Over the years, as I read more and more about reading, the history of reading and the development of how we read, it has become very clear that learning to read is a complex business. That, as a Secondary teacher, I get 30 new kids who can read – to varying degrees, yes, but very rarely any single kid who can’t read at all – is a minor miracle. The complexities of symbol recognition, joining with other symbols to make words, sentences, paragraphs, stories is a result of so many changes in how our brains function that I bow down to the work of my Primary colleagues. Hat tip. You do an incredible job there.
The difficulties we experience at Secondary are not or should not be concerned with teaching kids to read but with teaching them to read deeply and creating readers who will do so for pleasure for the rest of their lives. When they struggle to do that, it is often because they have no real bank of knowledge behind them, no real reading histories to hang new things on to. Part of my job, and a fundamental reason why I do the job, is to help them get there, just as I did a whole load of years ago. And Roy Race helped me to do so.
You see, Roy Race saved me from the hell of School Reading Programmes; programmes so designed to ensure that I was reading while removing all the joy from the process. I saw Tom Sherrington use this clip at #TLT14 last year but I think it applies equally well.
I’ve discovered through reading ‘some’ research – I’m very wary of every saying ‘the’ research – that programmes like Accelerated Reader increase reading at the time but, once the rewards are taken away, reading actually decreases compared to those who don’t use the programme. But I digress slightly. I want to talk about Roy Race as Superhero. Why is he a superhero? Well:
- he was generally mild mannered and loved, during the day,
- he put on an unusual outfit when he jumped into action
- he performed miracles nearly every time it was required and
- he would routinely defeat the evil enemy, sending them back to where they came from.
And he, as much as anyone, turned me into the reader I am today.
‘Roy of the Rovers’ – and for those youngsters who are unaware of this, it was a fabulous graphic novel from the seventies and eighties – would fall through my letterbox every Saturday morning. My dad would shout up to me: ‘Who’s Ray of The Ravers’ is this?’, EVERY SINGLE WEEK just to annoy me but I’d bound down the stairs for it anyway. It had my name on the front and, over the years, I’d build up a perfectly ordered collection which sat on the corner of my room. And I think it was that ownership, that identity with something which was mine and mine only which helped me on my way to being a reader.
What I’ve found over the years is that if you can give kids ownership of what they want to read, no matter how hard it is to find out what they like, then previous negative attitudes to reading for pleasure being to change. Asking parents to subscribe to magazines, with their child’s name on it, means they begin to develop their own wee collections and begin to build a reading history. Reluctant readers often don’t have reading material at home and sometimes library books, while a good start, are not enough.
The difference between instruction, which we should leave to the experts, our Primary colleagues, and building readers who read for pleasure is that it can be long old slog to embed those habits and the knowledge to develop those habits. We struggle and search and sometimes battle to find the right book for the right child. Gabriel Zaid says: ‘To write, publish, or distribute a book is like putting a message in a bottle and tossing it into the sea: its destination is uncertain’ It is my responsibility to find that child’s ‘message in a bottle’