March 2018

This month’s featured teacher is the brilliant Caroline Ash, Deputy Head Teacher at Horton Grange Primary School, who has gone above and beyond to champion Reading for Pleasure at her school.

Seven Stories: What was reading for pleasure like within your school community before you started actively addressing it?

CA: When we began to look at reading for pleasure we realised that the majority of children had the necessary competencies to read, thanks to quality first teaching and structured reading interventions. However, discussions with the children led us to realise too few of our children were really enjoying reading. For some children, although they could decode well, a limited vocabulary was a source of frustration that inhibited their comprehension. Other children found it difficult to find or choose books they might like and many children said they didn’t get time to read.

Seven Stories: What have you done to promote reading for pleasure?

CA: One of the first things that we did was to introduce a class text for our literacy lessons. These are chosen very carefully for the quality of the story, vocabulary and characters; and are now supplemented with high quality picture books. This practice is now crossing over into the wider curriculum and we are discovering a whole new world of amazing non-fiction! Children are being given the opportunity to read daily and lots of time is dedicated to ‘book talk’ so that they have a chance to voice their thoughts and opinions on what they are reading.

Boxes of books for bedtime are available at the door for parents of children in EYFS and are taken home and brought back at leisure.

We have given our libraries an overhaul and made them into welcoming spaces, with twinkly lights and comfy seating so that the children can sit and snuggle up with a book as you would at home. Making sure 450 children get time to browse and enjoy these spaces is difficult and requires careful timetabling. Additionally, opening up these spaces at lunchtime and break times helps. We have also made a significant investment in improving and updating our books stock, while also removing older and out of date titles. We really want the children to see that we value books, and we do so by displaying them in a way that is attractive for the children, as well as easily accessible. It is important to not have too many books on the shelves and to be able to face them out in order to make them more enticing.

The staff have put a great deal of time and effort into putting beautiful reading displays in prominent places, such as the entrance, and I if you visit us it will be very visible how much we value reading for pleasure and how much, as a school, we love reading.

As a team we have worked hard to make sure our knowledge of children’s literature is expanding. We were a little ‘Dahl dependent’ (Cremin 2014) and unable to suggest many books that the children might enjoy beyond Dahl and Walliams. We have all taken the time to read new books and, at some point during the day, every teacher shares a story or poem. Some of the teachers are now really enthusiastic and are part of a reading group, looking at new books regularly to share across school.

The majority of assemblies are now focussed around a themed picture book which is shared on the big screen and forwarded to teachers to enjoy again in the classroom. We really encourage children to reread books so that they can realise the comfort that can be had from the familiarity of a character or story.

We have been lucky to have several author visits this year which have significantly raised the profile of reading for pleasure and shown the children the process of writing books. Author signings encouraged children to purchase books and invest in them when many of them have very few books at home and their books are the first to fly off the shelves of the school library.

Seven Stories: What has the impact been on the students and families?

CA: We have parents telling us that they can’t tear their children away from their books at home, which is a significant change and lovely to hear. There is a separate email account for parents/carers to send in photographs of children enjoying books and we have been inundated. The quality of writing has also noticeably improved, particularly in vocabulary choices, and we see much more of ‘the reader in the writer’. When we hold book events, such as ‘come dine and read’, many parents/carers attend and enjoy spending time with their children reading together. The students are then more likely to borrow books to share at home. Through lots of book talk in class, the children are now much more able to make connections and talk knowledgeably about the range of books they’ve read (including non-fiction). There is now much more general chatter about books across school and we see children eager to read and talk about their reading.

Seven Stories: What advice would you give to schools wanting to implement similar ideas?

CA: Audit your book stock carefully. Do you have a range of books that represent the diversity of your children and community – ours certainly didn’t. In order for children to see reading as a pleasurable activity for them it’s important that they get to read books in which they see something of themselves.  What are your children interested in and which books would they like? Perhaps these are not always the books we choose for them.

It’s a golden age for children’s literature and it really helps if children have someone to go to who is knowledgeable about what is out there. I’d suggest sharing some books in a staff meeting and encouraging teachers and teaching assistants to read them. I’d also recommend using some high quality non-fiction texts such as @FlyingEyeBooks to support teaching in the wider curriculum - children of all ages love them and they are great as knowledge and vocabulary builders.  It is equally important to have a wide range of other reading material, such as graphic novels, magazines, catalogues and children’s newspapers, as different children engage with reading in different ways.

If you would like to read further on how to develop reading for pleasure at your school, then I would recommend Aidan Chambers’ The Reading Environment, which is full of brilliant ideas about how we can help children enjoy books.

I have also found twitter to be invaluable in terms of finding suggestions for new books and resources (@_Reading_Rocks_ is a good place to start) and the CLPE website has lots of lists and some free teaching sequences. If you are thinking of starting reading groups, the Open University’s Research Rich Pedagogies website is a great resource. One word of warning – hold on to your wallets as it can become a little addictive… 

If you have found Caroline’s experience helpful, have a look at Caroline’s blog – and you can also follow her on twitter (@cazzash).

CLPE’s Power of Reading and upcoming Power of Pictures workshops are hosted here at Seven Stories. Details for this year’s course are here and if you would like more information about next year’s courses, contact our Learning team on learning@sevenstories.org.uk.