Friday, 17 March 2017

Class Reading Timeline

This year, I'm teaching the same class as I taught last year. In fact, I started at the school with this class when they were in the final term of Year 4 and they're now in Year 6. There are a couple of downsides to this (it's virtually impossible to come up with anything new to say at Parents' Evening that you haven't already mentioned in the previous five!), but there are also a huge number of positives. We've built up a wonderful shared reading history over the past two years, and I can confidently say that I know their individual reading habits inside out.

Earlier in the year we created individual and family reading histories, and the natural progression was to spend time working together to produce our class reading history or reading timeline. We started by talking about all the books that we'd read together and the shared reading experiences that we'd had. These included author visits from Paul Cookson, Matt Dickinson, Pippa Goodhart and Ali Sparkes, judging various book awards (Peters Book Of The Year and Royal Society Young People's Book Prize) and whole school celebrations of reading. We also looked through our class Twitter feed and at the various interactions we'd had with parents, authors, publishers, etc, about reading.

We then thought about which books or authors had created a big buzz and set off a reading 'chain reaction' around the room. In Year 4, everybody was reading the Stinkbomb and Ketchup-Face books by John Dougherty. In Year 5 it was all about the Cirque du Freak series by Darren Shan and, so far in Year 6, the most popular books have been the Once family by Morris Gleitzman (he doesn't like to call them a series apparently) and Wonder by RJ Palacio. There's also been a real surge of interest in reading graphic novels this year, caused by one of the pupils enjoying Smile by Raina Telgemeier and then getting all of her friends to read it.


The class split into small groups and planned how they were going display their timeline. Most went with using a long piece of wallpaper and photographs alongside written thoughts and reflections, although one group very keen to produce a PowerPoint. It took a couple of afternoons, but we were all were absolutely delighted with how they turned out. Each group took their finished reading timelines round to show the some of the other classes, and they're all currently on display in the school library.

In terms of impact in the classroom, one of the recommendations from the UKLA Teachers as Readers report was to develop pedagogy which fosters 'inside text talk' (spontaneous, informal and child led) about reading and books, and which supports children in creating 'positive reading identities'. The conversations that took place about books, authors and reading between the groups were an absolute joy to be part of. When you overhear a child explaining to an engrossed group of friends the similarities and differences between The Goldfish Boy by Lisa Thompson and The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd, then you know it's been time well spent.

Friday, 10 February 2017

Reading aloud in class

'Reading aloud with children is known to be the single most important activity for building the knowledge and skills they will eventually require for learning to read.' Marilyn Jager Adams

Reading aloud to a class of any age can be a wonderful experience and is absolutely essential in helping to create a class reading community. To find out more about the numerous benefits, have a read of this great blog post by Nikki Gamble.

However, choosing the 'correct' book is never easy. It needs to tick several boxes: it has to capture their imagination in the first few pages, it should provide opportunities for them to reflect and think about the world, it should entertain them and make them want to read more and, equally importantly, it should be a book that the teacher also enjoys. I've occasionally started books before with classes without reading them first, got about three chapters in and realised that if I'm totally bored by the book, then there's a pretty good chance that the kids are too. I'm now well into my second year of teaching the same class and we've read some absolutely incredible books together, many of which I intend to revisit in the future.

A story I often read with a new class (Year 5/6) is The Busker by Paul Jennings. Paul has written a huge number of short stories, most of which are thoroughly enjoyable with a clever twist at the end. However, out of them all, The Busker is the one that always has the biggest emotional impact. It's a story about a busker who wins several million dollars in the Australian lottery and the incredible loyalty of his dog. Gasps of shock and outraged faces are guaranteed.

One of the most popular novels that we read in Year 5 last year was One Dog And His Boy by Eva Ibbotson. It's not my favourite book of hers (that would Journey To The River Sea, which I adore) but it is my favourite one to read aloud. It's about a young boy, Hal, whose parents are far too busy and far too important to spend any quality time with him, so they try and make up for it by buying him expensive gifts. All Hal wants for his birthday is a dog and he's absolutely delighted when he is given Fleck as a present. Unfortunately, Hal doesn't realise that his parents have only hired Fleck for the weekend. He comes home from school on Monday, finds Fleck missing and decides that his only option is to run away to find him. It's a simple story, beautifully written, and always causes lots of discussion (and quite a few tears) in class. It has a lovely ending, where Hal's parents finally discover the error of their ways and realise what is actually important in life.

Another Year 5 classic is The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, the story of Nobody (Bod) Owens, a small boy raised in a graveyard. Bod came to the graveyard as a toddler, escaping after the murder of the rest of his family by the man Jack. It's full of action and slightly scary in places, with a wonderful range of characters for the children to enjoy.

