I first started blogging in the Christmas Holiday of 2021. During lockdown I busied a lot of my time on Twitter, making some great connections and friendships and also learning a lot from many practitioners who blogged!
After a brilliant webinar by Tonia Bono @Toriaclaire on how to start and set up a blog, I took the plunge and started Tomsbookcorner. When I first started up I envisaged a mixture of posts and reviews about books and also posts about education and more specifically reading in schools.
As time went on I fell more into the review category as imposter syndrome took hold leaving me severely lacking in confidence that anyone would want to hear anything I have to say about education. As I hit my 100th blog post I decided to be a bit braver and begin to write some things about reading in schools and lets see where it takes me.
Every school seems tasked with creating a reading culture or developing a love of reading within their school. I want to first start out by saying that this is not something that can happen over night and can take many years of building and layers to have a true reading culture within school. I have been at my school for a whole year now and we are not there yet! We have great aspirations to be a truly reading school but as I said, it takes time. Having said that here are a few of my musings and ideas that I feel work best.
1. Do the incentives work?
Over the years, I’ve seen so many strategies to try and encourage reading – competitions, badges, certificates. Do they have an impact? I would go as far as saying – somewhat. But in my experience, those sort of incentives only really work for those who already read and already love reading. Then it can become just another outlet for those readers to celebrate how good and enthusiastic they already were while those who hate reading, still do! Children aren’t going to do something they hate so they can get a badge or so they can win a competition to win more books which they hate.
2. Make it personal
So how do you get a self professed ‘reading hater’ to enjoy reading? In my experience the most effective way is – recommendations. Yes it’s not a magic wand or a clever gimmick, it’s by saying “I’ve read this book and I think you’ll really enjoy it too.” But that’s just the start. Check in on them: “Have you made it to chapter 13 yet? Wasn’t it shocking? Did you see it coming? Who do you think did it?” Or simply “How are you finding it?” Investing that time in those children builds a sense of belonging – someone else is invested in my enjoyment.
3. Genres over unicorns
Not sure if this is controversial or not, but over the years I’ve seen many classrooms have ‘Books for boys’ all about football and ‘Books for girls’ all about unicorns and fairies. But does the subject matter tell you anything about what type of book it is? When I started doing little videos at school recommending and talking about books as part of assemblies, I had so many children come and ask me for ‘Mystery or Murder’ books. No longer asking for books about pirates, or robots but wanting a whodunnit for them to work out. Or they asked for fantasy/magic books as they wanted to escape into another world.
I find being really explicit about genres helps children find their bag! What is it they want to get out of a book rather than just reading a book about donkeys.
It really helps to link it to film and television too. Talking about what they enjoy to watch. If they like superhero/Marvel films, dig a little deeper into what it is that they like about them. Is it the action? Is it the fantasy? Is it the theme of good vs Evil? Is it satisfying to see the heroes win? Do they like a twist? Do they like a whodunnit? Do they like the comedy? All of these questions can help unpick exactly what it is that leads them to gravitate towards certain things which can help direct them to a book they would like.
4. Try before you buy
One (you could argue gimmicky) thing I used to do which I found really effective was ‘First Chapter Friday’. I often used to watch children go to the book corner and just grab a book and sit down, never reading the blurb or thinking critically about whether they think they’d enjoy it. So every Friday I would pick a book and read aloud the first chapter to them. I’d be strategic about it, so pick books with hilarious open chapters or a shocking twist straight away. Then after reading the first chapter I would ask the class if anyone wants to carry on reading it. Without fail, there would be at least five hands up. For some children they don’t know they’ll enjoy reading until they’ve experienced a bit of it first and enjoyed it.
5. Author Power
The easiest recommend you can make is “you read and enjoyed that book by x, here is another book by them!” Researching when their new book is out and creating a buzz about it is also brilliant (Hopefully your school has the budget to buy the new book). But where possible, engaging with the author on social media brings so much excitement to a class. Recently, a Year 5 teacher at my school set up a twitter account just so she could tweet Onjali Q Rauf and let her know that she is their class author next year. Onjali tweeted back and the children were absolutely enthralled. In my experience, most authors love to know if children or classes are reading and enjoying their books and will often tweet back a response. Similarly, if you can book an author visit (or an author virtual visit) of an author you’re reading or studying, this can really create a sense of magic.
I talk a lot about the importance of representation in children’s books because children need to see themselves in books. If they see themselves, they can relate better. Ensuring that children have access to books that reflect their culture or their home life is a great way to encourage reluctant readers to pick up a book. I can’t tell you how it feels when a child’s eyes light up when the person on the cover is just like them!
But I’m not a reader teacher!
I will be the last person to tell all teachers that they need to spend all of their spare time reading children’s books to make them better teachers. I am passionate about teacher workload! However, I am passionate about reading and enjoy reading children’s books which has enabled me to begin to create this culture within our school. But if you are not so inclined or just want to do other things with your downtime then my advice would be utilise the knowledge of reader teachers! If you have one in your school, ask them for recommendations, talk to the children about them “I wonder if Mrs X has read that book? Ask her next time you see her. I’ve been speaking to Mr Y who really enjoyed the same book you read and recommends this one too!” Just adding a little context to a recommendation gives it a little more impact I find.
Alternatively, there are so many magnificent reader teachers/librarians on Twitter who share wonderful books and also have a wealth of knowledge for recommendations:
@TJGriffiths @jacquiS21 @karen_wallee @KateHeap1 @erinlynhamilton @KevC46 @MrEPrimary @eenalol @MrsT_reads @OwlHandsOnDeck @Valda_Varadinek @vonprice @rumena_aktar @mrTteaching @jonnybid @Misterbodd @one_to_read @jenniferob81 @missvlbishop @KarlDuke8 @JHaddell @richreadalot @teacher_mr_r @emmakuyatah @rcharlesworth @MrHtheteacher
There are so many others and apologies if I missed any out!
It dawns on me that I could continue to write about this subject for days but maybe I’ll save the rest for another post – lets see iff anyone reads this one first. (Similarly, there is far greater knowledge on this subject by better people – you don’t need to look very far – but a good place to start would be the open university reading for pleasure website!).
But if I were to leave you with one thing, don’t underestimate the power of a personal recommendation.