Category archives: children’s and young people’s reading

Wednesday, 21 October 2020

Supporting communication, language and literacy with children with English as an additional language in the early years #1

Pol17I took this lovely photo at a meeting of a Polish under 5s group in Enfield. It was a snowy day, hence the snowman book. As well as books, there were songs, rhymes, discussion and activities in a seamless meld of Polish and English. The children – far more than just the four here – were enthralled. So were the adults.

I was delighted to give a webinar for Liverpool early years practitioners last week on current thinking and advice relating to children with English as an additional language (EAL), and inclusive strategies and resources for developing communication and reading. In this first of a series of blogs I’m concentrating on the benefits of bilingualism, the importance of supporting children’s home languages, what children have to learn to become proficient in a new language, and official guidance on supporting children with EAL in the early years.

For many years now it has been recognised that bilingualism is an asset and should be valued as a positive skill. Bilingualism not only aids the learning of English and other languages. More broadly it develops concentration, cognition and memory as well as empathy, self-confidence, self-esteem and wellbeing.

We know it is vital to support children’s home languages at home and in settings. The EYFS Statutory Framework and the EYFS Reforms Early Adopter Framework contain identical guidance: ‘Providers must take reasonable steps to provide opportunities for children to develop and use their home language in play and learning, supporting their language development at home.’

‘Children will learn English from a strong foundation in their home language’ in the words of the new Development Matters. Both the original Development Matters and the new version are adamant about the importance of encouraging families to use their home language.

‘Talk to parents about what language they speak at home, try and learn a few key words and celebrate multilingualism in your setting’ says the  new document. It is worth unpicking and adding to this sentence. It’s crucial to spend time with parents and carers finding out about children’s abilities and experiences in their home languages. Crucial too to ensure children can hear and use their home languages in settings. Bilingual staff should be valued and involved. Children with the same home language should be enabled to play and talk together.

It’s invaluable to learn a few key words in children’s home languages: hello, goodbye, toilet for instance. Everyone should respect children’s home languages. How important it is to pronounce children’s names correctly.

None of these are new ideas and recommendations. They are all emphasised in the original Development Matters too.

In terms of celebrating multilingualism, the environment should visibly reflect and value cultural and linguistic diversity. This is often taken to mean settings should have lots of notices in a range of languages and scripts, but inclusive play equipment, displays and books send out stronger messages to young children.

As the following list makes clear, there are many things children with EAL may have to contend with in order to learn a new language. (This comes from a valuable overview and checklist by my Early Education colleague Julie Cigman.)

  • a new set of sounds and sound groupings
  • new intonation patterns
  • a new script or alphabet
  • a new set of sound-symbol relationships
  • new vocabulary
  • new grammar
  • new non-verbal signals
  • new rules about social conventions and language
  • an ability to relate to people and express feelings and emotions in a new language

It’s important to make no assumptions. All children learn differently and the rate of language acquisition is very variable. Understanding is likely to be well in advance of spoken language for most children learning English as an additional language. Many go through a silent phase, and for some this may last months. It’s crucial not to pressurise children to talk before they are ready to.

I will blog soon about more ways to support spoken English, vital for all aspects of communication and literacy, as well as self-confidence and wellbeing.

Thursday, 3 September 2020

Children’s reading news

reading books

My last round-up of research and articles about children’s and young people’s reading was in early March, before lockdown hit. This latest one – illustrated with some of my favourite contemporary and classic books about children’s reading – includes a number of reports about its impact, as well as several other interesting and valuable studies.

Research by Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) reveals that England’s nine and 10-year-olds are bucking international trends by showing an increasingly positive attitude to reading.

The latest annual survey of children’s reading by the National Literacy Trust has less positive findings. Children and young people’s levels of reading enjoyment continue to decrease. Just over half say they enjoy reading, the lowest level since 2013. Children and young people’s daily reading levels are the lowest ever recorded since the survey started in 2005. The gap between girls’ and boys’ engagement in reading is large. A third of children and young people cannot find things to read that interest them. As the report makes clear, these things matter. Children and young people who enjoy reading are three times more likely to read above the level expected for their age than those who don’t, and children who read daily in their free time are twice as likely to read above the level expected for their age than those who don’t.

According to ‘Children and young people’s reading in 2020 before and during the COVID-19 lockdown’ children’s reading enjoyment has increased during lockdown, as has the amount they are reading. Fiction has been particularly popular. Children have reported that reading has supported their mental wellbeing. On the downside, the gap between girls’ and boys’ reading has widened, and for some children and young people the lack of access to books has negatively affected their ability and motivation to read.

NLT research published in July indicates that children have listened to audio books more during lockdown, and that this too has been beneficial in terms of mental wellbeing and interest in reading.

Dr Carina Spaulding of The Reading Agency explores the benefits of family reading in and out of lockdown in a blog for DCMS.

New research tells us that video games help literacy skills in boys and reluctant readers. Video games were also found to be effective at engaging reluctant readers with stories, boosting writing and communication, and supporting mental health during lockdown.

Interesting and useful evidence has been published about the value of watching television with subtitles for children’s reading skills. Subtitles aid vocabulary development, decoding, comprehension and reading fluency. They are immensely beneficial to children who are deaf or have hearing loss. They improve the literacy skills of children who are economically disadvantaged, those who are struggling with reading, and minority language speakers.

