Educating Girls

22 April 2020

Creating a Reading Life

Creating a Reading Life

In her book A Velocity of Being: Letters to a Young Reader Maria Popova, perhaps best known for her online musings on Brain pickings, conducted an interesting social investigation. Over eight years, she reached out to a range of people and asked them to construct a short letter to young readers. The end result is an incredible testament to the power of literature and its impact on young lives. Each entry, poetic and beautiful, speaks not only to the value of reading but also, in many instances, the role of supportive adults. These adults may include family members, teachers and/or librarians, people who provide the young reader with what they need – namely, books and time.

Supporting our young readers is a core responsibility and a privilege. We know that reading is critical to the educational and personal journeys of our students. Our commitment is beyond the Australian curriculum, which calls on us to help ‘students to engage imaginatively and critically with literature to expand the scope of their experience.’ We know that the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), indicates that students who read for pleasure perform better at school and demonstrate higher adult literacy.

Beyond the academic benefits, here at Ruyton we acknowledge that reading is intrinsically good and we are committed to helping our students discover its joys and benefits. Benefits as outlined by research from The UK Reading Agency, telling us that reading for pleasure:

  • increases empathy
  • enriches social relationships
  • reduces symptoms of depression and
  • instills an overall sense of wellbeing.

We know that our students benefit academically, emotionally and personally from reading but why do so many parents express a concern that their daughters aren’t reading enough (or at all)?

When we think about our students reading for pleasure it is best to consider the categories they may fall into as literate, illiterate or aliterate.

Researchers like Stephen Krashen, Professor Emeritus at the University of Southern California, would suggest in educational systems like ours, the completely illiterate student is rare, all students achieve basic low-grade literacy. In light of this, perhaps it’s worth exploring the idea of the aliterate student.

But who are they? They are reluctant, unmotivated and disinterested readers. In a school like Ruyton, the behaviour of these students may be in part a reflection of their life situation, including factors such as:

  • second language issues
  • easy access to other entertainment options like, sport and technology
  • difficulty finding a book that speaks to their reading interest or needs.

They may be capable readers but don’t see merit in reading school prescribed texts. They multitask while reading self-selected material – Internet, social networking, comics, magazines – things that are meaningful to them, things that connect them to their friends and interests.

How do we get them to move from being aliterate to literate? Krashen, would suggest that the solution is simple. After synthesising 51 studies, he reports, ‘they simply need to read more.’ They need ongoing, regular experiences of free voluntary reading. Students learn to read by reading. He recommends sustained silent reading, as little as ten minutes a day. In a busy school week, this is perhaps not as easy as it sounds.

Within your family perhaps you could start small. Encourage your child to read ten minutes at bedtime, with her smart phone or device charging in another room. This may work toward re-engaging her as a reader, while assisting her to also strengthen her reading skills.

At Ruyton we acknowledge that two things really matter in this conversation – books and time – and as such the library is critical. Ruyton students benefit from regular library-based reading classes, where they are provided with not only the time to read and access to books, but a chance to engage with a teacher librarian. We give students the freedom and trust to choose their own books, opportunities for conversations about reading and spaces that are conducive to reading.

It seems ironic, and in fact somewhat cruel, that at this time of shutdowns and social isolation, many of us now have time to read but are hampered by the closure of public libraries and books stores. Here at Ruyton, we have also been forced to close our library doors for the duration of the COVID-19 emergency; something we did heavy hearts. Denying our school community access to the books that they love and need, was not acceptable. It was time to plan a new service model. If necessity is the mother of invention, then we needed to find a new way to get print resource to our school community. From this, our ‘Click and Collect’ model was born; allowing the school community to request items that will be collected from the shelves, issued, packaged and made available to them in an effective and safe manner.

These are challenging times, we all miss the opportunities to browse our collections and read together in our physical spaces. We stay optimistic knowing that in time we will again welcome the school community through our doors until then our Click and Collect model will see us through and I congratulate parents on helping their daughters to become stronger readers.


 Julie Purcell

Director of the Library Resource Centre
Ruyton Girls' School
April 2020