I apologise if I’m going over old ground here but this does make me very cross indeed. The topic of personal reading in English class is one I’ve written about many times before and it always amazes me that some teachers still leave it to chance. What really troubles me is that kids all over the country are being labelled with the non-reader tag when the reality is they just haven’t had the opportunity. Practices which were prevalent when I was at school – terrible class libraries if any at all; limited time to read for pleasure – still exist and it is a crying shame.
However, what really makes me weep is the realisation that some kids still have a ‘reading period’. Once a week. That’s it. Oh come on. Who ever became a reader in those circumstances? The only encouragement given from your teacher is a forty minute session, with no interaction, with no opportunity to share books and opinions, knowing that you won’t have to do it again for another week. Because it’s not important to you as a teacher is it? There are other things you need to cover. Personal reading doesn’t have a grade as such so it can always slip off the table, this week anyway.
The only way anyone ever became a reader was through self-discovery, of course. We may have had books around us at home; relatives who bought them every birthday and Christmas whether we asked for them or not. We may have had friends who talked about books. We we’re allowed to quit books if we didn’t like them; we were given space to choose our own, rubbish or not, without an adult sneering at our choice. From there we persisted and developed the confidence to read more challenging books. That’s the way it works. However, some kids don’t have those experiences. As English teachers it is our responsibility to provide them.
Added to this is a teacher who will teach students to analyse their reading; who will introduce them to great literature study and focus on construction of meaning; who will be right with them as they move their fingers along the lines, metaphorically or not. English teachers do both. We provide opportunities and access, modelling what a reading atmosphere is like and what reading for pleasure looks like – some kids might never have seen an adult do that. We then teach them how to do it properly. It’s not one or the other. It devalues the discussion to suggests otherwise.
My experiences as a secondary English teacher still convince me that those who don’t read for pleasure are the ones who struggle most with examinations in the upper school. They often recognise this and wish they had time machines to take them back to S1 so they could begin to read. They often recognise their own mistakes when they haven’t read. However, as English teachers is it not the case that we often, willingly or not, actively discourage kids form reading? Book reviews; having to read ‘classics’, way beyond their ability, for pleasure; and a reading period. Oh, come on. A reading period?