Encouraging Home Reading
There’s such a huge disparity in almost every class when it comes to how much reading children do at home; largely down to parental attitude. Phoebe Doyle suggests specific strategies to employ to support getting more parents on board with reading at home.
It can be a frustrating feeling; you’re slogging your heart out, desperately trying to make headway with a child’s reading, but it can feel like you’re swimming against a pretty strong tide when zilch in the way of reading is done at home. Further exasperation is felt as you acknowledge what an enormous difference it can make when reading is encouraged at home; remember children are only with us in school for a mere 20% of their time; it’s parents who are the principal educators.
Former Children’s Laureate Michael Rosen is certain that a key to school achievement in every part of education is a home with books in it, he says; “With books in the home, parents and children end up sharing and talking about what's in the books which takes them effortlessly into what is in a way a kind of school environment of the best kind: talking and thinking about 'texts'. Without knowing it children are doing what a lot of school is about - reading, comparing, extracting, creating categories and the like.”
One problem with insisting on books in the home is cost. Books are vastly expensive, and for families struggling to get by spending £6 on a book understandably will not be top on their list of priorities. Michael believes that (whilst we still have them!) libraries should be taken full advantage of. Schools can help by applying for library cards as soon as a child joins the school.
Professionals working with children need recognise that we’re comparatively pretty confident when it comes to reading. There aren’t many jobs where you have to read aloud each day to 30 other people; adding expression, modelling technique and generally going for it!
Many adults, and perhaps this includes some of the parents at your school, feel terribly anxious when it comes to the written word. It’s vital not to build on this and make it worse, fuelling their apprehension further. This may be due to their own (less desirable) experiences at school which resulted in them being unable to read sufficiently. They could have Dyslexia that until the last decade or so often went un-recognised. It’s reasonable to assume too that they may have been raised in a home where books and reading weren’t prioritised; as teachers we can help to break that particular cycle by encouraging a wide selection of books to go home, so as to normalise their presence in the house.
Some schools have taken to running adult literacy classes that, whilst helping with reading per se furthermore allow the opportunity for parents to see that they’re not alone in the challenges they face. If organising this proves too difficult many colleges offer something similar so it’s worth finding out about these, perhaps giving leaflets out too, or simply adding details to a newsletter. It’s crucial not to patronise or criticise, but instead aim to create a community enthused to learn to read in order to experience the wonder of books.
Practical Suggestions To Boost Home Reading
Reading Trophies – children that have been reading lots (or perhaps more than they used to) get the chance to take home a special ‘reading trophy’ for one week; it can be awarded during assembly. This can work through ‘pester power’ as children will be desperate to win and therefore eager to do more reading at home.
Don’t stick to Schemes – one potential pitfall of reading schemes is that they give the idea that ‘learning to read’ has to be done with a particular kind of book. Try sending home other books too, to ensure parents are aware that all books are valuable learning materials.
Have a Book Stall – as new books can be so massively expensive consider having a book stall, say once a term. Children can bring in their old books to sell in the week leading up to it, staff can price them, and children and parents get to browse and buy at the stall. Profits raised can be specifically used for buying new books for school.
Get them in – getting parents into the school community is good practise. As their own literacy education may have not been inspirational or even adequate, give them a second chance by being involved in the motivational education their children enjoy. If you have a story-teller coming to school, or perhaps a ‘book day’ where children dress up as a favourite character, encourage parents to come and enjoy the fun!
Educate Parents – make sure parents are aware of what constitutes reading. Send a letter home explaining that reading at home doesn’t mean sticking to school ‘reading books’. Anything the child is eager to read should be encouraged; be that a comic, some non-fiction material – whatever!
Send Home Review Sheets – encourage parents to decide with the child what they think of the book. This will instantly result in them conversing over what has just been read. It will hopefully mean that instead of a child simply being ‘heard to read’ which may involve them ‘barking’ the text then off to bed, they will stop and think about plot, character and whether they actually liked it! Again, don’t let parents feel that their literacy skills are being scrutinised – keep them simple and even offer multiple choice responses if you feel it may be helpful.
Praise, praise and more praise – teachers, perhaps more than any other profession, are aware of the power of praise. It’s weight does not only hold true for children, so employ it when corresponding with parents too. For instance, in their reading diary you may write; “great so much reading happening at home, it’s really making all the difference!”
Teachers need to be especially perceptive, sensitive and sympathetic when it comes to parental reluctance to read to and with their child at home. There can be all manner of reasons for their disinclination and the solution is to reassure and encourage and never criticise or condemn. The overall aim should be to create a mini-community that yearns for books, has opinions on them, and generally gets excited about the written word.
Michael Rosen has created a 20 point scheme to encourage home and school reading, one version of which can be found at www.readingrevolution.co.uk . But Michael insists; “Even this isn’t the whole story though; I feel that fundamentally schools must do all they can to engage a group of parents to take a leading role in coming up with schemes and ideas to get all parents, especially those who find the world of books intimidating or off-putting, into borrowing books from libraries, and simply having them around the place to look at, read together and chat about.”
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