Dr. Simone C. Ehmig, Copyright: Stiftung LesenDr. Simone C. Ehmig in dialouge with the Schreibmotorik Institut July 2018

Promoting reading and writing: pursuing unusual paths to stimulate motivation and joy

Reading and writing skills are basic prerequisites for success at school. Fun is the most important motivator in this regard. Stiftung Lesen [the German Reading Foundation] reaches a large number of children, young people and their families with its offers via its network. To what extent can the promotion of reading and writing benefit from one another? Interview with Dr. Simone C. Ehmig, Director of the Institute for Research on Reading and Media at Stiftung Lesen.

Stiftung Lesen considers itself an advocate for reading and media literacy in Germany. By now, you’re able to look back on some considerable successes when it comes to the promotion of reading. Which are you especially proud of?

Stiftung Lesen reaches children, young people and their families via a constantly growing network of social and political actors, not simply via the classic educational institutions but also in places where you would not presume to find reading promoted and where interfaces are part of everyday life – at the paediatrician’s office, in consumer-related and leisure-related environments, via digital channels, etc. With nationwide programmes such as “Lesestart – Three Reading Milestones”, campaigns such as National Reading Aloud Day or networks like the “Teacher’s Club” and the “Reading Aloud Network”, we raise awareness about one of the most important and politically relevant exercises – we are galvanising a nationwide movement for reading, one which brings everyone on board, from politicians, businesspeople and unions to volunteers. We’re happy to see that it’s succeeding in knitting the network more closely together and creating opportunities for reading for every child and every young person.

To what extent can the promotion of reading and writing benefit from one another?

Reading and writing are certainly closely linked, but there are specific hurdles to overcome in the promotion of writing, which require strategies of their own. What the promotion of writing has to learn from the promotion of reading, however, is that expertise and practice are unthinkable without motivation and joy. This also means pursuing unusual paths which show that writing is important not merely in the content of learning and school, it also has a place in daily life – anytime and anywhere. It’s important to take the “cultural” technologies of reading and writing off their pedestal, where they are occasionally found to be when it comes to public discourse. Reading is about much more than enjoying good literature, and writing brings more to everyday life than simply composing poems and novels or performing artistic calligraphy.

How will our relationship with handwriting change in the course of digitalisation?

If we understand writing in terms of composing texts, as the way to apply texts or linguistic characters to a surface, we will probably find ourselves writing more now than ever before. Questions of linguistic and textual quality – which have been posed since antiquity, whenever technological innovations and generational change are involved – remain untouched.

The digital possibilities of noting down, or even dictating, language make handwriting in many ways obsolete in everyday life – like, perhaps, a shopping list or a note to a partner which you don’t leave on kitchen table but send via Messenger instead.

Writing by hand is not likely to disappear in our education system. Promoting it primarily for personal use and in everyday life means conveying – beyond any notion of nostalgia – the added value that writing by hand possesses in terms of facilitating experiences which stimulate motivation and the joy of writing (by hand).

What recommendations would you make, based on your experiences, to inspire people with limited writing skills to take up writing (by hand)?

People have to develop a feel for why they should do something that is virtually no longer necessary in some contexts and which may, therefore, seem obsolete. Approaches that convey this must be anchored within a context of everyday life and not fight the digital options but integrate with them. Writing by hand can’t be an alternative.


Short biography:

Dr. Simone C. Ehmig is the Head of the Institute for Research on Reading and Media at Stiftung Lesen. The institute provides the public with empirical studies, reports and specialist publications, talks and expertise on matters of reading socialisation and the state of reading today. Ehmig, a communication scientist, has previously carried out research in Mainz and Lugano on issues of political communication, risk and health communication. She is a lecturer in communications science at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz.

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