Teachers’ knowledge of children’s reading practices

Summary of key findings

The TaRs research project revealed that when teachers knew more about children’s reading practices and experiences beyond school they were more effective in nurturing RfP and building communities of readers. They understood more about each individual child’s interests and preferences. Thus they came to question what counts as reading in their classes, began to include more than just books and worked in collaboration with children to widen the variety of texts which were recognised for reading.

In this short film researcher Professor Teresa Cremin and deputy head teacher Sonia Thompson explain the implications of the findings and how we can address them in our teaching practice.

This knowledge enabled teachers to:

  • Appreciate the significance of the wider reading children experience in their homes and communities
  • Recognise the importance of extending definitions of reading in the 21st century
  • Offer a more satisfying and diverse range of texts in school
  • Foster positive reading identities for all children
  • Build reciprocal and interactive reader to reader relationships with children.

More research details

Whilst many of the Teachers as Readers (TaRs) teachers knew their children’s reading scores/levels, their targets and the colour band they were given to select books from, many readily acknowledged they knew little about the children’s preferences as readers, their favourite genres, authors, text types for instance or their everyday reading practices at home. So even with knowledge of children’s literature, they were not in a position to recommend particular texts to children and some made gender based assumptions about children’s preferences. 

As the project year progressed, the teachers were introduced to various activities which aimed to develop their knowledge of children’s reading practices. This work involved them in finding out about what children and their families chose to read at home. The wealth of texts shared, the range of environmental print encountered and the diverse range of digital reading in which the young people engaged surprised many of the teachers, who began to appraise their often book-based and perhaps book-bound conceptions of reading. 

Activities such as Reading Rivers (Cliff Hodges, 2010) and 24 Hour Reading prompted the teachers to reconsider reading in the 21st century. Openness and reciprocity underpinned such activities; teachers shared their own reading preferences/practices and invited the children to recognise and share their own, connecting these to the children’s own purposes and contexts and their identities as readers

Over time, children became more vocal about their reading habits and preferences and led their teachers into new textual territories. Their teachers thus developed their knowledge of reading tastes and choices and committed time and space to giving individual readers their attention. This fostered reader to reader relationships and children’s reading engagement.

Teachers became acutely aware that ‘no two readers are the same’ (Cliff Hodges, 2010: 182) and that in order to motivate young readers, it is vital to recommend texts which will engage and interest them; matching the text to the child. 

We know much more now about the children – their histories – where they are coming from.  I can tell you what the children like – their tastes in reading – I can’t believe that I didn’t know these things.  It’s just been pushed out.  There didn’t seem any time for this sort of chat. - (TaRs teacher, Birmingham) 

Through finding out about the children’s everyday practices and home based preferences, the teachers began to move away from privileging literature and  teacher selected-literary texts and accepted and welcomed a wider range of texts in the classroom. Whilst still acknowledging the potency of literature, they widened ‘what counts as reading’ in their classrooms. This influenced the young people’s sense of self as readers and their interest and engagement in texts.

Adapted from pages 97-99 and 115-118 in Cremin, T., Mottram, M., Collins, F., Powell, S. and Safford, K. (2014) Building Communities of Engaged Readers: Reading for pleasure, London/New York: Routledge. 

This summary also connects to:

Kucirkova, N., Littleton, K. and Cremin. T. (2015) Reading for pleasure and digital books. Cambridge Journal of Education. 10.1080/0305764X.2015.1118441

To read more about the research: see the Executive Summaries,  related papers on http://oro.open.ac.uk/ or the core book https://www.routledge.com/Building-Communities-of-Engaged-Readers-Reading-for-pleasure/Cremin-Mottram-Collins-Powell-Safford/p/book/9781138777484 or the UKLA/Primary National Strategy professional development guide to developing reading for pleasure (based upon TaRs, Cremin et al., 2008) at : https://ukla.org/shop/details/building_communities_of_readers1

Building Communities of Readers Cover Building Communities of Engaged Readers Cover

Review your practice

This self-review document is designed to help you consider your knowledge of your children as readers, their interests, passions and preferences at school and their often different out-of-school reading practices. The TaRs research revealed that such knowledge is crucial in order to help teachers foster RfP and build richly reciprocal and interactive communities of readers.

