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June-July 2021 | Features

Tales of a reading volunteer

Tales of a reading volunteer

Playwright Joan Greening, from Elthorne-Hillingdon Rotary, has written a number of plays which have appeared on television and on stage, including the Edinburgh Theatre. She has been at the heart of a reading scheme for children at Northwood School in Middlesex.

Ten years ago, I was looking for other ways my Rotary club could assist the community, and it occurred to me that helping children to read would be in line with one of the Rotary areas of focus – Literacy.

I put the idea to my Rotary club, Elthorne-Hillingdon, and several of our members volunteered. We were given basic training and then once a week we would go into Northwood School to sit with a child for 40 minutes and assist with their reading. 

The paired reading scheme at Northwood school has greatly benefitted students

 The child would be assessed at the beginning of the year and again at the end. The difference which paired reading made to the majority of the children was remarkable. Their grades shot up and their aspirations were widened. 

Before the paired reading, one child, when asked what she wanted to do, said “I don’t want to do anything”. That child is now a Police Officer.

We read a variety of books including ‘Wuthering Heights’, ‘The Thirty-Nine Steps’, ‘David Copperfield’ and Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Canterville Ghost’, which is a huge favourite. In fact, any ghost story seems to be very popular! 

We also read books by modern authors and sometimes children’s writers come in to talk to the students.

Volunteers have also helped in many other ways. They have filled gaps where grandparents have been missing by teaching core morals and standards of expectations. 

They have been able to help children for whom English is a foreign language, by explaining our culture. 

It can be very difficult for a child when they are speaking another language at home.  They have been able to relieve staff to do other work and the children have appreciated ‘an outsider’ coming into the school and taking an interest in them. 

The volunteers often speak about their own travels and enthralling tales. It is useful, when reading about another country, to get an atlas out and show the child. 

One boy recently was amazed that I had been to the United States. It was his ambition to go one day. I was able to tell him some stories of my travels. Touchingly, students often come and thank the volunteers years later. They realise the value that comes from being able to read well. 

A fondness and respect develops between the reader and the volunteer, and the patience shown by the volunteers is remarkable.”

Covid has stalled our work and most children have been working at home. 

Key workers’ children have been in school and as soon as I was vaccinated, I offered to go in and help. 

There were three children who were identified as having low literacy skills. I went in once a week and had a socially-distanced reading session with them. They really enjoyed the change and were keen for this arrangement to continue.

Anne Underwood, the Chief Librarian, who arranges this scheme said: “I have a feeling in other schools, students with low literacy scores could be left to just muddle through. 

“A fondness and respect develops between the reader and the volunteer, and the patience shown by the volunteers is remarkable. We would be lost without them all.”

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