Let’s talk reading!
A school’s reading journey
Katherine Beith Director of Studies at Alleyn’s Junior School considers the reading journey the school has recently experienced. According to Year 4, things are on the right track!
What do we know about reading?
Reading helps our brains grow.
Academic papers are full of the importance of reading. We know, for example reading for pleasure leads to an increase in attainment. Clark and DeZoya (2011) found a direct link between the two suggesting that pupils who read more gain higher results. We also know reading for pleasure is strongly influenced by teachers. (Cremin et al, 2009).
How can we turn what we know to be true about reading into everyday practice? Here’s a clue from Phoebe in Year 4:
“Reading is a cloud for my imagination.”
Exactly. Reading develops children’s vocabularies; it makes them braver with words and leads to far less inhibited writing. When asked to describe how a toaster worked, Scarlett in Year 4 said:
The mouse inside the toaster tells the gnomes who turn a wheel. The wheel pulls a rope which is tied to a single feather of the phoenix. On being tugged, the phoenix wakes his friends and they all breathe fire onto the toast. That is how a toaster works.
Scarlett, Year 4.
How much more interesting and creative is that than the ‘real’ answer? Apologies to the mechanical and electrical engineers who design our toasters!
“Reading tells us about the past and all the things that have happened. You feel like you are there”.
Reading teaches us about the world. Reading enables children to learn about the world without them having to take a single step. In recent years, we have found that our choice of class texts enriches our topic work and humanities. For example, the story “Letters from the Lighthouse” by Emma Carroll fed directly into the children’s learning about evacuation in their work on the Second World War. Children sense the effect:
“Reading takes me into another world full of adventures.” Miya
“Every book is like a little adventure. You can choose which adventure to go on.” Florence
Reading is a support to mental health
It is noticeable how calm and tranquillity descends on a room when children are reading or being read to. A study carried out by the University of Sussex in 2009 found that reading can reduce stress by up to 68%. The university stated that “Reading can even relax the body by lowering your heart rate, easing tension in your muscles.” Or as Esme puts it:
“You can have a break from the real world.”
It gives an escape to other worlds. Re-reading old favourites gives a sense of safety and security in the predictability of familiar stories and the happy endings that we know are coming.
Books are increasingly being written with mental health in mind. Empathy towards others is a powerful force in today’s world and realising they share something in common with a character can help children make sense of their own thoughts and feelings and feel seen in a way that perhaps the everyday world has not yet managed. According to Millie:
“You always have someone to talk to when you are reading.”
Reading improves general knowledge
“Reading expands my knowledge and imagination.” Alex
We have thought about how to expose children to current affairs and general knowledge in an appropriate and meaningful way, being mindful to ensure the input is age appropriate. The school magazine has numerous interesting articles to tempt young readers. We subscribe to The Week Junior and National Geographic and children in Year 6 enjoy day old print copies of The Times and Guardian, secreted away from the staff room every evening.
“When I pick up a book, I cannot hear anything as I am so absorbed. It feels like I am there.” Layla
Reading helps to develop higher order thinking skills
Reading gives many opportunities to flex and develop higher order thinking skills. Predictions can be made about events and character development to come, information from non-fiction books can be analysed and synthesised for a research project and alternative endings can be imagined and explored.
“Reading makes you clever while you are having fun.” Simon
“Reading gives paper and ink a new perspective,” Arabella
Raising the profile of reading
Our school library has undergone a total transformation in recent years and, thanks to a major rebuild of the school site, it is now double the size. It is in a prominent position, an oasis in the centre of the school building and a shrine to reading, while also a sanctuary to escape to.
“Sometimes you just can’t stop reading.” Archie
It is hard to feel ambivalent about reading after visiting the library. Our librarian organises numerous temptations to encourage the children to read and has learnt the reading habits of nigh on 300 children, tempting them with books daily. There are competitions a-plenty and so much on offer to inspire. Gifted readers from Years 5 and 6 enjoy weekly visits to the Senior School library to catch up with more advanced literature.
Mrs Edwards knows all our reading preferences and delivers books to our hands. Katya
What has Covid done for reading?
The single best thing that came about as a result of Covid was the creation of a lunchtime reading slot. This 20-minute session, in which the form teacher reads, provides a time for the children to enjoy listening to a story.
“If the teacher reads, it is easier to understand the story. Adults do interesting voices and they are good at reading.” Catherine
As well as providing such a special time to connect with the children, it is extraordinary to review the variety of books read. In Year 6 last year, we read stories about World War 1, animals in captivity, war in Syria, the story of a young Jewish boy living in Poland in the 1940s and a child detective with a troubled home life.
“Reading calms you down, lets you get away from your life and puts you in someone else’s shoes.” Martha
What comes next on our reading journey?
Events and competitions celebrating literature and reading have already been introduced and more are on the way. The first “writing laureates” have been created. A poetry evening has just happened too. Imaginative initiatives will continue to make reading the most wonderful and vibrant part of everyone’s lives.
“My parents had to push back my bedtime as I just can’t stop reading.” Rex.
That says it all.
Katherine Beith is the Director of Studies at Alleyn’s Junior School in Dulwich, London.
Our thanks to Katherine for all the lovely images of children enjoying reading.
Mapping the interrelationships of reading enjoyment, attitudes, behaviour and attainment An exploratory investigation Christina Clark and Sarah De Zoysa National Literacy Trust July 2011
Teachers as readers: building communities of readers: T Cremin, M Mottram, F Collins, S Powell, K Safford – Literacy, 2009 – Wiley Online Library.
Reading and stress: Andy Chiles, University of Sussex 30th March 2009
Bloom’s taxonomy (revised 2001), the levels have slightly different names and their order was revised: Remember, Understand, Apply, Analyze, Evaluate, and Create (rather than Synthesize)