Reading Proactively: A perspective on learning to become a reader and a reflection of the role of reading in creative education


Though technology is making access to reading easier, universities still see a significant lack of reading compliance. According to one study, only 5% of students complete over 75% of the given reading material. This article makes an honest observation on several factors surrounding this, exploring reading as a skill and attitudes and identities towards reading. It reflects on my own experience throughout education to identify and develop strategies that could be useful to pass on to students. Through this, it finds that compliance to the reading list should be secondary to encouraging students to develop their own readership as a skill and providing students with the means to become proactive readers themselves.

Published on 20th March 2020 | Written by Ben Smart | Photo by Ben White on Unsplash


Recently, I learned how to read. I’m getting better at it every time I try.

It’s important to appreciate reading as a skill, alongside drawing, mathematics or playing the piano. We often forget that literacy isn’t a binary switch of ‘can’ or ‘can’t’, ‘literate’ or ‘illiterate’. The process to become a good reader is a long one which, like all skills, takes practice, reflection and experimentation. A newcomer to the skill may treat reading as the analogue transference from print to vocal syllables. A veteran will know that reading can create worlds, expand investigations or manifest transformations of the self. What does it mean to be a good reader? How do we get from struggling to distinguish combinations of consonants to effortlessly decoding abstract concepts?

This article explores the attitudes towards reading throughout education, who readers are and why people read. As a design teacher in higher education, it will focus particularly on students studying at Bachelors and Masters levels within art and design subjects. To provide context of readership, I will reflect on my own account as a reader. This will observe factors that engaged me as a reader and the support and techniques that boosted my reading ability. This autoethnographic method takes a rational, honest and objective observation of my perception of experiences. After this reflection, I will consider how the strategies and concepts I developed could be used in support of my own students.

Learning to read in the 21st century

Technology has repeatedly propelled the efficiency and accessibility of reading while the function of reading and writing has remained the same; to access information, to extend communicative and intellectual capacities and to participate in culture (Johnson, 2015: 113). With access to text widely spread across society, the expectations around literacy ability have also changed. Where it was once the realm of very few individuals, it has now become the minority who cannot read in the developed world (Fischer, 2003: 17). Over the last two centuries, education has endeavoured to teach literacy to all citizens from an early age. Reading and writing has become multi-modal and ubiquitous in our personal, professional and financial lives.

“Adolescents entering the adult world in the 21st century will read and write more than at any other time in human history. They will need advanced levels of literacy to perform their jobs, run their households, act as citizens, and conduct their personal lives. They will need literacy to cope with the flood of information they will find everywhere they turn. They will need literacy to feed their imaginations so they can create the world of the future. In a complex and sometimes even dangerous world, their ability to read will be crucial. Continual instruction beyond the early grades is needed.” (Moore et al. 1999: 3)

The national curriculum in the UK (and much of the western and developed world) now expects children in primary schools to have achieved basic reading, which is scored by the cognitive ability to fluently recognise and comprehend words (Clark & Rumbold, 2006: 7). By GCSE-level education, teenagers are exposed to poetry and classical literature, such as the works of Shakespeare. Assessment for English language and literature shifts away from the literal understanding of words and into the realm of abstract interpretation and metacognition with the ability to recognise voice, bias and fallacy. This appears to be the main junction of when learners’ identities and readers begins to develop as identified and categorised by Beers,

“[Avid readers] valued reading and, therefore, valued the identity of being readers. Similarly, dormant readers identified themselves as readers and were pleased when they were labelled as such. Uncommitted and unmotivated readers, however, did not reference themselves as readers. This label was of no value to them. They did not encourage the term, and unmotivated readers in particular were offended when I asked them if they were readers.” (Beers, 1998).

Rosenblatt (1988: 5) also distinguishes types of readers by their stance towards reading between aesthetic and efferent. An aesthetic stance is one that “adopts an attitude of readiness to focus attention on what is being lived through during the reading event,” where a reader may focus on their own emotions and experiences as they perform the act of reading. An efferent stance “The kind of reading in which attention is centred predominantly on what is to be carried away.” Beers suggests that reading habits with this distinction marks the difference between avid, aesthetic readers and uncommitted, efferent readers. For instance, an avid reader could find entertainment in a reading of Hamlet, whereas an uncommitted reader will read along in order to be able to answer the teacher’s questions.

