The importance of reading

Thanks to Anne Hooper of Secondary Committee for delving back into those Teaching History archives again. Here she learns more about the very topical matter of reading in the history curriculum from the history teaching past. 

In a recent ResearchEd talk Clare Sealy talked passionately about the importance of reading in the curriculum. In recent years we have seen a renaissance regarding the importance of historical reading through improving subject knowledge and twitter discussions from the History Teacher Bookclub run by @spbeale and @andrewsweet4. The work of Dan Warner-Meanwell @mrwmhistory with his “Story, sources, scholarship” model has put history writing at the heart of lessons. A recent review of TH111 ‘Reading History’ shows that the history community has valued reading in our classrooms for many years and the current twitter chatter following Sealy’s talk, inspired me to go back to an article written twelve years ago and published in TH 132 by Martin Loy.

Martin Loy wanted to improve the reading ability of his history students and talked through his strategies to ensure that his GCSE and A Level students had the confidence to read whole history books. To do this he realised the importance of building reading into lessons from Year 7 onwards ensuring that the reading level became progressively challenging. If asked “how can you get a student to read a book in Year 12?” Loy argued that the answer must surely be to get them reading for themselves in Year 7. He realised that encouraging students to read for themselves is part of the way we can avoid teaching our students to rely on us and become more independent in this thinking.

Through the article Loy talks about how we as teachers must be reading too. He argues that we run the risk of being hypocritical if we are always getting students to read material and learn more if we are relying on historical knowledge gained from our own degrees which might be decades ago now. Our passion comes across loud and clear in the classroom if we bring in snippets of information from our own reading and when we show them the books that the nuggets have come from pupils often are attentive and asking questions.

Making material available to students is understandably key and Loy reminds us about the importance of school libraries. During the rotas of the summer term I found myself frequently with our school librarian and we enthusiastically shared our reading at the time, which for me was Peter Frankopan’s Silk Roads. Subsequently she ordered several copies of the Illustrated children’s edition which has proved very popular with our new Year 7 as they have heard me waxing lyrical about it in class.

Hoy uses Hindsight magazine regularly and encourages his students to take out subscriptions and when completing their studies, to donate their copies to the department. He highlights his six steps to encourage students to find relevant articles to their course, as shown below.

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Hoy also stresses how important it is to be active when reading and talks about how he gets students to note down key words, underline or highlight key words and summarise small chunks of reading. Students are encouraged to use dictionaries to help expand their vocabulary and fully access the material.

By reading the full text the reader can get to know and understand an author, one can sense their passion, see their principles and appreciate their humour and style- something that can be lost when simply reading a condensed snippet from a textbook.

Hoy concludes with an appeal for us collectively as a profession to “raise students’ expectations by demonstrating to them that reading is in itself a noble, worthwhile and ultimately rewarding activity.” We should not be apologetic for spending time reading in the classroom as “to read actively with discernment and understanding, if well done, is task enough.”

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