Storytime of 20 minutes a day can encourage dramatic and significant improvements in children's reading and comprehension levels, according to a recent trial in 20 schools across the UK. In one year group, children's reading attainment improved by 12 months in just one term.
The trial, carried out by publisher Farshore in the UK, involved 3,000 children in Years 3-5 (ages 7-10) having a mandatory 20 minutes of storytime each day. This age range was chosen as only around 25% of children aged 8-10 years are read to regularly.
The project was devised to test the impact of daily storytime on children's attainment and attitudes to reading, and focused on reading for enjoyment; children were not tested on the stories they heard.
Dramatic results in reading and comprehension
The results among Yr 4 children specifically showed an increase in their reading age attainment by, on average, 12 months across just one term of daily storytime. There were also significant improvements in children's comprehension, with the number of children achieving 'good' or 'excellent' levels of comprehension rising from 49% among the Yr 4 group, to 60%, by the end of the 12-week trial.
At one school that has 59% of its pupils on Pupil Premium, the percentage of Yr 4 children achieving 'good' or 'excellent' levels of comprehension rose from 4% to 52% by the end of the term's trial. Results were similarly good among EAL children; one school with 31% pupil premium and 69% English as Additional Language, rose from 29% to 61% among their Yr 4s scoring 'excellent' in comprehension attainment.
"You can't teach 'reading for pleasure', or deliver it like a lesson. Reading for pleasure is an outcome
and you have to build a reading culture to be able to deliver it."
Alison David, consumer insight director at Farshore, said, "When children are read to every day - and it has to be every day, that's where the magic is - it can be transformative." Farshore has already seen positive results in earlier research into reading among families. "We wanted to know if that would also happen if they were read to every day in school," said David.
Currently, just a quarter of children aged seven to ten years get a daily storytime at school, with the pressures of the curriculum pushing it from the timetable. "Storytime has fallen through the cracks," said David. "You have this tension where reading for pleasure is statutory and Ofsted is looking for evidence of it, but you can't teach 'reading for pleasure', or deliver it like a lesson. Reading for pleasure is an outcome and you have to build a reading culture to be able to deliver it."
"If every child was read to every day at school, just for the fun of it,
the outcomes would be transformational."
Daily storytime, she feels, can be crucial in achieving that outcome. "After the trial, 44% of the children themselves said they were reading more for enjoyment, and it was observed by their teachers that there were increases in enjoyment of reading, children's breadth of reading, and other less measurable skills such as empathy." She added, "If every child was read to every day at school, just for the fun of it, the outcomes would be transformational."
Storytime has impact beyond 'reading skills'
One of the teachers who took part in the trial, Chris Soul, said, "The impact of the Farshore Storytime in Schools project at Watford St John's CE Primary School has been huge. Daily storytime has been at the heart of our developing reading for pleasure culture and has demonstrably improved children's interest in books, promoted a love of reading and had an impact on children's attainment, well-being and social skills." The school saw particular success among children with special educational needs, for whom storytime improved listening skills, enthused them and sparked their imagination.
"Because it was timetabled, we could see storytime mattered as much as any other subject."
So why aren't more schools including storytime in their timetables? Soul said, "As a school we have always valued storytime, but the Farshore project was an opportunity to become more robust about it, to see it formalised. Because it was timetabled, we could see storytime mattered as much as any other subject." The challenge for teachers, Soul added, is finding a way to squeeze it in among all the other areas they need to cover. "It needs to be prioritised, and it needs robust leadership to happen."
As their trial progressed, once children at the school knew storytime would happen every day they would 'call out' the teacher if they forgot it. Rather than timetabling storytime at different times of the day, the school now gives it a specific time at the end of the day, said Soul. "We have learned that there is something really nice about ending the day with a period of peace, calm and listening. It calms the children before they go home and the teachers have also said that it helps to calm them, too."
"Storytime gives the children the ability to self-regulate, to manage their emotions better."
Soul added, "After the trial, we could see that children have benefitted from storytime, and not just in their ability to access books and reading. It's in all aspects of themselves; their emotional awareness, their ability to be more social. Storytime gives the children the ability to self-regulate, to manage their emotions better."
"We have children who have come from quite difficult backgrounds who, before storytime, couldn't settle, couldn't listen in assembly or in class. As the trial continued, they became more and more able to listen and to concentrate, and to react to those stories. Daily storytime has helped to open them out, socially and emotionally."
As a strategy for boosting reading for pleasure, the storytime trial worked for most children; by the end of the trial, 77% of children said they wanted storytime to continue and 44% said they were reading for pleasure more independently as a result of the one term trial. Nearly all the teachers (91%) said they would continue the daily storytime; in addition to improving reading and comprehension skills, they felt storytime had made the classroom a 'calmer, happier place' in which reading for pleasure was seen as a worthwhile and valuable activity.
Farshore said, "The trial demonstrates how highly effective storytime is in encouraging a love of reading and raising standards when it is consistent, but it needs to happen every day." The case for reading aloud to children as part of a reading for pleasure culture is clearly stated in the Department for Education's (DfE) recently published 'The reading framework'; Farshore is keen to share the findings far and wide and hopes for a debate on whether storytime should be mandated.