I have always had a penchant for teaching reading. Perhaps it is owing to the fact that at the beginning of my teaching career, in the late seventies, I taught infant classes for several years. There is nothing more exhilarating for an infant teacher than sharing in the magic of a five-year-old receiving their first reading book. At the end of the reception class year, it was so rewarding to count the number of readers file past each morning who only months previously were practically illiterate.
Paradoxically, if one was experiencing reading difficulties I felt uncomfortable and totally useless as I felt I had failed that child. I envisaged that it would hold them back profoundly as so much learning is dependent entirely on reading. This situation is exacerbated as the child moves up through the stages of the primary school if it is not tackled and prevented at an early stage. I wished I had known then about paired reading.
Paired reading is not a remedy. It is a preventative task to stem any minor reading problems and at the other end of the spectrum it can be used to enhance greater reading fluency with very able readers. It has been warmly embraced not only by countless teachers but by hordes of parents.
When a child has mastered reading fluency, their self-esteem is augmented, they develop in confidence and implicit in this they tentatively read from different sources that previously they would have ignored: newspaper articles, road signs, television advertisements. Parents have fed this back to me at parents' nights and on numerous other occasions.
During the past few years I have initiated paired reading schemes with parents on a homework programme and candidly admit it must be implemented regularly. Success has only been achieved where parents were actively involved and the child willingly participated. This was not to be regarded as a chore by the parent but an enjoyable time together which would end with lots of adulation for the reader. It can be administered as well during the school day using older pupils with younger ones. The choice is up to parent or guardian.
At present, I belong to one of the area network support teams in the west of Scotland as a peripatetic learning support teacher. One of the primaries in which I teach carries out this task under my supervision in the latter part of a lunch hour. This will be extended to another time in the school week for consolidation and is currently under negotiation with class teachers. The pupils who are the tutors are in primary 6. Initially, I asked for volunteers, after seeking permission from the school's management team and class teacher. The majority of pupils offered their services.
These pupils collect their charges (ranging from primary 1 to primary 3) from the playground and listen to them reading from their core reader. Next the reader has to choose a book from the library or produce one from their own home and then read it with the tutor. The library book can be taken home to read with a parent and returned for the following session. I readily admit that this primary 6 are a mature bunch and as their class teacher confirmed: "They are a lovely group of children!"
Each tutor has a booklet in which they record the pages read and write a comment. The comment must be positive; I ardently advocate that success builds on positive and constructive criticism. If any child has read particularly well, they obtain a sticker from me and their name is noted down to inform the class teacher of their success.
The school has been involved in paired reading before on a trial period but this new venture could not have happened without the enthusiasm and permission of the management team and the class teachers. Altogether, paired reading is an excellent and valuable reading activity. It helps pupils to become more altruistic, to interact with others and it further develops social skills too.
I cannot stress its importance enough and hope that more schools will take it on board.
Jane Miller is a network support teacher in Ayr.