Emojis, The Lord of the Rings, and more. In this episode, Andy, Emily and Adam discuss today's reading culture. Do all schools have a positive reading culture? Does the amount of text that kids consume nowadays affect them? Plus, Emily explains some reading research findings.
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Hi, I'm Andy Psarianos.
Hello, I'm Emily Guille-Marrett.
Hi, I'm Adam Gifford.
This is the School of School podcast. Welcome to the School of School podcast.
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Hello, welcome to our next podcast. We are very excited today to be thinking about positive reading cultures in schools. So this is something I feel quite passionate about because obviously I'm very passionate about children's learning and reading, but if they want to be lifelong readers and learners, then there has to be something positive and exciting and engaging to see them through those primary years. And then they can begin to read for knowledge and pleasure for life. So what do you think Adam, about the idea that a school should have positive reading cultures? Do you think schools have positive reading cultures? And do you feel sometimes that there is a sense that school is for learning to read rather than reading for pleasure?
Well, I think every school categorically would say, "Yeah, of course we've got a positive reading culture and we encourage reading and it's a positive thing to do and yes, we want to do it." And I think schools try really hard to manage reading. I've never been to a school that doesn't have like that spectrum of reluctant readers all the way through to literally cannot put it down, like sneaking a few pages in during a lesson under the table. That sort of thing. I think it's pretty difficult though, because I think the situation to create a positive reading culture isn't as straightforward as it may seem, which are, pretty displays, sort of a book of the week, something that's there. I think that it's a little bit nuanced than that. And I think maybe what it comes down to too is ensuring that we allow children to not just stick to what they're allowed to read, because that's what they can read fluently or the next steps, but also what they aspire to read.
So I've got no issue with a child that's got the Lord of the Rings tucked under their arm, might be a real special book for them. They might not be able to read it at all, but if that's their little bit of gold and they think, "Yeah, I can do that." I think that it's really important that there's that scope there to ensure that yeah, we're providing the skills to read obviously, but also that it's a... Well, I don't know if non-threatening is the right word, but I'm going to use that just to ensure that it's not seen as something that you only allowed access to the next steps. You're allowed to have a look at stuff that maybe isn't something that you can read with fluency. I know Andy, you've talked about this before. You've talked about reading, you've talked about your relationship to reading. What do you reckon? What do you reckon? What's the perfect climate?
Yeah, what's the perfect climate? So look, I'm going to call you guys on this. I'm going to play devil's advocate here, right? One point of view that some people might have, this is all mamby pamby, liberal nonsense. Kids need to learn how to read. What's the problem? Just sit them down, teach them how to read. Why are you talking about all this mamby pamby stuff? Why is any of this important? When I went to school, we all sat in rows and columns and it was clear. None of us were allowed to talk while we were learning how to read, and the teacher just told us and we listened. Right. And we all learned and look at us and look at how clever we are. What's all this mamby pamby nonsense? Now look, I'm not saying that's my point of view, but I know at least one, maybe more people who would have that point of view. Right. So, let's just flip it on this head. Like, why is this even important? Let's start talking about that. Because I don't think everybody knows or believes that this is actually important.
I think that's absolutely right. And I do think that's where fortunately research and evidence is starting to make quite a difference. So the reading agency, various organizations have done research. Now they can actually show the impact that reading beyond just the learning to read process, but engaging with being read to, for example, whole story from cover to cover and talking about books and being in an environment where books are around can make a difference to certain skills and opportunities. So for example, we know that empathy, children can perhaps empathize with characters and books that are characters not like themselves. And it can sometimes be their first opportunity to see children who aren't like themselves and find ways of empathizing with those characters, those people in those books in a way that perhaps hasn't been previously considered as something of value.
And I think in the current climate and what we've seen in the last few years, that is increasingly important. So that's sort of one area, I think as well, there's been increasing evidence that it improves wellbeing. So by that, I mean health and there's a sense that actually, if we read for pleasure for life, actually find enjoyment in reading, when I say that it doesn't necessarily have to be a top novel. It could be that it's reading for pleasure nonfiction, it doesn't necessarily have to be that you become completely obsessed with novels, but there's something that happens when we read, which perhaps with the very fast pace world that we live in is a chance to escape and ponder. And I love the term to linger, to ponder and just it takes us into that space.
So increasingly that kind of wellbeing and a space to almost be in that meditative state or that getting lost in those books is really important. And although we need even more research, there are suggestions that actually those that read more, some research is starting to show that it might have an impact on dementia, which is fascinating because you're keeping your brain active and all of the stuff that's going on in your head when you are reading, there's an increasing school of thought that there are opportunities there as well. Not least if you've got reading skills, deep reading skills, it's going to massively help you at school in other subjects. Like if we go back to the school idea because your comprehension levels are raised, and if you're reading with fluency, not just reading fast, but reading with prosody, so fluent and you are able to read deeply, that has a massive impact then on your ability to take in scientific information and, or history, geography, it impacts all those subject areas.
I just wouldn't mind jumping in on that because I'm just thinking now, we talk about reading for pleasure and that's cool. Like, yeah, we can get pleasure in that, the same way we can get pleasure watching movies or listening to podcasts, for example, or those sorts of things. But I just wonder too, I just want... Now, unlike Emily, what I'm about to say is not steeped in research at all. It's completely anecdotal and something that I observe, I see my own children on their phones a lot, and they are bombarded with text, absolutely bombarded with little sound bites, little sections of text. And I would argue that when we were growing up the main source of information, would've come via newspapers and it would've come via the radio and it would've come via the television. Now, the information, and I know this again, anecdotally, but I've heard it out of my own children's mouths, things that are coming out, the statements are facts.
