Secondary English – Read to succeed!

As English teachers we all know the benefits of reading. However, it can be more difficult persuading others in school of this. And I do not just mean the students!

I’ve done some work helping to lead a county-wide working party focussing on developing reading cultures in school. It turns out that it is even more important than English teachers might realise to encourage our students to read. Research by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD, 2002) showed that reading for enjoyment is more important for children’s educational success than their family’s socio-economic status.  So establishing a positive culture about reading across the whole school is imperative if we are going to help all our students to succeed.

One of the most inspiring ideas that I have heard about is ‘Drop Everything and Read.’ I first heard about this on the marvellous Teachers’ TV film, KS3 Reading- Seven Great Ideas  based at Werneth School in Stockport. The idea is that every couple of weeks, students will be warned that they will have a ‘Drop Everything and Read’ day coming up and they will need to bring in a book to school. At some point that day a bell will ring and all staff and students will need to, literally, drop everything and read. This is across the whole school, so whether students are in P.E or History, they will stop whatever they are doing, get out their book and read. The footage of this is fantastic- teachers and students reading in weird and wonderful places, with the indefatigable librarians running around the school photographing the event for their notice-board. And it is really is an event. But as with all events it needs to have everyone on-board from the top to the bottom. The most powerful aspect of this idea is that it creates a culture in the school where everyone reads- whether they are the Head-teacher, a member of the Canteen staff or a year 9 student.

After showing this film to our working party, one teacher became so enthused that she went back to her school and within a month had set up a similar event. She had begun by having ‘Drop Everything and Read’ sessions in English lessons, which the students became almost as enthusiastic about as the teachers involved, and then after a couple of weeks rolled out the system to the whole school. This involved having to organise book boxes for classrooms round the school (for those students who forgot their own); a massive advertising campaign, using modified Lord Kitchener posters and presentations in assemblies; and, most importantly, the support of senior management in persuading all staff that this is a valid use of their lesson time.

Frankly, I was amazed at how much she had managed to get done and how quickly. It has certainly put me to shame- I still need to fight the good fight with our senior management- but I am inspired now to get on with it. After all, I want our students to succeed so what better way than to drop everything and read?

Naomi Hursthouse
Advance Skills Teacher
Steyning Grammar School

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