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"But we read this in Year 6..."

One of the main issues that tends to crop up when redesigning a KS3 curriculum, talking about KS2-3 transition, or on secondary Open Evenings, is the fact that often, students have already read a book studied in Year 7, or 8, whilst in primary school. Some of the most common titles I've hear lamentations over include Holes by Louis Sachar, Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne, and Trash by Andy Mulligan. No doubt there are plenty more. 

Whilst I've been involved in many a discussion about why certain texts should or should not be reserved until students are in secondary school (the language in Trash is too explicit; the concepts in The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas require a certain maturity; the reading level is not challenging enough; they've already read it...) there is a key idea that rarely - or never, in my experience - seems to get mentioned: it's good to re-read (and re-study - I'm certainly not suggesting that books are merely 'read' in primary school!)! 

The National Curriculum for KS3 states that students should be 're-reading books encountered earlier to increase familiarity with them and provide a basis for making comparisons', and many schools have responded to the new GCSEs and A Levels by teaching a core literature text in KS3 and then re-reading/re-visiting/re-teaching in KS4 or KS5.  Anecdotally, I have studied Jane Eyre at least three times (I could well be forgetting another set reading list; they began to blend...) once in Year 9, and twice in the same year for my English undergrad. Where the only real negative is the possibility of feeling frustrated that you're required to re-read a text you might not have enjoyed the first time, the benefits are boundless: a second reading may be the key to your understanding; you discover lots about a text the second time round; and we are supporting important reading skills such as close reading, analysis and evaluation when we revisit a text. Again, an experience of my own: when I had to study 'Hamlet' in the second year of my degree, I HATED it. Detested it, in fact. I was proactive though, and I've since been to watch a number of productions of it - after all, it is popularly considered to be one of the greatest pieces of literature ever written. And now, I respect it. I like it. I enjoy it. Had I not had the chance to revisit the text, there would be a gaping hole in my literary knowledge, but also I would have missed out on that engagement that comes from artistic appreciation. We surely shouldn't be taking this opportunity away from students, should we?

In practice, I have approached a class text in this manner. A top set year 8 group were to study The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. The class contained lots of avid readers, and some more reluctant. Quite a few of the students had already read the book, and/or watched the film, and conscientiously informed me of their prior knowledge. Sharing my attitude with the class, I explained that if they already knew the text, that would only be of benefit to them; for that unit of learning, we weren't merely 'reading' the text, we were studying it, and to study something thoroughly, you have to know it well. (Imagine how popular children' fiction units of study in universities would suffer if we never re-read anything that was below our reading age!) My students took on the challenge of high level study, and we soon found ourselves evaluating the plausibility of the representation of dialect; considering the ethics of the novel and film being in English; tracking the frequency of turns taken by different characters and analysing the effects of this; and of course, much more. If anything, the fact that some of these students had read the book before was an absolute bonus in allowing us delve much deeper into the text. In a dream world, wouldn't all English teachers wish that their GCSE Literature students read all the set texts at least once, before the related unit of study even began in class? I certainly would. 

In summary, yes, it is important that we embed opportunities for students to engage with complex ideas, language, and grammar, but it is no less important that we encourage and model good study habits, allow for more complex engagement with texts, and foster the investigative attitude that will really benefit our students in KS4 and beyond.