2020: A year of discovery, delight and downright disruption
Towards the end of my first year at Gloucester Road Primary School, I found out that I would be moving up with my Year 4 class to become their Year 5 teacher. Mere moments after being told this, my colleague and true reading champion, Lauren Haines, bounded down the corridor and excitedly told me that this meant I could now join Reading Teachers=Reading Pupils. Her enthusiasm was infectious, and she sold me on the programme within minutes. I couldn’t wait to begin.
The first event was the Launch Evening at the Literature Festival and hats off to Cheltenham Festivals for providing the most exhilarating CPD (Continuing Professional Development) event that I’ve ever attended. We were handed a glass of bubbly as we walked into a bustling gazebo filled with excited chatter. Previous participants of the programme and the authors of the first books gave inspirational talks and every teacher was given a bag of books. There was such a feeling of giddiness amongst the teachers which you could compare to the excitement of young children on Christmas Day!
Our first book was Kirsty Applebaum’s The Middler which was a gripping dystopian tale of bravery, compassion and adventure. After our first book club meeting where we discussed how we had found the book and identified methods to use it in the classroom, I immediately started reading it with my class as their Class Reader. They were hooked. It was incredible to see the impact of the RT=RP programme in helping me to discover such an amazing book within so little time. During the Autumn term, I also worked on the book wall in my classroom and I created a display of paper flowers to highlight how ‘Reading makes you bloom’. Our school has worked incredibly hard on our book corners and book walls over the years: we want to ensure the books are inviting and children are captivated by the range and quality of books on offer.
After reading The Middler in Autumn, I was keen to expand on my awareness and knowledge of children’s books so I could make better recommendations to my pupils. Throughout the next few months, I read, read and read a little bit more. I was slowly making my way through my own class’s book wall which has around 30 books in it. Spring then arrived and with it, the disruptive term that none of us could have expected or planned. The impact of Covid-19 has been heartbreaking in so many ways and our jobs as teachers changed overnight. We could no longer be with our pupils and see them face-to-face; the most important aspect of the job which we have taken for granted for all this time. Our rich curriculum, which had been carefully designed to ensure the pupils had the depth and breadth of learning over the key stages, was put on hold. The uncertainty of what the future would bring was worrying and is still a concern now. However, the care, passion and resourcefulness of teachers across the country has been remarkable and it has been a joy to see people coming together. Personally, this time has been a great period of CPD and I’ve been able to move on from my class’s book wall and start working my way through the school library; one very small positive of the school being quieter is that I can raid all the books I like!
For home-learning during this period, our school decided to use extracts from books and set challenges based on these. The programme has given me more confidence when introducing new books and I feel more knowledgeable about selecting extracts from books I know my pupils would enjoy. The work that the children have produced demonstrates how much they have enjoyed this approach and parents have commented on how thankful the children have been to still have their teachers read to them in this period. We sadly did not get time in class to read the second book from RT=RP (Onjali Rauf’s The Boy at the Back of the Class) but I was able to use an extract for home-learning. Below you can see some incredible artwork based on the description of the main character, Ahmet’s, eyes. I’m hopeful that by reading the children extracts, they will then recognise these books on display when they return to school, and they will be keen to borrow and read them in full.
For me, this year has been all about re-discovering my love of reading. The disruption of Covid-19 has given me more time to read and expand my knowledge of children’s books and the RT=RP programme is responsible for rousing that motivation in me. Whilst the RT=RP programme wasn’t delivered exactly as planned this year, it has had an immeasurable impact on me, and I am so thankful for the opportunity to take part. As I follow my class into Year 6 and a third-year with them (!), I am in the fortunate position that I can ensure they do not miss out on the delightful books I have discovered this year. Here is hoping that the world will be a little more normal in September…