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Practical classroom strategies

The children have taken me on a journey into what they read outside school – I never realised really it was so wide- now we have a much greater choice in school.  - TaRs teacher, Kent

1. Reading Rivers

Invite the children to create collages reflecting their reading over a specific period: a weekend, the Christmas holidays, half term… They can draw, stick, write about anything they read, for example: comics, football programmes, DVD cases, TV cereal boxes, road signs, maps, apps, games, and so on. Parents and other family members too could contribute their reading over the period.  These collages can then be shared in school and discussed so that what the children count and value as reading in school can be widened. 

 

2. Reading surveys

Find out what children read by offering your class or the whole school a survey. This could document:

  • the kinds of reading they undertake, i.e. ticking from a list or set of visuals
  • their favourite reading materials
  • reading frequency:  daily; once a week; once a fortnight
  • enjoyment in reading ( a scale or smiley faces to select)
  • self-confidence as a reader- how do they rate themselves
  • completing sentences: I would read more if……. 

The National Literacy Trust run annual surveys. You could either take part or borrow/adapt some of their questions and then compare your class’s results with theirs. http://www.literacytrust.org.uk/

 

3. Observe, document and act

Take opportunities to observe children reading during various times/activities/events in the school day. This might include during silent reading, library sessions and more informal book talk as well as planned reading sessions during the day. You might decide to focus on a child/group of children whose attitude to reading puzzles you or those whose behaviours you want to develop and share with others. Take notes of your observations, the texts they have chosen, the people they choose to sit with and talk to and consider the implications of these observations for yourself and the children so that you can further engage them with reading.

 

4. Home reading board

Create a home reading board, encouraging the children to bring in anything they have read recently to display or stick on the board. Bring in your own examples as well. 

Members of an older class might create sections for different kinds of examples: social media, game-related reading, comics and magazines, books, newspapers, junk mail etc. These will highlight diversity and be child-initiated. You might add post-it notes with why the texts were read  or who it was shared with etc.  

5. 24 hour reading at home and school

Invite the class and take part yourself in documenting 24 hours of reading. Try to record everything you read in that time and create a list or use photos to share. Displays or PowerPoints can be produced which again highlight diversity and your own and the children’s own preferences, interests and reading ‘work’.(Your own, for example, might include travel info, blogs, recipes, Tweets, education materials, children’s writing…). Given the breadth of the children’s interests, you might consider seeking a wider range of materials in school or revisit what counts as reading there.

 

6. Reading conferences 

Hold reading /writing conferences with groups of children to discuss the texts they are currently enjoying reading/writing, both at school and at home and to share their pleasure in these texts. The composition of these groups could sometimes be based on your ‘normal’ guided reading groups but should also be formed on the basis of your observations of children who might share a particular interest in a theme/genre or a common attitude to or lack of confidence in reading. 

7. Desert Island texts 

Share with your class the 4/5 texts you would take to a desert island - invite them to quiz you on why. They could each select their own and create a display of these or make 3D islands and place flags (mini texts) on each with messages as to why these were chosen. 

8. Parents’ reading practices 

Invite the children to document their parents’ reading at home, they might take photos for a display, ask their parents to create lists or make lists of what reading they see them engage in over a weekend. In this way they become ‘reading detectives’ documenting the myriad of everyday moments when adults read the Lotto results, the teletext, the post, magazines, junk mail, recipes, Facebook, ingredients etc.  

 

9. Children as reading researchers

 Invite children to be school ‘reading researchers’ and investigate perceptions about reading in the class/school.  You could support them to design their own questionnaires/surveys. Look at the results together and discuss what they have found out and possible consequences for class/ school provision. There is support for the tradition of involving children as researchers at the Open University’s Children’s Research Centre

 

10. Encourage sharing via Twitter 

Some schools have been very successful in developing their knowledge of children’s reading practices via Twitter. For example, providing they are comfortable in so doing and you have ethical permission to do so, you could invite parents to Tweet some visuals of their children reading at home, alone or to their siblings. This might include short clips filmed or simply photos with a caption.     

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