Six steps to create a reading culture in your school
By Freya O'Dell on 26 July 2017
Creating a reading culture in school will foster a love of literature and help pupils to cope with the demands of the new GCSEs, says this curriculum leader
Research from the National Literacy Trust suggests that pupils’ interest in reading wanes when they arrive at secondary school. We are quick to blame technology and adolescence but, whilst we point the finger, we must also ensure that we are providing pupils with every opportunity to read. Fostering a love for reading is central to ensuring that our pupils are successful readers who can cope with the demands of the new GCSE. Here are some of the ways that we encourage this at my school:
1. Drop everything and read (DEAR)
Drop everything and read (DEAR) has become a common term across schools. In English, we start every lesson with 10 minutes of reading as well as having a fortnightly library lesson. However, in our most recent Ofsted, we were commended because pupils were seen to be reading when they had finished work in other subjects, such as maths. A whole-school approach to DEAR and ensuring that pupils have regular opportunities to read is critical. We’ve even had pupils reading whilst working out in PE.
2. Interest surveys and reading logs
In her book The Book Whisperer, Donalyn Miller advocates pupils completing an interest survey at the start of the academic year. Being able to see what pupils’ interests are is a great aid when considering which books to recommend to them. Miller suggests getting pupils to complete a reading log throughout the year. We created a "Challenge 42" reading journal, which helps pupils to strive to read more by setting them the challenge of reading 42 books in a year. While not all pupils will achieve the magical number, most of them find they are reading more than they ever have done before.
3. Classroom libraries
Whilst libraries should be the bedrock of every school, the classroom library can be transformative. My classroom library has grown across this year to span the width of one wall, using books that have been gifted and purchased from charity shops or car-boot sales. As a result, all my pupils have access to books that they can borrow, resulting in an increase in reading within my classroom. Yes, books go missing. In fact, at a recent parents' evening, a parent confessed that her son had started his own library up with books from my classroom library, but why would I be angry about this? In fact, I am delighted.
4. Teachers as readers
Teachers sharing their love of reading makes a big difference to pupils’ reading. During term time, it can be hard as there will always be a lesson to plan or a book to mark, but seeing how interested pupils are in tracking my reading reinforces how important this is. Every time I finish a book (during term time, I only read teen fiction), I begin my lesson by reviewing what I have read with the students. I tell them what the book was about, what I liked about it and what I disliked about it, before sharing an extract with them. This really engages their interest and, by the next lesson, I often find that book has gone and a waiting list has been created by the pupils themselves.
5. Extracts in class
While I fully support reading a whole-class novel with pupils, I also believe in sharing extracts as it gives pupils access to a wider range of books. For example, this year we have taught a unit on structure and the methods writers employ. I decided to share the opening chapter of Storm Catchers with my pupils as I believe it really is an excellent example of how to hook a reader into a novel. I read the extract to the class, who sat mesmerised by it. As a result of the shared reading, the pupils’ interest in the book was piqued, which meant they wanted to carry on reading the rest of the novel, leading me to hurriedly order 10 copies for my pupils to read.
6. Parent reading sessions
One of our amazing progress leaders, Kirsty Biggenden, introduced a parent–pupil reading session on a Wednesday evening. Having looked at the reading age data, Kirsty identified pupils who had not made progress in terms of their reading ages and asked the parents to come in and read with them. She worked with the parents on reading strategies and provided them with a space to read regularly with their child. Needless to say, all pupils on the programme improved their reading ages significantly. This has now extended out to key stage 2 pupils. Our librarian, Carol Moorhouse, works with pupils whose reading age is below their age ahead of them arriving at our academy to try and narrow the gap, with great success.
Freya O'Dell is senior curriculum director, communication and human interaction at The Wellington Academy in Wiltshire