Occasionally here at LR4S HQ we get enquiries that set us off on the trail of answers. This happened recently with a query from a Special School introducing Drop Everything and Read sessions (DEAR) and how to do it with older students with a range of SEN needs and SEMH (Social Emotional and Mental Health) needs and with English at Entry level. A simple Google search on DEAR produces many references that share ideas, posters and plans – have a look. Vitally, the school recognised the importance of getting parents on side with this – any support, help and role modelling at home is going to have an added impact.
So - where to start? It's not just as simple as suggesting some titles. Reading for pleasure is exactly that - FOR PLEASURE - therefore the books need to have been chosen by the students from a wide selection of topics and must include fiction and non-fiction – to give the students the agency to have expressed their own choice. In terms of older students with lower reading skills I always recommend Barrington Stoke titles - they are carefully written on topics of wide interest, but at a series of different levels, and their length is quite short so a sense of achievement at finishing a book is not far distant. With Barrington Stoke they can be assured of quality authors - titles are often nominated for major awards and of course Lark by Anthony McGowan has just won the Carnegie Medal and D Day Dog by Tom Palmer has just won the Children's Book Award (chosen by children). On the publisher’s website they can look at teen books and also specify a Reading age (from 6.5 years).
There is also the issue that all reading choices need to be accepted as reading for pleasure - be that graphic novels, comics, football programmes - whatever!
For SEMH students with entry level reading - all of the above applies - but they, as individuals, may need to have special arrangements made for them to be able to choose their own book - for example a library or classroom book corner may be too noisy for them to be able to function, therefore special arrangements may need to be made - see the ASCEL Autism guidelines on the ASCEL website. Our Reluctant Readers and Dyslexia-Friendly Super-Readables lists may also prove a useful starting point...
For the rest of the school with entry level reading skills they may only be able to access Reading Scheme materials not 'mainstream' publishing at all. However, there is a Reading Scheme section on LR4S with reviewed titles which might fit the bill.
Sometimes thinking outside the box can be a springboard to the solution. For some students struggling to access English reading skills looking at materials originally created for English as an additional language students (EAL) may find materials that can give the key to open the reading door for some.
The use of poetry – with its rhythms and shapes – can also be an avenue worth exploring for some. As you can see from this – there is no one-size-fits-all solution but LR4S does have a huge array of resources to get you started!
Overall, we would emphasise the importance of reading aloud to the students - allowing them to access stories that excite them beyond their capability to decode texts. Audio books work in the same way too and research over lockdown from the National Literacy Trust (NLT) points to their success particularly with boys.
Tricia Adams & Joy Court
Tricia Adams is a professional librarian with experience working in the Schools' Library Service and the School Library Association. Joy Court is Reviews Editor for The School Librarian journal and Chair of the CILIP Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals.
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