Sheffield University Concord Junior/Infant School
Secondary - Primary Phase Links
This project examines the responses of a group of disaffected readers, within a Y8 class of a comprehensive school, to a project in which they were asked to choose books suitable for pupils a few years younger than themselves. The intention was to create an authentic purpose for reading books among a group of pupils for whom independent voluntary reading was already a rarity.
Background To The Study
The study described below, evolved in response to the language needs of a Y8 class, which included a significant proportion of pupils, particularly boys, who had shown only a limited enthusiasm for independent reading. Their school is located in a working class area, over-looking the M 1 and the Don Valley.
The Theoretical Frame
Elaine Millard's previous research had found that boys of this age were significantly less interested in their voluntary reading than girls in the same class, tended to enjoy narrative in its visual forms rather than in books, and that reading, on the whole, was considered as an activity more appropriate for girls, both at home and at school. Millard had observed that boys rarely settled down to concentrated periods of reading in class, but skimmed books for short periods of time. Paradoxically, when interviewed these same boys claimed to read more in school than at home. They also claimed they would be willing to read more if they could find something of interest , but this was rarely the case. Millard labelled such boys 'hypothetical readers' (i.e. pupils who could read but who did not willingly choose to do so).
Setting Up The Project
The class chosen for the study displayed all of the characteristics outlined above including the existence of 'hypothetical readers'. Further, the teacher suggested that these attitudes were well entrenched when pupils transferred to the secondary school at 11 years. It was therefore decided to create a more positive attitude to reading for both older and younger pupils, by developing a shared reading project with a primary school.
At the start of the study, the Y8 class completed a questionnaire in which they were asked to record both their interests and attitudes to books. Although only two of the six boys chosen for particular study, had admitted that they were not very good at reading in the questionnaire, only one of them, Simon, provided a range of books which teachers might consider appropriate for the age group.
Staging The Work
The sessions in which the majority of this work took place were of at least two hours duration. Four afternoons of TEAM time were used for this project and in addition some English lessons were set aside for independent reading and discussion of issues.
The first full afternoon session asked the Y8 pupils to draw on their own experiences of voluntary reading to evaluate the appropriateness of a range of books for Y6 primary children. The books were taken from a selection of teenage fiction, light poetry and books for readers beginning to gain fluency The emphasis was on accessible, popular fiction rather than on the more demanding books that were being studied together in class.
- In the second session the Y8 pupil tested the soundness of their choices by taking a book to the primary school to show a younger pupil, preferably of the same sex, how they had made their choice, using the cover, bibliographic details and the blurb. They recorded details of their discussions with the younger pupils on a questionnaire.
- The details of the Y6 choices were brought back to the Y8 classroom and discussed on the same afternoon. Some Y8 pupils had chosen inappropriate books for their younger reader and new books were therefore carefully chosen. The books were chosen in collaboration with Madeleine Lindley and a list of 'Boy Friendly Books' was added to the existing catalogue. There was a particular interest in ghost and horror stories. Homework time was used for reading more titles and making better choices. The Y8 pupils were very eager to take the new books home and the teacher reported they had spent concentrated periods reading them.
- Prior to the third afternoon in English, Y8 pupils discussed how skilful readers could make their reading sound more interesting and drew up a set of criteria for helping to improve their own reading aloud. They then read aloud in pairs, considering each other's performance and offering advice. Again they followed up the reading in school with homework in which they took books home to practice their reading. The third full afternoon was spent video-recording each pupil reading. This recording proved a key turning point in motivating the reluctant boy readers by adding an element of performance to the act of reading. The subsequent recording was used with the agreed criteria to judge constructively each pupil's performance and to analyse readings that had been particularly successful.
- The YS pupils returned to the primary school in the following week to read aloud to the younger pupils for thirty to forty minutes. The books were then left with the Y6 pupils to finish for themselves. The younger pupils were asked to write a letter commenting on the books chosen. Back in the comprehensive school the Y8's spent another hour session, discussing their experience of the project with the researcher and their teacher
- The Y6 pupils sent their partners a letter commenting on the suitability of the books and the reading performance. These were very well produced and gave the Y8 pupils positive constructive feedback.
Each Y8 class member participated enthusiastically and their work was met with almost equal enthusiasm from their Y6 counterparts. The class teacher reported that boys, who had previously found concentration in reading time difficult, had spent long periods of absorbed reading, selecting books at times outside those specifically set aside for the study. The first whole group discussion in which Y8 were asked to share impressions of their own reading at primary school age was dominated by these boys, who wished to impress the researcher with their views The imbalance was so marked, that at the end of the lesson, we reminded ourselves that although girls were frequently the more willing readers and writers, in large group situations they often required support for expressing their views effectively. A written questionnaire was therefore used in the primary school to ensure that all the Y8 pupils had points to contribute to the discussion.
Voluntary reading is not unquestioningly accepted by all pupils. Where reading development depends solely on independent, sustained private reading, those most disadvantaged are the pupils whose need for reading practice is greatest. In focusing on identifying a selection of books for other pupils the project achieved the following aims:
For The Y8 Pupils
- created an authentic purpose for reading, encouraging concentration by emphasising a shared performance element;
- allowed them to read a range of books a little below their chronological age which was supportive of the group of boys whose reading was less than fluent;
- gave an opportunity to read aloud in a safe environment that enabled both good and weak readers to evaluate their own abilities;
- gave them the opportunity to put themselves in another reader's shoes
- offered tangible 'rewards' both in an off-site visit and from the obvious interest and pleasure expressed by the younger pupils;
- provided a platform for the boys to develop reading for a purpose and supporting their work in Y8 for a skills unit on reading.
For Y6 Pupils
- increased their knowledge of books and how to choose them.
- provided positive role models for reading and reading aloud
- created 'authentic' purposes for writing and talking about books
- gave them contact with the school and pupils whom the majority of them would be joining in the following year, thus helping to establish a continuity of focus in reading.
Currently boys' reading is often considered to be deficient both in its quantity and range and remedial methods often emphasise basic skills rather than tackling the need for a real purpose. Instead of focusing on what was difficult for the class to achieve this project concentrated on aspects of reading in which all the pupils involved could feel confident. It created a shared purpose for both younger and older pupils to develop their confidence and allowed both boys and girls to develop a more critical attitude to books. There is sometimes a fear that measures to address the needs of boys will disadvantage girls in the curriculum. The Y8 girls were keen to tackle the issue of boys' reading and also enjoyed working with younger pupils. One said to me, as the project finished,' perhaps we could choose books for the nursery class next time- if we started them off young they would get an even better start'
Child-Adult Proximation Through Literacy
The following diagram from Reed & Webster can be used to inform the thinking behind this reading project.