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Encouraging Reading for Pleasure at KS3 and Beyond

Hannah Grace

By Hannah Grace, Curriculum Leader KS3 English and Teachers’ Reading Group Leader

The Benefits of the Teachers’ Reading Challenge

We know from the research that in order to encourage volitional reading in young people, teachers need an in-depth and consistently developing knowledge of Children’s Literature. The Teachers’ Reading Challenge provides us all with that opportunity through access to a wide range of recommended reads and, in itself, develops a reading community for practitioners to build their own ‘books in common’ (Cremin et al., 2014). Moreover, we know from working with young people that having a ‘challenge’ to work towards is motivating and encouraging; the reading challenge provides an incentive to prioritise reading for pleasure in our busy lives and explore new texts that we can then use to inspire our young readers!

Putting learning into practice

Sharing my voracious love of reading and helping my students to find the books underpins everything I do in school. Since becoming involved in the OU/UKLA research as the TRG (Teachers’ Reading Group) leader for Halesowen three years ago, I have transformed my pedagogical approach to reading for pleasure, shifting away from silent reading spaces where students are expected to read novels prescribed by age-related expectations, towards chatty and social reading spaces where all texts are valued and my students can form their own reading identities. I read children’s literature and actively seek out diverse and engaging texts I can then pass on. This has been massively supported by my involvement in the UKLA Book Award which has enabled me to read and share even more books at school – I would highly recommend teachers and departments joining the UKLA to participate in this as well as dip into their fantastic book lists and resources to widen staff knowledge further. In school, I chat to as many students as I can about what I and they are reading and openly share recommendations they might like. I also model and encourage lots of book chat in reading lessons, be that through ‘big up your book’, book-tasting a new selection or drawing and discussing our favourite spaces to read. For our hardest to reach readers, I try to find ways in; taking them to explore the library one-to-one, sourcing them a book on a hobby they enjoy or reading to them!

In my lessons, I try to read picture fiction regularly to my Key Stage 3 classes and fervently attest to the impact of this model of shared reading and the book talk as vital to maintaining interest in reading as children grow older as well as their essential empathy, compassion and self-reflection. This was shown recently when I shared The Invisible by Tom Percival with a Year 7 group! I aim to find connected poems, non-fiction and stories that tie into different areas of the curriculum – framed with affective questions, not comprehension tasks – which might spark an interest and encourage them to go and read more. For example, I read Amanda Addison and Manuela Adriani’s Boundless Sky or Every Child a Song by Nicola Davies at a pertinent moment during our Year 7 class novel study of Where the River Runs Gold by Sita Brahmachari to illuminate the themes of migration and human rights and further encourage the students to develop empathy-driven connections to the messages of the novel.

Why we need to promote RfP at secondary school

When I started teaching, like many secondary colleagues, I presumed that because children can read, they will but I swiftly began to recognise that “learning to read is only half the story” (Clements, 2018)! With the competing demands of technology, homework and the evident peer pressure that surrounds being seen ‘as a reader’, it is no surprise that volitional reading drops dramatically year on year from age 11 (Egmont, 2018). As children move up the school, the focus also shifts from reading to pleasure, to purely reading for purpose and we often forget to make time for affective, personal engagement with texts in our classrooms. Yet the research tells us that reading for pleasure has untold academic and personal benefits, improving attainment across the curriculum as well as improving self-esteem and mental health (OECD, 2013, Clark and Teravainen-Goff, 2018) so we clearly need to prioritise it.

What works well

  • Make the reading of and discussion of Children’s Literature a priority in your departments and across the school. Knowledge really is power: if staff are reading books, sharing their recommendations and in turn reading books recommended to them, you stand a good chance of developing plenty of books in common and a reading community that will flourish!
  • Invest in a rich school library and champion the incredible work of school librarians and learn from them! I am lucky enough to work alongside a wonderful Librarian who works tirelessly to open up the reading experience for all our students and teaches me lots too!
  • Ensure your reading offer is diverse and inclusive so books really can be the ‘mirrors, windows and sliding glass doors’ that students need (Rudine Simms-Bishop, 1990). Educate yourself on diversity in literature through research such as that completed by CLPE and Penguin Lit in Colour to ensure the books you have available for students truly reflect your community and those beyond the school doors.
  • Value the reading agency of students – let them read what they want, not what you believe they should read, For some this might be a supermarket food magazine, a comic, or the Guinness Book of Records. Ask them why this appeals, what they like, how reading it makes them feel and go from there…
  • Engage your ‘can but don’t readers’ with a conversation about their interests outside of school then find them a book about this.
  • Talk about books and reading all the time in a passionate and genuine way – promote what you are reading (ask who wants it next – they will be a list – and follow up when they finish), display your current read on your classroom door/wall/ email signature, read a weekly poem. Talk about books you didn’t enjoy as well as those you did and how sometimes it is okay to judge a book by its cover, to read sitting on the floor, to read the end first or to give up on a book that isn’t hooking you in.

Five varied book recommendations for Key Stage 3 Students

A banner showing Hannah Graces' book recommendations: October, October, The Clockwork Crow, When Stars are Scattered, Black and British, and Cane Warriors

October, October by Katya Balen

ISBN: 9781526601933

The Clockwork Crow by Catherine Fisher

ISBN: 9781910080849

When Stars are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed

ISBN: 9780571363858

Black and British, An Illustrated History by David Olusoga (author), Jake Alexander (illustrator), Melleny Taylor (illustrator)

ISBN: 9781529052954

Cane Warriors by Alex Wheatle (13+)

ISBN: 9781839131127

Reference List

Bishop, R. S. (1990). Mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors. Perspectives, 6(3)

Clark, C. with Teravainen-Goff, A. (2018). Mental wellbeing, reading and writing: How children and young people’s mental wellbeing is related to their reading and writing experiences. London: National Literacy Trust.

Clements. J, (2018) Teaching English by the Book: Putting Literature at the Heart of the Primary Curriculum. London: Routledge.

CLPE Reflecting Realities

Cremin, T. (2014). Building communities of engaged readers. London: Routledge.

Egmont (2018) Children’s Reading for Pleasure: trends and challenges.

Penguin Lit in Colour research, resources and booklists