Want To Make Reading Friends & Influence People? Use This Reading For Pleasure Article

If you’ve ever felt a pang of disappointment that some (and maybe even many) of the children in your class are not turning to books with enthusiasm and engagement, despite your best efforts at providing book-weeks, author events, booktalk sessions and a selection of ‘good’ titles in your class library, then I urge you to read on now.

A few weeks ago, I attended a conference in Cambridge on the subject of children reading for pleasure. One of the keynote speakers was Teresa Cremin, Professor of Education (literacy) at the Open University. She is also one of the co-authors of the book ‘Building Communities of Engaged Readers’. In a recent post on this website, my colleague and I described aspects of our school-based practice which we believe encourage and maintain a classroom culture of reading for pleasure. As someone who, like many others, has always read for pleasure, I am a passionate advocate for helping all children to experience the gains and satisfactions of such a brilliant resource. Since reading the book and attending the conference, I realise that,  while our own practice is very much affirmed by current thinking about reading for pleasure, there is more to consider and act upon than I have been aware of.

National Curriculum And Reading

In 2013, the National Curriculum (for the first time in its history) required that children be taught to develop pleasure in reading. Although ‘enticed’ or ‘invited’ would have been better word choices than ‘taught’, this requirement was and is encouraging, since it established that reading for pleasure was no longer to be viewed simply as a desirable spin-off from reading instruction, a kind of optional extra. What was the rationale behind this official foregrounding of a hitherto ignored aspect of reading?

What Does The Research Say?

Research has shown that reading for pleasure – the desire and the will to read – carries significant personal and affective benefits for a child reader in terms of, for example:

  • fostering empathy,
  • engaging the emotions,
  • expanding the imagination,
  • providing the means of a temporary escape,
  • widening knowledge,
  • helping the child  negotiate an identity and a place in the world (Alexander, 2010).

These are arguably benefits for society in general. There are academic gains too. Children who read with engagement will read more, will absorb models for writing, develop a wider vocabulary and show improvements in spelling. (Sullivan and Brown, 2013; Cox and Guthrie, 2001.) However, research has also shown there to have been a definite decline in reading for pleasure in recent years among both primary and secondary aged children (Twist et al,2012). This, as the book’s authors rightly say, is a cause for national (and international) concern. Something isn’t working in schools.

What I want to do in this article is to outline a primary school project set up by UKLA (United Kingdom Literacy Association) a few years ago, from which grew a distinct Reading for Pleasure pedagogy, and then to list some practical strategies which form part of this pedagogy.  The project, Teachers As Readers, aimed firstly to survey the participating teachers’ knowledge and use of children’s literature in the classroom and to find ways of enhancing this knowledge and its implementation. The most striking part of the project was the focus on the concept of  Reading Teachers, defined as ‘teachers who read and readers who teach’ (Commeyras, Bisplinghoff and Olson, 2003).

The Most Important Paragraph Of All

Developing as a Reading Teacher fundamentally involves  having a deep knowledge of yourself as a reader and of your own reading history, a commitment to reading children’s literature, together with knowing the children in your class as readers, knowing their informal reading practices both in and out of school, and acknowledging the diversity in what, how, and how much they choose to read. What is so exciting and innovative (and so connected to being human) about this concept is that, as the project showed, new and highly productive relationships between teachers and children can be forged from it, which impact positively on children’s attitudes to and pleasure in reading. If teachers are willing to position themselves as fellow-readers, share their own reading histories and experiences, and invite the children to share their everyday encounters with reading and their perceptions of themselves as readers, then it is possible for a truly reciprocal relationship to emerge, and a reciprocal reading community to be created where reading is seen as a pleasurable social practice, and talking about reading becomes endemic to the life of the classroom.

(I take this opportunity to mention that my colleague and I have been very concerned to create a similarly reciprocal community of writers in our classroom, through everyone sharing and developing their own writing processes as part of on-going  writer to  writer conversations.)

