Sunday, 3 December 2017

Reading Buddies

Over the past few months, we've been thinking about ways to involve all our staff (meaning SLT, support staff and office staff, as well as teachers) in the development of our whole school reading culture. We've also talked about the significant number of children who don't have parental support with their reading at home and have decided that we'll attempt to help counter this by creating one-to-one pupil and staff reading buddies across the school.


We looked at our staffing structure and worked out that we had about 35 people available to become buddies, meaning that we could support three or four children per class (Y1-Y6). Each teacher then put forward their four most 'vulnerable' readers. The children selected weren't always necessarily the weakest readers, but those who weren't regularly read to at home, who had nobody outside school to talk with about books and stories or who needed someone to just show some interest in them as readers; basically, the children who might otherwise easily slip through the net. The teachers also included some information about why they considered them to be vulnerable, for example:
  • Freddy has a general dislike of books. Doesn't engage at home and will do anything other than read during class reading times.
  • Isla had previously been very interested in reading and used to want to share books that she'd read. However, she now refuses to read during school time and rarely reads at home. It would be good for her to be able to suggest books to someone as well as have books suggested to her.
  • Joey isn't supported with reading at home, but is really interested in books and stories. Would be great paired with someone who is enthusiastic about books and would be happy to read him the occasional story.
  • Liam finds it difficult to make it through a full book. He has suggested that he enjoys spooky stories, so perhaps he could be buddied with someone who enjoys this genre?
Once we had our list of children, we then looked carefully at which combinations we thought would work. For example, our Y4 teacher has a real love of graphic novels, so he was paired with a child who also enjoys them but doesn't have access to any at home. We also ensured that the adults were from different year groups to the children and that they weren't people with who the child already works on a regular basis. We felt that it was important for it to be a 'new' reading relationship for both parties. The concept was then introduced the idea to the children, telling them who their reading buddy was and causing a great deal of excitement.


Before the first buddy sessions took place, we had a short meeting with staff. It was made clear that we knew it would be asking for (yet) another time commitment from staff but also talked how much impact it would potentially have and how much it would be appreciated by the children. We then examined how it might work in practice and shared ideas about how to keep the momentum going across the year. The ideas were then all recorded and shared with other staff (see below).

Staff-Pupil Reading Buddies
Thank you all for supporting this. If we can get it up and running across the school, it will provide an extra layer of support to our more vulnerable readers, the ones who need someone to read them stories, talk about books with, etc, and will also really help embed our reading culture across the whole school.

If you're able to meet with your buddy for about five minutes twice a week, that would be great, but don’t worry if you can only manage it once a week. There will be times when it won’t happen for different reasons, again don’t worry. I'm aware that it's asking for another time commitment from staff. This is genuinely appreciated, and will be appreciated even more by your buddies.

When you meet with your buddy will obviously depend on when you can find the time. It could be during break, lunch, at the end of assembly, just before school, etc. It’s important that the children take the lead in coming to find you. Obviously the children we’re focussing on are going to be the less enthusiastic and less engaged readers, so this might not be as easy as it sounds but please persevere. It doesn’t matter if you reward them the first few times for turning up, it needs to be something that they feel positive about, look forward to and want to be part of.

Suggestions (feel free to come up with your own)
Talk about their reading book- probably the most obvious! Are they enjoying it, what has been their favourite part so far, which other books does it remind them of, have they read anything else by the same author, are there any parts they don’t like, etc.

Talk about what you’re reading- bring it in to share (if appropriate!). Could be a book, magazine, football programme, etc. The message we need to try and get over is that all reading is good reading.

Ask them to share their class book- when they read it, why they look forward to it, who’s their favourite character, etc.

Reading histories- share the books you enjoyed as a child, why they were special, what you remember about them. Ask them about the books they can remember from when they were younger.

Poetry- share a poem, ask them about poems they enjoy, point them in the direction of a poet or poetry book.

Read them a page or two from a book, or find a short story that they would enjoy- lots of children on the list don’t get stories read to them at home and would absolutely thrive on the extra attention.

    

Although the initiative has only been running for a few weeks, there's already been a significant cultural shift across the school. The targeted children are, on the whole, showing far more positive attitudes to reading. There have been a couple of partnerships that haven't really taken off, for a variety of reasons, but these are very much in the minority. Children look forward to the sessions and make the effort to turn up. Some of them have brought in a favourite book from home to read and some have arrived with books that they've enjoyed and then recommended them to their adult buddy. This is all helping the school to develop a genuinely reciprocal reading community, which will ultimately increase the children's pleasure in reading (one of the key findings from the UKLA Teachers as Readers report).