These classifications become significant as students enter undergraduate education.

Reading in undergraduate studies

Different fields of study might put a different emphasis on the significance of reading to the subject. Some are grounded in and defined by their reading material, such as philosophy, history and literature. Others may need reading to reinforce concepts, like physics, business and mathematics, where hypothesis and experimentation also form part of the curriculum. It’s harder to pinpoint where precisely reading fits within art and design, fields which focus almost entirely on individual inquiry, experimentation and practice with comparatively occasional, fleeting collisions with theory. In any case, it is reported that student compliance to use the reading list is lacking across all disciplines, with as few as one third of students completing required reading. (Brost & Bradley, 2006: 101).

A study by Starcher and Proffitt (2011: 401) asked 394 business undergraduate students why they had not completed set reading. Only 5% of the surveyed students had completed over 75% of the reading while 50% of students had completed less than 5% of the reading. When asked, the largest proportion of 48.2% said lack of time. 26.8% found the material too boring. 20.2% found that the material was not meaningful, with another 20.2% reporting that the professor rarely refers to the textbook. 9.2% found the literature hard to read.

They suggest several parallel core roots for the problem of student reading:

    • Lack of student motivation.
    • Lack of student knowledge of effective study habits.
    • Competing demands on student time.
    • Lack of congruency between student objectives for the course and professor objectives for students.
    • Professor behaviour.

“What this list shows us is that the problem is complex, and therefore its resolution will also be complex.” (Starcher & Proffitt, 2011: 405)

What do teachers expect from their students in terms of reading and how do they anticipate its role pedagogically? Inquiry and critical reflection form part of many undergraduate studies and reading plays a role in that. According to a survey by Stokes & Martin (2008: 122) a first year student is expected by the tutor to undertake grounding reading from a number of key books, where reading is for the process of learning the ‘trade’. By third year, they are expected to do extensive reading using the reading lists as only initial an guide. Their reading should not require much guidance and be proactive and self-regulated. They should autonomously engage with the tutor about their reading, as well as use their reading to navigate their own explorations and enquiries. The same survey found that third year students did not deviate far from the essential texts, that their reading was generally focused on the immediate task rather than further exploration or personal inquiry. Academic journals were starting to be utilised, but not as extensively as expected. 69% of students do not discuss their reading with their tutor.

“Tutors frequently talked of the aim of raising student interest and engagement in the subject. There was an attempt and a hope that the student would develop a passion for his or her chosen field. Strikingly, it was common for tutors to reflect on, and reminisce about their own experiences in relation to particular texts, and it was also evident that tutors had put into reading lists those texts which had influenced and engaged them significantly. The hope was that students too would discover similar excitement from these works” (Stokes & Martin, 2008: 118).

While it may not be unrealistic to hope that students will be stimulated emotively or intellectually by the texts, Stokes & Martin observe in students that, “The demonstrated mind-set was very much a means–end approach, and there was an absence of a strong sense of any process of learning ‘journey’ through wider reading.” (p.119). This trend denotes that many students read reactively, not proactively. The attitude is generally efferent, regardless of whether students are avid readers outside the context of education. Does the presence of grades, assessment or even quizzes confuse the student from reading as a reward of itself and turn it into an instrumental exercise to achieve a grade?

Method of Reflection

Now that context has been established, this article will reflect on and analyse my own life-long journey to become a reader from secondary education to my situation now as an academic educator. I will give context to my development in reading ability and attitude towards reading while analysing the strategies that I developed either tacitly or through practice. In order to capture and communicate my experience, I will write an autoethnography in this article. This will focus on my experience of becoming a reader and how reading has played a role in education in my life. I will assess my habits of reading against Beers’ categories (Avid, Dormant, Uncommitted or Unmotivated) and my attitude towards reading against Rosenblatt’s stances of reading (Aesthetic or Efferent). An honest understanding of my own experience of reading, particularly acknowledging the difficulty of learning to read, creating reading habits and being presented with difficult thresholds and expectations of reading within education and academia.

