Books have provided escapism for children over the past year – we must continue to encourage reading enjoyment :: NEWS

Books have provided escapism for children over the past year – we must continue to encourage reading enjoyment

16 July 2021 Share

Developing a reading culture during the pandemic for all pupils

The past year has been challenging for all schools as we continue to navigate the twists and turns of the pandemic to deliver a quality education for pupils. As Head of Library at Fearnhill School, my energy has been focused on pupils’ reading habits and identifying ways to encourage more of our students to read for pleasure at home and in school. Moments like National Share a Story Month (May) are the perfect opportunity to remind ourselves of the power of storytelling but it’s also important to think about how we can encourage all our pupils to discover the joy of reading year round.

At Fearnhill, a third of our students are in receipt of pupil premium funding. Like all schools we have have been very aware of the impact the school closures have had on our pupils, especially those from a disadvantaged backgrounds. This is mirrored by national research from Renaissance Learning and the Education Policy Institute which found that all year groups experienced a learning loss in reading, with pupils in year 8 and year 9, falling behind by around 1.6 and 2.0 months respectively. Reading is a skill that is crucial to unlocking access to every aspect of the curriculum for pupils and it is so important it is prioritised in school and at home.  

We have been working hard across the school, utilising edtech such as Accelerated Reader and Star Reading to track pupil’s progress levels and create personalised plans for students to combat any potential learning loss. But as all librarians and teachers will recognise, our pupils’ wellbeing is of paramount importance in the pathway back to normality. Encouraging reading has helped our pupils to build back their stamina and get to the end of every book. It has also enabled us to develop a reading culture throughout the school which prioritises reading enjoyment. This has been truly key in supporting pupils settle back into a normal school life.  

The power of reading for pleasure  
Books introduce young people to new concepts and ideas and allow them to immerse themselves in fictional worlds. Our pupils have developed and challenged their thinking through reading a wide range of texts, improving their empathy skills and social abilities. Throughout the school we have made an effort to establish reading as something you can do to relax, feel calm, laugh, and experience escapism. This will continue to be an important message we deliver as we head out of lockdown.   
The benefits of reading for wellbeing were also reflected in the recent annual What Kids Are Reading Report from Renaissance Learning, which looked at the reading habits of over 1 million pupils during the pandemic and beyond. It found that many children across the nation decided to pick up a book for reading enjoyment in the past year and that often these books were more challenging and longer reads. We now have a role to play in building on this reading culture and school libraries can support this process.  

Top tips for developing a strong reading culture 
Although it’s great to have moments like National Share a Story Month – we need to embed a culture of reading for pleasure year round. You may have been doing activities during NSS month but here’s some ideas that have worked for us to help drive reading throughout the year.

At Fearnhill we have recently started a book club, which our pupils named ‘The Page Turners’, to encourage more exploration of different genres. We have seen so many benefits to this already - from developing our pupil’s empathy to expanding their imagination through to introducing them to new topics. Reading doesn’t always have to be a solitary activity and combining reading with a social book club can help give all students an opportunity to discuss the books their reading, especially if these conversations are unlikely to occur at home. 
This year, World Book Day fell during the third national lockdown and we asked students to imagine they had woken up in the setting of the last book they read. The idea was to get students to think about how books can take them places, regardless of Covid-related restrictions on their movement.  But actually this is relevant in non-pandemic times too.  Holidays are often not on the family agenda if money is tight, life has thrown you a curveball or if you are new to the UK and establishing roots and do not have family living on the coast.

Regardless of the age or stage of the student, implementing a regular time for young people to read for pleasure is important. Some pupils may not have the opportunity or the right environment to read for pleasure at home, so establishing this habit in school is important. As a secondary school this is increasingly important because our pupils have to juggle a range of subjects, but this also offers the chance for them to explore a range of difference texts, genres and topics that are related to their subject areas.   

Finally, giving pupils as much choice as possible is helpful. We will all be aware of the challenges Covid-19 presented when it came to access to resources, but students who have a diverse choice of books are more likely to find something that aligns with their reading interests and abilities. Digital books can offer a solution for some.  For example, a digital library such as myON, has over 7,000 digitally enhanced books for pupils to access online.  Digital books offer the same benefits as physical books and can support young people’s language and literacy development. 

Roshan Hunt is Head of Library at Fearnhill School, a secondary school located in Hertfordshire.