Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Poetry in the garden centre

Despite being very dependent on successful Christmas play rehearsals, parents visiting to decorate the classroom and various other festive delights, at the end of this week my class are off to visit the local garden centre to share some of our favourite poetry with the customers. It's one of the initiatives in the school's campaign to get the local community more involved with reading, alongside #mydadreads, #mymumreads and various other ideas that the School Reading Council have come up with for the new term.

The plan is that they will work together in pairs to read and perform poetry. They'll be performing some of their own poems, alongside work by a selection of poets they enjoy. Included on the 'to perform' list are Paul Cookson, Liz Brownlee, Michael Rosen, Josh Seigal and Benjamin Zephaniah, although more are being added on a daily basis. We'll hopefully be able to get a few people to stop and have a proper listen. The customer will then be offered a photocopy of the performed poem to take home, along with the name of the collection it's taken from. The garden centre have been really supportive about the idea and have offered us all free refreshments when we visit. If it's successful, the plan is to repeat it in other parts of the village although unfortunately, for some unknown reason, we're not allowed to try it in the village pub.

Monday, 26 October 2015

School Reading Council

After half-term we are going to be officially launching our School Reading Council. Full details are currently a bit sketchy, but the overall aim is to give the pupils much more ownership over how we promote reading in school. Findings from the Literacy Trust's 2008 report, Young People's Self-Perception As Readers, emphasise the need to 'use systems of peer-to-peer recommendation, involving pupils in their school's reading culture and championing reading to other pupils' and a 2011 literacy survey reports that 'young people who are encouraged to read by their friends a lot are nearly twice as likely to enjoy reading and nearly three times more likely to say that they think reading is "cool" than those who are not.'

So far, we've chosen two children to represent each class, one who is already an avid reader and one who isn't (yet). Hopefully being on the council will remedy that! They are all allowed to wear a 'Book Champion' badge around school, which will give the position some real status, and will be attending meetings every couple of weeks, as well as feeding back to their class regularly.

When we had our inaugural meeting last week, they were absolutely full of ideas and suggestions about how to get the other pupils, the staff and their parents reading more. They're planning to be in charge of organising and delivering book boxes to the playground at lunchtime so that pupils can read outside if they wish. They talked about developing the book area in each classroom and getting each class to focus on a Class Author every half-term, as well as having more say in selecting the books we borrow from our local school library service. There were also suggestions to roll out the Mystery Book idea across the whole school.

They council members were desperate to be given a reading display board in a prominent area in the school, over which they would have complete control. One of their first ideas for a display was to go and photograph staff reading their favourite books and then expand on our #mymumreads and #mydadreads initiatives by launching a #myvillagereads campaign. Hopefully that will involve more than wandering around the village and harassing the local butcher into holding up a copy of his daily newspaper.

A couple of them were also extremely keen to be 'reading experts' and share their book recommendations with children who are struggling to find anything they want to read, which could be very successful if introduced sensitively.

One of the areas I'd love to give them a real say in is organising future author visits. At the next meeting I'm planning to give them a shortlist of 3/4 authors and then ask them to go off and do some research into who they think would be popular for a whole school visit. I will also leave it up to them to publicise the visit, ensure that each class has access to some relevant books, etc. They were also very interested to find out if they were allowed any sort of budget to spend on certificates and prizes for reading and new books, comics and magazines.

The fact that they were so full of enthusiasm has given me confidence that the idea can be sustained throughout the year, even if some of the council members change. In my experience, a buzz about reading created by children has more impact than a buzz about reading created by adults and, to quote from the Literacy Trust's 2008 report, 'we can use the enthusiasm of the self-defined readers to encourage other readers to widen their choice of reading materials in creative and innovative ways.'

I'm looking forward to seeing how the School Reading Council develops over the coming months and will update this post at some point with a progress report. On a completely separate subject, this afternoon my youngest daughter (age 4) went upstairs and took all the books off her bookshelves. She then hid them under her bed and filled the shelves with her collection of princess tiaras. Her argument was that 'They look nicer!'. I think she's going to be quite a tough nut to crack with this whole reading business...

