Reading between the Michael Morpurgo headlines

By Margaret Allen, Strategic Education Manager

Children’s laureate Michael Morpurgo hit the headlines recently after delivering his keynote speech at the first annual Book Trust lecture… with claims that exams have created ‘apartheid’ in schools appearing in the likes of the Guardian and the BBC. However, this message was just one of many points which he covered (although perhaps the most controversial hence its dominant coverage in the media). However, when we look past the debate on Government agendas, Morpurgo actually gives us some really positive observations and suggestions that we can put to good use in classrooms today… and here are the highlights that I think we should really be focusing on:

‘Ensure that reading is an inclusive experience for children’

Empowering children to take control of their own learning is a proven way of supporting growth – and this includes reading. Creating a positive reading culture where reading is encouraged, recognised and rewarded is known to establish an inclusive environment where the children are not reading to achieve a certain level, instead they are reading for a genuine love of books. Technology like Renaissance Accelerated Reader can be used to support an inclusive approach by ensuring that children are reading books which are within their Zone of Proximal Development (in line with Vygotsky’s theory). In doing so, children will be motivated by progress as opposed to be disheartened by reading books that are either too easy or too difficult.

To see how other schools are already successfully using this approach, read the guest blog from Brooklands Farm Primary School.

‘Story time unconnected to any academic achievements or examinations’

This message screams ‘Reading for Pleasure’ out loud and clear! I’ve worked with so many schools where reading for pleasure is high on the agenda and as a result of this they have introduced some really engaging, exciting and innovative ways of making reading enjoyable. None of these approaches rely on the use of technology. Instead, programmes like Accelerated Reader have been used to enhance existing initiatives – with many citing that the ‘quizzing’ element makes assessment fun for the children yet gives teachers valuable insight into reading development.

Judy Grevett, Headteacher at River Beach Primary School shares some excellent ideas in her guest blog while Dave Ayers, Deputy Headteacher summarises the quiz versus tests benefits really well in his video.

‘Don’t make a chore and a trial out of reading and books’

One of the easiest ways to avoid making reading a chore is to give children freedom, flexibility and choice. ‘Drop Everything And Read’ works for many schools, but a key success factor is access to the right books. This doesn’t only mean titles which are within the children’s reading ability – it also needs to be a range of genres. Help is at hand though! AR Bookfinder is a great (and totally free) online tool where teachers, parents and children – can search thousands of fiction and non-fiction books to identify ones which the children will find appropriate yet engaging.

Coming from the perspective of a person who is passionate about literacy and even more passionate about helping children to learn to love reading, I would like to thank Michael Morpurgo for hitting the headlines with these really important messages. I only hope that the very essence of what he is calling for does not get lost in the media controversy.

Remember to share your thoughts on this blog @MargaretCAllen – would love to hear them.

Margaret Allen
Strategic Education Manager

Margaret Allen is Strategic Education Manager for Primary schools at Renaissance Learning. She uses practical experience from her time teaching in primary classrooms to help teachers across the UK to get the most out of Accelerated Reader.

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