Changing DEAR For The Better by @Lit4Pleasure

This is a grass-roots account of how, in one term, two teachers have taken one class’s reading in school beyond the confines of DEAR and have transformed it into a central, natural and wholly pleasurable part of the life of a classroom.


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Why We Felt The Need For Change?

As the new teachers of this class wanting to establish a ‘reading classroom’, we felt we needed to find more time in the school day for private reading than is allowed by the usual daily fifteen to twenty minutes for Drop Everything and Read (DEAR). Thus, when children in our class arrive in the morning, they are not now immediately faced with a ‘starter’ activity, but begin the day in a quiet, humane, stress-free way with fifteen minutes of personal reading of a book they are enjoying. They have a second, thirty-minute session of reading (including time for browsing) at the beginning of every afternoon. They know, too, that when they have finished their set tasks, they can either ‘free-write’ or continue reading. They do both, happily, in equal measure. This means each child is reading a minimum of 3 hours and 45 minutes a week. For children that do their 30 minutes of home reading, this equates to over 7 hours of reading a week!

Dispensing With ‘Title – Page Number’ Replaced With ‘Book-Letters’.

We think it is important and totally justifiable to set aside this amount of time for reading in school because, in our experience, you cannot assume that all children are reading much at home, given the legitimate pressures of outside activities and the attractions of technology. We have, however, devised ways of monitoring  the extent of their home reading. We have dispensed with the daily ‘title and page number’ entry in their home-school reading record book, which was often a pointless exercise; usually filled in the same rushed handwriting and pen colour the morning it was due in! Now, over the weekend, children write a short ‘book-letter’ addressed to us in their reading record book, to which we write a brief reply.

Tracking Reading

To keep track of reading, we spend ten minutes a couple of times a week during DEAR time collecting this information from each child and putting it on a spread-sheet. We also ask each child to make a quick comment on how the reading is going and to rate any book they’ve read or abandoned out of 10. Children are also allowed to give a book a STAR rating. The spread-sheet  enables us to see at a glance how much reading is going on, and gives us valuable information about the range of books chosen by each child and how they are developing personal tastes and preferences.

CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD THE SPREADSHEET

We enter the titles of books children have abandoned (the rule being that you must read at least twenty pages before giving it up), and this alerts us to the need to support some children with book choice. We also record our own reading of children’s books on the system.

Bringing One Book To & From School Everyday

Very early on, we made a change to the status quo. It seemed that many children were reading one book at school and one at home, which  we felt could result in lack of continuity and loss of motivation.  We asked the children to read one book at a time, taking it home every night and bringing it to school the next day. Through encouragement and reminders, the children generally do this. If they do forget to bring their book in in the morning, they know that, rather than beginning a new chapter book, they will choose from non-fiction, poetry or picture books. Our tracking system ensures that we know who has what, and the children know that they must be responsible for not mislaying books at home. To date, no books have been lost!

Creating A Genuine Class Library – Children Recommending & Donating Books!

There was a pressing need to provide a varied collection of good-quality fiction, non-fiction and poetry. What happens in many classes in many schools is that children draw largely on the central school library, and books don’t generally feature much in classrooms. Children visit the school library on an individual basis to change books when necessary. All books are colour-coded, and children are allocated a colour on the basis of a reading test. We felt we needed a different kind of organisation.

We now have our own class library, which is one of the focal points in the classroom. It is stocked with books from our our own personal collections, the school library, the local community library, books loaned or donated by the children themselves (this has taken off in a big way), and good-quality texts which we purchase from second-hand shops.

We both like children’s books,and try to keep ourselves informed for the purposes of stocking the class library through publishers’ catalogues, children’s recommendations, the internet, booklists compiled by, for example, CLPE. and The Federation of Children’s Bookgroups, review magazines such as Carousel, bookshops and reference books, as well as our own recollections of good reads from our childhoods.

The stock develops and changes; we ‘drip-feed’ new books at regular intervals to stimulate and maintain interest.The fiction collection is broadly organised into quick, longer and challenging reads, and children are free to sample any book without the restriction of colour-coding which seems unnecessary in a small, readily accessible library like this. Our children also learn the skills of discriminating and choosing wisely through having a free hand to browse, try out, keep, reject, try again.

Class Librarians

We appoint two librarians every fortnight, who keep the stock tidy and make small regular book displays on any topic they like. The benefits of a class library are obvious. Books become a valued part of a small community. They are also always to hand during writing-time; to be sampled, handled, pored over, referred to and talked about.

