The book channel /

Reading Communities

Children, parents, educators – we all need to belong to a reading community

I found myself in a new reading community this week as I joined Ben Harris’s Reading Teachers Group. Sharing favourite reads with teachers and librarians, who all bring different ideas and experience to the hub, is both enriching and enjoyable. Whilst solitary reading also has its benefits, belonging to a group and talking about stories, writers, illustrators and ever growing ‘to read’ piles is a special activity that has immediate and longlasting benefits to the individual.

Community has never been more important. A community is a place of support, it informs our brains and nourishes our minds and reading communities do these things ten-fold. I find myself in several reading communities all of which are populated by like-minded folk who support one another, share ideas and enrich each other’s reading experiences, through recommendations, ideas, debate and validation. 

We all know that books groups are an excellent way to build communities of readers; time and space to talk about books is vital. The Reading Teachers Groups provide a space to put into practice some of the impactful practices detailed on the Open University Reading for Pleasure Research Rich Pedagogies website.  At Just Imagine we’ve been running different types of book groups for over a decade and we’ve learnt that being a part of a reading community is invaluable for educators and children alike.

Almost every teacher I have ever met loves talking about books in a professional capacity or just to share great reads with each other for personal fulfillment. We have always thrived on the interchange of ideas at our training sessions and we are finding contributions even more forthcoming in our virtual courses. Whether it’s sharing teaching strategies in our Word Aware course or recommending titles in our Subject Matters sessions, the interplay of ideas and resource swapping often makes the chat box a session in itself! The online community certainly opens up the exchange of ideas to a wide audience with social media playing a large role. Groups designed for those with a passion for developing genuine reading cultures in their settings, such as Jon Biddle’s Reading for Pleasure facebook group, offer a deluge of book recommendations and connections to experts and practitioners who share opinions and experience on a daily basis.

Communities breed communities

National initiatives and large platforms are effective ways of developing awareness and networks but it is within the small group that I believe the magic really happens, whether that be a local cluster of subject leads or a staff bookclub, it is the dialogue about the books – the booktalk that really has the greatest benefits. We are in our second year of partnering with Cheltenham Festivals and running the East region Reading Teachers=Reading Pupils group. I gain enormous pleasure from listening to the inspiration teachers get from the carefully selected titles chosen by the panel. Participants not only meet local colleagues but also access the idea pool of all RTRP members across the country as suggestions for hooks and outcomes are disseminated after each round of meetings. 

Providing a safe space with no judgment

The most impactful outcome for teachers belonging to a reading group is that they are in the optimum position to develop their own reading communities with the children in their school, colleagues or parents.

Children naturally form communities – they benefit from guidance to, develop their roles as listeners, some will need encouragement to speak up to share their ideas knowing they are in a safe place where all opinions will be heard. Our award winning annual Reading Gladiators challenge offers the opportunity and resources to do this and we are excited to be expanding our reach to cover all years from Year 2 to Year 6 next academic year. For many children, belonging to a Reading Gladiators group gives them enormous confidence in reading and writing and allows their voice to be heard instead of lost in a busy classroom.

Reading groups allows their voice to be heard

What about Parents?

Some parents are lucky enough to know others who devour books volitionally and shower their children with title after title. Many parents, however, feel at a loss when it comes to recommending titles for their children. Common challenges facing parents are: my child only reads one author or genre, I want to challenge my child but I’m uncertain as to which books are suitable; my child just refuses to read, my child used to read a lot but doesn’t seem interested anymore. 

We will soon be launching our Discover Literacy channel to help parents answer these questions and to meet others with an interest in ‘discovering’ more about children’s books and learn how they can support their own children. We will be sharing our roundup of recently published titles and delving into areas of pedagogy such as reading stamina, writing for pleasure and comprehension, with some special guest speakers along the way too! Watch this space for further details and in the mean time I hope you promote reading communities to those around you and that you are part of or seek out a thriving reading community yourself. 

Despite not being able to sit around a coffee table sharing cake reading communities are surviving and indeed thriving online. Distance is no object, travel is not an issue and as we get used to unmuting ourselves to speak, we can all have a voice in a reading community.