Last year, I also read Boy Overboard by Morris Gleitzman with a class for the first time. It's one of my favourite books but I wasn't sure how it would be received, as it's about two child refugees from Afghanistan who are trying to flee to Australia. It was actually the most popular book of the whole year! I think because we'd done a fair amount of work about the refugee situation around the world, the children were able to empathise with Jamal and Bibi, the two main characters. There are some highly emotional chapters, especially when the children get separated from their parents, but every child in the class was desperate to hear how the story turned out. Several of them have asked if we can read the follow-up, Girl Underground, later this year and some of them have already read it independently.

We also read some more light-hearted books across the year. The ones we most enjoyed were a couple in the Stinkbomb and Ketchup-Face series by John Dougherty, and The Spy Who Loved School Dinners and Baby Aliens Got My Teacher by Pamela Butchart. Both series are enjoyably written, with ridiculous plots, and are an absolute treat to read aloud.

In Year 6, the highlight so far has definitely been Wonder by RJ Palacio. It's already regarded as a classic and, in my opinion, should be read to (or by) every child in Year 6. It tells the story of Auggie, a ten-year-old with a rare facial deformity, and his experiences when starting middle school. It's written in the first person from a variety of character viewpoints and, as well as being a heartwarming story, teaches valuable lessons about empathy and understanding. When we finished the book, several parents asked if they could borrow it to read, as their children had gone home every day telling them about how amazing it is!

We're currently enjoying Welcome To Nowhere by Elizabeth Laird. It's a fantastic book, although I've had to selectively edit a couple of the more graphic passages. It's led to a lot of questions and further reading about refugees by the children, although it's possibly more suited to Year 7 upwards.

Below are some of the class stories we've read, or are planning to read over the next few months. We also try and share picture books together as often as we can. This year we've read Isn't It Great by Gerard Greverand,  My Big Shouting Day by Rebecca Patterson, Azzi In Between by Sarah Garland and Mr Wuffles by David Wiesner as well as several others. All of them can be enjoyed on more than one level and be used as a basis for some interesting debate.

Several of these books will definitely make the cut for next year (assuming that I'm teaching in Year 6), but it's also exciting to read new books with a class. Next year, I'm very tempted to give The Nowhere Emporium by Ross MacKenzie a try, as well as Once by Morris Gleitzman. I'd be really interested to know which books other teachers enjoy reading to their class and try to revisit regularly.

'You're never too old, too wacky, too wild, to pick up a book and read to a child.' Dr Seuss

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

A letter to my class

Dear Deer,

Today I realised something very exciting! Did you know that you’re all readers now, every single one of you? I don’t mean that you all can read, because you’ve been able to do that since you were in Reception and Year One. That’s a different kind of reading, working out what all the sounds are and how to put them together. I mean that you’re readers; real, genuine, passionate readers. I spent a lot of time thinking about it on my way to school this morning (there was bad fog so I had to drive very slowly), and I’m going to try and show you that I’m right.

You’re readers because you remind me every single time when I forget about you sharing our Poem of the Day. You’re readers because you work brilliantly together to tidy up before story time, which means that you can squeeze every last minute out of it. You’re readers because you all get excited whenever a new book arrives in the classroom. You’re readers because you work so hard to keep the school library up and running. You’re readers because you love talking about your favourite books at every possible opportunity. You’re readers because you want to share the books you enjoy with children lower down the school.

In fact, now that I’ve started, let me be even more specific…

Lauren, you’re a reader because as soon as you found out that there was another book written by Katherine Rundell, you marched straight down to the school library to find it.

Troy, you’re a reader because you think very carefully about which picture book you’re going to share with the children in Reception at story time.

Liam, you’re a reader because you love looking at books with beautiful illustrations and trying to recreate them.

Charley, you’re a reader because you got so emotionally involved when we read One Dog and His Boy together and sat there with tears streaming down your face.

Isobel, you’re a reader because you squealed with joy when you found out that there might be a third Varjak Paw book one day.

Nico, you’re a reader because you insisted that your mum read Wonder straight after you did, so that she could see what you were so excited about.

Gracie, you’re a reader because you spend every spare minute talking about how amazing you think Lyra Belacqua and Katniss Everdeen are.

Rubie, you’re a reader because you read the books that you enjoy and you don’t care what anyone else thinks about them.

Hollie, you’re a reader because you spend your playtimes reading the Eddie poems by Michael Rosen to anyone who'll listen.

Jack, you’re a reader because you love sending the class photos on Twitter of the purchases you make at the different bookshops you visit.

Andrew, you’re a reader because you can recall almost every record from Guinness World Records 2017 and you know straight away where to find any that you’re not sure of.

