Journalist and Writer
Hilary Wilce specialising in all aspects of education
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The Quandary - 18 Oct 2007

I read that silent reading first thing each day helps secondary-age children read better. Why donít all schools do it?

Hillary's Advice

This simple query has huge questions behind it. Like: who says what works in schools? Will something that works in one school automatically work in others? Will it work for every pupil? And, if something appears to work well, should schools be ordered to act on it, or left to decide for themselves what to do?

The difficulty in education is that -- no matter how much news headlines make it seem simple -- good teaching is essentially an art, and no classroom technique is infallible. Studies done in the United States shows that silent reading appears to encourage concentration, give pupils confidence in their ability to read, and increase childrenís enjoyment of reading. But some researchers have questioned how much it helps pupils understand what they are reading, and whether this increased enjoyment of reading is sustained over the long term. Also, it needs to be introduced with some skill if all pupils are to benefit. Otherwise the less-good readers in the class are likely to waste time choosing books and settling down to read, and to become easily distracted.

Add in the fact that the school heads are already tearing their hair out wondering how to squeeze citizenship, increased PE and everything else they are being told they must do into the curriculum, and you can see that another diktat from on high that takes thirty minutes out of their day would be received very badly.

Schools need good, clear and up-to-date information about what they should be aiming for, and what seems to work in terms of getting there, but ultimately they are run by professionals. Heads must be free to shape their own schoolís culture, and teachers must be free to decide how to deliver it.