Pre-University Reading

I recollect that in school I fluttered between being an avid and uncommitted reader. I pretended to read a lot more than I did. Besides short-sightedness, I was never at any disadvantage in my potential to read. I learned to read in my first language and I have no known learning difficulty that might hamper my comprehension. Though I was able to deal with the increasingly pervasive presence of text from the internet and communication technologies, I either lacked the discipline to pick up a book and force myself to read it without getting distracted or made self-defeating predictions that a book wouldn’t sustain my interest and so committed no investment to try to read. Before my undergraduate studies, there were very occasional significant instances I can recollect of being moved or inspired by a book. Escapism was found in electronic entertainment, not novels. I had learned to master video devices and game controllers from such a young age that they became innate skills, whereas practicing scrolling my eyes over a page of a book still took effort and frustration. Novels often seemed like a daunting task, each page felt cognitively exhausting and repetitive, like a music instructor forcing me up and down scales. I was anxious about reading out loud in class in fear of humiliation and would practice the lines ahead of time to mitigate mistakes, which meant I wasn’t listening to the rest of the class. I performed the task of reading school textbooks with the sole intention of recycling its information in an exam rather than to assimilate knowledge into my life and I often slacked behind the expected chapters when reading literature.

Incentive to read was something that came a lot later in my life, only once I re-established why I should read. I think as a young learner I couldn’t appreciate what it means to get satisfaction out of a skill that once took hard work, discipline and effort. I draw a parallel with learning a musical instrument, where a learner is introduced first to each note, then to their relationship to each other with scales, chords or modes, then to how these are used to make melodies and songs. These could be taught purely theoretically, but approaching a new instrument with only abstract knowledge is unlikely to be enough to instantly master it; a budding musician also has to train their muscles to stretch, push, pluck and remember the keys. A guitarist’s fingers need to become leathery to cope with the pressure and texture of the strings and a pianist’s must become elastic to navigate the keyboard. This can only be done with engagement with the instrument itself. In much the same way, knowing grammar don’t make a reader. It also takes physical training of the eyes and mind to surpass strain and frustration. I think it isn’t always understood by literacy teachers, who may be on the easy plateau of being able to relax infinitely as they read, that some invisible muscular strength and physiological development is required to be a reader. Unaware that there was a threshold to cross, I assumed reading would always be this difficult.

Reading as an Undergraduate

I entered university somewhere between a dormant and uncommitted reader, where the colourful yet utilitarian school textbooks had made my reading stance efferent. I didn’t lose the pretence that I did read a lot, though I was still the only person I fooled.

Each project in design practice came with a list of prescribed essential and recommended reading. These could list anywhere between ten to twenty books. A somewhat slow reader to this day, each one could take me a couple of weeks to get through, assuming I even had time within the design work. With projects lasting four to six weeks, the maths didn’t work out. Without pages or passages being pointed to directly, or hints of the kinds of information I should be searching for, how could I know what was immediately relevant to my design work and what was not? Even if I read it cover-to-cover, how would I prove that I had completed the reading? There were no tests or quizzes on the literature, as all assessment in my design-based degree came through the work put into the projects. It became very difficult to weigh the effort of reading against the benefit seen in the resulting grade. The best solution was to pretend I had completed the reading lists – job done.

Essays were not entirely different. These had to be informed and academic and a bibliography containing literature formed part of the assessment. Like many of my cohort I found evidence that supported my arguments or post-rationalised the effort I had already put in. Save for a couple of books that I fixated on, my bibliography was mostly sawdust, padded out by literature that I had not read, but rather skimmed in search of isolated sentences, their context disregarded in the interest of proving my point. I was not using academic journals, though I did include magazine articles and video resources within my bibliography.

Within all that reading for work, there was no time to read for pleasure. This was the trend for most of my studies.

For my dissertation in my final undergraduate year, I took things a little more seriously. I think that the challenge of finding reading that supported a subject I took interest in, without the conformity of a reading list, incentivised me to spend time with books. The major impact, however, was committing one day a week to research and writing. On that day, I would not touch my practical design work. I also claimed a quiet corner of the studio specifically for this task, out of earshot and hidden from sight. My modes of reading did not diversify much, with still no academic journals entering my bibliography, and I found myself skimming the text without any method in order to find vaguely relevant quotes. However, I was now performing the task proactively (which is to say, finding the literature before writing the essay, rather than after) and was writing quotes into a digital document, providing ammunition to my inquiry. I also began to become conscious, as I wrote, that I was making unfounded claims and speculations. Though I tried to patch these holes with a bias as I rescanned the literature, I was at least admitting that the answers were in the research.

