Just because independent reading does not have a learning objective attached to it, does not mean it isn’t valuable. Just because it cannot be tested, does not mean it should lose curriculum time. Sadly, creating time and space for reading is something that many teachers struggle with (given the ever-increasing demands on our already crowded timetables) and reading time – whether aloud or independent – seems to be one of the first things squeezed out of the timetable if it’s a busy day (and when is it ever not a busy day?).
It would be a mistake to view independent reading time simply as a ‘luxury’ or an ‘added bonus’ within the school day. The Teachers as Readers research (Cremin et al, 2008) talks about the need to create time and space for children to read in order to foster that love of reading for pleasure and enjoyment. It should be seen as an essential part of any school curriculum and it should be given priveleged, protected time on our timetables. But be careful, do not confuse independent reading with ‘silent reading’ or ‘reading for punishment’ (yes, this still happens in some schools!) as this will have a negative impact on children’s attitudes towards reading – something we are trying to avoid!
As well as when independent reading happens, we also need to consider where and how it happens to ensure that it does not simply become a boring, routine procedure, void of authentic reader engagement and interaction. It is not time for teachers to ‘catch up on a bit of marking’ or ‘do that display’. In order for it to be really effective, the teacher needs to engage in reading for pleasure too! Developing enjoyable independent reading time is central to building rich reading communities where children take pleasure in reading and are motivated to read on their own.
I had been thinking about the TARs research and I knew that my independent reading could be improved. I wanted to create an atmosphere in the classroom during independent reading time that would promote reading for pleasure and enjoyment. When I began to consider how and where I read for pleasure myself, the issue became apparent – I was not offering a cosy or comfortable space for reading! This simple idea was a real lightbulb moment and I am sure many other teachers have considered it too.
I have never once sat at a desk upright reading a book (other than on a plane perhaps) and certainly wouldn’t choose to read in this sort of ‘upright’ position. It would be uncomfortable and unsustainable. I’d probably end up moving or getting distracted more easily. Yet, this is what I was asking the children to do in school. I began reflecting upon where and how I read for pleasure myself – usually on the sofa, a sunbed by the pool on holidays, in a comfy armchair in front of the fire or curled up with a blanket in bed – and I started thinking about how I could make the classroom spaces and environment a little more inviting and cosy.
David Keyte recently posted a video about ‘comfy reading’ on Twitter – with a nod to Teresa Cremin and the TARs research – which further inspired me to make a change in my own classroom.
My aims were simple, I wanted to:
- create a comfortable, relaxing reading environment with a variety of spaces and places for independent reading
- raise the profile of and engagement in Reading for Pleasure in my classroom
I wanted to encourage reading for pleasure by creating a cosy space where the children would be comfortable and snug when curled up with a good book. I tried to create a calm, relaxing atmosphere in the classroom, allowing children to choose where and how to sit and read.
- I collected lots of blankets, cushions and throws from home and placed them in a bucket in the book corner
- I brought in some teddies which we called ‘reading buddies’ and placed them in the book corner too
- Sometimes, I gave out baskets of torches and dimmed the lights, with a roaring fire on the interactive whiteboard (this worked well during winter afternoons when it was quite dark already) to allow the children to read by torchlight
- We started calling it ‘cosy reading’ instead of ‘independent reading’
- I put up some fairy lights and switched them on whenever it was cosy reading time and this became an instantly recognisable sign that it was happening
- I would often set the room up whilst they were out of the classroom (in another lesson or outside playing) so that they walked into ‘cosy reading’ and were excited by it
- I read for pleasure myself during cosy reading time (this was an important factor)
- I allowed the children to choose where and how they wanted to sit and read – some chose to pop their feet up on a chair, lay underneath a table, cosy up in the book corner or on the rug. They were encouraged to get cosy. Book talk was allowed.
We negotiated all of the options and discussed how we could manage the most popular areas (the sofa bed in the book corner) to make it fair for all. The children decided that if they had sat in the book corner last time, they would find somewhere new to sit this time. We have not had any arguments about reading spaces and the children are very considerate.
- The children’s reaction to ‘cosy reading’ was incredible. They were clearly excited about it and enjoyed snuggling up with a blanket and a book
- Time and space was made for reading for pleasure within the classroom and this promoted reading for enjoyment
- Children could sustain independent reading for longer periods of time and we had much less movement/book swapping happening during cosy reading
- Feedback was overwhelmingly positive. Quotes from children included: “Can we read today?”, “Are we doing cosy reading today Miss Phillips?”,“Yessssss… cosy reading, thank you Miss Phillips!”
- It has been so successful that we now have cosy reading almost every day!
- When the weather gets warmer, we’ll also consider alternative spaces such as the top deck or the playground with beanbags and blankets or ‘reading picnics’.
The cosy reading initiative had an immediate impact on reading for pleasure. It completely changed the atmosphere and enjoyment levels of independent reading in my classroom. Are you thinking of trying it? Do you already do this in your classroom? We’d love to hear from you!