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Author interviews

As my previous school's book blog is no longer updated, and in the spirit of being environmentally friendly, I have decided to reuse and recycle some of the writing that appeared on there. One of the most successful and popular posts published was when my class at the time emailed a wide range of authors to ask them their views on reading in schools. We were absolutely delighted (and very appreciative) when we received almost thirty replies from a wide range of authors and poets.

The four questions we asked were:
1. What was your favourite book as a child?
2. Which of your own books are you most proud of?
3. Is there a book that you think all children in Year Four should read, or have read to them?
4. Do you think children should be allowed more time to read in school?


I have pasted the results below. The children loved reading the responses, some of which caused huge amounts of discussion in class.

By the way, if there are any other authors out there who would like to share their answers with my current class, it would be great to read them!

Cathy Cassidy
1/ So many - the Narnia series, Little House on the Prairie series, Swallows & Amazons series and many more. I'd probably pick Watership Down which I read when I was 12... I loved that book to pieces.
2/ I'm fickle, I always love the newest book the best... but I guess I'm most proud of Dizzy, because it was the first book I ever wrote and started off my career as a children's author.
3/ Whatever they WANT to read... we're all so different!
4/ Yes, more time for reading, always. And, dare I say it, more time for daydreaming... xxx

Catherine Johnson
1 Favourite book?> Spike Milligan's Book of Soilly Verse, - story book? Comet In Moominland well, that was the first book i remember buying with my own money!
2 SAWBONES! I really enjoyed writing it and it just come out of my head and on to the page so easily, it's a real romp. I loved Sunday afternoon drama on TV (they don't do this now) and I was thinking of those stories when I wrote that, although Sawbones is a little gorier - a forensic murder mystery set in 18th century London.
3 People how ever old should read books they like. Poems are great though because they are short and often funny. And then you can irritate your friends and family by saying them over and over again!
4 Yes, but I am biased, but even if you really really don't like reading, there are so many books with brilliant pictures, Shaun Tan for example you can look at those pictures and imagine so many different stories.

Helena Pielichaty
1. My favourite book was The Family From One End Street by Eve Garnett because it was all about a real family who get into all sorts of scrapes. They didn't live in a huge house or castle like in Enid Blyton's books. I loved The Borrowers, too.
2. They're all works of genius.
3.Y4 - Love that Dog - Sharon Creech, The Dragonsitter series - Josh Lacey Captain Crow's Teeth Eoin Colfer, The Smallest Girl in the World by Sally Gardner, Toad Rage by Morris Gleitzman - all funny books you can get stuck into.
4. Do I? Do I? Yes. Not only that, more time to choose books properly and more time being read to by your teacher or TA.

John Dougherty
1. Probably The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe - though there were lots of contenders!
2. I'm proud of them all. Please don't ask me to pick a favourite!!! I'm really pleased with the reception Stinkbomb & Ketchup-Face and the Badness of Badgers is getting, though...
3. Stinkbomb and... No, not really. I think it's a bad idea to say that every child aged x should read this or that book, because we're all different. How about this: Every child in year 4 should read whatever books they want to read!
4. Yes. Definitely. Absolutely. Unequivocally. Without doubt. And as a matter of urgency.

DJ Kirkby
1. I couldn't possibly choose just one! My favourite series when I was about ten years old was the Little House on the Prairie series, and the Anne of Green Gables series. There are so many more books I loved reading as a child that it hurts to have stop at just these two series...
2. Each time I write a new book that becomes my most favourite new shiny. I'm fickle that way....
3. I think by the time people get to Year Four they should have read The Sneetches by Dr Seuss because it has a very important message about how we're essentially all the same on the inside no matter how different we look or behave.
4. I echo what John said above!

