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

Monday, 19 April 2021

Children’s reading: latest news

Issy and Frankie

A new term, and a new round-up of news, research and articles on children’s reading. Many thanks to the kind librarian who sent me this wonderful photo of her book-loving children.

Very distressing news first: Covid may leave twelve million children globally unable to read, with girls particularly impacted.

Recently released PISA data demonstrates that students with a growth mindset score considerably higher in reading than students with a fixed mindset after accounting for the socio-economic profile of students and schools.

CLPE’s Reading for Pleasure 2021 report examines literacy teaching during the pandemic. The teachers surveyed worked hard to retain a reading for pleasure approach, but had big concerns about many children’s lack of access to books.

The ever-inspiring Marcus Rashford today launched a book club for disadvantaged children. He has teamed up with publishers MacMillan which will donate 50,000 books to be distributed in over 850 primary schools through the children’s food charity Magic Breakfast.

Waterstones Children’s Laureate Cressida Cowell, with the support of all her predecessor Laureates and the heads of virtually every reading-related organisation in England, has urged the Prime Minister to provide ring-fenced funds for school libraries to address the reading gap worsened by the pandemic.

I found ‘A reading curriculum: gap-widening vs gap-narrowing’ by teacher and writer David Didau thought-provoking and useful.

‘How children read differently from books vs screens’ also makes very interesting reading.

Finally, I loved ‘It takes a village to raise a reader’, a delightful piece about the power and influence of reading role models by Julia Marshall.

Wednesday, 17 March 2021

Children’s reading news, research, resources

A shelves

It’s a long time since my last blog on news from the world of children’s reading. These are some things that have particularly caught my attention.

Research by the World Book Day charity, which brings together the UK’s leading reading and educational charities, shows that children and parents embraced reading at the start of the pandemic, with major benefits in terms of wellbeing and development, although one year on reading has decreased slightly. Parents read more with children during lockdown and encouraged children to read more too. ‘Whilst engaging children with their online lessons often became a battleground for families, parents who read aloud to their children every day noticed an improvement in wellbeing, behaviour, family bonds and attainment with schoolwork (even when home educating).’ Young people said reading helped them relax and made them feel happy. Over 80% of teachers said they found ways of reading aloud to their classes during the pandemic because it provided an emotional support as well as developing literacy skills. A much less positive finding was that access to books remains a serious issue, particularly amongst disadvantaged children and families.

The headlines about the latest Childwise survey focused on the finding that 25% of children never read for pleasure. A different, and equally valid take is that 75% do. Reading for pleasure peaks at ages 9-10 apparently.

A report by the Education Endowment Foundation found that disadvantaged primary school pupils are seven months behind their peers in reading, although it urged caution over the findings.

Leading organisations and individuals in the fields of literacy, education and the arts have joined CLPE and Fair Education Alliance in a call for long term, sustained funding for rich literacy provision. ‘Catch up’ should not be limited to functional skills, they stress.

The National Literacy Trust report Seeing yourself in what you read: diversity and children and young people’s reading in 2020 found that nearly a third of 9-18 year-olds don’t see themselves in what they read, with a higher proportion among those from ethnic minority backgrounds. Almost 40% would like more books with characters like them. More children and young people who receive free school meals than those who don’t say that they don’t see themselves in what they read. The issue of representation was particularly salient for children and young people who describe their gender not as a boy or girl.

Early learning and child well-being : a study of five-year-olds in England, Estonia, and the United States contains lots relating to literacy including:

  • Emergent literacy correlates positively with emergent numeracy and also self-regulation skills, empathy and social behaviour.
  • Emergent literacy impacts on later school achievement.
  • In the early years, the most important components of emergent literacy are listening comprehension, vocabulary and phonological awareness.
  • What parents do is pivotal for their children’s development.
  • Girls do better in emergent literacy.
  • Children in England from families with a migrant background had lower emergent literacy scores than those from non-immigrant backgrounds, even after adjusting for socio-economic status and home language.
  • Children with learning difficulties and children with social, emotional or behavioural difficulties had lower mean scores in both emergent literacy than children without these difficulties, after accounting for SES.
  • The use of digital devices had little overall significant associations with children’s emergent literacy.

