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How do you ensure students stay focused on completing their reading passports to a high standard wit

The title of this blog is taken from a tweet sent to me by @LadyPerinbridge regarding how to make the best use of the Rooted in Reading passports in school. It struck me as a very pertinent question, deserving of some serious consideration, so here goes …

Firstly, I think it is important to recognise that no system, however, high tech and expensive (and Rooted in Reading is low tech and cheap!) is going to provide the perfect answer to all your reading for pleasure issues. Encouraging students to enjoy something that they are not naturally inclined to enjoy is a very difficult task, requiring infinite patience and subtlety, as anyone who has ever tried to get a group of teenagers engaged in reading will tell you. Rooted in Reading cannot, alone, overcome all these issues. However, I do think that, combined with a well thought-out whole-school approach to reading for pleasure, the appealling design of the passports and the encouragement provided by the prompts along with the general enthusiasm that most students feel about trying to complete all the entries in their passport can increase both the amount of reading that our students do and the degree of pleasure that they get from this reading.

Another way in which schools can maximise the impact of Rooted in Reading is by expoiting the options that a set of 14 varied passports provides. The passports have been written so that each one has a different tone and approach. Just as reading for pleasure is a very personal thing, so is choosing which passport is most suitable to you. I would encourage schools to provide students with an element of choice over which passport to use so that they feel that they are in charge and do not feel forced. NATE have a range of passport holders (contact NATE for details as these are not yet on their website) which schools can use to make an attractive display which makes the passport alternatives clear to students.

We were lucky enough to be able to get Michael Rosen to come up to Lincoln a couple of years ago now to talk about promoting reading for pleasure. This was just at the time when Rooted in Reading was beginning to spread beyond Lincolnshire and to help with this we were making a short video about the project (click here to see it). Michael was good enough to record a short piece for our film in which he gives his support for Rooted in Reading but also points out that the best thing we can use to encourage a love of reading is books. No project, including Rooted in Reading is every going to turn teenagers into enthusiastic readers unless they also have access to the best currently available books for their age group.

That said, there are some things that schools can do to increase the chances of Rooted in Readinghaving a positive impact on students. I have surveyed both teachers and students on the impact of the project and this became the basis of my MA thesis and later of the CfBT research report into the effectiveness of the passports. The report can be downloaded here

My research pointed to some answers to the question which forms the title of this blog. Generally, the students who completed the survey, which covered both primary and secondary schools, reported that the passports increased their enjoyment of reading – 75% of them reported that the passports had had a positive or strongly positive impact on their enjoyment of reading. We know from Clark and de Zoysa’s research for the National Literacy Trust, mentioned in previous posts, that reading enjoyment is linked to reading attainment, so this is very positive.

The vast majority of the students surveyed also felt that they were now reading more as a result of having the passports – 90% of them felt that they had had a positive or strongly positive impact on the amount of fiction they were reading and 79% had similar views on their reading of non-fiction. This impact could be likened to that of the I Spy books of my youth, which, by engendering an element of quest and competition into aspects of life which do not normally interest young people, such as pub signs and natural history, certainly increased my enthusiasm. It is easy for us sophisticated teacher types to underestimate this kind of appeal but it clearly appears to have a strong influence which we should make the most of.

I analysed the results of the student surveys to see whether they were influenced by other factors. What I found was that the passports had the least impact in the schools with the most affluent students. The students from one grammar school in a relatively affluent market town were less positive about the effect of the passports on their reading habits, in many cases because they claimed they were already reading a lot anyway before the passports were distributed. On the other hand, the students in a school in quite a deprived urban setting were much more positive, suggesting that this project could do much to narrow the attainment gap.

The research also revealled that the project had the biggest impact on students’ reading where teachers other than just the class teacher were involved. So, one way to make the project a success is to involve the headtacher, heads of year and as many other people in your school as possible. If these other people show an interest in the project, either by just asking to have a look at a student’s passport and talking to them about their reading or by enthusing about Rooted in Reading in assemblies, it can make a big difference to its effectiveness. What schools should aim for is whole school involvement – it shouldn’t feel like a small scale idea that is only being pushed by one enthusiastic teacher.

In their survey responses the students involved in the research were divided on the issue of extrinsic rewards. Some of the schools involved in the reseach had used the certificates that are available on our website to reward students for completing a passport. Others had given out the badges, available from NATE as recognition of this achievement and for many of the students this was a powerful incentive to really get involved in Rooted in Reading and complete their passport as it provided affirmation and status for private reading which may otherwise be overlooked. However, some of the students in the survey made it clear that such extrinsic rewards did not work for them – they clearly saw themselves as being above such transparent forms of behaviour management. So, schools and teachers need to consider this issue carefully in order to develop practices which maximise engagement in Rooted in Reading and these practices may well be different for different year groups.

A factor which the research suggested correlated with increased reading by students was the involvement of the local public library in Rooted in Reading. Where the students were encouraged to go to and make use of the public library as well as the school library and where the staff in the public library were aware of the project and able to stamp passports to endorse students’ reading the impact was clearly greater. Our public libraries are a wonderful but often sadly neglected service and anything schools can do to forge better links and reveal to students the wide range of services on offer will have powerful and lasting effects for the school, the students and the library service and Rooted in Reading is a simple way of doing this. So, why not give your local library a couple of Rooted in Reading stamps, a few passports or a poster to display and then encourage students to use the online catalogue, the reservation service, the audio books and the ebooks that they may well not even know are available to them.

The Rooted in Reading passsport range now has 14 titles and these have been written expressly to engage everyone in the school with reading for pleasure, as I am convinced that this is a great way to encourage students to complete their own passports to a high standard. If they see teachers valuing their own Teacher’s Passport and completing them enthusiastically then this will have a positive impact. If they see reading group members, whether they are students, staff or parents, completing the Reader’s Passport, this will have a positive impact. If they experience anyone who visits the school being encouraged to reflect on what they have read recently in the Community Passport then this too will have a positive impact. Rooted in Reading needs to be highly visible around the school and as many people as possible need to be positively involved and this involvement needs to be celebrated in order to maximise the standard of students’ engagement.

If schools want to gather detailed evidence of the progress of students through the passports, I have created a spreadsheet for this very purpose. It requires the teacher, TA or librarian who is stamping the entries to give each one a mark out of 5, reflecting the level of demand of the book relative to the student’s reading ability and the depth and detail of their passport entry. The spreadsheet automatically totals these points and shows how far away he or she is from an individualised target number of points he or she is expected to attain by a given date. This then facilitates the tracking of the progress of individual students, classes and groups of students – valuable data that schools can use to incentivise reading for pleasure while also providing evidence for outside agencies (you know who I mean!) of the effectiveness of the school’s actions to promote reading for pleasure. If you would like a copy of the spreadsheet please DM your email address to @stevewillshaw.

This has become a longer post than anticipated and there are big issues around the recommendation of books that I will leave to another time. In the end, as with most things, the effectiveness of Rooted in Reading comes down to enthusiasm. If teachers are enthusiastic about the project there is a great chance that the students will be too and I know from feedback from schools that this is the case.

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