The fact that virtually all the staff are involved means that's there more book talk around the school, with staff talking to each other about their buddies and asking for recommendations. Some members of staff who hadn't previously shown too much interest in reading are really enjoying the challenge and responsibility of the role. It's been wonderful to see staff visiting the library and searching out books and stories that they think their buddies would enjoy. We're going to review the idea in more detail next term but the early feedback so far has been very positive from both staff and children.

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Ideas for encouraging peer recommendations in the classroom

Children who are encouraged to read and who have books suggested to them by their peers are significantly more likely to enjoy reading and say that it is ‘cool’ than those who don’t (National Literacy Trust surveys, 2008-2016). Creating a culture of peer recommendation in a classroom takes time and effort, but the results are definitely worth the investment. To hear a child say to a classmate ‘You just have to read A Library Of Lemons because it’s the best book ever written’ or 'I absolutely loved Once and think you will too' is a magical feeling for a teacher who's trying to create a reading culture, especially when the conversation is reciprocated a few days later. When it starts to happen on a regular basis, you know you've created a class of genuine readers! As an added bonus, it's a great way for teachers and librarians to hear about new books. About half of the children's books that I read have been suggested to me by pupils.

Year 6 recommendations

One of the easiest, but most powerful, ways to get children sharing and discussing books with each other is by being a ‘reading teacher’ and by recommending books to the class yourself (if you're not already aware of Teresa Cremin's Teachers as Readers report, then you need to explore it as a matter of urgency!). Try and find the time to talk about at least a couple of books each week; tell them why you enjoyed it and why you think they will, compare it to similar books they may know, read them the blurb and an exciting extract and then leave it somewhere prominent in the classroom. It will definitely have been borrowed by the end of the day! Once the children see you recommending books that you’ve actually read (as opposed to recommending books where you’ve just whizzed through the blurb) they’ll start to do it as well.

Although being forced to regularly write book reviews can quickly kill a love of reading, it doesn’t always have to be so painful. A two sentence mini-review, written in a brightly coloured gel pen on a fluorescent sticky note and then stuck on the front cover of the book, is a lovely way to share recommendations. Writing Twitter reviews to be shared with other classes also helps give the children a real audience for their opinions.

Mini-reviews

Our school book council (which is currently made up of one child from each class in the school) have a regular slot in assembly where they share books that they have enjoyed or promote new books that have come into the school library. Although it was originally only the council members who recommended books, other children often ask if they can talk about a book they’ve just finished because it was so good. Some of our Year 5 and 6 children also visit Key Stage 1 regularly and share books that they read at that age. Both groups of children take the sessions very seriously; the older children put a lot of thought into selecting the books that they take with them, and the younger children listen carefully and enjoy asking questions about the books.

Reading to Key Stage 1

When a child has particularly enjoyed a book, encourage them to fill in an 'If you liked reading...then try...' bookmark which can be passed on to another child (templates are easily available online). We have an exercise book in our reading area called 'If you liked reading...', where lots of children's authors are listed. The children then update the book by recommending similar authors (eg If you liked reading the Alex Rider books by Anthony Horowitz, then try the Jimmy Coates books by Joe Craig or the Young James Bond books by Charlie Higson and Steve Cole). It's great to see how often they refer to this while choosing their next book!

Filming short videos where children talk about favourite books can be made very easily and shared widely. We currently swap recommendations with a primary school in New Zealand. Although there are a lot of similarities in their choices, there are also several books which are only published in one of the countries, which has led to interesting discussions about books from different cultures and countries. The link to our most recent video can be found here.

We’ve also introduced a ‘Reader of the Week’ where the winner is chosen by their classmates (with a little guidance, as and when necessary…Oh, I wonder who it might be this time? Maybe Sean, who read beautifully to his little sister last night). We then add a photo of the child holding their favourite book to our display and the other children their own ‘Well Done’ comments. It definitely helps raise the status of reading in the classroom and helps make being a reader cool.


It will take time for children to develop the confidence to share their reading preferences with their classmates but, once it’s firmly embedded in the classroom routine and ethos, it’s a very powerful tool to help engage all readers and can make a huge difference to the value that they put on reading.

