by Jo Parker, DUCKS, Dulwich College
Children often start a school setting from the age of 3 when in Nursery. All children at this age enjoy books, listening to stories and spend time independently looking at books in the reading area. When offering to read or being asked by the children to read a story, the children in this setting gather around and are eager to listen to the story and the group size always increases. When with Reception aged children, 4 – 5 years, I was surprised and often shocked to hear children at this age telling me they were no good at reading. They were developing a negative attitude towards reading and the children would make comments to back up these beliefs. I was intrigued to know why? What had happened in these early years, and why did these children see themselves as not good at reading? To guide the early stage of my inquiry, I developed the exploratory research question:
Can children in these early years talk about how they learn to read?
From Reception, children start taking home books from a reading scheme that has often been selected by the teacher. It usually has a sticker or code that indicates a level. As children move through the Infants’ school setting this levelling book system moves with them. Children often share what colour or level they are on and they can tell you who is the ‘best’ reader or who is the cleverest because they can read the best! When in Year 2 I have had children tell me in an excited voice that they are now a ‘free reader’. What does this mean to the child? They now can choose to read any book from a non-colour coded level and that they can now read! I wondered: what would happen if we removed all the colours and levelling off all the books and allowed all children to be ‘free readers’. Would this help all children develop a positive attitude towards reading?
With these ongoing observations, staff discussions and research from the Rose report on the Independent review of the teaching of early reading (March 2006), which highlighted the importance of developing children’s positive attitudes to literacy, I chose this theme to research.
I specifically choose to target this research project with children in Year 1. I believe this age group can articulate their experiences of reading more fluently than those in Reception and would have more understanding of when lessons in reading occurred at school; therefore, they would be able to discuss their experiences of learning to read in more detail. In addition to their teacher and child reading sessions, Year 1 have a volunteer adult who comes to school twice a week called Mrs Y, who spends time reading 1:1 with the children. To guide my project further, I developed two evaluative research questions:
What can we do to increase positive attitudes towards reading?
How can leadership best support the teaching of reading?
At the beginning of the academic year, each child in Year 1 and 2 take an online computer-adaptive assessment, InCAS. This covers Reading, Spelling, Mathematics, Mental Arithmetic and Developed Ability and Attitudes. I used the ‘attitudes to reading’ as the baseline data for this research.
Using a 5 point sliding scale and data collected from InCAS, the below graph show results on attitudes to reading. This baseline analysis revealed that the majority of pupils in year 1 have a positive attitude to reading; however, 17% of the pupils rated their reading and learning as 3 or lower. The question is, why?
Would these children be able to articulate their feelings about reading?
Intervention and intended impact
I decided to form a focus group comprised of pupils from both ends of the scale, to gather an understanding as to what influenced their positive and negative attitudes towards reading.
I hoped to achieve and understand what were the triggers and experiences that formed these attitudes for the children, in order to help ensure that practitioners and the learning environment facilitate a culture in which all children develop a positive attitude toward reading.
Quantitative Data was collected from: InCAS (Computer adaptive assessment), PASS (Pupils attitude to Self and School) and Running records, taken by the teacher which capture what the children know and understand about the reading process.
Qualitative Data was collected from: Learning conversations w/ pupils and practitioners, questionnaires and discussions, data driven dialogue with teachers and focus groups.
The Year 1 Focus Groups were taken from both ends of the above sliding scale on attitudes to reading
- A, B, C D, E negative attitude towards reading
- F, G, H I, J positive attitude towards reading
I interviewed this group of children using a range of open-ended questions and developed a questionnaire using a sliding scale, similar to that used in the qualitive InCAS online assessment.
The following data was collected from:
Do you enjoy reading at school? 74% say 5/5, 13% say 4/5, 13% say 0/5
Is learning to read easy?
“I can read lots of words!” said G.
“No it is not, there is always tricky words and I just can’t read them” answered Child A.
When do you enjoy reading at school?
- 50% said with Mrs Y
- “Every time!” Child J.
