Social reading environments

Summary of key findings

Social reading environments were seen to be key to creating richly reciprocal reading communities in the TaRs research. Physically engaging, the most successful environments tempted children into texts and offered spaces to relax, browse, and read for pleasure.

Critically they were also interactive and included considerable booktalk, recommendations and other forms of informal book promotion. The environments were influenced by teachers’ knowledge of children’s texts and their children as readers and by the complementary practices of reading aloud, booktalk and independent reading time. 

More research details

Whilst at the start of the Teachers as Readers (TaRs) project many teachers had reading areas, when they came to review their reading environments, most acknowledged there was room for improvement: scope to make the area and the classroom as a whole a more richly engaging space for reading, both physically and socially. 

The teachers reflected upon their own preferred environmental conditions for reading – what they liked to read, how they chose this, when, where and what they like to read at home and elsewhere and began to explore connections to pedagogic practice. 

The teachers often focused first on the available reading resources, their diversity, accessibility, and potential interest to young children. Many sought to broaden their classroom library provision. The teachers’ professional knowledge of texts, in print and online, and their knowledge of the children’s reading practices and preferences were critical factors in this changing practice. Teachers encouraged children to bring their personal reading preferences, such as comics, manuals, catalogues and magazines to school and classrooms began to order and discuss these.

Choice was an important factor in developing children’s reading for pleasure in the project classrooms. The teachers profiled reading choice in the shared social spaces for reading which they created and a growing understanding of reading as a social process led to positive changes in classroom cultures, the reading environment became highly sociable and interactive.

In other Open University research - into extracurricular reading groups - the role of the environment, a relaxed ethos, and the space and support for choice and conversation about texts was also seen to be crucial (Cremin and Swann, 2016). The school librarians and teachers in this study sought to develop the students’ sense of agency as discriminating readers, and enabled them to make informed and supported decisions about texts. Other studies also indicate that choice and interest enhance readers’ motivation, self-determination and engagement (e.g. Moss and Macdonald, 2004; Pihl, 2012).

The TaRs teachers reconfigured space and time for relaxed reading and created physically engaging reading areas and environments that tempted and enticed children to read, borrow books, get to know new authors, talk about texts, and see themselves profiled as readers. These environments promoted reading as a richly positive experience and prompted sharing and significant book talk and inside-text talk. 

Lots of things have developed together through the environment…  Children relax – that creates an atmosphere too. - (TaRs teacher, Birmingham)

The environment became a learning tool to support children’s development as readers. These changes in resources and environments laid the groundwork for further key developments in the teachers’ RfP pedagogy. 

Adapted from pages 91-94 from Cremin, T., Mottram, M., Collins, F., Powell, S. and Safford, K. (2014) Building Communities of Engaged Readers: Reading for pleasure, London/New York: Routledge. 

This research summary also draws upon research into the environmental conditions which support extracurricular reading groups undertaken in the context of the Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Shadowing scheme in the UK.

Cremin, T. and Swann, J. (2016) Literature in Common: Reading for Pleasure in School Reading Groups’. In L. McKechnie, K. Oterholm, P. Rothbauer and K. I. Skjerdingstad, (Eds). Plotting the Reading Experience: Theory/Practice/Politics.pp. 279-300.  Ontario, Wilfrid Laurier University Press.

To read more about the research: see the Executive Summaries, related papers on http://oro.open.ac.uk/ or the core book https://www.routledge.com/Building-Communities-of-Engaged-Readers-Reading-for-pleasure/Cremin-Mottram-Collins-Powell-Safford/p/book/9781138777484

Building Communities of Readers Cover Building Communities of Engaged Readers Cover

Review your practice

This self-review document is designed to help you consider your practice with regard to establishing social reading environments. In the TaRs research, social reading environments were identified as one of the 4 core strands of an effective reading for pleasure pedagogy and, when influenced by teachers’ knowledge both of children’s texts and their children as readers, were key to creating richly reciprocal reading environments.

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Practical classroom strategies

Lots of things have developed together though the environment…  The climate and culture of reading … Like knowing that some of the children are excited by graphic novels, similar to their reading habits with comics I suppose and computers.  Children relax – that creates an atmosphere too. - (TaRs teacher, Birmingham)

1. Create a comfortable environment

First steps can begin with altering the look of your classroom so that you feel it is a space where reading for pleasure is valued. This might mean changing the physical configuration and the displays.

