Drop Everything And Read… with dogs!

DEAR reading blog Dunhurst 1Each Monday and Friday the Groups children (and anyone else who wants to join in) have 30 minutes of reading time, known here at Dunhurst as DEAR Time: Drop Everything And Read.

Because of our busy lives, we sometimes forget how important and how lovely it is to find a few minutes in our day for some quiet reading. During the colder months we read in the library, but we are looking forward to when we can read outside in Cobb’s field.

While most children seem to enjoy this period of calm and quiet reading in their day, there are some who no doubt find DEAR Time absolute torture – either because they do not like reading, or perhaps just find it difficult to stay still and quiet for 30 minutes. Research reveals the worrying news that there are millions of children who simply don’t like to read and, more and more, are choosing not to. The challenge for us is to make the reading environment irresistible, and the experience itself delightful and satisfying.

DEAR reading blog Dunhurst 3

In the lead up to World Book Day we introduced a new reading programme, DEAR Time with Dogs, which we are very excited about. Research suggests children, especially those who struggle with reading, can be nervous and anxious when reading aloud in class.  Reading to dogs has been proven to help children develop literacy skills and build confidence, through both the calming effect of the dog’s presence and the fact that the dog will listen to children read without being judgmental or critical. And, we all know what great listeners dogs are!

Here at Dunhurst we are fortunate to have our very own dogs to read to in the familiar surrounds of their owners’ (our teachers) classrooms, and this comforting environment helps to nurture children’s enthusiasm for reading. Reading is such an important skill which is used in every part of our lives, but reading aloud can be a scary thing if you are a reluctant reader. Like any skill, it needs practice, practice and practice, andDEAR reading blog Dunhurst 2 if reading to Gertie, Vinnie, and their friends Star, Stubbs, Jackson, Dozer and Frazzle can help develop children’s self- confidence and passion for reading while they are still finding their voice, who knows what else we will discover and where this journey will take us.  Aren’t we all lucky to be at a school where this can happen as part of our normal, everyday life?

By Tess Tamvakis, Dunhurst Librarian

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.