Reading as a Graduate Student and Educator

Towards the end of my undergraduate, I learned how to learn. Stimulated, I took a masters degree after finishing my bachelors, interested in exploring my own specialisation. The graduate degree was far more self-led and encouraged investigating one’s own research rather than following any curricula. One of the biggest breakthroughs, which came much too late, was the realisation that ignorance was not a failure but an inevitable feature of living. When ignorance is acknowledged and appreciated, it can become a tool for learning and a guide for progress.

My own research skirted between design and scientific theory. For the first time in my experience, science was given purpose by the requirement to design with it, whereas school teaching had kept it abstract and ethereal – something that stops existing after the exam. My own reading lists reflected this, starting with architects who utilised biology and physics in their work. To understand that, I needed to dispel my ignorance of core scientific concepts. Though the internet was diversifying the media by which I could learn, the largest and deepest wealth of knowledge was still literature.

I began teaching technical skills to undergraduate students at this time and found that through teaching I was reinforcing my own knowledge as well as discovering new things even within my specialism. Revision and preparation became vital before the classes I would teach. I’d rehearse explanations of trickier concepts and techniques like an actor remembering their lines. At first I think this was out of fear of looking stupid in front of my own class, though plenty of hard knocks have humbled me out of that concern. As well as thorough revision, the questions I was asked by students became significant learning points for me, highlighting when I had left holes in my explanations or could rephrase concepts to understand it in new ways.

This spring-boarded my first learning strategy that I purposely developed on my own accord. I took what I was learning and rephrased it in my own words, as though I were explaining it to someone else. Even when dealing with new interests – astronomy, botany, music… things far removed from the immediate nature of my field – I would consider how I would take what I was learning into my class and explain it to my students. Having practiced education, I would anticipate what their questions might be or where my explanation might confuse students who needed things phrased either more directly or who preferred metaphorical imagery.

To begin with, I was performing this strategy after the fact. I’d rehearse my own rephrased explanations of my learning during chores around the house. This was still an act of revision, an efferent stance towards reading. Later I found that I was naturally stopping after reading difficult passages from my books to rephrase the reading. At first I would berate myself for getting distracted; a nagging voice in my head told me that a good reader stays focused. But this was not me getting distracted by other entertainments anymore, nor was it getting distracted out of boredom or strain. This was getting distracted by the literature itself, actively reflecting on the passages I had just read and digesting them in a way that worked for me. Sometimes it would take me longer to think about the words on the page than it would to read them and I learned to forgive, even congratulate, myself for that. I had passed that threshold of being an efferent reader to an aesthetic reader. It was a breakthrough.

We might think of that aesthetic stance as being something for the realm of poetry or beautifully penned fiction, but I found that educational non-fiction, popular science books, textbooks and even, on occasion when my interest was stirred enough, academic literature was putting me into a state of deep reflection. In fact, I got this less from novels, where the writing would ever coax me to the next page with plot.

By the time I took on a second graduate degree in Creative Education, this method had become my mode. To develop it further and to fulfil the assessment criteria, I began to take the time to record the things I was thinking about as I read the literature, whether it defined my understanding of the literature or if it was idle meandering tangentially away from the subject. Recording thoughts inspired by reading became critical to my understanding of the subjects, but also encouraged me to look further afield for new reading to answer some of the questions and inquiries raised from one piece of literature.

Assessment of the degree was done through evidence of learning placed in posts on an online bulletin board. It was made clear that any kind of media within the post would be accepted as evidence. I used this as an opportunity to put my reflections to use and began to first handwrite and then transcribe my rephrases and thoughts into evidence. These are samples out of two examples of ‘reading notes’, which were no more than retyped snippets from the reading into an electronic document. I always read in printed form, so had to retype any parts I wanted to record. This was time consuming and could have been avoided had I kept the electronic copy handy, but helpful as part of the reflection process. These two examples have been picked because they overlap the area I was studying with my current academic field of Interior Architecture and Design.


