This was written for the Nottingham City Council campaign and is on the NCC intranet but it might get more publicity for reading out in the open
We are encouraging more children to read as part of the council’s new literacy campaign ‘Ambitious for every child’. We know that an early love of books and reading can help children to be more successful in the future. In this blog, our Education Director John Dexter reflects on his early experience of books and the impact it had on his life and teaching career…
The great children’s writer Roald Dahl said of reading: “I have a passion for teaching kids to become readers, to become comfortable with a book, not daunted. Books shouldn’t be daunting, they should be funny, exciting and wonderful; and learning to be a reader gives a terrific advantage.”
When I was a child, we had very few books at home, only one or two suitable for children, so I read those several times, but my Dad took me to the library every few weeks. I loved those trips, partly being with him, which was rare, and partly as I entered a new world every week:
- Outer space, imaginary planets, inconceivable journeys, hideouts, far off islands, distant countries, danger…
- The world of pirates, ancient peoples, Victorians, Romans, firefighters, commanders, heroes, ghosts…
- Safely in a war zone, a baking hot African country, the freezing ice sheets of Antarctica, the beauty of mountain landscape, the enchanting Far East, the hill stations of India, an adventure with superheroes…
Sometimes escaping, often fantastic, occasionally scary, always learning. But so grateful for the world I entered. It’s not just about learning the basics of reading to access the modern world, it is about being literate, about learning and sharing, enjoying and getting ideas, or having ideas challenged.
As a teacher, you might expect me to say all this but I was never very comfortable with English, let alone English Literature (a subject I failed aged 16). Not until I met with Mr Scholar (great name for a teacher). As I chose to study science, my school insisted we had “extra” English lessons – I almost despaired but probably not as much as Mr Scholar. So we came to an agreement, there was no syllabus, no exam so why didn’t he tell us what he loved to read: fiction, non-fiction, plays poetry… that set me on the road to enjoying reading and that helped me become literate.
When I worked in secondary schools, I am proud of the literacy challenges we put in place: every Wednesday, 25 minutes of silent reading, save those who struggled to read helped by trained sixth form literacy coaches. This routine said:
- reading is important enough to have on the secondary curriculum
- there is a need for time set aside to read seriously and
- promoting discussion between pupils and between staff and pupils about reading, about books, about fiction or non-fiction is healthy
- ambitions can be fuelled by literacy
For me that was great, I honestly believed reading was just so undervalued. I once made my Year 11 Science class read aloud for a whole hour lesson. At the end, one student said: “I can’t believe how much I have learnt Sir, it helped me make sense of many of our lessons.” This said something about me, probably, but I just hoped he would read the rest of the book.
I was sooooo enthusiastic to get my own children to read. But here sits a secondary teacher with no idea how to teach reading, so it was the obvious: read to them, read with them, listen to them, tell them stories, find stories, get them to find stories… and I remembered that’s what my Dad did too; he took me to the library and he took books out as well. Adults can model the importance of reading by reading themselves, set aside time, and help choose books or give them as gifts.
I am envious of the wonderful array of books available today, and at reasonable costs, but the Dolly Parton Imagination Library sending 60 books over five years to small children offers a great opportunity to start reading, start imagining, to relax reading and even to find a better balance in life. But most of all to learn and enter the funny, exciting and wonderful world Dahl describes.
Go on, be ambitious and give it a go.
If you wish to support Councillor Mellen’s big read, please do so here.
OR BETTER Still tell us all about a book you loved as a child, or loved reading to your children or grandchildren or would give as a gift?