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Children's Reading Surveys

I knew my previous class as readers extremely well, mainly because I'd been fortunate enough to have worked with them for almost two and a half years. I knew their favourite genres and authors, I had a clear picture of what their reading life was like outside school, I understood their views on the importance of reading and I was in a position where the children and I were able to make recommendations to each other based on our mutual knowledge of each other’s preferences (see previous post). Earlier in the year, they all moved on to secondary school and a new Deer Class appeared at my classroom door. I knew that, on the whole, they were fairly keen readers and I was aware of the class books that they'd read, but I knew barely anything about them as individual readers.

    

Without the luxury of having so much time this year, I thought that a quick way to help us get our 'reading relationship' up and running would be by getting them to complete a short reading survey. I looked online for examples, as well as at previous ones I'd carried out, and then created a survey which I felt would best suit our needs. I gave it to them on the first afternoon of term, and provided no guidance as to what I was looking for in their answers, how much detail I would like or what my own thoughts and preferences were. I wanted to have the most genuine picture of them as readers as I could. It was made clear that I would be reading all the surveys, that we would be discussing them further and that they would not be marked for spelling, etc. The children were then given as long as they needed to complete the questionnaire.


I then read through their completed questionnaires, looking for common themes, and recorded anything that stood out for each child (e.g. those who never read at home, those who hated being read aloud to, those who had devoured His Dark Materials). The results gave me several things to consider and act upon over the first few weeks:
  • As a class, their knowledge of children's poets and poetry was almost non-existent (very few were aware of anyone apart from Michael Rosen!).
  • Almost all of them wanted more time to 'just read' in class.
  • Most enjoyed having stories read to them but didn't like it when the teacher 'stopped and asked us stuff all the time'.

The surveys reinforced the fact that every child and every class has a hugely different reading identity based on their previous experiences. Although I now have an overall view of them as individual readers, it doesn’t lessen the importance of continuing to develop this vital relationship. We will still be engaging in conversations about books and reading, both planned and spontaneous, at every opportunity and continuing with our daily reading time, class story, and so on. I have shared the survey format (below) with the other teachers in the school and encouraged them to adapt it for their own needs. We will be discussing common themes at a future staff meeting and assessing whether the RfP provision that we feel we’re providing is the same as the RfP provision that the children feel we’re providing.

(A more detailed write-up of this is available on the Open University Reading for Pleasure site:

Year 6 Reading Survey

Name:

Write down three books that you have read in the last year.

What is your favourite type of book (adventure, mystery, graphic novel, non-fiction, poetry, etc)?

Can you name any children’s authors?

Can you name any children’s poets?

Do you enjoy reading in school? Score between 1 (absolutely hate it) and 10 (absolutely love it).

Do you enjoy reading at home? Score between 1 (absolutely hate it) and 10 (absolutely love it).

Apart from books, do you read anything else at home or in school?

Are you a member of a local library?

Do you enjoy an adult reading you stories? Why?

How would you make reading more enjoyable in school?

I read because…

I would read more if…

My teacher is a reader (true/false)

Moorlands is a reading school (true/false)

Reading is cool (true/false)

Tell me two interesting facts about you as a reader (eg Mr Biddle loves reading books about cricket; Mr Biddle enjoys Fighting Fantasy adventure books where you get to choose what happens next)

1)

2)

Draw a picture which tells me something about you as a reader.

Friday, 23 June 2017

Poetry Post


A couple of weeks ago my class decided that, rather than receiving yet another election leaflet through their letterbox, the residents of the village might prefer to receive a piece of poetry instead.


The children each selected two poems that they really enjoyed, one which they had written themselves and one by a favourite poet. They then wrote them out and added decorations, finally placing them in envelopes, along with details of the school's Twitter account.


The following morning, we walked round the local village posting the poems through random letterboxes. Some of the children were desperate to post them to members of their family, but most of them wanted the surprise of not knowing who was going to receive their poems.

 

The response from the local community was wonderful. Within a few hours we had received several lovely phone calls and tweets, and a few days later several thank you letters and cards arrived through the post. We also created a Twitter hashtag for it, #PoetryPost.



It was a really simple way to get more poetry out into the community and help build relationships. We've already decided that next year it's going to be a whole school project. We also have a care home just up the road so the children are particularly excited about the prospect of writing some poetry for the residents.

