Becoming a Teacher of Reading


Margaret Perkins

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  • Copyright


    For my mother, Peggy Jackson, who taught hundreds of children to read, including me.

    About the Author

    Margaret Perkins has been working in initial teacher education for many years with undergraduates, postgraduates and those on employment-based routes in different provider institutions. She is an experienced primary teacher and has gone back into school to teach for periods varying between a day and a year since entering higher education. She is now managing the primary School Direct Programme at the University of Reading. This is a large programme which works with trainees in schools located in more than eight different authorities. She also teaches English specialists on the undergraduate course and loves the excuse to read lots of different books and talk about them!


    Author acknowledgements

    This book is the product of many years of teaching English to intending primary teachers. I am grateful both to all those trainees who have had to sit through my lectures and workshops and to all those colleagues with whom I have worked. All of you have been an inspiration to me and discussions with you have refined and challenged my thinking. You have been a support when it has sometimes felt as though the world is against us. I apologise to anyone whose work I have inadvertently used without acknowledgement. Please contact me and I will put it right. Any fault is mine entirely.

    I would also like to thank my friend and colleague, Liz How. She gave me her time by talking through ideas and reading and commenting on drafts as a critical friend and I am so grateful for that.

    Thank you also to my family, Jonathan, Hannah and Ben, who have put up with much during the writing process.

    Soli Deo Gloria.

    Publisher acknowledgements

    SAGE would like to thank the following reviewers whose comments at the early stages of this project helped to shape the book:

    • Jane Briggs, University of Brighton
    • Jane Carter, University of the West of England
    • Val Chamberlain, Edge Hill University
    • Ruth Harrison-Palmer, University of Cumbria
    • Helen Hendry, Bishop Grosseteste University

    Thanks also to Christina Schiveree and Doug Buehl for kindly allowing us to use extracts from their reading blogs.


    Reading, teaching and learning

    For me, the three elements in the subheading are some of the most exciting things in the world, and to put them together in one book is almost too much.

    Reading is such a wonderful thing to be able to do. It offers experiences, emotions, relationships and expressions which are either new and challenging or familiar and comforting. Why do I read? I cannot answer that question in any better way than to use the words of Wendy Lesser (2014: 4):

    The kind of pleasure you can get from reading is like no other in the world... Because reading is such an individual act, the pleasures we derive... will not be identical. That is as it should be. Reading can result in boredom or transcendence, rage or enthusiasm, depression or hilarity, empathy or contempt, depending on who you are and what the book is and how your life is shaping up at the moment you encounter it. This effect will be particular to each person, and it will change over time, just as the person changes over time – and the richer and more complicated the book is, the more this will be true.

    What a privilege it is to be able to introduce children to experiences like that. Being a teacher of reading allows me to have those experiences on an almost daily basis, to watch children and students discover the joys and sorrows of reading and to learn from texts and other readers more about myself and the world.

    For me, the heart of reading, teaching and learning is relationship; relationship between reader and text, teacher and learner, reader and reader. These are relationships which are scary and exhilarating but also exciting and supportive. Becoming a teacher of reading is about discovering more of those relationships and introducing others to them.

    I think that there is hardly any topic in the field of education which has received so much attention as the teaching of reading. When I began as a young teacher many years ago, who would have dreamt that there would be government policy on how to teach children to read? Being a teacher of reading is one of the most political acts anybody can do. Even a brief review of the history of the teaching of reading reveals changes in emphasis: flash cards to teach sight vocabulary, the whole-language approach and ‘real books’, language experience with lots of words on tiny cards, the first, fast approach of systematic synthetic phonics. Primary teachers have accommodated the whims of politicians and academics and carried on teaching children to read. The best teachers of reading are those who make decisions about pedagogy and resources according to their professional knowledge and experience and match that to the needs of the children with whom they are currently working. They take what is the best on offer and filter out that which does not work for them at that moment in time. If I have learned anything over the years, it is that one approach does not suit all children.

    It is my hope that trainees and teachers who read this book will feel empowered to make those decisions and will gain an understanding of what it is we are teaching when we teach reading. Teachers of reading are under great pressure to comply; the accountability that comes with external forms of assessment and particular definitions of reading is invidious and forces teachers to conform. I hope that within the pages of this book they will find some ideas to enrich the reading curriculum and the confidence to implement them.

    I chose the title of this book very carefully. It is not a collection of tips and ideas for teaching children how to read. It is about becoming the sort of teacher who has a deep understanding of what they are teaching and wants to enthuse and inspire children to become readers. Teaching reading is not about following a system; it is about making informed decisions. Those decisions are influenced by the experience of being a reader, critical reflection on research and policy, talking with those who are more experienced, and above all, from knowing children. I hope this book will help you do all those things and so become an enthusiastic and inspirational teacher of reading.

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