Improving reading in secondary schools #2

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Attitude, for me is one of the most important factors when you are thinking about engaging young people into reading. If the attitude isn’t right then there is no or very little chance that a young person will be engaged.

It is probably the first step towards creating or sustaining readers yet is one of the most underestimated and rarely thought about areas in regards to reading.

Assessing and analysing reading attitudes is one of the first things we do with our students and from analysing their results in regards to only their attitude I could easily pinpoint, with around a 95% accuracy how proficient the student is going to be in their reading.

In fact this is actually what we do with our tracking. There is about a two week difference at the beginning of the school year between us getting the results to the student reading attitude tests to the results from the reading and spelling age data. When analysing the data we start to make initial assumptions, thinking about which students might need intervention. Alongside this we also make an estimate as to whether a students reading age will be above, below or in line with their chronological age.

Looking at the data in this way gives us a really good view on what an individual student is like. We talk a lot in schools about attitude to learning ATL and even grade our students in terms of this in reports etc. we know how important a students attitude is to their learning so why don’t we focus more on ATR attitudes to reading?

The thing with attitudes too is that they can tell you things that a reading proficiency test can’t. For instance if a young person starts secondary school aged 11, has a reading age of 13 then little notice will be paid to them. They are obviously doing ok, are more than capable of comprehending and understanding texts so are in no need for any intervention. The same student 4 years down the line is half way through their GCSEs and is really struggling. Concerns are raised about their understanding of higher level language and for all purposes seem to have gone backwards.

What has actually happened is that the student when they started in Yr7 was of course more than proficient in reading, however they had a really poor attitude towards it. They viewed reading as something they did very little of, they didn’t read very much per month or a range of things. Due to their attitude they spent the next 4 years not reading, coming across fewer new words, not extending their vocab to the point where their reading age plateaued and their chronological age caught up and surpassed their reading age.

It hasn’t been a sudden change but a gradual one that may have been identified if someone had noted the students attitude at the very beginning. Had they done so they would have realised that the student was potentially at risk of not succeeding as a reader and making the sufficient gains because of their attitude.

It’s therefore important that schools take this knowledge seriously. That they think about how they can gauge attitude but then also what they can do with this information.

When I run training sessions around tracking reading and showing impact one of the things I will have people do is write down the characteristics that make a good reader and a poor reader. The usual things come back such as proficiency, access, the ability to decode, determination, variety of types of books. I then ask the delegates to think about the importance of each of these and their impact on someone actually reading. Does a proficiency in reading mean someone will read? No. Does having access to books mean that someone will read? No. Does having a positive role model in reading mean someone will read? No. But does having a good attitude towards reading mean that someone will read? Yes. You can do the opposite of this too. Does a young person who lacks in proficiency mean they won’t read? No. Does not having access to books mean that someone will not read? No? But does having a poor attitude to reading mean that someone will not read? Yes.

So the question schools should be asking themselves revolve around how they have catering for young peoples attitudes towards reading? Are they making sure they know them? The engage students in a number of different ways and they understand what the barriers are that exist around attitude so they can change the them?

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