An exploration of barriers and enablers in critical reading

Sall, Wendy (2022) An exploration of barriers and enablers in critical reading. PhD thesis, University of Nottingham.

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The teaching of reading in English primary schools has been subject to constant reform over the last three decades. It has also been subject to increasingly onerous prescription from central government, initially in terms of content and then with regard to classroom pedagogy. The programme for reading within the 2014 National Curriculum (DfE, 2013) heralds a significant turnaround for the long-favoured and rigidly structured teacher-led guided approach is replaced with a broad discussion-based approach.

This shift is encouraging. Schools are awarded autonomy to use discussion in ways that benefit specific cohorts and, from an academic perspective, reading in school becomes a more social activity as befits the social construction of texts. A discussion-based approach moves away from the traditional question and answer format to allow ideas to be shared, explored and developed. Importantly for texts, discussion facilitates thinking at depth as differing and multiple interpretations are considered, challenged and reasoned. This is an essential skill in a world where children have ready access to multitudes of texts that vary in terms of quality and authenticity, and whose origins may not always be clear. Above all, discussion turns reading into an active and rich learning experience.

This sudden shift in direction however, also brings with it several concerns: curriculum content remains tightly packed, and schools continue to face high-stakes compulsory national testing and regular reporting to a growing number of stakeholders. There is also a notable lack of guidance from central government with regard to how best to support reading development through this approach. This is a stark contrast to previous curriculum revisions.

I argue that whilst the absence of pedagogical guidance offers a measure of freedom to schools, experimentation can be costly. It takes time and commitment, and the emphasis on public accountability requires observable gains over the short term. Many schools seek advice from external consultants or draw from seemingly ‘tried and tested’ commercially produced schemes for support. These are often derived from the narrow foci of assessment frameworks rather than grounded in academic research, or informed by experienced teaching professionals. Whilst such schemes may assist children to reach politically defined age-related expectations for reading, their ability to promote advanced reading skills, such as critical reading, is questionable. The government’s aim of creating school-wide cultures of reading for pleasure could well inspire future generations of motivated readers. However, the skills that support depth of understanding and challenging of text authenticity need to be made explicit to children if they are to cope with the array of texts that they are likely to encounter beyond the school setting.

This study, conducted between November 2016 and August 2019, explores how one urban primary school, in an East Midlands town, has responded to the revised curriculum for reading. Its large size and ethnically diverse population are representative of challenges faced by many of today’s English primary schools. The study explores how talk is currently being used within year four reading sessions using a broad grounded approach. Findings from these sessions, interviews with pupils, and meetings with the class teacher, reveal the existence of several dominant pedagogies that appear to heavily constrain the depth to which children engage with texts and thus, the development of reading skills. Many of these pedagogies are associated with performativity. Case study methodology facilitates exploration of a whole-school approach to reading. Findings from an interview with the English Lead and a range of documentation related to the reading curriculum, draw attention to the deeply ingrained nature of the culture of performativity. Together, the findings indicate that there is a strong need for further support to help schools make the most of this increase in pedagogical autonomy.

Item Type: Thesis (University of Nottingham only) (PhD)
Supervisors: McIntyre, J
Jones, S
Keywords: Critical reading skills, reading practices, primary reading sessions, text-based talk
Subjects: L Education > LB Theory and practice of education > LB1501 Primary education
Faculties/Schools: UK Campuses > Faculty of Social Sciences, Law and Education > School of Education
Item ID: 71081
Depositing User: Sall, Wendy
Date Deposited: 02 Feb 2023 15:11
Last Modified: 02 Feb 2023 15:11

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