Enablers of and barriers to reading in Key Stage 3 English (ages 11 – 14)
: a participatory case study using Reader Response to explore reader interaction with fiction

  • Anne Denmead

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This thesis presents the findings of a participatory case study investigating the enablers of, and barriers to reading in Key Stage 3 English (ages 11 – 14) in England’s state education sector. A highly nuanced picture emerged: what is engaging for one reader may act as a barrier for another. Significantly, reader agency emerged as key to facilitating engagement, as a precursor to deriving pleasure from fiction. The researcher, a university-based teacher educator with extensive experience as a secondary English teacher, investigated the phenomenon of ‘reading for pleasure’ using a participatory approach to generate knowledge collaboratively while foregrounding readers’ experience and perspective. This ‘case’ was explored through scrutiny of one particular class of Year 8 (13 – 14 year olds) readers at a state comprehensive school in the southeast of England. The study was supported by the class teacher‘s collaboration and the researcher’s participation in their English lessons across the 2018 autumn term. Several data sets were elicited and analysed: textual analysis of the implied reader of two novels read by the Year 8 English class followed by actual reader response; interviews with pupils from this class; interviews with English teachers with Year 8 classes. A conceptual lens was constructed from Reader Response, part of the discipline of literary theory, to analyse text and explore interaction between
reader and text. This approach, not utilised in extant research, revealed agency as central to reading engagement and as a prerequisite to ‘reading for pleasure’. Four key strands were identified: readers must feel agency with selection; readers need opportunity to respond as children; fiction must satisfy affectively and critically; talking about books must be dialogic. The key finding, reader agency was a significant facilitator of engagement and a precursor to pleasure, indicated supporting reading in Key Stage 3 requires pupil-centred pedagogy to empower individuals. If teachers predicated practice upon their own reading experiences, greater trust in text and pupils to make meaning would result. While policy includes the requirement that pupils are taught a love of reading, this study suggested English teachers’ practices did not target this directly or systematically. With growing evidence that independent reading makes a valuable contribution to personal and academic development, a shift to pedagogy which supports and encourages individual agency would facilitate reading engagement thus assist ‘reading for pleasure’ fulfil its potential to
transform outcomes.
Date of AwardJul 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Brighton
SupervisorSandra Williams (Supervisor) & Keith Turvey (Supervisor)

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