Improving Reading in secondary schools #3

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In this series of posts we’ve been looking at my model for achieving reading for pleasure in a secondary school and all the facets that go with it.

So far we’ve looked at an overview of the model as well as looking at, what I believe is the most undervalued, yet vitally important area, attitude.

This post focuses on the multifaceted area of opportunity. Multifaceted in that by rights you can create a whole model based around the different types of opportunity that need to exist in school. For me, I think I would break this down into opportunities to access reading inside the classroom & outside of the classroom, opportunities to see the importance of reading and finally opportunities for the wider community through the wider community.

Opportunities in the classroom
You may not think at first glance that reading for pleasure can be seen in the classroom. This is in fact the first mistake that many school librarians make. Especially those that say they have a whole school reading ethos but really only have a good library within its own four walls (I would suggest that if a library is only good in its own space and room then it is not a good library). Reading in the classroom is actually vitally important to help promote reading for pleasure. Subject teachers are some of the most passionate people about their subjects, masters of their area and spent the day enthusing and engaging young minds to develop a love of their subject. This ability, if harnessed, can be used to engage a youngster into reading just as readily as it is to engage them into a subject.

A student who is passionate about geography will go out of their way to find more information about the subject as it gives them pleasure. They may watch certain programmes on television, visit certain places in their spare time, take an interest in geographical occurrences whilst on holiday, but if engaged in the right way they also may decide to read more about the subject. To pick up non fiction books to find out more.

Part of a teachers job is to hook the students into learning and this hook might just equally apply when it comes to enthusing students to want to read more about the subject. Yes, it may also be about reading to gain information but it is undertaken as an act of pleasure.

What we need to do is help the teachers with knowledge and expertise to arm them with the ability to do this. Do you provide teachers with fiction and non fiction books related to what they are studying, encouraging them to read them so they can then encourage the students to read them? Do you show parents what books might link into each topic for further, in-depth reading? How do you support the teachers to engage a passion for reading in each subject equal to the passion of learning for each subject?

Outside the classroom

Is reading visible in every area of your school? Can you see that the school values reading from walking its corridors? If I walked into your school how would I know that you promoted reading?

If you can’t see this from walking down any corridor in the school and can’t hear it when you talk to the students about reading then sadly you don’t have a reading culture in your school.

You need to think about how you provide these opportunities so students see reading at every turn. Do you take opportunities for the students to see this at break and lunchtimes and in their other social times? Reading shouldn’t be for special occasions it should be an all the time thing.

Alongside this it’s also seeing positive reading role models across the school. Do students see/hear staff and all types of staff valuing books and reading and if you do is a token gesture or is it truly reflective of the ethos you provide in the school?

The Wider Community

If students only spend 15%of their time in school and we want them to have a consistent diet of seeing reading as important then we need to think about how we provide opportunities through the wider community.

The questions you need to think about are how you engage your parents into the ethos of reading. How they promote reading to their kids? Is it a forced activity or a celebrated enjoyed time? Do you provide training and knowledge to your parents so that they see and know how they should/could go about it? Are parents the positive reading role models to their children and are they seen in school to also value this?

Do you work with your local primary schools to provide opportunities to younger children about this? Are you creating readers before they come to your school, are you helping them make the decision on which school to choose through the opportunities you provide them to become readers?

Transition is such an important stage that is easily forgotten or lacks emphasis. Do you focus just in the summer term or is transition and reading opportunities available throughout the year, providing that wide diet of opportunities that breeds that consistency?

If you do all this how about the wider community? Is reading seen as important at every turn in the local area? Is it focused on in the local paper, on the local radio, in the town in shops and the like. How do you provide the community with the ability to show this and believe in this?

If reading is visible everywhere and all the time think about the benefit of this to all the students in your school and beyond this. If everyone sees reading as important and the opportunities exist for them to see this and to do it then the knock on effect is improved literacy for everyone. If everyone’s literacy is improved we then breed a generation of young people who know no different.

Yes this is obviously the ultimate goal and probably the hardest thing to achieve but because it’s hard does that mean we shouldn’t do it?

Opportunity for me is not just about creating opportunities to read but importantly opportunities to see reading. To see it as important, vital and a natural thing that you just do.

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