Children Choosing Their Own Books To Read

The book shows how it is possible to translate the National Curriculum requirement into a thoughtful and sympathetic Reading for Pleasure pedagogy. The teacher’s identity shift from ‘arbiter’ of reading to Reading Teacher allows other transformations to take place. For example, knowing children’s reading preferences both in and out of school and then using this knowledge to provide a wide range of different kinds of texts in class libraries means that teachers are validating and respecting children’s reading choices. Children can then be given the agency to be self-selectors of their own independent reading. Schools following the pedagogy might want to consider the possibility of dispensing with the practice of colour-coding children’s books (at least in their class libraries). Children very quickly learn to do what they need to do – be autonomously discriminating in their choices. The authors refer to studies (Krashen (1993), Sanacore (1999) & Gambrell,1996) which show that self-selection enhances motivation as readers, and point out that agency and motivation are crucial in fostering reading for pleasure. Of course, children still need advice and recommendations from their teachers. Our personal experience is that, because our children see us as Reading Teachers, they trust us and will at least try out suggested texts.

The question of agency and independence has implications for writing too. Allowing children to choose their own topics both increases motivation and makes clear links between reading and writing, since children will often draw on their personal reading to generate ideas for written pieces.  In our class, the children have ‘Writing Tricks Books’, in which they can ‘magpie’ from their reading: words, phrases, and figurative language which might be helpful in describing setting or building up character.

Children Talking About Books!

One of the most important and transformative outcomes of the pedagogy to impact on reading for pleasure is the emergence, described in the book, of ‘inside-text talk’. During the project the researchers observed apparently naturally occurring, ‘close’ conversations about reading which were taking place anywhere, any time, essentially informal, child-led, inclusive, and different from, though complementary to, the more engineered and  teacher-led ‘booktalk’ sessions which are often the only classroom discussions about reading. Rich examples of this kind of talk are given in the book. The project teachers observed that when inside-text talk was going on, children were asking more questions, and that the questions were ‘more probing, demanding much more than simple recall of facts.’  Teachers also saw the value of talk for the authentic assessment of reading, and for the ways in which it could facilitate collective and individual meaning-making.

If book talk is a core element of a community of readers, so is the social practice of a teacher reading aloud to the class – sharing poems, picture books, short stories and whole novels. Far from being simply a pleasant way to finish the day or the week, reading aloud is seen as a significant pedagogical activity with strong contributions to make to a climate of reading for pleasure. Through being read to regularly, children’s knowledge of what is out there to be enjoyed widens. If it is read well, they will absorb the shapes, language, sounds and rhythms of the text. However, while this has obvious implications for writing, it is essential that children understand that hearing a text read aloud has pleasure at its heart, and that the text is not being used as a tool for another, narrower purpose, such as the teaching of grammar or as a future writing assignment. One of the project teachers had this to say, and you can hear the feeling of liberation in her words:

‘I now read to the class without thinking ‘I could do this with it or I could do that with it’ and I think the children sit back and think ‘I can just enjoy this’…..that had been a big struggle – thinking how many boxes can I tick, what objectives can I cover and you actually then lose the impact of….the book. You know, just enjoy it for a book and a good story and a good emotional journey.’

As the authors acknowledge, there is more work to be done, particularly in the area of parental involvement. I have appended a few of the strategies relating to parents which the book refers to and which were discussed at the conference. Again, the emphasis is on establishing reciprocity in reader relationships between families, parents and schools.

There can be no doubt that implementing a reading for pleasure pedagogy offers huge gains in terms of creating communities of interested, engaged and enthusiastic readers. I conclude with a final word about test scores. In one of the project schools, teachers reported that over the academic year every child showed improvement in reading, and the scores of more than 50% of the children in the the two classes increased by three sub-levels or more. We are finding a similar trend in our own class. The following list of strategies and practices related to the pedagogy can be implemented in any classroom if teachers are personally and professionally committed to careful, systematic and consistent planning.