Book Talks

Recommending, describing, discussing particular books, and talking about reading generally are becoming a natural part of our classroom. Enthusiasm is infectious. Some great conversations take place when two children are browsing together. We have regular ‘booktalk’ sessions which have quite quickly been taken over spontaneously and informally by the children, who often have the urge to tell everyone about this or that good read.

Class Reading Blog

There is also the class blog, which isn’t all about book reviews, but is often a series of peer-to-peer or teacher-peer conversations about anything of interest in the field of books and reading. Some children keep personal reading journal/notebooks, in which they might include ‘someday ‘ lists of books maybe to be read sometime in the future.

What Next?

If there is an appetite from our readership, we will continue to let you know our progress. We would also like to hear of any recommendations from your classroom that we could incorporate into our reading pedagogy. Please let us know by commenting below.

By the way, you as the teacher don’t have to be an expert in the field, but your enthusiasm, interest and openness to learning from the children and from colleagues who may have some knowledge can be very important. We have found the following  reference books especially helpful, and a pleasure to read in themselves:

1001 Children’s Books You Must Read Before You Grow Up : Julia Eccleshare(General Editor)

The Ultimate Book Guide (books for 8-12s): Daniel Hahn and Leonie Flynn (Eds)

The Rough Guide to Children’s Books, 5-11: Nicholas Tucker

Tell Me: Children reading and talk: Aidan Chambers

Anything written by Michael Rosen on the subject of the reading classroom will be affirming.


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About Literacy For Pleasure 13 Articles
This blog is written and run by two UK Primary School Teachers. We both work in the same class in KS2 – one as a TA and the other as the class teacher. Our school is a very ‘normal’ Local Authority State School. Biography 1 I studied French and Russian at Birmingham University, and later gained two MAs, one in Linguistics and the other in Children’s Literature. I am a serving Primary school teacher of many years’ experience. I have worked in both the maintained and the independent sectors as SENCO and Deputy Head. With a strong background in language and literacy I have worked with School’s Television, developing storypacks to support children new to English. I am currently interested in the possibilities of teaching literacy through process writing throughout the Primary phase of schooling. I began my teaching life on a Wednesday morning in a tiny Victorian school building inside a square of iron railings up a backstreet in Handsworth, Birmingham. I was there because I needed to earn some money to support myself in beginning a Ph D, and the Education Office had sent me to St. Silas’ C. of E. school where they had no teacher for ‘Infant 2’. Thus I found myself on that day without preparation, training or support, required immediately to take charge of a class of thirty six infants, some of whom were new to English. I can’t remember exactly how I passed the day, but I do recall that the next day I took in my copies of ‘Winnie the Pooh’ and ‘Just-so Stories’ because I had loved them as a child. Amazingly, they went down well. After this initial baptism of fire, followed by several months of surviving mainly by picking up tips from other teachers, I gradually began to feel that I might be getting somewhere. In the end, ‘Infant 2’ won out over the urban poetry of Baudelaire. I have never regretted this development. Later, doing an MA in linguistics and one in children’s literature gave me an academic background which convinced me of the rightness of the psycholinguistic theory of reading and writing, which foregrounds the achievement of meaning and communication. This has always been the one for me and I’ve based my teaching on it. I’ve stayed firmly in the classroom because there is no better place to discover and try out ways of enabling children to read and write with enjoyment and commitment. Through this website I am hoping to share the kinds of “quality” experiences we can give children at home and school which might create and enhance for them the pleasures of being literate. Biography 2 I studied Primary Education with History & Geography as my specialism, at The University Of Brighton, and later gained an MA in Education with Linguistics. I am a serving Primary school teacher of around five years experience. I have worked in both the maintained and independent sectors. When I was young, I didn’t realise that literature and the written word were for me to use or enjoy. If I can be honest with my reader for a moment – I very often still don’t. However, everyday, I’m turning what feels like a foggy day into bright sunshine alongside the children in my class. This history, I feel, puts me in an excellent position to give children writing advice because it is very likely I’ve been through their writing issue recently myself. I now write often. I’m finding my writing voice all the time and now I am teaching children how to find theirs too. As a result, you can understand why I am currently so interested in the possibilities of teaching writing as a craft and creating a learning environment which produces: readers and writers for life and children who can use writing to act out onto the world (for a multiple of reasons and for many different audiences). I want children to enter the literacy club as early as possible, so they have control of it and can use it effectively and for pleasure in their futures.

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