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Creating a Love of Reading

Written by The Reader, 22nd March 2011

Posted on behalf of Sam Shipman, Get Into Reading Project Manager for Young People

Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Education is leading the way in a push to raise national literacy levels after a report last December found that reading standards in teenager in Britain had fallen from 17th to 25th in the international league table. In the news today, Gove has said that he wants to ‘raise the bar’ in children’s education by requiring Secondary school age children to read 50 books a year, that’s one book every week!

Whilst it is an admirable target and fantastic to see that Gove has recognised the need to get more children reading more regularly, it is also something that would be seen as completely unattainable for most children. At The Reader Organisation we believe that it is a love of reading that is important and always quality, not quantity. We are completely behind Michael Gove in wanting to raise literacy standards in the children and young people of Britain but we believe that reading is a gift for life and does so much more for you than simply raise your literacy levels, we don’t want children to plough through book after book; we want them to read.

Whilst regular enforced reading may well raise literacy levels in the short term, all of the other benefits of reading great books would be lost amidst a race to finish a book and move on to the next one. This racing to finish books is already evident in many of the children that I work with, and it takes a long time to change their concept of reading, moving it from, "I must read this many pages a night", to, "I’ll read this book because I enjoy it and I want to keep reading", and it is only when this changes that the real benefits of shared reading can be felt. And what about the children who don’t read, who have never read and are filled with horror at the thought of having to read one book a year, never mind 50 books, how would this affect them?

I have read weekly with one young girl for a period of three years, and throughout the first two years of us working together she refused to be persuaded to read an entire book, we read plenty of poetry together but the concentration and commitment needed to stick with a novel just wasn’t there. We read the first few chapters of many novels together but she would always want to stop and move on to something else after that. I felt that it was important to not force her to read as love of reading is something that cannot be forced. Instead we must give children the opportunity, space, and freedom to allow a love of reading to develop, and above all it should be personal choice. After two years of patience and continuing to work with this young girl, something changed and we read an entire novel together. Since then there has been no looking back, we have read three novels together, all of which she has enjoyed. In February half term I loaned a book to her that we had been reading, saying "just in case you’ve got some spare time, you could read a few chapters", she replied by saying, "I’ll borrow it but I probably wont read it". When I went back the following week she had finished the book, reading over 200 pages that week and she was full of enthusiasm for the story, telling me all that had happened and asking if she could read the last two chapters to me as they were really great. It is developing this passion for literature that will change the literacy standards of children and young people.

6 thoughts on “Creating a Love of Reading

@ActualAl says:

Excellent comments in relation to Mr Gove’s ’50 books a year’ idea. Reading should be a pleasure and not a chore. Whilst I think Mr Gove is right to try and promote the benefits of reading I think it is also important to highlight his duplicity of his statements due to his participation in a government intent on slaying the budgets of our libraries.

Colin says:

I have a suspicion that the problem lies in the earlier years of primary education. Far too many youngsters progress to secondary school with underdeveloped reading skills and no passion for literature. Force feeding later in life is not going to resolve that problem.

Patrick says:

Great blog! There is nothing wrong with recommending that children read more books a year, there is a clear correlation between regular reading for pleasure and academic achievement, but setting a fixed target of 50 and then enforcing it is universally met is definitely counter-productive.

To demand a child read 50 books a year and expect literacy levels to magically improve by just reading them seems utterly preposterous. Where is the pleasure in that? It is not in the act of reading but in the fulfilment of a list like grocery shopping or filling out the census. Is the best part of reading really getting to the end? Reading is not something to do, it is an active form of being; ‘I am a reader’, ‘I read’. Saying ‘I do reading’ is like saying ‘I do breathing’ it just isn’t right.

Children don’t need another unrealistic standard to meet, there are enough of those already in schools, what they need is lots of choice made available to them and guidance in how to make those choices if they are not sure. That is why GIR works in schools. Making just one hour a week available to a child, be it 1:1 or in groups, gives them a chance to meet a dedicated reader and to share in the magic of a story. None of the children I have met in schools have been keen readers beforehand nor have they seen reading as a social activity or as an event outside of the classroom. Simply by reading aloud together, however, has changed their preconceptions of what it is to read. Over time each person, however reluctant or intimidated by reading prior to participating, has read aloud and found a story or poem that they have found relevant to them and enjoyable. From this starting point reading suddenly becomes fun and, without any hint of a list, we have read whole collections of short stories, mystery novels, Greek tragedies and Shakespearean sonnets. It is hard, of course it’s hard, but the achievement is not in the completion of a target, it is in the act of reading itself, sharing it as peers and coming to a personal and collective understanding of the piece. There is no element of competition in sight.

Teachers have commented throughout my time in schools that the behaviour, attitude and classroom attainment of the pupils involved has changed for the better and that all of a sudden quiet, reticent children are leading classroom discussions or are volunteering to read in class. Time and support are what is needed not lists and finishing lines.

As for the idea that children relish competition, when one boy in a group tried to instigate some, this is what one of the other members said: ‘It’s not about reading fast, it’s just about sharing the story and taking a turn. So what if I’m slow? I’ve had a go and enjoyed doing it and that’s what matters isn’t it?’

Sophie says:

In response to Colin’s point above, I would definitely agree that reading for pleasure in school should start right from the very beginning of a child’s education. Currently in Wirral, we are piloting a GIR project aimed specifically at children in F2, the first stage of primary education. These children are just beginning to read their first words, but it has not prevented anyone from enjoying the books we share when read aloud. In these primary schools, reading poetry aloud in small reading groups outside of the classroom is making reading a fun and exciting shared experience where the children are encouraged to respond to what they hear and relate the stories to their own ideas and feelings; ‘force feeding’ is well and truly banned! The informal, lively atmosphere has made the groups incredibly popular, and teachers have commented that in the children’s free play time, many have been having ‘pretend reading group’, taking turns to hold up the book and ‘read’ it to one another. Reading group is just as appealing to these youngest ever GIR recruits as playing football in the yard, and hopefully this positive relationship with literature at such an early age will support a lifetime love of reading.

Colin says:

That sounds fab. Children of that age love everything to do with stories and reading. The challenge seems to be to keep that momentum all the way through the primary years when so much else is crowding in on the curriculum. There’s more to reading than key stages! Have fun with GIR

R P Dutt says:

Sam West pointed out the emptiness of Gove’s idea at the great march yesterday: how can children even attempt to read fifty books a year, never mind whether such targets are a sensible way to promote reading, when the coalition is closing libraries? 600 branches are at threat.
If you can’t afford to buy books, forget it, is this government’s message to us.

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