There's no such thing as a universal reading strategy. Each school has its own particular needs and problems. So where do you start? Well, you could try asking the children, suggests Jonathan Rooke
If a perfect method of teaching reading at key stage 2 existed then every school would be using it. Unfortunately, there isn't one. Each school is a unique community, and planning a suitable school reading strategy is not easy. So the more you know about your pupils as readers, the better informed and more effective your planned intervention is likely to be.
You can gather a lot of eye-opening knowledge about your pupils' hitherto secret lives as readers by conducting a whole-school reading survey. And it need not be a daunting task if you plan the different stages carefully.
At the outset decide what needs to be done, who will do it, when and which resources will be needed. It is best if a small team organises the survey.
Decide exactly what you want to know and focus on specific areas. For example, how much involvement do parents have, and what form does this involvement take? How successful are the silent reading sessions? A few carefully chosen questions will be far more useful - and less work - than a long, rambling questionnaire.
A little extra time spent phrasing the questions will make collating the data at the end a lot easier. Think about the way you want to present your results - in bar graphs or tables - and write clear, unambiguous questions which will provide answers that can be readily quantified.
Open-ended questions such as "Do your parents read to you?" will yield a wide variety of responses that cannot be turned into a chart. However, if you ask "How often do your parents read to you? Every night; three times a week or more; less then three times a week; or never" with a little tick box next to each option, the children will know what is expected of them and you will be able to present the results fairly easily.
Beware of offering confusing options. The question "Do you talk about books at home with your parents? Yes; sometimes; never" is not as effective as using "often; sometimes; never" as your options.
Remember to make space for the name, date , class and gender at the top of the questionnaire.
You should pilot the questionnaire with a handful of children from different year groups to expose ambiguities and errors, and tweak it accordingly. All the staff must now agree exactly what each question means to ensure consistency when they are presented to the children.
To avoid chasing around collecting the completed questionnaires, organise a day when the whole school can complete the survey together.
Once all the questionnaires have been returned the ticks will need to be counted and converted in to meaningful charts. If you have prepared your questions properly the biggest difficulty you will face here is finding the time to do it. Some parent volunteers will be worth their weight in gold, especially if they can construct graphs that reveal any differences or similarities between boys and girls as well as general trends. There are several computer programs available that will make your chart look professional.
The completed charts must then be analysed and interpreted and a short summary of the results written. This need not be longer than a side or two of A4 paper presented as bullet points.
Write an introduction to the survey stating the purpose, how and when it was conducted, the number of children taking part, how the results were collated, and a paragraph putting the survey in context, pointing out any flaws which might distort the results. Make a cover and staple it to the introduction, the summary of results and the charts, and give copies to staff and governors. Make a display on the staffroom wall.
The results can now be discussed in staff and year-group meetings. Teachers can consider the issues the survey has thrown up and decide upon action. Remember, a survey will confirm areas of good practice as well as shed light on problems that need to be addressed. Any decisions made at this stage will need to be clearly integrated into the English scheme of work, and the medium- and short-term plans will need to be adjusted to accommodate any changes to practice. If this is not done you run the risk of promoting interest but not effecting any long-term improvements. Make action plans which clearly state the target, objectives, a time frame, who is responsible, resources, and criteria for success.
You may want to send some of the results to parents on a newsletter or hold a meeting especially for them. One hour is long enough to state what the survey revealed about where you are now, to make clear where you want the children to be as readers, and explain how you intend to get them there. Offer plenty of practical advice, perhaps demonstrating with willing pupils, to show parents how they can be involved in your plans.
With a minimum of planning, co-operation and communication, your survey will provide a rich source of information to guide future reading strategies.
Jonathan Rooke is language co-ordinator at Waverley Abbey C of E Junior School, Tilford, Farnham, Surrey