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5 Ways Schools Can Impart a Love of Reading to Students

February 9, 2018, 15:59 GMT+1
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  • Professor Sonia Blandford explains why the chief motor behind social mobility is literacy
5 Ways Schools Can Impart a Love of Reading to Students

It’s estimated that up to two in five children growing up in disadvantaged communities across the UK have difficulties with literacy. Numerous studies have shown how these children will go on to fall behind in their schooling, lack self-confidence and face a future with diminished opportunities.

We must break this cycle. Despite the best efforts of primary schools, more than 150,000 children started secondary school last autumn without the basic reading skills needed to access the curriculum. Primary school leaders can’t be expected to overcome stubborn and entrenched social mobility issues at the flick of a switch, but together we must find ways to improve literacy skills, level the playing field and ensure every child has access to the wonder of books.

A great deal of emphasis has been placed on the ‘teaching of literacy skills’, but fostering a love of reading has tended to be a much lower priority. We don’t just learn to drive because we have a desire to operate pedals and gear levers; we think about the places we’ll go, and the freedom and convenience that being a driver will bring us. It’s the same with reading – children need to know the joy and pleasure it will bring them.

Through our work with early years settings, schools and colleges to improve outcomes for children and young people at risk of underachievement, we’ve identified five ways in which schools can raise literacy and enjoyment levels among their pupils and build brighter futures.

1. Ignite a love of reading

It’s common to see a structured and organised approach to phonics firmly embedded in the timetable at Reception and KS1. This might well have resulted in improved reading results overall – but how else can you weave literacy into pupils’ days?

If you don’t already, try to make story time a planned and exciting part of the day, with texts that inspire and speak to children’s interests and locality. For pupils who need more sensory learning experiences or physical play, you could hold group reading sessions in the playground, in a ‘creative reading’ corner, as part of an art class where children paint scenes from the book, or even during a school trip.

Building engaging environments around the reading experience can get messy, but the memories and associations you create will have a huge impact on children’s long-term reading attitudes and attainment.

2. Engage your families

It’s not just pupils that you have to engage with reading. Many schools are seeing the positive impact that tailored engagement and literacy support for parents and carers can have for pupils’ families.

For children and young people in some of the countries’ most disadvantaged communities, chances are that their parents can’t read. According to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills’ Skills for life survey, around 35% of adults in some of the UK’s most deprived wards have the reading skills of an 11-year-old. For parents struggling with literacy themselves, reading with their children can be a daunting prospect.

Where possible, invite parents and carers in to school and have them listen and join in stories alongside their children, so that they too can soak up the pleasure of reading. You might also like to consider your school’s use of ‘reading records’ or ‘log books’ – are they actually encouraging parents to enjoy reading time at home?

One school that had high levels of poor literacy skills among its pupils decided to invite parents and carers in for workshops on how to support their children’s reading at home. Not only did their children’s attainment subsequently improve, but many parents went on to achieve NVQ literacy qualifications of their own.

3. Support early years settings

Toddlers and other vulnerable children from disadvantaged communities can be as much as 10 months behind their more advantaged peers in vocabulary development by the age of 3.

Targeted interventions in pre-schools with children and families can help to close the gap, but what support can primary schools provide? You could collaborate with local early years settings and the wider community on initiatives that involve talking with young children, reading to them and telling them stories on a daily basis, as this can help them to construct the foundation blocks for a lifetime of reading well.

For example, we’ve seen a welcome growth in schemes where older pupils volunteer in nearby early years settings and read stories. Holding events where pupils organise reading activities and invite families with younger children to attend can be beneficial for all.

4. Build pupils’ confidence

Buddy schemes and one-to-one mentoring can make a big difference to pupils who struggle with reading. In one school we work with, there was an eight-year-old boy who was a reluctant reader in school, often disruptive and at risk of not meeting his literacy targets. His teacher made him a reading mentor to other children and the impact was immediate. Acting as a reading mentor twice weekly built up his self-esteem; he enjoyed the responsibility, became more focused, less disruptive, and proved to be a positive and supportive role model with better attainment.

5. Go beyond literacy

Literacy isn’t just about reading and writing well; it’s also about story telling, and developing imagination and creativity. You could set up book clubs, invite inspirational guest speakers to tell stories at assemblies about their lives, organise songwriting, poetry and theatre workshops and competitions – the list is endless.

Professor Sonia Blandford is CEO at Achievement for All – an award-winning charity that works with early years settings, schools and colleges to improve outcomes for all children and young people vulnerable to underachievement, regardless of background, challenge or need.