One of the things I am proudest of, if I look back over my career as a teacher, is the number of children I have passed on my love of reading to. As a dyslexic, I am arguably not a natural reader. But any difficulty I experienced with it has always been surpassed by my love of words and my love of escapism.
Books transport us to whole new words, they give us experiences we have never even dared dream of, and they provide a ready source of friends even when the real world feels bleak.
Growing up in a small northern working class town, attending a school where most of my peers had few dreams for their future, with parents who both readily admit they have never read a book between them – I am all too aware of the enormous gift that reading provided me with.
It was escapism at its best.
A route away from a life where I often felt misunderstood. A chance of seeing that beyond the boundaries of the place I lived were worlds, where just maybe, I might find a place to be me.
So now, you know the reason why reading matters to me.
But in reality how can you achieve that?
All reading is good reading
I believe passionately in not vilifying anything a pupil is reading. Whether they want to find all the facts there are to know about Pokemon or Yu-Gi-Oh characters via playing their favourite card game, or whether they want to make the best chocolate cake there is by following new recipes – Reading is reading. Words are being stored for future usage, and children begin to tie that activity to the love of their hobby. Reading no longer feels like a chore because it is part of a passion.
Always have a wide variety of material
Each month a part of my salary goes on books for my classroom. And I make an effort to include books that I wouldn’t read myself in that selection. I don’t want my pupils to be clones of me, I want them to have access to books written in as many genres and styles as possible. I want them to always have a new direction to turn it, to find reading matter that works for them. Incidentally graphic novels are usually amongst the most popular material on my shelves.
Hand the power over to classes
I regularly take requests for new books, and when they arrive they literally fly off the shelves. The fact that the pupils have requested their arrival means they anticipate them coming, and when they do there is always a queue in line to borrow them.
Encourage reviews and recommendations
There are books on my shelves that have legendary status, books that literally never make it back to the shelf. And that isn’t because I recommend them, it’s because my pupils do. Talking about books is encouraged and we regularly drop everything for five minutes whilst I ask for volunteers to share something they have recently enjoyed.
Show enthusiasm… and mean it
My pupils are under no illusions that my books are my most prized possessions, and because they know that they cherish them. They don’t fold the corners down or leave them lying around, because books are our gold. They know I get excited when they fall in love with a story, they can’t wait to tell me, and they know I will respond with excitement.
Know the books on your shelves
The truth is I can’t remember the last time I sat and read an adult book, but children’s books, they are my passion. I know each and every book on our classroom bookshelves – when I worked in secondary I knew the school library like the back of my hand. If I haven’t read the full book, I’ve read reviews of it and I’ve spoken to children who have. Knowing your books is like a magical secret weapon that allows you to find the perfect book for the perfect pupil, ideal for engaging those who aren’t sure what they would like to know best.
Don’t reward for reading
As soon as you reward pupils for reading, it devalues it, makes it lesser. In short it becomes a chore. Instead make reading the reward. Read a chapter aloud if a lesson goes well, busty a new book because a child has excelled, make being class librarian the job every child wants…