23-09-2020

I love being part of the MTA group. It brings an array of young students, all with different needs and objectives. It is a very fulling role.

Only yesterday I was working with a budding A level student who wants to further his love of writing and develop this as a career. It is amazing how he loves the creative hand. He was however, expressing his nervousness of being a non-native writer and his lack of desire to read on a daily basis.

It sparked an interesting debate about the importance of reading to develop one’s vocabulary and sentence construction.

A Spanish news article recently stated that on average the Spanish student only reads 8 books per year whereas the Finnish equivalent read 46.

Finland’s schools have been the envy of the Western world for years.

As far back as 2001 the PISA study for international student assessment was released. This compared the test results of 15 year olds in reading, maths and science across more than 40 countries. To the world’s surprise Finland was the best performer outside East Asia, coming top in reading and in the top five in science and maths. Three years later Finland remained number one in reading and science and second in maths.

So is reading the key to success?
Whilst students would argue they are far too busy, at MTA we are pro reading at all ages. Prior to joining MTA new students undertake a full assessment of their skills, this assessment is supported by a detailed report given to each parent. In every report I recommend reading for pleasure.

This pleases Jay, our head English tutor, immensely, as you can imagine she is passionate about the benefits of regular reading. However, much more than that it is vitally important that every student whatever age maintains or improves their literary skills.

Language and literacy are of personal, social and economic importance. Our ability to use language lies at the centre of the development and expression of our emotions, our thinking, our learning and our sense of personal identity. Language is itself a key aspect of our culture. Through language, children and young people can gain access to the literary heritage of humanity.

Literacy is fundamental to all areas of learning, as it unlocks access to the wider curriculum. Being literate increases opportunities for the individual in all aspects of life, lays the foundations for lifelong learning and the 21st century world. Competence and confidence in literacy, including competence in grammar, spelling and the spoken word, are essential for progress in all areas of the curriculum.

We recommend 20 -30 minutes private reading daily. For many years the Specialist Schools and Academies trust have championed that schools should set aside at least 30 minutes a day for silent reading. They want to see a dedicated librarian in all secondary schools and at least 10 books for every student with a suitable range of books appropriate for the age range in the school.

The trust stated children who are diagnosed

as having a reading problem need special coaching; if necessary the normal timetable for these children should be suspended until they have improved their reading ability. Call me sceptical, but this is a huge wish list and schools have many other challenges which perhaps mean that this idealistic approach may not be fully developed.

However, as adults and parents we cannot hide from the fact that it is our responsibility to support and help a child develop these fundamental skills so that they are ready for the challenges of the 21st century.

I understand that for most teenagers reading is like swimming through molasses and although parents and teachers are eager and willing to transform the experience, the competition is fierce; videos, texts, phones and other electronic media remain our sworn enemy!

I guess many of you who are reading this may be saying ‘So tell me the secret then, I’ve tried but failed’ or simply ‘what’s the point!’

Firstly and fundamentally the point is that your child will improve in all areas of schooling if they read more and they might actually start to like it! You could try to be a reading model; show your child that you enjoy reading. We know that children often mimic parental behaviour.

Talk about what you are reading. Discussing the topic will help your child make connections and increase reading comprehension skills. It may help to think outside the box, it is not all about fiction books.

Watch a documentary together and then encourage your child to read further to get more detail about the subject or person.

Give them a newspaper. I know this works; my daughter hates reading but loves to read the news in English, Spanish and Catalan. There is no excuse all news is available on our media devices and can be easily downloaded.

Obviously if your child is small then read aloud. It is never too early to start, pre-schoolers love hearing stories over and over again and will memorise some of the language whilst in early school years taking turns to read with a parent is exciting and fun, especially if you make the story come alive with intonation and passion. Anyone who’s ever read a story aloud has seen the joy in a child’s face as the plot and characters come to life. I’m old enough to remember Jackanory on BBC and loved it.

So, if you are still reading this and nodding but still think it can’t work for you, let me leave you with a MTA success story.

Lucia, a Spanish student studies at an international school. Throughout the academic year she was plodding and making slow progress but both Jay and I knew there was something we could unlock… We bought her a set of books she quite liked and asked her to tell us about the story weekly. We encouraged her to watch ‘The Hunger Games’ videos and then read the narrative later. Her mother was delighted and supported this at home by discussing the plot etc with her. The turnaround took a little time but has been amazing and now she is an avid reader. Her overall performance at school improved and everyone noticed; school, parents and us.

More importantly Lucia has gone on to further her educational journey with much confidence and success.

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