A recent study demonstrates that pupils eligible for free school meals are more likely to use the school library daily than their peers who are not eligible. For many, it is a safe haven. Pupils who receive free school meals and use their school library enjoy reading and writing more, read and write for pleasure more, have greater confidence in their reading and writing abilities and engage with a greater diversity of reading material and writing than those who are eligible for FSM but do not use the library.

Finally, the NLT has published an interesting report on the effectiveness of place-based, cross-sector programmes and campaigns in improving outcomes for children.

Thursday, 21 May 2020

Picture books about flowers and gardening and their value for children’s wellbeing

gdnThe beneficial impact of books and reading on children’s mental health is well established. National Literacy Trust research tells us that children who are engaged with reading and writing are three times more likely to have high mental wellbeing than children who aren’t. Books are great stress reducers. The arrival recently of two beautiful new picture books that highlight the nurturing qualities of plants and gardening has led me to ponder the role of such books in terms of children’s wellbeing, a matter of huge concern in these very difficult times. Many commentators have noted how especially valuable gardens, plants and flowers have been to mental health during lockdown. Flowers and gardening symbolise hope, and what could be more important right now? So for Mental Health Awareness Week, here are my recommendations of picture books that explore the healing power of flowers and gardens, and that offer positivity and optimism.

  • Mrs Noah’s Garden by Jackie Morris and James Mayhew, Otter Barry Books, 2020 (there are activities related to this)
  • Bloom by Anne Booth and Robyn Wilson-Owen, Tiny Owl, 2020
  • The Extraordinary Gardener by Sam Boughton, Tate Publishing, 2018
  • Errol’s Garden by Gillian Hibbs, Childs Play, 2018
  • The Garden of Hope by Isabel Otter and Katie Rewse, Caterpillar Books, 2018
  • Sidewalk Flowers by Jonarno Lawson and Sydney Smith, 2015
  • The Promise by Nicola Davies and Laura Carlin, Walker Books, 2013
  • The Flower by John Light and Lisa Evans, Child’s Play, 2007

Wednesday, 29 April 2020

What remote story times have taught me

remote story books

There is nothing to beat the delights of sharing books with a child or children right there with you. I blogged recently about the multiple benefits of reading aloud. Sadly, in these days of lockdown, for the moment many of us are having to resort to remote story times. I certainly miss the physical connection, but I’ve also realised that doing storytelling via video link has been a valuable learning opportunity for me. I’ve been observing what works well, and what less so, and I’m sure this will inform my post-lockdown practice.

It’s been fascinating to find out what sorts of book best suit remote book sharing. (Anyone sharing books on a public platform, do make sure to check out copyright issues through the publishers’ websites.) The photo shows some that I’ve found to go down particularly well with a toddler audience. A good many tried and tested old favourites here, as well as several delightful newer titles. All the books are engaging and visually attractive. All offer lots to discuss. Several have flaps. Video storytelling has served as a useful reminder to me that the more we build anticipation the more we increase involvement and pleasure. Flap books work so well because of the excitement we can develop in advance of the big reveal. But novelty-free books also provide plenty of potential for enjoyable speculation about what’s going to happen next.

It is perhaps an obvious point, but it’s certainly worth remembering that clarity of illustration is crucial. Any illustration that is difficult to understand will be even harder for a child to grasp when it can only be seen on a device. I’ve discovered that it’s vital to hold each page up close to the camera, and to give enough time for it to be taken in . At times it’s helpful to bring particular details into focus.

What else makes a difference? Whole-hearted involvement from a parent or carer at the receiving end has a massive positive impact in terms of children’s focus and fun. Props propsat either end can provide extra stimulation and aid comprehension, soft toy animals, for example. Again, we need to position them carefully so they can be seen easily at the other end. I haven’t tried dressing up, but I’m sure it would be a big hit. In the absence of physical nearness, body language takes on particular importance. I’ve realised the value of using lots of expression. Different voices for different characters greatly bolster enjoyment, engagement and understanding. Rhymes that tie in with the books we are sharing help break things up and provide opportunities for movement and interaction. If I’ve just shared a book with transport in it, we might do ‘the wheels on the bus’, for instance. ‘Twinkle twinkle little star’, perhaps with a torch to provide added twinkle, is great before or after any book featuring starry skies.

One of the keys to success, as with all book sharing, is that we love what we are reading. Our enthusiasm transmits. Keying into our audience’s personal interests and passions, whatever they may be, is also very worthwhile, as is including some of their favourite books in each session. Young children love repetition and need it for learning. I have rediscovered that when using a book children have not come across before, I usually need to read it at least twice before moving on to to something else. If the child or children have copies at their end of the books we read, that offers something extra. They can have the physical pleasure and interactivity of turning the pages at the same time as enjoying listening, sometimes looking up at the book and the reader on screen. Even very young children seem to adapt easily to this different way to sharing.

There’s something else I’ve learnt, or rather re-learnt. It’s far better to keep story times short and sweet than to keep going if a child has lost interest. Everyone’s attention spans are limited right now.

I can’t wait to get back to the particular pleasures of reading up close, but in the meantime video story times are very special.

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.