March 11, 2019

Reading for Pleasure – what will support children in Upper Key Stage 2?

Reading for Pleasure – what will support children in Upper Key Stage 2? - Kate Glavina

The draft Education Inspection Framework (pub. in January 2019) highlights as an indicator of the Quality of Education, a focus on how rigorously schools develop learners’ confidence and enjoyment in reading. This is across all Key Stages. In light of this, it is interesting to consider a recent report by Dr Margaret Merga on the issues, as she identifies them, with ‘reading for pleasure’ (published in English in Education 2017). Although her study addressed the reading behaviour of children in KS3 and KS4, there are implications for older and experienced readers in KS2. Merga identifies as particular barriers to youngsters’ engagement in reading for pleasure factors such as ‘time availability’ – both on the timetable and in busy households. Access to a wide range of high quality texts is another barrier, combined with ‘choosing strategies’. Young people do not always have effective strategies for selecting reading material and schools do not always support children with this. Concentration is another barrier with screen-based reading arguably developing what has been coined ‘congenital impatience’ resulting in shallow modes of interacting with text such as quick skimming and scanning. Significantly, Merga notes that a hypertext environment reduces in youngsters the cognitive resources for deep processing – for sustained concentration – for becoming ‘absorbed in a long read’. There are some obvious implications here for educators and parents but since every primary school teacher is a ‘teacher of reading’, the implications for them are critical if their pupils are to develop the skills and habits to become life-long readers for pleasure. One of the key motivational factors for children is finding engaging books suited to their individual preferences. Not only does this require teachers to ‘know their pupils as readers’ – but it also requires teachers to have a good knowledge of children’s literature themselves. How many authors of longer novels can most teachers name, beyond perhaps JK Rowling, Roald Dahl and Michael Morpurgo? How many teachers demonstrate to their pupils a love of reading on a personal level, for example sharing and talking about what they are themselves, currently reading for pleasure? Merga’s study revealed that children often preferred ‘series’ over stand-alone titles because maintaining an on-going relationship with characters was motivating. Do the contents of the class and school libraries have the scope to offer children choice within ‘series’, so that this preference can be part of their reading repertoire? Perhaps the biggest challenge for primary schools is the pressure of ‘time’ with typically a reduced amount of time being dedicated to reading and reading aloud on the timetable of upper KS2 classes. Steven Pinker once said that ‘Children are wired for sound, but print is an optional accessory…’ The EIF makes it clear that ‘print’ – at least in terms of the Reading for Pleasure agenda, is not an option. This renewed emphasis on RfP should result in every school taking a fresh look at their reading programme and its dominant emphases. Perhaps for many, it will mean re-examining the values which underpin the reading experiences offered to pupils. As a result of such an audit, perhaps more children will be supported in becoming committed readers who read for pleasure, who become practised at deep attention and who can delight in what books can uniquely offer them – i.e. scope for being absorbed in something other than themselves. Whilst it is not easy to ‘teach’ all children to love reading, nevertheless it is imperative to try…which is why the best starting point is to capture and harness the interest and commitment of our trainee teachers and why on the English programme offered to our trainees at CTE, our ‘strap-line’ has long been, and will continue to be: ‘Literature at the heart of English’.

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