Category archives: reading promotion

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:

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.

Tuesday, 26 May 2020

10 day picture book challenge

picbks

I felt very honoured to be nominated to take part in the on–going ten day picture book challenge on Twitter. Thank you Sue McGonigle. It was incredibly hard to choose just ten books out the hundreds that I love. And formidably difficult to sum them up in only three words, a key aspect of the challenge. These are the glorious books that I eventually picked, and my descriptions of them (which I discovered are somewhat repetitive only as I put this together).

Day 1. The Extraordinary Gardener by Sam Boughton. Tate Publishing, 2018.
Nature – Optimism –  Community
Day 2. Tilly’s At Home Holiday by Gill Hibbs. Childs Play, 2014.
Affirmative – Inclusive – Hopeful
Day 3. You Choose by Nick Sharratt and Pippa Goodhart. Puffin, 2018. First published 2003.)
Interactive – Inclusive – Irresistible
Day 4. Through the Eyes of Me by Jon Roberts and Hannah Rounding. Graffeg, 2017.
Joyful – Affirmative – Autism
Day 5. 15 Things Not to Do with a Baby by Margaret McAllister and Holly Sterling. Frances Lincoln, 2015.
Funny – Subversive – Touching
Day 6. The Dark by Lemony Snicket and Jon Klassen. Orchard Books, 2013.
Beautiful – Sensitive – Reassuring
Day 7. Dog on a Train by Kate Prendergast. Old Barn Books, 2015.
Sensitive – Beautiful – Wordless
Day 8. Ernest by Catherine Rayner. Macmillan, 2019. (Originally published 2009.)
Very – Determined – Moose
Day 9. The Blue Balloon by Mick Inkpen. Hodder, 2019. (Originally published 1989.)
Balloon – Magic – Powers
Day 10. Mr Big by Ed Vere. Penguin Random House, 2008.
Loneliness – Music – Friendship

For those with access to Twitter, Jo Bowers has been collating contributors’ choices. Together they make a stunning roll-call of some of the very best picture books around. Every time I look I get delightful reminders of favourite titles, authors and illustrators, and inspiration for future book delving.

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.’

Wednesday, 10 July 2019

Summer 2019 children’s reading news update

Cowell's listCressida Cowell was pronounced Children’s Laureate this week. This is her very impressive and important charter – the perfect illustration for my latest children’s reading news update. (You may also like to see the ideas and tips of all her Laureate predecessors about how to children into bookworms.)

The latest National Literacy Trust report on children’s reading shows that reading enjoyment, reading engagement and levels of daily reading are all slightly down.

Recent research tells us that many parents are often too busy or tired to read their children a bedtime story and rely on technology instead, including Alexa.

Hungry Little Minds, which provides guidance on supporting babies’ and young children’s’ learning, including language and literacy, was launched this month

A recent speech to early years practitioners about Ofsted’s approach to the early years contained lots about supporting spoken language and reading.

It’s worth reading ‘Developing pupils’ vocabulary is about more than words’.

‘4 steps to ensure pupils read for pleasure’ has good ideas on helping primary children fall in love with books and reading. I would add using the library.

Teacher and reading champion Jon Biddle’s reading questions will be great for stimulating discussion in classrooms and libraries.

According to a study into what works best for struggling readers in elementary schools, whole class and whole school approaches and one-to-one tutoring are highly effective; technology-supported adaptive instruction is not.

New research suggests that reading aloud is one of the best things secondary English teachers can do to support comprehension and close the advantage gap.

The Education Endowment Federation has published new guidance to help secondary schools improve literacy in all subject areas.

‘Inference: why comprehension is not just about vocabulary and knowledge’ explores ways to teach comprehension skills such as inference.

For inspiration, look at Andy McNab’s recollections about his journey into reading. He was 16 and fresh out of juvenile detention when he read his first book.

Finally, ‘If kids can’t read what they want in the summer, when can they?’ makes a passionate and well-informed case for children to read what they like.