WEEK 19 - Friday 2 February 2024
The invention of the printing press is widely credited to the German Johannes Gutenberg in 1436; although, as with most things, many people believe that the Chinese had already mastered the ability to print using wooden blocks, as early as the 9th Century. Whoever did it, it transformed the world and enabled the development of mass reading.
The ability for us to read books opened the world to us. Not only could we read about the lives of other people, but this also allowed us to learn about other lands, cultures and periods in history. By reading a book, I can discover what it was like to live on the opposite side of the world, but also in different centuries or deeper in history. The joy and fascination of reading is one of the most amazing things to have impacted human beings in our history and yet sadly it is too often taken for granted and reduced to a functional skill.
I have spent some of my time this week listening to children read, mostly at Penshurst – our Primary phase within Hessle Academy. There is nothing more important in our curriculum than that children can read, and our intention is that they all develop this skill as quickly as possible to open the rest of the curriculum to them all.
To emphasise the importance of this, reading is the first thing that all of the Penshurst children do at the start of the day and at the start of the afternoon. Our youngest readers follow a well established planned curriculum called Read Write Inc – many of you may have heard about it and it is increasingly successful in enabling the children to develop the phonic skills to begin to read fluently.
Phonics was introduced into UK schools through the national curriculum in the late 90s and, as a secondary school teacher, it was never part of our training or work to understand what this complicated language of phonemes and graphemes actually meant. It was only when my own children started primary school that I began to understand it and appreciated the power of learning to read in this way.
The staff at Penshurst are highly skilled in delivering this knowledge and early reading there is becoming increasingly strong with increasing numbers of pupils passing the Year 1 Phonics test and the proportion being well above the national average. But we’re not content until all children can reach this stage and the RWI programme is flexible enough to continue working with all children until they reach that level even if takes them a little longer than others.
The explicit teaching of reading continues through the school using books of increasing complexity, including ‘Who Let The Gods Out’ which I have to confess I found utterly baffling! My daughter’s school also use this book and it became our bedtime story book for a while before Christmas. We took it in turns to read but I could not understand the plot at all. I used it as an opportunity for her to summarise the story back to me at the end of each chapter, but I confess that I was thankful when we got to the end of the book. My daughter loved it though and was delighted when she found out that it was just the first of a four-book series, the rest of which she got for Xmas. Great.
But I digress. At the high school, we also set out to ensure that all children can read fluently to be able to access the secondary curriculum, but we also explore the different types of reading that they do, making them aware of the difference between skimming, scanning, inferring and so on.
Getting teenage children to read for pleasure is the ultimate goal of our reading programme and we recognise that this is much harder to achieve now when teenagers can access so much other ‘entertainment’ on their mobile devices. Nevertheless, we still have many many avid book readers who can be found in our library at social times or just sitting, lost in a book, amid the busy canteen at lunchtime. To further encourage them and others we will soon be launching our Hessle Canon – a list of fantastic titles which we hope all our students will aim to read before they leave our school; and they will be able to borrow them – for free – from our school library to do so.
My current book is The Bascombe Novels; the trilogy of books written by Richard Ford about the life of Frank Bascombe, a fictional man living in America. My wife asked me what it was about when she first saw me with it (the trilogy – in one book – runs to 1200 pages) to which I answered, “it’s just about a man who starts as a sportswriter, then becomes an estate agent, then he retires. He gets married, his son dies, and he gets divorced and then he gets married again. That’s about it, really. But it's really good.”
“Sounds it,” she said sarcastically, “I can’t wait for it be on Netflix!”
Which kind of proves my point that great writing, and the ability to read patiently, can bring any story to life and hold the reader hooked.
Finally, thank you for your incredible support so far this term. We have seen record numbers to events involving Year 9 and 11 this term so far and your engagement and support is really appreciated by all of my staff.
Enjoy your weekend and thank you again.