Anyone who is trying to ‘improve’ reading in their schools knows that the first step is in creating a reading culture. It has to permeate through everything you do. Yes, some strategies are – according to research – known to have an impact (e.g. adults reading challenging texts to children) but it is the combination of a range of strategies that give reading that heightened sense of importance.
Now, I’m just a classroom teacher so I can only talk about the culture within my classroom because I am not responsible beyond that but reading permeates through all of my work.
Obviously our curriculum, as English teachers, is centered around reading texts- both great literature and an increasing amount of phenomenal non-fiction. It is our bread and butter although I’ll leave the definition of ‘great’ for another day.
However, building a great reading culture goes beyond the curriculum.
Most importantly, I think, pupils need to see that we, as teachers, are readers and love it. I do this in two ways.
A simple strategy is that what I am reading appears on the first slide to every lesson, next to my retrieval questions. This absolutely initiates discussion. When it popped up that I was reading Ready Player One, so many of my pupils asked me what I thought of it, told me it was an excellent read and then, of course, naturally talked to me about the film (which I plan to watch this weekend). Not only does it front reading as important and central to what I do but it helpfully initiates interesting and engaging discussions with my pupils as well.
Alongside this, I have my own Miss Odell is currently reading (or should read ‘Has read’) board. This board tracks my reading. I have read four books since Sep so I print the front cover of each book and then attach a star grading out of 5. Again, this draws attention to my reading and the pace of my reading as well. Interestingly, many pupils have asked me why I have given certain gradings – Miss, you gave Michelle Obama’s ‘Becoming’ 5/5 – was it really that good? Miss, why did you only give ‘Brightstorm’ 3.5/5? which I think is a really useful discussion around what makes great reading.
(at the start of the year! Now with four and star ratings)
However, if I am reading, and sharing my reading, then my pupils are certainly going to join me and share their reading too.
Firstly, I begin every year with my reading journal. On the front of the reading journal is my Challenge 40. I challenge all of my pupils to read 40 books in one academic year. Setting a challenge, a goal is really important as it does help to motivate pupils. Now, of course, many respond cautiously (and are a bit nervous) and tell me they won’t be able to read 40. But reading 40 books isn’t really the point – not for me, anyway. The point is that they have a challenge to motivate and inspire them, which they do get on board with. They even find that they surprise themselves!
(Copy of reading journal Reading journal 2021-2022 )
Pupils complete the interest survey and the reading attitude survey in the reading journal and then log their reading. The reading reviews are not onerous. I actually think that is the worst thing we can do – attach tasks to reading because then it makes the actual reading seem more laborious than it really is. I liken this to how I track my reading on Good reads – a quick star rating, dates read and tick to say I’m done. I don’t want to do much more and neither do they. But the reading journal does help them keep track of what they’ve read and how well they are doing towards meeting the Challenge 40 target.
However, if we want to create that reading culture then sharing our reading or making our reading public is absolutely key. Everyone of my pupils in KS3 has a ‘I am currently reading’ poster. It’s A5 and super simple (nicked from the internet, in fact). Pupils literally use this to track their reading. They grab a post it note from me and jot down the title and author of the book every time they finish a read. Now this works a treat because it gives me a really quick visual to see who in my class is reading and who isn’t so that I can praise and also have those follow up intervention conversations. But it also motivates pupils when they see that others are reading as well because it normalises it as a habit. I am not going to lie – knowing that I’ve set this challenge to my pupils and it’s publicly on display has absolutely motivated me to read in what I consider to be a low reading year) and I am currently storming through books as a result.
And yet, whilst it gives me the ability to visually track quickly, we can’t quite make out what books are on the post-it note so I also have a Padlet. I created a Padlet simply entitled ‘What am I reading?’ Pupils post onto the Padlet as well – a picture of the book cover, a short summary / review in terms of why they are recommending and a star grading. This means we have the most gorgeous collection of recommended reading books. I have attached a praise point to each review posted but again this is motivating for some and, anything that motivates reading is fine by me.
Then for every unit I teach, I now also have linked reading. Year 7 this term are studying mythology so I have collated an anthology of myths. Year 8 are studying Blood Brothers so I have assigned Our Day Out as their linked read. I’ve actually learnt that creating an anthology works better because of the second padlet I have created specifically for the linked reading. Every time one of my year 7 completes a linked read from the anthology, they post a summary / review of their reading and receive an epraise point for their efforts. This has been super popular. The texts are fairly short to read, they get a small reward and I have my pupils reading more widely around the topic being studied.
And finally, with a greater focus on comprehension, we use Readtheory – a fantastic free programme to aid pupils’ with their comprehension and understanding. Initially, it ascertains pupils’ reading levels (although American grade equivalent) which is super useful and then afterwards provides a range of quizzes for pupils to complete. Each week, my pupils must complete a minimum of three quizzes. You then, as teacher, get feedback on whether these quizzes are an improvement on their baseline assessment. In terms of teacher time, the investment is low. I award epraise points for the pupils who complete the most quizzes at or above their baseline assessment level so that there is a focus on continual improvement. Pupils love the top 3 announcement each week – they, again, think they are winning re. praise points but for me, they are practising comprehension and developing their reading skillset. (Commonlit for the older year groups also is a very good free programme).
So, there you have it, five simple strategies that are helping to make reading absolutely central to everything we do and improve the reading culture within my classroom:
- On my initial slide
- I am currently reading posters
- The use of padlet
- Linked reading