Monday, 2 March 2020

Reading news – latest research and articles

IMG_0764Lots of valuable and interesting research about children’s and young people’s reading has been published in the last couple of months, and several useful articles. The run-up to World Book Day seems a good time for a round-up.

Depressing news first. A new study shows that children are reading less than ever before, and reading enjoyment is going down.

Several recent surveys focus on reading aloud, some looking at the home reading environment, others at reading aloud in school. ‘Reading aloud with your class – what does the research say?’ provides a useful overview, and introduces the new EEF Story Time Trial.

Research by publishers Egmont indicates that regular reading and listening to stories for pleasure improves reading comprehension in children by double the expected rate, and that comprehension falls without storytime.

A study by BookTrust reveals that more than a quarter of a million UK primary school children are experiencing literary poverty. 345,000 primary school children in the UK receive less than 15 minutes of shared reading a week. One in seven parents or carers never read their child a bedtime story.

In further disturbing news, it seems that formally taught phonics sessions are happening from the age of 2 in some early years settings. ‘We seem to be trying to run before we can walk.’

An interesting article in the School Library Journal looks at the evidence for levelled reading approaches, and finds them severely wanting. Tim Shanahan makes a strong case for children reading books at varying degrees of difficulty.

In ‘Testing takes the wonder out of reading’, Colin Harris laments the impact of testing and explores why schools need to promote reading for pleasure, for the sake of children’s wellbeing, knowledge, empathy and social skills. Testing turns reading ‘into a vehicle for comprehension, handwriting and grammar tests, at the expense of love, pleasure and enjoyment.’

A recent study shows that stereotypes about boys’ reading skills create a self-fulfilling prophecy of poor motivation and performance.

A study of students who sat GCSEs in 2018-19 found a significant correlation between students’ reading ability and their eventual performance across all GCSEs. Students who struggle with reading are at a major disadvantage in every subject.

New National Literacy Trust research shows that engagement with audiobooks can benefit children’s reading skills, comprehension and enjoyment, as well as their mental wellbeing and emotional intelligence.

There are lots of great ideas in this piece on creating a reading for pleasure culture in school.

‘Kids and authors alike love Instagram. Here’s how to leverage it to get kids reading’ explores the opportunities created by social media to excite young people about books and reading.

Families with children aged 5 and under are being encouraged to support children’s literacy and language skills from the home using six new apps.

After sharing several pieces of disheartening news here, it feels good to end with a very positive story about teenagers and reading.

Tuesday, 11 February 2020

Reading aloud – the benefits and importance of reading to children

me reading

I treasure this picture. It came in a thank you letter sent to me by a child in year 1 after I’d read with his class. (He wisely decided to depict just five of the thirty children.) I love it that the book I was reading was clearly so exciting that it made me levitate!

I’ve very much enjoyed giving courses for early years practitioners, family learning workers and library staff recently on effective reading aloud. What a joy to explore the importance of reading with children and to identify ways to make the experience as enjoyable and engaging as possible.

Jim Trelease, in his seminal work The Read-Aloud Handbook, says ‘People would stand in line for days and pay hundreds of dollars if there were a pill that could do everything for a child that reading aloud does.’ Why? What are the benefits of reading to and with children? These are some very cogent ones:

  • enjoyment – here’s Trelease again: ‘Every time we read to a child, we’re sending a ‘pleasure’ message to the child’s brain’, and what better reason for reading aloud could there be, plus we know that it’s the children who love books who become the ones who read the most, with knock-on effects for all their learning, and for their wellbeing.
  • speech and language development – children who are read to gain a feel for language and skills that aid their spoken communication.
  • vocabulary – great again in terms of oracy, and for literacy: the size of a child’s vocabulary in the early years, in particular their knowledge of unusual words, i.e. the types of words that are found in books but not often used in everyday language, is a good predictor of their reading ability at ten.
  • literacy skills and confidence – if children have been read to they understand how written language works, so much so that an American Academy of Pediatrics report says ‘Reading to babies and children helps immunise them against illiteracy.’
  • prediction skills – the books that we read with children often have pattern and predictability, and being able to work out what might happen next stands children in good stead when they are in the early stages of learning to read.
  • comprehension – the ability to understand is at least if not more important than the ability to decode, and being read to and having discussions about the text greatly improve comprehension skills.
  • wider learning – we know for example that children who have been read to tend to be better at maths, presumably because so many of the books we share in the early years have mathematical concepts such as size, shape, number.
  • knowledge of the wider world – there are so many things in books that children will never encounter in normal life.
  • imagination and creativity – early years practitioners tell me that they know which children have books shared with them at home because it shows in their artwork, in their play and in what they talk about.
  • brain development – in the words of children’s author and literacy expert Mem Fox ‘Reading aloud and talking about what we’re reading sharpens children’s brains.’
  • social and emotional development – the books we read with children help them understand themselves and others, building empathy, resilience and wellbeing.
  • concentration and listening skills – read books with children and you can almost see their attention spans grow.

Let me finish with Dr Seuss: ‘You’re never too old, too wacky, too wild, to pick up a book and read to a child.’

Monday, 27 January 2020

Children’s and young people’s reading – recent reports and research

IMG_3461The latest PISA report was published last month. These are some key national and international findings relating to reading:

  • The UK is now 13th in OECD in terms of 15 year-olds’ reading scores.
  • However pupils in all countries of the UK have more negative attitudes towards reading than the OECD average.
  • Less than 1 in 10 students in OECD countries is able to differentiate facts and opinions.
  • Girls significantly outperform boys in reading on average across OECD countries. The gender gap in the UK is less than the OECD average.

