Developing a Culture of Reading for Pleasure 3: RfP Pedagogy – Methods and Practice

15 November, 2022

Image of Debbie Thomas, guest blogger

Debbie Thomas is a Lecturer in Reading for Pleasure at the Open University, working with their schools’ programme to develop RfP pedagogy and research in schools across the country. She is also a Regional Associate for The Centre for Literacy in Primary Education and has previously worked as a local authority English advisor, a primary teacher, leader and inspector in a variety of different settings.

In the third of a series of four blogs that explore the key findings of the latest RfP research, Debbie gets to grips with the elements that make up a robust RfP pedagogy.

Reading for Pleasure in the classroom

The aim of the Teachers as Readers (TaRs) research project was to establish effective ways to support children’s Reading for Pleasure (Cremin et al., 2014). In my first two blogs we covered the foundations on which an RfP culture are built: our own ever-growing knowledge of children’s literature and our willingness as teachers to engage with our pupils’ developing reader identities. Now it is time to consider how we build on those foundations and use that knowledge and understanding to support and encourage Reading for Pleasure in the classroom.

A pedagogy checkLIST

Working with 43 teachers in 27 schools around the country, the TaRs research identified four key teaching approaches where practitioners could positively impact and develop Reading for Pleasure:

  • Reading aloud
  • Independent reading time
  • Informal book talk
  • Social reading environments

At first glance, there is little that is new or unfamiliar on this list. In fact, many teachers would argue that these activities already form part of their day-to-day teaching. However, what the research also identified is that it is not just ‘what you do’ but ‘the way that you do it’ that needs to be considered if we are to get the results we are looking for.

A useful checklist to consider as part of the RfP planning process is to ensure that everything we do is:

  • Learner-led
  • Informal
  • Social, and supported by
  • Texts that tempt

With these key insights in mind, what do reading aloud, independent reading time and informal book talk look like in the RfP classroom and how does a social reading environment differ from a regular classroom reading corner?

 ‘Books in common’

While reading aloud happens in many classrooms, all too often it is used as a means to an end. As a way to test pupils’ comprehension and inference skills, for example, or to provide cross-curricular support for a history or geography topic. In the RfP classroom, however, reading aloud is an end in itself; an opportunity to share a quality text and bring it to life so that pupils can experience the pleasure and affective impact of being immersed in a story.

Hearing a diverse range of engaging texts read aloud on a regular basis brings many benefits. It models what ‘good reading’ sounds like and allows young readers to access texts beyond their current reading ability, introducing them to new vocabulary and more sophisticated themes and concepts. All of these will help to build young readers’ reading ‘skill’. From a Reading for Pleasure perspective, however, the social benefits of reading aloud are equally, if not more, important:

‘Books which we live through together for the sole purpose of shared enjoyment represent a rich resource for repeated readings, conversation and connections. Such ‘books in common’ nurture our pleasure in reading and play a particularly resonant role in helping build reading communities.’ (Cremin, 2018).

If we also include an element of choice from time to time, allowing pupils to vote for the texts that are to be read, the benefits are even greater. You can read how Greengate Lane Academy developed a whole school approach to reading aloud in this example of practice from the OU Reading for Pleasure website.

Developing the ‘will’ to read

To determine what independent reading looks like in the RfP classroom, it is perhaps easiest to describe what it is NOT. Independent Reading is not an activity that is done in silence, sitting at a desk, or from a prescribed text. Nor is it a holding activity while the teacher gets on with other jobs or works with specific individuals or groups.

In the RfP classroom, independent reading is valued as an opportunity for pupils to own their reading and develop the ‘will’ to read. Recognising the interests and needs of your young readers – their individual reader identities – and providing lots of opportunities to choose are therefore key. Not simply the ability to choose which book to read but also where to read it – sitting at a desk or lying on the floor – and how to read it – quietly on your own, together with a friend, or as part of a group.

Allowing pupils to share books and encouraging them to talk about the books that they have chosen are key features of independent reading. As is the active role of the teacher, who uses their knowledge of children’s books and their pupils to make meaningful reading recommendations, share their own reading experiences and model appropriate book talk.

Chatting about books vs talking about texts

Teachers and pupils up and down the country already routinely talk about texts as part of their literacy lessons. So what do we mean by ‘informal book talk’ in the context of Reading for Pleasure?

The kind of ‘talk about texts’ that most teachers are familiar with takes place in the classroom, is teacher-led and driven by formal literacy objectives. By contrast, informal book talk is a conversation that takes place between readers – whether they are teachers or pupils – and includes not just aspects of a specific text but also the readers’ preferences, recommendations and reading practices. Book talk can also happen anywhere. It can pop up in the lunch queue or in the playground, as well as in the classroom.

It can take time for pupils to develop the confidence and trust to start generating their own book talk. Teachers may first have to model it by having their own informal chats – teacher to teacher or teacher to pupil. ‘Books in common’ – those books that have been read aloud or previously shared with the class – play a vital role in helping to promote book talk. As Jon Biddle of Moorland Primary Academy explains, with time and opportunity these chats will become more child-led and authentic, providing teachers with invaluable insights into their pupils’ reading preferences and identities.

 Not just a pretty space

The positive impact of a physically engaging environment in which reading can be experienced as a pleasurable and social activity was one of the key findings of the TaRs research. When considering how to develop our own reading environment, however, we need to focus on its primary purpose and ensure that we do not get distracted by the allure of decorative shelving, or a state-of-the-art reading shed for the playground. This needs to be much more than a pretty space.

Successful reading environments are developed around the needs and preferences of their readers and actively encourage them to engage both with the books on display and with their fellow readers. They are both a physical space and a pedagogical approach. Supporting reader choice and encouraging the social aspects of reading need to be at the forefront of any planning:

  • Is there a wide selection of texts and other reading materials (such as magazines and newspapers to choose from)? Are they presented in such a way as to tempt and engage the reader – cover out on the shelves, as wall displays of recommended reads, or collected in baskets of shared favourites to return to?
  • Are readers free to dip in and out of books, while still being able to access support when choosing if they need it?
  • Is this a relaxing space that encourages informal book talk between readers.
  • Read how Holbeach Primary School developed their library space – both inside and out – to successfully engage their young readers.

Rome wasn’t built in a day

Developing a culture of Reading for Pleasure will take time. As we have seen, it is not simply a question of carrying out a series of reading activities. These need to be shaped and informed by an understanding of the crucial roles played by reader agency and the social aspects of reading if they are to be effective.  How might a busy teacher begin this process of change?

  • Take the time to consider and review your existing practice.
  • Identify a small change that you want to make and decide how you will implement this in your setting.
  • Check that what you are implementing meets the checkLIST.
  • Observe and monitor the impact of the changes on your readers, especially those less engaged readers.
  • Continue to refine your practice in response to these observations over time.

The benefits of Reading for Pleasure, both for the individual and society, are now well documented. Adopting a LIST-based approach when planning our reading curriculum will ensure that routine reading activities are transformed into powerful Reading for Pleasure practices that will enable our pupils to develop the ‘will’ to read alongside their reading ‘skills’.

Further resources

Interested in learning more about the latest Reading for Pleasure research?

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