Very interesting Reading for Pleasure conference at the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education today, with contributions from Sue Ellis, Reader in Education at Strathclyde University, speakers from CLPE talking about their great 'Power of Reading' programme, teachers from schools where they put reading for pleasure at the heart of the curriculum and Julia Eccleshare talking about the range and purpose behind the publishing of children's books.
Sue Ellis is precisely the sort of person this government and the last want to keep at arms length because she presents her arguments backed entirely by research. Evidence, evidence, evidence. She focused on 'Reader Engagement' looking at international evidence of the effect of children being actively engaged in choosing, reading, talking and writing about books. What particularly caught my eye was the research from John Guthrie from the University of Maryland who has looked at the range of strategies (not just one or two) which enable children to become active readers and learners.
At the heart of her talk was a humanistic defence of reading, which can't come about simply or only through reading schemes, can't come about by simply working through set texts. To make enthusiastic readers, schools have to approach the 'whole child' not just the 'literacy learning child', say; the whole social environment of the school, the community and the backgrounds of the children. And, as she emphasised several times, it doesn't work to focus on each child as some kind of lone pilot in the days of solo flights across the Atlantic. Reading is about the social - how children influence and help each other. This means thinking through what exactly does a teacher do in relation to children - and as one of the teachers pointed out later, how teachers involve parents in schools in reading.
The teachers and CLPE advisers gave accounts of daily practice with books and reading focusing on enthusiasms, 'promotion' of books in assemblies, in classrooms, talking with children about books as equals, involving children in the choice of books and authors, putting reading and engagement into the context of the other arts - music, art, drama - as engaged means of 'reading' books and interpreting them.
CLPE is going to start a blog on Reading for Pleasure and schools and many of the participants have signed up to be part of what will have to be this continuing struggle we have with government to let teachers, children and parents read books, talk about them, interpret them, and be affected by them without it being a matter of constant testing, and reductive questioning about 'retrieval' and 'inference'.