The first wide-scale research into the use of whole books in literacy teaching in the UK has revealed that a quarter of primary school children are reading just one whole book a year in class. Incredibly, 12 per cent of primary school teachers said they have never read a complete book with their class. If the findings were extrapolated to all primaries across the country it would mean nearly 600,000 children never read a book in class with their teacher, while over 1.1 million would only study one whole book a year in class.
The research, commissioned by educational publisher Heinemann, part of Pearson Education, involved over 500 primary teaching staff working in 500 schools in the UK along with 1,000 parents of school age children. It exposes a worrying picture of dependence on bite-size text extracts, rather than whole books, for teaching literacy. It also found:
- Pupils are missing out on some of the best-loved stories in children’s literature, according to the research. Half of teachers could think of at least one occasion where pupils were left ignorant of the narrative of a novel because whole book teaching was not a priority in class. Examples of books not finished in class, cited by teachers, included The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe; Treasure Island; The Owl Who Was Afraid of the Dark; Goodnight Mr Tom and Roald Dahl classics.
- Some 85 per cent of teachers said children miss out on finding “what happens next” by not reading a whole book.
- Nearly two-thirds of teachers feared the absence of teaching literacy using whole books in class could turn children off reading, while a further one in five say they have seen evidence of this happening already.
- Six in ten primary school teachers believe a return to whole book reading in their classrooms would have real academic benefits (on exam performance and academic success).
Michael Rosen, the former Children’s Laureate and a campaigner for a return to real, whole book reading in British schools, said: “This research shows that in thousands of classrooms children are not reading books or talking about books, I think it will shock the public that so few whole books are being taught in class.
“There are going to be children who will only be taught about three or four books as part of their literacy education in the whole of their primary careers. For the thousands of children who don’t read books at home, it is a travesty. That’s three books they might have come across in the whole of their infant lives.”
- The research also revealed a gulf between literacy teaching in state and private schools. State primary classes were almost twice as likely to not finish a whole book as their independent school counterparts (13 per cent compared to just eight per cent in private schools).
- According to the research, three-quarters of teachers said children’s ‘reading stamina’ and concentration levels were being damaged by the lack of whole book reading.
- When asked about the impact of extract teaching on the different genders, teachers were twice as likely to say they had a greater negative impact on boys vs girls (21% vs 11%)
“The idea that children can’t manage whole stories or whole books is a nonsense,” added Michael Rosen. “No extract in the world has the power of books. Extracts deny children the meat of the story. Take Roald Dahl’s Matilda. It is full of powerful emotions – such as fear, love and sympathy. These are vital ideas that children need to get hold of. But if children do not read the whole book, they will never get to the heart of the book – how evil can be overcome with a mixture of courage, compassion and solidarity. All they will discover is that there is a horrible woman called Miss Trunchbull.”
Teachers questioned in the research overwhelmingly backed a return to schools using whole books to teach literacy. Three-quarters of teachers say they want to teach literacy using either whole books or whole books, backed by extracts. 72 per cent of head teachers also believe that such an approach would have real academic benefits and improve results while helping to develop a child’s love of reading.