What the resource is:
This is a short paper which draws on the results of a larger study which is reported in Clark et al (2008). It focuses on the differences between secondary and primary school children's perceptions of themselves as readers, drawing on evidence collected from over 1,600 children. The children were all from 29 schools which were part of the Reading Connects project - a DCSF funded initiative delivered by the National Literacy Trust - which provides support for schools to develop reading communities. This report provides a brief analysis of some of the data collected, comparing responses from primary and secondary aged pupils who self reported as ‘readers' or ‘non-readers'.
The aims of the resource:
The paper aims to pursue research findings from elsewhere (for example, Clark and Foster, 2005; Hall and Coles,1999) which suggest that secondary-aged children enjoy reading less, read less and are more negative about reading than primary-aged pupils. In this paper, how children see themselves as readers is taken to be significant in trying to understand why these differences might occur.
Key findings or focus:
The key findings suggest that there are significantly more children of secondary school age than primary who would not describe themselves as readers. These are not necessarily the children who cannot read - they might also be those who ‘can but don't' (Moss, 1999). Some interesting traits are identified in the analysis of the data which have potentially challenging implications for teachers, parents and Initial Teacher Education.
Firstly, secondary age ‘non-readers' read a significantly wider range of texts outside school than their primary counterparts. This includes a high proportion of computer-based activity such as email, social networking and websites.
Secondly, non-readers at secondary age tended to see readers (and believed that their peers saw them) as ‘nerdy' or ‘geeks', whereas primary aged children described readers as ‘intelligent'.
Finally, and significantly, children who saw themselves as non-readers reported that they received less encouragement to read at home than those who considered themselves to be readers.
The implications of these findings are explored briefly in the discussion in this paper - but many of the points are developed more fully in the main report.
A key consideration for all the above, is what ‘counts' as reading. Reading, from these children's perspective, appears to be associated with paper-based texts which are perceived to be promoted within schools. Teachers need to consider the role they play in changing perceptions about what reading is, and teacher education needs to include opportunities for teachers to find out about a range of texts - including those which are unfamiliar to them. Alongside this, there is a need to debate the appropriateness of hi-jacking children's engagement with literacy within their social and cultural spheres for school purposes (Lambirth, 2004). Teachers and trainee teachers need to consider the value they place on a range of reading material and whether they need to reconceptualise their own understanding of reading.
If children in secondary schools are associating reading with negative personality traits, teachers will need to find ways to change this culture, and initial teacher education should contain support and guidance to enable this to happen.
The notion of ‘schooled' literacy has been debated for some time (for example, see Hannon, 2000) and this is reinforced through Standard Assessment Tasks and Tests (SATs) which measure achievement through engagement with paper-based texts. Whilst trainee teachers need to understand the role of standardised assessments, it is equally important that they understand the limitations of assessing reading in this way.
The role of parents and families in supporting children's reading development needs to be highlighted for teachers and trainees, and guidance given about appropriate ways of developing children's reading in family and community contexts.
Other issues which should be considered by teachers and trainees include the need to develop communities of readers as encouraged by the Reading Connects project; the need for close links between secondary and primary schools and the potential value of strong role models in schools and communities who can encourage children to see reading as positive and ‘cool'.
The quality, authority and credibility of the resource from your subject perspective in relation to ITE:
This paper gains significantly from being read alongside the full report of the research project - where analysis and discussions are developed and the full methodology (including the questionnaires) can be examined. In addition, there is greater exploration of gender issues which arise through the data analysis. This large-scale project yields some rich data, which provides important evidence about children as readers. The limitations of the data are acknowledged and the findings are presented tentatively with reference to a wide range of other research in this area.
This paper does provide insights into some of the data in a more accessible way. The depth of discussion is inevitably limited and the issues are raised rather than debated in full. However, the data is certainly worth examining and the scale of the project contributes to the value of the findings.
The implications for ITE tutors/mentors:
There is currently a great deal of emphasis on the role of phonics in learning to read in primary schools, and this research lends significant weight to arguments about the importance of developing children's enjoyment of and engagement with a wide range of texts. ITE tutors and mentors could usefully refer to this research as part of the development of the ‘broad and rich curriculum', which is advocated alongside phonics as one of the recommendations of the Rose Report (Rose, 2006). It could provide a vehicle for discussion about what counts as reading and the role of ‘new literacies' (for example Lankshear, 2006) in children's social, cultural and school lives.
The relevance to ITE students:
As above, students need to be made aware of the range of ways in which children develop their self-concept as readers and the importance of this in sustaining reading development resulting in children who ‘can and do' Moss (1999). Students need to reflect on their own attitudes to the reading material that they want children to access, and to consider how they promote and encourage reading once children are decoding independently.
It is particularly significant for students working with children in Key Stage 3, who need to consider how they can build on the strengths of primary practice and enable children to see themselves as readers throughout the secondary phase and into adulthood.
Clark, C. & Foster, A. (2005). Children's and young people's reading habits and preferences: The who, what, why, where and whe. London: National Literacy Trust
Hall, C. and Coles, M. (1999). Children's reading choices. London: Routledge
Hannon, P. (2000) Reflecting on Literacy in Education London: Routledge
Lankshear, C. (2006) New Literacies: Changing Knowledge in the Classroom London: Open University Press
Moss, G. (1999) The Fact and Fiction Project Southampton: University of Southampton School of Education
Rose, J. (2006) Independent Review of the Teaching of Early Reading London: DfES