The Dunhurst approach to reading

There has been commentary in the press over the past term about the poor standard of boys’ reading levels nationally, with opinions expressed on the causes. The headlines say ‘thousands of boys at least four years behind in reading’ and ‘boys’ reading skills must be tackled’. Children’s author Michael Morpurgo has joined the campaign to boost standards too.

Head of English, Amy Wilson-Smith, has a tried and tested approach and she tells us how this works at Dunhurst….. 

Some children don’t like reading as they haven’t found books they like AND they haven’t been persuaded into reading. Others arrive at school with the perception that books just aren’t cool. The Dunhurst solution, you may be surprised to hear, is not a modern one – but simply time, effort and the will to succeed. In some cases a huge amount of time spent discussing and sourcing books. Teachers here work extremely hard with the individual to source books that they can effectively access and will enjoy NOT just pretend they will. We have an open door policy so that if a child doesn’t like a book it’s not a big deal – we begin the process again. It can take several tries to find a book that they will love. On occasion, we have gone into the teens before we found the right book, but knowing it was (eventually!) the book which kick-started their enjoyment of reading means the amount of time spent sourcing and discussing was immaterial.

This, of course, is only the beginning of the process as children at Dunhurst are encouraged to discuss what they have read individually and in groups. Pupils can then begin to take responsibility for their own book choices but with the knowledge that they can ask for advice whenever they require it. Very often children will be so excited about a book they have read over the holidays that they cannot wait to return to tell their class teacher – this enthusiasm is infectious. Reluctant readers want to feel that buzz of excitement that a book they like can give them – but they don’t want to fail and so providing a safety net is key.

Children at Dunhurst are very lucky with a full-time and part-time librarian; children can get help or advice throughout the school day and ask for particular books they would like in our school library. We also have well stocked house libraries that children can borrow from when boarding.

For many lucky children, wanting to read comes as easily as remembering to shower in the morning but for others it is a huge struggle and that’s for both girls and boys. Yes, reading is the key that unlocks so many other parts of our children’s education but the pressure to read and read well can be overwhelming and seem unachievable, particularly by those boys who are already behind their peers.

At Dunhurst I have seen so many different strategies employed to persuade individual children into reading. Our success is because of the focus on the individual as one size doesn’t fit all. We are successful in developing a shared love of reading – no matter how well or badly you do it, a community which helps children to keep reading even though they may find it tough. Adults alongside peers older and younger are all involved in keeping up the momentum and confidence of readers of all abilities. We believe a stress-free approach to reading is key and that you should read what actually interests you which may not necessarily be the latest best seller.

When I asked for Year 8 volunteers to read a story aloud to Year 4 at a break-time – 80% of responders were boys and not those I expected. It wasn’t the pupils who particularly liked speaking aloud but it was those who wanted to share the book they had loved as a younger child with others.

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