In this, the last of the Reading in the Middle Years series of articles which has explored visual texts, fiction, non-fiction and poetry for 9-11 year-olds, the theme is inclusion. How do we ensure that all children have opportunities to access and enjoy this exciting range of reading texts? Kimberly Safford discusses.
In planning for reading in the middle years inclusion should be our first and guiding principle, because it is during this age phase that children’s reading often falls off. In upper primary classrooms, children become aware of their status as readers. Some children may reject any book that appears ‘babyish’ and want to be seen reading ‘hard’ books: I knew a boy in Year 5 (9-10 year-olds) who was unable to read Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings independently but who would bring it to school, pretend to read it in silent reading time and carry it around like a trophy. Children like this are at risk of becoming what Gemma Moss has called ‘can but don’t’ readers (1999); they are able to read but are not getting enough practice, and they begin to underachieve because their reading skills are not being honed – and neither is their enjoyment of reading.
There are other reasons why children may begin to see themselves as non-readers. In Key Stage 2 the demands of the reading curriculum and reading across the curriculum increase sharply. Some children may feel subtle pressure to ‘move on’ to chapter books when they would rather be exploring picture books; they may begin to see reading as a chore rather than a pleasure. There are children who may not be able to read confidently or fluently in English, although they are literate in other languages. Physical or cognitive special needs can impair children’s reading development, and this can make reading less enjoyable. There are children who may not find the type of reading they enjoy outside school in the classroom, like Denis in Year 6 who knows what he likes to read and complains bitterly about the lack of choice in school:
In our school library, we have only girls’ books and not much boys’ books. Even in our classroom we don’t have much boys’ books… It gets on our nerves, we don’t have anything to read. It gets really boring… Rainbow, fluffy kitty – stuff like that… At school you don’t get football magazines or the Beano. *
Inclusion means planning for individual reading journeys and a wide range of reading preferences and practices – not only what to read, but also how to read, and where and when. To consider what this might mean in and outside the classroom, there is no better starting point than Daniel Pennac’s manifesto on The Rights of the Reader.
The right not to read.
(What books do you like to read?)
None! I don’t like to read any books.
But children like this Year 5 boy, identified as ‘E.’, who claims never to read may in fact be reading, as he goes on to admit:
At home my mum and my sister read to me. I like that… I did like reading The Cat in the Hat… I like song-books… and poetry by Benjamin Zephaniah. He’s a black man like me.
Children like E. remind us that becoming a reader is about developing identity – connecting who you are with the words on the page – and about how home, community and family patterns of literacy influence a child’s reading development.
The latest international PIRLS survey (Twist et al. 2007) found that there are many other things children would rather do in their free time than read, such as watch television or movies, surf the web, chat online or play interactive games. Children may be reading entertainment and educational websites, authors’ webpages, art and design programmes and second life scenarios. So, ‘not reading’ may involve being visually literate, interpreting and responding to images, information and graphics. As well as digital and multimedia reading, children may well be fluent readers of lyrics, crosswords, quizzes, graphic novels, sport league tables, manga comics, almanacs and magazines.
The right to skip. The right not to finish. The right to dip in. The right to read anywhere.
To browse, to check out the blurb, to read a bit to see if a book is interesting, to look at the cover and the illustrations, to skim and scan – these are all important reading habits and part of how we develop tastes and preferences as readers. Ramee, in Year 6 (10-11 year-olds), enjoys going to his school’s lunchtime book ‘Swap Shop’, where he can exchange one book for another in an informal, friendly atmosphere:
In swap shop, you can take a biscuit and a drink, take a book and have a little flick through it. We have story time and picture books, teachers read to you. We like it. We was late for it this week and we went ‘Oh NOOOO!’ *
For readers like Ramee, the opportunity to ‘taste’ a book without committing himself to it is important – as is the opportunity to hear stories and browse picture books. Ramee prefers Swap Shop to the school library, and his comments help us consider how to create a variety of locations and times where children can access reading, and to reflect on where and when children are ‘allowed’ to read.
The right to read anything. The right to read it again.
If it’s an Argos book [catalogue], I look through it, read it. If I see something I like, I like reading the details about it… At home I read football magazines. My dad supports Arsenal so he reads everything about them. If you miss a match you can read it and find out. I like reading Horrid Henry, cos they’re really funny. *
Tyler in Year 6 is describing a wide range of reading that involves his family, his interests and very different genres. But out of his three stated reading choices, only one (Horrid Henry) would seem to have a secure place in the primary school. A child’s right to read anything means that we need to provide a very wide range of choices – including magazines, the Beano, newspapers and catalogues as well as fiction, non-fiction and poetry.
