Recurring evidence that suggested children in England continued to find less pleasure in reading as well as research undertaken by the United Kingdom Literacy Association (UKLA) that showed primary teachers relied on a very limited canon of children’s authors led to a project to:
Widen teachers’ knowledge of children’s literature
Develop teachers’ confidence and skilful use of such literature in the classroom
Develop teachers’ relationships with parents, carers, librarians and families
Develop “Reading Teachers”, teachers who read and readers who teach
Following on from the initial phase, which involved 40 teachers, a national network of Open University (OU) Teachers as Readers groups was established growing to over 100 groups within three years. The driving force behind these is Teresa Cremin, Professor of Education (Literacy) at the OU and a supporter of the GSL Campaign, whose book “Building a Community of Engaged Readers” is a must-read.
The aim of these groups is to:
Foster children’s reading for pleasure (RfP) through supporting teachers’ own RfP and research informed practice
Support the profession by building a professional community around RfP locally and online
Share teachers’ resultant work on the OU RfP website
I was asked if I could get involved and co-run a local group in Hampshire with Dot Patton, Headteacher at Dogmersfield Primary School. Although the OU provide a 6 week/half termly suggested programme and lots of resources including a box of books to share, we decided to create a slightly different structure to the meetings. At the first one, we asked the participants what areas they would like to see covered – the aim of this was to provide some CPD and also make the sessions relevant to them. As a librarian, I’ll happily go along to anything where books are being discussed but I was aware that we were asking busy teachers to give up some of their time and I felt this additional element would be a “carrot”. Thus alongside the OU suggested programme we also covered topics such as: engaging parents; useful organisations to follow on social media; how to find out about new books published; and using poetry – all tying in with the RfP theme.
Each session began with a book share. Participants were asked to bring something along and I also took some books that I thought they may not have seen – especially proof copies that I had for review. This was VERY popular; we ended up putting all the books onto a blanket so people could take photos of them – much quicker than writing down the titles and authors/illustrators. It made me realise that many teachers don’t get the same exposure to new titles as I do – and these were people who had literacy and/or library responsibilities in their schools. What I also noticed was that as the weeks went on, the books they started to share became far more diverse and adventurous – an indication of their widening book knowledge and growing confidence perhaps?
The next step was looking at an example of practice on the OU Research Rich Pedagogies website. This really is a mine of information and ideas, and I would recommend you have a look. As teachers have developed their own ideas, they have informed the website making it a growing and practical-based source of inspiration. Some of these are in the form of presentations, others are videos. They involve fiction and non-fiction, primary and secondary schools, children and staff! A few examples include:
Inspiring RfP through social media
UKLA Book Awards shadowing
Land of our Authors
The Year of Reading Children’s Books
Guiding readers in the EYFS
We reviewed and discussed participants’ on-going RfP work, thinking about examples on the website and what they could take back with them into the classroom. Everyone is encouraged to develop their own practices and to share these, especially online. The OU have provided a simple template to aid with this and we found that giving people time in the sessions to complete it was more productive than them doing it outside of the session. As with most meetings, once back at the day job other priorities often take over.
Finally, I delivered a short CPD session based on the topics suggested, usually via a presentation which was emailed out to everyone afterwards. I also occasionally created handouts; for example, with suggested websites. And we ended with a story - Dot and I took turns with this, sharing a picture book with the whole group!
My first thought was - what I was going to bring to the group. However, it soon became obvious that my book knowledge – which I see as part of being a professional librarian and which I almost take for granted – is not shared by others. And this is quite an important point as it’s an easy assumption to make.
So … don’t assume that others have the same book knowledge as you. They may receive the same book catalogues but probably don’t take them home to drool over in the same way librarians do. This means sharing new books – even if it’s just via an email, a quick mention in the staff room, a chance meeting at the photocopier.
As a librarian my default is to help people – giving them advice, information, etc. So I was delighted to be able to bring this element into the sessions. My (short) presentations were only a starting point as they facilitated further discussion and ideas. All of these were shared after the meeting with the mailing list to ensure those not able to come didn’t miss out.
The local Schools Library Service came along to some of the meetings so it was great to have other librarians there. They also took over part of a session where they talked about their services and showcased some of their new titles. This has given me a thought about future meetings and whether these could incorporate short talks by other appropriate visitors.
The keyword is collaboration. All of us involved in libraries, reading, teaching, the book world, etc. have a lot to share. Looking at the OU website, what was interesting to me was that, as a librarian responsible for developing a whole school reading ethos, many of the activities mentioned were ones I regularly undertook in my school. And I also know several other school librarians who do similar activities. Yet this practice obviously isn’t being disseminated across professions into the classroom – something to consider.
Written by Barbara Band School Library Consultant