Where will you go today without taking a single step?

Tackling reading reluctance one pupil at a time

Over ten years ago now, when I had taken the post of English teacher at my current school, the Head Teacher at the time asked if I would help to encourage more pupils to use the library. My first step was to talk to the librarian about how she’d like the library to be used. The key area she wanted our pupils to develop was their ability to use books effectively for research. From that conversation, we worked as an English Department to create opportunities within our schemes of work to include visits and lessons in the library focused on developing independent research skills. Perhaps what was more fundamental though was that we established a close link between the library and English, something that has continued and been built upon over the years.

The other key project that was born was our ‘Reading Week’. The purpose of the week was to celebrate reading and explore texts in a more creative and dramatic way. Over the years, pupils from Years 7 and 8 have taken on the role of slaves, taken part in a poetry slam and produced protest poems. They’ve also placed fictional characters into real-life scripted situations, produced book trailers and more recently have used their knowledge from our Dystopia unit to produce presentations in which they redesigned the human race! We wanted to create a real buzz about the week therefore we also hold special lunchtime sessions with teachers reading extracts from their favourite books. We found that Heads of Year and PE staff were popular choices. Some years we also had performances from and/or linked to texts by our KS3 Drama group.

Heading in a new direction

Last year, I became a Professional Tutor which gave me the opportunity to build upon the steps already embedded. One aspect of the role was to help promote the Accelerated Reader Scheme which all of our Year 7 pupils take part in. Our catchphrase for the year was: ‘Where will you go today without taking a single step?’ Pastoral involvement from Form Tutors and Head of Year made the scheme successful. Form Tutors worked hard to encourage and support their form’s reading and also talked about their personal reading. On top of that we had forms competing against each other and regularly had reading celebration assemblies with prizes. In fact, the Head of Year ensured there was a regular dialogue about reading for pleasure through assemblies and ad-hoc conversations. It definitely created a sense of unity for the Year group.

Looking ahead

This academic year, I have been given the exciting opportunity of leading literacy. Our whole school focus this year is reading and we intend to make some positive steps with our more reluctant readers through personalised intervention. The Learning Support Department has successfully run a Paired Reading Scheme for many years now. Building upon this scheme, we are targeting pupils who are still below their chronological age for reading but above the cut off for Paired Reading Intervention. This year we are targeting weaker Year 10 readers through small group guided reading sessions one form time per week and we are also going to trial a small class-sized Year 8 reading group session twice a week. We’ve used pupils’ reading ages to determine who will participate. Another area we want to tackle is the concerning decrease nationally in reading for pleasure at KS4. From looking at our library borrowing figures, we found we had a worrying issue at Year 9 where book loans dropped dramatically.

Therefore all pupils are going to be surveyed in Year 9 in order to find out about their reading habits and attitudes. From this data, we’ll be able to respond specifically to our pupils’ interests and use a range of strategies to entice Year 9 pupils back into the library (such as stocking their favourite magazines and getting KS4 pupils to recommend books to them.)

Finally, in my classroom, I’m going to have a classroom library running alongside the school library. Drawing upon my reading of ‘The Book Whisperer’, I hope to be able to use breaks and lunchtimes to chat informally with pupils about reading. In particular, I intend to target KS4 pupils as I have four classes this year and run an English Exam Skills session one lunchtime per week. With all of these key interventions, we’ll be able to systematically measure, at key points in the year, how well pupils are progressing and how well our interventions are working.

It is widely known that poor literacy skills are often a barrier to future success. However, we believe targeted intervention focused on the right pupils will help them take the next steps in their learning journey.

This article originally appeared in the November 2016 edition of UKEdMagazine

Jenny Martindale @MartindaleJenny has been a Secondary English teacher for 14 years, including at The Nelson Thomlinson School, and last year became a Professional Tutor. In the new academic year, she has the role of Literacy Lead. Jenny describes her teaching passions as promoting a love of reading and boys’ learning.

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