If we have learnt one thing from the past year it is that together we can do great things.

Humans are social creatures. We have a basic human need to be around other humans. Playing sport together, singing together, dancing together and reading together brings with it a sense of value and wellbeing that cannot be equalled in just the company of oneself. 

Applied to reading we can see the benefits of togetherness in the shared reading experience of reading aloud and literature circles to name but two activities.

Cognitive togetherness

The shared reading experience enables mutual teaching and learning both formally and unconsciously. Individual interpretations feed into the collective knowledge pot and understanding, connection and enjoyment grow. New ideas are triggered by listening to those of others. Participants build on the ideas of others; this is a vital component in the comprehension process.

Something smart TV has taken away that reading together can restore is uncovering a plot  simultaneously. While you may ‘pause’ together and ‘re cap’ and even catch up: all these things are done at the same time, as a shared experience.

Reading Gladiators

Building a supportive environment that lets ideas flourish is paramount. Language is important – ‘let us ponder together’, ‘what do we think…?’ are phrases that free up thinking. Open questions encourage deeper consideration and working as a collective liberates the mind. The transferable learning skills that can be practiced are many: debate, persuasion, forming an argument, a counter argument, considering the views of others. These are lifelong skills and vital to the future success of any child.

Emotional togetherness

In addition to the feeling of inclusion, children can develop skills such as listening and empathy during a shared reading experience. Exploring a theme collectively offers a supportive and scaffolded environment – particularly if the themes evoke strong emotions, sharing the experience helps those, particularly the more sensitive, to tackle issues that may be too much to face on their own. Some carefully chosen questions and comments can prompt alternative perspectives or offer a more mature viewpoint to qualify a shocking plot or unexpected character behaviour.

Human beings laugh together, cry together and feel together. Life events are shared together, as they are laden with emotion, both positive and negative. From weddings and funerals to national community events such as Remembrance, Race for Life or topically ‘freedom day’. A heightened sense of the emotion is felt when felt simultaneously with others and yet there is also a feeling of protection as the group supports one another through the emotions. Our natural altruism protects us as we support others with their feelings, whilst they reciprocate for us.

Reading together opens doors

You can bring many books to the group and the group can bring many books to you. Together accessibility is increased as you learn from each other. You can bring your own thoughts and ideas to the group and the group can give you new thoughts and ideas that may not have come to mind if the reading experience had been a solo activity. Comprehension often occurs during the act of verbalising our thoughts, as ideas are bounced off each other. We have seen evidence of this from Reading Gladiators™ groups.

Our AI [Artificial Intelligence] drawings were all pretty similar, despite us not discussing what we thought AI was beforehand. We all thought of it as computers or robots that are watching us and gathering information. We then had a vibrant discussion about social media algorithms and their pros/cons. The last part of our session was spent debating whether robots make good companions (especially for older people). 

In the Key of Code by Aimee Lucido

We had so much to say when we were comparing the two different parts of the front cover and even noticed some things that our teacher hadn’t!

The Closest Thing to Flying by GIll Lewis

We also examined major themes from the novel and had philosophical discussions about what they meant. It was brilliant to see the children making text to text links by finding similarities between ‘The Umbrella Mouse’ and ‘The Runaway Robot’, as well as linking their learning to our class text – Macbeth.

The Umbrella Mouse by Anna Fargher

Reading Gladiators™ offer many opportunities for reading and discussing together together: reading aloud, listening to the author read a section of the story, reader’s theatre and role play. You can find out more about this book club style (and ideal ‘catch up’ resource) by watching the short video here.

Reading together provides a support network

These feelings don’t only apply to children but also to adults experiencing a shared reading experience. A teacher I was working with recently described a reading group as ‘a safe place’. The sharing of the reading experience allowed more connections to be made. The group made meaning together and developed their thinking as a result of listening to others during the reading experience. Recently we looked at a picture book and whilst I read it aloud to the teachers, who had already read the book and some had even shared it with their class, new ideas formed, interpretation was expanded as previously unnoticed details were emphasised.

Reading together for many lucky children begins on the laps of a parent or grandparent. For some the first reading together experience is on the carpet of their Reception class surrounded by their peers. It is a highly valuable activity and one that educators should partake in as often as possible with their children, their colleagues and their own families and this Reading Together day join The Reading Agency in promoting this valuable activity to the families of the children in your class.