By Richard Vardy, Head of English
1. Emphasise the benefits of reading at home
Studies show that teenagers who are encouraged to read independently at home do better in school. Just fifteen minutes of reading structured into the routine at home can have enormous benefits. Send recommended reading lists and try to include some books which are easily – perhaps freely – available online. Variety of reading is also important: as much as it is difficult to admit, advising all students to read Jane Eyre might send some running for the hills. Emphasise to parents the value in reading any substantial format: non-fiction, newspapers, audiobooks, magazines. It all helps.
Of course, it is also important for students to be (re)reading the studied texts as well, assuming they have access to a copy. You could provide parents with a short summary of the book. Ask them to read with their child, or at least have a conversation with them about the book. You could provide them with a list of suggested general questions, such as:
- Are you enjoying the book? Why / why not?
- What has just happened? What do you think will happen next?
- Does this book remind you of anything else you have read, or a film you have seen?
- Who is your favourite character? Do they change or develop in any way?
- What questions does the poem seem to be asking?
Remind parents to give their child time to think and formulate an answer, prompt them if they are struggling and give them plenty of praise and encouragement.
2. Suggest ways of enriching the reading
English Literature can be brought to life at home in ways beyond reading the text. Provide a list of films, television series or plays, especially those theatres are streaming for free, which link either directly or indirectly to the texts being studied. Straightforward adaptations or performances, yes, but consider also adaptations of books by the same author, or films loosely inspired by, or thematically connected to, the set text. The film Ex Machina, for example, would make a fascinating companion to Frankenstein. Encourage parents to watch with their child and, again, ask questions to open up discussion: How does this compare with the original book? What changes have they made? Did you enjoy it more than the book? This could be a particularly fruitful way to open up the text because parents may feel more confident discussing films and television series.
3. Provide a context for study
Parents will want to know the reasons for studying the texts: Will there be an exam? What will a typical exam question look like? What will my son or daughter be assessed on? Resist getting too caught up on details and instead offer a summary of the examination. Parents might also want to know how long you plan to spend on each text and have a sense of your intended sequence of lessons.
4. Advise how to consolidate learning
It is possible that parents may lack the confidence to support their child with the content of the studied texts, but they can help in other ways. Perhaps the easiest way would be simply to ask questions about what their child is studying at the moment.
They can also work with their child to:
- organise their folder and notes
- create flashcards for key quotations or contexts – flashcards are most effective with a question on one side and the answer on another*
- create mind maps for characters and themes
- create glossaries for key terminology
- conduct the ‘look, cover, write, check’ process for testing and learning key facts
- use online study guides such as York Notes or resources such as your school’s Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) or BBC Teach
5. Recommend the importance of structure and routine
Parents can work with their child to establish a simple daily routine. Emphasise the importance of short study periods of no more than thirty minutes, with plenty of breaks and, ideally, exercise. They should try to check their child is working when they say they are working and set up a system of rewards and incentives for effort, such as ‘extra gadget time if you finish reading Chapter Five’.
Getting the tone right in such communication is, of course, a fine balance. Parents are themselves busy with work and other commitments, and may have worries and anxieties of their own. Encouraging any teenager to do little more than grunt to their parents would be an achievement, but the key message for parents must be to keep talking to their child about what they are reading. Studying English Literature is, after all, about engaging in a dialogue with the text and opening up critical debates.
*York Notes offers a series of ready-made revision cards to help students revise and remember everything that matters in a flash!
CHECK OUT our introductory packs for students who haven’t yet encountered Macbeth, An Inspector Calls or A Christmas Carol. Plus, help with Poetry.
Richard Vardy is a Head of English and freelance writer with 13 years' experience of teaching English Language and Literature.