by Charlotte Hacking
The National Literacy Trust launched their Annual Literacy Survey on children and young people’s reading in 2023 on the 4th September. It provides stark insights into children’s current levels of reading enjoyment.
Of great concern are the recognised gaps between disadvantaged pupils and their peers, gaps between boys and girls enjoyment of reading, and a stark realisation, that, despite years of policy directive on reading levels of children choosing to read their spare time are the lowest since the survey began, with just 2 in 5 children reporting that they enjoy reading in their spare time and fewer than 3 in 10 children choosing to read independently on a daily basis.
The National Literacy Trust are calling for urgent action to address these downward trends, and to support young people in reading for pleasure, recognising the many benefits it can bring.
At CLPE, our work and research, conducted alongside schools and teachers over the last 50 years, gives clear insights into how we can help schools reverse the trend. The evaluation of our Power of Reading programme by Leeds Trinity University showed that the programme:
Enabled all children to make accelerated progress in reading.
Impacted on pupils who were previously reluctant to engage with literacy.
Narrowed the achievement gap between boys and girls.
Narrowed the gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers.
Encouraged children to read more often, at greater length and to talk more confidently about books.
But what makes the difference?
Books shared in the classroom which capture children’s interests and introduce them to texts they may not access independently
The texts chosen for the Power of Reading programme contain a number of the following qualities: protagonists that children can identify with; plots that allow opportunities to explore dilemmas, challenges, morality and ethics; emotive storylines; humour; rich and engaging language and powerful illustrations. These will likely be the texts that blur the lines between reality and the world of the book; a book you can lose yourself in. These will be the books that produce an audible gasp, laugh, sign or even a groan when it’s time to stop reading. These are times that children remember, and certain books shared in these times will be the books that remain in their hearts for years to come, connected to the teacher and time they were read.
Access to texts which give children a broad range of choices for their independent reading
Selections should include picturebooks, poetry, short stories, short and longer novels, graphic novels, comics, magazines, newspapers and technology to access digital texts and audiobooks. Children need to see a broad spectrum of what constitutes reading, to know the full range of reading choices available to them. As adults, we must value the full spectrum of reading material, both by having these texts on offer for children to select for their own reading, and also in choosing and using a wide variety of texts for planned reading experiences in the classroom. Children should be given time and space, and be supported to browse and choose selections to find reading material that motivates them to read and that is at a level they can access independently. If children are interested in texts above their current reading ability, these can be added to the taught reading programme, to allow them to experience these texts and to motivate them to continue developing their own reading ability in order to be able to access such texts for themselves.
Texts that every child can see themselves in and that broaden their views of the world around them
Affirming the identities of children and the languages that children use is key in selecting books to share, even at the earliest stages of reading. In schools, homes, libraries and bookshops, children need to meet texts with characters that look like them, sound like them and have the same interests and experiences, in texts that reflect their needs, interests and experiences, as well as texts that authentically feature representations of realities beyond their own.
As the work of Sims Bishop (1990) highlighted, the affirming power of seeing ourselves and being seen across all art forms and areas of life is integral to our collective healthy development as individuals and as a wider society. As well as reporting on the availability of inclusive and diverse reading materials for all children on a yearly basis, CLPE’s Reflecting Realities research aims to provide adults engaging with children’s literature with a purposeful framework for discerning the quality of representation in texts published in the UK, with examples of key texts that highlight quality representations for readers across the primary years.
Teachers who actively encourage reading, sharing the multiple purposes of reading and the pleasures it can bring
These are teachers who read aloud often, knowing and curating a variety of texts so that they are able to specifically choose texts that will engage and motivate their particular class at any given time. They build their English curriculum around quality texts, recognising how these support children’s knowledge, skills and motivation as readers, as well these texts being models of writing, using these to build children’s understanding of language for different purposes and audiences and their inspiration and motivation to write. These teachers know how to choose and use texts for particular reading experiences to support the progress and engagement of individuals and groups of children and create cultures of recommendation in their classrooms, making reading of all kinds a valid and enjoyable activity, rather than a chore. At CLPE, our children’s librarian is here to support you in finding out about the range of children’s literature available to support teachers in curating their own collections, through our Corebooks database, and her monthly picks of the latest releases available to view on our blog or to watch on our YouTube playlist.