Alfie, you’re a reader because you can remember exactly what happened on page 264 of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (and on any page of any other Harry Potter book).

Marley, you’re a reader because you’ve read so many books and you’re always happy to share recommendations with your friends.

Layla, you’re a reader because you can give a detailed plot summary of every Jacqueline Wilson book ever published.

Oliver, you’re a reader because you’ve quietly been working your way through the Young Samurai series since September.

James, you’re a reader because you love finding out extra facts about whatever topic we’re studying, and you start virtually every sentence with ‘Did you know...?’

Romy, you’re a reader because you always want to try books that you shouldn’t really be reading quite yet. Don’t worry, their time will come…and when it does, you’ll love them even more.

Leo, you’re a reader because you carefully take your signed Tom Palmer book out of your drawer and sit reading it with a contented smile on your face.

Jack, you’re a reader because you’re not afraid to change a book that you’re not enjoying.

Gabriella, you’re a reader because you read Bridge to Terabithia time and time again. It’s wonderful that you enjoy it so much!

Christian, you’re a reader because you come in every morning (without fail!) and tell me about the latest developments in the Once series.

Sonny, you’re a reader because you turn up at school book council meetings absolutely full of fantastic suggestions about which books we can buy for the school.

James, you’re a reader because, after a whole year of reading nothing but Beast Quest, you were brave and tried the Ranger’s Apprentice books and The Hobbit. And Christian was right, you loved them!

Taylor, you’re a reader because you discovered the Barnaby Grimes books by Chris Riddell and are happy to tell everyone you meet about how exciting you think they are.

Maddison, you’re a reader because you got so angry and frustrated during ‘that’ chapter in Wonder.

Have I proved my point Deer Class? I really hope so. Thinking about all of this today meant that it was the most heart-warming and enjoyable drive to school that I’ve had for a very long time, so thank you all!

Mr Biddle

Friday, 6 January 2017

Reading Rivers

Hearing about children's reading at home after we return to school following a school holiday is an important part of our classroom routine. It's something that the children look forward to because it provides an opportunity to swap recommendations and share new books that they've enjoyed, and it's something that I look forward to because I get to find out about books that may have slipped through the net. This year, hot topics of conversation included Cogheart by Peter Bunzl, the Once series by Morris Gleitzman, Wonder by RJ Palacio,  and The Midnight Gang by David Walliams. We also talked about various graphic novels and picture books that had been read (mostly Star Wars and spin-offs from The Phoenix comic), and discussed the fact that these are sometimes not viewed as 'real reading' by parents because they're 'too easy' and have pictures. This lead us on to a wider discussion about what real reading actually is and about what we might read during a typical day.

This reminded me of the Reading Rivers idea, which I'd heard about from Teresa Cremin, and had been meaning to try for a while. The idea was originally explored by Pamela Burnard (2002) and further developed by Gabrielle Cliff-Hodges (2010). It's a visual activity where the children make a collage (which can include drawings, photos, labels, etc) of all the text types that they 'flow through' during a certain time period.

My Reading River for a typical Sunday

I spent some time creating my own 24-hour Reading River so that I'd be able to introduce the idea to the class. Significant poetic licence was involved, as I'd have probably run out of blue ink if I'd printed Twitter logos for every time I actually 'check in' during a day. I tried to ensure that there was a variety of media involved and that it wasn't all based around books. After showing it to the class and talking to them about each part of the river in more detail, they were enthusiastic to create their own. They decided that they wanted it to be set as an extra homework task for the week.

As Julie McAdam et al concluded in their 2014 project Journeys from Images to Words, the idea 'increases awareness of what it means to read and can enable children to become more confident about the role literacy plays in their daily lives'. It certainly helped me to reflect on the range of reading I do each day as an adult but it also made me more aware of the different texts that my class and their families engage with. It's a simple, but useful way, for the children to connect their home and school reading, as well as providing teachers with a useful insight into the extended reading lives of their class.

Next week, some of the children are going to share their Reading Rivers during assembly and talk about their reading lives outside school. We're also planning to display some of them in the school library, as well as see if we can encourage any staff or parents to have a go at creating their own.

Friday, 2 December 2016

Year 6 Empathy Lab refugee work

Over the past 18 months, my school has been heavily involved in working with the Empathy Lab project, which uses books and reading as a starting point for children to help develop their empathy skills. It's having a noticeable impact on the way that many of our children think and act. This term, as part of our work, the Year 6 children have been focusing on the plight of refugees from different parts of the world.