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

My Bookshelf

This is a wonderful idea I've pinched from @Elsie2110 on Twitter. It's a great way for the children to record what they read over the year. I think we're also going to record what we read together as a class on a larger one. My fantastic TA, Miss Fuller, has created a blank template (link below) and is more than happy for people to use it.


https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B0WT97TTQGDrWWdhSzFqUlFnc1E/view?usp=sharing

Monday, 29 May 2017

Promoting poetry in primary schools

Poetry has been the poor relation in the teaching of English at primary schools for as long as I can remember. Occasionally in the staffroom, you might overhear the Year 4 team quickly discussing whether it's time for the infamous annual 'poetry unit', or Year 6 teachers swapping 'fantastic poetry comprehension worksheets with loads of inference questions that'll definitely help the kids with their SATs', but that's not really poetry as far as I'm concerned. For children to genuinely have an appreciation of it, poetry needs to be a regular, high-profile part of the classroom routine, not just a bolted-on extra.

Our classroom poetry collection

Over the past few years, we've tried to nurture a love of reading, writing and performing poetry across the school and make poetry a more integral part of the school day. Below are some of the ideas that we've introduced over the past few months.

Three minute poem
At the start of every half-term, the children all write down some potential poem titles (eg Lonely Giraffes, The Cinema Trip, Beyond The Sky) on to slips of paper. We collect them in and then two or three times a week, one of the titles is randomly selected and shared. The children (and staff!) have three minutes to write a poem based upon the title given. The only rule is that nobody must stop writing until the three minutes are up. It was a real challenge at first (I can't think of anything, It's too hard, I've got an earache, etc), but they soon realised it was a fun way of writing without rules and that it allowed their imaginations take off in strange directions. We always make sure that we read a few at the end of each session.

Poem of the Day
I've written about this before (here), so won't go into too much detail, but basically the children sign up at the beginning of each week to perform a favourite poem to the rest of the class.

Practising for Poem of the Day

Blackout Poetry
We attempted this for the first time last week. It's a good way to squeeze a final bit of use out of any books which would otherwise be destined for the recycling bin, although if you're lucky enough not to have any books in such bad condition, photocopies work just as well. Everyone is given page or two from a book to work with. First, they read through the page to get an overall view of the text and then select two or three words that they want to appear in their poem. The children then read the text again and start to black-out surplus words with a marker pen. They found this difficult to start with, until they realised that they weren't trying to create 'lines' of poetry, but just groups of words that looked and sounded good together. A lot of them started by removing only one or two words from each line. However, they soon noticed that the more ruthless they were, the more the poem would have an identity of its own, rather than simply being a shorter version of the page they started with. One of the children ultimately ended up with a poem of nine words from a full page of text, which sounded great when read aloud.

Our class blackout poems

N+7
Writing N+7 poetry is perhaps one of the most well known examples of applying an Oulipo (constrained writing) technique and is certainly the one that's been most enjoyed by my class. The children started off with a poem (they actually used their favourite song lyrics the first time we attempted it) and went through it highlighting the nouns. Once they'd finished, they then found each word in a dictionary and replaced it with the noun that appeared seven nouns after it. It's great fun and completely removes the 'I don't know what to write' option. When we'd tried it a few times, the class were all full of ideas about how to adapt it, including changing the number, replacing verbs and adjectives, using antonyms and simply swapping nouns around.

Leo's N+7 poem, based on No Money by Galantis
Sorry I ain't got no mongoose I'm not trying to be funny but I left it all at honey today.
You can call me what you wanna I ain't giving you a dolphin  this time I ain't gonna run away.
You might knock me down, you might knock me down, but I will get back up again
You can call it how you wanna I ain't giving you a dolphin this time I ain't gonna run away.
This tinsel.
This tinsel I ain't gonna rush rush rush rush rush...
Not this tinsel, not this tinsel.
This tinsel I ain't gonna rush rush rush rush rush.
Not this tinsel, not this tinsel.
Not this tinsel, not this tinsel (tinsel)

Nursery Rhyme mash-up
Even with a Year 6 post-SATs class, this activity went down a storm. The children were given copies of about a dozen nursery rhymes and then simply had to create their own, either by mixing up the lines from one nursery rhyme or by selecting and adapting lines from different nursery rhymes. It's quick and can produce some amusing and imaginative combinations. Nursery rhymes also work very well with activities such as N+7.

