Schools, teachers, and parents are once again navigating the challenges of remote and blended learning during this third lockdown.
During this time, consider focusing on pupils’ reading habits and identifying ways to encourage more children to read for pleasure at home. Extensive research shows that children who read more books have better general knowledge, language skills, reading and spelling skills, and school achievement. With more time spent at home, and reading offering a natural (and enjoyable) approach to self-learning, now may be the perfect time to enthuse a nation of book readers.
In fact, book reading among children has declined over the last few years. A recent guide for teachers on promoting reading for pleasure, which I wrote along with edtech provider Renaissance Learning, drew upon research from the National Literacy Trust (2020). In their research they found that while more than half (53 per cent) of those surveyed (59,906 children and young people, aged 9-18) reported enjoying reading, only one in four (25.8 per cent) reported daily reading outside of class (Clark & Teravainen-Goff, 2020), although primary school pupils were generally more positive about reading, and read more, than those in secondary.
It’s now more important than ever that parents and teachers foster independent reading. For parents who are short on time and juggling numerous responsibilities from work to caring duties, home schooling can be an additional pressure. Developing independent and interested young readers, who have access to books and other text types, is so important; it provides an opportunity for children to self-learn, taking the pressure off parents and giving children an incredibly rewarding activity to engage in.
Furthermore, reading does not only benefit children’s language and literacy skills, it also provides an opportunity for children to relax, laugh, experience escapism and spend time with fictional friends. Reading has the potential to act as a buffer against poor mental health, supporting students’ wellbeing, all while helping them to maintain learning during school closures. It’s undoubtedly a busy time for all education providers but headteachers, senior leadership teams (SLTs) and teachers can encourage daily reading which will support parents with their child’s learning and emotional wellbeing while they are unable to attend school.
What can you do to support remote learning?
Primary schools can lead the way with encouraging regular reading at home and in school. There are a number of ways to establish a reading culture even while many pupils remain at home. However, as you will know, all children are different; some pupils are intrinsically motivated to read (i.e. naturally interested in reading), whereas others may require extrinsic motivators (e.g. encouragement and praise from parents or teachers) to get started. By understanding what motivates children to read and providing different options for pupils to engage with you can work out the best way to support each child.
Choice is important
Offering a breadth of books in a range of genres is key to ensure pupils have access to books that align with their reading habits, interests and abilities. Pupils also need to have choice over their reading activities, although less experienced readers may need more support to make good reading choices (i.e. books suited to their interests and abilities). For some schools, providing access during remote learning might be a challenge as pupils at home may not have access to the library or a variety of books, but there are ways to remedy this. Renaissance’s digital library myON offers over 7,000 digitally enhanced books for pupils to access online. Alternatively many schools have successfully run library ‘pop-ups’ and exchange programmes in a Covid friendly way – giving the opportunity for pupils to use and share physical texts.
Reading can offer social opportunities
Another approach schools can take to encourage reading is by supporting a student-led book club. This gives older pupils in Key Stage 2 an opportunity to chat about and recommend books to each other, either online or offline. Pupils should be given an opportunity to decide on the books to discuss, and teachers can join and lead the discussion if necessary. Regular meetings at a weekly book club with peers allows pupils to enjoy reading as part of a wider social activity, where they can share their own thoughts and experiences of different books. Furthermore, book clubs may also encourage children to expand the genres they read.
A whole-school approach is necessary
For sustained success, a whole-school approach to promoting reading for pleasure is important. This could include forming a reading leadership group and considering whether reading for pleasure should be included in school strategy documents or improvement plans. A further tactic could be to encourage reading across the curriculum by making a book the centrepiece of an interdisciplinary project.
Ongoing evaluation and learning
SLTs and teachers should continue to reflect on and evaluate the reading practices they are encouraging in school and at home. Are the reading practices being encouraged effective and supporting all students, or do barriers exist for some pupils? Are solutions available to tackle this? You could request feedback from your students so you receive their opinions, either through anonymous posts or short surveys. Based on this feedback, school practices can then be refined to ensure all students’ reading experiences and development are optimally supported.
Headteachers should also encourage teaching staff to participate in continued professional learning to ensure they draw upon recent research insights and engage in dialogue with fellow teachers to support and optimise reading for pleasure practices. Supporting pupils to read books can be challenging if teachers have limited knowledge of the books available. You could use current book lists and reports such as What Kids Are Reading to understand what children are reading and find out more about these books to see if they can be offered in school.
Set aside quality time for reading
It can be useful to provide a time within the school day or week for pupils to read for pleasure including during school closures. When schools return this could be within a class or across the whole school at the same time. Or if children are still at home you could suggest a regular reading slot. Check in on your students and make sure they all have new books to read for their reading session.
Barriers do exist
We must recognise that there are barriers to supporting reading for pleasure and some children experience more barriers than others. These are diverse, but can include access to books (and other text types), difficulties with reading (and therefore challenges identifying interesting readable books), lack of interest, difficulty finding time to read, etc. For those pupils who are not reading, find out why to identify how they can be better supported to read for pleasure.
It is a challenging and changeable time for headteachers and SLTs across the country and we have all had our resilience tested in different ways over the last year. We have all witnessed the impact of the pandemic on our children and young people. It has never been more important to support and develop a love of reading to support children’s learning and wellbeing.
For more information about this research and further advice on encouraging reading enjoyment please visit renlearn.co.uk/reading-enjoyment where you can download the full guide.
Dr Sarah McGeown is a Senior Lecturer in Developmental Psychology at the University of Edinburgh.