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 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).

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 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.