Mary Jalland, Primary 1 teacher at Carmuirs Primary School in Falkirk, writes about her innovative approach to engaging younger readers with books by offering a curated, smaller choice of titles. With this approach, her pupils then went on to win last year's Primary 1 Pupil Reading Journey award.
A 'Pinterest Perfect' reading area?
As part of our literacy focus at Carmuirs Primary, we had a reading area in our Primary 1 class which was filled with a vast range of books to suit every taste and interest, with small world toys and puppets to support storytelling and role-play, with neutral colours and comfy seating. This inviting library corner was what you might call ‘Pinterest perfect,’ so it came as a surprise when hardly any child was choosing to pick up a book. There was free play going on throughout the day so I expected at some point that pupils would eventually gravitate toward the books.
I asked the children about this, and they produced multiple reasons, but one recurring theme was that they were overwhelmed by the choice of books and that they wanted to be read to by adults more frequently. We embarked upon a small test of change where we reduced the classroom library to 10 books at a time of which there were multiple copies. These were read to the class regularly so that the children became familiar with them, and they were also available on iPads using QR codes on the wall.
Seeing the impact on pupils
The positive impact this had on intrinsic reading engagement was phenomenal. Through observation I monitored each child’s freely chosen engagement with books over a single day, 3 times throughout the year. By the third observation most children were choosing to engage with books at least once during free flow play.
There were three areas in which the impact of this change was powerful. Firstly, the children reported that they loved reading. They engaged in reading out of choice, they were more confident and saw themselves as readers. It is a joy to see children choosing to read aloud together, imitating the teacher’s expression and rhythm, and adding their own style. Secondly, there was a significant impact on the children’s vocabulary within their play-talk and storytelling. After recording a list of their impressive vocabulary, I realised that the words came from the books in the class library. Thirdly, the children became inspired to author their own books which they did during free flow play.
Since that test of change, I have continued to implement variations on this with my classes and this has resulted in children who love books and choose to read for pleasure. They look forward to ERIC (Everyone Reading in Class) time, story-time and are motivated to improve their reading skills. It may seem strange to remove the plethora of choice but if you ensure a balance of fiction and non-fiction, you are responsive to the tastes and interests of the children in the class, and swap in new books when the time seems right, this is an effective way of generating engagement with the class reading area.