Dr Sam Duncan works at the UCL Institute of Education in adult literacy studies and is particularly interested in reading and the uses of literature and film in adult literacy development. She is the author of Reading Circles, Novels and Adult Reading Development (Bloomsbury, 2012) and Reading for Pleasure and Reading Circles for Adult Emergent Readers (NIACE, 2014). Sam is currently the recipient of a UK Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) Fellowship to research contemporary adult reading aloud practices across Britain. The Reading Agency is a project partner of RABiT, and Sam is the creator of the Quick Reads learning resources, also available on this website.
Reading Aloud in Britain Today (RABiT) is a two-year project researching whether, what, where, how and why we, as adults, may read out loud rather than in silence. The project aims to explore contemporary reading aloud practices and what they mean for how we understand, research, teach and celebrate reading in the early 21st century.
In the autumn of 2017, 529 people completed RABiT's questionnaire about whether, when and why they might read out loud. 160 Mass Observation 'correspondents' sent in narrative accounts of their reading aloud of between half a page and 10 pages, handwritten and typed, posted and emailed. Between October 2017 and July 2018 49 adults across Scotland, Wales and England took part in interviews, and 44 audio-recordings were made of different examples of adults reading aloud.
Findings so far tell us that most adults read something aloud - and listen to others reading - at least sometimes. While it seems that we are acutely aware of some of our reading aloud practices, we rarely or barely notice others. Participants told stories of reading aloud to friends and family members in pain or dying, as part of the daily routines of married life, and to 'reinforce' or 'fix' something in our minds while studying, shopping or cooking.
What we read aloud varies widely: from newspapers and social media posts to different kinds of books and poems, and from religious texts and prayers to crossword clues, birthday cards, graffiti, recipes and instructions. Our reasons for reading out loud or listening are equally diverse, including to share information, joy, time and space with others; to entertain, inform or help others; to memorise, learn, understand and write; to be together and to use and hear our voices. Many people read aloud with other adults, some with children and some even read aloud to pets.
Why does this matter? When we talk about 'reading' or are involved in judgements or recommendations about reading, then surely we need to know what exactly we mean by the word.
We need to be clear what reading is or can be. I am now clear that reading for adults is more than a silent, individual, instrumental process of grabbing at a meaning encoded on a page. Reading can be about the tickle of a word emerging up out of a throat, the conjuring of a spell, the joy of a sound, the warmth of a group, the unfolding and refolding of complex syntax, the mediating or moderating of news from 'out there' by bringing into the 'in here' of the breakfast table, with our choices, voices, shock or laughter.
This isn't news to those who work on Reading Friends and understand the companionship offered by reading and discussion, or those engaged with Reading Ahead or Quick Reads, who think about the escapism, motivation and stimulation that reading with others can bring, but it is worth saying. And the archives are really worth examining....
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