I can't remember the last time I worked on a Saturday. I've been a teacher since I returned from my gap year in 1990 so have never needed to work on a Saturday. Most of my class-teaching career was in the days before PPA so I used to leave my marking and planning in my car boot and Sundays were when I did all of my work.
Yesterday was Saturday and I went to work. I went to the Open University (OU) Reading for Pleasure Conference and it was worth every single minute. I am so bursting with ideas and enthusiasm that I feel that I need to get them out of my head and capture them before the usual Sunday evening mist descends and the week's toils begin again. So here are my reflections and what I think are a few brilliant take-away ideas.
Firstly, why do 'Reading for Pleasure' in your school? Don't do it to tick a box, to pass a test, or because the new Ofsted Framework mentions it and your school might be inspected next year. Do it because you know that it genuinely impacts on children - academically, socially and emotionally. But, where to start?
Go to the OU reading for pleasure (RfP) website: www.researchrichpedagogies.org/research/reading-for-pleasure amongst hundreds of other things on the site, you will find advice on whole school development which includes staff/children's audits - these can be a great starting point. You could use your audit to then choose one area to develop or explore - the 5 main areas on the site are:
1. Teachers' knowledge of children's literature and other texts 2. Teachers' knowledge of children's reading practices 3.Reading for pleasure pedagogy 4.Reading teachers: teachers who read and readers who teach 5.Reading communities. Once you have selected an area the website provides so many materials to support you - all for free!
Teresa Cremin, Professor of Education (Literacy) at the Open University, reminded us in her opening words, of the importance of understanding our 'reader identity'. Knowing why we read, or why we choose not to. She gave an example of why children stop reading once they have learned to read - suggesting that their reader identity is that of a reader who reads scheme books and nonsense words, or a reader who answers comprehension questions. She also talked about reading as a social, affective and relational act, i.e. it is not just a solitary act that mainly females do. Finally, Teresa clarified that the pleasure part of RfP actually means CHOICE. You enjoy reading (or usually enjoy reading) something that you've chosen to read. Supporting children to RfP is really about engaging them in choosing to read and making choices that are right for them.
So, what makes a RfP school and how can it be achieved? Who better to answer this question than Sonia Thompson the DHT at St Matthews CE Primary, winner of the Egmont/UKLA Reading for Pleasure School of the Year 2018. Her first piece of advice is to ensure that school leaders are fully involved in and supportive of the development work. You need a Head or Principal who thinks, believes and says (a lot) "we're going to do this and we're going to do it well". Another big idea from St Matthew's is timetabled RfP sessions: daily in KS1 and 3 times/week in KS2. They have RfP spaces that are actually used (lots of schools have lovely reading corners, author displays etc that are pretty but aren't used). These acknowledge the need for reading to be a social act, so they have 3 copies of the same book in each space. There are lots more ideas for making the most of their RfP spaces too, which I'm sure you can read about on the OU website.
Additionally, the teachers at St Matthew's undertook some professional development work around reading aloud to children - genius! Not all of us are good at this but it can make such a big difference to engaging children in stories that it's worth us developing our skills, and fun too! Sonia's other take-aways were the use of schemes to promote books and reading such as Book Trust programmes https://www.booktrust.org.uk/, Reading Gladiators for the better readers https://readinggladiators.org.uk/, as well as running their own in-house book making group for parents and weekly book sharing session with parents of EYS children. Finally, Sonia talked about having a World Book Week (instead of a single day), asking each member of their local church to donate a book - which gave them 250 books, and about their reading picnic, just before they break up, at which the local librarians attend to promote the Summer Reading Challenge. Hugely inspirational, and lots of ideas from Sonia.
Next, I attended a workshop entitled 'Reading Teachers Exploring Non-Fiction' with Teresa Cremin and reading teacher Claire Williams. How many of us know children who only ever choose to read non-narrative books? Everyday most of us read non-narrative for a purpose; we are still choosing to read whatever it is. The act of reading the news, a work-related report, a note from a colleague etc is not necessarily pleasurable but we are choosing to read it, which is key.
