While most know it as ‘DEAR time’, I would be inclined to refer to this Literacy initiative as Role Modelling Reading. Though the focus is on the students reading, my belief is that it is what the adults around them are doing that will really make DEAR time effectual.
It was during my role as Literacy Coordinator that a colleague first suggested DEAR time. The premise of DEAR is to ‘literally’ drop everything and read for pleasure at a designated time for 20 minutes. The repetition of DEAR across a school week would ensure that students were practicing the important reading skills needed for their education but were doing that through reading something of their own choosing. At that time, I had already spent a large amount of my budget on other initiatives so the fact that this was free was instantly appealing. Aside from that, I was struck by what I perceived to be an opportunity to involve the entire school in reading. In my launch of the initiative, I was adamant that it was not just a time for students to read and adults (both teaching and non-teaching) to catch up on emails but that they too should be reading.
I initially met with the SLT to outline the premise of DEAR. The first most important issue at this stage was when DEAR time would occur. After numerous discussions, it was decided that the practical subject P.E and subjects on short rotations such as C.D.T and Home Economics, would be avoided. Across the 5 days, 2 sessions would be tutor group sessions and the other 3 would come from the curriculum. The DEAR timetable would be changed every half term to ensure that the same subjects were not ‘hit’ too often.
The second concern related to which students would undertake DEAR time. There was a feeling from many that Year 11 should not be involved in the initiative as they could not afford to lose curriculum time. As such, Only Years 7-10 were involved in DEAR.
Once the timetable had been agreed upon for the first half term, it was time to launch the initiative with staff. I had already informally discussed the initiative with some staff and was broadly met with support. There were some concerns about student engagement. Most felt that students would forget texts, not be motivated to read and the time would be wasted. To combat these fears, I reiterated the need for us to model reading to the students. Having undertaken private reading sessions in my English classes for many years, I knew that they were most effective when I was reading. My focus seemed to generate their focus. I provided staff with folders for their classrooms which contained extracts from novels, short stories and interesting articles. I encouraged them to add to the folders on a regular basis. I also suggested that with their tutor groups, staff read to them on occasion. This worked particularly well with year groups that were enrolled upon the Accelerated Reader scheme.
I introduced the initiative to students through assemblies where I used the analogy of the footballer Frank Lampard. I made links between his football skills and his admission that he was naturally brilliant, but had to practice very hard to become the first class player he is now regarded as being. The analogy worked and supported my premise to the students that DEAR time was an opportunity to practice a life skill. I emphasized that they could choose what material they could use to practice with. I wanted them to feel the autonomy afforded by DEAR but understand its importance.
Ironically, I didn’t need to walk around and see that DEAR time was happening – I just had to ask my English classes if they had had it that week in order to check! They were the most reliable and forthright monitors, giving details about what time during the lesson it took place, how long for and whether the teacher was reading. I would make a note and then if there were continuous ‘Non –DEARERs’ I met with them. The majority of the time they had genuinely forgotten. In order to support with remembering to undertake DEAR time, we introduced a single bell 5 minutes into a lesson to signal the start of DEAR and then another 20 minutes later to signal the end. Staff and students quickly became used to the bell and it made a huge difference in terms of consistency of implementation.
On the fortnightly occasions I conducted a DEAR learning walk, I was encouraged to see a variety of ways that the time was being used. In some classrooms, teachers were reading to the whole class, small groups or being read to by individuals. There were also examples of paired reading – which lead to my introduction of the wider initiative shortly after (see previous blog). Some staff had introduced a ‘DEARer’ of the week with a photo displayed on a board and some had gone as far as to award prizes.
Overall feedback from both staff and students was positive, and parents too began to comment on how they were happy to see reading for pleasure as part of a secondary school’s focus.
As DEAR developed, DEAR time was also used as paired reading time. In an effort to ensure that all students had a book, we introduced ‘What’s the Book in Your Bag?’. This involved anyone – staff or students – being subject to that question being asked in a corridor by anyone. For some students – and staff – it helped in the fight against forgetfulness! In some schools, I have seen the addition of Drop Everything And Write which has gained some success in promoting the pleasures in writing.
Much like DEAR, DEAW promotes the sometimes hidden beauty found in doing something like writing for fun. The fact that it promotes the practice of the skills is almost secondary to the main aim and, as I suggested at the beginning, students seeing teachers doing something ‘for pleasure’ is so important in ensuring that Literacy is not just about grades but also about developing life skills that aren’t necessarily about tests.