This morning’s Telegraph is reporting that Michael Gove expects that children aged as young as eleven should be reading fifty books a year.
Graeme Paton thinks that Gove’s latest ruminations probably reflect his thinking on the tour he’s just made ‘of high-performing “charter schools” – state-funded institutions that are run free of Government interference – in the United States’.
According to Paton, the Infinity School in Harlem, a massively deprived area of New York, set their children the challenge of reading fifty books over the course of a year. The school, run by the KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program) charity organisation, is setting itself very high standards, with the result that it is the highest performing school in the city: this, despite the fact that a reported 80% of its children are from backgrounds poor enough to warrant them receiving free and reduced price lunches.
Michael Gove is certainly right in claiming that, in general, schools do far too little to challenge their pupils – and not just in the area of reading. However, it’s all very well talking about reading fifty books a year.
If, as was reported recently, the twelfth most popular book chosen by girls in the final two years of school is The Very Hungry Caterpillar, while boys favour ‘very easy’ books, readability needs to be taken into account. The challenge isn’t simply about quantity; it’s also about quality. Unless children are reading at or above their chronological age, they are unlikely to be enhancing their vocabulary, their facility with a range of different genres, or their exposure to a range of increasingly complex grammatical structures, all of which are part of the necessary preparation for their further education.
The other thing is that children need to be able to read with fluency if they are to cope with texts of increasing difficulty and that means making sure that they can actually read. For that to transpire, teachers need proper training in how to teach reading and spelling and all the evidence is that this is not yet happening.