The pandemic has led to me spending the majority of my working time since March 2020 behind a screen and, like many others, I have missed going into schools and engaging with children and staff face to face. I love talking about books with children and adults, sharing thoughts and recommendations. My children’s primary school has been a Reading Gladiators school since 2017 and have seen excellent results in engagement and attainment for higher attaining readers. I’ve enjoyed being a group leader in Year 6 and Year 2. This year the school selected the Year 5 resource. Feeling comfortable with using online platforms to deliver training, I was happy to agree to run the group remotely. I did have some concerns, wondering how a resource designed to support discussion for a group could work when the children were not in the same room. Well, two sessions in, I’m pleasantly surprised.
I chose Zoom as the platform because I’m familiar with it from delivering online training and knew that screen sharing would be an essential tool. In addition it is the platform the school have used so the children and parents are familiar with the process of joining meetings and using the video and microphones. We began the session with some ground rules, such as keeping the microphones muted, only using the chat function when asked, and keeping cameras on.
First Encounters: The House by the Lake
The first book is the wonderful The House by the Lake by Thomas Harding and Britta Teckentrup. We arranged for the books to be collected from school and parents were asked to ensure the children didn’t see the book until a given point in the first session. This meant the first part of the session where the title is revealed without the children seeing the front cover was much more effective. The guided visualisation which follows was effective and the children not being in the same room actually seemed helpful as it avoided distractions. The Reading Gladiators website has been updated and it is so easy to access the resources when working in this way. Finally, the book was then revealed and read aloud purely for enjoyment. I used a visualiser to share images (one child hadn’t been able to collect their copy) and this worked really well. We had time for a brief discussion about the book before setting a home learning task and logging off.
I adapted the planning slightly to give time between the sessions for the children to reread the book and jot down their responses using a What Do You Think? grid (adapted from Aidan Chambers, 1993). The children are prompted to consider their likes and dislikes, connections, puzzles, and questions. This meant the children came to the session ready to share their thoughts. When we use this process in the classroom, when a child is speaking the other children should listen with interest but not interrupt or ask questions. This gives each child the time and space to offer their own thoughts without interruption and for extended speaking (In most classroom interactions, children have infrequent opportunities to speak at length, so this format develops this skill). This was easy to manage online with the facility to mute! Once we had shared our thoughts we then revisited the book, starting with the cover. They could talk about whatever interested them, for as long or as little as they like. We worked from the beginning of the book page by page and read the page aloud before discussing. It is important here that everyone keeps to the same page and agrees when to move on so that attention is not split or diffused. Again, the visualiser was very helpful.
Some questions had been recorded before the session and now we added more questions to the list. Children find it really interesting that sometimes the more we read a book, the more questions we have. They expect it to be the other way round. The children’s questions reveal their understanding and also can provide fruitful avenues to explore in subsequent sessions to move learning forward. The questions varied. Some can be answered by reading the information at the end of the book, for example:
What was the gap between the people who lived in the house?
What happened to the families?
The opening spread describes the doctor’s wife as ‘cheery’ which prompted one group member to ask an important historical question:
How do we know the doctor’s wife was cheery?
This led to a brief discussion about the doctor’s wife being the author’s great grandmother and how we might learn about people in the past using anecdotes. Something that we can pursue in other sessions.
Working with a group in this way has proved rewarding so far. Parents have been happy with the engagement of their children, some contacting me to let me know how much their children have loved the book. The children enjoy seeing each other and take the sessions seriously. The group happens to be made up of six boys who are all good friends but so far they have stuck to the book talk without getting distracted. The fact that they are comfortable with each other is probably a key factor for the success of the group. I’ve enjoyed the challenge and while the screen is supporting the group to run, I am looking forward to meeting the group face to face as soon as we are able. The Reading Gladiators website has made it easy to prepare for the sessions and the home learning section is very helpful to share with parents. Although it’s early days, parental engagement seems to be higher than it has in the past.
To find out more about the award winning Reading Gladiators resource:
To read a review of The House by the Lake: