Sunday, 25 March 2018

School reading culture...breakthrough moments

Last Thursday, I was absolutely delighted and extremely humbled to have been awarded the Egmont 2018 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?"

"Mmmm, yeah."

Slightly awkward pause...

"So, did you want to show me something?"

"Mmmm, yeah."

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.


  1. Congratulations! Hearing that teachers are activly engaging in reading is wonderful. So many teachers I talk to tell me that there is just not enough time to read and this makes me sad. If something is important you find time. I would love to hear about your school library. Is is part of this reading culture?

    1. Absolutely! It's open every afternoon (staffed by a TA), at lunchtimes (staffed by Y6 pupils and a teacher) and after school on a Thursday for parents. We've had to create it from scratch as, two years ago, there wasn't a library at all.