Think about where you like to read and ask the children where they are comfortable reading. It may not be at a table or on the carpet area, but in a different space. If possible, plan together how you would create the space(s) and ask for advice about what the school could provide to resource the area. Once it has been constructed, review how the children use the space and ask for their opinions and how they may like to see it developed.

 

2. Develop book areas/nooks/corners for reading

Any area devoted to reading carries significant messages about the value placed on reading in classrooms. Consider how you will create s book area or spaces in your classroom that offer comfort and promotion of reading for pleasure. Make time for children to use these. This might need to be timetabled, but could also include spontaneous times during the week.

3. Create reading displays 

Displays carry significant messages and those featuring personal, home and community aspects of reading can add wide appeal to young readers. In order to celebrate and share these displays, include some focused on readers, some on texts/authors and some on where folk like to read. Be sure to update these and make them interactive. You might like to develop displays of:

  • class ‘Hot Reads’, where you and the class display the texts you are currently enjoying
  • ‘Wonder Walls’ where the focus is on questions and answers about a particular author
  • a genre- e.g. poetry or short stories 
  • a theme/cross curricular topic with related fiction as well as non-fiction

4. Foster interactive reading environments

Fostering an interactive reading environment is not just about what happens in the classroom reading area/corner – it is about the ethos and interaction around reading and readers moment by moment. Seek to create an environment where children feel relaxed and want to share and discuss their reading. You might:

  • prompt book chats after independent reading time 
  • create a regular recommendations slot 
  • provide post-it notes for children to provide comments on/in books
  • collate an anthology of children’s book reviews about your reading aloud books with visuals of the books and commentary space
  • provide props for playing with/re-creating stories

5. Resource the reading environment

Even if the school budget is limited, think creatively about how you can provide reading   materials that will engage children. The Schools’ Library Service recommended spending per child is £10 per year but that is not always possible. Consider:

  • bringing in widely available and free resources – e.g. leaflets, brochures, appropriate materials from websites
  • using social/schools’ library service where available
  • asking the children to bring in comics and magazines from home
  • running Book Swap days where children bring books, receive a voucher and choose a book to take home (bookplates can be useful here to show ownership)
  • seeking funding from Parent/Community Associations

 

6. Use children’s ideas to celebrate reading 

Discuss with the children how the reading environment, both physical and social, can be enhanced in the classroom. This might include:

  • asking them to annotate photos/draw images of the reading area/corner and asking what they would like included/amended
  • providing them with a map of the classroom/corridor areas/school and asking them for  suggestions about  where reading could be promoted
  • inviting them to make suggestions about authors and texts they would like to see included in reading areas and the classroom generally

If possible, consider using any funding raised (for example from the PTA) to take children to a bookshop so that they can select texts of their own choice.

7. Develop role play areas based on fictional texts

Whatever the age of your class, role play areas can inspire children to engage more deeply with stories and characters. Choose a text or series of texts: this could be a novel that you are sharing during reading aloud time or that you know children are enjoying and talking about. Keep an element of surprise by adding items to the area on a frequent basis and ensure the children have time to explore the area. Where possible, this could also be in an outside area, it doesn’t have to be huge.

 

8. Develop story boxes/bags based on texts

Story boxes and bags are an excellent way of developing children’s understanding and enjoyment of texts, both fictional and non-fictional, and of promoting talk.

They could be based on:

  • particular stories (e.g. a traditional tale/ picture book you are currently sharing, a book and film you have been working on) 
  • themes (e.g. under the sea, superheroes, polar adventure)
  • a text a child/children have enjoyed. They could be asked to develop their own story box/bags

In the box/bag you could include:

  • objects related to the text
  • characters in the text
  • prompts on a label to encourage questions and talk

 

9. Liaise with the local library

Arranging a visit to the local library, especially if you can involve parents/carers in accompanying children can be great way into encouraging families to become library members. Provide times in school to ask children to share the library books they have borrowed and encourage them to add recommendations to the book corner/class anthology of recommendations.

Ask librarians into school to talk about events that are happening in the library too to foster the important notion that reading is not only something that happens in school but is a community event.

 

10. Developing reading environments beyond the classroom

Encourage children to see reading as something that happens not just in classrooms and at home but in wider communities. Consider:

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