How do you solve the problem of reading for pleasure? Drop Everything and Read? Books in Bags? Form-time reading? Reading lesson? Reading ambassadors? Get Caught Reading?
There is, of course, no one magic answer and it will be the combined impact of a number of these strategies (and many more) that will raise the status of reading in your school. Today, however, I want to take on the trouble with reading lessons.
Over the years, I have tried many ways to improve reading lessons and to make students more engaged. However, being more visibly engaged (i.e. reading and turning the pages and being able to answer questions on your book and all that) and being enthusiastic about reading are two very different things. That takes me to the ultimate conundrum: how do you learn to enjoy reading? Well, I have finally come to the conclusion that ‘reading in silence’ isn’t the way to do it. These lessons are great for me to get the chance to ‘model’ silent reading but I don’t believe that they help those who don’t read regularly to become more enthusiastic about reading. And if students aren’t enthusiastic about reading, then they aren’t going to read of their own volition, and therefore benefit from all the rewards of regular reading.
So, what am I doing about it? In order to create enthusiasm, I have decided to capitalise on the use of some peer pressure. Therefore, this term, I am trialling Mini Book Groups with my year 7 class. We have implemented the following:
- In lesson 1, students read the blurbs and looked at the covers for a range of books and signed up to their top three choices.
- I then worked with our librarian to place the students into groups of 3 or 4, doing our best to sign students up to their first or second choice.
- I then, put together a ‘Reading Folder’ for each group. This contains: a log book (exercise book) for each student, an instruction card for the group, and a task card.
- The rules are: students can organise their reading how they like (read at home or in class), but they have to complete at least one activity from the task card each lesson, and keep a record of this in their log book. We are awarding achievement points, using the school’s rewards system, for each task completed. Bonus points are being rewarded if a group completes all the tasks on the task card.
- The task card includes a range of activities, including discussion questions and written or ICT tasks, e.g. How engaging did you find the opening? Re-write a key event as a script. Etc.
We are only on week two, at the moment, so our students have selected their books, started reading and completed one activity. It is early days but I have been delighted by what I have seen so far. There was a real buzz in the library, as students sat in groups reading aloud to each other and talking about their reading. The more able readers were able to zip away at their own pace and the less able were able to read more slowly with the librarian. It was gratifying to see students supporting each other within groups, as well, encouraging each other to read on, or read aloud and choosing their tasks together.
Providing a range of tasks is crucial to this, so that all students can access their book, and to also allow for their individual creativity. I have given students the choice of how they record their discussions, and one particular joy this week, was witnessing one member of a group of less able boys decide to create a bar chart, which indicated how engaging each member of the group had found the opening of their novel, while another boy drew cartoons of his reaction to the opening and how this changed.
So, peer pressure, seems to be working. My students do appear to be learning to enjoy reading. The next test will be to see how many of them now choose to do so at home, as well.
Naomi Hursthouse has been teaching in West Sussex for ten years. She has worked as an Advanced Skills Teacher, a Gifted and Talented Coordinator, AQA examiner and is currently the Head of English at Ormiston Six Villages Academy.