Ah the Reading Lesson! As an English teacher, I fight to have them protected, but then dread each week as I face another hour of bored-looking year 7s, dragging their heels around the library bookshelves and not-so-discreetly whispering behind their tomes.
In a bid to make this time more constructive, over the years, I have developed written activities to test students’ understanding of what they have read and (hopefully) to develop their reading skills. However, this seems to detract from the whole purpose of the reading lesson – to read – and from promoting the enjoyment of this for students of all abilities. And as recent studies have proven (what all English teachers already suspected) that reading for pleasure is a greater indicator of academic success than social background, encouraging students to read for the sheer hell of it is now officially important.
Nevertheless we still have to answer to the powers-that-be about lesson outcomes. I have a plan. This term, we are going to throw away the pens (well, keep them in their pencil-cases) and just read. And talk. And listen. And then read some more. At the beginning of the reading lesson I am going to tell students that in the final 15 minutes, they will be asked to read out the ‘best paragraph’ they have read during the lesson. For the more able students, I will ask them to explain why it is the ‘best paragraph’ they read that lesson and as the weeks go on, I will ask students to explain why other students’ ‘best paragraphs’ are successful.
With any luck this will lead to discussions about tension, genre, writers’ style, and craft. It should also link to the texts we read in class and help students to transfer their skills of analysis independently. By the end of the year, I hope to report that my year 7 students are now engaging with their reading in a more critical way. And most excitingly, for one hour a week, there will not be a pen in sight!