We started by talking about what the class already knew about refugees, and then spent time reading and sharing a wide variety of books. Some, the pupils were already aware of (eg Boy Overboard by Morris Gleitzman, which we had read as a class story in Year 5), although they were looking at many of them for the first time. The books were added to a Pinterest board, which we updated as they discovered more, and put on the Empathy Lab Book Spotters website. Links to many of the books, along with some planning and resources that I've found are available on this Padlet page.


After a couple of weeks of reading and researching, we had a wonderful visit from an Amnesty International speaker, David Huband, who came to talk about human rights. The children discussed which rights they had and which rights they felt that refugee children might be denied. The class spent a lot of time discussing how and why children and their families travel from Syria to the UK.


As part of our Empathy Lab ‘social action’ work, the children decided to take part in Amnesty’s ‘Write for Rights’ campaign, and write letters to some of the refugees. They wrote about how people could make refugees feel welcome in the United Kingdom and what they enjoyed about living here. Because they were writing for a real audience, and could see that there was a genuine purpose behind their work, they were highly motivated to write and produced some fantastic work.

We also had a visit from a local refugee charity, GYROS, who shared the work they were doing in the Great Yarmouth area. One of the speakers was a refugee from Armenia and the other was a refugee from Mozambique, so they both had amazing stories to tell about their lives. The children were inspired by what they had been told and wanted to know how they could help. After Christmas, they've planned some fundraising acitivities but, equally importantly, they're going to do some work to raise awareness of the refugee situation in the local community.


Thoughts from Year 6
Troy: I actually feel as if I’d rather be the refugee than them so they didn’t have to suffer through things. I feel awful about what has happened.

Gracie: I tried really hard to empathise with them, but even with a vivid imagination like I have, it’s very hard to understand how bad things are.

Romy: When we read all the books about refugees, it made me think a lot about it. When someone says the word refugee it brings up loads of emotions as I didn’t know what they were going through before. Reading all the books helped me understand it.

Gracie: I loved how the books we read transported me to another world, but I hated the world that they transported me to!

Lauren: When you hear the stories about how hard it is, it makes you feel really lucky. I don’t like being separated from people I love for even a day, so just think what it would be like forever.

Romy: I feel upset for the refugees but I’m also angry at the people who are putting them through it. They’re just trying to have a normal life but they’re getting destroyed for no reason at all. Some of them are just little babies.

James: Writing the letters made me realise how many simple things I can do without being scared. I could just get a drink out of the fridge if I wanted to.

Lauren: It must be awful to go on a boat ride and not know what’s at the end of it. I know what’s going to happen every day and that makes me feel safe, but they don’t even know if they will survive to the next day.

Romy: When I wrote the letters, I felt lucky. I’m lucky anyway but I just felt lucky that I had the chance to make someone’s day a bit better. I know that when they get the letters they’ll realise that at least someone is thinking about them.

Gracie: Learning about refugees made me think about books like Once by Morris Gleitzman. The boy in that was a refugee too. All of those books made me understand what it must have been like to be hated in the war.

James: It made me ask my mum if we could send them stuff to help. We have lots of stuff that we don’t really need.

Troy: Some people in Yarmouth should treat the refugees kindly because, at the end of the day, we’re all humans.

James: I can’t imagine leaving everything at home. I’d have to leave my family, my pets, my books and my friends. I’d miss the village we live in. All my memories would be left behind. How could they take their memories with them? They must also miss speaking the language they know. They would just ‘feel’ their own language and to have to speak in another language all the time, well, that’s just like when I went to Holland.

Troy: It was probably some of my favourite work that we’ve ever done. We’re learning about the real world and we’re all part of it. Like, everyone, not just us and the people we know.

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Mannequin Challenge

Never wanting to miss out on a potential bandwagon-jumping opportunity, last week my class had a go at recording their own Mannequin Challenge during quiet reading. We managed to nail it on the very first take!

Friday, 21 October 2016

Video trailers for books

We had a lot of fun in class this week creating video trailers for a few of our favourite books. It's an exciting way to get the children to collaborate and produce some ICT work based around reading. Because the amount of text that can be used is limited, it's important for them to select their words carefully and plan how to 'hook' the viewer, as well as think about what type of atmosphere they want to create.

Below is the video that we produced for the new book by Gareth P. Jones, The Thornthwaite Inheritance. The text and dialogue in the clip was based on the blurb of the book and on what we already knew about the characters. The whole process, including filming and editing, took about two hours. We put the video together using Movie Maker, and then uploaded it onto YouTube when we had finished.

Here is the video that we created for the 2013 Summer Reading Challenge.

We're also working on a trailer for John Dougherty's new Stinkbomb & Ketchup-Face book, which will hopefully be ready quite soon. There's currently a rumour flying around that Deer Class are going to be asked to make the official trailer for Star Wars Episode VIII...