Which is more important — love of reading or reading proficiency?

While nearly all parents agree that reading proficiency is important (97 percent) and the importance of their child developing a love of reading (90 percent), when choosing between the two parents were more likely to pick love of reading, according to a recent national survey commissioned by the American Reading Company and conducted by YouGov.

The survey was administered between February 27 and March 13, 2023 and asked 2,062 parents of children ages 6-17 their views on reading and reading curriculum. Nearly all polled parents agreed on a variety of reading questions — from the importance of including reading comprehension and writing in the learning process for all subjects (97 percent) to students being able to have fun while learning to read in school (97 percent). When respondents were asked to choose between the importance of student proficiency or their children developing a love of reading, love outweighed proficiency at 57 percent to 43 percent.

Engagement and reading literacy — cause or effect?

“Those who read well are likely to read more, thus setting an upward spiral into motion,” wrote University of California, Berkeley Professor Anne Cunningham and University of Toronto Professor Emeritus Keith Stanovich in a 1998 study. They found that students who struggle with reading early on experience “unrewarding early reading experiences that lead to less involvement in reading-related activities.” By reading less, fewer words are learned, reading for meaning is hindered, and the unrewarding reading experiences continue to multiply.

“In other words,” writes the Vermont Agency of Education, “children who read more learn more words, which makes reading easier and more enjoyable, thus leading to more reading and exposure to new words, and so on.”

Research from 2011 suggests “…that there is a positive relationship between reading frequency, reading enjoyment and attainment.” A 2002 OECD study found that “strong engagement in reading is associated with high levels of reading literacy, not that it causes them.” But the two do go hand in hand, the study continues.

It is also possible that students who are better at reading therefore read more, or that some other factor helps cause both things. … Students with poor reading habits often find reading material too difficult, fail to form strong reading habits, and therefore have fewer opportunities to develop reading comprehension strategies. Therefore effective reading programs need to take account of both cognitive and motivational components of reading.

Other research has found that there isn’t a clear-cut reciprocal relationship between reading enjoyment and reading skills, with literacy skills seeming to fuel literacy enjoyment rather than vice versa. These authors also considered other factors outside enjoyment, such as reading volume and motivation, that can contribute to reading proficiency too.

While it is clear that reading for pleasure can lead to an increased volume of reading, which increases vocabulary and improves comprehension, pleasure is not the only internal motivator that prompts students to read. Based on the research, it seems that any form of intrinsic motivation can be a powerful driving force to increase frequency and volume of reading, thus exposing students to more text and strengthening their comprehension skills. The joy of reading is certainly an example of intrinsic motivation, but so is reading a technical manual to learn how to participate in a beloved activity or engaging in text-based computer games that rely on the player’s ability to read and respond quickly.

This would suggest, then, that a love of reading, or reading for enjoyment, which is a form of intrinsic motivation, leads to increased reading performance, continues the Vermont Agency of Education.

That is, “if students are drawn to read by deep longing and interest, they will succeed.” At the same time, “Students who read only a steady diet of assigned titles don’t get to answer, for themselves, the single most important question about book reading: why does anyone want to?”

At the end of the day, a perennial problem facing Minnesota students is low reading proficiency. The latest reading Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment found that not even half (49.5 percent) of the state’s fourth-grade students can read at grade level. That number drops to 26.5 percent for black students and 28.1 percent for Hispanic students. On the most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the average fourth-grade reading score for Minnesota students was the lowest it has ever been from the time the test was first administered in 1992 and is also below the national average.

As educators work to foster a love of reading, we must also ensure they are equipped with the knowledge and best practices to help students become proficient readers.


As far back as I can remember, I always had a book in my hand. But I was also a good reader. What about your reading journey? Share your thoughts below on the relationship between engagement and literacy.