Lindsay Bruce is a Lead Practitioner and History Teacher at Moreton School in Wolverhampton. This is the first in a series of blogs about their motivation to foster a whole-school approach to reading, their experiences on this journey and the lessons they’ve learned along the way.
Last year I wrote at the start of my blog for the OUP History website:
I was not surprised when I finished reading ‘Why Closing the Word Gap Matters: Oxford Language Report it still made for sombre reading. The report put in black and white what teachers already know:
- most of the students we teach don’t have the vocabulary they need to fulfil their full potential at school.
- The word gap affects pupils’ wider life chances.
Becoming a reading school
It is clear that many teachers and school leaders had the same reaction. Reading is becoming one of the most talked about areas on twitter. Also, more books are being written about reading for pleasure and how to develop vocabulary. Basically: how to close the word gap.
I consider myself to be very lucky – my head teacher loves to read. She regularly has students at her office door with books in hand asking if she has read it or if she wants to read it. What’s even more incredible is the students will take recommendations from her. This is something Donalyn Miller writes about in The Book Whisperer. She argues that we must read the books the students recommend if we want them to take our recommendations seriously.
My head teacher knew we needed to get the students reading if we want to improve their life chances. Not only this, but their mental health and of course their exam results. But we needed to reach all of the students, not just the keen readers queuing to swap books with the head. We needed to become a reading school. It needed to be clear when you walked in the door: we read here!
- Everyone on board – Before we introduced any reading initiatives we had to make it clear to our colleagues that creating a reading culture was everyone’s responsibility. Time for reading couldn’t be seen as wasted time away from teaching content. In the long run it is helping students access different subject curriculum. We held regular briefings to inform colleagues of our plans for the school. We shared as much research as we could to prove that this would have impact.
- Curriculum Reading Time was introduced from the first week back in the new academic year. Once a week every student in year 7-9 will have a lesson of Curriculum Reading Time.
It had the following aims:
- The expectation is that all students will bring a book. We have offered a lot of support to students so they know which book to pick and how to find something independently. This was made easier by Whole Year Reading Days where each student was bought a book – find out more in the next blog!
- Teachers will read with students. This is the key to Curriculum Reading Time; teachers can not use this as a time to catch up on emails, mark or plan. They have to read too.
Once we got started with this and established Curriculum Reading Time we would provide guidance on the different ways these lessons could be facilitated.
- Reading tests – we tested every student in year 7-9 with a paper-based test. We wanted the most accurate data we could get. As the months progressed we would introduce other data collections to get a more holistic picture of the students; helping us to support them further in their books choices.
- Database – a colleague in ICT created a fantastic database that stores every child’s name, their reading ages and most recent reading test, any intervention and a reading log. This means every member of staff can be involved in engaging the students in discussions about the books they are reading. It also gives us numerous ways to measure impact.
- The Library was in need of some love and new stock! We knew that if we wanted the children to take reading seriously we would need to have space in the school for them to read. We invested in some new bean bags and new stock. Our wonderful Head of English – who has her duty in the library every lunch-time – has an army of helpers who are cataloguing the books and reorganising the space.
- Taking students to library – We gave the space to the students and told them to relax and enjoy being in there.
We felt that these points would act as the foundations for a change in culture in school. We also hoped that would hopefully spread to the community. It was hard work to get started but the last term and a half has been some of the most rewarding weeks of my career. The students are starting to read!
For more information about the Oxford Word Gap report, and explore further strategies for a whole-school approach to building vocabulary and closing the gap go to: Help to Close the Word Gap