Questions of Reading
Let's start with some questions to ponder ...
* As a teacher how much time, effort and energy do you try to set aside for your own reading?
* How many books and other texts do you have on the go at the moment?
* How big is the pile of reference texts, literature, magazines and newspapers next to your bed or stashed beside the sofa?
* How long have they been there?
* How many websites have you added to your favourites in the last month?
* Whose blogs are you reading currently and who are you following on Twitter?
* How many books for young people have you read recently?
* Who are your favourite new authors and poets?
* Which of these many texts/writers have you recommended to and/or discussed with others so far this year?
Arguably, being a reader frames us as reading teachers and supports us as we seek to apprentice younger readers, model our own love of reading and create communities of readers within and beyond school. Furthermore, research indicates that successful literacy teachers in the primary phase are knowledgeable about children's literature, prioritise the importance of meaning, and teach through whole texts (Block, Oakar and Hurt, 2002) as their successful secondary colleagues no doubt do also. Yet such knowledge is frequently sidelined or taken for granted in governments' lists of required teacher competencies.
It has long been argued that English teachers enter the profession with an ardent love of literature, a deep desire to share their passion with others and a commitment to profiling reading for pleasure (Peel, 2000). But does a new teacher with an English Literature degree have the most appropriate subject knowledge to support 21st century readers? (Hopper, 2005). As teachers do we know what the young people we teach are reading for pleasure beyond school? Do we continue to read widely, nurture our commitment and reflect upon our own preferences, habits and pleasures? Do we seek opportunities to capitalise upon the potential synergies between our own reading habits and satisfactions and those of the pupils? Are we developing as 'Reading Teachers--teachers who read and readers who teach?' (Commeyras et al, 2003).
In the current climate, with the potential loss of coursework, an impending new English Baccalaureate which fails to recognise English literature, a renewed emphasis on synthetic phonics and an absurd non-word reading test for 6 year olds, it would seem likely that professional attention might well be diverted elsewhere. Yet in order to motivate young readers, teachers surely need to balance literacy instruction and literary appreciation with reading for pleasure, demonstrating their own engagement and response as adult readers and enabling younger readers to share their likes and dislikes, thoughts and feelings in contexts which are not primarily standards-focused.
This article seeks to challenge us all as professionals to reflect upon our reading habits, preferences and practices and set ourselves new reading challenges; it also seeks to question whether we could do more to explore and possibly exploit our subject knowledge and the synergies between ourselves and young people as readers. It highlights concerns about our professional capacity to foster lifelong readers and argues that teachers' knowledge of literature for young people and their awareness of themselves as readers can make a marked difference to the kinds of practices, relationships and opportunities they make available in the classroom. The argument draws upon two phases of a United Kingdom Literacy Association (UKLA) project Teachers as Readers: Building Communities of Readers. Phase I (2006-7) involved a survey of 1200 teachers' reading habits and their knowledge and use of children's literature, whilst Phase II (2007-8), which sought to build on the issues arising from Phase I and to foster the development of Reading Teachers, comprised a research and development project with 43 teachers from 5 Local Authorities. …