Reading for pleasure in an adult literacy classroom, and oral reading fluency

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Burton (2007, p.11) poses the questions, ‘It has been suggested that reading aloud is an activity that is hardly ever done by adults. Is this true? Take a minute to think about occasions when you, or other you know, have read something aloud’.

From observing other classes, through to volunteering in literacy sessions for a year, and eventually teaching literacy myself, I noticed that I, along with the other situations I had been in, had always ‘avoided’ reading activities with adult literacy learners to some extent. Of course we covered reading in sessions, however the start of my literacy class saw comprehension type activities and naturally dismissed reading for pleasure, or anything with wasn’t directly productive, or have focus on productive skills at least.

As time has gone on, I have encouraged my learners to take a more active part in reading for pleasure, and after picking up on bits of research here and there, decided to introduce it to my class more formally.

On the face of it, my classes are ‘literacy’ as opposed to ‘reading’.

In one study, ‘silent reading was the ‘activity’ that happened most often, corresponding with the large amounts of time learners spent working alone. ‘Active’ reading tuition…took up less that half of the class time/’ Burton, (2007, p.5). Burton, (2007, p.7) looks at ‘useful approaches mentioned in research which don’t seem to be used in the adult literacy classroom as often as might be expected’, with one of the main reasons for this lack being target-focused classes, leaving the tutor less willing to ‘take risks’.

Although my classes are target driven to some extent, I have some flexibility and say in how they are run. Our aim is to provide qualifications for learners, so as long as my choices have this in mind, we’re able to go ahead with most plans.

It took a long time to develop my literacy class, and although I now only have 3 regular learners, with one who focuses on qualification outcomes, they are 3 more than I’ve had for a long time, and the group is stable enough for me to try new things.

I had started to deliver a phonics-based programme with another learner 121, and had seen his levels of confidence increase significantly, as well as my pride in him. I started to think about how I could replicate this with ‘more advanced’ literacy learners (i.e. E1+).

Burton (2007, p.7) continues by suggesting that ‘practice in this, rather than just being a meaningless ‘exercise’, has been shown to assist reading comprehension and improve confidence’. Burton (2007) suggests a number of strategies to help reading, including oral reading fluency.

With this in mind, I started to consider how I could work oral reading fluency into my sessions, whilst still aiming for qualifications with learners. I decided to take a few Oxford Bookworms originally intended for ESOL learners, to my class one night. I told my learners I would like to try to focus on reading skills this term, and there were a few grumbles around the room. We talked this through for a few minutes (I got the hint the second time someone asked me if they could go out for a smoke), and they said they didn’t mind which book they read. The next week we started by using the suggested activities in the back of the book.

I found that analysing the back page, thinking about what it made us this about, seeing if we had any questions, discussing whether they think they’d like to read it or not, and repeating the process with the front cover was beneficial for the learners’ engagement. I was worried one might not want to read a book, but persevered and made it silently compulsory. The reaction to which I was really surprised at; there wasn’t one.

At the beginning of the term, learners expressed that they wanted to work individually, however agreed that with reading activities, this was a good option as a group. We decided to split the session into individual work, with about 30 minutes of group reading, either at the beginning, or at the end. They ‘let’ me set activities, discussion points, pair work, worksheets etc, and to my amazement, we worked through two books in a term.

The only downfall, was that I chose a book at approximately Entry 2-3, which was not challenging enough for one learner. I could choose some titles at a higher level, and pair him with a volunteer, although this might be equally disruptive for both ‘groups’. Another option could be to choose a slightly more challenging book, and set differentiated activities for the higher level learners, where they can choose to either read silently and complete activities, or join in and complete activities as homework.

I plan to use more oral fluency techniques in the classroom as I found my group were happier (observation of their behaviour, not empirical evidence!), they were supportive of each other, they listened better, they shared their ideas and seemed to engaged in the texts better. It was a pure pleasure to see them modelling my praise of them reading on each other, and it even felt like it made my praise for learners  a little redundant at one point, them favouring their peers’ support.

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