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Deepening Literacy Engagement

It’s undeniable that there’s a correlation between good readers and educational success. But far more important than educational success is the positive effect reading engagement has on children’s ability to empathise with the experiences of others, and the ongoing impact reading has on their general mental wellbeing.

In fact most recently, the Mental wellbeing, reading and writing (2018) report conducted by the National Literacy Trust in the United Kingdom proved that “children who are the most engaged with reading and writing (i.e. those who enjoy it, do it daily and have positive attitudes towards it) are three times more likely to have higher levels of mental wellbeing than children who don’t.”

The Director of the National Literacy Trust, Jonathan Douglas concludes, “Not only does a love of reading and writing enable children to flourish at school, but we now also know it can play a vital role in supporting children to lead happy and healthy lives.”

Of course, that’s well and good for those readers who are already eager and engaged, but as Accessit Representative Bonnie Barr suggests, “it’s much easier to keep a reader than create one.”

In researching the topic of reading engagement, I started to think about my own learning and engagement habits when I was a child. It’s true to say that anything I was forced to do, I despised. The areas I thrived in were, without exception, those that I discovered on my own. I noticed this idea coming up time and time again in my research on reading engagement.

Owning the learning experience

There seems to be common fear amongst parents that children who show no interest in reading should be worried about and given extra tuition. Similarly, there’s a fear that children who learn to read later will somehow miss out on important lessons or lose the chance to achieve literary greatness later in life. In a study conducted by Psychologist Dr. Peter Gray (2010) around children teaching themselves to read, Gray found that when children are motivated to read, they will read.

In other words, “Children learn to read when reading becomes, to them, a means to some valued end or ends”. A great example of this was one young girl who didn’t learn to read well until she was age 11. Her mother recounts, “One of the best things that came out of allowing her to read at her own pace and on her own initiative was that she owned the experience, and through owning that experience she came to realise that if she could do that, she could learn anything. We have never pressured her to learn anything at all, ever, and because of that, her ability to learn has remained intact. She is bright and inquisitive and interested in the world around her.”

There are two lessons here: first, children will learn when there is a motivation to understand. Everyone wants to be “in on the joke” or be as advanced as those around them. Second, in allowing the impetus to come from the child, you won’t risk draining their enthusiasm and desire to explore and learn.

In traditional schooling, the ability to read becomes the precursor to the ability to learn almost anything else. However, learning to read alone is not enough. As Kylene Beers says, “If we teach a child to read but fail to develop a desire to read, we will have created a skilled non-reader, a literate illiterate. And no high test score will ever undo that damage.” For this reason we need to use every tool in our toolkit to help create this desire to read.

Getting “in on the joke”

The motivation to be “in on the joke” could be one of your greatest tools for engagement. The great Russian developmental psychologist Lev Vygotsky (as quoted in Gray, 2010), suggested that “children develop new skills first socially, through joint participation with more skilled others, and then later begin to use the new skills privately, for their own purposes.” That general principle can easily be applied to reading engagement. Don’t underestimate the power of peer-to-peer or teacher-to-student book recommendations, book reviews and book clubs to encourage discussions and debate. With the Accessit Web App Circulation tool, you can become an itinerant librarian, visiting classes, reading extracts, encouraging discussion, and even getting involved with specific class projects.

Librarian and Accessit user Michelle Sims (2018) says, “As a librarian, I feel that a big part of my job is helping facilitate all these book discussions, and providing students with access to literature that captivates them and makes them want to talk about what they are reading. They’re not always going to be attracted to high quality literature, and I’m fine with that. If I can send a child through to high school with a love of reading then I think I’m giving their new librarian a gift.”

A space for everyone

Ultimately providing a friendly space for any student to feel comfortable exploring and sharing is crucial to the success of student engagement projects. Michelle Sims suggests that book clubs created huge engagement within her school. She writes,

“One thing that I’m proud about is that both my book clubs have students in them that are dyslexic and/or struggling readers. They’re often brought along by their more bookish friends, but they stay because they’re comfortable in the club and are able to read and discuss books at the level that is right for them.”

Equally important is ensuring the library is more than just the physical space. If you are struggling to engage and interest your students in your physical space, take the library to them! Pop-up libraries are a great way to get noticed and get books moving off the shelf (or off the trolley!).

Embracing technology

Accessit Library provides many fantastic tools to assist primary and secondary school librarians and teachers to engage both the eager and the reluctant readers. Don’t underestimate the role an engaging web presence can play in attracting new readers. With the Accessit Web App, you can create dynamic book cover carousels; post videos, book trailers, and interviews with authors; embed Twitter feeds; and promote student work, book challenges and book clubs. Students can engage with what they are reading, “liking” items, and reading and writing reviews. Not only that, but the students themselves can drive their own library experience, managing their reserves, renewing books, and even registering different interests so they can be notified whenever new resources come in that they might find engaging.

Easy accessibility is key to reading engagement. The right reading material needs to reach the right person with the right motivation at the right time. No pressure! Accessit provides you one place for all your resources, allowing your students to access eBooks, audiobooks, and other online digital content which they can download directly onto their devices using QR codes at any time. The Accessit One Search tool expands their searches beyond your own library catalogue, reaching all your subscription providers with a single search. And with the ability to create comprehensive statistical reports on usage, you can prove to the board how and why reading engagement levels are increasing, drumming up support for future projects.

If you’re interested in finding out how Accessit can support your effort towards student reading engagement contact us to set up a free online demonstration.



Douglas, J. (2018, September 25). Children who enjoy reading and writing have significantly better mental wellbeing than their peers. Retrieved October 16, 2018, from

Gray, P. (2010, February 24). Children Teach Themselves to Read. Retrieved October 10, 2018, from

Heinemann. (2017, June 30). Boothbay Literacy Institute: Day Three and Liagnappe. Retrieved October 15, 2018, from

Simms, M. (2018, April 24). School Librarians of Aotearoa: Michelle Simms. Retrieved October 15, 2018, from

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