Wednesday Period 0 – Literacy

I must confess I haven’t ever taught anyone to read, even my own children just (did) – thank a teacher there oh and Biff and Chipp. At times in my career I have wished I could really do that. It is so difficult for a poor reader in Y7 to access some parts of a curriculum and I’ve not got much idea how to help them improve reading. As a Y7 Science teacher I’ve got a load of things I want to do with them and for them and they are ssooooo keen, but I have spotted the odd struggler, especially when we read aloud. I do my bit for literacy but I sense I might be a bit late arriving at the party. I am pretty useless at teaching to read and must sound to them like my Dad did to me when he taught me to ride a bicycle “just balance it John, pedal and balance” – as I fell off for the nth time. Dad just could not explain the concept of balancing to a child. I too just seem to say to those Y7…..read, just read, and read more. I think this is also the nearest I got to teaching my own children to read. We read together and I echoed read read read. It can work though, one of my children did read, read, read to the extent I had to persuade her there was more to life than reading (sorry English colleagues) Whilst her SATs and GCSE and AS Levels showed the benefits, that was a mere flicker of what a true love of reading and literature brought to her and can bring whatever any of us “do” for a job.

Kansas State Library

Kansas State Library

I have therefore always sensed literacy skills and reading ability was much more than just accessing school, it’s about all the lovely, wonderful things literature can bring to us. As a child we had very few books at home, an old encyclopaedia (remember them?) and a few dusty ‘Jennings’ books, and the odd ‘Swallows and Amazons’. I have to say that I made up for that once I had some money. But don’t be misled I wasn’t deprived, my Dad took me every week to the local library ( not by bicycle), we took 3 books out for the week. Yes we did, he took three and I did too. I was never very good at English though, I never could see how my own teachers could draw such conclusions from a narrative, to me it was a story, to them there was allegory, moral, message – I was heading for Science. BUT a strange thing happened on the way. In the sixth form (Y12) I found my timetable said Maths, Physics, Chemistry and “English for Scientists“. The first lesson was a difficult one, as Mr Cecil Scholar arrived and asked us what we wanted to do; after all we all had Language and Lit O-Level. We didnt need a qualification, his duty was to help continue to improve our English. On balance I think he wanted to be in that room slightly less than us, he probably had a slightly light timetable and got pushed our way. His eyes did though light up when we made a suggestion. “Sir just come in and tell us about your favourite books, the poems that inspired you, tell us about the plays on at the Coventry Belgrade or the Hippodrome, or even at Stratford (though not the big serious stuff)”. He did, and for the first time in my life I really enjoyed reading; I knew where to start, I could see some sense, even some morals, some hidden meanings. I began the journey into a whole new world. I was destined for Chemistry but I was on track with what we tweeter people would describe as a geniune #lovereading.

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There was all the noise on twitter over the Gove decisions about ‘To Kill a Mocking Bird” and “Of mice and men”. Opinion may be split – ‘what is he doing?’ vs ‘It never did anything for me’. In the 70’s I had few distractions, little on TV and a life of sport and studlibrary on t beachy, today the activities are endless but we neglect giving children the love of reading at our peril. Long might our school keep it’s literacy sessions, stopping only occasionally for a tutor group or a year group (and a teacher) to share what they are reading and why, to encourage the window to be thrown open yet wider. We might need all the tools we can find, so I hope teachers will still use those books and plays and poems and tricks that they know work, and on occasions when they don’t work for a learner, they try something else from the canon. I hope the introduction to a library treasure trove continues. I liked that poster below from the Chicago library about the letters, there really can’t be anything more magical.

In the near future we might be trying to get ‘more Maths” for all those post 16 not doing Maths, I do hope we never neglect the mission to inspire the learner to read, read, read, and #lovereading. Oh and if you are still around Mr Scholar, thank you – the school got no points, no inspection comments but this little scientist was genuinely grateful. As they say if you can read this, thank a teacher.

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Some questions to consider:

Q1 Knowing how important reading is and our desire to foster a genuine love of reading, but do we have to do some forcing when pupils are younger, and older?

Q2 What ways have you found to encourage reading, what works , what doesn’t work for you; for your classes and for your school?

Q3 what got you into reading?

Q4 Should we discipline ourselves to reading an hour a day of fiction, or Educational research, or is a scan over the TES and a bag full of tweets enough?

For those in a Church school:

I’m not Bible scholar but I do note in the New testament Jesus says at least ten times…”haven’t you read?”
reading cartoon

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11 thoughts on “Wednesday Period 0 – Literacy

  1. I love reading, I love poetry, I love plays. I’m a maths teacher and I love all these things. In the past, though, I have found on my timetable “Eric” (Everyone reading in coaching) and “Literacy” (an hours quiet reading in the library). Both of then I had hoped to be like the utopian reading Wednesdays you describe, but both consisted of ks3 pupils complaining and arguing the entire time about being forced to read. I’m fairly sure a lot of them were turned off reading by the experience. I had thought that perhaps reading was something that shouldn’t be forced, something you needed to be in the mood for, but reading your post suggests this model can work. Why do you think it is successful in your school?

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    • That’s a good question! It does work with us so difficult to say why doesn’t work elsewhere. We have great English staff, I mean that, to a person brilliant, they support and promote the reading. The importance of the work with the ‘paired reading’ joint post 16 /Y7 also adds to how vital it is, in a sense they see older peers value reading.We have big commitment from SLT on literacy and all staff see benefit. Promoting reading at every opportunity too and sharing what we are reading and enjoying. I daresay if we did do some sort of assessment etc we would find some pupils do not see the benefit but it is part of our culture and routine and it works. We do get good exam results and like most learning that success has some complexity behind it, the literacy can be mentioned as part of the success and that helps and I think our children recognise that, as do their parents.
      PS An hour can be a long time for KS3 too, realistically ours is 20 min

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  2. @Organic_Jane made a comment to me on twitter: “My dyslexic child will read factual books but not fiction. Hard work when rest of us are book worms”

    it made me wonder if dyslexic pupils could really help each other here by sharing what enjoy and like, or maybe building a specific bank or list in the library. Does anyone do that? I’ll check this out with our support team after half term.

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  3. Enjoyed your post, John – and as someone who taught English for 30 years (including when I was a head) and who has always loved reading, I really liked the Weds period 0 initiative.

    I think choice is key – OK, you have to read, but you can choose what you read. I would ask why it should be fiction. I love fiction, but accept not everyone does (including my scientist husband…) The comment from @Organic_Jane made me think. I’d say ‘bookworms’ could be hooked on non-fiction, biography, comic strips, whatever – even textbooks! And I would recommend we embrace the Kindle as well as ‘real’ books – doesn’t the experience of reading matter more than the vehicle?

    Just my views! Thanks again for the post.

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    • Thank you Jill. Originally we wanted it to be fiction so that a) it wasnt making it a “study” type of session and b) to try and encourage younger pupils to actually bring a book to read for “fun”. Our pupils aren’t always angels and so might just pull a text book out the bag. We wanted to help them all appreciate the ‘joy’ of reading for pleasure. As they get older and nearer exam sessions the “rules” on type are somewhat relaxed. I agree on kindles, we have used them successfully in the paired reading and in the library but beyond that we are a DNBOYD school.

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