After the October break, students in Years 7, 9 and 11 will be part of an exciting new pilot project at the International School of Lausanne, in which we will use reading in homeroom time as a vehicle for delivering important parts of the well-being Social and Emotional Learning curriculum. Stemming from extensive research on the benefits of reading by ISL’s Head of English, Mr Lloyd, a huge amount of time and effort has subsequently been put into ensuring that teachers throughout the faculty have the training and resources to successfully implement the programme, and that the themes, style and content of the novels themselves will be both educational and engaging for our students.
Read on for a guest blog by Mr Lloyd on the philosophy behind this inspiring initiative, an overview of what we hope the students of ISL will gain from the programme, and for further reading on how you can support your child in their reading for pleasure.
Most of us have a general feeling that reading regularly probably has academic benefits. Research studies support this intuition: the evidence proves that reading makes you smarter, that it boosts creativity and improves school performance. Reading even (strangely) improves your mathematics skills.
But, aside from the benefits to academic performance and life-expectancy, there is also a growing body of research into the ways in which reading can be a protective factor for our mental health and help us develop key social skills.
Let’s start with how reading is a great strategy to combat stress. A 2009 study by the University of Sussex found that reading reduced stress levels by 68% – making it a more effective relaxation technique than playing the piano, going for a walk, or gaming. Ironically one of the major causes of stress (the constant temptation of a smartphone and social media) is what stops many of us picking up a book.
As it turns out, reading regularly just makes you happier. Regular readers sleep better, have lower stress levels, higher self-esteem, and lower rates of depression than non-readers. But can it also make us better people?
In June 2019, the BBC future asked exactly this question in an article with the headline: “Does reading fiction make us better people?”. If (ironically) you don’t have time to read the article yourself, here is a summary of its conclusions: yes. There is a wealth of evidence that reading fiction makes people kinder and more empathetic. The effect of fiction on these key social skills is so marked that some medical schools now have humanities components to their training programmes because reading helps medical students to become better doctors.
If reading can make us happier, healthier and kinder, it makes sense that we find a way to build the benefits of books into our well-being offering at the International School of Lausanne. So here’s what we are doing:
Starting after the break, students in Years 7, 9 and 11 will read a book together in homeroom during their SEL (social and emotional learning) curriculum time, and they will spend time discussing the issues that come up.
We expect that students will find the experience a calming and enjoyable way to start the day.
We also hope that reading the books we have chosen will help students to be more empathetic: they will encounter characters and situations that they can relate to, but which may be far away from the world in which they live.
We believe that by reading the book together and talking about it, they will forge stronger social relationships with the other members of their homeroom. The educational guru Doug Lemov, writes:
“The experience of reading together is as powerful to the brain as events experienced together and thus the shared connection it creates can help forge a lasting and valuable sense of community and belonging” (Lemov, 2021).
Most of all, we trust that the books we have chosen will be a really effective tool for students to explore the issues that are already on the Social & Emotional Learning curriculum but which have, until now, been delivered through traditional teacher-led activities.
The Year 7s will discuss strong friendships, the causes and effects of bullying, authentic service, and the difficulty of starting fresh. Year 9 will explore discrimination, racism, addiction, family conflicts and healthy relationships. The Year 11s will reflect on sexuality, race, friendship and faith. And they will do all of this with a good book in their hands.
Here, then, are the books we have chosen:
- Year 7: Restart by Gordon Korman
- Year 9: Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman
- Year 11: How It All Blew Up by Arvin Ahmadi
We will be asking students and teachers for their feedback on this initiative as we go, and we’ll be interested to find out whether the programme has met its aims.
At home, there is lots you can do to support your child in developing and maintaining a reading habit. This can be especially challenging through secondary school – a period when, sadly, a variety of pressures conspire to squeeze the joy of reading out of the lives of many young people. But the most valuable moves we can make to fight that process are quite simple, and they are the same whether we are teaching in a school or parenting at home:
- help students to find and choose books they’ll love
- protect time and space for them to read without distraction or temptation
- model the value we place on reading by reading with them
- discuss books with young people – seriously and often
If we all read more, the world should be a healthier, happier, kinder place.
By International School of Lausanne Head of English, Mr Jeremy Lloyd