Secondary teachers need as much help with teaching reading as some of their pupils do with literacy.
A project by the Scottish Council for Research in Education focusing on first-year classes in three secondary schools concludes: "We are inclined to agree that the teacher is more important than the method, and that the provision of opportunities for reflection and sharing of experience is essential."
Jenny Allan, head of English at Liberton High in Edinburgh, and Annette Bruton, a learning support teacher now with the Higher Still development unit, say secondary teachers feel they need more support and training in how to develop pupils' reading. The topic is not included in their training and a large number believe problems should be tackled by English and learning support staff.
The researchers found a number of remarkable parallels between teachers' perceptions and those of pupils. "When asked to identify the type of text which they found most onerous, they described the same difficulties for themselves that they had identified in their pupils. This was one of a number of parallels which pointed to the value of using teachers' own experience as readers to help them to teach reading in their own classrooms."
The research, which involved 67 pupils and 34 teachers, echoes comments in the 1975 Bullock report, A Language for Life, that teachers, being expert readers who have mastered their skills automatically, are not usually aware of how they read and of the problems others encounter.
Ms Allan and Ms Bruton, whose research was intended to help them prepare in-service materials, say: "A lack of confidence in their own ability to learn is observable in many struggling readers. Many of our teachers, even those whose descriptions of their work demonstrate an implicit understanding of the ways in which reading skills can be developed, were not at all confident in their own ability to discuss these issues, let alone deal with the difficulties they perceived themselves as facing. Might this at least partially explain the high number of those we spoke to who still do not accept that the teaching and development of reading should be their concern?" Teachers who agreed to be interviewed, with a couple of exceptions, began by making "jokey, disparaging or disarmingly frank comments" about their own lack of expertise or feelings of insecurity. Asked whether they thought they were able to meet the reading needs of their pupils, 24 said they did not, six felt they did and four did not reply.
"Several people wrote qualifying comments beside their answers, pointing out that they lacked training or that they were doing their best but didn't know much about it," the researchers report.
Ms Allan and Ms Bruton believe that training should involve all teachers not just English and learning support staff. This would allow teachers to collaborate and share their experiences.
The report concludes: "If by reflecting upon the ways in which they solve problems in their own reading, teachers can make some of these strategies explicit for pupils, then we can begin to develop a practical approach to teaching and improving reading in secondary classrooms."
* Classroom noise emerged as the single greatest disincentive to reading among pupils. Pupils said they were frustrated by distractions and felt reading at home or in bed was the best environment.