Children's column: how to inspire children to read

Nicolette Jones
Opinion - Children Thursday, 12th February 2009

If anyone out there missed it last Sunday, there is still time to catch on iplayer BBC Wales's Just Read, in which Michael Rosen turned an ordinary Welsh school into a school of booklovers in 10 weeks. It moved me to tears. Children at the school had the usual resistance to reading: they were embarrassed about their own reading aloud; their friends didn't read (especially the boys), so why should they?; they thought it was babyish to be read to; since they didn t read and weren t read to, they were persuaded that reading was boring; they couldn't find books they liked. Saddest of all, most of them didn't know where the (desperately unexciting) school library was. Rosen asked a lot from the teachers, who were already inundated with paperwork and initiatives from above. And from parents, some of whom were not confident about their own reading abilities. But the teachers learned that if they ignored the things they thought they were supposed to be doing instead of reading aloud, the knock-on effect on children's abilities across the board made up for it. And the confidence of the children seemed to have a knock-on effect on the confidence of the parents.

Everyone stopped doubting the value of books. (Except for the 4 per cent of the children who did not say they liked reading more at the end of the term than at the beginning; I wanted the project to go on long enough to convert these lost outsiders too.) Reading was proved to be the basis for all sorts of learning. Even, as Rosen said, 'The best way to learn to browse on a computer is to read a lot of books.'
So what did we learn from it, apart from the fact that Michael Rosen is brilliant at reading aloud, and at motivating adults and children alike? And that it is fantastically exciting if you can get Francesca Simon into school too? We learned that a few simple things can make all the difference. So these are the directives that every school should now be putting into practice:
  • Make time to read stories to children, ideally every day.
  • Make the library central to the school, well stocked and a beautiful space - using the ideas of the children.
  • Encourage the teachers to come up with their own book-related ideas, and to work together.
  • Display books cover out.
  • Do not stock classrooms only with dull reading schemes.
  • Take children to the local library, or to bigger ones further afield.
  • Read to reluctant readers in small groups, or, if necessary, individually.
  • (And read to them rather than making them read aloud.)
  • Arrange author visits and writing workshops.
  • Encourage children to think of themselves as authors as well as readers, by, say, printing a school anthology.
  • Have displays about books in the school.
  • Hold book assemblies, book days or book weeks.
  • Dress up in silly costumes.
  • Give children the opportunity to recommend books to each other - in assemblies, or displays.
  • Get older children to read to younger children.
  • Include all members of the school community as readers don t forget the caretaker or the dinner ladies.
  • Sell books in school. (Sorry to say it, but finding bulk deals and discounting made the most enormous difference in an unprosperous area.)
  • Above all, make reading fun.

All simple, really, and obvious. And all this ought to be achievable without a film crew, and without cloning Michael Rosen.
Detractors will argue that teachers don t have the time, the freedom or the budget. But perhaps if every teacher, and headteacher, saw this programme they might realise that they do. The rewards not least those unlikely boys having doors opened to them are everything that education ought to be about. If only this experiment would start the school reading revolution it deserves to inspire.