And I'm just like, "what on earth are you talking about?" And I think that that aspect of critical thinking and the ability to read some statements and look at them in a way that perhaps our generation at the same age, didn't do. Because if you read something in the newspaper, yeah, there might have been a political bias one way or the other, but by and large, there was some sort of journalistic integrity. Well, it's the wild west now, right? With information transfer. I was talking to someone on the weekend, who'd done their PhD on social media's impacts on vaccinations. She was saying, it was very, very interesting, these certain pockets who are incredibly good for a small number of people to have a very loud voice. And it was interesting the way that it was structured. So I think we have to add that into the mix as well.
Is that traditionally we've read for information. We've read for pleasure. Now, I think just there needs to be... There's always been reading for information. I get that. But I actually think that the amount of text that children are seeing, completely anecdotal, I think is massive. I think it's absolutely massive. And people who are class themselves as non-readers would be bombarded with text, even if it's just one sentence at a time. And I think that that's really important that that skillset, when it's 24/7 is explored and seen as something that is really beneficial to them, be it mental health, be it politics, be it, whatever.
And they have this incredible sensitivity to context that I think all of us older folk really miss out on. So emojis is an interesting thing. You look at people like 50 and above using emojis and they'll always if you ask young people, they'll tell you that they don't get it, right. They're using the wrong emoji at the wrong time. And I think it's getting better now because your mobile phone will prompt you, you'll type in a word in a text message and it'll suggest an emoji for you. Right. But before that happened people just put the wrong emoji. They don't realize that those emojis really represent emotions. Which is an interesting, is an interesting thing. So that's a whole new vocabulary. That we are almost oblivious to.
So how long do you think it is before emoji start appearing in the dictionary? That was an interesting question for you, right? Because they're part of our text now. They're actually letters, they're GLIFs in the alphabet of children. Not us old folk, but for them they're incredibly relevant. So yeah. So there's an interesting thing where like... I know I'm really taking this away from the original topic here, but there's an interesting... Well, there's a lot of interesting things going on right now with reading. And how much more critical maybe it is.
Critical literacy skills for me, they're really lacking in the curriculum right now. Real, true, critical literacy skills that are going to equip people to... So like who said it? Where was the source from? We are not in a thing where you could say, that's a left wing paved newspaper. I mean, I remember doing that. You used to have to put them into category. Like there's serious stuff that has to be considered. Is that a scientific fact? How do you find out? What are the skills that you need to investigate what's being said to you? And that's about being... I always say to my kids, reading is the greatest superpower and if you can do that and you can have independent thought and you can have critical thinking skills, then it will just set you up, whatever the context, whether it's, because you've got to read a contract in a kind of formal sense, or whether you're reading a book or a prescription, whatever it is like, who's giving this to you and what are they doing there? So I think there's that.
Visual literacy skills. So like, I'm thinking about what you're saying with emojis, and you think about picture books. If you give a picture book to a child with no words to a young child, they will read that book in the most phenomenal way. They'll tell you that story. And as you get adults and we start getting into texts, we get really poor, I think, at decoding the images and the emojis are really interesting.
There's a bird. There's a tree.
Yeah. But you give that to a five year old and they'll just tell you this incre- they will just tell you this amazing story and Anthony Brown's picture book, he can speak, when you see kids with his picture books, I know they've got text as well, but they see layers of meaning that we kind of start losing. But the other thing, Andy, that just completely, you know me I go a bit off the wall, but you made me think of like Renaissance paintings. Like people could decode the symbolism with things like pre... And the emojis, it's kind of like the youth culture had their visual language through emojis that we couldn't access. But we've now been given support.
Maybe we'll look back on this period, and this will be the new Renaissance. Right. And maybe emojis are leading the spearhead to the new... Look, it's communication. And I think Adam, you touched on something here, man. I never really thought about it, but now my head is just spinning and I'm thinking, okay, I need to really look into this. When I was a kid and probably the same for you guys, most of my "unofficial communication," like not having to respond at school or anything like that was just hanging out with people and talking nonsense. There wasn't a lot of reading and writing involved. And body language plays a huge role, we know, in those kinds of contexts. But now my kids, the bulk of their communication is tapping into this miniature device with their thumbs and sharing pictures. Like Snapchat is really interesting how people communicate in that age group.
Like they can communicate at a really like significant level with abstract images and representation. They can take a quick photo of themselves with a facial expression and send it to someone and the other person, the other end knows exactly what they mean. Like that kind of boggles my mind. Nevermind emojis, just like live emojis. It's just, the whole communication thing is shifting. Anyway, so what does this have to do with our topic? I have no idea about, wow, what a rabbit hole we're going down. So what's the final word. Go on. Emily, give us the final word. And then Adam positive reading culture.
If you're serious about creating positive reading culture, have a look at what Professor Teresa Cremin is doing with the OU reading for pleasure pedagogies. And it's beyond just thinking about, we've got the Byron under our arms and having... If you really want to look at it, I think some of the work that she and people, linked to that are doing is phenomenal. But that's for another day.
I think we all have to accept, I say all like this is adults, that we all have to accept that there's a massive chunk of reading and writing that we don't know about. I'm talking about our children or that sort of age group. And be inquisitive and be curious. I think we could probably learn a whole lot about how that works and how it's developed in spite of us. Not because of us. And that's pretty cool. So yeah, probably that one positive reading culture, you never stop right. There you go. There's my bit.
All right. Thanks for joining everyone.
Thank you for joining us on the School of School podcast.