Our reading community
As a school, when it comes to reading, we have two parallel and equally important ends to achieve for our children: yes we want them to learn the mechanics of reading words on a page and comprehending them but we also want them to become â€˜experiencedâ€™ readers: that is young people who see themselves as readers and are motivated to read.
The benefits of books and reading are well documented and indisputable. There is no doubt in my mind that books can transform lives. As a head teacher, on a daily basis, I see evidence of the strong link between reading and engagement with school; between reading and learning; between reading and self-discipline; between reading and an interest in the world we live in and the people we encounter. The Book Trust sites the long term benefits of books as increased educational outcomes, and increased employment opportunities. Reading for pleasure, they say, is more important for childrenâ€™s educational success than their familyâ€™s socio-economic status. The National Literacy Trust also cites overwhelming evidence that literacy has a significant impact on a personâ€™s happiness and success. Leisure reading makes students more articulate, develops higher order reasoning, and promotes critical thinking. According to The Rose Review in 2008 â€˜a deep engagement with storytelling and great literature links directly to emotional development in primary children.â€™
Books introduce children into a wide tapestry of knowledge and culture, which can help children understand who they are and the place they have in the world. They can serve only to enrich our lives and deepen our appreciation and our sense of fulfilment. This is why we have invested so much time and money into the schoolâ€™s library and book corners and into events such as Book Week. Every time our children walk through the library one implicit message must come across loud and clear: â€˜books are important.. we value them.â€™ As a â€˜Talk for Writingâ€™ school, we also greatly value the art of story-telling. Stories have always been critical to how we make sense of things: there is nowhere better than stories for children to take risks, test their courage, face their fears and to indulge their humour. It is a way of growing up in a safe environment, testing out personal feelings and responses through others’ experiences.
Predictably, during Book Week, my assemblies were about reading. I tried to communicate to the children the pleasure I took in reading. I compared it to watching television and related how when I got up from watching most television, I felt a little empty, like Iâ€™d simply been killing time. In contrast, after Iâ€™d read a good book, I felt full up with my imaginings and stimulated by new thought. As a school we want our pupils to experience a whole wide range of books and other reading, whether it is comics, newspapers, magazines or digital media. What is important to us is that children read – an ambition best served by children reading what they want to read and being encouraged by the adults around them to read widely.
I think the very best way to get them interested in reading is to read to them and share your own enthusiasm for reading with them. The first â€˜longerâ€™ books I read were all books that an adult had already read to me or at least introduced me to and, as I developed my subsequent reading â€˜interests,â€™ again these were heavily influenced by enthusiastic adults in my life. For this reason we introduced â€˜Book Talkâ€™ at the outset of each term. In teaching children to read, we can become preoccupied with teaching reading skills to the detriment of pupilsâ€™ pleasure and engagement in the text and developing their personal response. Without the purposeful encouragement of childrenâ€™s pleasure in reading, the teaching of reading skills can become laborious and sometimes pointless. A key reference point for our Book Talk policy is Aidan Chamberâ€™s â€˜tell meâ€™ approach and the CLPEâ€™s â€˜Power of Readingâ€™ initiative.
I recognise that, for us parents, the â€˜helping them to learn to readâ€™ bit sometimes becomes a chore rather than a pleasure (especially when faced with the sometimes monotonous rigour of a reading scheme). There is no getting away from the fact that children can find reading hard work but it is so important that they stick with it. Getting the traction right on this can be difficult. The children need to know that working on their reading is non-negotiable but, at the same time, you donâ€™t want to put them off reading. You will all have your own ways of making it work- with my own children just being firm with them wasnâ€™t enough- I needed to make sure our reading sessions were regular and positive and accompanied by plenty of reading to them and enjoying their books with them. Finding that regular slot for reading in amongst our busy lives is often the key challenge. With this in mind we will sometimes now be opening our library to parents of Reception pupils before the end of the school day to provide an opportunity for parents to read to / with their children.
One thing we do have to be careful about is the â€˜phew- they can read- now we can let them get on with itâ€™ moment when children have finally emerged from the reading scheme and are what we term â€˜independent readers.â€™ There is no doubt that this moment warrants a celebratory pause but, in truth, it is just the beginning. There is little point in being an independent reader if you donâ€™t read; if youâ€™re not developing into an experienced reader. As I have already stated, good reading habits make such a difference to a childâ€™s confidence and progress in school generally. While ultimately we need the children to want to read and enjoy reading for its own sake, there is no harm in our introducing targets for them to try and achieve. To this end we are introducing new reading diet cards in the back of their reading journals. The children will update these monthly. This will involve them tallying up the number of times they have read as well as keeping track of the different types of reading they have engaged in. It will be critical that they maintain an ongoing record of their reading in their reading records and it would be very helpful if you monitor these at home and sign them regularly. Please also aim to discuss their reading with them regularly, including talking to them about their book choices and still listen to them read aloud -this an important skill in itself and can improve speed and understanding. One simple but effective approach is to work alongside them, reading a page each.
Last of all and most important and previously stated on numerous occasions- there is nothing we cannot achieve for your children when we work together. The one â€˜joint piece of workâ€™ that will have the most far-reaching consequences is our joint working on reading. It is about far more than just learning to read: it impacts fundamentally on their learning in general, like nothing else can. I have summarised below firstly what the school will offer your children and then how you can help. Please do contact me if you have any further thoughts.
How we can work together:
Our reading offer:
Read to them;
Teach them phonics;
Take them through the reading scheme;
Teach them to read using 1:1 reading, guided reading and shared reading in class;
Encourage them in their personal response to reading through â€˜Book Talk;â€™
Provide them with excellent book choices in class (see also core book lists);
Provide them with an excellent library;
Employ our librarian to promote reading and aid them with their book choices;
Hold Book Weeks each year to promote reading;
Encourage them to become experienced readers through our reading diet cards;
Develop their personal response to their reading through use of reading journals;
Provide parents with guidance and advice re reading with their child.
How you can help:
Help them with their â€˜letters and soundsâ€™ work 3 x a week;
Listen to them read and sign their reading records at least 4x a week;
Read to them/ enjoy books with them regularly;
Once they have become independent readers (up to the end of Year 4):-
Monitor and sign their reading records at least 4x a week.
Discuss with them/ help them complete their reading journals 1x a week.
For independent readers (up to the end of Year 6):-
Monitor and sign their â€˜link booksâ€™ at least 1x a week.
Discuss with them/ help them complete their reading journals 1x a week.