All entries for Monday 08 June 2020

June 08, 2020

What happened to reading aloud in primary schools? – Kate Glavina

In a recent article in The Guardian, Michael Rosen wrote about the importance of reading aloud to children, even well into their teens. Since it is not uncommon for an emphasis on reading aloud to children by both parents and teachers to fall away after Key Stage 1, it is worth reconsidering why continuing to read aloud is important. Firstly, the way we speak, Rosen points out, is very different from the way we write, so it is through story that children are introduced to a much wider range of vocabulary and grammatical structures than from spoken language alone, especially if books chosen are literary and read with ‘expression, emphasis and inflection’ (Cremin). Through carefully chosen texts, children can be introduced to highly patterned language and challenging vocabulary in contexts which make them meaningful. Compared to previous generations, children today are bombarded by other forms of storytelling such as film and television; they are bombarded by images to accompany storytelling through screen and print – so for children to rely on their imagination alone to conjure an image is perhaps not a regular experience in their ‘reading lives’ and yet an invaluable one. Extending that idea further, imagination is central to story activity. Fleer argues that imagination is the means by which children ‘imbue meaning of stories and relate it to real life situations.’ While listening to stories, children imagine the characters they cannot see, conceptualise what they hear and think about what they have not yet experienced (Vygotsky). Therefore, listening to stories engages children in complex imaginative activity that reaches beyond the immediate parameters of the stories themselves.

Further arguments for urging teachers and parents to read aloud to children abound. Philip Pullman, for instance, treasures the pleasure he remembers from being read to as a child, regarding as irreplaceable, hearing a ‘beloved voice’ telling a story. He points out that additionally, of course, when listening to stories read aloud, children can access literature beyond their independent reading age, thereby being introduced to rich and more complex texts than they would encounter alone. Pullman articulates this in the following way: ‘Children can borrow your stamina, as a duckling can swim easily in its mother’s wake’. The act of teacher and children coming together to listen to stories read aloud creates a sense of ‘community’ in the classroom – it creates warmth and intimacy – it is a bonding experience through which participants build a very particular relationship based on a shared repertoire of stories. Clearly, then, there are very powerful arguments for promoting reading aloud to children of all ages and yet the profile of this activity is not exactly prominent in Key Stage 2 classrooms. One of the recommendations of the Rose Report (2009) was that all schools should have a ‘Read Aloud’ policy, but it is questionable how many did. It is interesting to consider the emphasis afforded reading aloud and the terminology used in the revised National Curriculum (2014). The non-statutory guidance for Reading Comprehension in Key Stage 1 states that children should have ‘extensive experience of listening to… a wide range of poems, stories and non-fiction’ (P12), although the phrase ‘read to them’ remains implicit. For children in both Lower and Upper Key Stage 2, the statutory guidance does state explicitly that children should ‘participate in discussion about…books that are read to them’ (P26 & 34). Despite this directive, however, it is frequently the case that dedicated time for reading aloud (aka ‘Story Time’) is absent from the timetables of Year 5 & 6 classes. Of course not everyone enjoys reading aloud and it is notable how uncomfortable and lacking in both confidence and fluency many of our trainees are when asked to read aloud in taught sessions. If reading aloud and listening to stories is to be re-established as a ‘communal art’ then all of us must engage. It must become part of a holistic approach to the use of children’s literature in the classroom; it must become a key component and central feature of a school’s reading programme across all year groups; it must be flourishing in libraries and cherished in our homes.

June 2020

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