UKEdMag: Broadening Horizons – The benefits of a Whole School Book Week by @stuartrgdyer

The Book Week is not a new or innovative idea, with many such events ending up with pupils dressing up as a princess, Harry Potter, or Where’s Wally. Nothing wrong with that, but broadening pupils reading experiences is key as they develop to become proficient readers. In this article extract – from the August 2014 edition of UKEdMagazine – Stuart Dyer shares his experience of trying something new at his school, and the unexpected outcomes that were evident as a result.

As a new subject leader for reading in a high performing junior school, in September 2013 I investigated the levels of enthusiasm for reading throughout the school. I was encouraged by the responses:

           “I love reading. I’m always taking books home from school.”

           “My teacher really encourages me to read. She’s always giving books to my mum.”

 However, scratching beneath the surface, I noticed pupils’ reading habits were rather uniform. Empty spaces on the library bookshelves could invariably be found under “D” for Dahl, “M” for Morpurgo and “W” for Walliams.

A desire to broaden our pupils’ reading horizons was swimming round my head one afternoon when a colleague asked me, “Have you thought of a theme for this year’s Book Week, yet?”

My idea was Book Week 2014… Try Something New. This was a departure from previously successful Book Weeks at the school. With no focus on one particular author or genre, pupils would instead be encouraged to read as much as possible from all different genres. To spark interest, we produced a goofy video, featuring teachers swapping their fairy tales for Horrible Histories, adventure novels for encyclopaedias and ‘chick-lit’ for dictionaries! I immediately noticed positive reactions from the children. We had made the idea of reading something unusual seem silly and fun and I was confident that they would all be happy to try it themselves; once. The challenge would be to encourage pupils to depart from established reading habits and choose from a range of genres more frequently. This was the objective of our Book Week and to attain it we implemented a number of strategies.

Dress-Up Monday

Pupils dressed as any book or character they chose, however, they also had to prepare a ‘walking blurb’ – a short synopsis of the book upon which their costume was based. Having seen our promotional video on the school blog, parents were enthusiastic and many of the costumes were fantastic! An assembly at the beginning of the day celebrated the best efforts and rewarded the most impressive ‘walking blurbs’.

Giving Choices

On Monday morning, each teacher laid out all their reading material on pupils’ tables. Books, encyclopaedias, magazines, newspapers, comics… instruction manuals for Lego! The array of literature was made available for pupils throughout the week and a book sale took place in the school hall each evening.

“Whoosh” a book

Teachers based their literacy lessons throughout the week on a classic book or tale that most pupils would not have read, such as 5 Children and It or The Selfish Giant. Lessons started with a ‘Whoosh’ (see – a drama activity that allows all children in the class to learn a whole story through drama activities. One of the authors of the ‘Whoosh Book’ was invited in to deliver some of the activities herself and led an assembly.

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