Why a love of reading is vital for children to succeed during remote learning

Remote learning provides an opportunity to develop reading for pleasure practices that can support pupils’ wellbeing and be maintained when schools re-open, says Dr Sarah McGeown

The education community has faced continuous challenges over the past year and we have all had our resilience tested trying to navigate school closures and remote learning. 2021 may have brought another round of school closures, but as we continue to evaluate and develop remote learning practices, it can also bring an opportunity to give a renewed focus to pupils’ reading habits.

I recently worked with edtech provider Renaissance Learning on a guide for teachers on promoting reading for pleasure, where we drew upon recent research from the National Literacy Trust (2020).  In their research (based on 59,906 children and young people, aged 9-18), they found that only one in four (25.8%) children and young people reported daily reading outside of class (Clark & Teravainen-Goff, 2020).

While the benefits of books for developing reading and language skills are well documented, books also offer rich social and emotional experiences, as readers connect with fictional characters and become immersed in fictional worlds. In our research with children and young people we have found that books offer pupils an opportunity to relax, feel calm, laugh, experience escapism, as well as allowing opportunities for pupils to pursue their interests, learn new things and spend time with fictional friends.

However, despite the wide range of benefits, many teachers often find they struggle to develop a love of book reading among children and young people. There are numerous reasons for this. For example, some children and young people may have poor perceptions of themselves as readers or compare themselves to their peers who they may perceive to be ‘better’ readers than them.

Furthermore, if pupils lack positive experiences with books it can prevent them from choosing to read, and discovering genres and topics of books that may interest them. From pre-prep through to sixth form, we need to encourage a love of reading in pupils of all ages.

Working together at school and home

It is important that parents know the school is taking a whole-school approach to reading where a love of reading for pleasure is promoted in school and at home. More pupils now have to work independently or remotely so the whole school needs to encourage reading as an enjoyable activity that is beneficial both from a learning and wellbeing perspective.

There are a number of initiatives the school could arrange to ensure sustained success. For example, forming a reading leadership group with teachers and parents, and considering whether reading for pleasure should be included in school strategy documents or improvement plans.

Teachers could also seek regular feedback from pupils and their parents at home either through anonymous posts or short surveys. This may help to identify the main challenges to reading for each pupil and areas they are keen to improve or explore further.

Access and choice are important

The school should offer a breadth of books in a range of genres to ensure pupils have access to books that align with their reading habits, interests and abilities. Pupils also need to have choice over their reading activities, although less experienced readers may need more support to make good reading choices, for example, guidance on books suited to their interests and abilities.

Ensuring pupils develop a passion for reading will support them throughout their school years. Schools should explore the different online libraries available, for example Renaissance’s digital library myON offers over 7,000 digitally enhanced books for pupils to access online. Digitally enhanced books mean pupils can make use of features such as audio read along support, sticky notes and quizzes to encourage engagement.

Reading can offer social opportunities

Another approach schools can take to encourage reading is by supporting a student-led book club. This gives older pupils in Key Stage 2 and above an opportunity to chat about and recommend books to each other, either online or offline.

Pupils should be given an opportunity to decide on the books to discuss, and teachers can join and lead the discussion if necessary. Regular meetings at a weekly book club with peers allows pupils to enjoy reading as part of a wider social activity, where they can share their own thoughts and experiences of different books. Furthermore, book clubs may also encourage children to expand the genres and types of texts they read.

Implementing these changes

It’s undoubtedly a busy time for teachers and SLT’s, but ongoing reflection and evaluation of the reading practices that are being encouraged inside and outside of school can be a really useful exercise.

Are the reading practices being encouraged effective and supporting all students, or do barriers exists for some pupils? Are solutions available to tackle this? Delivering remote learning is challenging but it can also provide greater flexibility within the school day, making this a good opportunity to focus on developing reading for pleasure practices that can support pupils’ wellbeing and be maintained when schools re-open.

Dr Sarah McGeown is a senior lecturer in developmental psychology at the University of Edinburgh. Her research focuses on children’s and adolescents’ reading development, more specifically understanding how to encourage more children and young people to choose to read in school and at home.

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