During my reading for my PhD, I discovered a concept from the 1970s and 1980s that divides all reading into two categories: Aesthetic reading and efferent reading.
This concept was put forth by Louise Rosenblatt (1904 – 2005) and has since been supported by the work of many researchers, including Beumer Johnson (2011), Krashen (2020), Schnell (1990), and more. Rosenblatt argued that during the process of reading, readers engaged in a relationship with the reading material. This relationship largely depended on what readers were hoping to achieve from their reading.
Efferent reading was deemed to be the type of reading that resulted in gaining information from the text. In today’s world, we might refer to this as ‘academic reading’ or ‘reading for meaning.
Aesthetic reading was defined as the type of reading that readers engaged in when reading for emotional enjoyment. We currently refer to this as reading for pleasure or enjoyment.
What I have found most interesting though, is the discussion between researchers on the value of asethetic reading when efferent reading is directly linked with academic processes and skills. I have included a few studies that are in support of aesthetic reading as a way to increase academic prowess below.
Krashen: Aesthetic reading efficient enough
Krashen is well known for his work on reading and literacy. He has published many articles by himselft and with a variety of colleagues. You can access most of his work, a lot of which is open access, via this link.
This particular piece was specifically designed to explore whether aesthetic reading was efficient at increasing student academic vocabulary. Krashen did not collect new data for this study, but retested the findings of previous research conducted by Ponniah and Priya (2008). Krashen’s retest identified flaws in the previous testing of this data, with his findings indicating an even stronger correlation between those that engaged in aesthetic reading and their academic vocabulary. Krashen was strongly in support of aesthetic reading.
Additional research in support of aesthetic reading
In addition, to Krashen, there are many researchers that are supportive of aesthetic reading. While the following studies don’t explicitly use the terminology of aesthetic and efferent reading, I have found them to be very interesting discussions of reading for pleasure and increasing academic vocabulary.
Green: Extensive reading and viewing as input for academic vocabulary
Findings of this study suggest that extensive reading can have a significantly positive effect on the reading and writing skills of secondary school students. Furthermore, Green argues that reading a wide variety of fiction that has ties to subjects, such as science fiction for science subjects and historical fiction for history subjects, can also increase exposure to subject specific vocabulary.
McQuillan: Where do we get our academic vocabulary?
McQuillan’s resarch is concerned with understanding whether direct teaching of vocabulary is more efficient than wider reading. McQuillan argues “that reading is two to six times more efficient than explicit teaching of academic vocabulary” (2019, p. 1).
It is clear to me, and I hope to many of you, that reading for pleasure has a place in academia. Not that it should be done only to better improve one’s vocabulary – it is supposed to be fun! I also hope that you find the resources I’ve provided to be helpful.
Beumer Johnson, A. (2011). Multiple selves and multiple sites of influence: Perceptions of young adult literature in the classroom. Theory Into Practice, 50(3), 215–222. https://doi.org/10.1080/00405841.2011.584032
Green, C. (2020). Extensive reading and viewing as input for academic vocabulary: A large-scale vocabulary profile coverage study of students’ reading and writing across multiple secondary school subjects. Lingua, 239(4). https://doi.org/10.1016/j.lingua.2020.102838
Krashen, S. (2020). Aesthetic reading efficient enough. Journal of English Language Teaching, 62(2), 3–4. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/341379704_Aesthetic_Reading_Efficient_Enough
McQuillan, J. (2019). Where do we get our academic vocabulary? Comparing the efficiency of direct instruction and free voluntary reading. The Reading Matrix: An International Online Journal, 19(1), 129–138.
Ponniah, J. and Priya, J. 2008. Pleasure reading and the acquisition of second language by adult ESL students. The International Journal of Foreign Language Teaching 9(1), 16-22.
Rosenblatt, L. M. (1970). Literature as exploration. Heinemann.
Schnell, J. (1990). A Comparison of aesthetic and efferent reading strategies of college students [Master of Science in Education, State University of New York College]. https://digitalcommons.brockport.edu/ehd_theses/1166