Creating a reading culture in your school

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School librarian Annette Lee shares some of her key strategies for improving students’ literacy skills and creating a reading culture in your school.

Wolsingham School and Community College caters for more than 700 students and I have been the librarian here for more than two years. 

We have adopted a whole-school literacy strategy and we believe that this is fundamental as it provides the foundation for all other subjects. We work on improving all our 700 pupils’ literacy standards throughout their time with us and we try to do this in as many different ways as possible.

It is a constant challenge to keep coming up with fresh ideas, but we believe that investing time in this provides great “all-round” benefits to our pupils.

Our whole-school literacy strategy takes a number of forms. We involve all staff and use many different techniques (and we are always coming up with more!).

We also encourage feedback from pupils and staff, so that we are constantly developing our approach and moving with the times. The whole-school literacy approach has worked for us, so I would encourage other schools to go for it.

The hints and tips below show some of the techniques that have been successful. Even if a school is just getting started, we found that incorporating some of these ideas can be very motivating for staff and pupils alike. Our experience has taught us to be as creative as possible and not to shy away from trying out new techniques. 

Good beginnings

Start each day as you mean to go on – we start each school day with a compulsory 15-minute reading session. This sends a clear signal to the pupils about the importance of reading and helps to ensure they get reading time in, no matter how busy their day gets. 

We also find it is a nice way to start the day and engage pupils before their classes begin. We run additional group reading sessions too – these are a more interactive way of getting the children to read. Staff take part, which sets a positive example to students.

Be consistent 

The transition from year 6 to 7 is crucial for reading and it is important to make sure that literacy levels are not affected. At Wolsingham we have deliberately incorporated a VCOP (vocab, connectives, opening sentences and punctuation) learning strategy. 

We believe that this kind of consistency really helps to support students through that crucial time of development. We also encourage our feeder primaries to incorporate the same software that we use so that pupils are familiar with it when they arrive. 

Our software allows children to take a regular, termly reading test. It only takes 10 minutes, but it gives us a baseline assessment of their reading, allows us to transfer information for consistency and, crucially, makes sure they are reading books at the optimum level for them.

Technology

We are not afraid to use technology to encourage pupils to read and believe that good reading practice does not just involve hard copy books. 

We are currently testing a Kindle Pilot Scheme, so pupils can read a Kindle rather than a book and we have been very pleased with the results. 

So far we have found that struggling readers tend to prefer reading using Kindles because it is less obvious to their peers that they are reading different, lower ability books. 

Similarly, if it isn’t a Kindle or book, we are still happy for our students to read magazines – as long as they are reading, that’s the main thing!

Elsewhere, our literacy software includes an App, which students can use to take a quiz on the books they have read. The App allows them to take the quiz at school, but on a mobile or iPad, which the students enjoy and is great if there is limited access to computers.

Spruce up your library

We treat our 6th-formers as adults so decided to invest in creating the right library environment for them so that they can enjoy a child-free space to read and study, and hopefully really look forward to visiting. We have given the library a fresh lick of paint, soft seating and a new magazine area which has made a big difference to its overall feel. 

We keep the magazine rack up-to-date with a broad range of magazines, so that it offers something for everyone, which we think helps encourage even the least interested student to have a read. We strongly believe that reading should not just involve books! 

We have achieved a great increase in the number of students choosing to visit so far, which is wonderful to see.

Schedule time for reading

The curriculum is vast and everyone is so busy, it is important to remember to make time for reading during the school day. We have dedicated literacy lessons built into our weekly timetable, so that everyone still manages to focus on reading time. 

The lessons are actually based around specialist software that helps us monitor individual reading levels. 

This has been incredibly helpful not just to support and challenge students in the most appropriate way for them, but it also helps us to recommend the right kind of books to individuals.

Make it fun

This can be done in so many ways. For example, we have encouraged the pupils to maintain their own Clandestine Culture Club which regularly meets at secret venues. The last one I heard of was the “Lunch with Roald Dahl” session where members tried to recreate the recipes from some of his books. From what I hear it was a real success!

  • Annette Lee is the librarian at Wolsingham School and Community College in County Durham, which uses Renaissance Learning’s Accelerated Reader programme.


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