Improving Literacy

How do you encourage reluctant readers to want to read? I’ve been thinking about this question a lot recently. I know reluctant readers, I’ve met them on author visits to schools and some reviewers have said that my story, St Viper’s School for Super Villains, is a good book for them. But what actually makes a good book for a reluctant reader? Is there a list of gold star stories which will help them to find a love of reading and what advice is available for parents who are struggling with this issue?
I’ve been talking to teachers, librarians and parents about the topic and reviewing the literature. I was lucky enough to visit Stuart Boydell and his wonderful Year 2 class in 2012. He is such a great teacher! I’m very happy to be able to share with you my second guest blog, by Stuart, on improving literacy.

Improving literacy and nurturing an enjoyment of reading has been the aim of successive government policies for decades. The media is peppered with reports on international league tables and school SATS results with depressing statistics about the nation’s reading levels. In this atmosphere we are constantly being reminded that we need to all be doing more and more to help our children get on in an ever-changing world where communication is central to everything they will be doing in the future.

Understandably, there is a growing sense of urgency to see our children learning to read at an ever younger age. For some children, however, reading is a chore and holds little enjoyment. These children are increasingly being labelled as “reluctant readers”. I am sure we all know a child who somebody has labelled as a “reluctant reader”. Yet, I wonder how many of us have actually ever stopped to unpick the term? To be reluctant means to be hesitant, or uncertain. Uncertainty often develops from a lack of confidence or experience. If a child is reluctant to read, it is incumbent upon the child’s teachers and parents to try to ascertain what it is about reading that makes them reluctant. Unfortunately, there is no magic formula. Helping our children to develop a love for reading takes a lot of time, a lot of patience and a huge dollop of encouragement. But, there are a few things we can all do that will encourage greater levels of engagement with books.

For many children, particularly boys, once they have learnt all the myriad skills needed to decode words accurately, it can be a lack of interest, motivation or stamina to read for prolonged periods of time that is holding them back from progressing in their reading. It certainly means reading novels and longer stories will be a huge challenge. Often, however, this is compensated for by an interest in non-fiction books which is, after all, still reading and a core component of school literacy. There will be, of course, a minority of children for whom even non-fiction books will present them with difficulties. But I am sure I won’t be risking my professionalism to be fairly sure that these children will happily read the many instructions and rules needed to understand how to download music or get to the next level of whatever digital game they are playing, Oh and scanning the TV guide looking for their favourite shows. The opportunities for reading go beyond fiction and books!

In an ideal world, we all want children to love story books and ultimately novels. Stories are how they make sense of the world around them and how they play out many of the ideas, wants and frustrations that occupy their minds. Consequently, publishers have been addressing the need to get more children involved in fiction for the last few years. There is a plethora of new and excellent authors out there tackling these issues with strong storylines, but often using language to describe plots and themes which appeal to today’s children.

Increasingly, children are enjoying stories that have strong, feisty characters and a huge amount of humour – think Jack Splat or Jack Stalwart. A simple search on the internet or a quick chat with your child’s teacher will point you in the right direction. I have yet to meet a child who doesn’t love Horrid Henry or Mr Stink. Check out the “Out of this World” series from Scholastic Books. There is a growing trend to produce illustrated books that mix animation with real-life images, which seem to really appeal to children. The texts can be a bit limited, but they are fictionalised stories and short enough to give some children the sense of achievement that they have just read a whole book.

The motivation and stamina to read longer texts is undoubtedly a bit of an uphill challenge for some – but it isn’t an insurmountable challenge. The best way to develop these skills, like all skills, is to develop it slowly over time. You can’t run the Bath half-marathon if you haven’t got out there and built up your stamina! Most children will have an area or topic of interest that you can tap into. Tap in sensitively and discreetly! Try to avoid the temptation to have an ‘action plan’ of how to maximise reading potential from your child’s interests – it is amazing how quickly they will change their interests! Work with them, taking the lead from them, as much as you can. Talk to them when their interests appear on TV or in articles in the press or magazines (shared reading is a common practice in schools and is a lovely way for parents to engage with their children). It is always worth remembering that there is nothing wrong in sharing the task of reading a book.

In short, don’t be unduly alarmed if your child seems to only be interested in short, sharp bite-sized reading material like non-fiction books or comics. These texts still require children to use many of the skills needed to be competent readers. Small, easily-digestible reading chunks are often enough for some children. As their interest grows so too will their desire to read more. And, with carefully chosen fiction that taps into their interests, they will soon be mixing their reading between fact and fiction in the much the same ways as we do.

To get yourself started check your local library and book stores for any reading competitions and lists of latest quality fiction out there or pop in to see your child’s teacher and find out what reading materials the schools use to engage the children. There are plenty of reading and writing competitions on-line that taps into all manner of subjects. Grab a cup of coffee and trawl through the different websites. Check out the World Book Day website as well as the ReadZone pages.

Stuart Boydell

King Edwards School, Bath

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1 Comment

Filed under Children's Publishing, Guest Blogs, Literacy, Parents and Teachers

One response to “Improving Literacy

  1. Pingback: Removing the Barriers to Reading | electrik inc

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