This week I read the first five chapters of Pride and Prejudice with my tutor group. We read The War of the Worlds last term: twice a week, for fifteen minutes, in amongst all the other tutorial type stuff which you really do have to do. A few years ago I might have been a little worried about this. After all, mine are a Y7 group and there isn’t a huge amount of time every morning in which to read. We also have only these two opportunities a week. But, in reality this isn’t too much of a problem. If you’d like to read to your tutor group but worry about all of the above then I hope to allay your fears.
Firstly explain the context. This isn’t an English lesson, and we don’t have the time to look too much into the background of the author, but that doesn’t mean we can’t keep coming back to some key essentials: when it was written, what was going on (revolutions, inventions, discoveries?), something vital about the author (he was dying, she was the first to write on this subject, etc.), its format (lots of dialogue, first person – whatever will help them make sense of it) and a very basic outline (it deals with death, love between very different people, or a fantastic invention). Again, this isn’t an English lesson – most of us don’t have an hour of tutor time each day to delve into a book in the same way. We should, however, seek to return to these key ideas often: “Eyes up – do you remember I said this was written when women had just been given the vote? Well, Mrs Pankhurst was …”, and so on.
Secondly, ensure they’re all ready to read. This means books on the tables, rulers used to keep track, and eyes down at all times: “If I can see your eyes then you’re not reading.” There are simple ways to check that they actually are reading along, like cold-calling a pupil to continue the sentence. This isn’t about catching them out, but ensuring they are following so that it becomes normalised, especially during a time which many pupils see as a chance to continue their sleep for another twenty-five minutes.
Thirdly, know when and where to not pause. If you’re reading something challenging then it stands to reason that certain words, phrases and concepts will be alien, but we can’t stop every other line or we’ll lose the story and our tutees’ attention. I tend to read ahead and pick out the odd word which is crucial for understanding the sentence, and then make sure that the sentence is not part of some climax or explosive scene, where a pause would ruin the story: consider the cost of losing that flow – will it ruin the moment? If so, keep reading. Occasionally it might be better to pause and re-explain the meaning of a paragraph or two in the entirety: “OK, eyes up. Remember that this was written during a time of great unrest, where the working classes were rising up …”
The fourth consideration is whether, and if so how much, they read aloud. Mainly due to time constraints I do the reading in my tutor group, though I also want to ensure that we finish the book.
I realise that some might read this and be aghast at the simplicity of what I’m suggesting, but the reality is that most tutors are not English teachers and do worry about how to read as a group. There is, of course, the drama which comes from reading well, although that’s a subject for another post. What’s really important is balancing the enjoyment of reading and being read to with the considerations of understanding.