From Denise A. Guerin & Jo Ann Asher Thompson (2004) Interior Design Education in the 21st Century: An Educational Transformation

“Each design decision we implement is a hypothesis, a prediction that design can successfully meet the needs of the people using the environment.” (p3)

    • I really like this analogy. Or you might even call it a statement.
    • Particularly when learning design, we should encourage an empirical method to making design decisions. Hypothesis, research, experimentation, reflection, evaluation…
    • This is another facet of ways that Interior Design is a multidisciplinary. It isn’t just the application of knowledge or technique but also the cognitive process of designing that draws on other subjects.

“By solving problems with an evidence-based perspective, practitioners will be able to better justify and defend their design decisions.” (p4)

    • This is a really big interest of mine: design process needs to result in a well-informed scheme.
    • A lot of students consider the correct way to justify their decisions as ‘just bullshitting’ their way through it.
    • I certainly did.
    • There could be better pedagogic strategies to encourage students to confidently explore and prove their decisions – especially to themselves.

“We must rid ourselves of the discrimination that exists between specialisations in Interior Design, in particular the lack of respect often shown to residential design.” (p4)

    • I will absolutely confess that I’m guilty of this.
    • The reason, as the paper correctly guesses, is how often the discipline of Interior Design is pre-supposed as limited to narrow specialisation residential design, or confused with decoration.
    • We actually don’t teach any residential design on the course. Maybe we should? CAD might prove a good opportunity for this.

 “Interior Designers can no longer approach design solutions from an ethno-centric design perspective. Instead the global implications of created space and environments are upon us.” (p5)

    • This problem of paradigm could present some great opportunities.
    • Projects in non-European climates, cultures and economies provide opportunity for thorough research into how humanities and sciences apply to Interior Design.
    • Additionally, even design principles may vary in other countries. Do certain cultures perceive colour, geometry or spatial relationships in ways that are different to our familiar environments?


From: Linda L. Nussbaumer, Denise A. Guerin (2000) The relationship between learning styles and visualisation skills among Interior Design students.

“The interior designer’s role is to identify and solve problems of the near environment. The success of these design solitons depends in part on the designer’s ability to solve problems. Problem solving is a competency expected of practitioners in entry-level interior design positions.” (p1)

    • I think I’ve said before that some might see the ‘problem solving’ aspect of Interior Design as only part of the big picture, but I do find it a useful descriptor.
    • Fundamentally we should be developing the problem solving ability of students using a broad range of methods and tools.

“The visualisation component of this process enables designers to transfer the visual images from their minds to graphic images on paper that can then be analysed, revised and eventually presented to clients as a successful solution.” (p1-2)

    • Visualisation is not an outcome of the process, but is part of the process itself.
    • This means that any visual creation of space is a living, transforming and developing iteration. It is not necessarily an artefact in itself.
    • This isn’t made anywhere near clear enough to student, who often feel worried that their skill is inadequate or that their drawing won’t meet a perceived standard.

“Imagery is an important part of visualisation. There are three kinds of visual imagery: perceptual, mental, and graphic.” (p2)

    • This was a really significant sentence for me.
    • Perceptual refers to our sensory human engagement with spaces and with the world.
    • Mental is the way that we can imagine the world in ways our senses don’t necessarily pick up on. For instance, I can imagine the space behind me. I can also mentally conceive of a cube and perceive it from different perspectives in my head.
    • Graphical representation is how we project a space on a piece of paper or screen. I’d also include model making in this category, though it bridges our perceptual visualisation.

“Visualisation skills for interior designers include the ability to translate two-dimensional shapes into three-dimensional forms, mentally rotate objects, and visualise objects in scale.” (p4)

    • These skills may seem trivial, but are often a very challenging threshold concept.
    • Combining these with the requirements for an operational space presents a complex conjunction of spatial cognitive ability.

“It seems that the ability to to visualise is essential to solve design problems; therefore, it is essential that interior design students learn to use visualisation sills in this process.” (p4)

    • This is absolutely true, but it can remarkable how many students struggle here.
    • I wonder if part of the problem is the very limited time allowed for studio tasks in visualisation.
    • That’s the nature of the rest of the discussion here.