Reading rivers - 24 hours of what you've read - are a really interesting way of looking with children at the purpose of reading non-narrative text. It's also a great way of finding out about children's reading preferences. Another suggestion was that of Book Blankets: put out non-fiction books so that they cover the tables and allow children to pick up the books, interact with them, and share them. We did this and then discussed what attracts us to open a non-fiction book. For some it was the title, for e.g. 'Deadly 60', but for most it was the visual appeal of the front cover (not one person picked up the guided reading, small glossy books, and flicked!). We then discussed how we read the non-fiction books in front of us. Do we look at the contents? The index? NO! Most of us flicked until something caught our attention. I realised that I'm quite sensory; I loved the books with flaps, moving parts or lots to look at on each page. Claire and Teresa shared with us how they handle different non-narrative texts, for example flicking through a magazine until you find something you're interested in, moving backwards and forwards through it. Or using the contents page to identify a key chapter when reading a work-related book. We were left with the question: are we authentic readers of non-fiction? Do we model this in our classrooms?
Another aspect that we thought about was whether RfP and study are polarised. Some people really enjoy choosing to read up about something, to learn more. Teresa asked us to consider how much teacher led reading of non-fiction happens, and how much is child led? A great idea that she suggested was to do a book blanket or box activity and ask children to categorise them. Another suggestion was to get children doing a marketing-style Big Up Your Book! Choose a book and get ready to sell it – 3 reasons and one tempting fact from the book. RfP often isn’t happening if children who would normally choose non-fiction books are pushed down the narrative route.
I have to say, at this point, that the issue of cost was a concern. Good non-fiction books are really expensive due to the high production and material costs. With this in mind, Teresa and Claire spoke about ways to raise money or have books donated. We are exceptionally good at doing this in schools. What we are not very good at is asking for things! Schools who ask local businesses or charitable organisations will often find that they are happy to donate money for books; schools who have PTAs should be asking for money for books; organisations such as The Siobhan Dowd Trust donate money for books http://siobhandowdtrust.com/ . I’ve also heard that charity shops and libraries bin their books when they’ve been there for a certain amount of time and not been bought/borrowed – it’s worth contacting them to ask for these.
The second workshop I attended ‘Putting the Spark Back In’ was led by Charly Soulsby from Jesse Gray Primary and Julie Doyle from Sneinton CE Primary in Nottingham. This was a romp through some brilliant ideas for promoting RfP. Here’s a list of highlights:
• Go to http://whatimreading.org , enter your name and the title of the book you’re reading and it produces a poster for your classroom door! AMAZING
• Buy a gazebo and turn it into a story tent that pops up on big occasions (indoors): theme days, at Christmas instead of watching a film, non-fiction Fridays, Elsa comes to read stories etc
• Book swap – stand at the front door of school with a big box of books and swap them for books that children bring in (give them a book if they don’t have one to swap)
• Parent book swap – as above but for parents
• Teens book swap – as above but for older siblings
• Immersive book day – off timetable RfP day
• Apply for a Therapy Dog for children to share books with and read to on a regular basis https://petsastherapy.org/
• Hold a reading festival in the summer (morning author or poet visit/illustrator; afternoon festival – story tent, reading activities, book blind date, live music, book swaps, book themed cake competition etc)
• RfP award assemblies
• Story squad – Y5/6s read to younger children at lunch time
• Sign up to a scheme such as https://imaginationlibrary.com/uk/ where children get a free book every month until they’re 5
• Storybox homework – children turn a shoebox into a book themed box
• Order personalised RfP stickers to go on the front of books – recommended by Mrs xxx etc from https://thepositiveteachercompany.co.uk/
• Hold a parents’ workshop – tell them why RfP is so important
• Each teacher has a shelf in their classroom with their own personal library (of children’s books) which the children can borrow. The personal library should stand out, look attractive etc
• Join the Love Reading 4 Kids website, it’s free and has loads of amazing recommend a book resources https://www.lovereading4kids.co.uk/ Also, you can download first chapters of hundreds of books to give out to whet appetites
• Read the class novel aloud for 30 minutes when you first start reading
• Make space for ‘comfy reading’ – shoes off, bean bags…
My simple summary of what a RfP school is, is one in which the children (and preferably the community) choose to read. Not because they have been told to or because it is expected but because they genuinely choose to read as an activity.