Balancing pedagogy for will and skill for boys

Summary of key findings

Balancing ‘the will’ and ‘the skill’ is relevant to both boys and girls, but there may be particular aspects that apply more to some boys than other boys and girls. These may be boys who are positioned as ‘struggling’ boy readers as discussed in the first finding.

In the research, boys who were viewed as ‘struggling’ with reading did become the focus for additional literacy support. However, this was predominately focused on improving skills and achieving proficiency. In most classrooms the pressure to improve reading proficiency squeezed out time for nurturing the will to read. In many cases ‘struggling boys’ were not able to access effective Reading for Pleasure pedagogies, even when they were not sent out of the classroom for additional support.

The project highlighted the importance of supporting teachers in developing reading beyond proficiency to include children’s individual interests and volition as readers. Both boys and girls would benefit from such practices, but for boys who have been identified as ‘struggling’ readers it is particularly important to experience a positive, pleasurable, reading environment.

More research details

Three of the four teachers in the project understood reading as primarily about proficiency and skill. While some made references to pleasure when talking about reading, this was not reflected in the practice we observed. They also did not recognise reading as a social practice or as a volitional one, related to individual children’s interests.

These teachers saw ‘good’ readers as those which were proficient and children had internalised this understanding. Their perception of a ‘good’ reader was someone who: read fluently, was on a high reading level, understood the meaning of ‘hard’ words, always read at home and could sound out words correctly. This reflects an idea of a good reader as someone who can perform reading in a way that is congruent with a focus on technical proficiency in reading. Pleasure, volition and social interaction were much marginalised.  

The four reading for pleasure pedagogies identified through the Teachers as Readers research- reading aloud, informal book talk and recommendations and independent reading time in the context of a social reading environment were evident but very constrained in three of the four schools. There was little social interaction or discussion of texts they read. In independent reading, some children had little choice due to the small range and number of texts available. Books in bigger school collections were either ‘ability’ banded or were not regularly accessible. Reading aloud (which was rare) was not predominantly for pleasure but rather used as an opportunity for teachers to check children’s comprehension of the text or to teach and test vocabulary. Reading areas were mostly used for time out for bad behaviour or as extra workspaces.

These perceptions of reading and ways of practicing reading for pleasure pedagogies may have been due to the exceptionally strong pressure teachers were under to raise attainment in reading. Research indicates that where schools have a large proportion of children from low-income families, as our participating schools did, the prior attainment in literacy and language skills tends to be lower. You can find out more about the attainment statistics here. Often therefore increasing attainment in reading was emphasised in schools.

In one school, the teacher understood reading as more than proficiency and supported children’s emotional and personal engagement with reading. The boys in this class seemed to be more engaged with reading for pleasure in this classroom, this was reflected in their conversations about their reading. In their interviews they focussed on the plot, characters and messages in the texts they were reading. This was in contrast to children at the other three schools who were only, at best, able to name the titles or authors of texts they had read.

For further information on this topic see the project report and the first journal article in Literacy.

Review your practice

1. What do you think makes a ‘good’ reader?

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2. Time for will and skill reading activities

How much time (approximately, in minutes) do you spend on the following activities in a typical week:

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3. Positioning of ‘struggling’ readers

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4. Looking back at your responses:

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Practical classroom strategies

1.    Balancing time spent on activities for reading will and skill
Given the pressure on schools to meet SATs benchmarks, it can be tempting to focus on reading proficiency at the expense of reading for pleasure. Mapping out the time spent in your timetable (see question 2 in the Self Review above) can be a useful way of visualising the proportion of time you spend on each of ‘will’ and ‘skill’.  You could even itemise the different types of activities under each category to see exactly how much time you spend on each activity type. Then plan forwards.

2.    Protecting time for reading for pleasure
To maximise the time your class spends on reading for pleasure, you can ensure that some reading activities such as reading aloud, independent reading and informal Book Talk are directed towards engagement and response rather than being attached to another activity that is aimed at reading proficiency or writing. This might make it easier to stop reading proficiency from encroaching on time for reading for pleasure. For ideas take a look at the examples on the Reading for Pleasure Pedagogy section of this site.

3.    Reading for pleasure for ‘struggling’ (boy) readers
It might seem particularly difficult to protect reading for pleasure time for ‘struggling’ readers or those with less reading experience, especially when they are taken out of class for interventions. But allowing such readers to take part in whole class reading for pleasure activities offers significant support, helping to position them as members of the classroom community of readers.

4.    Identifying barriers to reading for pleasure  
If you are finding it difficult to fit in as much reading for pleasure as you would like to, it might help to identify some of the things that get in the way. This might include children falling behind in reaching proficiency related targets, not having support from management, not feeling confident about the pedagogies for reading for pleasure, not knowing enough children’s literature. You could then begin to devise ways of tackling these barriers

5.    Be a Reading Teacher – share your pleasure in reading
Reading Teachers are teachers who read and readers who teach – authentic role models who are passionate and socially interactive about their reading. For more ideas on how to be a Reading Teacher see the ideas and activities here.

6.    Be a Reading Teacher – share your reading lessons
We’ve all read challenging texts where we find it hard initially to comprehend. Be authentic and bring such a text (news article/journal/book) into the class to share with the children. Explain the strategies you used. For more ideas on how to be a Reading Teacher see the ideas and activities here.

7.    Will and skill displays
Create displays which recognise reading as involving skills, affective engagements and reading behaviours. The will, the skill and the behaviour. It is not enough to profile reading as skill alone.

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