Spotlight On: Reading

21 February 2020

This article first appeared in Queenwood News Weekly 21 February 2020.

A key literacy strategy for 2020 began in Week 1 this term with our daily timetabled sustained silent reading program, ‘Just Read’. With all year groups from Kindergarten to Year 11 taking part in ‘Just Read’, some of our students will be reading a book of their own choosing, on a daily basis, for the first time in a long while.

To support and sustain a new habit, a triangular approach between the school, home and your daughter is required. Whilst we are reading for 10 minutes (K-2), 15 minutes (3-6) or 20 minutes (7-11) we encourage parents to match this quiet reading time at home for additional benefits and to enhance the impact of this new initiative.

Here is what parents can do to support their daughter’s reading and to help her build this daily habit and expand reading choices.

Parent Modelling – modelling is crucial and our teachers will be modelling reading to their students each day in 2020 during our Just Read program. Let your daughter (and son!) see you read each day by making this part of family routine. Whilst books on bedside tables are purposeful, they often remain out of sight for children and teens and little connection is made to their parents choosing to read in their own time. Don’t wait until your child, tween or teen goes to bed or to their room for you to pick up your book – let them see you do it!

The adoption of a mini-habit, a habit so small and incremental that it is easily achievable, is the early aim. So start modestly by modelling daily reading in only 5 – 10 minutes allotments for our Junior students and 15 – 20 minutes for our Senior students. Reading for longer periods on weekends and certainly much longer during holiday periods is easily achievable and will add up to significant reading time.

Digital Dominance – we must acknowledge the competition we face as parents and educators in the form of digital devices. These can be the greatest destroyer of free time and extremely difficult for children and teenagers to self-monitor or manage. The FOMO effect is appearing earlier with reliance on digital devices affecting younger students in upper primary school.

When pre-teens are given their own phone, free reading is often replaced with social media and/or games. I struggle with this myself in our home – that’s with two teachers within the home. It is imperative to have a baseline as many parents are not fully aware of how much time their child is spending online. I suggest quietly monitoring their digital usage for a couple of weeks. This will allow parents to grasp where time is being spent online and modifications may be made. Students are at school for 8 hours and hopefully getting 8 -10 hours sleep, leaving another 6 - 8 hours to do everything else that is required of them. Only a very moderate amount of these free hours should be spent on screen time.

Reluctant Readers – whilst there are certainly reluctant readers (of all ages!) this term has become somewhat overused, and I have occasionally heard students referring to themselves as a reluctant reader. This is a very damaging, and often unfair, limiting label. Be careful using definitive labels around your child’s reading or their perceived reading ability.

The term developing reader is far more positive than reluctant reader or don’t attach a term at all – they’re just reading! And whilst a small percentage of children and teenagers are reluctant to read what YOU or I wish them to read, this does not equal true reluctance. Allowing children and teenagers the freedom of choice assists hugely in this area and underpins the self-selected nature of our Just Read program.

Reading beyond one genre – parents are often frustrated that their child or teenager is reading in just one genre. I’ve heard so many times ‘…but they have read it a million times!’ I can assure parents that it is very normal for children and teenagers to prefer a specific genre, indeed as adults most of us would have our preferred genre.

Children and teenagers can become ‘overly safe’ in one genre: there can be great comfort and ease in the familiar. This is especially true when life is a little overwhelming and stress levels may be higher than normal, but this is when parents need to remind themselves that a familiar book is a good book. If you feel your child or teenager is stuck and unable to move beyond a certain genre please refer to reader extension and reader advisory below.

Reader Extension/Reader Advisory – reader advisory and reader extension is what Teacher Librarians and Library staff do every day as part of their role. They are the experts in matching the reader to a great book.

Deep reader advisory takes time, patience, commitment and extensive knowledge, not only of the library collection, but of upcoming new books, the classics that have stood the test of time and personal favourites. ‘What was the last book you loved, regardless of how long ago it was?’ or ‘What’s a favourite movie you’ve seen?’, ‘Are you after a relaxing read or something more fast paced?’, ‘What time periods are you interested in?’, ‘Have you ever had a favourite author?’ ‘Where do you go on holidays?’, ‘What kind of sports do you play?’, ‘Do you play an instrument, do you dance, do you row?’.

These are the types of questions Teacher Librarians often will ask a student looking for a new read. They are a very small example of the kind of reader advisory questions that quickly shape and narrow down book suggestions for our students. Always tell your daughter to see the Teachers Librarians and Library staff in the Rennie and Medway libraries to suggest a great book or to diversify their reading choices.

Finally, the anecdotal feedback from parents so far has been very positive and we are very grateful for your support. We have reports of girls showing a greater interest in reading, of whole families their reading habits and of more discussion at home about books, plots, characters and words. We are greatly encouraged by these accounts after less than a month and will be seeking feedback from parents in coming weeks to gain a more complete picture. Happy reading!

Mrs Gabrielle Mace
Head of Library & Information Services