Adam Lancaster, Librarian and former Assistant Headteacher at Monk's Walk School, Hertfordshire, discusses how to improve literacy rates. This article was first published in Academy Today on 29 March 2018.
Every school has its own unique set of objectives, challenges and goals, but one thing they all have in common is the desire to make sure their pupils fulfil their potential, whatever shape that may take. At the heart of all learning is solid literacy – being able to read is the foundation on which success in almost every area of the curriculum is built.
Some people speculate that the digital world we now find ourselves living in limits the opportunities for children to read as they spend so much time playing games or chatting to friends online. However, I’ve found the opposite to be true. For example, when it comes to reluctant readers, using ebooks as an intervention can make all the difference.
To begin with, this can pique the interest of a young person who might see books as boring, irrelevant and antiquated. Weaker readers, who could otherwise be turned off by how many more pages there are left to go, feel less intimidated by the length of a book – because, of course, all ebooks are exactly the same size as the device you are reading on.
Children don’t have to worry about any overwhelmingly wordy double page spreads, either. With an ebook, there are far fewer words to worry about in the immediate future, and the text size can easily be zoomed up. This helps when a child’s eyes aren’t focusing and stops them flitting around to that scary word three lines down that is unknown, long and potentially difficult to decode. For the weakest readers, you can also hear and see the words at the same time, which builds vocabulary and confidence in equal measures.
Harnessing the positive association so many children have with technology can also help in other ways, too. With ‘Impact Through Reading’, which works with a child’s interests, ability and attitude to reading, the initial survey that children take is online, which means they are engaged from the off. As part of the Reading Cloud in schools, which is by definition online, the whole look and feel is appealing, and designed to encourage children to spend time deciding which of the recommended books would suit them best.
This personalisation also breaks down that immediate barrier of ‘I don’t know where to start!’. By tying the list into our resources, we never have that horrible moment of recommending a book that you know a child would love, only to discover it isn’t stocked in the library, which is a lost opportunity to engage. Pupils can also have an app on their phone, so they can log in any time and from anywhere, and see their profile, reserve books, write reviews or just check what is in stock.
It’s crucial that we don’t lose sight that literacy is a skill forever, not just for school. Reading for pleasure builds empathy, broadens minds and can be hugely inspiring at all ages – it is the gift that keeps on giving. From a practical point of view, as educators we want to ensure our students are able to find meaningful work in the future, and that they have plenty of opportunities open to them. Many of those doors will remain closed if reading is a struggle rather than a joy.
So, using technology can really help put the focus on enjoyment, which is key to breaking a cycle of negativity about reading. My experience has been that frequency, intensity and complexity of reading will all take care of themselves if we start by getting the fun bit right for our students.