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Teachers speak volumes for readathons

Reading groups and book clubs should be adopted as ways of improving book-reading levels among pupils, according to a new survey of English teachers.

Other important tools to encourage reading, the survey concludes, include "readathons", reading in tutor group time, appointing pupil "reading champions", and "Carnegie shadowing" - getting children to read the books on the shortlist for the Carnegie Medal for children's writing.

These findings - which follow schools minister Jim Knight's call for more key stage 3 boys to read for pleasure - are found in a survey of English teachers, published by the National Association for the Teaching of English and the Teachit website.

The research also concludes that teaching extracts of texts should be kept to a minimum as some pupils arrive at secondary school never having read a whole book.

Other popular suggestions were library lessons, quizzes, reading time at the start of lessons, visiting authors, book fairs, offering a variety of texts to study in class and getting pupils and teachers to dress up as characters from literature.

Top of teachers' list of books for teaching at key stage 3 were Louis Sachar's Holes, and Michael Morpurgo's Private Peaceful, with Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men and Shakespeare's Macbeth favoured at key stage 4.

Many teachers felt that pupils should read whole texts.

Some also expressed concern about the "diet of extracts" they had been fed under the National Literacy Strategy.

One secondary teacher said: "Many pupils arrive (at secondary school) having never read a whole book." A key stage 1 teacher said: "I always favour real books and I am not keen on extracts, simplified texts and reading schemes."

Some respondents blamed technology for making it harder to promote learning.

One teacher argued that the biggest challenge the profession faced was getting children to see that reading could be as fun as computer games and films.

Several teachers, said the report, "lamented the deadening influence of the examination system, especially the Sats".

One said: "Our year nines are at their wits' end with Sats teaching. Gone are the days when you could spend time reading with them."

The report, written by John Hodgson, NATE research officer, concluded: "It is clear that the teachers who responded to our survey offer their students a far more creative and engaging reading experience than can be found in preparing for the Sats."

Helen Magner, a teacher at Harris School, a Church of England secondary in Rugby, Warwickshire, said the school celebrated World Book Day and also made space in lessons for "personal reading time".

She added: "For me, the main thing is to be known as a reader and to be seen as a reader by students. The best thing is always to have an armful of books on your desk and be willing to share them with your students."

Sally Gray, of Smestow School, Wolverhampton, is setting up an internal website with a forum where pupils can discuss their reading, and featuring recommendations on which books to read.

She also advocates spending a period a week on class reading with Years 7 and 8, using books to which both teenage boys and girls can relate. Among those chosen recently have been Robert Muchamore's Cherub Campus series and the Darren Shan books, which Ms Gray said her pupils loved.

Teachers were also asked what books they were currently reading.

Top answers were Khaled Hosseini's A Thousand Splendid Suns, Markus Zusak's The Book Thief, Hosseini's The Kite Runner, Lloyd Jones's Mister Pip and J L Carrell's The Shakespeare Secret.

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