Encouraging literacy


We’ve discovered an interesting trend at school. Although results have consistently gone up and the students are generally good at written work, they’re not as strong when it comes to reading – particularly whn required to analyse what I would consider to be fairly basic chunks of writing. I could rant about spoon-feeding, league tables, a culture that is afraid to allow students to fail and so on (and, to be honest, I have. At lenght. And frequently) but instead I’m looking at methods to improve the situation.

Required Reading

It’s long been a school rule that tutors get their form group to read, silently, for 15 minutes in morning registration once a week. In practice, I know that in some groups this works well, and in others it really doesn’t. My Y11 form seem particularly resistant, with even the bright and usually willing pupils complaining that they would prefer to read in their own time.

Audio Short Stories

A solution to this that is in the pipeline is to take short audiobooks (e.g. Roald Dahl’s ‘The Landlady), give the students a printed copy of the text, play the story through and set some simple multiple-choice questions as a group quiz or competition. I quite like this idea, although I can see it getting old quite quickly if over-used.


Now this is the main point of the post. Back in June I attended the Achievement Show, and saw a presentation by Rising Stars relating to the use of eBooks in school (KS2 & 3). There are a couple of ideas including reading books on mobile devices (becauase they are inherently more appealing than reading from paper supposedly, although that’s a whole issue in itself), students turning their own stories into eBooks (a fairly simple process) and potentially even using the device itself to perform some task – writing a review, annotating or highlighting parts of the story, using a built in dictionary to explain the words, all sorts of things.

I’m quite keen to have a deeper look at the practicalities and benefits of such a scheme and have put together a small mind-map outlining my thoughts.

Without wanting to repeat myself too much, I need to consider the pros and cons of various devices. I already use a smartphone for reading books, and SUMSonline are offering a good deal on refurbished Dell Axims with their maths software already onboard – but the screens are going to be quite small.

Sony eBook readers are lovely devices, but are pretty bulky, expensive and can;t do anything else (this is could be a good and a bad thing depending on your point of view).

The DS and PSP option is similar to PDAs, but with more opportunities for blurring the lines between entertainment and education (see comment in parentheses, above).

We have a class set of Asus EeePCs (7″, 4GB versions) which may be rendered obsolete in the next upgrade cycle. Again with the plethora of distractions and the bulkiness, but they are already networked and have a keyboard for performing some of the comprehension/reviewing/discussing type tasks.

So. Lots to think about.

Any ideas?


5 thoughts on “Encouraging literacy

  1. At my school the students have a weekly reading lesson (SQUIRT Sustained Quiet UnInterrupted Reading Time) in which they are supposed to read for 20 minutes. Some of them won’t and some of them would read all day if I let them.
    I like the idea of listening to and following a text, something I do in Modern Languages but mainly to improve pronunciation rather than reading skills. The DS has a 100 classic books cartridge available which seems like it might be fun. It’s certainly easier to carry a DS than 100 books, but would the students want to read classics? I’m not so sure.
    Reading is a tricky subject anyway. Nobody wants to be told to read a book. It ‘s something to encourage and nurture in our students, but will they ever enjoy it?
    I don’t think my colleagues in the English department would like the idea of pupils reading anything other than good old paper books. But if any of your ideas work, I’d love to know.

  2. I’m also not sure that the classics is the way to go. Some of my strongest beliefs are that reading a cereal packet is better thn reading nothing, and forcing a particular book on someone is the best way to put them off reading. .

    A colleague of mine in the English department is keen to look at the project and while I know many who much prefer paper themselves – I’m sure they’d prefer to see kids reading on their mobile devices than not reading at all.

  3. Good idea in principle Mark, but I imagine it would take a long time to bed down, dispel the wow factor, keep them on task on the device etc.

    It will become more accepted at some point as more devices flood schools and children’s lives. Reading your post and comments I can’t get the idea of poetry out of my head. Three people find a poem, read aloud, and then the class vote on favourite?

    Also, maybe, could this ever replace the book? Speed of access in a 15 minute slot? One of the hooks about eReaders is that the device, like a phone, belongs to the reader who can control it’s flexible content at their convenience. Handing them out only makes sense when the time scale and activity demand it. Soon enough buying a device for each child every three years is going to be cheaper than buying the many class sets of text books that we do at the moment. Maybe, if someone did the maths, we’d see that this time might be upon us already. Just needs a Headteacher/LA with the gumption to try it.

  4. misetak says:

    Al the talk of technology is interesting, but why do they have to read books, whether paper or electronic? If you are looking for their ability to analyse a piece of writing, why not get them to read newspaper articles, technical magazines or even blogs!!
    Just a thought.

  5. In response to Dai, I agree whole heartedly with the idea about the hook being the device. The idea came about largely because I use my smartphone (HTC Touch) as an ebook reader and go through about a novel a week. I love the fact that it is smaller than a book, stores dozens upon dozens of texts and is always in my pocket so I can sneak a quick couple of pages while in a queue, shopping with the missus, etc.

    Because of that, it is entirely possible that my ideas are too subjective – in that they sound wonderful to me, but might well be a total disaster in the classroom. By admission, I’m a reading addict and what works for me might well be the polar opposite of what might work for more reluctant readers.

    In response to Kate, I agree that reading for reading’s sake is important. I would rather my son read the back of a cereal packet than nothing at all. Keeping things on topic, if we did go down the route of buying devices, students could load up a range of texts, not just books.

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