I recently read this article which discusses the importance of speaking to children and how reading aloud can have massive benefits to literacy development.
I find it sad but not shocking to read the statistics that parents on benefits speak on average 621 words per hour to their children, compared with the 2150 per hour spoken by ‘professional’ parents. The vast majority of our pupils come from homes where the main income is benefits and our catchment areas are amongst the poorest in the whole country. Often parents struggle with their own literacy so their children never had the advantage of being read to.
This is where libraries are so important, particularly in communities and especially in primary schools. Speaking to our new year seven pupils it is evident that lots of their primary schools either had no library, or had a library but no librarian. With the pressures put on teachers across the age ranges to achieve this level or that level and the government’s obsession with everyone getting a grade C in everything, there is little wonder that reading aloud for pleasure is dying a quiet death in the classroom.
And yet the benefits are enormous. Children are able to hear in context words that they would not be able to read themselves. Conversations are sparked, imaginations are ignited; all of which have positive effects on achievement in literacy.
Our pupils at secondary level still love to be read to but there is little to no chance for this to happen. We have reading initiatives and hopefully Accelerated Reader will help raise reading levels across the board, but this takes time. It would seem yet more pupils are doomed into attempting to read exam questions with a reading difficulty of 16+ years when the pupils themselves may only have reading ages of seven years.
So what’s the solution? Everything goes back to the parents: You can have the most impoverished background imaginable, but if parents know how to read and can access a library then children can become fluent readers. It would seem that the answer is to keep public libraries open, rather than closing them; increase the availability of adult literacy classes – perhaps making them more informal: coffee mornings and the like, so that parents are actually able to read to their children. Getting children into libraries and around books should be a huge priority for the education secretary.
How can we help in the school library? By the time we receive pupils here they are 11 years old and many have been turned off reading many years ago. Our job is to find some way to make books accessible, interesting and to speak passionately about books and literature to as many pupils as we can. It is definitely what I hope to do this year and further on in my career.