The World Bank and UN report that 90% of children in the world’s poorest countries cannot read a basic book by the age of 10 (whereas in rich countries only 9% cannot do so by the same age).

According to the International Literacy Association’s latest ‘What’s Hot in Literacy’ report the top five most critical issues in literacy education, as selected by respondents, are

  1. Building early literacy skills through a balanced approach that combines both foundational and language comprehension instruction
  2. Determining effective instructional strategies for struggling readers
  3. Increasing equity and opportunity for all learners
  4. Increasing professional learning and development opportunities for
    practicing educators
  5. Providing access to high-quality, diverse books and content

National Literacy Trust research shows that more than 380,000 children in the UK do not own a single book. It matters, because children who own books are six times more likely to read above the level expected for their age and nearly three times more likely to enjoy reading.

Children’s publisher Egmont has produced a paper on trends and challenges in reading for pleasure, based on extensive research. It identifies three key things that create an environment that discourages reading for pleasure:

  • School: the curriculum makes reading a subject to learn, not something to do for fun
  • Screens: increasing time on screen means less time for reading and other activities
  • Parents: lack of awareness that they need to read to their children beyond the point at which the child can read independently

The benefits of parents reading to children are of course well known. New research proves that children have sharper vocabulary skills by age 3 when parents read with them early on.

A recent study concludes that there is little or no evidence that teaching phonics improves reading.

Thursday, 5 December 2019

Bedtime reading

mso4E8BD

I felt very privileged to give training for the Children’s Sleep Charity recently. We explored the links between wellbeing, reading and bedtime stories and shared ideas for making reading a positive part of the bedtime routine and using books to promote relaxation and a good night’s sleep. The children and families the charity supports face huge issues as a result of the impact of lack of sleep. Preparing and delivering the training highlighted for me the amazing benefits that bedtime reading offers, and not just for families coping with sleeplessness.

So why is it valuable? Bedtime reading confers consistency, stability, reassurance, comfort. It strengthens family bonds. Books and reading aid children (and parents and carers) to unwind. Through bedtime reading children associate books and reading with calm, security, sleepiness. They develop positive feelings about reading, feelings that translate into wanting to read for themselves, before sleep and at other times, so bestowing all the advantages in terms of wellbeing and attainment that we know reading for pleasure affords. Books and reading can provide emotional support, reduce anxiety, develop self-esteem, build resilience, help children realise they are not alone and enhance empathy. Bedtime reading equips children to deal with emotional problems and provides a safe environment for discussing difficult things in their lives.

Yet it is happening less and less. I know how hard it is to fit it into busy lives, but even five or ten minutes is very special and beneficial. Many years ago a father sheepishly asked if I thought it was alright that his only opportunity to read with his daughter was when she was in the bath. I said then, and I think it still, that it was great that she and he had this lovely time together. But if bedtime reading happens, as it usually does, in the bedroom, it’s worth thinking about creating a cosy atmosphere: curtains down or blinds drawn, lights dimmed, soft toys to cuddle up to, a book or books chosen by the child or children. Not homework books – bedtime isn’t the time for homework reading. And printed books rather than electronic ones, as they’re more calming and better for sharing. With these things in place bedtime reading is the perfect way to end the day.

This is J.K. Rowling: “I will defend the importance of bedtime stories to my last gasp.” Me too.

Wednesday, 16 October 2019

Recent research and articles about children’s reading

book boat - St Andrews CE Primary Kettering

Many thanks to St Andrews CE Primary Kettering for permission to use this photo of their lovely book boats. Such a great idea, and perfect to illustrate my latest round-up of children’s reading news and articles.

Dawn Finch has written a valuable piece on the meaning and importance of reading for pleasure and ways to nurture it in libraries and schools.

Teacher Heather Wright suggest five ways to instil a love of reading in primary schools.

In another article she posits that reading for pleasure should be at the heart of the curriculum, and that quality books are a must, not a luxury.

‘Reading Corners: Effective?’ explores the value of reading corners in the context of creating a culture of reading.

A new study finds that a home environment that supports language development in early childhood predicts children’s readiness to learn in pre-school, which in turn predicts academic skills at 10-11.

Research suggests that language development in infancy is influenced differently by well-educated mothers and fathers, even though they read to their young toddlers in broadly similar ways.

‘Why Some People Become Lifelong Readers’, an article from the USA, suggests that much depends on how parents present the activity of reading to their children.

Recent research shows that targeted reading interventions in small groups can help to close the disadvantage gap for primary pupils, while whole-class approaches had little impact.

‘Children’s Reading With Digital Books: Past Moving Quickly to the Future’ is a useful survey of research on the topic, with suggestions for good practice.

An Australian article explores ways to get the most out of silent reading in schools.

The latest ‘Reflecting Realities’ survey into ethnic representation in UK children’s literature has been released, and it paints a depressing picture.

Jennifer Holder of Liverpool Learning Partnership has put together a useful padlet to support educators in exploring issues of diversity and inclusion in children’s and YA books.

Mat Tobin has produced some great tips on building a diverse and multicultural bookshelf and on becoming a ‘culturally responsive teacher’.