime readers, students
who will choose reading as a pleasurable leisure
activity outside of school and its requirements?
How can we facilitate students' active participation
in what Frank Smith (1985) calls ;he "literacy
club"? How can we develop a lifelong love of reading in our students? Teachers have been grappling with these questions for many years. For the
past fifty years or more, research has probed these
questions for answers; professional journals have
published hundreds if not thousands of articles
addressing them. Over this half century of scholarship, several key points have emerged consistently.

How much time d o you spend reading for pleasure

How many books have you read for your own enjoyment in the last six months?

Middle-school participants' responses to these

questions, though probably not startling to those
of us who work with adolescents on a regular basis,
are nonetheless disturbing and disheartening. Almost seventy-five percent of the middle-school
students reported reading less than one hour daily
on a regular basis; twenty percent had read only
one book for their own enjoyment in the last six
months. Students, it seems, are not doing much
reading for pleasure outside of school and school
Reviewing the Research
We must develop ways of making1. Lifetime readers are made, not born. The love of reading more attractive to our students if we are to
reading is not innate; it is a habit which must be develop a lifelong love of reading. We must precultivated. But Jean Grambs asserts that "the habit pare students to find pleasure in reading (Ley
of reading will not flourish if the only nourish- 1979).
ment comes from a text" (1959,220).If we rely too
Literally dozens of articles appear in each issue
heavily on textbooks, then we cannot expect to of professional publications which tout a variety of
nurture the reading habit. Jeanne Chall (1975) activities and strategies to motivate students toechoes this sentiment, concluding that if we teach ward reading. However, in the past, we have utichildren and young adults to read without instill- lized these various activities and strategies haphazing in them the desire to read, all we have done is ardly. Instead, a more "scientific" approach may
in vain. "Learning to read is a rather fruitless ac- be more useful. Mary Livaudais' (1986) study of
tivity if it is not utilized beyond school assign- which reading motivation activities secondary stuments," suggests H. Alan Robinson (1968, 262). dents found motivating is one such example. We
Perhaps, then, we can begin by ascertaining our can present students with a checklist of ideas, acstudents' reading habits outside of school. Part of a tivities, and strategies and allow them to rate the
recent study asked approximately five hundred motivational capacity of each. In Livaudais' study,
middle-school students to report on just that as- seventh through twelfth graders found activities
pect of their reading experiences (Lesesne 1991). such as teacher read-aloud, freedom of choice in
Students responded to questions such as the fol- reading materials, and owning books as motivatlowing two:
ing; other activities such as writing a new ending
October 1991


for the story and charting the number of books

students read were not found to be motivating.
Replicating a study such as this within our classrooms may give us a handle on how best to motivate students toward a lifetime of reading.

parents to do a read-aloud or a book talk during

class. Parents may also write reviews of new acquisitions for the library or classroom bookshelves; they may even co-author such reviews
with their children. Students need role models.
Kenneth Donelson notes that if

