Reading Engagement



It’s always intrigued me how engagement in reading can almost be tracked through secondary school. Obviously not all students follow the same pattern yet the majority of students do. In the graphic above you can see an approximation of students in our school and I’m sure many others.

As you can see on entry to secondary we have the majority of students with a high engagement to reading, especially after the first couple of weeks once we have started using our persuasion and engagement techniques on them.

This engagement steadily increases over the year and through into their second year of secondary school. This is where they hit their peak until we reach yr9, their third year of secondary school. This is where the declines begins. It can be noticed almost straight away in yr9 as hormones and many other aspects start to impress on student’s time and lives.

This really comes to a head towards the time of choosing options through to end of the year when some of those courses begin. This drop just hangs right in there until they hit the GCSE low. Again whether this is because of the issues surrounding time, pressures of study and hormones it is unclear but it is also worth remembering that during this time there are also great success stories.

With students under so much pressure in this age range there are still those that continue to read with passion and in abundance. Yes it’s normally those that you would expect to still be reading however some of these students are new to reading for pleasure and have chosen to escape the pressures within the confines of their imaginations in the world of stories.

Those students though that were on the periphery of reading in the younger years are the ones that are most likely to fall off the reading curve and face this reading dip.their reading was never as solid and firm as those that continue to read and so the ties that bound them to reading in the first place were a lot easier to break.

However there is still hope as those students that found themselves turning away from reading at GCSE have a chance to redeem their reading nature as the enter A levels. With a different type of stress and also importantly a different set of subjects reading can again be seen as sometime that can give pleasure. I talk about the argument that studying texts in English at GCSE actually harms a number of students love of reading. It has been a long held argument that this is the case, and if you talk to students they would seem to imply this also. I cannot truly say whether I believe this to be the case one way or another. I have seen students that have never read a book inspired by their studies and have also seen the best readers beaten into submission through the studying of texts, however I would say that I feel there is a lot more than one simple explanation.

What I do believe is that the role a person who dedicates their time encouraging reading for pleasure plays in maintaining reading and beating the reading engagement curve is vital. A school librarian who takes on this mantel and who understands their role in this is so perfectly positioned and needed if we are continue to grow our readers. It is their job to keep students on the reading curve and to show them the benefits and pleasures that exist in reading beyond study.

It is the understanding outlined in both my hierarchy of reading and reading brain that can really yield results in schools. By following this knowledge and model schools can make a positive impact on their students regarding reading and reading for pleasure. Librarians can be the ones in school helping and leading on this implementation that sustains and creates readers even up against the reading engagement curve that exists.


The Reading Curve

Reading curve


There are so many factors that can potentially inhibit a child from becoming a reader. In my Hierarchy of Reading I highlighted a good many of these and the things that need to be in place that could help a child discover and continue to improve in reading.


A child’s reading journey can really be seen as a curve as over time with the right nurturing and the correct amount of effort their ability can increase. However, along the way this journey can be hampered as they come off the reading curve. Down to whatever setback that may occur the child may find themselves thrust off the reading curve. This could be down to entering the dreaded yr10 drop in secondary school when work becomes too much, studying texts take the pleasure out of reading and time becomes so limited. It could also be the child who doesn’t ‘get’ phonics. Who reading, instead of being a pleasure they enjoyed on their parents knee, is now a chore that they cannot do. Each of these setbacks signifies a child at a reading crossroads and it is about understanding this and the reason why before you can help put them back onto the reading curve of improvement.


This is the important role that a school library and librarian plays in the vital area of reader development. Many people will question what the use of a school librarian is in school and whether they are really just a fusty old person that stops kids from having fun and keeping warm in the cold weather. This may be the case in some schools and even in places where some school librarians claim to be all knowledgeable and vocal in the librarian world yet unable to actually ‘get ‘ what a school library is but in other places and in other schools there is a band of us librarians that are actually reading specialists. That have the knowledge in our schools that no one else does and that are able to make a real difference in keeping children on that reading curve.

Yes reading can seem very thin sometimes in terms of it being proven that it actually makes a difference to an individual on a day to day basis yet underlying what should be happening in libraries is this fundamental understanding of the child at the reading crossroads. Why are they in the position they are in? What is it that is stopping them from reading? Why have they dropped off the reading curve?

No one else in a school matters to the extend of being able to do something about this. no one else in a school has the capabilities to do something about it yet it is so important of we are to foster reading for pleasure and reading attainment in our schools that this does happen.

At every step and at every setback a library nd librarian should be there to set the child back in the groove of reading. This doesn’t just mean that schools need to put faith in their libraries and their librarians but it also means that school librarians need to do their bit too. They need to be that person tracking and monitoring reading. They need to be the reading specialist in their school can understands the child at a reading crossroads and be able to keep their students on their individual reading curves. They need to make sure they are employing in their schools their own version of Lancaster’s Hierarchy of Reading and that they understand the reading brain and how to make sure they are activating this in their students on a daily basis.

If they can achieve this then the future of our students in regards to reading is safe. If they can keep their students on that reading curve by understanding this then school libraries will grow into one of the most fundamental areas in the school.

Success vs Attitude in Reading

Attitude to success

I probably go on about attitude a lot. Maybe too much sometimes for some people but for me attitude and especially attitude in regards to reading is like gold dust. It’s the holy grail of reading success in my mind. Yet it’s the one thing that always seems to get forgotten about when other people talk about reading. But to do so is surely to the detriment of the child? To ignore the massively important impact that attitude is towards reading success shows the ignorance of what it entails to create a reader.

