UKEdMag: A reading sea-change by @hdsharpe

Original title: A Sea-Change - How reading for pleasure became part of our school culture

When I first got my literacy responsibility point, I had ten million ideas and began in my enthusiasm to try them out on everybody all at once. Needless to say, this didn’t work. It took me a while to realise that the biggest gains would take time to achieve and really embed into the school’s culture.

This article originally appeared in the December 2016 edition of UKEdMagazine

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In their natural state our students incline more towards YouTube than Ulysses and are more likely to turn to Facebook than Frankenstein. But, over time, we have challenged these attitudes. We have created a culture of high expectations and by linking success to reading, students have become more aware of its value.

Here are some of the strategies that have transformed students’ perceptions of reading:

1. Perfecting Primary Practice

Why should the good reading habits acquired by students up to year 6 go into decline after their last day at primary school? Our new intake are given a book on year 6 induction day along with an activities booklet and they are also encouraged to take part in the Summer Reading Challenge to avoid the reading ‘dip’ between year 6 and 7. We chose Percy Jackson’s Greek Heroes partly because of Rick Riordan’s brilliant witty style that makes his writing so readable and popular with young people and partly because of the link with our first year 7 scheme on Myths and Legends. We feel this communicates the importance our school places on reading to students before they even begin at the school.

Students are used to using reading logs at primary to record their reading every day. We give our year 7 students reading booklets which contain pages in which to record their reading and explain to them that they are expected to continue this habit of reading for 20 minutes every day. They take ownership of their reading log and library book which they bring to school and take home. They are in the habit of needing their reading books for English lessons as the first 10 minutes of every KS3 lesson is spent reading for pleasure (teachers too!)

2. Rewarding Resourceful Readers

What can we do to make success in the private activity of reading become more visible? We reward our most successful reading classes and students through half-termly reading assemblies for KS3. These include the presentation of our reading trophy to the Accelerated Reader Champion class; a top ten count down of the readers with the highest word count that month; a reading by a member of staff (usually not an English teacher and often SLMT); competition winners (we run a monthly ‘guess the extreme reader’) and promotion of any reading initiatives such as Readathon. Students also receive their bronze, silver and gold awards in these assemblies (for completion of their reading booklets).

These regular assemblies ensure that reading is constantly on the agenda and all staff are part of the reading culture.

3. Trailing Tantalising Titbits

How can we help students to get an appetite for reading? Our KS3 curriculum in English follows the story of literature from the very first stories to the present day. It is mainly extract-based which means many students are enticed to read the whole book or series of books through the tasters they receive in English lessons. We also have wider reading lists to go with each scheme and rewards associated with these. By exploring the context of genres such as the Gory Gothic in the Victorian era, students realise the power and exciting nature of these stories. They are also able to read more modern fiction and see the connection as well as how writers were influenced by earlier authors or time periods.

It has not been, as I’d originally and naively believed, an overnight change but the change has been amazing. Students not only value reading, they enjoy it. After all, who doesn’t love a good story?

Helen Howell @hdsharpe is AST and Lead Teacher for Literacy at The Radclyffe School. Passionate about getting the most out of students of all abilities, she has been involved in implementing a new KS3 curriculum using challenge, grammar and the canon to raise standards in English.

Image credit: By quattrostagioni on Flickr under (CC BY 2.0)

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