Developing confident readers

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Amid concerns over falling reading standards, Piers Torday shares some strategies to help reluctant and challenged readers gain confidence in their own abilities and develop an eagerness to read, talk and imagine.

Despite inspirational efforts from schools up and down the country, literacy remains a very real challenge to teachers and pupils alike. One in eight British children left primary school last year behind in their reading.

In part, this is because many face challenges in developing confident reading skills, a number of which occur outside the classroom, including:

  • A lack of support at home, such as no books or another sibling prioritised.
  • English as an additional language, or not their main language at home.
  • They may be a ‘Looked After Child’ (in care).
  • Hearing problems (75 per cent of children have hearing problems in the first two years of school).
  • Undiagnosed sight problems or prescribed glasses not worn.

These were just some of the problems Susan Belgrave, founder of Beanstalk (formerly known as Volunteer Reading Help), sought to address when she set up the charity in 1973, with just a few piles of second-hand children’s books on her kitchen table. Over the past 40 years, her dream of a nation of confident, literate children has grown into a network of over 2,300 reading helpers, supporting over 7,300 children in nearly 1,200 schools from the North of England, the Midlands, London and the South-East. For just under a year, I have been one of those helpers, volunteering at Hargrave Park Primary in North London.

We are all thoroughly trained in reading strategies that complement whatever teachers or parents are using in the classroom and at home. The emphasis is on personal confidence and in gaining enjoyment and interest from reading.

As reading helpers rather than teachers, we are far more concerned with how we can pass on the universal gift of reading, telling and listening to stories. Beanstalk believes that literacy is essential for children to grow, develop and succeed as confident adults.

Techniques for increasing confidence
Confidence breeds confidence, and Beanstalk recommends techniques that I have seen yield incredible results in just two terms. During one half-hour session, we will use a mixture of conversation, games...


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