- “Not at all!” said Child D.
Emotional intelligence is a key component to our teaching and the children are all very familiar with the mood meter.
Thinking of our mood meter, when learning to read with a teacher or in a group how does it make you feel?
Mrs Y is a volunteer who spends 1:1 time reading with children. I thought this was a key response from the majority of children in the focus groups. Mrs Y gives each child time and she has a rapport with each child, always asking them about their hobbies and interests before the reading begins.
The data collected from the voice of the children is powerful in the message it delivers and the impact our volunteers have with the time and experience they offer our children.
Following this data collection, through leading after school staff team meetings I involved all teachers from Nursery, Reception, Year 1 and Year 2 in the following:
Intervention for all teachers
- Learning visits followed by learning conversations
- Targeted PD (CPD) sessions on Guided Reading sessions and how to use a Running Record to accurately analyse children’s reading
- Data-driven dialogue conversations
Data-driven dialogue conversations led to teachers looking at ways we teach reading, improving the learning environments to become literacy rich, implementing changes in timetabling and discussions in better use of teaching assistants and training.
McKenna, Kear & Ellsworth (1995) completed a national survey but they highlighted different types of reading attitudes, including attitude towards recreational reading and attitude towards school related reading. They discuss attitude in terms of a hierarchy from general interest to specific genres and interests. In terms of this project, it is best to think of attitudes in terms of a global attitude towards reading in general, and how positive and negative attitudes toward reading develop in young children.
There is little evidence in the research literature on factors that affect young children developing their attitude, confidence and attainment when learning to read. McKenna, Kear & Ellsworth cite Mathewson (1994), who suggested that attitude is a set of factors influencing an individual’s attention to read. Mathewson’s main idea related to “the role of attitude as a factor during the act of reading and during the period when one learns to read”. This report notes that if a child’s cultural environment encourages, models and reinforces reading, more positive attitudes should result.
I felt this was very evident when 50% of the children stated enjoying reading with Mrs Y as the experience they have contributes and influences their developing attitude.
As stated in the Northern Ireland Primary Curriculum, 2007: “Children should be given opportunities to develop their confidence and independence through enjoyable reading experiences…” as the data shows, Mrs Y offers an enjoyable reading experience. Rose (2006) agrees that parents and carers, along with settings and schools, do much to foster reading attitudes.
- Increase our reading volunteers’ program
- Possible future reporting on Characteristics of Effective Learning throughout KS1 that builds on the existing reporting in EYFS
- Promote positive reading at home, remove level reading books
- Timetable guided reading sessions
- Design & Organise the Learning Environment
- Assess & monitor change in attitudes
- Can children’s attitude towards reading change?
To find time for teachers/practitioners to meet, plan, reflect and implement ideas was a challenge when conducting this project. In an infant school setting, all practitioners teach all subjects and with a busy timetable it often is difficult to just focus on the one area. Subject coordinators often work in isolation with not much success in delivering new initiatives. Introducing development groups across the school will allow teams of colleagues to collaborate, reflect on areas of the curriculum, implement new initiatives and identify steps needed to enhance the children’s learning across the school.
The data driven dialogue conversations with teachers/practitioners sparked much discussion and led to initiatives in training for guided reading and encouraged teachers/practitioners to revaluate the learning environment in terms of being literacy rich and changing the timetable to offer quality reading sessions.
The impact of my research has been to facilitate teachers/practitioners to discuss the data collected, evaluate and reflect on the comments and questionnaire responses from the students. It has created a platform of discussion and encouraged change in the way facilitators will set up their learning environments. Most of all, it has ensured that the weekly timetable allows time for enriched and purposeful group reading and expand our volunteers program.
ABC Literacy, 2007, Northern Ireland Education Board. Reading Guidance for Key Stage 1.
McKenna,M, Kear,D and Ellsworth,R. 1995, Children’s Attitudes toward Reading: A national survey. pages 934 – 956
Rose, J. 2006. Independent review of the teaching of early reading.