Primary English - Living by the word

7th November 2008 at 00:00
If children enjoy reading it can boost results across all subjects, says Rae Cairns

As teachers, the value of reading is often taken for granted, but it is easy to underestimate the significant power that children's enjoyment of reading has to influence more effective learning across all areas of the curriculum. Where I teach, staff and parents are proud that standards of reading are generally good. But recent research shows that although reading standards in Britain are high, enjoyment of reading is not.

Enhancing children's enjoyment of reading as a way of raising their achievement in the classroom is the central idea of a Centre for Literacy in Primary Education (CLPE) course called The Power of Reading. It inspired me to find new ways to make reading enjoyable. It encouraged teachers to use a range of books, established titles and those more recently published, as the source of a creative curriculum.

The children in my class responded immediately and with great enthusiasm. I used the selected quality texts and explored these through literacy, drama, art and music, using a range of approaches and techniques.

One book used as a stimulus with my Year 3 class was Gregory Cool by Caroline Binch. The book is set on the island of Tobago in the Caribbean - and it wasn't long before the children asked more about the island and what life is like for the people who live there. The children researched information about Tobago and made leaflets about the island.

On the spur of the moment, I decided to send some of the children's work to the Trinidad and Tobago tourist office, hoping for some further information about Tobago in return.

We got much more than we bargained for. A delegation from the islands of Trinidad and Tobago was due to visit Britain, and after seeing their work, they wanted to present the children with gifts to thank them for the interest in their country. The delegation arrived, a party of nine, including a world-renowned steel drum player and a jazz singer from the islands. Assembly that day was a memorable affair across the school with readings, songs, music and poetry inspired by Tobago and its people.

The trial inspired by The Power of Reading course was so successful, including better results, that the staff decided to use it as a basis for a whole-school creative curriculum. We selected quality texts for each year group and then looked at linking them up with other curriculum areas, including history, geography and science.

Our curriculum ensures that if the text naturally leads the class in a different direction, then teachers feel free and confident enough to follow it. We are also aware that some subjects do need to be taught separately to ensure full curriculum coverage, and these have been incorporated into our plans.

Already this year the children have begun work through the new creative curriculum, taking books as their inspiration. Classes have demonstrated their work to the rest of the school through assemblies that have inspired the rest to embrace the new way of working.

Here's to children and teachers enjoying books while learning, and finding true enjoyment in reading that will stay with them for the rest of their lives.

Rae Cairns is English curriculum leader at Bickley Primary School in Bromley, Kent


- Using quality texts is essential.

- Support from senior management is key.

- Plan carefully - but respond flexibly to the children's interests and ideas.

- Use quality picture stories with all children including younger pupils.

- Be creative about linking the children's work with businesses outside school.

- A useful website is:

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