Now read silently on;Curriculum

21st May 1999 at 01:00
Jane Miller describes the part played by the former USSR in improving children's literacy

When I was on supply several years ago, the teacher had written down USSR as part of the daily diary. I thought the class was doing a topic on Russia, until one of the staff informed me that it was an acronym for silent reading - including the initials of the teacher who wished to lead by example.

Many authorities have been adopting the National Year of Reading and liaising with libraries to encourage children to read more or, in some cases, just to read as a pastime. South Ayrshire council has given each child a "Hook a Book", in which they write a review about one book that they have read each month. At the beginning of the book, a parent has to sign a pledge that they will set aside 10 minutes each week to devote to their child's reading. Many parents will not fulfil this task; many will.

In my class, I've had 95 per cent return on the pledge. Other places may be less fortunate, perhaps because the parents don't regard reading as important. Nevertheless, if it is instilled into the child that reading a variety of genres will be a bulwark to them in all strands of language and general knowledge, then we are doing well. There is also a large wall poster for the pupils to fill in their names and write a cross for every book that they've read that month.

Our primary school had a sponsored Readathon. The children were silent for 15 minutes each day and our deputy, Mary McCormack felt that the silent reading should be timetabled into the curriculum as a daily occurrence. Our headteacher, Linda Nicholson, agreed, as did all the teaching staff. The children would read for 15 minutes after lunch, which we discovered was a two-fold exercise: it not only enhanced their reading, but settled them quickly and quietly.

The feedback from parents has been heartening. Some reported that their child had been a reluctant reader until silent reading was introduced, and was now taking a keen interest in books. Many told the teachers that their child enjoyed the silent reading because of being able to read more.

An important point is that children ought to realise that personal reading should not be confined to bedtime. Their minds must be active and receptive to absorb reading throughout the day.

We are not the first school to initiate silent reading into the curriculum - many schools have laid aside time for this each day. But it has been embraced by all the teachers and management, and is helping everyone. The benefits are also evident in the children's story writing - the more they read, the more structured it is.

There is another point I've noticed. Certain pupils only read books on fact, especially the boys. While this augments their knowledge of the outside world and we should not dissuade them from doing it, the time in class should be devoted to reading stories.

"Prevention is better than cure" is not only a doctor's philosophy, but also a teacher's, so reading must be promoted from a very young age. Schools with a nursery attached have an added bonus, as staff can work closely together.

Now that reading is being targeted, let's hope the Government targets grammar, so the children will have the basic tools to understand how English is structured. To ignore grammar is impoverishing, not enriching reading.

It is accepted that reading enhances intelligence, so it is the teacher's duty to foster this pastime as much as possible. It is equally evident, that a child who reads prodigiously produces promising language work, particularly in creative writing where their sophistication of style frequently sets them apart from others.

Jane Miller is a teacher at Doonfoot Primary School, Ayr

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