DEAR Book Lover
Stocked in well-ordered piles on the white-washed, storage shelves were every English teacher’s dream. John Boyne, Yann Martel, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Robert Swindells sat proudly besides the romantics, modernists and the cherished Dickens and Dahl. The room glorified the written art of writers from all around the globe. It celebrated reading.
The year-nine students within the room had adopted a reading culture. I almost fainted when I heard the words, “Miss Miller, can we read our books?” during one tutorial session. It was a revolutionary moment.
I was in the presence of students who did not consider reading to be social suicide. Everyone owned a book. Reading was too school to be uncool.
I did not understand. Every student in the whole school was in possession of a book. Reading for leisure was developed during English lessons. Every other week was DEAR time. Every student literally had to drop, everything and read for forty-five minutes. I was a bit pessimistic when I heard that this was a regular practice especially as I was going to be overseeing a low ability group. Instead of anticipating literary enthusiasts I immediately applied every poor behaviour stereotype. I was confident that silent reading was a myth. If you happened to be close enough you could almost hear me muttering, “read for forty-five minutes my ****.”
The narrow-thinking that consumed me had underestimated the power of DEAR time. Each of the twenty-four young people in my room had entered lands where everything and anything was a possibility. I saw expressions of love and hate, tears and laughter, disbelief and approval. The only sounds I could hear were pages turning or the occasional giggle when one student showed the other the word penis. I quickly learned that:
Everyone is a reader; some just haven’t found their favourite book yet.
I asked myself the following questions: If this class of young people enjoy reading, at what point during their transition through education does reading suddenly become uncool? When does their Matilda die? Why did I not pack my book?
I had a similar experience at another school where I was invited for an interview. The school had a similar ethos. Thursday afternoon was a time for every student to read. The clearly posted sign read, “We are a reading school.”
Literacy is a problem in England. The OECD reported that teenagers in England have the lowest literacy skills out of 23 developed nations. Can developing and encouraging leisurely reading improve these statistics on a small scale? This is definitely something I want to explore further. I would love to measure the growth in literacy skills and academic English achievement if students were to be encouraged to read excerpts from teenage literature that appealed to them.
I don’t have all the answers and certainly do not profess to knowing them all. I just really want to see reading encouraged more, especially in post-16 education. I want to see a culture or a practice of reading for enjoyment built into the academic year. Would it not make better English teaching lessons? Could it enhance literacy skills? Would it not inspire and expose our learners to wider dreams, ambitions and experiences? Would promoting reading for leisure encourage better thinking, questions, passion and creativity?
Please share your thoughts.
I am currently reading Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman.