5 Steps to Becoming a Reading School

It sounds too easy, doesn’t it?  But we really transformed a comprehensive school from being a place of negative attitudes to reading to one where each and every child was making measurable progress with reading, in just a few years.  Here’s how you can also do it…

STEP 1: Differentiated Reading Resources

Publishers produce an excellent range of material nowadays, and you’ll need everything from short, highly visual graphic novels and easy readers up to longer teenage classics.  Make sure you also have lots of good non-fiction, like “Horrible Histories” and books on technology, films and sport.  We had no main library in the school where we successfully carried out this project – but books in the classroom and in plastic boxes were enough to get started.  You can do this on a budget!

STEP 2: Structure

Get your whole English department on board and set up a regular routine for each group.  Once a week ensures that it happens.  Decide how long you will give to reading – I have personally found that expecting a longer time is more effective than a shorter time, because it allows children to get lost in their reading and really make progress.  You can always start a bit short, if you’re unsure teachers and children will last, but always aim to stretch out, because one of the things becoming a reading school develops is concentration.

STEP 3: Recording

For me this is the most important part! Not all teachers embraced this at first, but I discovered it was a truly powerful way to get every child reading…

Set up spreadsheets for each class to record their progress.  Something like the following works well:

spreadsheet for blog

First columns – obviously student names

Current Book – what are they reading at the moment?

Dates – these are lesson dates, and you record which page they are on at the start of the lesson (you can just call round the class as you register them).  Notice the highlighted cell showing 105 for Amy Andrews.  This is highlighted to show she has read A LOT! More on rewarding this in a moment…

Books Finished – this records progress this term.  We can see Amy has read two books already: “Rebel” and “Angels and Kisses”.  But Alan is not making such good progress!

STEP 4: Rewards and Expectations.

This is another really important part of creating a positive, successful climate for reading.    Amy clearly deserves a reward for reading 95 pages since last week!  Set a target depending on your group’s abilities and your school’s reward system.  It could be one point if they manage to read 10 pages per week, or 20 pages; and also for when they finish a book.

I set the expectation that each child would finish reading one book each half-term.  That is a high expectation, and some will struggle to finish one each term.  But with short books, graphic books etc. it becomes possible.  And, of course, some children will not only meet but exceed your expectations.

STEP 5: Prods and Sanctions

Not every child will be self-motivated to read.  So I always advise teachers to go to reading lessons armed with a handful of short, colourful, dramatic and exciting looking books that you know have gone down well with similar pupils.

You will need to have a sanction system if behaviour is not always conducive to quiet reading.

But, most important of all, prod the children you notice are not making progress after a few weeks.  I have been quite surprised how responsive children are.  I used to display the spreadsheet, and children would like to see their pages highlighted (I used green) if they read enough pages for a “point”.  I could also have conversations like “You know you haven’t finished a whole book all term”.  And what a great feeling (for them as well as for you!) when finally they do!


Author: Michael Hartland

Michael-HartlandMichael is a Vice Principal in the West Midlands, having served in four previous schools as teacher of English, three previous schools as Head of English, and one as an Assistant Head.  He has a particular passion for promoting reading and literacy, SMSC, and a fascination with learning and leadership.  He runs four blogs: on education, leadership, and poetry.



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