School Leaders, Teachers

Shifting the reading culture!

How can schools create and drive a reading culture? In her recent article with Headteacher Update, Aimee Cave, SENCo and assistant head explains how they are achieving it in their school.

We’ve been on a reading journey for a long time. Over the last few years, we’ve introduced time for all pupils to read in class through dedicated daily class stories. We have also invested in new books, new library furniture and tried to create spaces in school which lend themselves to reading.

And although reading for pleasure conjures up images of ‘curling up with a good book’, we’ve come to see it as much more than this.

You can enjoy getting lost in a story just as much as enjoying spending time learning more about a topic you’re interested in. You can gain enormous pleasure from discovering a new fact, learning a new joke, or reading news about something that interests you too.

For us, developing ‘reading for pleasure’ is not just about making sure that every child is fully equipped to read fluently but also helping them to discover their interests.

If you’re curious, the act of reading becomes a pleasure as it allows you to indulge in your passions. If fantasy stories move you, then immersing yourself in a new world, from a new author, is a pleasure in and of itself. If you’re a die-hard football fan, knowing the latest transfer details for your club before anyone else is an amazing feeling.

Our teachers really get to know the children and are passionate about getting the right book in front of the right child. There are probably only a few children who would be thrilled to read ‘The pocket guide to fish of Britain and Europe’, but for that one child who fishes with their grandad at the weekend, this book is magical.

Without understanding each of our student’s passions, we’re never going to have children taking pleasure from the books in front of them.

Building natural curiosity…

We have also made reading a fundamental part of learning and our curriculum has been built on developing children’s natural enquiry skills.

Although like every school, we have a formal, structured curriculum which details exactly what children will learn in each year, there are no hard and fast rules about the context for learning the skills and knowledge.

We use this to our advantage and have developed a variety of stimuli that bring out children’s questioning skills. Through a democratic, class by class process, we help them write their own enquiry questions. Previous examples have been “What impact does perfectionism have on the world?” and “What is the human cost of deforestation?”

Our teachers then cleverly use these overarching questions to weave the knowledge and skills from the curriculum into answering the questions as a class.

 Reading is the key to this. As children are keen to answer their own question, reading in every subject has a real purpose. The pleasure comes from children discovering more and being able to form opinions on some really challenging questions – and they really love it!

Help from outside of school…

We are also fully committed to bringing parents into the process too. We can have a much bigger impact as teachers if reading is encouraged at home. Over the summer break, we ran a competition for children to read in unusual places and bring in the photos after the summer holidays. The children loved it, it got parents involved and cost nothing to do.

We also share our tips in drop-in sessions with parents and have made use of free resources like Lexplore’s Reading for Pleasure Guide, which includes lots of great tips for schools and a helpful leaflet to share with parents.

Early Identification Matters…

In my view, developing a reading for pleasure ethos rests on two key elements; empowering children to uncover what their passions are so they read more about these topics, and secondly to help ensure the act of reading is fluent and as effortless as possible.

Part of this includes the early identification of any potential barriers to reading. As a junior school, we don’t see first-hand every child’s journey through the stages of early reading, so spotting any signs of dyslexia, or comprehension or phonics issues really matters. We have not been afraid to make use of new technology with this aim, which is helping us identify any reading issues so if any child needs more specialist help, we can provide it early.

We’ve just started to use the Lexplore Analytics AI assessment which uses fascinating eye-tracking software to follow a child’s eye movements as they read. The assessment then delivers an entirely objective insight into each child’s reading in just a few minutes.

It means that as a SENCo I can easily see who needs extra support and immediately concentrate my time on putting the correct interventions in place. It’s a crucial step in helping a child read for pleasure.

Culture Shifted…

So has our approach worked?

Well, the number of children talking about reading and enjoying reading has certainly improved.

More children come into school talking about new things they’ve learned and how something they’re reading fits into being able to answer the class question.

But what is encouraging us all to continue is that we are starting to see an impact on pupil progress data.  Both reading attainment and general progress are showing a consistent upward trend.

The icing on the cake for me personally is the fact that reading has become an integral part of nearly every child’s own passion, which is the most beautiful reward for us and a lifelong reward for the children we teach.

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