by Charlotte Hacking
At CLPE we do the work we do because we believe, and the research shows us, that being literate changes your life. The research also shows us that if you are a literate child who reads for pleasure then this has more impact on your future life chances than any other factor. Encouraging reading for pleasure is a social justice issue.
The way in which reading provision is set up and accessed is key to the engagement of children in the reading process. Children need a range of reading opportunities with a rich range of texts, including experiences where texts are:
The role and attitudes of the teachers and other enabling adults are key to creating an environment that promotes reading as a socially engaging activity that is valued and encouraged. We need to ensure that we provide the time and space and have the expertise to engage in and develop reading for pleasure with our children. We need to know where to go to find the kinds of quality texts we need to support all of these reading experiences.
CLPE’s Corebooks is an ideal place to start. This is a selection of carefully chosen texts for teachers to use when they are developing collections for their classrooms and schools as part of their reading and literacy programmes. The list demonstrates the key role that children's literature can play across the curriculum, and in forwarding children's progress as readers. The books are chosen because they support children learning to read and in their development as readers.
We also need to ensure that we engage in discussions around reading where the purpose is to enjoy reading and make deeper connections with a texts, rather than finding a right or wrong answer or achieve a score. Reading is a social act and by sharing and discussing texts we open up children’s perspectives on reading. Children need frequent, regular and sustained opportunities to talk together about the books that they are reading as a whole class. The more experience they have of talking together like this, the better they get at making explicit the meanings that a text holds for them, helping the class as a whole to reach shared understanding of ideas and issues.
Talking about books is supportive to all readers and writers but is especially empowering for children who find literacy difficult. When well-chosen texts are read aloud and shared with children, they will be exposed to a level of language beyond that of everyday conversation, so discussions around language and concepts raised in texts will enable children to develop a richer and deeper understanding and, when they are fully immersed, to gain a greater sense of the pleasures that reading can bring.
We also need to ensure that reading is not always directed by an adult. Children need a sense of choice and voice about what they like to read as well as supportive and knowledgeable adults who are tuned into children’s needs and interests, and who can respond to these in the text selections they make available in school and who are able to make considered recommendations, where necessary, to lead them on. Children need to be able to find their favourites, to enjoy a rich and wide range of texts, including picturebooks, graphic novels, short stories, poetry, non-fiction texts, multimodal and digital texts, film and novels. Illustrated and picture books are tremendously important resources for all readers. Understanding how pictures and illustrations work with the text to create meaning for the reader is a high level reading skill and such books must be a valued across the primary years and not seen as a ‘step up’ into reading novels.
Children also need to learn the skills of browsing, choosing and selecting a text that is right for them and the time to read independently for a sustained amount of time to enable them to be lost in the world of a book. This is all too challenging in an already packed curriculum, but might be at the beginning or end of day, to tune children back into learning after break times or lunch, as well as in dedicated reading times.
To be a successful reader, you also need to connect with your reading material, you need to be able to see yourself, in some way, in what you read. The current under-representation of Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic characters in children’s literature identified in CLPE’s Reflecting Realities research means that readers from a range of backgrounds do not always have the opportunity to make those connections. All children deserve to experience books that reflect their realities and give them the opportunity to broaden their world to experience realities beyond their own, so it is important that the texts on offer allow for this.
Engaging with the creators of texts is an excellent way of drawing children into reading. Many authors, illustrators and poets, as well as doing school visits and events also provide a range of content on their websites and through social media such as drawing tutorials, readings and performances. You can also see examples of these from the author/illustrators involved in CLPE’s Power of Pictures programme and poets that have worked with us as part of our poetry award, the CliPPA on our YouTube channel.
Teachers have told us again and again how successful they have been when they use a text as the centre of their planning, using creative approaches like art and drama to take children into the world of the text and develop their skills of inference and deduction. Many schools are now taking a cross-curricular approach starting with a quality text and using it to link other subjects. This puts reading at the heart of the curriculum and shows the importance and value of learning to read.
Our Power of Reading Training and website resources, built on extensive classroom based research into what works in the teaching of English provides quality English planning, built around high quality texts, supporting schools to raise engagement and attainment in talk, reading and writing and build a culture of Reading for Pleasure.
It is really important that the invitations to be part of the school reading community involve as many people as possible and include all staff as well as parents and families. Home school book loans, access to libraries and digital texts, supportive home learning activities around texts, reading competitions, and encouraging reading volunteers are all ways of involving the wider community and help to put the value of reading for pleasure at the heart of the community.
If these things work in harmony to foster reading engagement and attainment, children will engage in purposeful talk around texts, gain pleasure from reading and will make gains in attainment and self-esteem. They will be far more likely to see themselves as readers, to engage in reading more often and will therefore get better at it and feel better about it.