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The Guardian blog about Rooted in Reading

Interest in reading usually drops off once children go to secondary school. The Rooted in Reading scheme is helping reverse that trend.

For 20 minutes every afternoon at Kirk Hallam Community College you will find every pupil quietly reading in their form classes. Not books that they have to read for a specific lesson or subject but books that they have chosen to read for their own enjoyment.

Interest in reading tends to drop off in secondary schools and it is not just development in literacy that this affects; it has a knock on effect on learning across the curriculum. Reading different texts in order to to understand, evaluate and discuss the content of that text is a vital skill for learning.

We were keen to reverse the trend and create a culture within our school which really celebrates reading and encourages young people to share their thoughts and ideas with one another. As well as allocating time for whole school reading we also ensure that in Years 7 and 8 one in four English lessons is held in the library.

To give structure and focus to these library sessions, for the past four years we have been using “Rooted in Reading”, a programme based on a series of reading passports. These passports have been designed to improve language comprehension processes, develop pupils’ confidence to share their thinking about texts and expand the range of texts and genres they read.

Working through each passport, the reader is able to choose which texts they want to read within a certain theme or subject. For example, around National Poetry Day Year 7 pupils have a library lesson covering a wide range of poetry; pupils are then asked to pick a poem that they particularly like to write about in their passport. At the end of the lesson pupils are clamouring to borrow poetry books they had never shown any interest in before.

We look at the history section often in conjunction with Holocaust Memorial Day where students are encouraged to read a wide range of fiction and non-fiction texts within the theme to find something that suits them. For teachers, the diary entries offer a way to start a discussion about the text whilst also documenting evidence and helping to identify areas for improvement.

CfBT Education Trust has recently published a report looking at the impact of the “Rooted in Reading” programme in schools. The results of a survey of teachers who have used the programme sum up what we have found at our school:

• 95% of teachers said that the programme had a positive impact on the amount of reading done by pupils;

• 89% of teachers felt that the passports had a positive impact on reading skills directly; and

• 87% of teachers said that they had a positive impact on attitudes towards reading.

Since starting “Rooted in reading” we have seen library issues go through the roof. The number of both fiction and non-fiction books borrowed from the school library has doubled since the introduction of the reading passports with 8414 issues in 2010/2011 compared with just 3549 in 2007/2008.

Not only are pupils reading more, they also feel more comfortable and familiar with the library after having quarter of their English lessons for Years 7 and 8 actually in that environment.

Because everyone uses the same programme for their first two years with us we have seen that they are now more willing to talk about their reading, not just in English but elsewhere across the curriculum. Reflective learning is now an accepted part of the school culture where young people are free to express their own opinions without fear of being judged or told they are wrong. While running this programme we have not had one pupil who has not had something to say!

We also run a scheme called Reading to Achieve in association with Derby County Football Club which aims to get more boys reading. We use a “Challenge” reading passport and meet once a week to complete a different activity in it based around the topic of sport and football. We use a variety of resources, both fiction and non-fiction such as websites, match programmes, newspapers etc. to engage students in reading by stealth. There is the added incentive of free match tickets for Derby County if they do well!

Boys are selected to take part in the scheme if they are not regular library borrowers and show little interest in reading. This scheme is now in its third successful year and the results have been brilliant. Not only have library issues improved for students in the scheme but these pupils have become more frequent library users as barriers have been broken down.

Supporting reading is not about getting through a 400 page novel, it is about opening up the opportunities for young people to experience as many different types of texts and different types of content as possible to develop their reading, comprehension and critical reasoning skills but also to simply to broaden their horizons.

• Ben Wilkinson is Head of English at Kirk Hallam Community, Technology and Sport College and has taught for over twenty years in comprehensive schools in the East Midlands and Sonja Bredgaard has been the librarian at Kirk Hallam Community Technology and Sports College for five years and has worked in both educational and public libraries for over 20 years.

Download a free copy of CfBT’s research report Rooted in Reading here. See the CfBT website for more information.

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