Is there a place for silent reading?

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I am currently reading Secret Literacy by David Didau which is an interesting and for me, thought provoking book about the best ways to teach English. It’s written from a secondary point of view and I don’t necessarily agree with everything that he writes, especially about Primary teachers 🙂 However a lot of what he writes is clear and sensible and has made me think about how and why I do certain things.

One of his conclusions is that Silent Reading is not the best way to get to get children involved in reading and that it does nothing to help those struggling readers who we are all trying to catch and help. This is one of the points that I think that I definitely disagree with.

Silent reading has fallen out of favour in primary schools over the past few years. When I first began teaching, every class had its dedicated silent reading time. It might have been  called ERIC or some other acronym but there was generally a point in the day when the class would be reading silently. It was often the time that the teacher would work their way down the register, hearing each child in turn read individually. Gradually though, this has come to be seen as not the best way to teach or improve children’s reading and has now largely been replaced by guided reading sessions.

However, as a self confessed Luddite who often seems to oppose all new ideas at first, I have never given up my silent reading sessions. They don’t happen every day but two or three times a week, you can come into my classroom and find all of my children reading silently. Reading ‘Silent Literacy’  has made me think about why I have held onto this practice especially as it is often seen as not being ‘good practice’ by Ofsted.

I  think that my main reason for continuing with silent reading in class time is that if I don’t give my pupils time to read, then some of them won’t!

 

If I consider the children I have taught over the past few years, there have been more than a few that struggle to find the time or the opportunity to read in relative peace and quiet. There are the children who come from homes where the television is switched on first thing every morning and stays on until the last member of the household goes to bed. For many children, it is impossible to concentrate on the written word with a talking, moving screen in the same room. There are the children who are reluctant to take their school books home as they will be spoiled by younger siblings because they don’t have space that is securely theirs. There are also the children who wake up and are brought straight to breakfast club. They go to a child minder after school and quite possibly onto another activity after that such as football training, dance or cubs. When they finally get home, they are far too tired to concentrate on reading a book. These may sound like stereotypes but believe me, there are a lot of children who fit into one of these groups as well as others who have different problems in finding time to read.

If I do not provide time for these children to practice their reading skills, then they won’t be able to and I will feel that I have failed as their teacher.

I take the point that for some children, reading is not a pleasure and silent reading can be difficult. Those are the children that myself and my lovely TA will focus on at the beginning of the year. We will talk to them and find out their interests and try to find material that they can read that will interest them and not prove impossible. My class novels are often not improving books but books that  I think my reluctant readers will enjoy. It is brilliiant when I see my last class novel being handed round the class as they argue over who will read it next.

Texts that we study in Literacy often become favourites as well. One of my least able readers loved Clockwork by Philip Pullman and was able to read it confidently and locate his favourite parts of the story and discuss them in surprising depth. He would not have done that had we not had silent reading sessions in school as his home background placed no value on reading and he was not encouraged to read at home at all.

For some children, those two or three  15 minutes sessions of peace and quiet are the only time that they can practice the skills that we have taught them and where they can begin to enjoy the written word. The best sounds are when they groan because they have to put their books away and begin the next lesson.

I agree that communication about reading, discussion and argument are vital in developing children’s interest and enjoyment of reading but feel very strongly that in my classroom at least, silent reading is one of my most useful tools.

Thank you to @learningspy for a brilliant book which is easy and enjoyable to read and has really made me think about some of the things that I do, why I do them and how I can improve them.