Creating A Community Of Readers: A Reading For Pleasure Article

This article is based on, and written in relation to, findings of educational research (Cremin, 2008, Pieper & Beadle, 2016 & Miller & Anderson, 2009). The tenor of this article is to allow the reader to reflect on children’s reading and is in no way a criticism of any school(s) policy or teachers’ practice.

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 a school-based practice which we believe can 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 still 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 concentrating on creating 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 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 or school libraries means that teachers are validating and respecting children’s reading choices. Children can then maybe be given the agency to be self-selectors of their own independent reading. Potentially schools might want to consider the possibility of dispensing with the practice of colour-coding children’s books (at least in class libraries). Though we appreciate that some schools also find colour-codes useful. Potentially though, children may very quickly learn to do what they need to do – be autonomously discriminating in their own choices. We only suggest this as a potential practice because 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 would likely need advice and recommendations from their teachers. In terms of us, we can only say that our children see us as Reading Teachers; they trust us and will at least try out suggested texts that we pick out for them to try.

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, we tried out the use of ‘Writing Tricks Books’, in which the children could ‘magpie’ from their reading: words, phrases, and figurative language which might be helpful in describing settings or building up characters in their own writing. This has been interesting but a lot more work would be required to see what kind of benefits it has for the children’s writing outcomes.

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, the study made it clear that 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. This seems exciting.

There can be no doubt, from reading the studies, 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. 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
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Creating A Community Of Readers: The Power Of DEAR

This article is based on, and written in relation to, findings of educational research (Cremin, 2008, Pieper & Beadle, 2016 & Miller & Anderson, 2009). The tenor of this article is to allow the reader to reflect on children’s reading and is in no way a criticism of any school(s) policy or teachers’ practice.

This is a grass-roots account of how, in one term, two teachers have taken one class’s reading and made it a central, natural and pleasurable part of the life of a classroom.

Little Pockets Of Time

reading

As the new teachers of this class wanting to establish a ‘reading classroom’, we felt we could try to find pockets of time in the school day for private reading. Thus, when children in our class arrive in the morning they begin their day with a quiet fifteen minutes of personal reading of a book they are enjoying. They have a second, thirty-minute session of reading (including time for browsing) at the beginning of every afternoon. They know, too, that when they have finished their set tasks, they can either ‘free-write’ or continue reading. They do both, happily; in equal measure. This means each child is reading a minimum of 3 hours and 45 minutes a week. For children that do their 30 minutes of home reading, this equates to over 7 hours of reading a week! 

‘Introducing ‘Book-Letters’.

We think it is important and totally justifiable to set aside this amount of time for reading in school because, in our experience, you cannot assume that all children are reading much at home, given the legitimate pressures of outside activities and the attractions of technology. We have, however, devised ways of monitoring  the extent of their home reading. We have adjusted the daily ‘title and page number’ entry in their home-school reading record book, which was usually filled in the same rushed handwriting and pen colour the morning it was due in. Now, over the weekend, children write a short ‘book-letter’ addressed to us in their reading record book, to which we write a brief reply.

Tracking Reading

To keep track of reading, during DEAR time, we spend around ten minutes every couple of weeks, collecting information from each child and putting it on a spread-sheet. We also ask each child to make a quick comment on how the reading is going and to rate any book they’ve read or abandoned out of 10. Children are also allowed to give a book a STAR rating. The spread-sheet  enables us to see at a glance how much reading is going on, and gives us valuable information about the range of books chosen by each child and how they are developing personal tastes and preferences. It also lets them know that we appreciate and take seriously the amount of enjoyment they are getting from the books they are reading.

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CLASS READING RECORD DOWNLOAD HERE

We enter the titles of books children have abandoned (the rule being that you must read at least twenty pages before giving it up), and this alerts us to the need to support some children with book choice. We also record our own reading of children’s books on the system. 

Bringing One Book To & From School Everyday

It seems that many children in schools read one book at school and one at home, which  we felt could result in lack of continuity and loss of motivation. We asked the children to read one book at a time, taking it home every night and bringing it to school the next day. Through encouragement and reminders, the children generally do this. If they do forget to bring their book in in the morning, they know that, rather than beginning a new chapter book, they will choose from non-fiction, poetry or picture books. Our tracking system ensures that we know who has what, and the children know that they must be responsible for not mislaying books at home. To date, a few books have been lost but kindly replaced by parents!

Creating A Genuine Class Library – Children Recommending & Donating Books!

We have provided a varied collection of good-quality fiction, non-fiction and poetry. What happens in many classes in many schools is that children draw largely on the central school library, and books don’t generally feature much in classrooms. Children visit the school library on an individual basis to change books when necessary. All books are colour-coded, and children are allocated a colour on the basis of a reading test. We appreciate that this obviously comes with both benefits and disadvantages for schools.

To supplement the collection in the school library we built an additional class library, which is one of the focal points in the classroom. It is stocked with books from our our own personal collections, the local community library, books loaned or donated by the children themselves (this has taken off in a big way), and good-quality texts which we purchase from second-hand shops.

We both like children’s books, and try to keep ourselves informed for the purposes of stocking the class library through publishers’ catalogues, children’s recommendations, the internet, booklists compiled by, for example, CLPE. and The Federation of Children’s Bookgroups, review magazines such as Carousel, bookshops and reference books, as well as our own recollections of good reads from our childhoods.

The stock develops and changes; we ‘drip-feed’ new books at regular intervals to stimulate and maintain interest. The fiction collection is broadly organised into quick, longer and challenging reads, and children are free to sample any book. Our children also learn the skills of discriminating and choosing wisely through having a free hand to browse, try out, keep, reject, try again.  

