How can we help children to choose books independently?
Guided Reading, Home Readers, Banded Books, Reading Schemes…I have lost count of the number of times I have visited primary schools where the library is dominated by books that are organised into reading levels. You know the look I mean – rows and rows of books, all with coloured stickers, stored in boxes, magazine filing boxes or adapted cereal packets.
Whilst I can see that it’s important to help children to find books which match their reading ability I sometimes worry that this works against our ambition to get children to read for pleasure. If we believe that the first step of getting children to read for pleasure is to help them find a book they enjoy, surely we need to understand the individual’s reading motivation, tastes and preferences to do this effectively. I accept that steering a child in the direction of the books that might match their reading ability is part of the mix but I would also argue that there’s far more to it. Does the child prefer funny or serious books; a gentle read or something that’s fast and furious; something that’s safe or something that’s scary? Aren’t we better helping a child find a book that gives them the reading experiences they enjoy rather getting them to read something purely because it has a yellow sticker on the spine? If a child takes great pleasure from reading a particular book, does it really matter if, for that individual, it’s a bit challenging or if they can read it very easily?
My other concern about a school that is dominated by banded reading is the impact it has on less confident readers. My youngest child has always struggled with reading and I remember her disappointment at primary school when she was stuck at blue reader level but all her peers had moved on to green and beyond. She longed to read the books that her friends were talking about but she felt that they weren’t for her and she was destined to read the ‘baby’ books forever. I am sure that there’s an argument to say that reading a book which you find difficult is also demotivating but surely we should be able to find a way to help less able readers to share and enjoy a wider range of more age appropriate reading experiences.
My final thought on banded reading is based on the impact it has on how we physically present books. At BookSpace we have lots if evidence which shows that books displayed face-out will get better used, borrowed and read than books which are displayed spine-out. Going back to the boxes full of banded books all of which just allow the spine (and of course the coloured sticker) to be seen, does this really make browsing a pleasure, does it encourage us to look, touch and take?
I am sure that getting rid of banded, level reading altogether in primary schools is not realistic as I can see that it has a place in helping teachers and children to understand and track their reading progress. However I just hope that schools can find a balance and this directed style of choosing is not the only reading offer we make available in schools. At BookSpace we have a number of resources which support your work in getting children to read for pleasure. For example our CPD course ‘Helping children chose independently’ is designed to build children’s confidence to choose across a wide range of books. And of course we have a wide range of furniture that is designed to showcase books and reading positively to children, regardless of reading ability.