And this is exactly what I wanted to be able to show to our students and to English departments that I am working with. I wanted to show them that attitude is the starting block for anyone as a reader and that as a student’s attitude positively increases so does their odds of becoming a successful reader as well as their proficiency of reading.

People that know our library know that we use a completely different approach to reading and tracking readers across the school. It has been through this system that we have been able to show this distinction. Having tracked the students in this way for the last five years we can show through our data how a student’s attitude positively impacts on their reading abilities and the chances that they will become a successful reader.


We used the data from the first two year 7 groups we started tracking. These students are now in 10 and 11 respectively. We wanted to see how their attitude at the beginning of the school year, when they were in year 7, had impacted on their chances of being readers now they were in KS4. Upon entry in the school and at the end of the year we have students fill in an ‘Attitude to Reading’ survey. This asks the students a number of pertinent questions that we can use to gauge what their attitude might be. We then grade the students 1-4 based on the Ofsted criteria. We do this for a number of reasons. One being that this data and out other tracking gets shared with staff across the school, especially English and form tutors so we needed to find a language that would be easy for other people to understand so it wasn’t a case of trying to decipher this language as well as what it actually meant.

Once we have identified what the students’ Attitude to Reading grade is we will then put specific strategies into place to make sure that we help them turn any negative attitudes into positive ones. At the end of the year we then give them the survey again and hope to be able to see the impact our work has had on changing their attitudes. Using this beginning of Yr7 data then gives us their starting point in school and a really good marker on how these students entered the school. As they progress through the year we continue to track the students through their attitude, library usage (although by no means a satisfactory indicator on its own) their English levels etc.

Basically when they are in Yr11 we have an idea of their proficiency in and whether they are readers for pleasure or not.

Using this comparison from when they were in Yr7 to Yr11 meant we could start to see whether there was a correlation between a student’s attitude and the chances of being a reader in later school life. The results were as we had expected but they were still fascinating to see. In the current yr 11s initial attitude to reading results we saw 24% of students had an attitude to reading graded as a 3 or 4. Basically they didn’t read, didn’t enjoy reading etc. Of those 24% (48 students) when they got to yr11 30 of them still regarded themselves as non-readers and their low attitude to reading grades remained. Looking at other data we noted that these students were also all predicted under a grade C for English as well as not making the required levels of progress across KS2-4. Their reading ages hadn’t improved at the same rate as those students that had a positive attitude to reading at the beginning of yr7 and were in general behind in all aspects compared to these students.


We then decided to look into more detail at the 18 students who had initially in yr7 had a low attitude but now in yr11 had a positive attitude. It was very interesting to see how over the years these students attitudes had changed and so had their progress in reading and English. These became the students that we wanted to show our new yr7s as they were a perfect example of the impact a change of attitudes to reading could have. The more we looked into each of the 18 students the clearer the link between reading, achievement and success became. At the point where a change of attitude could be seen we also saw a marked improvement in reading ages and English levels. All the students were also making the progress expected of them from their KS2 levels in English, importantly it could be seen that before their attitude change they weren’t making the expected progress.

Showing this to our new yr7 intake has been brilliant. We explain to them that we want to help them discover a love of reading and to have a positive attitude to reading but we show them, from actual students in their school, the impact this can have on their chances of becoming successful at reading.

For someone wishing to get something like this working in their own school it is important to know the importance of attitude. However it is only the first step. What you need to think about is how you might be able to put this in place across the whole school and the conditions you need to achieve something like this. This however, is happily available in my previous posts on my Hierarchy of Reading, certainly worth a look!


The Child at a Reading Crossroads


Regular readers of this blog will know that in our library we use a fantastic system of tracking our students to show the impact we have on reading within the school.

The tracking model is about individuals and about understanding where they have come from. What barriers exist that stop them from being a success in reading then overcoming these barriers to make as many successful readers as possible.

The knock on effects of such a system also means that we can prove the impact we have on reading within the school, how we teach the weakest how to read and improvements in reading students have through reading for pleasure. This for a library and a school is really important as it is a justification as to why so much time is and should be spend on getting young people to see the pleasure in reading.

A big part of this process is engaging young people into reading. Especially young people that may be disengaged or disillusioned with reading. In our school we come across a number of students like this across all years and the reason for each can be as different as A and Z. But it is this reason that is the key to turning that non-reader into someone who willing accesses and enjoys reading.

So this is our first port of call, our beginning. Discovering what it is that is stopping that young person from reading is vital in then being able to do something about it. If you don’t find and solve the route of the problem then you’ll never change the behaviour and make a difference, you’ll only ever paper over the cracks. These students can be seen as at somewhat of a crossroads and it is worth knowing their past, in fact it is vital in knowing this to set them on the right path for the future.

There is a reason why they are not a reader. It may be that they have had a bad experience of reading in the past, it may that they have not had a positive reading role model, or that their family does not read. It could that they have poor literacy and this hampers them in becoming a reader or even that they don’t have the confidence or the opportunity to read. It’s also important to remember that the type of student that has these potential ‘reading road blocks’ isn’t necessarily a weak reader. It could just as easily be a proficient reader who doesn’t read. Again it’s important to work out why this is the case. Maybe they have also had a bad experience of reading or something else is affecting their desire to read and this might be case for someone that actually wants to read but again doesn’t. They might not have the time to do so, the opportunity to continue to be a reader. Other priorities may have overtaken their reading.

Whatever it is that is causing this lack of reading needs to be addressed if the behaviour is to change and success is to be achieved. Young people are therefore always the reader at a crossroads and it is our job to know this, understand the reason and to help redress the situation so that our students can all take the path towards reading for pleasure.