2. Children and young adults need role models to emuthey d o not learn from us, as models, how much fun
late. Simply stating that reading is important is inreading is-and I mean the excitement, the satisfacsufficient. Teachers and parents must be readers
tion of choosing our own books and settling in for a
themselves. Grambs notes that "the more an engood read-many of them, maybe most, will never
learn. (1990, 17)
thusiastic teacher imparts enthusiasm and acceptance of reading interests," the more likely adolescents are to develop the habits of lifetime readers 3. Children and young adults need time in school to read
(221). Robinson concurs that the school must not for pleasure. Books compete with TV, Nintendo,
only reflect the importance of reading but also as- VCR's, CD's, and other entertainment forms outsist in developing appropriate home environ- side of school time. The survey of middle-school
ments by informing parents of appropriate mate- students referred to earlier indicates that while
rials and resources. G. Kylene Beers' (1990) study three to six hours per day is spent watching TV,
of aliterate middle-school students reaches a sim- less than one hour is spent daily in reading for
ilar conclusion: parents and teachers are impor- pleasure. Students reported in this same survey
that they needed and wanted time within the
tant role models-both positive and negative.
Students need to see significant adults as active school day to read for pleasure. G. Robert Carlsen
members of the "literacy club." We need to let our (1967), Donelson (1969), Terry C. Ley, and many
students see us reading. One way to model this be- others suggest allocating time within the curricuhavior is through a free-reading program, what lum for free reading.
Nancie Atwell (1991a) calls a reading workshop
approach. These approaches require teacher 4. Free reading can be used to develop lifetime readers.
participation. We need to talk to our students Free reading has operated under a number of alabout books, the books we read and the books they iases over the last fifty years, but whether it is
read. A teacher who reports to the class, "I'm a labeled as free reading, individualized reading, dilittle tired this morning because I had to finish rected individualized reading, or reading workreading this book. I just could not put it down!" shop, the emphasis has always been on reading for
pleasure. Free reading ameliorates the discrepanprovides an excellent model for students.
noted by Ben F. Nelms and others between what
It is also imperative that we get parents to act as
like to read for fun and what they had to
what ru'ancieAtwell calls "the doorman" at the enread
school (1966, 678). Developed in the
trance to the literacy club (1991b, 227). If we be1930s
Lou LaBrant (1936), free reading
lieve in the slogan that "readers raise readers," we
reading skills but on reading habits.
believe that parents are an essential element in litIt
several essential components:
eracy activities. The following are some suggestions for involving parents. Periodically, send
a teacher who believes that students are capable of
home a list of books which would make good gifts
developing taste and skills using their own reading
for holidays, birthdays, and other special occamaterials
a teacher who knows books and students' interests
sions. One study of middle-school students notes
in reading materials
that adolescents think books make good presents
a teacher who is committed to reading books stuand that money spent on books is well spent
dents like and recommend and want to talk about
(Lesesne 1991). Parents, like many consumers,
a teacher who creates a climate for reading in the
may be overwhelmed by bookstore displays; they
will probably appreciate assistance in identifying
a teacher who works unobtrusively for growth in
appropriate materials for their children. We can
taste. skill, and level of reading
also refer parents to reviewing publications such
as School Library Journal, The Horn Book, and The
Alan Purves and Richard Beach (1972) note
ALAN Review as resources. We may wish to invite that when students are given free choice of read62

English Journal

ing materials, the number of reading interests and

the amount of pleasure reading increase. Highschool students read an average of 11.7 books per
semester in free-reading courses examined. Ruth
Arnell (1941), working with below-level or remedial readers, reported an average of twenty
books per semester per student and increased
standardized test scores. Martha Booth (1970) included in her article "Memo to English Teachers
Re: Individualized Reading" her students' evaluations of a one-semester elective in Individualized
Reading. In a 1989 study (Lesesne), middle-school
students echoed many of their sentiments in their
evaluations of a DIR unit:
I sort of like DIR because it gives me achance to relax
and get entertained by a book.
It gives me an excuse to do something I like and get a
grade for doing it.
I never used to have time to read and now I do. I'm
finding a greater variety of books by different authors.
I read poems by She1 silverstein, got introduced to
Stephen King, and finally got to read more books by
Robert Cormier. If it weren't for DIR, I probably
would not have gotten to read these great books.
DIR helps expand our literary library. (5)

willing to remain tentative about their initial reactions/responses to the materials, students who
are willing to think with rigor, a sense of community
or class cooperation, and classroom use of suitable
literature. Note that many of these same components are essential to free reading as well.
Response can be encouraged in a number of
ways within the classroom. Read-aloud techniques
such as the "read-and-tease" can be particularly effective. In this approach, teachers read the first
sentence or paragraph of a book to whet students'
appetites. Classic read-and-tease examples include the first line from Robert Cormier's Chocolate War, "They murdered him" (1974). However,
new books also provide excellent read-and-tease
opportunities. The opening pages of Jerry Spinelli's Newbery Award-winning Maniac Magee
(1990) is one such example. The first two or three
paragraphs will be enough to entice even the most
reluctant reader. Avi's Newbery Honor book, The
True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle (1990),also holds
promise as a read-and-tease. Read-alouds can effectively build a response community within the
Think-alouds can also be an effective means of
eliciting response. Susan Lytle (1982) found that

