Jane Davis

Ashoka Fellow
United Kingdom,
Fellow Since 2013

Citation

This profile was prepared when Jane Davis was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2013.
The New Idea
Jane founded The Reader Organization in 2008 to transform how, why and where people access literature. She believes that books are an untapped resource, which can help us to better understand ourselves and those around us. Through the Get Into Reading program, Jane has pioneered a new use of shared reading, where small groups come together to read books and poems aloud. Each shared reading group is led by a trained facilitator who chooses literature to read according to the group’s interests and ability level. The facilitator then reads the text aloud leaving participants to choose when and whether to speak, and whether to join in reading. At any time during the session members are encouraged to break away from the text to share their personal insights and reflections.

The shared reading model that Jane has championed is fundamentally different from other reading groups in a number of ways. Firstly, the focus of Get Into Reading groups is on discovering a connection with good literature. Whether this may be a Shakespeare play or a modern Salman Rushdie novel, Get Into Reading groups read books that comment on human nature. Jane believes that the content of these texts gives people access to an emotional language they may never have had, which in turn helps people to articulate their own thoughts and feelings. Secondly, the process of reading aloud empowers people to share insights and emotions, which are triggered by the text, allowing an individual to have personal thoughts in public, but behind the protective screen of the book or poem. As texts are read aloud instead of individually, those who are illiterate, who struggle to concentrate or have poor eyesight, can still take part in shared reading groups.

Jane believes that reading aloud, regularly, in small groups offers a new way of bringing people together. The fact that each group meets on a weekly basis enables strong social ties to form between individuals, who would not ordinarily share their life experiences with one another. The book or poem therefore acts as an equalizer, providing the group with a focus, which paves the way for conversation. What’s more the process of relating to the text makes it easier for group members to empathize with one another as they share their own personal stories and emotional responses. In this sense, Jane is repositioning reading, moving it away from an individual activity to a group activity, which can bring people from all walks of life together to build strong mutually supportive communities. Her vision is for shared reading groups to become a common tool in any setting, from psychiatric wards to school classrooms to working environments. With 350 Get Into Reading groups already meeting weekly in the UK, Jane is succeeding in creating a culture of shared reading across social and cultural boundaries.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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