Matt Dickinson
1. My favourite book as a child was Swallows and Amazons. I loved the sense of adventure and wilderness that Arthur Ransome so brilliantly described. Wild camping on remote beaches, cooking over little twig fires, swimming in crystal clear lakes, exploring mountains---that really got my imagination going and I wanted to BE one of the characters in that book!
2. I think the book of my own that I am most proud of is the one I have just written-- 'The Everest Files'. I have always wanted to write a book that would bring the mountain alive for young readers, to share some of my own experiences of climbing to the summit. Writing this book has been a sheer joy and through it I hope a whole new generation will discover Everest and the Himalayas.
3. The book I think all young children should read is 'The Sneetches' by Dr Seuss. It is the funniest and wisest book I have ever come across and the illustrations are totally brilliant. All five of my own children have loved it so that would get my vote!
4. Should there be more time devoted to reading for pleasure in schools?! Naturally yes! And for creative (free) writing as well. Luckily, doing school events all over the country (both secondary and primary) I get the feeling that teachers are realising (once again) just how important this is. Children's horizons are expanded through books. They can discover new and exciting worlds. And the more time given to that the better!

Brian Moses
1. Anything by Enid Blyton - she established the reading habit for me & I've read and read and read ever since.
2. Difficult to pick a favourite but my best of, 'Behind the Staffroom Door' is always the one I recommend.
3. 'Rebecca's World' by Terry Nation - sheer delight.
4. Time for reading is vital. It's such an important skill to acquire and such an enjoyable one too.

Sita Brahmachari
1. Alice In Wonderland
2. Can't say... It would be like asking which of my children I love most. I love them all differently and for different qualities.
3. 'The Arrival' by Shaun Tan (All children can read the pictures - a book suitable for anyone who is human)
4. Yes, Yes, Yes because reading opens up your world, is the place that your can learn throughout your life....the best kept secret in schools is that the best teacher in the world is your library.

Michelle Robinson
1. Um... so many! Maybe The BFG.
2. Each of them feels like a total and utter miracle of achievement - me? Published?! I always get really excited about each new one when it publishes and it becomes my favourite for five minutes, but there's always another one in the pipeline to get excited about, too.
3. 'The King of The Copper Mountains' by Paul Biegel.
4. Always. Especially in nice weather, sitting under a tree. But always.

Cid and Mo
1. 101 Dalmations by Dodie Smith
2. The Janksters and the Talking Slug
3. Stig of the Dump by Clive King - when I was a teacher I read this to my Year 4 class every year!
4. Absolutely! 'To get anywhere in life you have to read a lot of books.' Roald Dahl

Tracy Alexander
1. When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit by Judith Kerr.
2. The one I've just finished that's coming out in October because it's a thriller!
3. The Beak Speaks by Jeremy Strong because laughing is mandatory.
4. Not just more time . . . armchairs too.

Joan Lennon
1. Mark of the Horselord by Rosemary Sutcliff
2. That's like asking me which 4JB child am I most proud of - the answer has to be all of them - and all of you!
3. I hear Joan Lennon's quite good ...
4. YES!!

Nicola Morgan
1. Different ones at different time but one was The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge. Mystery, fabulous clothes, a horse and SHORTBREAD.
2. Fleshmarket
3. The Legend of Spud Murphy
4. YES YES YES YES!

John Townsend
1. 101 Dalmations – great villain in Cruella!
2. Hmm – my next one! Soooo hard to choose!
3. Danny Champion of the World – Roald Dahl
4. Abso-bloomin-lutley!!! And being read to/told stories

Jenny Sullivan
1. The Wind in the Willows and from the age of 13, The Once and Future King.
2. I'm most proud of Tirion's Secret Journal, which is a very accessible historical novel aimed at 8/10 year olds that won me the Tir na n-Og award in 2006. I'm also proud of my adult historical Silver Fox novels.
3. Stig of the Dump. My own children loved it. And Horrid Henry which is great fun. I was reading it to my grand-daughter Catrin just two weeks ago and there's great scope for "voices"!
4. Yes, yes and yes. And given access to the wonders of libraries, and talked to by authors (I love doing this!). Reading is like a big fat golden key that opens all the doors into knowing stuff.