Class Librarians

We appoint two librarians every fortnight, who keep the stock tidy and make small regular book displays on any topic they like. Books have become a valued part of a small community. They are also always to hand during writing-time; to be sampled, handled, pored over, referred to and talked about.

Book Talks

Recommending, describing, discussing particular books, and talking about reading generally are becoming a natural part of our classroom. Enthusiasm is infectious. Some great conversations take place when two children are browsing together. We have regular ‘booktalk’ sessions which have quite quickly been taken over spontaneously and informally by the children, who often have the urge to tell everyone about this or that good read.

Class Reading Blog

There is also the class blog, which isn’t all about book reviews, but is often a series of peer-to-peer or teacher-peer conversations about anything of interest in the field of books and reading. Some children keep personal reading journal/notebooks, in which they might include ‘someday ‘ lists of books maybe to be read sometime in the future.  

What Next?

If there is an appetite from our readership, we will continue to let you know our progress. We would also like to hear of any recommendations from your classroom that we could incorporate into our reading pedagogy. Please let us know by commenting below.

By the way, you as the teacher don’t have to be an expert in the field, but your enthusiasm, interest and openness to learning from the children and from colleagues who may have some knowledge can be very important. We have found the following  reference books especially helpful, and a pleasure to read in themselves:

  • 1001 Children’s Books You Must Read Before You Grow Up : Julia Eccleshare(General Editor)
  • The Ultimate Book Guide (books for 8-12s): Daniel Hahn and Leonie Flynn (Eds)
  • The Rough Guide to Children’s Books, 5-11: Nicholas Tucker
  • Tell Me: Children reading and talk: Aidan Chambers
  • Anything written by Michael Rosen on the subject of the reading classroom will be affirming.
  • Cremin, T., (2008) Building Communities Of Readers London: Routledge
  • Pieper & Beadles, (2016) Reading For Pleasure London: Crown House
  • Miller & Anderson, (2009) The Book Whisperer New York: Jossey Bass 

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

 

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.

The Four Week Reading Programme

The 4-Week Reading Programme

A project carried out several times in one primary school by two SENCOs. Hard work, but very rewarding!

Why did it come about? The two teachers felt they wanted to inform parents more about their children’s reading and to involve them more meaningfully beyond the customary comment in the home school reading record book.

They were also attracted by the idea of carrying out a small piece of action research and by the possibility of enriching the reading experience for both parents and children.

The Aims: To see if regular reading sessions at home with a parent (every night for 4 weeks, day off on Sunday) would have an impact on children’s motivation, attitudes and possibly, performance.

The Participants: 12 children of different ages took part in each programme – some who were finding reading difficult, and some who read well but were not turning to books as a source of pleasure.

What Was Done:

  • Publicity posters put up in school
  • Children & staff briefed
  • Parents invited to attend meeting (100% did)
  • Aims explained; “best way to read” discussed i.e maintain interest of story, encourage and allow time to use all strategies, give word if necessary to keep the ‘flow’. Learn when to join in, when to hold back
  • Short video shown of SENCOs reading with children.

The Materials

  • Small booklet for record-keeping spaces for date, title and parent/child comment, for each family.
  • Book-baskets with variety of texts to suit 12 children of different abilities and tastes. Children changed books as often as they wished. Contents changed every week.

Evaluation

At the end of week 4, parents and children wrote a final reflection on the experience. Comments were invariably positive; all parents spoke of shared enjoyment and many reported increased fluency.

It seems therefore, that there is something special for a child in being in the ‘spotlight’ for a limited time, and that this may raise the quality of the reading.

The parents involved were 100% enthusiastic and supportive throughout. The SENCOs wrote up the project and it attracted considerable local interest at the time.

And finally… other children queued up to join in!

To contact me about setting up The 4 Week Reading Programme for children in your school. You can contact me here.

Reading Record-keeping: How Are You Doing It?

Reading Record-keeping: How Are You Doing It?

Struggling with what to write in reading record books?

For an immediate comment to be made in the home/school reading record book, here are some suggestions you can definitely focus on:

Attitude & Style:

Does the child read with: Pleasure, enthusiasm, commitment, involvement, interest, ease, expression, fluency, confidence, stamina, understanding, rhythm, appreciation, independence, pace?

Has the child made comments about: theme, humour, own response – if so, what?

Is the child willing/keen to talk about books with you, share/recommend them to other children?

Choice:

Is there any difficulty experienced with choice? Does the child choose confidently? Has the child got firm favourites, definite preferences, favourite authors, favourite genres? Does the child have any idea of what to read next?

Strategies:

Does the child use several strategies at once? Or does the child over-rely on one?

  • Does the child read for meaning or sense?
  • Does he/she self-correct?
  • Have a “re-run” of some sentences?,
  • Read on and then go back and fill in?
  • Does the child use context or pictures to predict what is coming?
  • Does the child pay attention to word-structure, letters – and to structure of language?
  • Is the child progressing, developing, becoming more fluent and confident?

The Primary Language Record

First devised in the late 1980’s, the Primary Language Record gives teachers a framework for recording their ongoing observations of children’s talking, reading and writing. It is cumulative record of progress in literacy, and its special value is its ‘grassroots’ quality, since it included not only teachers’ and importantly children’s own assessments of their development as readers and writers. It is invaluable both as a long-term assessment of progress and as a basis for immediate forward planning. It’s also very user-friendly.
You are more than welcome to download my own version of it HERE.