Which Ones Do You Think You Do?

  1. Widen your own reading of children’s literature; consult published booklists and review magazines.
  2. Allow more daily DEAR time.
  3. Have a class library with a wide range of texts.
  4. Allow the free passage of home texts to school and school texts being allowed to go home.
  5. Have child-led booklists of recommendations, and book displays with clear star ratings.
  6. Share book reviews with other schools.
  7. Connect with the local library.
  8. Read aloud on a regular basis.
  9. Ask children to write regular ‘reading letters’ to the teacher in their home-school reading record books. These require a brief answer.
  10. Have Daniel Pennac’s ‘Rights of the Reader’ understood and displayed in the classroom.
  11. Keep a record of children’s reading choices.
  12. Invite teachers, children and parents to create a personal River of Reading collage. Draw, stick on/write about anything you have read over a long or short period of time. Share in class.
  13. Invite parents into the school or class library at the end of the day, to chat or read with children. Value their personal contributions without making them feel intimidated! This could develop into a reading club or group.

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**Please note that the views expressed on this blog are our own and may not represent our employer.**

References:

  • Alexander, R., (2010) Children, Their World & Their Education London:Routledge
  • Commeyras, M., Bisplinghoff, B.S., Olson, J., (2003) Teachers as Readers: Perspectives on the importance of reading in teachers’ classrooms and lives Newwark, NJ: International Reading Association
  • Cox. K., Guthrie, J.T., (2001) Motivational and cognitive contributions to students amount of reading In Contemporary educational psychology 26(1), 116-131
  • Cremin, T., Mottram, M., Collins, F., Powell, S., Safford, K., (2014) Building Communities Of Engaged Readers London: Routledge
    • Gambrell, L., (1996) Creating classroom cultures that foster reading motivation In The Reading Teacher 50, 14-
  • Krashen, S., (2004) The power of reading: insights from research Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann
  • Sanacore, J., (1999) Encouraging children to make choices about their literacy learning In Intervention in school and clinic 35, 38-42
  • Sullivan, A., Brown, M., (2013) Social inequalities in cognitive sores arge 16: The role of reading In CLS Working Paper London: Centre for longitudinal studies
  • Twist, L., Sizmur, J., Barrlett, S., Lynn, L., (2012) PIRLS 2011 Reading Achievement in England Research Brief London: DFE

Children Learning To Read: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly!

Children Learning To Read: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly!

If children groan and grumble when having to read with you or anyone else you might want to reflect on these strategies and think about how you approach ‘reading time’.  

The best things you can do when helping a child learn to read.

  • Devote time to it. Make it a quality experience. Show your own interest and pleasure.
  • Talk about both your responses to text.
  • Respect the text as the teacher. You are a co-reader able to offer sensitive support.
  • Provide quality stories. Rhyme, rhythm, pattern good for beginning readers, and books that read aloud well, have a narrative flow and use natural language rhythms.
  • Allow children to choose the text.
  • Let children construct a narrative from the sequence of pictures.
  • Offer to read the whole text to the child.
  • Be prepared to share the reading (one page each!)
  • Read with (in unison) – drop out – rejoin when necessary.
  • Accept memorizing of the text.
  • Encourage all strategies. These include:
    • Predicting,
    • Self-monitoring,
    • Self-correcting
    • Reading on,
    • Reading back,
    • Re-runs.
  • Encourage children to use (‘orchestrate’) the following cueing systems:
    • Semantic (meaning & context),
    • Syntactic (knowledge of grammatical construction of language),
    • Grapho-phonic (sound-symbol relationships).

Some of these sound rather technical. But fear not! For more information on these strategies – what they are and what they mean please visit here and all shall be revealed in simple language.

