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Lack of interest in reading could be hindering pupils' attainment

News | Published in TESS on 17 December, 2010 | By: Elizabeth Buie

Scottish children read fewer books for pleasure than their international rivals, but conversely spend more time surfing the net and social messaging.

If teachers can find a way to increase the amount of time pupils spend reading - particularly longer, continuous texts - their attainment will rise.

For Sue Ellis, literacy expert at Strathclyde University, Scotland’s poor showing in the reading section of the Pisa survey is a particular worry.

“Reading for pleasure increases children’s general knowledge of the world, which benefits them right across the curriculum,” she said. “It increases verbal reasoning and vocabulary and that gives benefits right across the curriculum. That is why it is a worry that kids are not doing as much reading for pleasure.”

The concept of reading for pleasure should go beyond teachers recommending books for children and include teachers fostering children’s social interaction around books in the way they interact via computers, she said.

Some schools were encouraging social networking around books by encouraging parents to share with each other information about their children’s favourite books.

But Ms Ellis added that teachers in primary and secondary also had to include longer, continuous text as part of their teaching rather than the current emphasis on “short bits”.

According to Jim Conroy, former education dean at Glasgow University, one of the most significant findings of the Pisa survey is that young people who are taught to read for meaning do best.

“That shows that synthetic phonics is not the answer because that method teaches people words, not meaning,” he said.

He echoed Ms Ellis’s comments on the need to increase young people’s engagement with reading for pleasure.

“When you read for pleasure, you read for meaning,” he said.

But David Turner, a literacy expert at Glamorgan University, suggested that Wales may have performed poorly compared to its UK neighbours in the international survey because of its focus on particular literacy skills which may count against the Welsh focus on bilingualism.

“There is a very strong spoken tradition in both languages in Wales - the things we value in Wales about literacy are not caught in a simple reading and writing test,” said Professor Turner.

Other commentators familiar with both Welsh and Scottish systems suggest that Wales may have been caught by its radical change in curricular policy in the past decade. It had moved away from the English system of Sats- testing, to teacher-moderated assessment similar to that being adopted in Scotland.

Some of the smaller Welsh local authorities may also lack the capacity to support and challenge schools, it is claimed.


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