Establishing a reading culture at KS3

Reading time: 3 minutes. Relevant programme: Lead Practitioner Accreditation

Kathryn Thorne, lead practitioner for English, Prospect School, describes the impact of the Accelerated Reader programme in year 7 onwards

On arrival at my current school three years ago as lead practitioner for English, with a collaborative responsibility for whole-school literacy, I was tasked with the job of promoting reading and increasing participation in reading across the school.

The school library, while being well stocked, well presented and (I thought) inviting, was rarely used by any classes across the school (let alone English classes), and reading for pleasure seemed to be non-existent. As an English teacher, this was saddening. But, more importantly, there is so much research on the benefits of reading (DofE 2012 ). This includes evidence of the positive impact it has on achievement and attainment, such as the statistic that at least 20 minutes reading a day can have an impact of just over a year’s schooling in terms of performance ; and the fact that reading can counter the widening vocabulary gap that is affecting students . So there was even more reason to find a way to raise the profile of reading and get students involved.

Following research (including data from EEF and National Literacy Trust ), visits to other schools and reviews of current reading programmes, I decided to submit a proposal to introduce the Accelerated Reader (AR) programme into the year 7 English curriculum. AR is a two-part programme: it assesses and diagnoses a student’s reading ability, generating a reading level range, and then allows students to quiz on books they have read, testing their comprehension and providing a range of reports to monitor reading levels and progress. While the decision to choose this programme came from the ability to motivate and engage students through the competitive quizzing element of the package, the added bonus of improving students’ reading ability and supporting their continued progress was appealing.

After receiving approval (and significant financial investment), I began the task of implementing this new initiative. This involved the logistical work of setting up the system and labelling the library stock, training the teachers on both the programme itself and then how to plan and deliver the lessons effectively, as well as launching AR to the students. Despite the mammoth task, it went relatively smoothly!

The success of the project in the first year was significant, with a 200% increase in library borrowing figures and 62% of students making considerable progress with their reading across the year. In addition, results from student voice with comments such as ‘I love the AR reading program, it is superb! My reading level has also increased from the start of the term which I am very proud of’; and ‘It’s a good way to get people into reading’ suggested that the programme had a positive impact on the way students perceive reading, improving their motivation to read for pleasure and the time they invest in doing so. The deafening silence of the once abandoned library where classes barely ventured had been transformed into a hive of activity where students were reading, quizzing and discussing books on a weekly basis.

Rewards system for groups and individuals

At the heart of the programme is the rewards system, which is one of the key factors to its success. We have half termly competitions, in both English classes and tutor groups, to collectively reward groups who have read the most words or scored the most points. These competitions result in a trophy for the tutor groups and a pizza party for the English classes.

In addition, we have individual rewards for books read and words read, which involves certificates awarded in assembly. We also have quizzing score rewards, where students are entered into a prize draw for a £10 voucher, if they pass a quiz with 100%. As the programme develops, we continue to try to be creative with how and what we reward to ensure that we are doing as much as possible to encourage and reward participation in reading.

The rewards system includes trophies, a pizza party, certificates and a prize draw for a £10 voucher

There have been challenges to overcome along the way and some we are still working on overcoming, but the success of the programme has far outweighed any of these challenges. One drawback (albeit a welcome one) is that the students devour the books quite quickly, so you need to have a budget for the continual update of stock. Luckily, we are in a school where the SLT recognise the value in investing in books to develop a reading culture – and we have a librarian who is constantly finding new material to engage our students.

Another challenge is keeping up with how students are doing, to monitor when they are due rewards and ensure these are awarded. But again, we have been fortunate to have admin support to do this.

Continuing challenge: engaging the non-responders

A final challenge, which is one we are still working on, is trying to engage the small number of students who do not buy into the programme and are not motivated by these rewards. Often there are factors outside of our control that contribute to this, but nevertheless it something that we need to work on.

Following the success of the programme in its initial year, it was expanded into year 8 to encompass the whole of our key stage 3, and continues to go from strength to strength. The next steps are to explore how we can continue the reading culture into our year 9 curriculum, through the possible use of ‘literature circles’ or another ‘book group’ style format. The establishment of a reading culture has also allowed us to introduce ‘drop everything and read’ into our school day, which through 20 minutes reading a day gives our students the biggest drive of progress.

The modelling of reading for pleasure, as well as enabling teachers to introduce time for subject specific reading, has been beneficial across the school. It allows for all subject teachers to engage with reading, demonstrating that reading is for pleasure (and for understanding in every subject), not just for English.

Do you believe that the greatest drivers of professionalism in your school are the practitioners, such as Kathryn Thorne, who always aspire to improve, nurture and lead colleagues, and develop the next generation? Find out more about offering the Lead Practitioner Accreditation at your school.

Read on the SSAT blog: You can teach old dogs new tricks: bar modelling in maths

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