A New Approach to Reading

Ainslie MacKinnon, class teacher, discusses how she revolutionised her approach to reading in the classroom to encourage a positive reading culture.

Changing My Approach

I was really keen to foster a positive attitude to books among my pupils and revolutionise my approach to teaching reading. Looking back, the way I used to teach reading seems like a lifetime away in comparison to the relaxed reading environment in my class now. I was lucky enough to take part in the Renfrewshire Literacy Project and the first step was to work with a researcher from Strathclyde University. As a former teacher herself, she was honest about the challenges we face and how to overcome them. I learned about the central role that cultural capital plays in children developing as readers and we discussed the Three Domains of Reading model. This made me think about how I used the reading scheme in my class and how it didn’t foster a true enthusiasm for reading. Unfortunately, some children only read because I asked them to or because it was part of their homework. It wasn’t because they had a book they couldn’t put down or because they couldn’t help but wonder what was going to happen next. As an avid reader myself, I knew I had to change this.

Community Reading

I started by completing running records with my pupils and found that some children, because they had been grouped together for reading, weren’t where they should have been. I no longer have reading groups and all children progress at their own pace. This sounds like it could be complicated and a lot of work but now that I have implemented this process I don’t want to ever go back. I was lucky because, as part of the RLP, an appointed teacher came weekly to school so I had time to coach other teachers and help them with running records too.

Happy with my reading assessments, I then made the shift from children reading aloud in groups to Community Reading. This took a few weeks to implement and was a shock to the system; I think it’s fair to say, many teachers like to be in control and so this was a whole different experience for me! The children are now in control of their own reading journeys and make their own choices and book selections. The approach involves setting up different stations to run simultaneously. These are:

1) Audio station: the children listen to an audio story for enjoyment, using headphones.​ ​​

2) Quiz station: the children use reference books and quiz each other on general knowledge questions. This station not only builds on cultural capital but is a joy to watch as they have so much fun!

3) Library station: the children spread out on blankets and cushions to read a story for enjoyment. They can choose their own book using a test for suitability where they open a page, hold out an open hand and each time an unknown word is encountered, they put a finger down - more than five on a page means it may be a bit tricky. The class library has a variety of texts including comics, novels and picture books. I change these regularly and swap with books from the school library to keep it interesting.

4) Chat Station: the children talk about their books using the Three Sharings technique. This is where they share their likes/dislikes, any questions/puzzles they have and finally any connections the story has with their own lives. This is also a good chance to make book recommendations to their classmates.

5) Coaching Station: this is the station where I am based during Community Reading. It is where children read a book from the reading scheme or an agreed novel from the school library. At this station I read with each of the children on a one to one basis which allows time for talk about books and how children identify themselves as readers. This helps to build confidence and for the children to have a go at unfamiliar words without their peers listening or taking over. As well as reading, it’s where I discuss likes and hobbies so that I can choose books relevant to their interests to encourage regular reading for enjoyment. This works particularly well with reluctant readers. We discuss the reading strategies, fluency and the Three Sharings.

Initially, I explained how to use each station and it took quite a few sessions for my pupils to get it right - perseverance has paid off and it was worth the initial chaos! I have five children in each group and spend between five and ten minutes with each child at the coaching station. Community Reading is carried out three times per week to ensure I read with all children regularly. Each day, the children move round to the next station and to build on fluency, all read aloud simultaneously. This sounds like it would be extremely distracting and it was at first. However, with lots of teacher modelling the children do learn to read at their stations and at an appropriate noise level.

I can’t imagine teaching reading any other way now; it has created a literacy-rich classroom with engaged and motivated readers. It’s now cool to talk about books! All staff in school have implemented Community Reading and have also commented about the positive impact and attitudes towards reading they have seen. 

School Reading Culture

As part of our whole-school approach to reading, myself and a colleague were tasked with revamping the class and school libraries. We threw away a number of old, tattered and ripped books; no wonder the library was underused! In their place, we bought a large selection of big books, picture books, comics, novels and fact files. We used the First Minister’s Reading Challenge as a starting point when ordering books. The book recommendations resource has been invaluable in introducing not only the children but our teachers to a diverse and exciting new range of authors, in particular, for upper primary. After a lot of work and excitement about shiny new books, the school library is up and running. We have set up a pupil library committee who are responsible for the book loans and keeping it tidy and it’s great to see how proud they are of their library.

As a school we decided that all classes would be read to everyday. Although this can seem time consuming, I strongly believe it’s worth it. I read to my class every day for 15 minutes before lunch and any other chance I get. I try to read a mixture of picture books, novels and poems. I regularly read texts that are slightly above their reading ability and may not otherwise have access to. Children enjoy this time and listening to them in the cloakroom getting ready for lunch and talking about the characters from our class novel is magical!