What’s Your Story?
Using a Book Bench project to facilitate creative approaches to reading for enjoyment.
By Sylvia Crowder
Senior Lecturer in Primary English, Edge Hill University
Like many of us my heart skipped a little when I saw that Reading for Pleasure appeared in the ‘new’ National Curriculum however I could see that this could be problematic. Pleasure implies something we chose to do, something that we enjoy, therefore how can we legislate for this within a school curriculum? I argue that we need to find creative, and imaginative ways to engage children with authors, texts and stories so that want to explore books and stories and share the experience with others. It was this philosophy that led me to develop a bookbench project through my work at Edge Hill University.
The aim was to encourage children to explore books and the joy of reading as they decided how to design and decorate a sculpture in the shape of an open book.
I was initially moved by a visit to ‘Books About Town’ in London July 2014. Having seen the benches and followed the trails along with lots of enthusiastic children dragging their accompanying adult from bench to bench I was inspired to bring this idea in to the classroom to motivate both future teachers and the children they will be teaching, to develop ‘the reading habit’.
Having approached my Head of Area for funding, we purchased four benches to use as teaching tools in the University. We ran a series of lectures and seminars for English Specialists within the University. The students followed a project from start to finish – talking, researching, designing and eventually decorating creating their own benches. The idea being that this would give them the knowledge and confidence to eventually try this in school.
I am excited to announce that we have two NQTs undertaking the project in their own school as I write.
Not being content with bringing the project to students, NQTs and their schools I really wanted to develop a bookbench trail within our local community and Chorley’s ‘What’s Your Story Chorley?’ event seemed to provide a fantastic opportunity. In addition, as the reading for pleasure agenda gathered pace, many of our partnership schools were telling us that they had highlighted reading as an area for development within their school action plans.
I spied a great chance to link the Bookbench project completed in university with a local community initiative, and in doing so support schools to develop a passion for reading in their pupils.
Nine local schools, university lecturers and future teachers and the local council collaborated to make the project and my dream come alive.
It was important to emphasise the importance of ensuring a focus on children exploring books and as far as possible giving control over themes, designs and final decoration to the children. My involvement along, with my trusty colleague Elizabeth, centred on ensuring that there was a strong emphasis on dialogic booktalk, during decision making about books, authors and themes to be represented on each bench and during the designing and final decorating process. We also talked at some length about the important role that drawing and artwork plays in supporting children’s understanding of themes, characters and plots depicted in the books they read.
What a day!
Beautiful benches scattered around the town, children running back and forth completing the trail quiz, students and tutors dressed as book characters helping and reading stories on the benches and queues of children and adults wanting to contribute to the community bench by painting their favourite book characters. It truly was a day that celebrated books stories and story telling
I am frequently heard saying to students that fun and engagement are very important but we should not lose sight of the need for our interventions to have immediate and lasting impact. So, did we achieve our objectives?
Schools reported increased pupil engagement with books and reading
And one of the big plusses for me was that they were also reporting greater engagement form parents too.
The project was also mentioned in one schools OFSTED report, which stated that they noted that children talked enthusiastically about their involvement in the project and about the books they were reading.
Several schools made contact with the local library as a result of being involved in research for their bookbench and these links have been maintained with pupils making regular trips to the library
The community involvement through social media and on the day, was fantastic I loved responding to the many messages on Facebook and twitter.
I revel in my new title ‘The Bookbench Lady’ and hope to do it all again next year!