We've recently been investigating first lines of books and the impact that they can have on the reader. As a class, we ranked our favourites, discussed how the story might carry on and compared the openings of books from similar genres.
Last Thursday, I was absolutely delighted and extremely humbled to have been awarded the Egmont2018 Reading for Pleasure Teacher Award. I travelled to London with my headteacher to attend the BERA/UKLA/OU Reading for Pleasure research symposium, and was presented with the award by Michael Rosen.
Being part of a school with reading at its heart is absolutely fundamental to what I believe in as a teacher. I'm fortunate to work in an environment where I'm supported, trusted and actively encouraged by my headteacher to take risks and try new ideas, as well as alongside an amazing group of teachers and support staff who understand the importance of creating a deep, genuine and firmly embedded reading for pleasure culture. They know that it can't be achieved with quick fix solutions and short term interventions. They know that adult knowledge of children's literature is essential, and that independent reading time must be protected against the pressures of the timetable. They know that reading aloud, in all its various forms, is crucial, and that encouraging spontaneous and informal book talk at every opportunity is an important way for children to truly engage with their reading. They know all this, and much more, and they do their best to make sure it happens.
After three years of extremely hard work from everyone in our school community, it's noticeable that over the past few months, there's been a significant cultural shift in the attitude towards reading. Conversations and interactions are happening between pupils, staff and parents that are making it a very exciting place to be.
For example, just before Christmas we introduced pupil-staff reading buddies (visit the Open University Reading for Pleasure site for more details). I'd been working with my buddy from Year 2 for several weeks. He wasn't a keen reader at home, showed little interest in reading at school and was one of those children who, if not picked up, could easily slip through the net. He'd always dutifully come along to our meetings and listen politely to whichever book I'd selected, but didn't really engage with the stories. In fact, most of his time would be spent looking out of the window or rearranging the cushions he was sitting on. After a couple of weeks, he started to show more interest, making an effort to listen to the story and even asking the occasional question. One lunchtime, just before half-term, he sauntered into the classroom (to be honest, he saunters everywhere), with his hands hidden behind his back...
"Hello, lovely to see you. How are you?"
"Mmmm, yeah, alright."
"Have you come to talk to me? Is everything OK?"
Slightly awkward pause...
"So, did you want to show me something?"
Slightly more awkward pause...
"Right then...what is it? Are you holding something exciting in your hands?"
At this point, he gave an enormous grin, and whipped out a copy of Harry And The Dinosaurs Go To School from behind his back.
"I found this book in my classroom and I brought it. I think it's going to be really good and we should read it."
"Well, I'd be delighted to, absolutely delighted."
It felt like a massive breakthrough. He'd found and chosen a book that he thought he'd enjoy, and had wanted to share that experience with someone. It was another tiny, but significant, step on his journey to becoming a genuine reader and I was thrilled to have been there for it. Moments like those can't easily be measured or quantified (apart from by the size of a smile!), but they're the moments that genuinely matter, the moments that can have an impact on a child's attitude to reading forever.
A second example, several weeks ago I was heading along the corridor to make (yet another) coffee when I walked past three teachers, all from different year groups, discussing the wonderful Letters From The Lighthouse by Emma Carroll. About ten minutes later, having made my drink, I came back and they were still there, but this time comparing the book and film versions of Wonder by RJ Palacio. Teachers, who had a thousand other things that they could be doing, were standing around and talking about children's books! Reading is increasingly becoming an essential part of the daily conversation across the school and it's very, very exciting.
Similar breakthroughs are happening across the school community. There are staff giving up five minutes of their break to seek out books that their reading buddies will enjoy. There are Year 6 children wanting to read stories to children from Year 1 and 2 in the library at lunchtime. There are parents working with their children to create book characters from potatoes. There are classes spontaneously starting informal book groups based on shared interests (the Amulet group is growing by the hour!). There are pupils cheering when new deliveries of books arrive in the post. There are about half of our teaching staff attending a local Teachers' Reading Group. There is a real book buzz, a reading buzz, a feeling of gathering momentum and a sense that the school reading community is beginning to take on a life of its own. We're not yet a reading for pleasure school, there's still a lot that we need to improve and develop further, but we believe we're heading in the right direction and we're very proud.
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 weren't people with who the child already works on a regular basis, as we felt it was important for it to be a 'new' reading relationship for both parties. We then introduced the concept 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).
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
Suggestions (feel free to come up with your
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 there's 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.
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.
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.
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
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:
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.
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.