Michaela Morgan
1. Alice in Wonderland (I loved the mix of poems into the story)
2. Walter Tull's Scrapbook (true story of a World War One hero and star footballer)
3. My own book Night Flight. Short Poetic. Huge themes dealt with simply. Maurice Sendak's picture book, Where The Wild Things Are (even adults love a good picture book) and lots and lots of poems. Listen to a poem every day.
4. Yes!!

Damian Harvey
1. I loved lots of books and comics - I really enjoyed The Beano and then the 2000AD comics - but the first book I bought with my own money was Flat Stanley by Jeff Brown so that's probably my favourite.
2. This is hard to answer really - the ones I'm most proud of are the ones I'm working on now but that's not much help to you, but whenever I get a letter or email from a parent or someone that has read and enjoyed one of my books that makes me very happy and quite proud too.
3. There are lots of great books but I wouldn't like to say that everyone in year four should read a particular book in case they didn't like it because everyone likes different kinds of stories. I could suggest my Robo-Runners books of course but I would also suggest books by other authors. I like books that I find funny so perhaps you would like to try something by Michael Lawrence - The Killer Underpants or Jeremy Strong - I'm Telling You, They're Aliens...
4. Yes! Yes! Yes! More time to read and more time to be read to...

Linda Strachan
1. The book I remember most was the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. The idea that you could climb into something as mundane as a wardrobe and find another magical land beyond...!
2. So difficult to choose, Usually the one I am writing now is my answer to that question but I am very proud of Spider, my first YA book,because I never thought I'd have something to say that teenagers would be interested in reading. But I am also very proud of the Hamish McHaggis series because I get so many letters from children and parents about how much they love Hamish and it has been an amazing journey.
3. I don't think you can have any book everyone should read because it is about reading something that makes you want to turn the page. If they like fantasy Troll Fell series by Katherine Langrish or Gill Vickery's Dragon Child series. For humour Emma Barnes Wild Thing series. My own book Greyfriars Bobby.
4. Yes there should be time in school where children are free to read, but without pressure to read certain books. It is as always about finding the book/ comic/ picture book that makes them want to have even more reading time.

Caryl Hart
1. What was your favourite book as a child?
When I was very young, it was Snuffy by Dick Bruna
when I was about 7 or 8 it was The Famous Five series by Enid Blyton
2. Which of your own books are you most proud of?
Ooh, that's so hard! I'm proud of them all in different ways. But if I have to choose one it would be The Princess and the Peas because it's quite a complex rhyme and I love the illustrations that Sarah Warburton has done.
3. Is there a book that you think all children in Year Four (age 8/9) should read or have read to them?
Cautionary Tales by Hilaire Belloc - This book will turn you all into upstanding citizens! (not really, but it is funny, especially Jim and the Lion and Matilda)
4. Do you think children should be allowed more time to read in school?
I'm not sure how much time they get now! I think children should be encouraged to read as much as they can wherever they are!

Tom Palmer
1. I didn’t really have one. I didn’t like reading until I was 17.
2. Over the Line. Because it is about real people, unlike all my other books. It is about footballers who fought in WWI.
3. No. I think teachers and children should choose books based on what they are into at the time. There are different perfect books for everyone.
4. Yes. Time to read to themselves. And time to be read to. Then time to talk about what they’ve read. About how the book made them feel. About things they liked – and didn’t like – about the book.

Caroline Green
1. My favourite childhood book was The Didakoi by Rumer Godden.
2. I have been asked this before and always say it's like asking me to choose between my children! I'm proud of them all in different ways.
3. One Dog and His Boy by Eva Ibbotson. I LOVE that book.
4. I don't think reading time is ever wasted so YES!

