Reading and writing, like everything else, improve with practice. And, of course, if there are no young readers and writers, there will shortly be no older ones. Literacy will be dead, and democracy — which many believe goes hand in hand with it — will be dead as well.” Margaret Attwood.
Unfortunately, national reading and literacy data for secondary students is troubling and this is something that every school is working hard to tackle. According to GL’s ‘Read All About It’ report (2020), 20% of all 15-year-olds have a reading age of 11 and below, and 10% a reading age of 9 and below. They also reported that, at age 15, only 53% of girls have a reading age of 15 and higher.
The National Literacy Trust reported that only 30.8% of children and young people read daily outside of the classroom, and a staggering 26.2% of students read once a month or less; that’s only 12 times across an entire year!
Though this is not a direct reflection of our school’s data, it is important that we do not dismiss these huge numbers. WKGS is working tirelessly to support our students, both academically and emotionally, on their secondary school journey and promoting reading is just one tool to help with this.
Personal benefits of reading:
“Reading is the sole means by which we slip, involuntarily, often helplessly, into another’s skin, another’s voice, another’s soul.” Joyce Carol Oates
Just as we see our curriculum as a 'window and a mirror'; reading, and discussion around reading, acts as a bridge to connect people and give them the opportunity to experience empathy and build understanding. Research from The Reading Agency (2018) found that reading books significantly reduces feelings of loneliness for people aged 18-64, highlighting the incredible way that reading can bring us together, even when our circumstances may keep us apart.
Mirroring this, lockdown research from The National Literacy Trust (2020) found that:
- During lockdown, 3 in 5 (59.3%) children and young people stated that reading makes them feel better.
- 3 in 10 (31.6%) said that reading helps them when they feel sad because they cannot see their family and friends.
- Reading is encouraging half of children (50.2%) to dream about the future.
During these difficult times, reading has clearly allowed young people to continue dreaming, exploring and connecting and we must work together to ensure this continues.
Academic benefits of reading:
“Given the importance of literacy to the whole school curriculum, it follows that those students who struggle with reading are at a significant disadvantage in every one of the GCSE examinations they take”. – GL, 2020
Unsurprisingly, reading fluency and comprehension skills are vital across education. In every subject, students will benefit from being able to read confidently and engage with class sources, and wider reading, to support their learning. GL’s report (2020) highlighted the correlation between good literacy and good student outcomes at GCSE. The subjects with the highest correlations were: English Language, geography, maths, history, combined science, English Literature, drama, citizenship, german. This huge range of subjects clearly indicates that, regardless of students’ favourite subjects or career goals, literacy is essential.
Data from the EEF (2017) similarly stated that ‘the strongest and most consistent predictor of pupils’ scientific attainment has undoubtedly been how literate they are’ and this is true is so many subjects.
We know that all of our students have incredible potential and great aspirations. It is our hope then, that students become more aware of the huge benefits, both academic and personal, that reading can have in helping them to perform highly in all areas of their lives.
So, what are we doing in school?
“Education is the process of preparing us for the big world and the big world has big words. The more big words I know, the better I will survive in it. Because there are hundreds of thousands of big words in English, I cannot learn them all. But this does not mean that I shouldn’t try to learn some.” David Crystal, ‘Words, Words, Words’
Across this academic year, we will be trialling a new reading scheme, specifically looking at utilising form times, to aid students’ metacognitive approach to reading. Our aim is for students to experience a range of texts, on a wide range of topics, and be able to apply appropriate strategies to help them comprehend, and enjoy, what they are reading.
The outline for this scheme, as shown on the poster, is simple. Firstly, before reading even begins, students have to consciously active their prior learning. By looking simply at the title, the author’s name, or any images, they need to generate ideas and start applying any wider knowledge to make logical inferences regarding what the text could be about.
Beyond this, they then need to identify language they are unfamiliar with and, again, actively work to find definitions and apply them in context.
Then, they should be asking themselves, or each other, questions to support their understanding. Asking themselves simple questions will ensure they are seeking information from the text, rather than simply accepting a surface level reading.
This scheme has initially been rolled out with Year 7 and 8 forms, but we will build this over the coming months to ensure all year groups, from 7-13, have the opportunity to explore these engaging texts, hone these metacognitive skills and become more intellectually confident.
What can you be doing at home?
“Reading is an exercise in empathy; an exercise in walking in someone else’s shoes for a while.” - Malorie Blackman
The greatest thing that parents and carers can be doing at home is promoting reading. The easiest way to do this is through modelling; simply settle down with a text and ‘get caught’ enjoying it! Students will benefit from seeing you reading, and enjoying, challenging texts. So, we urge you to allow yourself to be engrossed in a novel or even just your morning newspaper.
Beyond this, try and engage your children in discussion around texts; ask questions about what they understand, what they’re enjoying and if there is anything they are struggling to comprehend. If you aren’t sure how to broach these subjects, or what questions you should be asking, then maybe use Bloom’s Taxonomy sentence stems to direct you.
Finally, try to promote easily accessible reading resources. This can simply be by asking your children if they have been to the school library that week, encouraging them to ask Mrs Wright for a recommendation, or suggesting that they ‘book swap’ with another student. Similarly, most local libraries now also offer free online options through apps such as Libby or BorrowBox, which host a huge range of books, including audiobooks, for students to access on their devices.