In my November 2020 BERA Blog, ‘Reading during lockdown: Supporting vulnerable learners’, I reported on the beginnings of a small-scale research project (funded by BERA) to explore the impact of Covid-19 on the most vulnerable readers in primary schools and the teachers that support them.
What has become apparent through the research is that while the lockdown period for schools presented monumental challenges in relation to online and remote learning, many of the new and innovative practices developed are not just useful in periods of lockdown – they can in fact support, enhance and shake-up teaching and learning approaches in general.
Most of the schools involved in the research embedded reading aloud for pleasure in every year groups’ daily and weekly learning. All members of the school community took part in recording themselves reading aloud their favourite books, newly published books, books by new authors and books brought to life by fabulous illustrators. Schools searched the internet for the plethora of authors and other celebrities reading books aloud – helping to hook in their more reluctant readers – and on many occasions publishers waived copyright to allow this to happen. As pupils return to school it is essential that this does not stop – the daily (or more frequent) read aloud enables the class reading community to have a repertoire of ‘texts in common’ to discuss and for vocabularies to widen; for complex language structures to be adopted; for cognitive skills to develop; and, of course, to arouse pleasure, curiosity and inspire (Trelease, 2013). Not only that, but the new ‘library’ of online storytelling is still available and can be used! Read alouds offer a twist on the audio book that the National Literacy Trust suggested could be a way into reading for boys and a valuable resource for the reluctant reader or the child without an adult who regularly reads to them (NLT, 2020).
Being able to read one to one with a child whenever and wherever they are – at home, in a different ‘bubble’ in school, during school holidays and after school hours – is a real bonus, particularly where family circumstances make this difficult for a parent to do. Online one to one reading, as developed by the Reading Recovery teachers in Bristol, has been an innovation that has transcended the lockdown school closures. One to one online reading was continued during the school holidays for the most vulnerable readers and in the new school term has been offered after school. Parents have benefited as they have been able to see the approaches, practices, and the praise and prompts used by teachers, and they have reported that this has helped them to better support their child. With Bristol local authority safeguarding leads able to support schools in identifying and mitigating risk and with teachers in negotiation with publishers to provide the PDF versions of scheme books to make online book sharing just ‘one click’ away, this approach to supporting reading has the potential to last long after Covid-19.
‘Being able to read one to one with a child whenever and wherever they are – at home, in a different “bubble” in school, during school holidays and after school hours – is a real bonus, particularly where family circumstances make this difficult for a parent to do.’
For many children there has been a gap in book borrowing possibilities, as only the children of key workers and vulnerable learners could return to school, and schools imposed quarantine requirements for library books. In response, some schools developed new approaches, including an outside library trolley, where children and their parents could borrow books and return them safely just beyond the school gates and in the outdoor, more Covid-19 secure, environment. Some schools developed this further with outdoor book swap trolleys, whereby parents who had the funds to buy books for their children could bring them to school (to be quarantined) before being made available on the ‘book swap’ trolley for others to borrow. Parents and children who would not normally find their way to the school library or even into the school building were comfortable with these outdoor set-ups and so began borrowing books with their children for the first time. There were knock-on benefits as well: new relationships with families were formed, and informal conversations about reading with parents and children began. These practices are continuing now with the resultant benefits being extended.
Lockdown learning was a tremendous challenge for schools, and one that they rose to with energy, innovation and tenacity. The practices developed around reading have the potential to enrich and develop practice well into a Covid-19-free future.
National Literary Trust [NLT]. (2020). Children and young people’s reading in 2020 before and during the COVID-19 lockdown. Retrieved from https://literacytrust.org.uk/research-services/research-reports/children-and-young-peoples-reading-in-2020-before-and-during-the-covid-19-lockdown/
Trelease, J. (2013). The read-aloud handbook (7th ed). New York: Penguin.