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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.

May 28, 2020

Reading for Wellbeing – Kate Glavina

I have often shared with trainee teachers the analogy promoted by Professor Sims Bishop of books being ‘windows, mirrors, and sliding doors’ and how important these concepts are in terms of the range and diversity of books shared with pupils in school. ‘Windows’ is to do with ‘looking out’ – it is the idea that the books we give children offer views of the ‘worlds of others’, beyond their own reality. ‘Sliding doors’ is to do with stepping beyond the view from the window – enabling children to enter (albeit imaginatively) the world of the book to experience a different reality. ‘Mirrors’ is to do with book choices including texts that mirror and reflect the child’s own reality so that the pages of the book value and validate who that child ‘is’. In other words, the child is looking back at themselves. The combination of ‘mirrors, windows and sliding doors’ is a powerful way of encapsulating the different ways in which books enable children to enter new worlds, visit new places, inhabit the lives of characters and, most importantly, learn to empathise by ‘walking around ‘in someone else’s shoes’. These are surely undisputed reasons for all schools providing pupils with a rich range of texts and a wide range of reading experiences, including time in the day for independent reading and for being read to.

A further reason for parents and educators to recognise and understand the importance of encouraging children to read is the fact that research by The Reading Agency has found reading can benefit our wellbeing and help us to make social connections. Research suggest that people who read regularly are more satisfied with life and more likely to feel that the things they do are worthwhile. Reading for pleasure can improve relationships and reduce symptoms of depression. Considering these research findings in relation to children, it seems fair to suggest that emotionally, books can offer children dual benefits – they can be an opportunity for the reader to become rapt and delighted in an ‘escape’ from the ‘real world’ into a magical, fantastical one. Equally, books can be transformative for children who are feeling isolated, worried and vulnerable, in the way that they can offer children scope to share and identify with a character who is depicted as sharing similar ‘life challenges’. Jacqueline Wilson highlighted this exact point recently, emphasising the power of books to reassure children experiencing difficult times, helping them to feel that they are not ‘alone’. In terms of wellbeing, then, the world of books has the scope to provide both reassurance to children and a sense of ‘connection’. More generally, books which invite and enable children to enter the lives of others and inhabit their concerns and preoccupations – whether mirroring their own or not - can be a key antidote to the inward-looking, self-absorption which is engendered by many social media platforms which isolate and create anxiety for many youngsters in our classrooms.

At a time when the Education Inspection Framework is placing an emphasis on reading for pleasure and schools will consequently be reviewing their reading programmes, it is timely to build on the issues around diversity of text selection and opportunities for reading and to make explicit to parents and educators, the role books play in promoting emotional wellbeing. What should we be doing? What messages should we be sharing? Perhaps a key message to convey to parents is that ‘family encouragement’ to read beyond early childhood is invaluable. In areas of social disadvantage where literacy levels may be low and some parents may be holding enduring negative memories of reading themselves, teachers could invite them to share story time during the school day so they can observe ‘how it’s done’ and recognise that sharing a book is not a threatening or difficult thing to do. Class and school libraries should offer diversity in their stock so that both teachers and pupils have ready access to books which reflect important themes and highlight pertinent issues. Steadily, in these ways, it is possible for schools to develop a culture in which it is routine for staff, children and parents to reach for a book for solace, ‘company’ and understanding. That is to say, in terms of supporting children’s wellbeing, the power and potential of reading has never been more important.

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’.

May 29, 2018

Trainee teacher 7: Reading around motivation – Sara

I chose to focus my research project for my PGCE around the idea of motivation and its relation to goal setting and self-regulated learning. Following observations of students within my second placement school, there was a seeming lack of motivation coming from some students (even those that had chosen to take the subject up at GCSE) and I wanted to see how I could work to turn this around.

Much of the literature around motivation suggested to me that it was a very inward and personal ideal, but that one’s motivation towards a task or topic depends a lot on their interest with it. I saw this as meaning that I should try and create a place where students could be motivated and thus plan lessons that interested every single student. This idea was definitely not a revelation and running youth theatres before starting my PGCE meant I had been thinking of topics that attempted to engage every student for a long time. I realised though, that within school I had the task of engaging, on average, 30 students at a time whilst teaching them something new, facilitating their progression and following a scheme of work that I didn’t always write. Furthermore, I couldn’t always be sure (without asking every-single-one of them, every lesson) whether or not they took an interest in what I was teaching them about or their task. I have found that in Drama, in a way, there is enough creative scope to allow for individual interests in a topic to foster and for students to adapt performances to suit their interests, therefore increasing their motivation. For example, in a recent scheme of work about current affairs – I presented students with a number of ‘local’ (and albeit quite dry) headlines and they created scenes based on these – twisting and adapting them within their groups. Although this took some encouraging, as they realised they were able to adapt them to fit their interests whilst still showing the effect of the main story and characters, the level of effort and engagement within the classroom seemed to rise.

Reading the literature also made me aware of the importance of self-regulated learning and the impact this can have on a students’ success; essentially, teaching students to take control of their learning is integral to their development. I understood this as applying to the Drama classroom in that I offer more time for pupils to reflect on their own work as well as peer feedback. This means I now ask students in KS3 what they could do to improve in order to encourage self-regulation. I have realised though, that supporting students to become self-regulated learners is quite a long process and not something that can be done immediately. Furthermore, encouraging and facilitating students to become self-regulated learners may have to come from the whole school because, if students are not used to regulating their learning in other lessons, what is to say they will do it in my lesson? I saw an example of this recently when rehearsing with year 11 for their practical exam. Their pieces had been independently devised, with some direction and feedback from their class teacher and myself. The day before her exam a student was, to put it simply, asking me to show her how her monologue should be done and what she should do. I’m not sure whether it was because the panic was setting in, but her and the rest of the group’s efforts to facilitate their own learning and devise and perfect their piece for performance was lacking and they were very much relying on me, as the teacher, to tell them what to do, when to do it, how to do it and whether they were doing right and wrong. I think encouraging self-regulated learning to be a very powerful thing and I hope that in the future, as I teach classes of my own for longer periods, I can attempt to instil it within my lessons more which will work to support students as they progress through education.

The literature suggested that getting students to set themselves a goal would help to foster their independence as self-regulated learners and increase their motivation. I think it is important for students to set themselves goals, to help them understand and focus on what they need to do to improve and regularly do this within my lessons. I understood from the literature the power of feedback against these goals, as a way of checking students are not setting themselves something too easy, or too hard. This is thus something I have tried to do since doing my literature review and hope to continue to do (hopefully getting more efficient at it so that it takes less time). I hope that as students get more feedback against their goals, they will be able to regulate their learning better and set substantial and reachable goals. Whether this goal-setting actually has an impact on their motivation is what my action research projects attempts to consider.

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