Five Ways to Revolutionise Reading in Your School

18 October 2017
MA Creative Writing & Education

These suggestions are based on the points raised at the Reading Revolution Conference held at Goldsmiths, University of London on Saturday 23rd September 2017.

ONE: Encourage Reading for Pleasure

Read for the sake of reading. Read aloud, read in groups, read in pairs, read silently. Read poems, stories, articles, blogs, relevant social media and so forth to your students just for the sake of it; for the pleasure of reading so that students become aware that reading is a joyful activity in itself. There doesn’t have to be any purpose to it, other than reading. This was a point re-iterated again and again in the conference by the key note speakers: Professors Michael Rosen, Teresa Cremin, the children’s author SF Said as well as the workshop leaders.

Professor Cremin’s research states: “Teachers need to offer a coherent and creative literacy curriculum that develops children’s intrinsic motivation to read, creates an engaging physical and social environment for reading, provides pupil choice and encompasses diversity as well as focused instruction and tailored support.” (Cremin, T., 2007, p. 10) One the key ways that teachers foster this intrinsic motivation to read is to show students that reading is enjoyable as a process, and that it’s not a purely functional activity that enables you to get a good exam result. The Research Rich Pedagogies website, which Cremin is a key member of, is excellent on showing how this might be done within the existing rubric of the curriculum and why it is so important: I strongly urge you to sign up for the newsletter and keep in touch with the important research which is highlighted here. Michael Rosen has also written a 20-point plan to help children read for pleasure which can be read here.

TWO: Encourage collaborative reading

Many people have the idea that reading is a solitary activity to be done in silence. While there are times when reading silently is entirely appropriate, the speakers at the conference and many delegates pointed out that reading is primarily a social activity. Both Cremin and Rosen illustrated the crucial importance of teachers and pupils reading aloud in an expressive way. If they are not confident about doing this, time and consideration needs to be made to prepare entertaining readings. Teachers should model how to do this by demonstrating it themselves, and getting students to read to each other in small groups, paying close attention to what their pupils need to do to improve their reading aloud.

THREE: Let students choose their reading material

This was another huge issue that was raised in the conference. With the obvious caveats, all the speakers and most delegates were supportive of the idea that students should regularly be given the chance to choose what they wanted to read. Cremin was particularly passionate on the power of recommendation: she argued that teachers needed to read widely around the literature that is aimed at the age-group they teach. Her research shows that when teachers are given the time and resources to read relevant stories, poems, articles for their classes, they then share this enthusiasm with their pupils, who then want to read more adventurously. The important point was that teachers are not forcing students to read particular material, but are, instead, recommending relevant reading with genuine, informed enthusiasm. This is what gets students progressing in their reading. So, for example, if a student only wants to read simple football match reports, if a teacher is given a bit of time to read around this subject, they can then recommend more cognitively challenging material on football – of which there is plenty. This is how standards are raised. Compelling students to read material because they ‘must read’ can seriously backfire, leading to pupils being demotivated. SF Said was funny and poignant about this in his keynote, talking about how he loved to read Willard Price as a child, becoming addicted to WP’s high-octane, formulaic macho adventure stories. This habit led him to become an avid reader who recently re-read a Price novel only to find that it was, for him, very disappointing in its cliched plot and characters, full of troubling stereotypes. But, as he said, it was important that he was given the freedom to read the books because they contributed him discovering a love of reading. He now writes fantasy adventure stories for children, which, while very different from Price’s work, are informed by WP’s zest for narrative action. This story drew knowing nods and smiles from the audience because I think all of us have read books as children that now we might be a bit ashamed of reading!

FOUR: Create lovely reading environments

Teresa Cremin’s keynote showed pictures of schools, libraries and bookshops where reading was promoted in the physical environment; walls were festooned with colourful illustrations of books, collages, playful sculptures, cosy book corners and dens. She argued that if classrooms and libraries look very functional, then the reading that happens there is often limited in scope as well. We all have favourite places to read: in bed, on a comfy chair, on the beach, under a tree etc. Schools need to recognise this and consider how reading environments might be made more conducive to reading for pleasure.

FIVE: Find Creative Ways of Teaching Reading

All the speakers and workshop leaders at the conference urged teachers to research innovative ways of teaching reading; the conference closed with Michael Rosen talking to one of his post-graduate students on the MA in Children’s Literature, Ellen Beer, about her action research as a primary school teacher educating her young pupils to become confident readers. Ellen emphasised the importance of listening deeply to her pupils and responding to their needs. Michael reiterated a point that he has said many times: teachers need the time and space to reflect upon their own practice, making links with it and relevant research. The delegates responded very positively to the workshops on offer which highlighted different creative approaches to reading. My own workshop on Mindful Reading showed how mindfulness can help people read in a more joyful, relaxed fashion, but I did not get time to go on to explain about how it might be used within the classroom context. You can find the PowerPoint for the presentation here: The mindful Reading Revolution. Vicky Macleroy and Sara Hirsch showed their group how digital storytelling might foster a love of reading many different types of text; Vicky has spearheaded a fabulous and very well-respected research project for many years called Critical Connections; their website has a whole wealth of resources and videos, including some very moving accounts by children about their experiences as migrants, refugees and pupils in schools around the world. Maggie Pitfield and Theo Bryer lead a very popular workshop on using drama to revolutionise reading in schools; this workshop was all about the ways in which drama can bring reading alive through things like role-play, re-creating texts and improvisation. Dr Julia Hope discussed the ways in which refugee stories can act as a catalyst for learning and discussion in the classroom, drawing upon her work for her recently published book Children’s Literature for Refugees. Teresa Cremin in her talk also suggested many creative ways of teaching reading, including Reading Rivers, Close Your Eyes…Listen…Talk…Draw, Red Carpet Reading and lots of other amazing ideas, which can found on the Research Rich Pedagogies blog.

Further research

Michael Rosen’s blog contains a veritable cornucopia of articles, poems, polemics about reading, including this great blog post:

This Guardian talks about the author’s obsession with reading YA literature:

This report from the Reading Agency looks at the impact of reading for pleasure and empowerment:

What impact did the conference have?

Overall, 9 out of 10 delegates felt that the conference had a very high impact upon their practice as teachers.

Comments from delegates:

“I just want to go straight to the ‘Children’s Section’ in the library and spend my Saturday night reading! SO INSPIRED!!! Cannot wait to create ‘reading rivers’ with staff as well.

“A very thought-provoking day with lots of great and practical ideas to take away. Would definitely recommend, thank you!”

“Great day!”

“Wonderful and inspiring!”

“Fantastic to participate in a short mindfulness session and consider our experience in response to it.”

“Really enjoyed using drama with reading and would like further conference workshops on this!”

“Interesting to find out how many books there are now on refugees: I have an idea now to have a whole school project during Refugee Week.”

“Highly inspiring day, which will alter the way I approach reading with Year 10 and 11s, and the questions I ask.”

“The Digital Storytelling and Reading session was very interesting: the poetry techniques were amazing, I will definitely use these with trainees.”



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