Developing a Trust-wide reading strategy (with Accelerated Reader)
By Gary Hillyard, Assistant Headteacher
Reading skills are a fundamental building block in helping to ensure that children can go on to achieve their full potential. It’s not just about preparing them for exams, it’s about improving their long-term life chances. This was the key driver behind the introduction of our Trust-wide reading strategy and why we’ve evolved the use of Accelerated Reader beyond small intervention programmes to become the backbone of reading in all our schools.
Pioneered by Redhill Academy, our lead school, the reading strategy focuses on Years 7 to Year 9, with the objective of all students achieving a reading age of 15 by the time they enter Year 10. Now, we recognise that this is an ambitious target, which is why the strategy is underpinned by solid support initiatives and celebrations that help to engender a real passion for reading.
It’s still a little too early in our progress to objectively report on the full effectiveness of our approach, as the first students to come through the programme do not reach the end of Year 9 until July. That said, from my experience as Lead for the Trust Reading Strategy, I am confident that our strategy is having a positive impact – for teachers as well as students. Our most recent data for Years 7 and 8 shows a substantial improvement of reading ages.
Firstly, as new schools have joined the Trust, we’ve been in a unique position to share learnings – what’s worked well, what’s not worked so well – and provide structured support to help our colleagues to develop their own reading programme at a pace that works for them. We host a Reading Steering Group as a formal update four times a year, but in between these times there’s always someone they can go to for advice. This systematic approach saves schools time and gives them the benefit of peer experience, which simply cannot be replaced as a standalone school.
Across the Trust, we’ve embedded reading into the curriculum provision. Every student has their Accelerated Reader book with them at all times, and we have embedded 15-minute DEAR (Drop Everything And Read) sessions into each day of the timetable. This means that for one period of each day students are able to read their books, giving them regular opportunities to develop their reading skill. This is in addition to the one hour ‘Accelerated Reader’ lesson per week which takes place in the library and provides access to a range of reading opportunities.
While Accelerated Reader gave us a reliable and valid tool for developing reading skills initially, as we’ve grown as a Trust, so has our reading strategy. We put celebration at the heart of activities and aim to inspire and excite our students with a lifelong passion for reading. The system gives us a focus to keep programmes on track (and ultimately monitor progress), but reading progress is not just about data. We held a Trust event recently where we asked each school to nominate ten students who had made the most progress – defined by the schools themselves. Interestingly, one school chose to reward students who had gone from being highly reluctant to truly passionate readers, which underpins our aims to improve life chances through developing a love for reading.
Without a doubt, Accelerated Reader provides excellent structure for introducing and managing a focused reading development programme, but as is the same with any technology – you need to ensure it’s embedded in a way that works for your own Trust or school to reap the maximum benefit. So, based on my personal experiences of implementing, supporting and evaluating Accelerated Reader, I’d say for any schools looking to adopt it as part of a reading strategy – be clear about the role you need it to play and put clear structure in place to manage it. Start with this as the foundation and then build on your successes over time. It’s an ever evolving journey and one that will be truly rewarding.
Gary Hillyard has been a teacher in Nottinghamshire for the last 16 years. A History teacher by training, he started his career in the largest school in the county and has taken on a series of leadership roles over time, starting with a short spell as a Head of House before taking a curriculum route to Head of Humanities and then two Assistant Headteacher roles, leading on Teaching and Learning. For the last 7 years he has had the responsibility for driving forward literacy provision in two different schools, including his current post at The Oakwood Academy. Gary picked up the responsibility for leading the Trust Reading Strategy in September 2017.