The impact of Covid-19 on the reading behaviours and experiences of adolescents

Created on: 13 Jan 2022 | Last modified: 20 Apr 2023

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Jennifer Milne


Reading for pleasure is a strong indicator of educational and life success. This action research examines the impact of Covid-19, and subsequent school closures, on the reading behaviour and experiences of adolescents between March 2020 and June 2021.

This research is underpinned by Narrative Theory and utilizes- and supports- Self Determination Theory. The study was guided by three key research questions: (1) Did Covid-19 impact on adolescents reading behaviour? (2) What were young people’s experiences of reading during the period of the pandemic March 2020 - June 2021? (3)  How did Covid-19 impact on adolescents reading experiences and behaviour? 

For Part 1, Questionnaires were completed by 285 pupils from one Scottish Secondary school in January 2021. 59 parents completed a questionnaire about their child’s reading.  For Part 2, Multiple short face-to-face life history interviews were conducted with 5 purposefully sampled pupils in May and June 2021.  22% of participants reported reading less as a result of the pandemic. 33% of students reported that they read more. Qualitative interpretational analysis of the questionnaire data identified 4 key barriers or gateways to reading over the pandemic:  1.time, 2.access and support, 3.environment, 4.reading for pleasure or continued disengagement with reading.

The stories of the 5 individuals were multidimensional, interwoven, and reflected all these core themes as ways in which Covid-19 impacted reading. The 3 interview participants who were not intrinsically motivated to read, read less or continued not to read over the pandemic. One participant who was intrinsically motivated prior to the pandemic became disengaged from reading due to the isolation and loneliness she experienced during the pandemic.

The final participant- who was an engaged, intrinsically motivated reader in a supportive home environment- found escape and comfort in reading over the pandemic. This research demonstrates that the pandemic widened the attainment gap in literacy: adolescents who were supported and had access and encouragement to read in a relaxing home environment were the ones who read more; adolescents who were not encouraged to read at home and/or had no access to reading materials and/or whose home environment was stressful read less or continued not to read.

Those who were already disengaged from reading, continued this trend. Though these are more likely to be low level attainers and/or those from the most deprived backgrounds, they may be from any background.

How can I use this resource?

This study seeks to raise awareness of the deep detrimental and lasting impact of negative early reading experiences. This research aims to raise the importance of reading for pleasure as a mechanism to counter-act this and to develop intrinsic reading motivation- and to close the attainment gap in literacy. This report additionally includes a number of recommendations for practitioners on the role of literacy in supporting COVID recovery, transitions and curriculum development.