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Blog post Part of special issue: To read, or not to read?

Editorial: To read, or not to read? How diverse practices, perspectives and experiences shape our reading engagement

Sarah McGeown, Senior Lecturer, Moray House School of Education and Sport at University of Edinburgh Jill Steel, Early Career Researcher at University of Edinburgh

What children say about books:

‘I can drain all my emotions out on the book, so if I’ve had a hard day, I can just read’

‘It’s quite nice to sort of feel like you’re sort of letting go from whatever is happening around you, and you can go deep – by yourself – deep in the world of the book’

‘You don’t want to put it down, because every page you read, there’s another cliffhanger; “Oh, what will happen here? What will happen here? Oh, can I just read for two more minutes?”’

Source: McGeown et al. (2020)

This BERA Blog series discusses diverse practices, perspectives and experiences that influence reading engagement among children, young people and adults. It draws upon a number of current research projects from the University of Edinburgh’s Literacy Lab. Within this lab, we collaborate with children, young people, teachers and other professionals to conduct our research seeking to better understand and support literacy experiences and outcomes. In this collection, we share recent research from the Literacy Lab’s community of early career researchers, both PhD and postdoctoral, who together are making a significant contribution to our understanding of the reading experiences and outcomes of children, young people and adults.

Indeed, these reading experiences are influenced by numerous factors, including classroom pedagogy, technology and characteristics of the reader and the book. Enjoyable reading experiences play a critical role in development as a reader and are important not only to educational outcomes but to wellbeing too (McGeown & Wilkinson, 2021; OECD, 2021). Nurturing a positive attitude towards reading depends to a large degree on positive reading experiences and habits developed in childhood, and onwards into adolescence and adulthood (Mol & Bus, 2011). However, with children, young people and adults reportedly reading less, what helps or hinders reading engagement?

In this series, we first discuss how varied classroom practices and programmes might support children’s engagement with reading:

  • Emily Oxley outlines children’s experiences of common classroom practices designed to promote reading for pleasure within the UK.
  • Jill Steel shares children’s perspectives and experiences of Reading to Dogs programmes exploring whether, and how, they support children’s wellbeing and reading engagement.
  • Maggie Chan then shares research on disability representation in picture books, drawing on perspectives from UK and US primary school teachers, and discussing implications for practice.

Second, we discuss two approaches which use technology to support reading engagement:

  • Kawla Alhamad introduces Augmented Reality books, and shares children’s experiences and perspectives of using them to support their reading engagement.
  • Pauliina Vuorinen discusses e-reading behaviours in adults and the connection between their reading behaviours and their motivation for reading.

In the final three blogs in this series, we consider how reading engagement in children, young people and adults depends on individual perspectives, such as who they are, the books they read, their connection with the book and their perceptions of reading:

  • Charlotte Webber shares details of participatory research with young people, which provides insights into young people’s perspectives of the facilitators and barriers to reading for pleasure.
  • Elena Santi discusses how narrative fiction can support young people’s understanding of themselves and others, drawing upon the analogy of books as providing a mirror, window and sliding glass door.
  • Nicola Currie explores readers’ perceptions of the connection between reading fiction and their wellbeing (positive affect, connectedness, personal growth) across the lifespan.

As a group, we are committed to open research practices, which means we preregister all of our studies, detailing on the Open Science Framework what we plan to do before we do it. We also make all of our interview schedules and surveys available and plan to make our data available, too, once projects are complete. Open research practices increase openness and transparency in the research process, while also providing a way for researchers to make a more significant contribution to the research community – through sharing data collection tools and data for reuse. Where available, the authors of each blog post have included preregistration details for their studies.

This blog series will be of particular interest to academics researching literacy; teacher educators working in primary or secondary school contexts; charities or organisations focused on supporting literacy; or to anyone who is a reader, champions reading, or wants to rediscover a love of reading! We would like to thank all the project partners who have contributed to this research in different ways, and to our funders, the Nuffield Foundation, the Leverhulme Trust and the Economic and Social Research Council/Scottish Graduate School of Social Science. We are very fortunate to work closely with individuals across different sectors, who provide important insights to ensure our research resonates with those at the centre of our work: children, young people, teachers and adult readers.

We hope this blog series encourages readers to think more deeply about the different ways in which children, young people and adults encounter and engage with books, and how a better understanding of this may improve reading experiences and outcomes across the lifespan.


McGeown, S., Bonsall, J., Andries, V., Howarth, D., & Wilkinson, K. (2020). Understanding reading motivation across different text types: Qualitative insights from children. Journal of Research in Reading, 43(4), 597–608.

McGeown, S., & Wilkinson, K. (2021). Inspiring and sustaining reading for pleasure in children and young people: A guide for teachers and school leaders. United Kingdom Literacy Association.

Mol, S. E., & Bus, A. G. (2011). To read or not to read: A meta-analysis of print exposure from infancy to early adulthood. Psychological Bulletin, 137(2), 267–296.

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development [OECD]. (2021). 21st-century readers: Developing literacy skills in a digital world.