Raising readers

Books are both a mirror and a window to our world.

Scott Evans, primary school teacher and Reading for Pleasure lead from South Wales, writes about the importance of creating and sustaining a positive reading culture in schools and its importance in helping pupils catch up after school closures caused by the COVID19 pandemic.

We all know the long-term life benefits of being literate. We know that reading can improve a child’s comprehension, vocabulary, spelling, speaking, listening, writing and overall general knowledge.

Research shows that reading not only makes a big difference to a child's educational achievement across the curriculum, but also to their personal, social and emotional development. Reading is a powerful factor in determining a child's future aspirations, irrespective of their parents’ level of education or their socio-economic background.

Reading should be our top priority in the classroom, but how can we infuse our children with a genuine love of reading and keep them engaged with reading throughout their school careers and into their adult lives?

A chapter a day

It’s never too early to start reading aloud to children. Being read to allows children to become familiar with, and to recognise, the language patterns and voices that they hear and they begin to use this to make sense of the world around them. Reading aloud to children is the first step in building a reading culture where books and stories are shared together and helps to create a lifelong reading habit.

Reading should take place every day and optimally for a period of 20 minutes in a single sitting. This allows sufficient time to read a picture book or a chapter of a novel, and the opportunity for discussion to further children’s comprehension and interest on a deeper, more personal level.

Scott Evans is a primary school teacher and Reading for Pleasure lead in South Wales

Make the time and the choice

Talking about books is as important as reading them. Be sure not to just make the time for reading and talking about books, but also to protect this time in the face of the demands of a busy timetable and a congested curriculum.

If the book you are reading as a class can be voted for or selected by children, this can help to stimulate and maintain their interest. Children will feel a sense of ownership in collectively contributing to that choice.

Reflecting realities, expressing empathy

Surrounding children with books helps them to realise that literature is an essential part of their lives. You don't need hundreds of books on your shelves but there should be a variety of books to browse that represent and reflect a wide range of diverse characters, settings, backgrounds and cultures.

Offering a variety of books and carefully considering how best to use them to enhance your school’s curriculum, enables children both to encounter people like themselves and to learn with empathy about people, places and events outside their own experiences. This is vital, as books are both a mirror and a window to our world.

When we talk about literature, we are not just referring to fictional books. We are living in a golden age of children’s literature and providing children with a broad and balanced diet of non-fiction, poetry, picture books and graphic novels is essential.

All in this together

Involving the whole school is paramount in developing enjoyment of reading in children. This should include all stakeholders within your school, from the senior leadership team to support staff, and from pupils to parents.

Building a reading link between school and home is an effective way of sustaining a love of reading. Reading is a great way to bring families together to share books. Teachers and schools have a part to play in helping and encouraging families to recognise this. Reading together on the sofa, sharing bedtime stories, visiting a bookshop or library or taking part in the Summer Reading Challenge are just some ways of spending quality time with each other.

Be a reader teacher

My biggest tip for all teachers - new and experienced in the profession - is to read yourself. The effects are truly infectious as children who see adults reading, and enjoying it, are much more likely to want to read themselves.

I really do not think I understood the children in my classes, or myself as a teacher, as much as I do now until I started regularly reading with the children. Book recommendations, reviews and a buzz about reading all now reverberate around my classroom. If you step inside my school, you are just as likely to hear conversation about a range of books, authors, illustrators and poets as you are about bottle flipping, dabbing or whatever the latest craze is!

Reasons to read

The reasons we read are plentiful and include to be informed, to be entertained, to learn, to be inspired, to empathise or to escape.

Sometimes, as teachers, we need to help children find their motivation to read. We can achieve this by matching books to their hobbies, interests and passions. By being readers ourselves and knowing our children well as individuals, we can identify any source of reluctance to read and provide them with the right book at the right time.

Ultimately, the vision and the world we want to create is one where everyone is reading their way to a better life.

The need to read

In a time when schooling as we know it has changed considerably for the foreseeable future and teachers may be worried about learning that has been missed, if there is one thing that children can do to continue learning, it is to keep calm and carry on reading.

Some of the ways that this can be encouraged are through online library services where books can be read electronically on a tablet, laptop or smartphone, watching authors read from their books on the internet, by taking part in BBC Bitesize Daily Book Club or the Summer Reading Challenge

Before training as a teacher, Scott Evans worked in libraries and is passionate about getting children to read and the importance of school libraries. He reads, reviews and recommends a range of children's literature on his website The Reader Teacher which is designed for teachers, schools, parents and children. You can also follow him on Twitter @MrEPrimary.

More recently, Scott has created and hosts #PrimarySchoolBookClub - a monthly online children's book club, chat and vote for anyone working in primary education. You can become involved by searching the hashtag or by following @PrimarySchoolBC on Twitter.

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