Every year, we endeavour to celebrate reading as a whole school. Last year, we dropped everything and read together, which was great for raising the profile of reading. I particularly like this initiative for the way it allows students to see all teachers as readers, and create a shared experience between all members of the school community. However, it isn’t without its issues. Most importantly, how can we guarantee that our students, who aren’t readers, (and surely they are our target audience), are actually reading in a meaningful way and not just putting on their ‘Glazed Reading Face’?
And then I read the Learning Spy’s blog on just this problem. His solution was to choose a shared text to read aloud to students. This ensures that all members of the community have a truly communal experience and that ‘good reading for meaning’ occurs through teachers reading the text aloud, with correct intonation and expression. Therefore all students are able to benefit, and not just those who are confident readers anyway.
We chose to try this strategy out during the week of World Book Day and were delighted by the response of students. In order to make this work, there are four factors that you need to consider:
1. Time. You need to set aside a designated time that is easy to enforce. We chose the first 15 minutes after morning break every day, as this ensured that we didn’t need to deal with morning late-comers by this point, and it was also a nice way to settle students into the zone for learning after the sugar-rush of break-time.
2. Choice of texts. The Learning Spy wrote about a school who had used ‘Treasure Island’. Pre-19th century texts are great for a variety of reasons: they are cheap to buy and are out of copyright; most students will not have read them, so you avoid the ‘I’ve already done this!’ problem; and you can also feel reassured that you are providing an edifying experience for your students, with adequate stretch and challenge. As we were starting with just a week-long event, we chose two short stories: ‘The Monkey’s Paw’ and ‘The Red Room’.
3. Buy in from the whole community: staff, students, and parents. We advertised it in assemblies, form-time, on the school website, Twitter and Facebook. We emailed parents to explain WHY we were doing it, and English teachers sold it to year 11s, as valuable preparation for the reading resilience they would need in the upcoming exams. It is also really important to take time to work with staff to find ways to make it work, e.g. In Food Tech, they had important timed practicals planned, so we allowed them to ‘play’ the stories (more of that next) during the setting up of equipment at the beginning of the session.
4. High quality reading. Let’s face facts: not all teachers feel confident reading aloud. As English teachers, we may love nothing more than channeling our inner-Dickens, by performing our favourite stories to anyone and everyone who will listen, however, the idea of reading out loud for a whole 15 minutes fills many with fear. In order to deal with this, we selected 5 ‘volunteers’ to be recorded reading the extracts for each day, then dropped the recordings into a PowerPoint, which was displayed in every class. Teachers were then given the choice of reading the extract themselves or playing the recording. For maximum of impact, don’t just use English teachers, and make sure you have both male and female teachers.
We found that this strategy provided a much more cohesive reading experience for everyone involved. Students, of all abilities, were asking to hear the next installment each year, and DEAR became an event which wasn’t just endured by some, but enjoyed by all.