So I go on a alot about reading. (I did it again at Total Teaching)
The reason for that is that I truly believe that teaching chidren to read is the most important thing we do in school. If we get it right we give children access to a world of learning and a never-ending source of pleasure.
If we want real readers then talking about books has to sit at the core of our reading offer. If we want children to love reading Talk has to sit at the core of what we do.
Doing more comprehensions tests won’t make children better readers. Just telling children what they should think and how they should respond equally won’t make children better readers either. (though they pass some tests)
As Scarborough points out reading is complex. To create skilled readers we need to do it all, just focussing on strands will not make skilled readers. Phonics is essential but it’s not enough.
So here is the Key question What is your reading Offer?
If we want to create readers in our schools we need
(I haven’t mentioned phonics in this list because ensuring children have the tools to decode is for me implicit in teaching children to read)
- Talk with children about books. (we need to be careful that we don’t see reading as comprehension tests… its way more than that)
- Read to children everyday. (Its great, you don’t really have to plan it, pick something that challenges)
- Provide a language rich environment and curriculum.
- Explicitly teach vocabulary in the context of great books (If we want children to understand words then the context is king)
- Enable children to learn a range of stories, poems and rhymes. (this starts right down in our Early Years, knowledge of language patterns and structures)
- Use a variety of strategies to explore texts including drama. (Make room to dig in and explore a book)
- Access to books. (Giving children a voice in the choice is important as well)
- Teacher Readers/ Teachers who are knowledgeable about book. (If we know books we can perhaps find that gateway book for a child or expand their reading horizons) or in other words
- Provide a full reading curriculum.
Great but what is a full reading curriculum?
In school we’ve spent a significant amount of time exploring the reading offer. The key for us was stopping and thinking about what we were books we were exposing our children too, what reading experiences we were actually giving our children. When we really looked it was often very limited. Some of that was due to the lack of teacher knowledge about books, some of it was about the books we had in school, some of it was about what people felt comfortable using to drive learning. So we stopped and came up with a list of our purposes for reading and then we explored how we we could fulfil that.
Purposes for reading
1) Read to learn something new
Books are a magical source of learning. Do we provide books for our children that extend their knowledge? Do we give children the time to explore? Do we provide a range of non-fiction texts to read in their own time? Do we celebrate the learning of new stuff? Do we use books to awaken children’s intellectual curiosity?
If a child is fired by finding out things they can be an unstoppable force. How does our reading offer harness that desire to find stuff out? Or do we truly believe that children are only going to learn stuff from us?
2) Read to make us think
Do you read books which challenge pupils thinking? Do you have books that explore complex issues? Do you use them as a catalyst for conversation and discussion?
3) Read to be entertained
Do you use books to do all the great things brilliant books can do? Is pleasure part of the experience? Do you give children a range of reading experiences to understand why reading can be amazing? (you can’t make children love reading, but it’s really worth trying.)
- a) Excite
- b) Escape
- c) Laugh
- d) Quiver
- e) Cry
- f) Grin
- g) Get lost in
- h) Rage
- i) Dance
…and way too many more ways to count…
4) Read to be inspired
Do you use reading to inspire? Do you light fires or do you rain on parades? How do you inspire the children in your class. How do you encourage the girls to be 10% braver? How does the reading you offer broaden horizons or allow pupils to dream?
5) Read to inform
If the past few years have taught us anything then it has to be that it’s vital that we keep our children informed of the world around them. Being informed allows us to make judgements, challenge things and be able to know how we feel about key issues. Does your reading curriculum make time to do that? Do you provide the materials that start the process that allows children to make critcal choices and decisions about the world around them?
6) Read to help us understand others better
AS a school that is 99% white british it’s important that we use reading as a way to explore other contexts and lives. The work done by the CLPE on reflecting realities explains it way better than I ever could. Exploring the offer and the message your book choices make is vital.
Reflecting Realities – Ethnic Diversity in UK Children’s Books
Summary of Findings
- There were 9115 childrens bookspublished in the UK in 2017. Of these only 391featured BAME characters
- Only4% of the childrens books published in 2017 featured BAME characters
- Only 1% of the childrens books published in the UK in 2017 had a BAME main character
- Over half the fiction books with BAME characters were defined as ‘contemporary realism’(books set in modern day landscapes/contexts)
- 10%of books with BAME characters contained ‘social justice’ issues
- Only onebook featuring a BAME character was defined as ‘comedy’
- 26%of the non-fiction submissions were aimed at an ‘Early Years’ audience
Equally the work on ‘no outsiders’ allows us to explore and understand others and show acceptance and understanding of difference.
7) Read to help us understand ourselves
In my experience every book does this. However choosing books to help us explore emotions and feelings is massively important. How do books allow us to understand our feeling and emotions? How does your reading offer teach children to understand themselves?
Finally I will say sorry. I don’t have a definitive list. The reading offer in our school is not static, we don’t have recommended book lists and a canon. Instead we have conversations about books and classes. We constantly ask ourselves the questions and use our purposes as a lens. A key bit is teacher knowledge an passion for a book I really dont want to strip that away as there is nothing more likely to get a child wanting to read a book than a passionate teacher.
The key to it all however is the opportunities we give children to talk about books without that, reading will only something that children do rather than something that children want to do.