Ensuring that every child can read, with the skills and knowledge to be able to do so
A planned programme of phonics teaching in the Early Years and Key Stage 1 is essential for this, but this must be set within a rich reading curriculum, centred on high quality real books, which give children the motivation to read, and to continue to do so when this becomes challenging. Teachers need to model and demonstrate how to use and apply phonic skills and knowledge at the point of reading, in active demonstrations of reading.
This also includes how to read words that do not conform to children’s current phonological knowledge, and how to move to recognising larger units of words and patterns between words, to support children in their journey towards automaticity. Children should be encouraged to listen to themselves as they read, monitoring for sense and accuracy and self-correcting where they notice that what they read does not make sense. A selection of decodable texts can be used for decoding practice where children need this. These will need to be supplemented with real books which can be read with supportive reading partners in school and at home.
A clear understanding of how reading develops and how to intervene effectively with each and every child, at any given stage of their journey of development
Teaching children to read accurately and fluently requires a comprehensive knowledge of all aspects of reading. CLPE’s Reading Scale gives a holistic picture of the journey of progression for reading supporting children towards independence. The scales also provide teachers with next steps, focussing on the practice and provision that will support every child in making progress, from their own individual starting points.
An understanding that reading is a social process
Children need a wide range of opportunities to share and talk about texts they have read. Through these interactions, they are able to express their likes and dislikes, ask questions to clarify, consolidate and develop their understanding of what has been read and to listen to the views, understanding and experiences of others, all of which continue to shape their own.
Children forge strong connections around books, recognising the tastes and preferences of others, and gaining insights into each other’s experiences and motivations, which helps support a culture of recommendation within and beyond the classroom. They can pass texts they have read onto others who they know might want to read them, or ask parents to buy or borrow books that have captured their interest at school for them to enjoy at home. Teachers also learn valuable information from listening into and joining in with such discussions, allowing them insights into reading tastes and preferences which can then guide choices made in the read aloud, and taught reading programme, as well as updating choices for children’s independent reading.
Allowing children to engage in creative and active approaches to exploring texts
Engaging with art, drama and storytelling allows children to step inside texts read, giving them opportunities to consolidate and extend language and understanding, making sense of what they have read, engaging in important skills that develop comprehension, such as visualising and summarising, and coming to deeper levels of understanding by inferring and deducing, empathising and making connections within and across texts.
An active encouragement to engage with reading throughout the environment and across the curriculum
This includes displays that encourage reading, from texts themselves to signs, labels, captions and wider reading materials available to children in other curriculum areas. Texts chosen to support knowledge and understanding in other curriculum subjects should be engaging and motivating with examples of rich language and engaging content, which supports learning in the particular subject and more widely.
A thorough understanding of children who are further behind than their peers, and a knowledge of how to intervene effectively
This involves putting all the points so far into practice, with additional opportunities for these children to be read to and with on a more frequent basis than others; an understanding and availability of the types of texts that will most encourage their engagement at school and at home; targeted teaching of skills and strategies needed to read independently and planned activities that motivate and inspire them to continue to engage in reading.
There has been so much attention and investment into policy around reading, but with this survey in mind, we must ask ourselves what the impact of this investment is if children aren’t motivated to read for themselves. We must ensure that the way in which reading is taught, from the very earliest interactions with texts, and the texts that are provided for children sow the seeds of a love of reading which, if properly cultivated, will grow throughout children’s lives, reaping the benefits this brings not just in academic attainment, but in socio-economic and social and emotional wellbeing. This is the motivation that should galvanise us all.
Find out more about The Power of Reading.