It's widely agreed that reading for enjoyment is an important way to develop a child’s literacy. I reckon you will find it difficult to find a sensible argument against reading being a positive pastime. All well and good – right?
But what if you hate reading because you find it a chore? What if each page of long prose you look at is a garbled, blurry mess of letters that dance about the page? What if you are really enthusiastic about reading the latest novel that all the class are talking about, but you know it is going to be almost impossible for you to access – would you think reading is a positive experience? For some children in our classrooms, these more negative attitudes towards reading are a daily reality.
My school follows a scheme that requires children to read books within a given “reading range” for 30 minutes in class each day. I have three learners in my class who are just unable to do so independently. To combat this, I read very short texts with them for 10 minutes each. Although they have benefited from the help, I couldn’t help but sense their frustration that I was choosing the books for them (and rightly so).
Long read: How one Scottish school taught its pupils to love books
Quick read: Can you really teach a child to love reading?
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I quickly realised that this programme, designed to give children a love of books, was actually making reading a chore; it didn’t seem right or fair.
Audiobooks: 'Now I can read the same as everyone else'
I knew about audiobooks, being an avid consumer of them myself whilst doing the dreaded Sunday ironing. However, I considered it to be too expensive to buy a number of them for my class. I began to experiment with some free audiobooks online, but they either had unreliable, dodgy links, or, quite frankly, used poor-quality books.
I eventually stumbled upon a free audiobook service similar to the ones offered by local authority libraries. Each child received their own account and could borrow the books that they wanted. Perfect, I thought – the Holy Grail of the audiobook world.
I am happy to say that, months down the line, I still believe I have found the answer. I encourage the children to select audiobooks that we have a physical copy of in school, which is very easy, given the wide range available. Based on the difficulties that the children have with reading, I was worried about their ability to follow the narration. I am glad to say I was wrong, as when packing-up time comes around I see them meticulously marking the exact line they got to with a Post-it note.
The ability to see the words at the same time as hearing them has been profound – and I can back this up by the 100 per cent scores that the children receive once they have finished the novels.
"Novels" – now there is a key word. These children were used to reading books which were very dated and not age-appropriate. Just now, the children are enjoying the latest adventures of Percy Jackson and laughing along with their classmates to the mishaps of David Walliams’ latest protagonist. Simply put, from the epiphany of one child: “What, so now I can read the same books as everyone else?!”
There are countless studies into the benefits of audio books for children experiencing difficulties with reading, but, for me, the biggest impact I have witnessed is that these children are now not marginalised in their reading: they can enjoy and discuss the same books as everyone else, meet the characters they hear their classmates talking about – and get some peace and quiet from their teacher to just enjoy the book.
Marc Andrew is a primary teacher in East Lothian, in Scotland. He tweets @MrAndrewTeacher