Do you remember the days when all of your friends would gather at school and discuss the progress you’d all made with that difficult Dickens novel you’d agreed to read by the end of the month. The fall outs and arguments over whether Jane Eyre was a victim or a heroine? Whether Thomas Hardy could ever stand up to Jane Austen. No? Me neither. The problem we English teachers have is that we forget that developing a love of reading is a process not a switch.
So how did I become a reader then? Certainly not from some half –baked reading scheme at secondary school. My earliest memories seem to be of me and my best pal visiting the library and staring in awe at the covers of the ‘Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators’ series, debating the merits of the Famous Five over the Secret Seven and, well, just being in the library. I even recall, from early on in secondary school, skipping school dinners to sit in the library flicking through the Guinness Book of World Records. Pub Quiz colleagues would thank me years later.
I just liked being around books. Still do. My wife doesn’t have to look too far if we lose each other in a busy town centre. The bookshop. The first thing I look for when I’m invited to the homes of others is a bookcase. That’s the true way to judge a person’s character. Check out what they read.
I come to this topic with a slight feeling of hypocrisy, however. I am a recent convert to the Kindle. There. I said it. I feel better. So if I was eleven again and could only access books through a device – I-phone, I-pad, Kindle, whatever – would I be the reader I am today? Who knows? This vision of future reading seems to forget that, just maybe, the books themselves are more than capable of drawing us in even before we get to the words. Sometimes, I think, you can judge a book by its cover.
As English teachers we face great challenges if we are to encourage our pupils to read for pleasure and value that reading for the rest of their lives. It is too easy to say that other things have taken the place of books. We are faced with ever more changes with the Curriculum for Excellence, changes which demand that our classrooms are vibrant, active, challenging places for our students to learn; which of course they should be. In his excellent book ‘Readicide’ Kelly Gallagher rightly says that ‘sitting quietly reading is the only way anyone ever grew up to become a reader’. Unfortunately, a classroom of kids sitting in silence is not ‘sexy’ teaching; it doesn’t look good when the head teacher peers through that little glass window in your door.
So we abandon it for group tasks. And in doing so we lose the opportunity to allow our students to find themselves in reading. I see my S1 class of eleven and twelve year olds for four periods of fifty minutes. Factoring in arrivals and departures, I may be teaching them for 160-170 minutes. With all the other things to do, how can I ensure they get valuable, worthwhile reading time? I prioritise.
I think I may come back to this topic. My Blog is beginning to find its feet.