The importance of reading for pleasure

8th February 2013 at 00:00
Giving children a love of books is one of the greatest gifts, says primary headteacher Bill Lord. To do this, teachers must develop and put into practice a bill of `reading rights'

World Book Day takes place in March every year and prompts schools to encourage children to see themselves as readers. This is undoubtedly one of the most important life attitudes that we can give our children. Children who read for pleasure thrive academically.

Former schools minister Nick Gibb, speaking last year at the launch of the government's national reading competition, said as much: "Children should always have a book on the go. The difference in achievement between children who read for half an hour a day in their spare time and those who do not is huge - as much as a year's education by the time they are 15."

Although there is much emphasis in schools on early reading and ensuring that pupils achieve Level 4 by the end of Year 6, the reading for pleasure strand of teachers' work is something that all schools should be exploring.

Fortunately, we are in the middle of a glorious period of publishing in children's literature. Teachers have an unprecedented choice of books to help ignite children's imaginations. It's also encouraging that our major supermarkets are selling children's books. The narrow view they promote of reading, however, is something we should try to widen.

I have always sought to find books that children may not have been given as gifts or find in their local shops. Moreover, if we really want to inculcate the habit of reading for pleasure in children, teachers should develop and adhere to a set of basic principles. Children need "reading rights".

Children have the right to hear stories without interruption or analysis

Classes should have a novel that is read to the children for pure pleasure. These moments are magical and show children the power of text. As teachers we know that books can make you feel uncomfortable, warm and fuzzy, cold, shocked, surprised, emotional.(I could continue) but I am not convinced that this is something we impart to children. To do this we need sustained periods of time where the children can sit down, shut up, stick their thumbs in their mouths, plait someone's hair or play with their shoelaces as they listen to a wonderful book.

Children have a right to read a book by an author who is still alive

Children should be aware of the wonderful writers who are releasing books every year. While I am not arguing that we should forget the classic authors of our childhoods, the reading diet has room for more than Enid Blyton, Dick King-Smith and Roald Dahl. We should be ensuring that our children are aware of great new authors and illustrators such as David Roberts, Emily Gravett, Sarah McIntyre, Oliver Jeffers, Neil Gaiman and Mini Grey. There have been some incredible books released in recent years that have entranced our children and contain an adventurous use of language.

Children have the right to feel uncomfortable when reading

There is sometimes a danger that children meet only saccharine-sweet parodies or read their way through the entire canon of an author. While the reader may read for pleasure, there is something about developing the wider reader. Confident readers can easily make their way through school with minimal intervention in their choice of reading matter. The "right" is about children reading books that make them think, reflect, laugh out loud and engage. Think of books such as Coraline, Bumface and Cloud Busting and what they impart to their reader. Do your children gain the same from their reading stock?

Children have the right to read non-fiction for pleasure

As a young reader, I developed a great love of biographies and recounts of major events. This may be linked to my interest in history but it was a central core to my home reading. There are children who love non-fiction texts for pleasure - and not just boys. Schools should consider their class book stock and how much it reflects a range of genres.

Children have the right to be taught by those who have a knowledge of books

In the run-up to World Book Day, challenge your colleagues to name six good writers. It will be interesting to see where their focus is. In the Teachers as Readers report from the United Kingdom Literacy Association, the responses generally cited a tight group of the best-selling authors of recent years. Where the UKLA study became interesting was when teachers were asked to name six good poets, writers of non-fiction and picture books. The question is, actually, do the teachers teaching our young readers know sufficient authors outside those they always use?

Children have the right to read beautiful books

As we see a rise in the number of graphic novels and graphic novelisations of texts (Dracula, Stormbreaker and the Artemis Fowl series) it is important to consider the aesthetic quality of the books our children meet. There are some incredibly intricate and beautiful books available for readers of all ages whether it is Petr Horacek's board books aimed at the very earliest reader, Marcia Williams' My Secret War Diary, by Flossie Albright or the artwork of Jackie Morris in The Ice Bear.

Children have the right to read books electronically

I am one of those readers who loves the feel of a book. By instinct I am anti electronic readers, but at the same time, I watch children who love reading texts electronically on a tablet, PC or equally in a book. I find myself in the position of being relaxed about how children access text. At our school we are developing an e-library that will be added to with children's own work, and the thought of a child nonchalantly browsing through a book on a Kindle is as pleasing to me as seeing one sat in a beanbag flicking through a picture book.

I would love to hear your thoughts on what other rights should drive our approach to children's reading. This is about gaining critical momentum. Let me know what you think.

Bill Lord is head of Long Sutton Primary School, South Lincolnshire. In the past he has worked in a variety of teaching and advisory posts including as literacy and ICT adviser at the National Strategies

Talk to the authors

TES is organising a series of webchats with three renowned children's authors to mark this year's World Book Day, which will take place on 7 March.

Tony Robinson - perhaps best known as Baldrick from Blackadder and the presenter of Channel 4's Time Team - will take part in a discussion on the day itself, while hugely popular author Malorie Blackman and radio DJ- turned-children's-writer Simon Mayo will be doing likewise in the days beforehand.

These conversations will be open to you andor your class to ask live questions.

TES has created a special webpage for these webchats, complete with classroom resources to use around the big day. Go to:

Reading is key to creative writing - and grammar and spelling are important too

Encouraging reading is essential, but the government's emphasis on improving spelling and grammar isn't going anywhere. So, TES and Bill Lord have created a resource bank for you.

Spelling, punctuation and grammar - fondly known in schools as Spag - are not the most glamorous parts of teaching English.

Most teachers reasonably believe that there is more to writing than the correct use of the semicolon; to place too narrow a focus on Spag is to risk undermining the potential of language as a creative tool that can be used to engage and inspire readers.

Yet, with the implementation of the new key stage 2 English grammar, punctuation and spelling test in May this year, and additional marks being awarded for "quality of written communication" in current GCSE mark schemes, it doesn't look as though the emphasis on Spag learning will be going away in the near future.

How should teachers, who may or may not be completely confident in their own knowledge of grammar, begin to teach it with more regularity?

The trick could be to introduce Spag-focused activities little and often, while still allowing time for creative literacy work. And this is where our top people come in - they have developed a framework of resources for writing progression.

This is a selection of the best teaching resources uploaded by teachers to support primary writing. Go to: And for those who feel shaky in their understanding of grammar, there are a set of desk-drawer flashcards that can be referred to in the middle of lessons. Go to:

Like it or not, children will continue to be judged on their ability to spell and punctuate correctly. And teachers have a responsibility to prepare them as best we can, without letting them forget that there is more to life (and literature) than recognising an Oxford comma.

Photo credit: Getty

Original headline: Pleasure principles


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