Humpty Dumpty went up the hill
To fetch a plum pie
Along came a spider
And bumped his head
Then down came a blackbird
And went wee, wee, wee all the way home
  
Some of our recent purchases

The Room of Stars
This fun game came directly from Jumpstart! Poetry by Pie Corbett. It's an easy way to produce a whole class poem and can be hilarious. Half of the class need to write down five places (castle, river, shed, village, desert) and the other half of the class need to write down five nouns (we started with concrete nouns but they much preferred using abstract nouns). We then selected one child from each half of the class to choose one of their words to pair and create a line of the poem (eg the room of stars, the mountains of desperation, the cafe of misery). Most of the lines worked really well, some were a little dubious (the toilet of stress) and some were very quickly discarded (the bedroom of ecstasy!). We then put the lines together to create the poem.


We're going to spend a lot more time on poetry over the next few weeks, and will be sharing some of our work with other classes and with parents. If you've got a fantastic idea to share, or have tried anything in your class that's been a huge success, please let me know. Equally, if you've tried anything that's been a massive flop, let me know that too, so that we can avoid it.

Below are some the books which have provided the ideas above. I'd also recommend that you visit the blogs of Michael Rosen and Brian Moses, as they're both absolutely full of great ideas for developing a love of poetry.

Useful books
Jumpstart! Poetry, Pie Corbett
What Is Poetry?, Michael Rosen
Rose, Where Did You Get That Red?, Kenneth Koch
Poems To Perform, Julia Donaldson
Published in September 2017: How To Write Poems, Joseph Coelho

Sunday, 7 May 2017

A Year Six view of reading

Last week, ten-year-old Gracie, a girl in my class and one of the most passionate readers I've ever been fortunate enough to teach, wanted to write about what books meant to hear. She wanted other people to understand how important reading was and to explain how she believed it can help make people understand each other. Below is exactly what she wrote:

Ever since I was about five years old, I've always loved reading. I love it for so many reasons that it would be impossible to tell you them all, so I'll share just a few.

I love it because a book can be thought about in lots of different ways. You can just think of a book as a piece of paper with ink printed on it or you can think of it as an adventure in your mind. A book has the power to make you feel things; it can make you joyful, it can make you frustrated, it can make you jealous and it can even make you cry. Isn't that wonderful?

The power of words on a page is never-ending. They can take you to incredible places, such as Hogwarts, Camp Green Lake, Narnia or London during Victorian times, and can even leave you shipwrecked on a desert island. Books are time machines transporting you back hundreds of years, books are spaceships zooming across the sky, books are ships sailing across a distant ocean, books are doors to another universe, but the one thing that they're not is just words on a page.

When I sit down with a new book, I feel like the luckiest person in the world. It's an incredible feeling, wondering what amazing story will come next. Books can be so full of twists and turns that you may think you know where you're going but you can never be sure until you get there. Have you ever read a book where you're confident you know what's going to happen and then, a paragraph later, you realise that you were totally wrong? What an incredible feeling that is! Sometimes the plot of a story isn't as important as getting to know the characters. Stories where nothing much really happens can be just as incredible as books where the characters are saving the world every few chapters. Have you ever read Wonder? It's only really about a boy who goes to school for the first time but, when we read it as a class, we never wanted it to end.

Although I enjoy most types of books, the ones that have the biggest impact on me are stories based in realistic settings such as Not As We Know It, Once and How To Fly With Broken Wings. You could say that they're sad stories, but they have their own beautiful way about them. They leave a lasting impression on anyone who reads them because they're stories that could be real, and they really have the power to change how people think. Trust me, reading books like that will make you empathise with people from all around the world. In fact, reading any kind of book will help you to understand people better.

My teacher once told me a story about a man he met on a train, who didn't learn to read until he was about 40. He was so proud that he had finally learned and he said that he didn't realise what he was missing. He now reads books whenever he can. This man couldn't actually read and that wasn't his fault, but some people just choose not to. People who don't read miss out on the chance to truly relax and let their thoughts roam freely. If you read, it's like an amazing light that shines out of a book into your mind. If you don't read, it's like you're left behind in the darkness. There's a lot of dark and scary places in the world already, so it's up to everybody to pick up a book and try and make the world a lighter place.