Guest Blog from Mrs E Vickers from Scalby School.
The pandemic has undoubtedly had an impact on the literacy levels of students up and down the country. One of the many strategies we have put in place to help support and develop our students’ literacy skills at Scalby School is a Mentor Time Reading Programme. We began by seeking advice from Joanne McCluskie from The Education Alliance Trust, who has had huge success with her whole school tutor ‘Read Aloud’ programme. At Scalby, students have twenty minutes a day in a mentor group. Traditionally, we have used this time to explore spiritual, moral, social and cultural issues in order to help our students become responsible and thoughtful citizens. We do still tackle these issues but now we tackle them through reading together. This way, we are able to teach our children about respect and tolerance but are also developing a community of readers at the same time.
Each year group are given a carefully chosen collection of three texts to read across the year. The mentor reads the story aloud to their mentees, modelling fluency and enthusiasm. This removes any literacy barriers students may have; it frees them from the pressures of decoding and allows them to enjoy and absorb the story. However, students have a copy of the book and may follow along, if they choose to.
The stories all contain a teenage protagonist – someone they can identify with. We feel that it is so important that students can see their lives reflected in the stories we read. It is our sincere hope that students ‘meet themselves’ somewhere in the stories as they move through the school. We meet a wide range of characters – strong male and female teenage leads, young people from different backgrounds and ethnicities, cultures and socio-economic scales – all with different abilities and life chances, but who are all united by the experience of being a teenager. A wide range of genres are also explored to develop their knowledge of a breadth of literature.
Mentors were offered some training about how to read a book aloud to our students. It sounds simple enough – but if English is not your specialism, it might feel a bit daunting. Staff have really embraced the challenge and have found the experience to be really enjoyable. Maths teacher, Rob Harrison said, ‘Reading with my mentor group has been very enriching. I love the shared experience of reading together as a group and the conversations that develop from it. The book we are reading is an excellent choice for my Year 10 mentor group as the trials that the main characters are going through are so universal and visceral for 14- and 15-years olds to relate to. I am aware that for some of the students in my mentor group that reading with me is the only reading that they do for pleasure and without the pressure of a formal question at the end of a session they can relax and enjoy the experience of reading for what it is: a rewarding and enjoyable way to spend time.’
Students are also relishing the programme. It is wonderful to see so many young people enjoying reading together. Year 8 student John Mathers said, ‘I’m really enjoying the book so far. I really like it when Mrs Noble asks us questions and we are able to discuss our ideas about what is happening. I always want to read on ahead.’
We are still in the early stages of our programme and are keen to see how it develops. It is clear to see our community of readers growing. We have experienced a big rise in footfall in the library. Students are keen to read more from the authors we’ve introduced them to (many of the books we selected are the first in a series) We’ve had to swiftly channel some more funds into our library as we were having to create waiting lists for books to return. Too many children wanting to read? What a lovely issue to have to solve!
Although the programme is largely designed to develop reading for enjoyment, we will also be monitoring the effect on our students’ reading ability by measuring their reading ages at the beginning of the year and tracking them throughout. We’ll then be able to compare any progress to that of previous years. We are delighted with how the project is developing so far. We have been really well supported by the Opportunities Area and by local businesses, enabling us to focus on developing a community of readers and instil a love of literature across our school.
The texts we have started with are:
Year 7 – Cogheart by Peter Bunzl (a dazzling adventure story – first book in a series of four)
Year 8 – Ruby in the Smoke by Philip Pullman (a mystery/adventure story set in Victorian London – first book in the Sally Lockhart series)
Year 9 – The Boy Who Steals Houses by C.G Drews (a heart-warming teen drama about two brothers, who are homeless and struggling to find their place in the world)
Year 10 – We Are All Made Of Molecules by Susin Nielsin (a realistic teen tale of what might happen when you try to blend two families together)