The voice of the notes are informal and fluid, focused on how the reading directly impacts me. No time was spent correcting the grammar or readability in the reflections, since that would have slowed down my reading time. I didn’t fixate on any one avenue and let myself think about the reading tangentially, away from my immediate studies and considering the wider scope of the knowledge in my field and my life. The inquiries and reflections touch on my attitude to the subject, the ways that I teach and what others might think of the issues.

I was also told for the first time about the SQ3R reading method for dealing with academic texts (Survey, Question, Read, Recite, Review), which gave structure to way that I approached reading. For me, this validated focusing on the introduction and conclusions, only addressing the main text once I knew why (or even whether) the literature would be relevant to my inquiry and what might be in the text that I should locate, focus and reflect on. Reading notes such as those above are my way of going about the ‘3R’s of the method.


Because of the relatively less fundamental role of literature in art and design education, compared with other fields, I think there may be the opportunity to readdress how reading is encouraged with students. The trade of an artist or designer stems from technical ability and skill, while research and reading reinforces the process of using their skill critically, strategically and informedly. While design 1st year must ensure that all students are familiar with and have started developing essential theory (typography, structure, perspective… there are endless examples across the creative disciplines) Art and design projects in 2nd and 3rd year BA students should begin to move away from fundamental trade skills and start developing the artist or designer’s own identity. Their interests should become manifest in the way they carry out their work and their style should start to appear in the results. This includes their identity as a reader, which should be encouraged to become proactive, avid and efferent, in parallel with themselves as an artist or designer. This may require a perspective change in the meaning and purpose of a reading list.

The first step is to move away from presenting the reading list as essential in its entirety, when only a few passages may be relevant to the student. Students will know when their time is being wasted, and material that is overly elementary, overly advanced or simply irrelevant will all be correctly identified as a poor use of time. Martin (2018) identifies the reading list itself as being part of the problem, “It is clear that rethinking the role and construct of the reading/resource list is overdue and that, if we are to develop the research skills of a very diverse student community and initiate their development as global graduates, we need to do more than shake the dust off old thinking.” Martin makes recommendations for more guided reading lists, including be clear and explicit about which chapters, sections and paragraphs might be useful. Providing smaller samples of the material immediately available, either photocopies or through digital access, means students won’t need to queue for the books in the library or worse purchase them themselves.

To supplement that point, I suggest not being so married to the reading list as the definitive font of the specific information. A piece of literature may be inaccessible to students, particularly who may be unconfident readers, uncommitted readers or are otherwise unable to engage with the reading. There may be many other avenues that the same knowledge can be acquired. While we needn’t know them all, we can empower our students with the means to find it in their own way. In doing so, we could create students to read proactively according to their needs as a reader rather than reactively in accordance to our reading lists.

The next is to demonstrate methods for using reading, which could be done through example. Copies of reading given to students early in their studies could be pre-annotated to show what critical reflection might look like. Even something as simple as highlighting passages in a seminar might dispel the worries around reading methodology and introduce students to the notion of discussing literature. Demonstrating the SQ3R (Survey, Question, Read, Recite, Review) might also help to give students who aren’t habitual readers or haven’t yet been exposed to academic literature some structure to get started and, like in my experience, be able to quickly and autonomously decide for themselves why and whether the reading is beneficial to them before investing too much time into it. Huber (2004) suggests that to simplify that even further, a workshop may focus on and encourage only surveying and questioning research, giving opportunities for students to practice this strategy. Reading, reciting and reviewing can also be their own sessions, with such content as reflective note-taking. Such strategies may seem obvious and intuitive to us, but a demonstration of this may dispel misconceptions of difficulty or provide a new approach to difficult reading.

Change must also happen from the tutor’s perspective. We too often and easily take reading for granted, but It is important to recognise that reading is not an inherent human skill, like dexterity, socialising or observation. This means recognising reading as a challenge even to undergraduate students rather than expecting innately avid readership in our students. We are better off assuming our students treat academic reading with efference. This harkens back to the early points I’ve made, that reading ability is a gradual mastery and not a switch, and there is a place for teaching reading skills as late as university education (and indeed beyond). Like all skills, reading comes with thresholds in learning. These thresholds may be conceptual, ranging from literal interpretation of words to identifying fallacy. They may also be muscular – it takes repetition and sustained maintenance to train and eyes and the mind to be able to read without strain. They may be methodological, as in the case of SQ3R or rephrasing passages. For all these obstacles, it should come as no surprise that the statistics report low reading compliance.


