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Reluctant readers, or just ‘not yet fluent’?

At Jaffé & Neale we’re passionate about encouraging children to read, and we have a colourful and exciting children’s section in the book shop. Much is written about ‘reluctant readers’, and specifically about the approach to reading from boys, who are often (but not always!) less enthusiastic than girls about picking up a book. Our guest post today is from ‘Cid and Mo’, patrons of reading at Concord Junior School, in Sheffield. Both former teachers, Cid and Mo have combined their academic experience with a passion for books, and created a series of books (The Jangsters) specifically aimed at reluctant readers – or as they call them, readers who are simply ‘not yet fluent’.


a-or-a2As teachers, the first question we asked ourselves was – why do children learn to write the letter ‘a’ but are then asked to read the same letter presented in a totally different style. Why is this? Children are effectively being taught one set of rules for the alphabet code but are then provided with a completely different version – and usually without anyone explaining the difference! Similarly the letter ‘g’ can be presented in unusual styles. We have since pointed this out to a number of teachers who, although never considering the question, were quick to agree that this indeed was a barrier to reading, especially for reluctant readers. And, as we were to discover, one of many!

It is often boys who fall into the ‘reluctant reader’ trap at the beginning of Key Stage 2. We would argue that these boys are not always reluctant. All too often they have enjoyed being read to at home and school, have secured the necessary phonic skills to decode texts and have developed a level of fluency that enables them to read picture books and scheme books. However, if, by the end of Key Stage 1, they have not developed the reading skills required to advance to the A5 standard novel, there is very little reading material available to them. Unfortunately many simply switch off.

There are a few books aimed at reluctant readers – maybe NYF (Not Yet Fluent) is a better description.

Hi Lo books (High interest Lo reading age), Special Needs material and Reading Scheme books are options that are given to NYF readers, however these are often dry and formulaic – not the sort of material that will inspire these boys to develop a love of reading!

Boys need books that are real and exciting – but not overwhelming.

Boys like to read:

• books that reflect their image of themselves – what they aspire to be and to do;
• books that make them laugh and that appeal to their sense of mischief;
• fiction, but preferably fiction that focuses on action more than on emotions;
• books in series, such as the Harry Potter series, which seem to provide boys with a sense of comfort and familiarity;
• science fiction or fantasy (many boys are passionate about these genres);
• newspapers, magazines, comic books, baseball cards, and instruction manuals – materials that are often not available in the classroom.

First of all, NYF readers should want to read and the choice of reading material is of paramount importance! Books need to appeal to children’s hobbies and interests whilst having a text that is age-appropriate.

Removing the barriers to reading helps these readers see texts as appealing and achievable rather than daunting and difficult. Careful selection of aspects such as font (easy to read), vocabulary (95% achievable 5% challenge) and layout are vital if NYF readers are to access texts. Writing should be organised into short, manageable chunks.

Finally, the intended outcome of reading education must surely be that reading is seen as something that is enjoyable and worthwhile and not, as is often the case with NYF readers, a chore to be avoided. Reading is fun!

We wrote The Janksters series as a direct response to our research. We are not rich, we are not famous but we are making a difference and that is what counts. Our belief is that if we visit a school and sell one book to a boy who wouldn’t normally chose to read, we have been successful!

You can find out more about Cid and Mo on their website.