As Literacy across the Curriculum coordinator over the last couple of years, I wanted to improve the effectiveness of the current weekly afternoon tutor time silent reading session. Silent reading worked ok, but tutors faced the same problems from a minority of students on a regular basis:
- Strangely, they had the same book each week for most of the year
- Often, the book was used as a protective shield to facilitate covert conversations
- Books were being borrowed from wherever they could be found two minutes before tutor time, simply to avoid a sanction. There was no engagement in the book.
- A comic/magazine with little challenge demand was being used
- These students were often not reading anything at all, compounding their likely lack of reading engagement outside the weekly reading session.
In our school, it was very much the minority 20% of students that we wanted to engage: those reluctant readers. So many strategies have been employed in this regard ranging from parental intervention to incentivisation (explored elsewhere), but I wanted to look at the issue at its core:
- Many of our weaker students NEVER get the opportunity in school to read aloud.
- In lessons (including English), they would not be asked to read from a worksheet, and remember they usually read little if anything at home. Silent reading removes the chance to read aloud; in fact it often removes the need to read at all, as no-one knows whether they’re bothering or not.
- When does their reading aloud confidence/ability (a critical life skill) get the chance to develop?
My idea was to take a break from silent reading, and trial communal reading of the opening 15 pages of 5 different stories. These were (crucially) chosen by the tutor groups so they had ownership. I tweaked the menu to add in short stories by students, a non-fiction review from a student, a poem, and even a graphic novel too for variety.
I did a copy for 1 between 2 students across the school, and it worked out about £300.
This meant the following would be achieved:
- All students would need to engage with the reading, as the teacher could ask them to read at any time.
- All students would develop their confidence and skill in reading aloud -decoding
- The tutor would be able to assess whether comprehension of the extract is evident in the students’ minds.
- Students would have the pleasure of hearing others read as well as themselves and enjoy a shared experience
- Students would have 4 or 5 books to go and seek out after Communal Reading, to see what happened next!
Whilst the logic for communal reading and its ground rules for making it work is further clarified expertly by Jo Facer. She sums up the fundamental problem facing schools below:
‘The reality is that our strongest readers read the most, and our weakest readers the least: the exact opposite of what we need to see to close the gap between our best and worst performing students. This is not only true in their home lives, but also in our classrooms. Anyone who has ever asked for volunteers to read (including: me; guilty as charged) is advantaging those strong readers, and further denying reading from the weakest.’
She explains the problems which she faced when broaching the subject on Twitter, and I too faced similar resistance from some staff when I raised the idea. ‘Students shouldn’t be forced to read’, ‘It scars them’ , ‘This is English’s responsibility, not tutors’ and the like.
There are many responses that I have to support my view that all students should be made to read aloud (sensitively) – but this email I received from a student nails it I think:
‘I’ve been thinking about our conversation today and was wondering if I could please read a small part of the narrator tomorrow? I fear that otherwise I’ll never do it – and I know it’s just all nerves in my head! Thank you so much for being supportive –it makes a real difference’
I am not going to dwell too much on logistics/ground rules here other than to share the following:
- Varying amounts for all
- Keep who you’re going to pick unpredictable so all are required to stay focused.
- Praise and appreciation
- Support with tricky sections and model yourself
- Ask questions to check comprehension (most important element of reading)
- And enjoy the experience of reading a book together as a group!
This is the feedback I received in the first year from students and staff on the trial -(Communal reading happened for two terms)
· Something different to read that perhaps you might not have chosen yourself –new genres
· Gets a taster of a range of possible new reading choices
· Element of choice in booklet
· Good variety from Silent reading
· Good reading aloud for a change
· Nice to listen to others read aloud and sit back and imagine
· Supportive of each other reading
· Everyone was encouraged to be involved / Brings group together –not isolated
· Nice to hear the tutor read
· Builds confidence and skill in reading in front of others –overcomes fear/anxiety for the future
· Builds skill in reading in general – hearing when to pause, put emphasis on words
· Didn’t have to remember to bring in own book – no sanctions for forgetting issued
· Nice to read work by students
· Helped make more sense of the story through discussion
· Less effort involved
· Those with weaker literacy enjoyed being read to, and checks were made on understanding of new vocabulary
· Good to discuss thoughts about book together afterwards
· Those not keen on reading were able to sit back and listen
· Lack of interest in the book choices provided – could be more exciting
· Preference for reading own book alone –particularly with motivated readers
· Would prefer one whole book to ‘get into it’ / extracts were too short
· More choice needed
· People have different reading interests – one choice doesn’t fit all
· Over-reliance on more confident readers
· Disliked reading aloud –embarrassing
· Felt embarrassed for others when made to read and they didn’t want to – pressure
· Too slow – can’t go at your own reading pace
· Felt a bit like primary school –reading aloud can feel patronising
· Couldn’t mentally prepare for the next lesson
· Sometimes students had already read the book
This improved further this year with many teachers saying it was the most positive Literacy across the Curriculum strategy I had undertaken, and many loved it, which was fantastic to hear.
It’s a simple idea, and an effective one. I’d welcome any feedback.