I am on a mission to improve reading at our school. It’s not en vogue and our students simply don’t read. Their reading ages upon entry are low and, whilst I am undecided about the value of AR, they aren’t quizzing either. So what do we do? You can’t force students to read. In theory, that is because opportunities to read are a subtle way of forcing students to do so.
Faced with a challenge, I made the conscious decision to read material around the subject of reading and fostering a love for reading in the students I teach to see if I could pick up any strategies or ideas that might just help us on our way. The Book Whisperer was recommended on Twitter.
The Book Whisperer is written by Donalyn Miller, a teacher who is passionate about reading and developing a love for reading in all her students. She makes a number of recommendations that I have been thinking about and starting to incorporate into our practice at the academy.
Recommendation number 1: From a seed grows a tree.
Classroom libraries. Over the years DOnalyn Miller has built a classroom library. She recalls the first bookshelf she bought and still has the bookshelf now. She buys all the books herself – she has read these books and because they are hers, feels she can loan them out without question. She has bought hundreds of books now and she states that bookshelves adorn three of the walls in her classroom. She has organised the books into genres so it is quick to find recommendations for students.
This week I bought a bookshelf for all classrooms. A small start in creating a classroom library. I am currently challenging myself to the Carniege list and each time I finish a book from the Carniege list, this book will be added to my classroom library. As I am sitting here reading this, I am thinking how nice it might be to also add the texts that really left a mark on me as I was growing up: Matilda, for example, is one such text. I will include non-fiction but am yet undecided about magazines. Some might argue any reading is reading but I really want them to read novels.
Recommendation number 2: Interest surveys
Before you can recommend a book to a student, you need to know their interests. She recommends giving students a survey at the start of the year to find out what they like. The survey she uses, however, does not focus on literature but other interests as well that teachers could then link to texts with the help of a librarian. I typed the interest survey up and gave it to all my KS3 students. Having recently taken on quite a challenging group of students, it really gave me an insight into them and it struck me that they all had two things in common: a love of football and a love of gaming which has enabled me to connect with the librarian and find books with these themes to engage them further with reading. I have now stored these in their library folder so the next time they are struggling we can find something together.
Here is a copy of the survey typed up:Interest survey
Recommendation number 3: Reading every day
This is a given isn’t it. They encourage 20 minutes every day and whilst we have introduced DEAR, it is done in a rather more haphazard way and not scheduled. Therefore, I have taken drastic action – all of our students now read for the first 10 minutes of their English lesson. Ok, so it isn’t 20 minutes but it’s a start. She argues that students who read in class are more likely to read at home as well and has evidence from evaluations completed that this has been the case. She also says that you must let students read what they wish to read. So, for the most part, this is happening at my academy. I am making year 11 re-read Of Mice and Men in those 10 minutes and will then make them read An Inspector Calls. We have also thought about 19th century texts for year 10 BUT KS3 get to read their choices. It has been an absolute pleasure to see this in fruition. The calm start and seeing all students in possession of a book has been a pleasure. For those that don’t have a book, I have the start of my class library. One student picked up The Boy At The Top of the Mountain by John Boyne on day one and has told me how much he is enjoying it and, therefore, wants to stick with it. She insists, and I agree with her, that the teacher must read too. It can be hard to get lost in admin and worry over getting resources ready but she states that students must see the teacher reader. Yesterday, when I got my book out, many students commented that I had finished my other book and so this told me that they are interested in what I am reading and paying attention to this. I also made a point when I had finished the book of drawing their attention to this, saying that I had really enjoyed the book, offering a brief synopsis and telling them it was being added to the class library so if they wanted to read it, they could.
Recommendation number 4: The 40 book challenge
All students will read 40 books in a year. She says 20 something is too low. She also argues that if students don’t make the 40, no doubt they will have read more than they have ever read in trying to get to that magic number. Miller says 22 is the lowest. Today, I told my challenge group they were going to read 40 books this year. They were shocked. Reactions included, ‘I haven’t ever read one book’ to ‘I won’t be able to’. Then someone mentioned reading a short book and I told them there was no stipulation on how long the books were. They beamed with pride, believing they had cheated the system and not realising that the act of reading – whether the books are short or long – is the real winner J
Miller isn’t an advocate of testing and programmes such as AR. I understand why this is – it brings nothing to the joy of reading with many students associating books with quizzes and testing itself. However, schools buy in these programmes and these tests and quizzes must be taken. In the book, she explores a range of methods to tracks students’ reading – many of which she discounts because she feels the tracking is for teachers’ purposes and not students. Her most favourite is the review or a letter to the teacher which I am currently exploring. However, what she did make me think about was the input required before asking students to review a book – teaching them what a review looks like, the language used in a review etc etc.
I really enjoyed this book and found lots of food for thought in it.
Over the next few weeks I will be
- Continuing to produce the reading league each fortnight of students who have quizzed and passed on AR, quizzed and those, sadly, who haven’t. This is displayed in tutor groups and has had an impact on the number of students quizzing.
- Book recommendations. Get students in KS3 to write book recommendations, like the ones you see in Waterstones and attach these to the library shelves.
- Create our AR, reading review, 40 book challenge journal.
- Publicise the 40 book challenge, our word millionaire and other reading success stories.
- Begin to organise our World Book Week – our own version of a readathon, a cake off, decorating doors and lots and lots of reading activities.