Joe Craig
1. What was your favourite book as a child?
Age 8: Magnus Powermouse by Dick King-Smith
Age 10: The Guinness Book of Cricket Records
Age 13: Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake
Age 16: New York Trilogy by Paul Auster
Age 32: The Sneetches & Other Stories by Dr Seuss
2. Which of your own books are you most proud of?
This changes every day. Today it's either Jimmy Coates: Blackout or Jimmy Coates: Power. I was re-reading JC: Power yesterday for a work thing and I found myself thinking, "Wow, I really knew what I was doing with this plot." It was a bit weird to be getting into the story and finding it so exciting when it was something I'd written myself a few years ago.
3. Is there a book that you think all children in Year Four (age 8/9) should read or have read to them?
Obviously Jimmy Coates: Killer. But apart from that... READ WHATEVER YOU LIKE. Try something new and if you don't like it after two pages pick up something else. I go through a lot of books this way, but I also find a lot of books I end up loving. And it doesn't cost you anything because at the library books are free. Awesome.
4. Do you think children should be allowed more time to read in school?
I think we should all have more time to read, especially in school. You should also be able to pick a week in the year and declare, THIS IS MY READING WEEK and in that week you do nothing at all except read. And there should be more time for creative messing about too. Reading, experimenting, discovering, failing over and over again... those are the most important things if you want to come up with anything that rocks the world.

Emma Barnes
1. Lots. I loved the Narnia books, especially The Silver Chair, which has a very funny character called Puddleglum.
2. I'm usually most proud and excited about my latest book, so I'll say Wild Thing. It's also my first series!
3. I like funny books so I'd suggest "Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing" by Judy Blume, the "Killer Cat" books by Anne Fine and "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever" by Barbara Robinson.
4. I think schools are so busy that sometimes reading can get squeezed out. So yes, more time for quiet reading, and more time for a read-aloud class novel at the end of the day.

Emily Diamand
1. I always find it hard to choose between the Lord of the Rings and the Dark is Rising sequence by Susan Cooper. I must've read them both a dozen times.
2. I am always proudest of the book that's still inside my mind, waiting to get out - because that's the one I haven't made all sorts of mistakes in yet!
3. Hmmm, hard. I'm not sure I really think any book should be a 'should' - one person's page turner is another one's yawn fest, after all. So these aren't 'should' they're 'try this, and if you don't like it, try something else': 1. The Mr Gum books by Andy Stanton, because one of the characters is a biscuit with electric muscles. 2. When you Reach Me by Rebecca Stead, because it will get you thinking in all sorts of sideways.
4. Yes, I absolutely do. Books are secret doorways into a million different worlds, so why wouldn't you want time for them in your day?

Josh Seigal
(1) In primary school my favourite novel was Roald Dahl's The Twits, but I mainly enjoyed non-fiction. Roald Dahl's autobiography Boy was probably my favourite. As a teenager my favourite book was The Diary Of Adrian Mole.
(2) I've only written one book, so it would have to be that one! It's called My Grandpa's Beard, and is a collection of lots of my poems. For me, though, it's important that my poems are experienced in performance as well as being read, so I don't mind not having loads and loads of books.
(3) Hmm. I think all children should experience Roald Dahl and Michael Rosen. I also read an amazing book recently by Morris Gleitzman called If and Then (I think it's two books in one actually), but it is a very sad book. It nearly made me cry.
(4) I think this varies from school to school. I think reading for pleasure is something that should be encouraged both at home and at school.

Cathy MacPhail
1) My favourite book when I was in Primary was Little Women. Little Women is a book about four sisters, and one of them wants to be a writer. and I was one of four sisters, and ...well, you know the rest. I love that book.
2)I find it very hard to choose which of my books I like best, they are like your babies. I wouldn't want to offend one by preferring another. But I will always have a soft spot for my first, that started it all off. Run Zan Run. And of course, you always have a soft spot for your new baby, Mosi's War. (Though I am expecting a few more soon.)
3) I think as long as children are reading, I don't care what they read. We all have different tastes. So, I would not like to specify any particular book. (Except for mine of course!)
4) Most schools I visit have reading time set aside and the children love it. If I did visit a school that didn't I would certainly recommend that they start.

