Reading groups and the enabling adult

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Are you focusing on teaching and learning at greater depth?

Could you do more to support your children in making suitable reading choices?

Do you want to read more widely; improve and expand your children’s reading diet?

READ ON for ways to achieve all of these and more…..

This year I have had the pleasure of hosting the Reading Teachers=Reading Pupils book group for the East Region. Teachers ‘as readers’ isn’t a new thing of course but thanks to the wonderful work initiated by the Open University: their  Research Rich Pedagogies project and Teachers as Readers research, the focus on reading teachers as the key to the development of effective reading communities has been propelled to the forefront of our thinking in recent years. 

For those unfamiliar with the RTRP programme, it was launched in 2018 by the Cheltenham Literature Festival. There are now 8 regions hosting groups across the UK including Bradford Literature Festival, Centre for Literacy in Primary Education (CLPE), Kernow Education Arts Partnership (KEAP), National Literacy Trust, Peters, Seven Stories, National Centre for Children’s Books, The Reader and our group here at Just Imagine.

Using Aidan Chambers’ discussion model identifying likes, dislikes, surprises and links the group sessions are very well structured while at the same time achieving an informality that makes contributing unintimidating. The group at Just Imagine was keen right from the launch back in October and as the teachers got to know one another they have grown in confidence and the discussion has blossomed. Exactly the model we want to achieve for teachers to take into their classrooms.

One of the teachers who attended our group described the sessions as her ‘safe place’.  She described discussing books on a mutual level with the children in her class. No one wants to be Mr Wormwood (Matilda) and I am referring here to his ‘I’m right and you’re wrong rant’ as opposed to his complete disregard for literature of any kind. Growing your role as reading advocate and as a reading equal who explores books alongside the children and ponders together about content and style is a really important part of sustaining a genuine reading culture. 

The teachers have grown as individual readers and have implemented some of the principles in their schools in a variety of ways. First and foremost teachers have developed as readers. They have built confidence in their knowledge of children’s books and have felt enabled to use that knowledge to support children in making their own reading choices. By building your own reading repertoire you will quickly find the reading cultures growing in your own settings.

Create your own canon

The teachers taking part this year set up book groups using the RTRP sessions as a model for discussion. One school selected children from Year 5; one school targeted specific children for a case study. Other schools recommend titles to specific children or used them as examples of their own reading and set up a waiting list for those who wanted to read. Another school invited parents to attend the sessions after school and the parents purchased the books. You can read the group leader’s blog post here.

In order to truly give our children choice and agency in their reading journeys, we need the skills to enable that path. To do this a wide knowledge of children’s literature is vital. That is not to say the adult needs a background in English literature or an MA in Children’s Literature in order to achieve this role. What is needed is a genuine interest in children’s books and the motivation to keep abreast of titles that will provide all children in your class or school with engaging and quality material that will help them grow as readers and as people. Creating your own ‘canon’ is incredibly rewarding and sharing your thoughts with the children in your class opens their eyes to the possibility of seeking out authors and titles that hitherto may not have crossed their paths.

A constant frustration for teachers is the lack of resources in their classrooms and library stock. Just Imagine’s online resources offer a deluge of children’s titles placed within an appropriate year group, phase or genre to help build knowledge even if every title is not to hand in school. Our reading for pleasure resource The Reading Journey is an annual subscription (which can be trialled gratis until December with the code from the Essential Resources guide accompanying September’s Teach Primary magazine) and includes titles grouped by phase and theme for independent reading in Key Stage 2. Children can also add photos of their own books to the APP which accompanies the book selections.

Another valuable resource for building book knowledge is our Take One Book resource  For a nominal annual subscription this resource offers full teaching sequences and resources for titles specifically selected for their multimodality and rich language. Books are grouped by year for Key stage 1 and 2. Of course children can also be guided towards their local library to seek out suggestions you make.

Just Imagine Reading Gladiators™ resource provides a space in which to practice high-quality discussion. Books and bookclub session resources are available for Years 2, 4,5 and 6. The books target higher attaining readers within these year groups (usually approximately 8 in a group) as these readers are often under-challenged by the self-selection of texts.  The impact of taking part in Reading groups is far-reaching. Many of the children who take part become advocates who go on to inspire other children to become aspirational readers. Peer influence and the impact on a culture of reading has been observed within many of our Reading Gladiators™ schools.

The RTRP teachers reported an increase in informal book chat outside reading lessons, a noticeable decrease in children bringing in popular mainstream titles from home as they were introduced to other authors. A parent of a year 6 pupil reported their child had spent their whole school life hating reading and since being introduced to the new titles by their newly enthused teacher they now love reading. Teachers have reported reading more widely of their own volition and instead of staying with old favourites, expanding their own reading repertoires. “It shapes you as a reader, your class, your school and your community, building it from you as the central pillar. It makes me giddy with enthusiasm.”

If you or a colleague are interested in joining RTRP, we do have a couple of spaces remaining for 2020/2021 group. If you would like to start a Reading Gladiators™ group in your school there is still time to sign up for the next year, which due to Covid 19, will begin at the later time of January 2021.