While most know it as ‘DEAR time’, I would be inclined to refer to this Literacy initiative as Role Modelling Reading. The focus is on getting the students to read. However, my belief is that it is what the adults around them are doing that will really have an effect.
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. Repetition of DEAR across a school week ensures students are practicing important reading skills needed for their education. However, it also means they were doing that through reading something of their own choosing. I had already spent a large amount of my budget so the fact that this was free was appealing. I was struck by 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. I decided that 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. 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. Providing 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.
Introducing the initiative to students through assemblies, I used the analogy of the footballer Frank Lampard. I made links between his football skills and his admission that he was naturally brilliant. I also discussed how he had to practice very hard to become the 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. 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.
I conducted a DEAR learning walk, on fortnightly occasions, and 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 . This lead to my introduction of the wider initiative shortly after (see previous blog). Some staff introduced a ‘DEARer’ of the week and some had gone as far as to award prizes.
Feedback from both staff and students was positive. Parents 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. we introduced ‘What’s the Book in Your Bag?’ in an effort to ensure that all students had a book. 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. As I suggested at the beginning, students seeing teachers doing something ‘for pleasure’ is so important. It ensures that Literacy is not just about grades but also about developing life skills that aren’t necessarily about tests.