Grown-ups read by example

31st October 2008 at 00:00
The Teachers as Readers project focusing on adults' own enjoyment of books has boosted pupils' interest in literature

Encouraging teachers to read has helped to boost their pupils' pleasure in books, says new research.

The Teachers as Readers project, run by the UK Literacy Association and funded by the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation, urges teachers to read more children's books, do more reading themselves and create more time for reading in class.

An initial survey of 1,200 teachers found that 58 per cent could not name three children's poets; 62 per cent knew only two or fewer picture book authorillustrators; and fewer than half could name six children's writers.

Following this, 40 teachers in charge of 1,300 pupils across five local authorities took part in a range of initiatives to inspire them to change their teaching styles.

The ideas included "extreme reading" - using pictures of parents, teachers and children reading in strange places - and "readers in disguise", which involved pictures of teachers masked by books and pupils guessing their identities.

Throughout last year, teachers took part in local and national meetings to discuss and share children's literature. They created time for independent reading in class and for reading aloud and other activities to promote reading as fun. They also worked with families and libraries on activities to support reading at home, and were expected to talk about the books they liked with pupils.

Initial findings presented in London last week suggested a significant increase in reading for pleasure among pupils whose teachers had taken part in the project. This included those who had said at the start of the year that they were not interested in reading or that they actively disliked it.

A separate sample of 59 pupils suggested 61 per cent of reading scores rose by at least three sub-levels in a year - twice the usual rate.

Those behind the project said the teachers taking part developed a wider knowledge of children's authors and had made reading aloud a regular commitment.

The initiative was prompted by international studies which found that while children in England were fairly good at reading, they were among the least likely to enjoy it.

Teresa Cremin, president of the UK Literacy Association and professor of education at the Open University, said: "I was amazed how difficult it was for teachers to find space and time in the classroom to profile reading for pleasure and independent reading.

"The pressure teachers are under and the timetable they are working to meant they had to seriously fight to create the time. There were also institutional issues (of timing).

"We were delighted that by the end (of the project) teachers could find the time and were convinced of the value of it."

The full findings are due to be released next month.


Carla Belling (second left), Year 56 teacher at Lamberhurst St Mary's CE Primary in Tunbridge Wells, says the Teachers as Readers project has transformed the way she teaches.

"I felt I hadn't any time to read," she says. "I had to prepare for Sats. I would only read texts aloud in the literacy hour and never the complete book. If I was focusing on story openings, I'd only read the story openings and never get to the end. How awful was I?"

Mrs Belling and colleague Nicola Mitchell (second right), deputy head and Year 34 teacher, took part in the project because of the research into what helped children read.

"One of the biggest eye-openers was finding out what they read at home - comics and joke books," says Mrs Mitchell. "We brought those into the classroom and shared what they were reading, making them realise that reading isn't just school books. Their enthusiasm for reading just took off."

Mrs Belling says she now reads to her class for 20 minutes a day, every day. Her own knowledge of children's books means she can bring them into other subjects, such as history. And she talks about what she's reading.

"I think it's important for children to see teachers as readers," she says. "It's a habit. If they develop this enthusiasm at primary school, they will always be readers. It's something I'm so passionate about and I'm so pleased it has made a difference. It's what teaching should be about - bringing joy.

"Reading for pleasure is something that these children will hopefully continue - not just into secondary school but for a lifetime."

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