  • Allow for some errors/miscues – and give time for child to self-correct.
  • Return to miscues later – at the end of a page or chapter. Make a contextual or a phonetic point. (to draw attention to context or phonics.)

The absolute worst things you can do when helping a child learn to read.

  • Rush the experience.
  • Ask children to read text they haven’t chosen for themselves.
  • Control the reading.
  • Focus only on the text!
  • Insist on 100% accuracy in word-reading.
  • Correct errors immediately – stopping the child’s ‘flow’ or enjoyment of the text.
  • Ask child to read a text ‘cold’, with no setting up of the story.
  • Leave no time for discussion of response.
  • Think in deficit terms.

Let me expand on what constitutes ‘thinking in deficit terms’. Here is a genuine comment made by a teacher in a child’s home/school book:

“A. still not looking at more than initial sound. Only using picture cues. Trouble with decoding. Struggled with text.”

Yet A was; using pictures to make sense of the story & creating a plausible text. Showed great pleasure and enthusiasm, appreciated humour, wanted to discuss the story, was happy to “re-think” and correct self. Behaving as a reader, but needed help to focus more on print.

Think about what is happening as well as what isn’t.

What are early readers doing which you might not have noticed?

  • Making meaning, constructing narrative from the pictures,
  • Responding; finding pleasure; beginning to be reflective,
  • Showing they know how a story goes (understanding narrative structure),
  • Understanding the function of ‘print’,
  • Using a range of the strategies mentioned above,
  • Wanting to talk to you about the text!
  • Developing a sense of self and personality as a reader.

These are all things you can comment on in children’s reading records, to their parents and most importantly to the child. Make sure TA’s know that they can spot these things when they read with children too. For a guide on how to comment in children’s reading records click here.

What actually is reading for pleasure and why is it vital for all schools?

What is reading for pleasure and why is it vital for all schools?

Anything from poetry to instruction manuals, magazines, comics, biography, fiction, history, information – it’s a lifelong resource. You can do it any time, anywhere.

When I was working in a children’s bookshop, every lunchtime for a fortnight a boy of about nine years old from a nearby Traveller settlement  would come in, ask if there were any books about dogs, and would browse and sample all kinds of titles for half an hour, then leave. I wasn’t sure whether he could read or not, but I sensed his pleasure.

At home with a small child, I used to think of sharing books as a kind of playing, especially since my two year old would demand to “play books” on a daily basis.It was entirely pleasurable and satisfying for us both, and later on we used to act out scenes from stories at her request. I have the same feelings when I am involved in any “reading lesson” at school. I approach each one with a strong sense of optimism and anticipation, and it feels like a new experience each time. As a teacher, I see myself as a sympathetic co-reader, ready to help but also to set up the reading experience for the child by giving him or her the expectation of enjoyment. This applies to all children, regardless of age or reading ability. I like to read with anybody, sometimes for no reason other than the shared pleasure of discovering in the text something familiar or unfamiliar, humorous or thought-provoking. Every home or school book  -sharing encounter between an adult and a child can be a quality experience carrying a positive message about reading.

Books For Any & Every Primary Classroom

Books For Any & Every Primary Classroom

Books To Feed The Habit – Are They In Your Classroom?

  • Wide range of picture books
  • Fairytales, myths, fables, folktales,
  • Dual language
  • Comic-strip format, graphic texts, comics
  • Joke books
  • Poetry
  • Newspaper

Fiction: Quick reads, longer reads, classics, modern classics, new writing.

Broad categories/genres:

  • Humerous
  • Animals (talking – or not)
  • Adventure /mystery /spy
  • Fantasy/ magic
  • Historical/ time-slip
  • Family & friends
  • Science fiction

Avoid stereotypes of race, gender, class.

Include Stories set in different parts of the world, books which reflect diverse social, cultural and linguistic backgrounds. AND (importantly): children’s own published texts.

Non-fiction: Reference books, autobiography, information, catalogues, instruction manuals, magazines.