Quick Reads for everyone?

Quick Reads 192x181

2016 is the 10th anniversary of Quick Reads and today is the launch of this year’s books. Before I tell you more about those, I want to share an anecdote…

In 2004 I became Literacy Coordinator at a school in Barnsley, South Yorkshire. Barnsley has consistently been one of the lowest ranked local authorities in the country for student progress. The town was decimated by the closure of the mines and has never really recovered.

The school I worked at was considered to be one of the ‘nice’ schools in the town for several reasons: results hovered around the national average; some of the pupils were lower middle class (it was near the M1 so some of those commuting to Leeds chose to live there), and the school was situated on the edge of the countryside (everyone seemed to forget that the view from the other side of the site was the M1). Despite this, we still had a significant number of students entering the school with a reading age lower than their chronological age.

Before I began the role of Literacy Coordinator, I went on a course run by the National Literacy Trust. On that course I learned about The Matthew Effect, named after the Bible verse: For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken even that which he hath. (Matthew 25:29) In other words, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer or in terms of literacy, those who enter school word rich become word richer and those who enter school word poor become word poorer. At age 7, children in the top quartile have approximately 7100 words in their vocabulary, while those in the lowest quartile have fewer than 3000. In other words, those children with fewer than 3000 words probably become one of the 1 in 6 adults who struggle with their reading.

One of the things the course advocated was establishing a ‘reading buddies’ programme. This had been successful in other schools where local volunteers had listened to pupils read. It was suggested you could use support staff or sixth formers, if your school had some.

I decided to do something different. My school had a particular issue with boys’ literacy and there was little hope, I felt, of persuading some of these Y7 (11/12-year-old) boys to come out of a lesson once a week to read with someone from the local community or any other adult. So I recruited a group of Y11 (15/16-year-old) boys for them to read with and bribed them with a day off-timetable for training and a certificate detailing the skills they’d used to put in their National Record of Achievement. Some of these boys were diligent pupils, some were ‘characters’, some were ‘trouble makers’. A significant number of them were on the borderline between achieving a D or the magical C grade in GCSE English.

On the training day, the first thing I asked them to do was to think about a time they’d struggled with learning something. I shared mine: maths. It still tortures me, repeatedly leaving me feeling stupid. The boys could share their responses if they wanted to. A few said learning to swim. Then one of the ‘trouble makers’, a broad built lad with very short hair and a stud in one ear, said ‘Learning to read. I still find it hard now.’

Some of the staff thought I was deluded: I was told that several of the Y11 boys wouldn’t turn up, they were unreliable; it was also suggested to me that the Y7 boys wouldn’t make any progress. I was young and exuberant; I ploughed on regardless.

The first week wasn’t perfect – pupils had to be collected from classrooms and it was a lively session – but the boys soon settled into a rhythm. The programme ran for twelve weeks. For the first half of the session students read a range of texts – fiction and non-fiction – that I’d selected because they were appropriate but offered enough challenge to stretch their vocabulary and understanding. In the second half, they read a book of their choice.

Several weeks in we began to notice ‘soft’ changes: the Y7 and the Y11 boys acknowledged each other around school; the Y7s I taught came to my lesson one day thrilled that their Y11 buddies had saved them places on the back of the bus; the boys were more confident in lessons; the Y11s I’d been told were unreliable turned up every week (one even arriving to work with his buddy and then skiving my lesson later in the day!), and in one memorable instance, one of the Y11 boys I taught ran from my classroom as we were discussing his coursework, returning five minutes later.

‘What was that about?’ I said.
‘They were getting at J [his Y7 buddy], I’m not having that!’

At the end of the twelve weeks, I retested the Y7 pupils. The minimum their reading age had increased by was 8 months, the maximum 3½ years. At the end of the academic year almost all of the Y11 boys who were on ‘the borderline’ achieved a C in GCSE English.

Hopefully it’s obvious I’ve told you all this to highlight the power of reading, but you already know that reading’s a great thing or you wouldn’t be here. For me, what’s really important about the anecdote is that the boys made progress because they were reading things that suited them. It’s often said that non-readers just need to find the right story, but what if the complexity of the story which might be ‘perfect’ for them makes it difficult to comprehend and ends in frustration?

This is where Quick Reads comes in: the books are short, the stories are linear, the vocabulary is straightforward, the plots are gripping and they’re written by big-name authors. Here’s this year’s titles:

QR 2016 Packshots Horizontal2

So what can you do to support the initiative? Here’s some ideas from Quick Reads:

  • Hold a reading break or start a reading group in your workplace, college, library or local community. You can create a buzz about reading that will encourage even the most reluctant readers to pick up a good book.
  • Set up a reading area at your organisation. You can provide a bookcase and a reading area if you have room. Use new books or ask people to donate their books.
  • Use Quick Reads as part of Reading Ahead, which challenges people to pick six reads and record their reading in a diary to get a certificate.
  • Hold a book swap by encouraging people to bring in books they have read and enjoyed to share with others. You ask people to write reviews or put stickers in the front of the books for people to write comments.

