Martin Galway is an English Teaching and Learning Adviser at Herts for Learning

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Right then, where were we? In the last blog I hopefully established that reading aloud to children is a very good thing.  But what if you still haven’t managed to persuade the right people that it deserves its place in the primary classroom?  Read on to further reinforce your case…

The Primary Curriculum (2014) not only gives you licence to provide great reading aloud opportunities, it makes them a statutory requirement.

References to reading aloud are sprinkled liberally across the programmes of study (POS).  It starts in the introduction to the year 1 POS, where children “need to hear, share and discuss a wide range of high-quality books…” and continues with the statutory teaching requirement to “ Listen to and discuss a wide range of poems, stories and non-fiction at a level beyond that which they can read independently.”  This carries on as an evolutionary process across the years as, all being well, the children develop fluency and the reading bug, until we hit the POS for years 5 and  6.  At this point, the statutory requirements for comprehension describe the behaviours of an independent and willing reader yet still, in the non-statutory  guidance, we see the following caveat: “Even though pupils can now read independently, reading aloud to them should include whole books so that they meet books and authors they might not choose to read themselves.”  Stepping away from the formal instructions of the reading requirements set out here, the curriculum allows itself a giddy slip away from the curricular speak to share this gem in the general introduction to the Primary English POS:

 

Reading…feeds pupils’ imagination and opens up a treasure house of wonder and joy for curious young minds.

 [ National Curriculum Document 2014, Language and Literacy]

There’s your licence. Take it. Run with it.  Just do your best to take your pupils with you.

 

 So reading aloud is something that not only might we want to do, we have to. Once again, going back to the very opening of the English section of the Primary curriculum and we are swiftly met with this pretty bold statement: “Schools should do everything to promote wider reading.”

Schools should do everything?

Well, yes we absolutely want our children reading and we may well dress up a bit funny for World Book Day or dangle in a volcano for an “Extreme Reading ” photo opportunity, but doing everything is perhaps too broad or vague a remit, and we do have to draw some boundaries around that one.  If nothing else, it suggests a lack of design in addressing this critical aspect of what we do and all too often the cry of  “We’ve tried everything !” is rightly followed with “Ah now, that may well be the problem.” Nonetheless, frequent reading to your class should certainly form part of this drive.  If you’re given to thinking story time is a  lesser academic pursuit,  and not a priority,  try to think of reading aloud as just another form of modelling, of reading skills but perhaps more importantly of reading habits. We want children to appreciate that reading can be relaxing, scary, funny, and can turn the screw on a range of other emotions.  How can children be realistically asked to write for specific effect if all too-often they are not necessarily aware of how they should react to what they hear or read?  You only have to share an especially sad story with your class to see who is and who isn’t feeling the character’s pain.

 

All well and good, but… there’s no doubt that some obstacles can get in the way.  These obstacles can be overcome with a determined approach and the right support around you.  Some of the pitfalls are discussed below:

 

It is very difficult to find enough time for a worthwhile reading session

This is something that has to be looked at a whole school level. Scheduling will need to fit in with the policies and procedures of the school, but it is also important to have some agreement around the level of commitment to the reading for pleasure agenda.  Coming to a whole school agreement will also allow for a creative and flexible approach to addressing this issue:  reading weeks with guest readers; flexibility around guided reading sessions (could a given number of sessions at specified intervals be given over to reading aloud? Just think of it – an uninterrupted period of reading to the children  – whole chapters at a time.  Mmmmm).  The curriculum also allows you greater freedoms around text types to have a Take One Book  unit that is driven by a book that you love and will love to share.  (this earlier blog has some lovely ideas for just such a unit). Remember, too, that reading aloud will occur during shared reading, particularly in phase one of the teaching sequence, at points in guided reading, and during some assemblies.

 

I tried reading aloud but they just cannot cope with sitting and listening…are too immature…are not interested.. etc.

This most likely refers to reading aloud from a book on the carpet (or outdoors hopefully, when the weather’s on our side). It can be hugely frustrating and distracting when we have a frantic wriggler in our midst or an uproar over whose fingers touched whose knee.  It can also feel like a judgement on our delivery of the book.  It mustn’t. They’re children. You’re the boss. In this instance you certainly know what’s best for them.  And it’s giving them space.  And a bit of time.  First of all, make sure that they know to, and are able to, get comfortable.  Explain that you want them to relax and take in the story; to give it a try.  The more forceful or restrictive we are around books, the more likely they are to run for the hills from them (Daniel Pennac’s The Rights of the Reader remains the last word on this aspect of reading provision).  If a child cannot sit and attend when they can be reasonably expected to, and given that we have played fair and been upfront with the children in our expectations, have them sit away from the group but within earshot and certainly in plain sight of you.  They might doodle – I like to doodle when I listen –  but they should not engage in anything likely to distract the group.In most cases, the magic of the text and the responses of the children will prove irresistible and a slow shuffle back into the group is likely to occur.

 I don’t feel confident in reading aloud/ it’s an area I wish to develop.

You might want to head to memfox.com for some read aloud commandments.  Mem is a well-regarded authority on reading aloud and a published author (her Possum Magic and Koala Lou have been read aloud favourites with some of my former pupils).  It is so important to choose a text that you love, that you know you can bring to life.  Keep your audience in mind, but remember, some revered children’s books make surprisingly dull read alouds.  Try a chapter out loud and see what you think.   Recording yourself in action can be very helpful (and you might be pleasantly surprised at some of the clever, unplanned ways in which you manage the reading behaviour of your group without losing the thread of your reading performance).

 

Reading aloud to a group of children is one of the most immediately gratifying things you can do as a teacher. You most likely deserve to enjoy something that is immediately gratifying and that reaffirms the true purpose of what we do, day in day out.  Best of all, it’s good for them when it’s handled well.  You only have to experience the shared delight of a full-on reading of Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus to a nursery class, or a year one class, or a year 6 class, or even your colleagues at a twilight session on reading to know the truth of this.  If you really go for it, and I mean wild-eyed pigeony abandon, it works like a charm every time.  Maybe then the book bug, the infection of Red Boots On, might spread that little bit further.