What can carers do to help children become successful readers?

Janet Downs's picture
Fifteen-year-old pupils whose carers read books with them during their first year of primary school score higher in the Programme for International Students Assessment (PISA) tests which take place every three years.

PISA tests do more than just test reading, maths and science. They asked teachers, pupils and parents questions to discover what factors affect how well children do. In 2009, PISA focussed on reading and found that a child’s reading skill was improved:

1 When carers read books with them often (weekly or daily);

2 When carers discussed books, films or TV programmes often (weekly or daily);

3 When carers discussed how well the children were doing at school;

4 When the family ate main meals together at a table;

5 When carers discussed political or social issues often (weekly or daily).

PISA found that pupils were never too old to benefit from these activities. None of them needed specialist knowledge and only one, the provision of books, required some financial investment although regular visits to libraries could reduce such spending.

The Eurydice report on the teaching of reading in Europe endorsed the importance of parental involvement. It concluded:

1 Parents who enjoy reading are more likely to pass on enthusiasm for reading to their children. An environment which encourages reading extends beyond the home – to friends, relatives, libraries and so on.

2 Talking about letter sounds, the alphabet and words is more effective than just listening to children read.

3 Reading text on a computer can increase reading proficiency but not as much as reading printed material. However, it can increase motivation. (Note: the report was published before widespread uptake of e-readers.)

4 Watching educational TV had a positive effect on comprehension but watching entertainment programmes had a negative influence.

5 Being surrounded by children’s books had a positive effect.

6 Teenagers who regularly read fiction, magazines, newspapers and nonfiction tend to be better readers. Reading comics is not generally associated with better reading although comic books can inspire reluctant readers to try other reading material.

PISA and Eurydice concluded that teachers, schools and governments need to consider how they could best help busy parents play a more active role in their children’s education. In some countries there are national literacy schemes which promote reading. In this country the Bookstart scheme gives books to children at key points in their lives but the Government proposed cutting its funding at the end of 2010. It was only after a national outcry that funding was reinstated but at a much reduced amount. Libraries play a central role in the promotion of reading skills. Again, in this country investment in libraries is much reduced and many local libraries are closing.

Carers are an invaluable and under-used resource for encouraging reading. Governments have a crucial role in developing the skills of carers, not just parents, but grand-parents, older siblings, day-care staff, adult volunteers and so on. £18 million has been spent already on the legalities surrounding academy conversion. This money could have been much better spent on promoting enthusiasm for reading.

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Shirley Burnham's picture
Tue, 24/01/2012 - 13:49

As you have so correctly reported here, numerous local public libraries upon which families depend are closing (and school libraries are suffering the same fate). The most vulnerable children are affected in both cases. The 'grown-ups' who protest the dismantling of a professional service in their communities are not doing so solely for their own benefit. They, like you, are thinking of the future. Representations by the Local Schools Network to government would carry great weight. It is likely that you have submitted evidence to the Parliamentary Select Committee on Library Closures -- but beyond that, how welcome your support would be in helping to turn back the tide of closures, to ensure that all children have an equal start in life. Please do all you can. Thank you.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 24/01/2012 - 14:48

Shirley - I didn't know about the Parliamentary Select Committee on Library Closures. Unfortunately, the cut-off date for evidence has passed (12 January 2012). Both of the reports cited above were published at the end of last year. Let's hope that the Committee read these influential documents.

The most recent Eurydice report (on maths) says that government policies should be informed by evidence. Unfortunately, this government tends to ignore evidence that doesn't fit with its preconceptions. And it doesn't have a good track record of encouraging reading (unless it's de-coding nonsense words in phonics tests) - the furore of Bookstart is an example of its philistine tendencies.

Shirley Burnham's picture
Wed, 25/01/2012 - 06:59

Thank you for this reply. There is still much that can be done. Representations can be made to the culture minister and secretary of state; to MPs, to local councillors and to the national Press. Lethargy is not an option now; children are the future and they must not be let down by us. My good wishes.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 25/01/2012 - 08:22

Shirley - despite the cut off date for evidence to the Select Committee on Library Closures having passed, I decided to e-mail the Committee's chairman, Mr John Whittingdale, MP, drawing the Committee's attention to the PISA and Eurydice reports cited in my thread. I said I expected that the Committee had already seen copies of these but just in case it hadn't...



Shirley Burnham's picture
Wed, 25/01/2012 - 13:52

That is superb of you.

National Libraries Day is on 4th Feb, I expect you know : http://www.nationallibrariesday.org.uk/2012/01/press-release-love-your-l...

And the Lobby for Libraries event in London on 13th March is likely to be most invigorating : http://www.thebookseller.com/news/library-supporters-unite-13th-march-ra...

My best wishes.

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