Yesterday our English Department did a fantastic job of recognising National Poetry Day with students creating some beautiful poetry around the theme of ‘truth.’ During the day we held a series of events where students were able to watch poets perform their own work and then see their peers reading some of their own writing. Inspired by students, staff started an email thread where they shared their favourite poems with colleagues. I was able to share my personal favourite, ‘Ithaka’ by Constantine P Cavafy, a poem about a journey that has many connections with my experience of headship! This poem was given to me by my English A Level teacher and has stayed with me ever since.
Watching our students and the poets perform made me think about the powerful effect of reading aloud and the benefits of helping our young people develop their vocabulary. The power of the poets to convey meaning through their passionate performances shows how engaging it can be to hear a fluent reader. Research from the National Literacy Trust shows that only 22% of young people aged 8 to 16 enjoy reading ‘very much’ and only 17% of 15 to 17 year olds read a book every day. This week the Senior Leadership Team have discussed ways to address this, and as part of a range of activities, we have agreed to promote the practice of students being read aloud to in more of their lessons. Through reading aloud to students we can close the vocabulary gap by allowing them to absorb more sophisticated vocabulary. Rather than a student reading in silence and not necessarily accessing the meaning of the whole text, teachers can discuss new words with students as they arise. It is my belief that hearing a story or poem read aloud with intonation and engagement will help improve grammar and inspire more students to read a book on their own. Most importantly, seeing adults enjoying the experience of reading aloud will encourage more independent reading in our children. Let’s banish the old practice of asking students to stumble through a shared text with a class, and let’s show them the importance of reading by reading out loud to students any text we share.