To read is a skill; to enjoy reading is so much more than that, and, in so many ways involves the reader in using abilities that are counter-intuitive to today’s fast-paced, knowledge-rich society.
Reading for Pleasure has become a buzzword among the educational community in recent years. Like Literacy, Numeracy and Oracy, it has risen to prominence and is talked about in staffrooms, classrooms, households and on the news across the country.
The simple act of picking up a well-thumbed book, sitting quietly, engaging with each page, each sentence and each letter until your mind becomes free from the armchair or school desk and transports you to a world outside your experience is one to treasure.
However, as an avid reader, however, I feel that the phrase reduces this wonderful experience into something that can be measured and that OFSTED can scrutinise. Reading for Pleasure does not make me want to read; I cannot be the only teacher who feels this way.
The risk-taking involved in choosing a novel from the shelf and committing to the time it takes to read it is one that should be celebrated. The stamina and self-confidence needed to sit in silence, to concentrate upon the words; to pick up where you left off and continue without knowing exactly what may happen. The resilience and confidence necessary to forego the ‘quick-fire’ pleasures of You-Tube and phone apps, is one that is often under-appreciated.
I thought that I was a good advocate for reading but it was not until I reflected upon my own practice that I realised that my own, largely positive, childhood reading experiences had driven my adult reading behaviours and that, more importantly, the vast majority of my pupils had not had these early experiences to draw upon.
With this in mind, I started to consider how I could ‘nudge’ my school towards becoming a true ‘Reading School’. I heard about the Reading Teachers = Reading Pupils via Twitter; the excitement of the teachers involved and the passion with which they conveyed their love of reading was infectious. I knew that I wanted to jump on board. In the first meeting, at Peter’s in Birmingham, I knew that I was among like-minded teachers; it felt wonderful to join in with such a forward-thinking and national project. The stand out part of that meeting was the idea of celebrating the book as a precious gift and it is the fundamental change in terms of our practice that I could implement immediately. How much do our children value the books that we share with them? It was interesting to see that, actually, children in our school clearly set a much greater value upon the books that had been celebrated by their teachers than even the shiniest books that had been placed, without consideration, onto the classroom library shelves.
I began to celebrate the books I was reading and encouraged my colleagues to do the same. The way in which this excited our children was wonderful to see.
I set myself as a ‘Reading Champion’ within our school. By this, I mean that I grabbed opportunities in my spare time to remember how to read as a child. As part of Reading Teachers = Reading Pupils, we are asked to focus on five key books during the year; each of which is chosen to excite, challenge and inspire teachers, with the intention that this can be passed onto the children within their schools. We are asked to read the monthly chosen book ourselves, purely for the joy of reading, before each meeting. Initially, this was a tough ask as I had, for twenty years, not picked up a children’s book without my planning sheet nearby. The act was liberating and enlightening. I devoured the first book we were given; The Middler, and was eager to pass it along, not because it fits in with the Y4 Literacy curriculum or enabled Greater Depth comprehension, but because it was awesome and gave me joy as I read it.
Seeing me as a reader was, in turn, a positive move for my teachers. It was ‘ok’ to take a book from their shelf to read at home ‘just because it’s rainy this weekend and there’s nothing on the telly’. In turn, this gentle nudge is passing along to our children.
The Boy at the Back of the Class is becoming a viral hit within our school. Each child who reads it is desperate to pass it onto a friend and children are coming to me to ask if I ‘ve got anything else that they might enjoy.
Reading Teachers = Reading Pupils has enabled us to ignite a blossoming reading culture, which is growing by the day and hopefully will continue as more and more staff and children remember their ‘joy’ and devote time to the simple act of reading.
In twenty years from now, who knows how different their children’s response to reading might be.