The Art of Reading

Welcome to my first blog.  It is about reading.  Why?  Because reading as a child is my earliest and most vivid memory.   Reading was and still is very important to me. But from my experiences as a teacher and conversations with children I sadly find this is not always the case.  I wonder what the differences are between those children who are passionate about reading and those who are not who HAVE learned to read.  What must be put in place in homes and schools to ensure that all of our children are lifelong readers?

Being a young book lover wasn’t the easiest thing in the eighties.  I remember weekly visits to the town library with my mother to take out a maximum of only three books at a time.  I remember the bookshelf in my parents’ bedroom which I turned into a mini library.  I remember the book club leaflets which came out periodically from school; the books were so expensive and it was a real treat to be able to order one occasionally.  I remember feeling a mixture of happiness and sadness as I turned the last page of a fantastic read; happy that I had read such a wonderful story but sad that it had ended.  After all, I had read my three books and it was still two days until my next library visit.  I then discovered the joy of rereading a favourite book alongside anticipating new titles from well-loved authors.

Life took over as I entered adulthood and motherhood but I still found a little time to read; mostly in the bath or just before sleeping.  In my mid-twenties my passion was rekindled as I undertook an English Literature degree.  I read widely; Chaucer, Shakespeare, Morrison, Tennyson, Dalloway, Beckett, T. S. Eliot, Dickens, Yeats, Beecher Stowe, Du Bois, Cather, Capote and Dickinson.

Just over ten years later my reading is a mixture of fiction and educational related non-fiction.  I still love it.  I wonder why this is and why I loved it as a child.  My parents read but only in the evenings or in bed just before they fell asleep.  Yes, I went to a library every week but let’s remember that the internet did not exist.  It would have been a miracle to click on a book in Amazon only to have it delivered the very next day or even better, have it delivered directly to a kindle!  My parents’ bookshelf wasn’t particularly big and new books were bought infrequently.   I can remember reading regularly at school but didn’t everybody?   I ponder because it will help me to help the reluctant readers in my school.

It goes without saying that often we don’t like doing things that we can’t do.  So a struggling decoder is reluctant to pick up a book.  That we must rectify with a systematic, consistent phonics programme.  However, I remember that part of my enjoyment of reading came from decoding new words, from asking whoever was around “what does ‘voracious’ mean?”   Sometimes an ‘easy’ read was what I enjoyed, but quite often I wanted a more challenging book, with new words spelt in ways I had never seen before, different narrative viewpoints and exciting unknown words that conjured up a multitude of new images.   Sadly though, I have met children who CAN read but do not wish to.  It has been discussed relentlessly yet our children’s motivation for reading continues to fluctuate.  So, as teachers, how do we nurture a love of reading in our children?

Firstly, we must feel it ourselves.  Unless we feel the pleasure and meaning that reading gives us, we cannot bestow this gift onto our children.  Then, we must surround our children with books.  These should be books that children can decode that are most definitely interesting, emotive and thought provoking.   We should also surround them with challenging texts that can be shared with adults or older readers. We must give time.  In schools, quiet reading should form a part of every day in all age groups and time spent discussing book choices is invaluable.  Which themes do your children enjoy?  Which stories will grab their curiosity?  And alongside this guidance, we must also give them the chance to make a choice to select a book that they really want to read.   We must read TO our children throughout their school years.   They are never too old to hear a story.  We must teach through stories at all ages and use them as a context for learning and a link to different issues.  We should hold book clubs that are truly fun and interesting for the children.   We should make sure that school funds stretch to financing visits from authors.  We must introduce and encourage our children to read all manner of texts. We must link field trips to texts read.  We must reinforce that it is okay if we find a book a little tricky.  We must tell our children how reading helps us in so many ways: how to communicate, how to write, how a book becomes part of our experiences.  We must emphasise how reading is key to all manner of professions.  We must enter children’s minds from different angles regarding reading; the reluctant reader may find that they have an interest in the origin of words.  The story snubber may fall in love with poetry.

We must relentlessly push to reach our children’s parents and explain the simple conditions that they can put in place to allow their children to experience the massive, life changing benefits that the enjoyment of reading brings.   We must insist that our parents enrol their children at the local library and visit frequently.   We should also insist that the IPad purchased to play games can also be used as a kindle.  We must explain that parents are ‘reading models’ day in, day out for their children.  We must hold workshops and show our parents how to read with expression and which questions to ask their children about what they have just heard.

Not all of the above were part of my school education although I do remember being fortunate enough to be taught by booklovers and having access to a range of books.   I remember that we read frequently in school and heard a story every single day.  And my home life?  Maybe I didn’t often have new books but my library visits went a long way to leading me into different worlds.  My ‘treat’ each week was a comic from the newsagents so I did experience new reading material on a regular basis.  I watched my parents read from such a young age that it would have seemed strange for them to not read.  And every time I asked what a word meant, they always took the time to answer me, or we would look it up in the dictionary together.  They did not mind that their bookshelf now contained books I had catalogued for my ‘library’.  And they certainly did not dissuade me when I picked up difficult books to try.   It would therefore seem that the fundamental love of reading can actually be obtained quite simply.   There is no excuse.  As educators we must get the message across.

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