Galaxy Quick Reads are bite-sized books written by best-selling authors which cost only £1. They are available from bookshops, supermarkets and online or can be borrowed from libraries across the country. For more information visit www.readingagency.org.uk/quickreads

I’d love to hear if you get involved or have been/already are involved in this brilliant initiative in any way.



36 thoughts on “Quick Reads for everyone?

  1. What a fantastic initiative and thanks for the ‘Quick Reads’ tips – I’ll look them up for my own kids – even though they are all keen readers, who doesn’t like a short, gripping story?!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I heard about these books last year and thought it was a great idea for my father who is in the early stages of Alzheimers. Unfortunately the books are not available in Australia. I love your story and wish there were more teachers like you.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Last year I spent an evening in the company of a bunch of Marines (long story. Good story, but long.) Most of them weren’t readers and were utterly bowled over by the fact that I had an English degree, but one or two of them were, and they told me all about Andy McNab (who, I’ve noticed, wrote one of the Quick Reads books.) They ended up having coffee at my house at 3 in the morning (another long story) and one of them spotted Phil Klay’s collection Redeployment on my shelves. He was really interested in it–he had been one of the Andy McNab devotees. I’ve told this story a million times but I do think it’s important. People CAN get interested in books, when they think the books might have something to say to them, on their level!

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Your story really gladdened my heart. I’m a Named Governor for Literacy at a primary school in Birmingham and we’re always looking for ways to support parents and children reading together. Well done to you for ignoring the naysayers and trying something new and succeeding.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. This post made me all weepy! I love teaching stories! I teach too, and I love seeing the learning happening on their faces and in their confidence! Lately, I’ve been very interested in a WordPress blog called The Black Cat Moan. He writes a lot about books that capture boy’s stories and his those are dying out.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Inspirational – thanks for sharing such a positive story! I also had the privilege of hearing the wonderful Cathy Rentzenbrink talk about Quick Reads during her Book Week Scotland tour and felt genuinely moved by the story she shared about her dad’s literary problems. Thankfully there are folk like you and Cathy doing amazing stuff!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. What an inspiring story. I wish there were more people like you. I’ve been trying to volunteer to help with literacy sessions but it’s so difficult to get to talk to someone who can tell me how to go about this. Any suggestions – I am not a teacher but would be willing to do a training course.


    • Thank you. There’s a group called Catch Up who I used to work with who might be able to help with schools in your area who need volunteers: http://www.catchup.org
      Also, in Sheffield we have an organisation called ESCAL – Every Sheffield Child Articulate and Literate who I worked with at my last school. Your local authority might have something similar. Details should be on the council website if they do.


  8. Wonderful story, so very pleasing. Well done you.
    Human beings are a story telling species but there are so many technical and confidence undermining issues getting in the way of reading ‘proper books’ for challenged readers. Quick Reads publications and caring people with patience like you can make inroads into the problem. Astute pairing is an inspired way of dealing with it and I’m not surprised at the quantifiable progress you made. But it is still very hard work and 14 years is a long time. No wonder you needed a change and you deserve it.


    • Thank you for such a lovely comment. It was definitely time for a change but part of what I do now is mentoring new teachers and it’s lovely seeing them bring their energy and enthusiasm to the role.


  9. That’s a great story and good on you for doing it despite those who thought it wouldn’t work. My school has a literacy program that works very well, four periods a week in streamed groups. The kids have different activities during the class and it ends with reading, either as a group or individually. I teach Decoding and I’m afraid your “quick reads” above would be way too hard for my students, who are reading at Year 2 level in classes from Year 7 to 10. I find it very frustrating that there is so little published for teenagers who aren’t reading at their chronological age level. The education publishers assume that if they’re publishing Grade 2 level books it’s for eight year olds. We scrape together what we can and sometimes I just write my own stories.


    • That is frustrating and so hard when they don’t want to be seen to be reading books for young children.

      You have my admiration for persevering. I only hope with the focus on literacy at the moment that a greater range of suitable texts become available.


      • I don’t blame the older kids for not wanting to read books aimed at small children. I blame the publishers for not understanding that there are teens who want to read about things that interest them in language they can understand. There ARE some, just not as many as we’d like. I attended a writers’ conference once, where one of the speakers, sitting with her publisher, read a very cute verse book aimed at Year 3 readers. I raised my hand and asked politely if they published anything for teens who were reading at Year 3 level. They both looked at me in surprise. Neither of them said, “What a good idea!” They both shrugged and said I should contact other education publishers about it. (I did, and got the reply, “Oh, I know there’s a need for it, there just isn’t a market!” Yes, there is.)


  10. Pingback: Happy Birthday Quick Reads! | A life in books

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