If you missed it at the time, my blog reflecting on a recent study on improving mathematics in early years and KS1 explores the value of using books to support teaching and learning across the curriculum.

Turn on the Subtitles is well worth a look. The research into the value of subtitles is compelling.

Finally, some recommendations for anyone interested in reading for pleasure:

Thursday, 4 February 2021

The value of books and reading for children’s mental health

children's mental health weekIt’s Children’s Mental Health Week. Sadly the impact of Covid has made the week more vital than ever before. It feels appropriate to explore the benefits books and reading can offer.

There is a proven correlation between reading, mental health and wellbeing. Here are some key research findings:

Books and reading can help children feel good about themselves. The finding that they can reduce stress is so pertinent right now. These views come from children of 7, 9, 12, and 15 years of age:

I love reading books. They cheer me up.

I read sometimes to get out of the real world or if I am unhappy.

I like reading books a lot. I can get away from reality for a while and enjoy myself.

Reading takes you away from real life for a bit. I just love it.

A survey carried out in the first lockdown found that audiobooks also support children’s wellbeing.

Books help children realise that they are not alone. These words from Frank Cottrell Boyce very much resonate with me:

A book is not a learning resource. It’s the knife that picks the lock of your isolation.

I concur with this too, from Emily Drabble of Booktrust:

Story characters can be models for your child, which can help foster coping skills and build confidence.

Children’s author Tom Perceval says this:

It’s important for children, and their parents, to be offered books that might help them navigate their emotional journeys.

I agree. Books are powerhouses of emotional support. They build resilience too.

I mentioned research about reading and empathy. Empathy impacts on well-being, and reading is a great way to strengthen it. Here is Malorie Blackman:

Books allow you to see the world through the eyes of others. Reading is an exercise in empathy; an exercise in walking in someone else’s shoes for a while.

This reflection comes from a child in year 5:

When I feel empathy in stories, I slow down; sometimes I stop and think so much more.

Books and reading develop children’s (and adults’) understanding of themselves, of others and of the world. Children’s author and ex-headteacher Bernard Ashley makes this point:

Books can answer questions we do not know we’re asking.

Books can challenge attitudes and change views. Author SF Said says this:

Children’s books can be bridges connecting people, showing them that however different someone else might be, the things which unite us are greater than those which divide us. And that difference can be a source of richness: something to be celebrated, not feared.

My final quote is from a child in key stage 2, in a review of Brightstorm by Vashti Hardy:

This book has inspired me to follow my dreams.

There is no doubt that books and reading aid children’s mental health. I will blog soon on the sorts of books that can make a difference to their wellbeing, and effective ways to use them. Meantime, I recommend these links, the last three particularly for school librarians:

Wednesday, 13 January 2021

The value of picture and story books for developing mathematical understanding and progress in the early years and key stage 1

IMG_5680These much-loved picture books first and foremost deliver joy of reading. And they do very much more besides, not least helping young children absorb concepts, including mathematical ones. They are just two out of hundreds of books I could have chosen that make notions like number, shape and size interesting, engaging, relatable and understandable.

This aspect of numerous picture and story books is surely the reason why study after study links books with mathematical progress. Decades ago Research into Bookstart, the book-gifting scheme, showed that when the first cohort of Bookstart children reached school age they were outperforming their peers, not only in language-based subjects, but also in mathematics, and that they stayed ahead as they got older. (We also know that reading for pleasure continues to aid mathematical progress in key stages 3 and 4.)