As children return to favourite texts they gain different meanings and perspectives each time they re-read. They build up their bank of known words which they can read ‘on sight’ and feel increasing confidence as readers, like the child in Year 3 who told me she was such a good reader of her favourite book that she offered to ‘read it with my eyes closed’. Through familiar favourites, children learn to read with enjoyment and with expression, and recursive reading can be a sign of deep engagement with a character or a story, of something which ‘rings true’ for the reader.
Returning to the same text may also, of course, indicate that a child may be unwilling to take risks with their reading, and we can encourage children to widen their repertoire by offering books by the same author or illustrator, books with similar settings, plots or characters, prequels, sequels and series.
The right to mistake a book for real life.
Opportunities to talk about their reading enable children to reflect on their understanding of both the text and the world. When children in Year 4 read the traditional tale The Seal Wife they immediately related the story of the seal woman who was captured for love but escapes back to the sea, leaving her fisherman husband and children on the land, to their own knowledge and experiences:
Kenneth: It was love at first sight but it was all in his head… It was weird and freaky when she takes the skin off and puts it on again. How did she do that? Wouldn’t she die or something?
Okieriete: My mum went to Ghana for a long time and even though she was gone she called me on the telephone all the time so I knew she always still loved me.
(Safford et al. 2004: 51)
Kenneth and Okieriete’s comments show how discussion can develop children’s capacities for reading comprehension, as they use their experiences to read between and beyond the lines.
The right to read out loud. The right to be quiet.
For children to be able to read with expression and understanding, they need to hear books read aloud and try out for themselves the infinitely varied voices, tones and meanings that texts offer. These oral experiences make silent reading ‘in your head’ much more pleasurable and meaningful. Opportunities for reading aloud and story time happen readily in the Early Years and in Key Stage 1, but for children in Key Stage 2 these can be infrequent experiences. When children are read aloud to, they gain knowledge about books and about literary language, and they can compare what they know about written texts to multimedia versions as Frankie in Year 2 (6-7 year-olds) explains:
She [the teacher] readed the hungry cat one [Six Dinner Sid], and Not Now Bernard, the one with Preston Pig, and the witch book (Winnie the Witch) with ‘the jet-black cat’! Yeah! … Then she buys other books, like Charlie and Lola, so you read them. She readed Cinderella – that has a happy ending. It’s like the movie ‘Enchanted’, where he sings! That’s a bit like the book. *
But contrast Frankie’s experience in the Infant school with what Denis in Year 6 has to say:
She [the teacher] don’t read often to us. Our old [infant] teachers read all the time. But now she hardly reads actually…. because of SATs…We liked it when she used to read aloud. You get into it. You can picture it in your head. You could relax and forget about work. *
Reading aloud to children includes all readers, regardless of their abilities and attainment levels; it enables children to access books and language which they could not read independently. It is a key approach to the teaching of reading in Key Stage 2 and the externalised model for how to read ‘in your head’. As the corollary to reading aloud, children need regular opportunities for sustained, uninterrupted quiet reading where they can lose themselves in a book and silently practise the rhythms and expressions of written language which they have heard read to them.
Pennac’s manifesto ends with a warning: Don’t make fun of people who don’t read or they never will. Including all children means planning for all kinds of texts, reading styles and preferences; it means understanding that for children reading should involve pleasure, play and talk – and providing such opportunities right the way through Key Stage 2.
* Interviews with Denis, Ramee, Tyler and Frankie are from the ongoing Teachers as Readers project in Barking and Dagenham (see Books for Keeps No 168, January 2008).
Kimberly Safford is a Senior Lecturer in English Education at Roehampton University and will soon relocate to the Open University.
You can download The Rights of the Reader poster from Walker Books ( www.walkerbooks.co.uk/Downloads/The-Rights-of-the-Reader-poster).
Bunting, J (2005) Making the Most of TA Talent in Primary English Vol 11 No 2 December 2005
Moss, G (1999) The Fact and Fiction project Southampton: University of Southampton School of Education
Safford, K et al. (2004 ) Boys on the Margin; promoting boys’ literacy learning at Key Stage 2 London: CLPE
Twist, L, Schagen, I and Hodgson, C (2007). Readers and Reading: the National Report for England 2006 (PIRLS: Progress in International Reading Literacy Study). Slough: NFER