Roy Apps
1: ‘Norman & Henry Bones: The Boy Detectives.’ My mum gave my copy away to the Cub Scout Jumble Sale while I was away at University (boo-hoo!) But my wife bought me a copy on eBay for my birthday a couple of years ago. (Hooray!)
2: ‘The Secret Summer of Daniel Lyons’ won an award, which meant I got a posh dinner at a swanky London hotel for free!
3: It doesn’t matter if you’re 8 or 80,, different books speak to different people. Having said that… you really should read ‘The 100 Mile an Hour Dog’ by Jeremy Strong. It’s so funny.
4: Yes, I should say so! And while we’re about it, there should be more time for teachers to read at school, too!

Craig Bradley
1. 'Kes' by Barry Hines. When I read this book, it was like it had been written about me! I absolutely loved it, and still do!!
2. My first poetry book for young people 'I Like To Rhyme It, Rhyme It' - this book kind of set me off on the road as a children's poet.
3. I don't really have a book that everyone 'should' read. Everyone should just read the books they want to read - that's the best reason to read anything!
4. Yes, I do think there should be more time to read in schools - Reading for Pleasure Time. Reading because you want to read something, is so important. It doesn't matter what you read, books/comics/magazines, as long as you read them because you want to and you enjoy reading them!

Monday, 29 June 2015

#mydadreads

Our school's recent #mydadreads campaign, which was intended to give the children more male reading role models, has just finished. We wanted to show that reading for pleasure is a normal activity for adults, and to encourage more dads to read to, with and in front of their children.
We started by asking dads, step-dads, uncles, grandads, etc, to send us either a photo of them reading at home or a 'dad shelfie'. Most came in directly via Twitter or email, although a few were actually brought in by the children. We then put these up as a display and created a video, which can be found here.


We then asked the children to interview their adult and ask them what reading meant to them. The quality of responses was mixed to be fair. One of the most dispiriting answers was 'My dad says he doesn't have time to read because he's too busy playing Candy Crush', and one of the most positive was 'I love reading because it takes me to new countries, worlds and times. It also allows me to meet a huge variety of interesting people.'
Some dads also came into class to talk about reading they needed to do for work (instruction manuals, maps, contracts, etc), and share some of their favourite books as a child. We finished by having a couple of sessions in the library, where the children could spend time reading with their dads (and obviously eating biscuits). A few wanted to have books that they could read with their children suggested to them, most just wanted to browse and talk about books with their kids.
Feedback from the adults and children was very positive, so after the summer holidays we're kicking off with a #mymumreads campaign.

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Reading for Pleasure and technology

There was an interesting discussion on the Reading for Pleasure in Schools group on Facebook last week about the relative merits of using books and films in class. It made me think about how technology can be used when trying to create a reading culture and how effective my own use of it was (conclusion- requires improvement).

Anyway, I thought I'd share some websites, apps, etc, that I've used to help promote reading over the past couple of years. Please feel free to add to the list with other ideas you've tried.

Quadblogging- created by David Mitchell
I first used this site about three years ago when I was trying to attract more visitors to my previous school's book blog. It's a wonderful way of sharing your blog with other schools around the world. The first time we joined in, we were paired up with a school in Scotland, a school in Australia and a school in the USA, which was extremely exciting for the children (and a great way of getting some good geography work in). They enjoyed recommending books to each other and seeing which authors were popular in more than one country.

The Literacy Shed- created by Rob Smith
You can't not already be aware of this site, which is absolutely full of resources, so I won't waste too much time explaining it. Rarely a week goes by when I don't use it for something in class.

Mr P's ICT blog- created by Leeroy Parkinson

Not specifically about reading, but full of ideas on how to get the most from the technology you have in the classroom. There was a really interesting recent post about reading with augmented reality, which I'm going to use in the near future.

Book blogging
Blogging can have a massive impact on writing standards (research evidence here), but I've also found it to be a great way to engage children with reading. I set up a book blog at my old school about three years ago and have used it with all the classes I've taught since. There's an earlier post about book blogging here which explains some of the benefits.


