Writers write ; it goes without saying. We bed down for months, even years, in our studies and sheds, in our cafés and cubbyholes, typing away, drafting and editing and drinking far too much coffee.
For children’s writers there’s a real concern at the moment that because of the pressure of delivering the National Curriculum, teachers aren’t reading as much to their classes. I don’t mean they’re not looking at texts – there’s plenty of that going on – but they’re not reading a book for the book’s sake. In other words, for the sheer pleasure of sharing a story. Studies also show parents aren’t reading much to their kids at home, either. What with libraries and bookshops shutting left, right and centre it all feels a bit gloomy. Reading for pleasure is so important. Children who read for pleasure do better academically, regardless of background. FACT. But fear not. From what I’ve seen recently, perception isn’t matched by reality. Yes, all those things are true but there’s a lot going on out there to stop the rot.
Take Tim Redgrave’s school, Ysgol Esgob Morgan. They manage to deliver the National Curriculum and still make time for reading. Not only make time for it but make it central to everything they do. As I type they’re knocking walls down to extend their library (OK, I’m writing this on a Saturday so that’s a fib but you catch my drift…). They have author visits and a Patron of Reading and book displays everywhere. They participate in whatever the library services throw at them, from Chatterbooks to the Big Book Quiz. They are doing everything they can to turn their pupils into bookworms. In doing so, they are giving them a gift for life.
Headteacher Mr Tim Redgrave with pupils at Ysgol Esgob Morgan last July
Then there’s the Y3/4 class I visited at Sutton-on-Trent this week. Mrs Jones, the Literacy Coordinator, has done everything she can to promote a reading culture in the school. Her hard work is paying off. Sutton-on-Trent had the highest participation in the Summer Reading Challenge in the area. I met the class, Y3/4, who helped win that accolade. I spent the best hour ever talking books with them. Keen readers? Just a bit!
Mrs King and Mrs Beeching’s Y3/4 class at Sutton-on-Trent holding up lists of their favourite books.
Roald Dahl was a firm favourite.However…
My Girls FC titles cropped up, too. Go me! More importantly, ‘go’teachers at Sutton-on-Trent Primary for bringing new titles into their library. Children need a wide variety of up-to-date books to choose from to suit their different tastes.
Let’s not forget the gatekeepers. The gatekeepers are the different organisations that keep the whole chain going. The ones who inform the teachers what’s out there in book world so the teachers can pass that knowledge on to their pupils. Number 1 in the gatekeepers’ league are librarians. End of. But there are many, many other organisations out there too. On Monday morning I was at the Reading Agency who do everything they can to promote reading for enjoyment, as you can see from their website and in the afternoon I met David Reedy from UKLA who do a similarly important job of spreading the word. On Thursday I was a keynote speaker at a conference hosted by Cfbt Lincolnshire. The Cfb trust runs courses for teachers and also produces the fabulous Rooted in Reading passports.
The Rooted in Reading project includes these fun passports so children and adults can record the books they’ve read. There are different types of passports for different users and different genres. Fun to use and a great way to record a pupils’ reading life.
I was invited by Cfbt to talk about reading for pleasure to about thirty teachers from all over Lincolnshire. After my rockin’ PowerPoint presentation I stayed for one of the seminars. It was about how to stretch the more able readers in Y6 so they could achieve a Level 5 or 6 in their SATs. Gaining a level 5 or 6 at reading is tough. I had no idea how tough. Pupils have to deduce and infer and look at ‘authorial intent’. ‘Authorial intent’ scared the pants off me. I rarely have any intent at all when I’m writing the book, apart from finishing it and hoping it’s enjoyable! Anyway, I met some delightfully keen and enthusiastic teachers who were obviously ‘up’ on children’s books. I’ve ordered three titles they recommended, including Shaun Tan’s The Arrival. Can’t wait.
I’m off to the football now. Huddersfield Town v Wolverhampton Wanderers. A win would be the cherry on the cake of my interesting week.