Logo Stiftung Lesen

Supported by

Logo Goethe-Institut

Logo Deutscher Bildungsserver

Logo Lesen in Deutschland

Education Worldwide

Sustainable language promotion through action-oriented reading

Reading plays turn reading into fun for poor readers


reading play

Numerous children find reading arduous once they have learned the alphabet. They perceive reading as boring, difficult and too demanding. Their motivation to read outside the classroom sinks. In the case of many boys as well as children from migrant families, a crunch in reading can already be observed at the lower secondary school level. These children at risk fall into a “crevice“ regarding their reading habits, and can hardly find their way out. This turns into an educational and cultural pitfall for the rest of their lives. The Swiss teacher and author Willy Germann describes how action-oriented reading promotion supports a holistic promotion of language and reading.

Recognition and success in the community are a motivation to learn
The fact in particular is disconcerting that some youths are close to being functionally illiterate at the end of their compulsory education, as a growing number of craftsmanship masters would be able to testify. Frustration with reading at general schools moreover contributes to a general resistance to learn, which can burden entire classrooms in the upper secondary school years in particular.

Furthermore, a resistance to read and learn are a consequence of an increasingly technocratic education with a strong focus on the assessment of cognitive achievement, taking little account of the non-cognitive resources of children at risk. These children are thus kept from experiencing important moments of success. However, each child needs respect and success in the society, fuelling its learning and integration. This is particularly true for children at risk from less educated families. Experiencing success outside conventional assessments of achievement is in many cases the best way of preventing violence.

Children at risk refrain from reading despite the growing development of appealing reading strategies, reading portals, reading actions and texts intended to inspire reading. Owing to electronic devices, the process of literacy education is abbreviated and text comprehension is promoted right from the start. All of these endeavours are precious and they yield sustainable results with children whose language competency is well developed, but they often remain ineffective for children at risk. This very group of children at risk does, however, deserve our particular attention. Demotivated children place a burden on their classmates, in many cases they cause a downscaling of standards. This is one of the reasons why parents send their children to private tuition schools.

Apart from the one-sided, eventless and cognitive promotion of reading, competing attractive media contribute to the refusal of many less educated children to read.

Contesting competing media
Nowadays children can obtain information and entertainment far more comfortably and enjoyably by using electronic media instead of reading books. If the school offers high quality literature stories about bears to children, some children from an orderly family background might find them appealing. At least half of the boys in primary school, however, does not watch cuddly bears on television, on the internet or when playing computer games but watches scary warriors and monsters every day. These young media consumers fight and kill using brutal weapons in interactive fights against metal warriors and they interactively drive and fly aggressively-rapid vehicles. School may be right in regretting this kind of media consumption. The school can, of course, give more information to parents and appeal to their sense of responsibility, but it has to stand up to this contest of media. It cannot do so by adapting the media loneliness of children in using these media, or prematurely and excessively supporting individual reading. It would not be appropriate to offer reading material featuring zombies, monsters and space weapons, but rather the school should offer other, enticing plots with strong characters children can identify with, bearing an unmasked reference to real life or a sense of humour, but most importantly allowing for creative interaction. This interaction does not pertain to a mouse, a keyboard or playstation: it is interaction in a shared game /play. Action-oriented reading based on reading games can provide a long-term experience even to children who are less motivated to read, especially because it nurtures inspiring networks and synergies between reading didactics and drama education, while also building bridges with music, science teaching and designing. Such a reading strategy thus appeals to different kinds of intelligence, different interests and needs of the children. This is a holistic approach to promoting language appealing to all senses, inciting movement and emotion. Action-oriented reading and language promotion moreover have a strongly integrative character, particularly by enabling poor readers to experience success, while at the same time, strong readers find it enjoyable, too.

Ambitious, but valuable
However, joint action-oriented reading does not correspond to mainstream educational policy, which overemphasises individualisation and subject-specific learning, while holistic and uncomplicated cross-disciplinary creativity play a rather marginal role. Of course, free, individual reading is as essential to classroom instruction as action-oriented reading, and it is precious with regard to different standards. Nevertheless, reading and play-acting experiences in the classroom or group provide prerequisites and incentives for individual learning to many children. In particular, this applies to boys in school grades 2 to 4.

Nevertheless, reading with play stories is ambitious: there is a fin line between underestimating and overburdening the children. Those children at risk in particular who excessively consume new media often possess a low competency in reading and a small range of vocabulary. But they are in many cases no longer easily satisfied by being “fed“ the simple resources that are targeted to their low levels of language competency. On the other hand, they are hopelessly overburdened when individually reading longer, action-loaded stories with an accordingly more rich vocabulary. This dilemma can be resolved by play-reading. Such stories can even entice the most difficult macho from a migrant background, provided that they contain a lot of action and thus evoke action without immediately posing intellectual demands. However, this only becomes possible if it is established that not everyone has to read everything, thus it challenges a meaningful, socially oriented differentiation within the classroom. Strong readers are given an opportunity to benefit from a particularly precious form of learning: learning by teaching. They can read to their peers, tell stories, search for additional information at the computer, continue a story’s plot, develop scenes for a theater, and each child can contribute its own strengths.

Poor readers, among them children from migrant backgrounds with diffferent cultural roots, often possess richer ways of expressing themselves than we Europeans do. Many of these children have their strengths in acting in different languages, in movement and pantomime, dancing and music, but also in creative design. Action-oriented reading thus always also meets the demand of resource orientation. Play-reading stories should always provide a creative framework wherein fantasy, creative non-conformism, spontaneity, intuition and stage assertion can unfold: all of these competencies are immeasurable. Action-oriented reading with play-stories also provide the best prerequisite for the probably most precious and most difficult step in drama educational activities, i.e. the possibly burdenless step from acting in the group to acting before an audience. This corresponds to a step towards more confidence, which is best supported by music. Drama education, music, creative design, and motion should thus be components of language didactics.

“Nested games“: the synchronous or subsequent acting of a text will always assist poor readers in the cognitive process of decoding. By acting, children will understand a text, a plot, and the language difficulty (albeit by imitation of the strong language performers) better and in a more enjoyable way.

Sustainable language promotion
Neuroscience has proven that music and motion bear a positive effect on social conduct and cognitive processes. Without a doubt, evidence will at one point be brought forward that the most sustainable way of promoting the language competencies of children at risk can be supported by the holistic interaction of reading, drama, music, motion and creativity. Still, this kind of language promotion is aggravated by the prevailing short-sighted thoughts focusing on targets and efficiency. Is even more abstention from reading and learning necessary, together with destruction and violence, to challenge this line of thought?

Author: Willy Germann

About the author:
Willy Germann is a teacher, author, trainer and book reviewer. He has a long-standing experience in drama and music education. He has developed the „building block“ theatre as a form of resource-oriented musical creativity: See also: Promoting Reading in Switzerland