Audioboom
A great way to record and share audio content. We've used it for book reviews, poetry performances, author interviews, etc. Here's a clip of my young daughter reading We're Going On A Bear Hunt.

Linoit
Online sticky notes. Can be used to get an immediate response to a book or a poem. It's really simple to install and use.We most recently used it to share our thoughts on the books by the author Eva Ibbotson.


Zeemaps
Can be used to create maps. I created one showing where some of the different authors that the children enjoy reading are originally from.


Pinterest
Not one I've used, but always interesting to look at other people's pins. Here's one from Primary English showing books about the Race to the South Pole.

Polldaddy
Really simple way to get the children voting in online polls and surveys. We used it to vote on our favourite animal characters in books. The runaway winners were Dude, Bro and Squirt from Koala Calamity, although admittedly we had just finished reading that as our class book the day before.


We've also recorded video trailers for books using iPads and editing software. Twitter is great; we've posted 140 character book reviews, harassed engaged with authors and poets, found out about books awards and competitions, etc. It's also a good way to share reading success with parents.

Monday, 16 March 2015

New challenges

I'm very excited to be moving to a new school after Easter. It's been through a really tough time over the past few years, and has had a high turnover of staff. One of the first challenges is going to be to try and help create a reading culture in and around the school. It will be a great opportunity to put in to practice some of the successful strategies that have worked at my current school, as well as try out some new ones.

We'll be speaking to children, staff and parents about how they feel about reading and what they would like to do to move things forward and, from there, we'll try and work out what the first priorities need to be. It's going to be quite a challenge, but there's a real sense among the current staff of the school that it's a place that's about to turn the corner, and I'm thoroughly looking forward to it.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

23 ways to create a non-reading school

  1. If, by some bizarre twist of fate, an author, poet or storyteller ever visits the school, at least half of the pupils need to be either out on a trip to the local supermarket or attending a phonics catch-up group.
  2. Do not model reading in class. Ever. During quiet reading time, make sure you are inputting data to your school's pupil tracking system or tidying up a Geography display.
  3. When reading a shared book, do not give out more than one copy for every four children (this includes tatty photocopies). The less time they spend in physical contact with a book, the better.
  4. If a child tells you that they spent an hour reading a wonderful book at home but their mum didn't remember to sign their reading record, spend at least thirty seconds looking disapprovingly at them. Remember, it's all about evidence.
  5. Ensure at all times that children are reading a book which is the right level for them. They should not be reading books which are too simple or too challenging. Colour-coding and organising by difficulty are effective ways to show a child how good they are at reading.
  6. When 'reading for pleasure', children must always make some kind of record of it in their reading journals. Tell them that's what proper readers do.
  7. Do not engage with your Schools Library Service, the local library or any kind of children's bookshop. Have as few people with a passion for reading visit the school as possible.
  8. Incomplete sets of books in the library and classroom are crucial. Having the Alex Rider series on a shelf with books 1, 3 and 8 missing is great. Point out that the books were only bought ten years ago and that they really should have been looked after better.
  9. On World Book Day, be careful to make the emphasis on the costumes the children wear rather than books. Encourage them to spend money on an expensive outfit they will probably only wear once instead of on books they might read several times.
  10. Have posters round the school showing children the books that various members of staff are reading. Make sure that they display the same book all year and are never updated.
  11. Make it as difficult as possible for children to visit the school library by not staffing it for most of the day. Children should be changing their books once a week, and not more or less frequently. If they have finished a book before their library visit is due, then they must read it again. It must never be accessible before school or after school.
  12. Keep old, tatty and out-of date books (e.g. Will Humans Ever Visit The Moon?) and try to spend the least amount possible on new books.
  13. If you are reading a class novel, make sure it is the same one you have read for the past five years, especially if you worked in Year Six for that time and are now teaching in Year Two.
  14. Ignore poetry completely. Explain to the children that it very rarely comes up in SATs tests these days.
  15. However big your classroom is, it isn't big enough for cushions, book corners, author displays, etc.
  16. Occasionally tell the children that you really like reading but never, ever be more specific. Do not mention actual books, authors, illustrators, etc.
  17. Continually reinforce the message that magazines, comics, newspapers and football programmes are not books and therefore not really proper reading.
  18. If you are teaching in Year Six, remember that the only independent reading the children can do after Christmas is past SATs papers.
  19. Provide parents with a handy list of differentiated questions they can ask their children when reading at home. Most of them should contain the word 'infer'.
  20. Try to make sure that the library has as many other purposes as possible. Parent groups, one to one tuition (which obviously needs to be done in silence). storage of the iPad trollies, music lessons, etc. Be creative!
  21. Do not allow the pupils to have any ownership of reading in the school. No pupil librarians, no input into choosing books and no helping with displays.
  22. Never hold special assemblies about just books. One on World Book Day is more than sufficient.
  23. Five minutes spent at the start of a staff meeting sharing a couple of books that the children have enjoyed (or that you have enjoyed) is five minutes wasted!
This list is by no means fully comprehensive. Please feel free to add your own suggestions.

