How I turned the bright, funny - and disinterested - Amelia into a reader

How I turned the bright, funny - and disinterested - Amelia into a reader

Do you have an Amelia in your class?
The child who never seems to quite meet their potential?
The child who does what you ask of them but without putting their heart and soul into it?
The child who is a bit bored of you?

Amelia was in Year 4 when I taught her, and I was so frustrated. Every now and then I’d catch glimpses of her brilliance, but then the shutters would go down again and she’d be off-topic, giggling with her friends. It didn’t seem to matter where I put her in the seating plan, she always found a co-conspirator. Amelia was popular, friendly, and disengaged in her learning. She’d had a tough start to life and I was always mindful of that. 

But I was frustrated, tired, annoyed – I could see she was falling short and I was fed up of working harder than she was.

Then everything changed, and Amelia became switched on to her learning. 

My life became easier, and my classroom became less like a room where I was pulling teeth.

I helped Amelia discover the joy of reading.

Reading at home

My colleague and I discussed how disengaged our class were with reading at home. 

We had a home reading uptake of about 20% of the class. 

80% of our pupils weren’t reading regularly at home.

It’s a tricky one to solve – since I became a parent I’ve been a LOT more understanding of homework not being done or forgotten PE kits! Our parents were respectful of us as teachers, but they also seemed to believe it was our job to teach their children and they didn’t have to engage in the process.

However, the research shows that children who have parents involved in their education are more likely to achieve in school. TK

We wanted our pupils to succeed.

We wanted to build a daily home reading habit into our pupil’s lives.

Starting with just five minutes. 

That wasn’t too big an ask, was it? 

We asked our parents to sign their child’s planner every day after their child had read for just five minutes.

And we made the controversial decision to keep our pupils in at playtime for 5 minutes to read if they hadn’t read at home.

Instilling habits

On the first day after we had sent the letter home to parents and explained our new system to the children, we had half the class in at breaktime reading. 

We set a timer and asked the children to read in silence.

Amelia was in class and her friends were outside playing.

As educators, this felt really wrong – children and teachers need their breaktimes to recharge, reboot and prepare for the next lesson.

But most of all, it felt like we were turning reading into a punishment.

This was completely the opposite of what we wanted to do. We wanted reading to be a cosy activity at home with a parent, building human connection, developing imagination and most of all, a fun thing to do. My classroom was not a fun place to be for those five minutes!

At hometime that day, before we settled in for our storytime (isn’t that the nicest part of teaching?), I talked to my class about how I wanted to give them the gift of the joy of reading. I wanted them to love reading. I wanted them to be able to lose themselves in another world.

How can you do that if you never pick up a book at home?

I explained that good habits can be hard to start and hard to maintain. I explained that my hope was that they would set a timer for 5 minutes at home to read and that they would find themselves reading for longer each day because they wanted to.

Sometimes a good habit starts as a boring chore.

Dealing with parents 

Amelia was in reading at playtime the next day, and the next.

On the fourth day, Amelia’s Dad was at my classroom door at the start of the day, face like thunder.

He’s a big man. Much taller than I am. and he looked raging.

This was my second year of teaching Amelia, and he’d never been one to engage with us teachers.

He wanted to know why I wasn’t letting Amelia out to play.

My heart was in my mouth. It’s never nice dealing with angry parents. I took a deep breath and explained what I’d put in the letter to him – that research shows Amelia would be more successful in school if she read at home, that we were trying to get her to love reading and that we were doing this by making reading a habit. 

His face completely changed. He understood. That was a huge piece of learning for me too – letters home aren’t accessible for all parents, and he hadn’t read ours. A simple conversation changed everything.

The next day, Amelia wasn’t kept in at playtime, she was outside playing with her friends. Amelia had started her daily reading habit at home.

Was it worth it?

By the end of the week, all children bar two were reading at home every day. There are always the children who need extra support in school because they don’t get it at home, so we made sure they were reading every day in school with a TA and didn’t punish them because their parents couldn’t sign their planner.

At playtime, we started taking out a box of books and blankets.

Amelia was one of the first to lead her friends to the book box. She was often found there sharing books with her friends. Amelia became a reader.

Slowly but surely, our classroom changed. We did lots more to encourage reading, but this post is about Amelia, and getting her to start reading at home was the game-changer for her.

Amelia became one of the most prolific readers I’ve taught, devouring Michael Morpurgos in particular. Her engagement with learning in general, across all subjects, was transformed. 

Amelia made better than expected progress that year, and because she was funny and popular, she inspired her friends too.

And her father? Her terrifying, grumpy father?

At the end of the year, he sent me a card.

In it, he wrote:

“Thank you for getting Amelia into reading.”

That was the best card I ever received as a teacher. 

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