Late last year the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) produced a report on improving mathematics in early years and key stage 1. This is not something I would normally blog about, but it caught my eye because of its finding on the value and importance of using books to support mathematical teaching and learning: ‘The use of storybooks in mathematical teaching can have a large impact on young children’s attainment in this subject.’

Specific guidance includes this: ‘Mathematics can be explored through different contexts, including books, puzzles, songs, rhymes, puppet play and games. Using storybooks to teach mathematics can be particularly effective, through providing an opportunity for mathematical talk and questioning. Much of this evidence comes from studies where practitioners were explicitly supported in promoting mathematical discussion from the story, for example, by being provided with notecards displaying prompting questions and discussion points that they could use. Practitioners should therefore plan how they will use storybook resources to discuss mathematical concepts.’

The guidance document contains valuable ideas for developing mathematical talk using picture books. I was very pleased to find out about Maths through Stories, an extremely useful website which was new to me.

Wednesday, 9 December 2020

Supporting communication, language and literacy with children with English as an additional language in the early years #3

Tower Hamlets class visitMany thanks to Tower Hamlets Idea Store and Libraries for this lovely photo. The perfect illustration for the final blog in my series on communication and literacy with children with EAL, this one looking at stories, books and reading.

I want to start with story-telling and reading aloud, because their impact is so enormous. Please tell stories and read aloud as often as possible – one-to-one, with small groups and to the whole class. A brief explanation before sharing a book the first time will help children with EAL, and others too, so they have an idea of the context and of key vocabulary. The biggest focus though should be on making story and reading times special. Use lots of oral and facial expression, big body movements and different voices. Repeat books and stories as many times as the children want. They learn so much from repetition, and love it. Provide opportunities for children to join in. Use puppets and props. Leave the books and the props around for children to play with afterwards. Create activities that tie in with stories and books, not least artwork, role play and re-enacting books. All these strategies send strong messages that stories and books are fun. And all hugely aid vocabulary, comprehension and literacy skills.

As much as possible, share books and stories in children’s home languages, calling on the prowess of staff and parents and carers. They can record themselves at home if they feel unable or nervous to perform live.

Make sure there are literacy opportunities everywhere and all the time. Reading, mark-making and writing are mutually supportive. Book-making, including in children’s home languages and dual languages, scribing children’s words where necessary, is great for developing literacy skills.

It’s well worthwhile to embed books and reading and writing routinely and imaginatively in everyday activities and topic work. There are lots of literacy opportunities to be found with cooking and construction for example.

What sort of books help when sharing with children with EAL, and for them to read for themselves? Actually, the same range as for everyone. Every setting should have a good range of culturally appropriate books that authentically represent children’s experiences. All children need and deserve books in which they can find children like themselves. All need and deserve books that provide opportunities to learn about how other people live. (For more on this topic, see the article I wrote for the English Association ‘Using inclusive books in the early years and key stage 1 – why, what and how?’) We should scrupulously avoid and get rid of books that reinforce stereotypes. What else? Books with clear illustrations help understanding and provide respite from the hard work of reading. Wordless books enable children to formulate thoughts in their home languages and to behave as readers. Dual language books are extremely valuable. Books with rhyme, rhythm and repetition build enjoyment, involvement and skills. Books with predictable story patterns make reading easier.

Please make sure to have cosy and attractive reading areas. Children with EAL – indeed all children – will be more inclined towards books and reading if they feel comfortable and safe.

And what about when children with EAL start to read? A big focus on phonics, needless to say, is utterly crucial. Don’t forget that depending on what their home language is, children with EAL may have to learn new sounds and sound groupings, a new script or alphabet, new sound-symbol relationships. Remember too all the new grammatical structures and the huge amounts of new vocabulary they are coming to grips with. Pre-teaching vocabulary makes a big difference. And of course, lots of support, positive feedback and praise for language and literacy progress, so that children with EAL experience success, something everyone needs.

In fact, the more I reflect on what is good literacy practice for children with EAL, the more I realise that it is good literacy practice for every child.