Reading improves children’s cognitive skills and enhances their comprehension, critical thinking, creativity, and vocabulary. Reading helps children develop empathy and understanding for people from different backgrounds and cultures, creates an emotional connection to stories, and promotes wellbeing.
As a teacher, you will be promoting a reading-rich learning experience and giving children the opportunity to access quality texts to generate excitement in the classroom. But what about the children that don’t want to read, aren’t caught up in the book buzz and zone out during the class read? They may be thinking “I don’t like reading. Books are boring. I can’t read. I don’t want to read.”
This is the script for too many children. Failing and falling behind drives home the message that reading is not for them, and it becomes more and more difficult to make up that ever-growing gap between them and their peers. The door isn’t just closed, it’s repeatedly slammed as they fail more and more tests and see their reader friends pick up and chat about books that are beyond them.
But it doesn’t have to be like this. We’ve pulled together our top tips to help rewrite this script.
1. One-to-one time
Spending time reading one-to-one with children away from the classroom can be a huge help. They may be used to coming out of the classroom in small groups for different interventions, but having someone who is going to be there every week to support them with their reading, who is interested in getting to know them, who remembers what they are good at and what they are interested in: It’s their time!
As a child settles down to share books and material that they will enjoy, the pressure is off! There’s no expectation that they will have to read aloud; it’s no longer about them carrying out what has been described as “the tedious work of decoding”. It’s about sharing the pleasure of a story, about new facts, funny poems, pictures and illustrations. It’s safe; the learning relationship that develops between the adult and child gives them the confidence to say what they think and feel about a book. There are no wrong answers – how can you be “wrong” about what you feel?
2. Read aloud
Reading aloud to the child allows them to understand and enjoy the books and material they are sharing and learn all sorts of new words and language. It can be anything. If a child is interested in, for example, dogs, then find stories about dogs, books about how to look after dogs, books about different breeds of dogs, leaflets from the vet about medicines for dogs, and even newspaper articles about dogs in the news who have rescued people or won Best In Show.
They may want to know more about space and the planets. They may want to hear about Tom Gates whose life in school could be very familiar to them, or about someone whose life is very different from their own, either in fiction or non-fiction.
3. Provide choice
Children sometimes believe that they are only supposed to be reading the books with ‘yellow stickers on them’ (as part of their accelerated reading scheme) or only books from a certain box. But with a one-to-one reading helper, they can be reassured that they can read whatever they like. Their reading helper can bring books to the session that will feed the child’s interests, curiosity and imagination or they can explore the whole of the library themselves until they find something that appeals. With individual attention, sharing a variety of books together and discovering new genres, reading, at last, begins to be something that really is for them.
4. Use digital resources
One-on-one reading sessions are crucial, but we appreciate that TA time is tight and not all schools will have access to reading helpers. To enhance primary learners’ reading beyond these sessions, and through the school holidays, you can explore interactive resources, like Pearson’s Interactive Library.
Combining these approaches can significantly support a child who has found it hard to engage with books. One-on-one time away from a busy classroom - where they can often feel lost - gives them time to be themselves. Conversations where they are really listened to - where their opinions and thoughts matter - build huge amounts of confidence. Providing a choice of reading resources means that the children begin to approach their sessions with real excitement, keen to see what is on offer and trusting that there will be books there to enjoy and using digital resources to help support children in their time away from school or for those who might not have access to one-on-one sessions helps maintain progress and engrain a love of reading.
These processes help open the door to reading for disengaged children. They go back to the classroom refreshed and confident, armed with the will to keep going on that path to valuing reading and all it has to offer. They are, in other words, becoming a reader.
Amy Lewis is Head of Coram Beanstalk, a national children's reading charity established in 1973, supporting children to become confident, independent readers. The charity recruits, trains and supports volunteers to become Coram Beanstalk reading helpers. For further information on how to become a Coram Beanstalk partner school or reading helper, visit their website.
Amy says: "Pearson’s Primary Interactive Library provides digital interactive resources to support primary school learners in enhancing their reading, phonics, spelling, and evaluating skills. Through phonic exercises, spelling games, interactive storybooks, vocabulary-building activities, and tools for evaluating reading progress, it helps make the reading journey more engaging and enjoyable for every child."