Easy-to-use reading app helps anxious readers access books in a rewarding way

Claire Halliday
Claire Halliday
Tackling reading anxiety with an easy-to-use reading app that rewards reading.

For many students, overcoming reading anxiety – a fear of reading that interferes with daily life – can be crippling, and can play a part in school refusal.

Data from a 2023 study suggesting reading anxiety may be the mental health problem most closely related to reading difficulty revealed 50 per cent of children with reading anxiety had a reading difficulty.

Current evidence suggests the following hypothesis to help explain why having difficulty reading can lead to this specific anxiety.

When a child first starts school, many fellow classmates may not read well. Following a few months of reading lessons, though, most will start to improve. Of the few who will not, receiving negative feedback about their reading from others (including fellow students, parents and teachers) can create a disconnection that can make students’ willingness to access books dwindle – driven by a self-belief that they are a ‘poor reader’.

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The subsequent anxiety can make it hard for them to concentrate in reading classes – and that can lead to a loss of motivation to seek books out.

The cycle can be broken

In 2021, a case intervention study gave eight Australian primary school children intensive and targeted reading and anxiety intervention over 12 weeks. All children showed significant improvements in their targeted reading and anxiety symptoms.

For educators aiming to help tackle students’ reading anxiety and reading-related mental health concerns, introducing tools to make accessing books friendly and more fun.

Rewarding reading may help

One tool that can be used in a school setting is Sora – a digital reading platform that gives students around the world equal opportunity to access life-changing literacy.

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The reading app for students by OverDrive enables students to borrow and open books with one tap. 

Assigned books then show up automatically and expire on a due date set by the school. Sora lets students see their notes and highlights at any time – and also invites them to export them to PDF, CSV, Google Drive, and more. 

For less willing readers to feel encouraged and rewarded for their reading efforts, students can also earn badges by reading books and using the app features to log their reading efforts.

Sora also provides several accessibility features that empower readers and give them agency over their literacy journey. These include a Read to Me feature that provides text-to-speech support, adjustable playback speed and text size, screen reader support and more. 

Reading anxiety needs professional treatment

While there is a range of tools that help students access books and feel better engaged with their connection to books, it’s important to realise, of course, that mental health problems need to be treated by experts – and are not issues that educators (or families) should try to face alone.

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Identifying if a child needs help is a positive starting point and by creating open and honest communication between teachers and parents or carers, families can access a reading test. A good free screen for reading anxiety is the Reading Anxiety Test or RAT.

If the results suggest a student does have a reading-related issue, teachers and reading clinicians can help parents find people to help. 

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Claire Halliday has an extensive career as a full-time writer - across book publishing, copywriting, podcasting and feature journalism - for more than 25 years. She lives in Melbourne with children, two border collies and a grumpy Burmese cat. Contact: claire.halliday[at]brandx.live