Amy Brown – Reading for pleasure: a path to learner autonomy?

Well, I had to come to this – after all my reading project shenanigans, I was very interested to hear about another reading project…

Reading for pleasure: a path to learner autonomy?

Amy is a senior teacher and the coordinator of the IH Newcastle Personal Study Programme (guided self-study – 1 or 2hrs a day, timetabled, supports regular classes). The ethos of PSP is learner autonomy.

Amy starts by discussing the prickly term of learner autonomy. Not everybody has the same idea of what it is. She asked around the staffroom, getting teachers to say what they think about learner autonomy… but first we had to discuss!

What do we mean by learner autonomy?

The answers from Newcastle…

“learners learning to learn for themselves”

” having the ability to decide for themselves”

…and many more.

Key characteristics of reading for pleasure

Amy formed her own idea of what exactly this means. Three characteristics relevant for this project:

Choice, individual and at learners pace [and one more I missed!]

In the beginning…

Magazines and newspapers were available for reading and a small library of graded readers. Students couldn’t take them home, as so small, so no home reading. There were also trips to the library/bookshops, giving help in book selection (this guidance was appreciated) e.g. this is modern English so could be helpful for you to read.

They wanted more emphasis on pleasure…

This necessitated a bigger library and not only graded readers. Many books were selected, recommended or donated by teachers. Some books have been made into films. Some are for younger speakers. But authentic.

PSP Induction – conversation starter “have you ever read a book in English” (Just like I did with my project, but in the classroom!! :D)

Did many students take up the opportunity? Yes, but mostly those who were readers in their own language and the problem was, when the books came back, the enthusiasm had dipped. When they were returned a few weeks later, uncertainty as to whether they had actually finished…

Pre-check out questions: “What are you going to do when you come across new words?” – entry to a discussion on strategy. “What made you choose this book? – conversation starters.

There were also follow-up chats – how is it going? where are you up to? Also in written form through the journal system. If a couple of students were reading the same book, got them together to discuss also.

But were we getting to new readers or only established readers?

The Reader Organisation

Began in Liverpool, then moved to Newcastle. They promote literacy and wellbeing. They are commissioned from the local council, mental health associations etc. It’s always voluntary attendance, no one is forced to go. It’s a “shared reading group”. Amy mostly found examples with younger learners within ELT, rather than adult learners.

It’s low pressure. The reader (leader – trained reader) reads aloud and stops at natural breaking points, and asks questions re what might happen next and what do you think happens? It involves a lot of reading aloud. There is never any pressure to read. People who read out loud in these groups do it voluntarily and it can be a liberating experience. Amy attended a meeting, didn’t read aloud, but came away feeling really keen to read! She recommends that you google their website.

Amy also came away thinking about how to implement within the school.

How would learners react?

Within this project should be no follow-up activities. The reward should come from the reading itself.

A reader came into IH Newcastle for a 4-week collaboration. B1+ 2 weekly groups, max. 12 students led by “a Reader” (not a “teacher”) – to create an atmosphere not of class but of reading and pleasure. A mix of nationalities and genders. A teacher was also invited along. Luckily there was no asking about language points. They did a short story called “The Umbrella Man” by Roald Dahl

Lots of discussion and personalisation came up naturally and lots of prediction because it was suspenseful story. Without any visual aids.

What about the responses?

Feedback came from observing teachers – a form with prompts to complete.

  • No phone or dictionaries…the students were in the moment.
  • not rushed, not over done [a natural pace]
  • focus on overall meaning
  • lots of enthusiasm from the teachers [and their learners had told the class about it]

Feedback from students mostly came via class teacher “spies” from natural conversations where the students told their teacher about what was happening in the group.

Some of the students really loved it.

“It helps me to understand books better”

“After the group, I think – I need to keep reading” [in a focus group at the end – enthusiastic about reading when they left the group]

“It doesn’t feel like study” [important in a study-packed day!]

A lot of the students invited were IELTS students but the response:

“I need to practice more the exam” …something that needs working on! Students don’t see the benefit of non-exam focused work.

How is all this promoting learner autonomy?

We all discussed together and thought yes!

Finally Amy talked about where the project was going next…

  • more shared reading (more levels/choices)
  • silent reading groups
  • shared reading with IELTS texts? Splitting it into short stories and poetry separately.

Amy can be contacted at amy@ihnewcastle.com in relation to this project!

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2 thoughts on “Amy Brown – Reading for pleasure: a path to learner autonomy?

  1. Pingback: IATEFL 2014: Bringing all my posts together in one place! | Reflections of an English Language Teacher

  2. Pingback: IATEFL Harrogate 2014 – a summary | Sandy Millin

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