If reading is too difficult, students are less likely to do it. Everything research tells us suggests that the gap between those who can read fluently and those who yet cannot when they join secondary school will widen. If you can do it, you will; and, because you are, you’ll keep getting better. If you don’t yet, and explicit attention isn’t given to this, progress in reading will stall. Reading becomes a chore; difficult and compounds a sense of failure when everything around you is saying ‘read more; reading rocks etc etc, you’ll never succeed if you don’t read’ etc etc

And we also know from research that we can make a difference by supporting students to choose texts that they are not only interested in, but that are closely matched to their current reading ability. Just the right level of difficulty in order to support fluency, and to introduce unfamiliar vocabulary at the right pace. If we get this part right, we are in a lot better position to be able to support continuing reading development and engagement.

And we know as English teachers, from experience, the difference that putting reading/interest ability matched books in front of our students. How ‘finding the right book’ can make all the difference.

As English teachers, we have our eyes and ears to the ground, continuously seeking out books to engage and interest the students we teach. We read widely and have a wealth of knowledge to share with parents and students about books they may enjoy. But also, we can use the following tools to support book choices for individuals. Before any of this: stopping and talking with students on a one to one basis about their perceptions of reading is useful. It is actually always the first steps with reluctant readers who join us. And we really, really listen. We seek to understand first at WAVE, then to be understood. The Five Finger guide below can then help.



We’ll look together at a book we think they might like from what they’ve told us about interests (or because, actually, we think they’ll like it anyway and we want to help them broaden choices depending on where they are with education and ‘reading’) Gently, and together with them, we’ll help get a feel for how many words they are struggling with, and suggest some other books if this is too tricky just now. We can use our reading screen data (if this has been completed) to help make selections too. The ZPD score for each student can be entered into this website, and we can check the readability of a book here too. Students can be given the ZPD score to use themselves too, although this can be limiting, so we are careful here not to be giving the wrong message about what students ‘can’t read’ or ‘label’ students. We are mindful and careful and know that a sensitive approach which empowers, but also supports, choice- is what works. We are also aware that no system is perfect and that the AR site can throw up anamolous results in terms of readability. So we use our judgement and common sense as professionals.

 Our aim is to help our older students find a book to read independently, that they CAN read independently. 'Drop everything and read' is torture if it means 'Drop everything and feel failure, confusion, anger' or leads to the student masking their difficulty under a weight of expectation and mismatched cognitive load. The latter is exhausting for the struggling emerging reader, not yet able to move from the 'top of the reading scheme-you're a free reader' to reading fluently for pleasure without support.  By carefully taking time to support students in moving progressively at the appropriately ability matched book for 'independent reading', whilst providing stretch through guided reading of more challenging texts, we allow our young people to glean the best of both worlds. Challenge of engagement in exciting stories and new language with support for the active solo reading process.  And through doing this, we enable students to practise, practise some more and learn new things; explore new worlds; imbibe new language and see it in context; etc etc etc. If students aren't ready for solo reading, we model reading first. Relationships and partnership matter, as do quiet spaces and safe spaces in which to be heard. 

There is no one size fits all magic solution to the issue of stalled reading progress and the widening gap during secondary school years and some students will still need our close support to develop as readers, of course. But helping students find the ‘right books’ is within our power and duty as educators; parents and teachers together. We must give this the attention, time and space that it needs.