TLT13: Summer Turner

Summer is talking about reading and how it can influence whole school literacy.

Summer is a head of English at a school in East London and has been working on strategies to develop a whole school reading culture. We introduce ourselves: lots of English teachers here looking for ways to encourage reluctant readers.

Summer gives us a Geoff Barton quote which reflects the importance of excellent, subject-specific literacy in order to become an expert in that subject. Behind the headlines about children reading less is a question: would you do Maths in your spare time because it would make you better at Maths? Why, then, do we expect children to read – why is it really important? Lots of research backs up the idea that it improves literacy, boosts vocab mastery and has an impact on the gender gap: these are all good reasons to promote it.

At Summer’s school they have been focusing on “Aiming Higher with Reading”. Research suggests that owning books improves student engagement with them (glad I make my a level students buy their history textbook now) so students have been given tablets on a hire-purchase scheme and there is a big variety of free books they can put on these tablets which gives them greater ownership of their reading. A book, or a book on the tablet, is now part of the equipment check. Teachers move from class to class instead of students at this school, and in between times are spent, by students, reading. Classes get quite excited about reading now.

Strategies. Library Invaders: helped students to get over the idea of “it’s cool to saying don’t like reading”; late at night Summer filmed herself breaking into the school library late at night and stealing a book; students had to follow the clues and the video cues to work it which book it was. Got them excited about the books and they had to do some reading in order to solve the mystery. Competitions and challenges can work really well as extrinsic motivation but it needs to avoid being gimmicky – students need to get quality reading out of it.

Community of readers. As well as students wading, parents need to promote the value of reading and events focused on readings that parents are invited to will help them to do this.

Different reading approaches. We break into discussions to look at a variety of these. We look at talking about reading – sharing ideas about what you’re reading and what it’s like. We also look at targeted whole school reading, where the English department provides an article, short story or poem for the whole school to fit into a specific theme. This must be really useful to help with the conversations abut reading. I like the idea of giving a reading out to everyone and it would be great if departments took ownership of this and contributed readings relevant to their subject. I ask if anything really controversial has ever been shared with students: this could be quite interesting.

(As an aside I have been considering, for no particular reason, the merits of having tutor time at the end of the day. It strikes me that these reading conversations would more easily spill out of tutor time among students and all the way home if that was to happen).

Other groups looked at….
Journey through books. Someone shares the different books that have had an impact on them through their lives. Often this someone is a member of staff who then helps students to put together their own journey through books. In a year 7 lesson a few weeks ago we were talking about what book has had the biggest impact on their lives and it was sad that some students claimed they couldn’t remember any of the books they had read at primary school and therefore some of them felt reading had never had an impact on them.

Summer has also started to appoint reading captains, who had to apply in writing, and who promote reading around the school with things like reading magazines. This gives reading a higher status. Conversations about reading and about why it is fun and debates about why it is important are filmed and then shared: “what about if you were in a desert? You need a book. These tablets won’t work there. It’s too hot for them.”

In the feedback, it’s suggested that perhaps there is a subject specific reading week throughout the year, where the expectation is that students will read all the time and then discuss it. Like this idea, too.

The sessions today have all been really interesting but I feel like this one has best armed me with strategies I can be using next week to make a difference. Therefore, it wins the day!

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