The Art of Silent Reading

Back in the days of yore, when whiteboards and mobile phones were the stuff of science-fiction and everyone had permed hair, I was a teacher. spigen iphone 8 case thin fit I taught in a variety of schools; secondary, middle and primary. I taught high school children from affluent towns in the south-east and tough cities in the north. I taught ten-year olds in a school bang in the middle of a council estate and ten-year olds in a tiny school (26 pupils) in the heart of a village.                 Besthorpe Primary School in Nottinghamshire where I taught from c. 1989 – 1992. It closed a few years ago and is now a house. No matter where I was, the one lesson I made sure we had, at least once a week (every day in some instances) was silent reading. This was how it worked. Step 1: The children chose a book This is not as easy as it sounds. There’s a skill to choosing a book as Michael’s Rosen’s piece points out. giraffe iphone 7 plus case It might take a good 15 -20 minutes. Kids need to be trained. That’s why a teacher should never prefix, ‘Choose a book, everyone…’ with, ‘Hurry up and…’ Hurrying is no way to choose a book. All that achieves is pupils pulling any old title off the shelf. It’s pointless trying to get a reading atmosphere going if half the class aren’t dying to read because what they’ve chosen is too easy or hard or uninspiring. Obviously it helps if there is a good selection of books to choose from. A public library nearby is ideal. Failing that, a decent school library. Book boxes or book trolleys in the classroom are OK if they provide a wide range of fiction and non-fiction and are constantly refreshed but libraries are best. Always. telephone Children should feel free to choose whatever they want to read during silent reading, from Dostoyevsky to The Dandy. The aim of silent reading is for the child to be absorbed in what they are reading. Comics, football programmes, whatever. The teacher shouldn’t impose rules about what is a ‘good’ book and what is not. Some of the world’s greatest thinkers, entrepreneurs and writers only read comics as kids. There was a great discussion on this recently on the ABBA blog when writer Clementine Beauvais suggested children shouldn’t be reading ‘trashy stuff’ as it was like giving them junk food. Read the blog and the responses and see what you think. Step 2: Get Comfy soniapic At home, we read in an armchair or on a sofa or in bed. We are comfortable and relaxed. The same goes for silent reading in the classroom. Let the pupils sit where they want. On the carpet. Under a desk. By the fish tank. Honestly, this will not lead to anarchy and kids messing about. It works, it really does. Girl Reading illustration by Sonia Leong Step 3: Put a sign on the door Let the school know silent reading is in progress. We don’t want interruptions. Teachers these days are terrible for interrupting each other. They drop in and out of each other’s classrooms all the time – in primary schools especially. Stop it. Unless there’s an emergency. Stop it. iphone 6 mint green case Whatever it is can wait. squishies iphone x case Embrace the peace, man. quiet               Step 4: The teacher has a book too Children need to see the teacher absorbed in a book. Not marking, not texting, not putting up a display, not calling out children to hear them read. Reading. Fully and totally hooked in their own book. This shared experience is vital. Only when everyone looks up together at the end of silent reading and moans because the spell has been broken, does silent reading work. Photo shows a member of staff from one of my school visits in Wakefield. Zany specs optional. Step 5: Insist on Silence Once the children are settled, there must be silence. The session is only going to last for half an hour, so no whispering/going to the loo/etc. in that time. Having said that, there may be occasional snorting. Sometimes, that snorting might come from the teacher. Say it’s 1982 and the teacher is reading, for example, The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, snorting with laughter cannot be avoided. The pupils will shake their heads and shush you but afterwards they will want to know why you were snorting and this leads to them wanting to read the book, too. Win-win! There may also be tears. Read this moving account by a teacher of a child in her group’s reaction after reading The Book Thief. Isn’t that the most awe-inspiring thing ever? But is silent reading possible in the 2014 classroom? Why not? The National Curriculum and Ofsted are encouraging reading for pleasure in a big way these days. Silent reading is a valid learning activity. It encourages children to develop as readers and children who read are more likely to be successful academically and socially. You don’t want me to link you to the millions of studies that prove this, do you? If so, check out the Literacy Trust on my sidebar – they’ve undertaken dozens of the them. More than all the worthy academic stuff, though, mindful reading is a true life skill. That cocoon you have created in the classroom during silent reading sessions – that safe, malleable bubble – can be recreated by the individual outside the classroom. On buses, on trains, in airports, in bedrooms, in any kind of chaos, that memory of those special quiet reading lessons, when even the hyperactive kid was engrossed, can be folded up like a blanket and taken anywhere. What a gift.


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