(By the way, the school I work in has a genuinely wonderful reading culture!)

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

The Fonz and Malorie Blackman!


I wouldn't normally just post a video link on here, but it's not every day that The Fonz and Malorie Blackman send a video message to your school talking about how wonderful reading is! Huge thanks to our Patron of Reading, John Dougherty, for putting it together.

Friday, 9 January 2015

Class Author

Roald Dahl is a great children's author. Admittedly, he's also responsible for Charlie & the Great Glass Elevator which is, in my opinion, very disjointed and rather boring, but pretty much all of the other books he wrote were wonderful. Virtually every child in Key Stage Two knows his name and most can name at least a few of his books. This also applies to the other 'usual suspects': Jacqueline Wilson, JK Rowling, David Walliams, etc.

However, there are literally hundreds of other great children's authors out there that, without a little guidance, can easily be overlooked by the majority of children. Off the top of my head this includes Sam Gayton, Katherine Paterson, SF Said, Paul Jennings, Jamila Gavin, Josh Lacey and Gill Lewis. It's a very arbitrary list, so please don't pull me up on any wonderful authors that are missing (although do feel free to add to it!).

In order to widen the children's knowledge of authors and poets, about three years ago we decided that each class in the school would have a Class Author. The author would change 4-5 times a year, and would sometimes be selected by the teacher and sometimes by the children. A child joining us in Year 3 and leaving us in Year 6 would then be exposed to the work of at least 20 different authors during their time at junior school, as well as that of all the ones they know about anyway. Three years down the line and the idea is still going strong.

4JB's Class Author

Each class has an author display in their classroom and there is also a school display of current and previous authors outside the library. Revealing the new author is always very exciting and is done in a variety of ways. Some teachers reveal their identity on the class blog or via Twitter and one puts up a photo of the author in his classroom to see if the children can recognise who it is. If they don't get it straight away, he then throws in an occasional clue during the week.

Recent Class Authors (including Mildred D Taylor, Rene Goscinny, Noel Langley, Terry Deary, Michael Rosen and The Brothers Grimm)

Every teacher is given a book budget of approximately £50 for each class author they have during the year so, as time has gone on, the classrooms have become much better stocked with great books. The staff all approach the idea differently. Some have a fixed author slot every week where they find out information about their writer alongside the children, some encourage the class to research the author at home, almost all ensure they find time every day to read one of the author's books. In fact, pretty much anything to raise the profile of the writer and their work. Occasionally the children have emailed the author to let them know that they are their chosen Class Author, share a picture of the classroom display and ask them a few questions. Most of the time, the authors have been really receptive and happy to engage, and one even offered to hold a conversation via Skype with the class.

It's a simple idea that has been very effective. It's noticeably improved the children's awareness of different authors, as well as that of the school staff. At the end of last year, I asked my Year 4 class to list as many authors as they could- they came up with over 50 between them! The fact that there's a new author every few weeks keeps it fresh and the children know that if their current Class Author isn't really their cup of tea, another one will be along pretty soon.