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Education at a Glance 2011: Highlights
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branch 5. Special section: introducing pisa
  branch How does the enjoyment of reading affect performance?
  • On average across OECD countries, 64% of students report that they read for enjoyment.
  • Across OECD countries, the quarter of students who most enjoy reading scored one-and-a-half proficiency levels higher in reading than the quarter who enjoy reading the least.
  • In most countries, students who read fiction for enjoyment are much more likely to be good readers.

Significance

Students who enjoy reading, and therefore make it a regular part of their lives, are able to build their reading skills through practice. PISA reveals strong associations between reading enjoyment and performance. This does not mean that enjoyment of reading has a direct impact on reading scores, but rather that it is an important precondition for becoming an effective reader. Therefore, to bolster reading performance, schools need to both instruct students in reading techniques as well as foster an interest in reading.

Findings

Across all OECD countries, students who read for enjoyment are likely to be more proficient readers than students who do not read for enjoyment. Motivated readers tend to read more, which, in turn, leads to improved vocabulary and comprehension skills. For example, students who reported that they did not read for enjoyment scored 460 points on the 2009 PISA reading exam, whereas students who reported reading between one and two hours per day scored 532 points (see Table A6.2 in Education at a Glance 2011). Across OECD countries, the quarter of students who most enjoy reading score one-and-a-half proficiency levels higher in reading than the quarter who enjoy reading the least.

The quarter of students who display the highest levels of reading enjoyment attain at least PISA proficiency Level 4, meaning that they have a 50% chance of completing a relatively complex reading task. In Australia and Finland, two of the best-performing countries overall, over 25% of differences in reading performance is associated with how much students enjoy reading. In these countries and in New Zealand, the quarter of students who most enjoy reading reach exceptionally high levels of reading proficiency, roughly the middle of Level 4.

In 16 OECD countries, at least 20% of the variation in reading performance is explained by students' enjoyment of reading. Across OECD countries, there is an average difference of 103 points between the average scores of the top and bottom quarters of students ranked by reading enjoyment. The quarter of students who least enjoy reading are generally only able to perform relatively simple reading tasks at baseline proficiency Level 2 (see Definitions on ).

In most countries, students who read fiction are particularly likely to be good readers. On average across OECD countries, students who read fiction for their own enjoyment at least several times a month score 53 points above those who do so less frequently. This is equivalent to three-quarters of a proficiency level and more than a year's worth of formal schooling.

In every country except Korea, girls reported reading for enjoyment more than boys. On average across OECD countries, just over half of boys (52%) but nearly three-quarters of girls (73%) said that they read for enjoyment.

The poor performance among students who do not read for enjoyment at all calls for education systems to encourage reading both in and outside of school. However, in over two-thirds of countries that participated in PISA, the score point difference associated with at least some daily leisure reading is far greater than the score point difference associated with increasing amounts of time spent reading. This means that policymakers should focus on encouraging students simply to read daily for enjoyment rather than for a set number of hours a day.

Definitions

Reading enjoyment is measured on an index based on student responses to a questionnaire. Students where asked how strongly they agreed with statements about their attitudes toward reading, such as: i) I read only if I have to; ii) reading is one of my favourite hobbies; iii) I find it hard to finish books; iv) I feel happy if I receive a book as a present; etc.

Information on data for Israel: http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/888932315602.

Going further

For additional material, notes and a full explanation of sourcing and methodologies, see Education at a Glance 2011 (Indicator A6).

Areas covered include:

  • Enjoyment of reading and student performance.
  • Changes and trends in whether students read for enjoyment.
  • Reading habits of boys and girls.
 

Further reading from the OECD

PISA 2009 Results: Learning to Learn: Student Engagement, Strategies and Practices (Volume III) (2010).

Indicator in PDF Acrobat PDF page

Figures
S.8 Relationship between enjoying reading and performance in reading, 2009
Relationship between enjoying reading and performance in reading, 2009
S.9 Percentage of students who spend time reading for enjoyment, by gender, 2009
Percentage of students who spend time reading for enjoyment, by gender, 2009