News and views Views A reading breakthrough before lockdown 7th May 2020 When the lockdown was put into place and schools were closed, our reading helpers had to bring their reading sessions to an abrupt halt. Carol, who volunteers as a reading helper both on our Story Starter programme and our Reading 321 programme in London, has written about the progress she was making up to the point schools had to close: A slow start A boy in Reception class was causing his teacher concern because she could not get him to speak at all or to participate in any class activities. The child looked miserable every day and would go off and play on his own. The first few Story Starters sessions, we would go into the corridor where he would listen silently while I read to him. Impossible to tell whether he understood anything. When I asked him questions he would either not answer at all, or whisper one word so quietly I could not understand him. A breakthrough! Then after a couple of weeks, he said a word that I could hear quite clearly. A breakthrough! A week later I was getting two words. His teacher said he’d started putting up his hand in class, although he spoke so quietly that nobody could hear what he said. Suddenly in a Story Starters session one day, he produced a whole phrase. The following week it was a sentence. He even smiled. His teacher was over the moon. She said he’d suddenly started volunteering answers in class and although he didn’t play with other children, he did sit next to one. She was convinced that it was all thanks to the confidence his Story Starters sessions were giving him. Such excitement! So rewarding! I couldn’t wait to see what progress we would make in the next session...... And then the lockdown began. So frustrating! My reluctant reader challenge I was warned by a fellow volunteer that the girl in Year 4 on my new list was someone she had struggled with throughout the previous year. The girl was surly, unresponsive and would ask to go back to class after just a few minutes. Her teachers had also raised concern about her attitude in class. She was failing in every subject and said she hated school. When I went to pick her up, she scowled. The teacher insisted that she should go with me. She trudged along the corridor with hangdog expression. Any attempts I made to engage her in conversation failed dismally. During the first few sessions, I had exactly the same experience as my fellow volunteer had warned me about. I decided to tell the school coordinator that it wasn’t working and to ask for another child who might benefit more. Pippi Longstocking... Before I could do that, however, the girl suddenly told me that she lived alone with her mother and that she had no idea who her father was. ‘Pippi Longstocking’ popped into my head, the story of a little girl who had no parents but lived an extraordinary life. It worked! The Year 4 girl lapped it up! The wilder Pippi’s adventures, the more she loved it. She changed from a reluctant reader to one who looked forward to her 321 sessions and read page after page with total absorption. How did the sessions end? What success? Well along came lockdown… Become a reading helper We are still processing volunteer applications and encourage anyone interested in becoming a reading helper to apply as normal by completing our online form. When schools do re-open, we want to be ready to help close the gap which COVID-19 is inevitably widening for many children during the lockdown.