As educators, we could alter our stances in two ways: first, we stop assuming that reading will happen just because we made a list and secondly stop being hesitant to talk actively about reading skills. We should be open to talking to students not just about what they read, but how they read too. Difficulty in reading is not reserved for dyslexia or reading in a foreign language, but something every learner goes through. With academic language generally regarded as being particularly difficult, we should consider the students’ development as a reader as well as in their study. It might take direct engagement with students to understand who they are as readers, whether avid or uncommitted, whether they are disposed to reading aesthetically or efferently. It certainly takes direction, even in small ways, to assist students in utilising reading within their own work and to include proactive reading as part of their developing identity as a practitioner.

With this disposition, the reading list becomes a secondary goal. Instead, we are first encouraging students to develop the ability to access academic content, to know how to make effective use of the reading list and to become proactive in their own reading.

As an educator, reading is now my immediate go-to to try to patch over gaps in my knowledge. I am aware that other modes of communication, such as videos, online courses and podcasts, are delivering theory in more diverse and effective ways. We should not resist these changes and embrace them for their ability to open up learning in their own way. They too perhaps come with their own thresholds and challenges before a learner can effectively use them, and they too are deserving of a place on our reading lists. There is also scope to analyse the effect of cultural, sociological, political and psychological factors or issues of agency on the capacity to deal with academic reading, particularly as the student population becomes more diverse.

Literature is capable of passively delivering a substantial amount of teaching, but this seems unbalanced compared to the active effort of getting students to complete it. It is too simplistic to assume that motivation, ambition and discipline are the only factors in reading compliance.

Ben Smart is an associate lecturer in Interior and Product Design at the University for the Creative Arts, Farnham. He has held several positions within that institution, including widening participation, teaching assistant and technical services. Before his current position, he wrote for a 3D printing magazine and has worked in various fields of spatial design including entertainment, residential and hospitality.


Beers, K. (1998) Choosing Not to Read: Understanding Why Some Middle Schoolers Just Say No. In K. Beers & B. Samuels (Eds.) Into focus: Understanding and creating middle school readers. Norwood, MA: Christopher-Gordon. 37-60

Brost, B. and Bradley, K. (2006) Student Compliance with Assigned Reading: A Case Study. Journal of Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. 6(2). 101-111

Clark, C. & Rumbold, K. (2006) Reading for Pleasure: A Research Overview. National Literacy Trust

Fischer, S. R. (2003) A History of Reading. London, UK: Reaktion Books

Guerin, D. and Thompson, J. (2008) Interior Design Education in the 21st Century: An Educational Transformation. Journal of Interior Design. 30(2), 1-12

Huber, J. (2004) A Closer Look at SQ3R. Reading Improvement. 41(2), Project Innovation

Johnson, G (2015) The Invention of Reading and the Evolution of Text. Journal of Literacy and Technology 16(1), 107-128.

Martin, R. (2018) Rethinking the Reading List. Journal of Useful Investigations in Creative Education. 1

Moore, D.W., Bean, T.W., Birdyshaw, D., and Rycik, J.A. (1999). Adolescent literacy: A position statement for the Commission on Adolescent Literacy of the International Reading Association. Newark, DE: International Reading Association.

Nussbaumer, L. & Guerin, D. (2008) The Relationship Between learning Styles and Visualization Skills Among Interior Design Students. Journal of Interior Design. 26(2), 1-15

Rosenblatt, L. (1988) Writing and Reading: The Transactional Theory. Center for the Study of Reading, University of Illinois.

Schumacher, T. (2001) A Study to Determine the Relationship Between Motivation and Reading Engagement in Adolescence. University of Wisconsin

Starcher, K. & Proffitt, D. (2011). Encouraging Students to Read: What Professors Are (And Aren’t) Doing About It. International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education. 23(3), 396-407

Stokes:  & Martin, L. (2008) Reading Lists: A Study of Tutor and Student Perceptions, Expectations and Realities. Studies in Higher Education. 33(2), 113-125

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