Heather Wright, teacher and #ReadingRocks organiser, The District CE Primary School, St Helens
I’m partial to a long soak in the bath with a good book, with the odd hot water top up and a nice glass of wine. I remember when I first met my husband: I loved the way he’d get the weekend papers and sprawl across the floor with them laid out around and beneath him, feet crossed over in the air. Nowadays, we find ourselves cuddled up to read a great picture book or to pore over a new animal non-fiction, with the odd cuddly dinosaur amongst us with our 4 year old bookish little girl. They are all different ways and places, but all safe, comfortable and chosen by us.
I wonder when, where and how you choose to read? It’s important to take a bit of time to consider this. How can we create places for our pupils to read if we don’t reflect on all the ways, places, times people choose to read?
For many of us, it isn’t sat up straight at a desk (yet there’s always time and space for this, and reading for purpose – one for another blog). I asked the @ReadingRocks_17 community if they ever read for pleasure at a desk. Of the 160 who responded, only 4% read for pleasure at a desk all the time.
Yet, often, where is it we ask our pupils to read? At their desk!
I say again, this habit of regular reading is really important, and likewise reading for purpose, but if we want to go further than this and build a culture of ‘reading for pleasure’ we need to carve out places of comfort, quiet, solace and beauty that pupils can choose to read in.
It is important to show pupils how valued reading is, in all its forms, all around school. When we set about on our Year of Reading at The District CE Primary School, our aim was to drench the school and pupils in all things reading. Three years later, reading is everywhere you look and, more importantly, so are the readers!
We were incredibly fortunate that our senior leadership team invested in reading not just with support, time and passion but also with funding. We set about creating places for pupils to read for pleasure. Yet it isn’t enough to just make places for reading. You need to model how to use them, talk about them, celebrate those who use them and, vitally, provide the right reading material.
We open up our libraries at lunchtime, staffed by our Reading Champion (@McFarlaneLesley) and her band of willing Pupil Librarians, for those who want to choose to browse the books or read indoors. There’s usually a few children cuddled up on the reading chair listening to one of our audio books, too. The power of pupil to pupil recommendations cannot be underestimated. It’s just lovely to hear their book talk! How lovely to see when friends choose the same book so they can discuss it.What is the right reading material? Well, if I asked you all what you liked to read, the range would be huge. The same can be said for our pupils. So we have a duty to provide a range of high quality materials: fiction books, non-fiction books, magazines, newspapers and comics. We mustn’t judge their choices, letting find their own likes and dislikes (just make good quality available). These books MUST be accessible in ‘free times’, like playtime and lunchtime. This could be that pupils can bring books from their own class libraries outside, or that Pupil Librarians bring out the book trolley. Or, of course, let pupils bring their own in.
For those that like a taste of the outdoors, our Reading Garden is a lovely spot for reading and storytelling. This is such a great spot in our school that both staff and pupils love. We’ve recently planted more bulbs in the garden. Investing in a place and looking after it shows the children the importance we give it. Over on Twitter, during the summer holidays, many folks tweeted using the hashtag #ViewFromABook. Reading in the great outdoors suits many people. Let your pupils see if that’s their preference by giving them the opportunity.
So, if you’re hoping to develop a ‘reading for pleasure’ culture in your school, what’s my advice (even if funding is tight)?
• Invest in a range of quality reading materials. (Don’t send the old, damaged books outdoors).
• Carve out places for pupils to read at playtime and lunchtime. This can simply be reclaimed tractor tyres; renaming existing benches; picnic mats and a book trolley.
• Look after these spots and give the children ownership.
• Let all things reading drip from every pore of your school: utilise any display space going spare to promote books, newspapers, magazines, authors and illustrators.
• Prioritise your library: get it buzzing and make it the heart of the school.
• Get out there and show them how it’s done! Model to pupils what reading for pleasure looks like. Encourage older bookworms to read to and story-tell with younger pupils.