If students are provided time to read, appropriate reading materials, the opportunity to share
reading experiences with others,' and reading
guidance which remains focused on interests, they
develop positive associations with reading. The
pleasure of reading can then include the pleasure
of knowledge and thought (Appleby and Conner
1965). Students who find reading pleasurable are
those who are most likely to develop lifetime habits
of reading.
5. A curriculum rich i n response will aid i n the development of lfetime readers. Louise M. Rosenblatt insists
in Literature as Exploration that, in reality, there are
only potential readers and potential literature. She
writes that the "reading of any work of literature
is, of necessity, an individual and unique occurrence, involving the mind and emotions of some
particular reader" (1938,32). Students, therefore,
need the opportunity to respond to materials with
their own personal reactions. Thus, what reading
awakens in students must be the starting point. In
Response andAnalysis, Robert E. Probst (1988)presents the components of a response-based curriculum and classroom. They include a teacher who is
receptive to student responses, students who are
October 1991


think-alouds helped readers explore their responses to a text. F u r t h e r , they assisted students in
their understanding o f difficult material. Students
w h o a r e encouraged to r e s p o n d personally to material, moreover, were better able t o write essays
j u d g e d to be significantly h i g h e r in quality (Beach
a n d H y n d s 1990). T h u s , a response-rich classr o o m not only aids in t h e development o f lifetime
readers; it also assists in t h e development o f writi n g as well.

Applying the Research

If we set as o u r goal t h e development o f lifetime
readers, we d o n o t have to exclude all elements o f
t h e traditional English curriculum. W e d o n o t
have to choose between what students want to r e a d
a n d what t h e curriculum says they should r e a d ; we
d o n o t have to decide between response a n d analysis in t h e classroom. T h e s e a r e false dichotomies.
W e can allow f o r choice in t h e selection o f r e a d i n g
materials to s o m e extent. W e can also e n c o u r a g e
students to r e s p o n d personally to a text as t h e
starting point f o r m o r e critical analysis. T o o often
in t h e past we have felt as t h o u g h we h a d t o choose
sides; that does n o t have to b e t h e case. If we continue to p u r s u e answers to t h e questions posed a t
t h e outset of this article, we can e n c o u r a g e stud e n t s to develop lifelong habits o f reading.
Sam Houston State University
Huntsville. Texas 77341
Works Cited
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and Reading from the Inside
l g g l b,
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Hubbard. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann. 227-43.
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Developing Lifetime Readers: Suggestions from Fifty Years of Research
Teri S. Lesesne
The English Journal, Vol. 80, No. 6. (Oct., 1991), pp. 61-64.
Stable URL:

This article references the following linked citations. If you are trying to access articles from an
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Works Cited
"Well, What Did You Think of It?"
Bruce C. Appleby; John W. Conner
The English Journal, Vol. 54, No. 7. (Oct., 1965), pp. 606-612.
Stable URL:

"But We're Dumb!"

Rebecca Arnell
The English Journal, Vol. 30, No. 4. (Apr., 1941), pp. 273-280.
Stable URL:

Memo to English Teachers Re: Individualized Reading

Martha Booth
The English Journal, Vol. 59, No. 9. (Dec., 1970), pp. 1276-1278.
Stable URL:

Reading for Pleasure in Junior High School

Ben F. Nelms
The English Journal, Vol. 55, No. 6. (Sep., 1966), pp. 676-681.
Stable URL: