If we want almost all our children to leave primary school as readers, in the fullest sense, then it all comes down to three things we need to do. They are easier to write down than they are to achieve, but then that’s teaching for you.
We need to:
- Teach children how to read, fluently and with confidence. (The best way to achieve this is to follow with fidelity a high-quality reading programme, centred around systematic synthetic phonics, within a balanced overall approach.)
- Support and encourage children to read independently for information and, perhaps even more importantly, for pleasure. (This involves creating a reading environment and culture, ensuring children have access to an extensive range of appropriate, good quality books and providing plenty of opportunity to read them.)
- Frequently and regularly read aloud to children, and talk to them about, a wide range of high-quality books.
The third of these is a vital component of the process in that it hugely supports both of the first two.
- It plays a large part in creating a reading culture and demonstrating commitment to reading.
- It introduces and models access to an expanding range of exciting, engaging and stretching books.
- It develops vocabulary and comprehension.
- It develops sensibility to book-language, different writing styles and authorial voices.
- It provides your class with a common reading experience that can form the subject of talk, provide models and stimulus for writing, and illuminate other curriculum areas.
- It allows children to explore their own identity and that of others. It can open eyes to diversity and encourages empathy, understanding and inclusion.
- It can explore both personal and global issues at a level children may not be able to cope with in their own reading. It expands young minds.
At the heart of all of this, it is about sharing enthusiasm for books, providing enjoyment in and through stories and engendering a love of reading.
If we want children who not only can read, but do read, for pleasure as well as functionally, then reading books aloud to them is not an optional extra. It is an essential part of the core teaching of reading, which is itself central to other learning. It must have priority as a daily element of the primary curriculum alongside other core teaching. We owe it to our children to read to them. We owe it to our world and its future to read to our children. It is that important.
“Children’s books are not a hiding place, they are a seeking place.” (Author Katherine Rundell)
Author bio: Now retired, Gordon Askew was for many years a primary school teacher and later headteacher. After that he was a Primary Education Adviser, first for a Local Authority and then at national level. Read more from Gordon on his From the Story Chair blog at this link.