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Over the years, I’m lucky to have had the chance to help lots of children fall in love with reading. It takes time, effort and lots of enthusiasm, but it’s always worth it. I am about to share with you my reading top tips. Are you sitting comfortably?
Unfortunately, these suggestions have not gone down well in some schools.
Too many times I have been handed my non-negotiables for how to inspire children to read, most of which are centred around having a reading corner in the classroom.
Not just any reading corner. Oh no, a super-duper, all-singing, all-dancing reading corner with cushions, lights, modern books and colourful posters with quotes from fictional characters.
Don’t get me wrong, a reading corner can look nice, but unless you actually engage with the children and their reading, there’s not much point to them.
Let me explain. I asked a teacher the other day if he had any copies of Alex Rider books. “I’m not sure,” he replied. “What about any Philip Pullman books?” I enquired.
He didn’t know for sure. His reading corner looked lovely, but he had no idea what books were on his shelf. As I took a closer look to find the particular titles I was looking for, I soon discovered the familiar reading corner reality.
The book case was packed. But over 50 per cent of the books were damaged and unusable. Protective coverings were absent, decades-old editions that looked dated, sat unloved.
A common misconception schools have is that because they have lots of titles for the children to choose from, their provision is good. Nobody likes throwing books away, so they sit forlornly in the reading corner for years.
One school I worked at recently told me off for throwing away lots of books in my reading corner. The titles were all very tatty and over 20 years old.
“Why on earth did you do that? Now we don’t have enough books,” the head exclaimed. I nodded and said, “Yes, you might have to spend some money now. Children need a wider range of books that are new and attractive enough to want to pick up.”
I told another headteacher recently that over half of the books in classrooms had been funded by the teachers. She was shocked. The book cases looked packed so she had no reason to assume she needed to replenish stock.
Crafting trees, lampposts and other 3D objects in my reading corner serves absolutely no purpose unless it contains half decent and modern books!
Telling KS2 teachers to have cushions and twinkly lights in their reading corner is a lovely idea, but within minutes of pupils standing there, I hear them saying, “Hurry up, choose a book and sit back down.” Or, “Stop talking, please.”
In fact, having children in the reading corner is often more disruptive than productive.
One non-negotiable that always makes me angry is: Ensure high-quality texts are accessible in the reading corner. I know it might sound odd to oppose this, because of course, in an ideal world, ‘high-quality’ texts would be wonderful.
But in reality, schools often can’t or won’t spend money supporting this statement, and it’s the teachers that get it in the neck.
Or worse still, I’ve been told to remove books that kids love – by David Walliams, or The Diary of the Wimpy Kid series. I don’t understand this attitude. My first headteacher said I had to remove all the Beast Quest books from my room because he felt the story lines and language were too simple.
Snobby attitudes like this irritate me. Yes, read high-quality texts to the class. But don’t ban books for children if they enjoy them.
Our school had a reading learning walk recently, and top of the agenda was ensuring each class had an exciting reading corner to inspire children to read.
Everyone went to town of course – they looked amazing. We all passed! But the quality of the books in said corners were substandard and thus, utterly pointless.
A reading corner is only as good as its books. Schools need to ring-fence money every year to buy decent titles, and realise that a bit of redecoration just isn’t going to do it.
The writer is a primary teacher in England
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