Where Will You Go Today Without Taking A Single Step & Who Will Go With You?
By Jenny Martindale
One year on from my article at uked.chat/willyougo: what we now know- reasons, answers and workable solutions
Just as characters are usually at the heart of every story, any good reading intervention needs to have each pupil at its focus. As a large comprehensive school (1250 pupils), the first issue was to find a manageable way to learn about many pupils’ reading habits and attitudes. The first time through I, unfortunately, learnt the lesson the hard way: I’d surveyed the whole of our Year 9 cohort (roughly 200 pupils) using the full National Literacy Trust survey and had the paper version to trawl through. It’s fair to say that I knew those pupils very well by the end of reviewing their surveys. However, the process wasn’t time-efficient and whilst some of their answers were very interesting, the useful information I needed could be obtained by asking pupils fewer questions.
The next time around, I reduced the survey to the key questions which were good indicators of pupils who needed intervention with reading. Even better, this year, I have an online version which means I’ll be able to process the data much more quickly.
Know the right questions to ask
Once armed with the data about who needs the help, the next step was to work out which type of intervention pupils are going to respond to well. My first time around everyone did the same thing. We had 56 non-readers and 40+ members of staff all taking part in a ‘30 days reading challenge’. The feedback from the intervention was positive. After taking part in the challenge 65% of pupils had gone from not having a regular reading habit to reading on a weekly basis. However, the reasons why were varied. Some pupils enjoyed taking part in a challenge; others liked reading with other pupils; some liked the set time limit; a few liked knowing that teachers were also reading and some others enjoyed receiving a (small) prize at the end. We also still had 35% of pupils who hadn’t engaged at all.
Match the right kind of intervention to the right pupil
The crucial aspect of the first reading intervention was that it taught me that it was not only about the book choice when it came to motivating reluctant readers. It made sense that if we provided pupils with a form of intervention that they felt positively about (despite their negative feelings about reading), it was bound to be more successful than forcing them to do something they didn’t want to do. In the final summer term, a Herculean effort on the part of a dedicated group of teachers resulted in us trialling: one to one sessions with our most reluctant readers, reading groups, short stories and quiz club and another reading challenge! Moreover, just for good measure we also tried to consider how to help below age readers and non-readers from our top sets as well. Was each pupil starting their summer holidays feeling re-invigorated about reading? It was too difficult to tell as my head was spinning from trying to coordinate so many things at the same time. Despite being an avid reader, I was worried for the first time that I wouldn’t get my book finished within the time limit!
Remember it’s a marathon, not a race
This year has so far started as a time of reflection and refinement. The Summer Reading Challenge I’d issued to our new Year 7 starters on their induction day ditched the ‘design an alternative front cover’ to focus solely on reading. I didn’t get as many entries handed in but I now know the top 27 (out of 200) readers in that Year Group who have great reading stamina, a regular reading habit and the ability to read a range of texts. They are all receiving a rewards letter from the Headmaster and a personal invitation to our advanced KS3 reading club.
Before I dive into the next round of reading interventions, I’m also collating as much data linked to reading ability about each pupil so I can make an informed decision about who needs the help the most.
It’s not just about the book choice but many other factors as well
Finally sharing the responsibility for creating a school of readers as a structured system has also needed review and refinement. At regular points throughout last year and at the end of the year, I consulted with Form Tutors and English Teachers (at my school and through Twitter) to get their feedback and thoughts. Although the refinements are not revolutionary, I have learnt that small steps which are easy to measure work better than all-new singing and dancing projects. I now believe that slow and steady is the way to tackle reading reluctance and below age readers.
Jenny Martindale @MartindaleJenny is a Secondary English Teacher and Professional Tutor at The Nelson Thomlinson School.