Put pleasure at heart of learning to read

6th May 2011 at 01:00

Geoff Barton's timely article, "Writing's on the wall if children don't read" (29 April), has profound implications for the primary sector, too. Teachers know successful reading is not just about preparing for Sats, yet the "reading for pleasure" agenda can sometimes be seen as the icing on the cake, only needing attention once the more important aspects of the reading curriculum are in place.

These are dangerous assumptions. The skills needed for successful reading are complex and will not be acquired without a great deal of practice. Yet, if children gain no pleasure from reading, insisting they do more of it will only compound the problem. We do need to introduce children to a wide range of exciting texts, but we must also value children's own opinions about what is worth reading. Free choice of material must run alongside and sometimes replace the structured reading scheme. How would we feel if every book we read had been chosen by someone else, and was always that little bit harder than the one we had just completed?

This "ownership" of learning should also extend to group reading experiences: we should put "book talk" back into the hands of pupils. Guided reading is a valuable teaching tool, but real debate and discussion about books, in which children themselves dictate the agenda, is also vitally important. How long would we attend a reading group where the points for discussion were always in the hands of its leader and our own burning questions always remained unanswered?

Dr Pat Stafford, Senior lecturer in primary English, Newman University College, Birmingham.

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