2 Balancing RfP with reading instruction
It represents a genuine challenge to balance nurturing the will and the skill to read, to raise educational attainment and to create engaged communities of readers. In accountability cultures, the backwash of assessment places pressure on teachers, reducing the time available to support RfP. This often constrains the experience of struggling or less engaged readers, particularly boys (Hempel Jorgensen et al., 2018). Early phonics instruction and the development of children’s comprehension are essential elements of quality provision, but your reading curriculum also needs to encompass dedicated time to foster RfP.
The reading instruction and Reading for Pleasure agendas are not, however, incompatible. Far from it, they are complementary and both require careful planning to ensure a rich reading curriculum.
High-quality phonics teaching involves a structured, systematic approach that is consistently applied. High-quality comprehension teaching involves instruction in the use of a range of strategies so that children have the skills and the knowledge of how to apply them independently. The RfP agenda is more open and less structured than the reading instruction agenda, but it is no less rigorous. When undertaken seriously, responsibly and with strong staff knowledge, a rich pedagogy and sustained commitment over time, children will reap the benefits.
Activity 1 Overcoming challenges to developing a Reading for Pleasure culture
Make a bullet point list of the key challenges you have encountered and that your school faces in fostering a rich RfP culture and ethos.
Next, listen to Shahed Ahmed, executive head teacher of four schools in Multi Academy Trust in Newham London, reflect on the need to retain a balance between the will and the skill and how he achieves this in his school. As you listen, make a note of the key strategies Shahed has put in place to develop a Reading for Pleasure culture, and in particular his attention to sustaining a focus on children’s choice-led reading.
While the goal of reading instruction is for each child to achieve the ‘expected’ standard set by policy makers, the goal of RfP is not only for each child to develop positive attitudes and dispositions towards reading, but for them to become lifelong readers. There is no need to polarise these agendas, but it is vital that headteachers, like Shahed, and classroom teachers recognise their significantly different orientations, the interplay between the skill and the will, and the necessity of working towards a balance between them. In order to assess the efficacy of your finely tuned balance, it is important to monitor and track the impact and influence of your reading curriculum on young readers.
If your goal is to ensure that you develop children who not only can but choose to read, widely and frequently, then addressing the challenges of leadership, staff knowledge of texts and readers, funding and ensuring quality book provision in attractive library spaces are all essential. It is also crucial to allocate ample time for this.
With a clear understanding of the educational and wider social and emotional value of recreational reading, you will want to design your curriculum accordingly and allocate space within the timetable to all four strands of RfP pedagogy as discussed in Session 5. Timetabled spaces can be called: Reading Aloud, Drop Everything and Read (DEAR time), Book Blether, or Relaxed Reading time. But, avoid naming them as ‘Reading for Pleasure’, as this tends to ‘require’ pleasure and suggests this will only occur at that time. In working to create a rich reading ethos and culture across the school, you will find space and time in assemblies, on the playground, in the corridors, in the library and so on where Reading for Pleasure and being a reader can be shared and celebrated.