Ever considered a Teaching Book Group? No? Well, hopefully, this article will inspire you to start considering setting one up. We have both set up teaching and learning book groups in our schools and would like to share some thoughts on why it is such a good idea, as well as some points to consider if you decide to go ahead and set one up.
Is it worth it?
If in doubt about whether it’s a good idea, stop doubting. It is. A book group is amazing for more reasons than you may have thought. It makes staff feel valued: They get books of their own, an opportunity to learn something new, to consider different viewpoints and share ideas.
It will set off a buzz: There may be things people strongly agree or disagree with, techniques people have never thought of before or research that completely changes the way they think and teach. This buzz will spread as teachers start discussing things they have read or shared ideas they have tried out.
It is ongoing CPD: Much better than sitting in the hall watching another presentation! However you set the group up, the outcome is that throughout the year, each teacher will spend a considerable amount of time reading, trying out something new or reflecting. This is like being an NQT again but hopefully, without the constant feeling of exhaustion (I don’t think that was just me!) Our book group has been composed of staff from a range of backgrounds and experiences, including a member of SLT, but all have thoroughly enjoyed the injection of thought-provoking reading and discussion.
It is great value for money: Yes, there is a cost implication but when it boils down to it, you are investing in your staff and when you compare the cost of buying a few books to the cost of a day’s external training, factoring in the cost of cover, it is actually pretty cheap.
It can work across phases: The books we have read would be relevant for teachers from any phase. They may be thought-provokers, such as Carol Dweck’s ‘Mindset’ or Graham Nuthall’s ‘Hidden Lives of Learners, or more focused on classroom practice, like Doug Lemov’s ‘Teach Like a Champion’. If you are a school that includes a range of phases, or even if you are a Secondary wanting to build stronger links with a feeder Primary, perhaps cross-phase teaching and learning book group could be the answer!
Points to consider
So having run a book group for a year, there are a few points that it would be useful to think about:
1. Budget: One of the selling points already mentioned is that a book group offers good value for money, but there is still a cost implication. We started by working out the cost per person based on a range of books, including a couple that were more pricey and others that were midrange. The next question is where the budget will come from – does it come under CPD, or is there a library budget that could cover some of the cost?
2. Keep or loan: The ideal scenario is for the book group members to be rewarded for their investment of time by being able to keep the books, but if the budget is really tight, perhaps you could buy a smaller number of each book and have a couple of smaller book groups that run on a rotation basis? That way, when the books are finished with they could end up in the library for other interested staff to refer to. Perhaps if this is the model you decide is best for your school, you could allow each book group member to choose their favourite book to keep at the end of the year. An alternative to keeping the cost down might be to team up with a couple of local schools and agree to each buy a couple of sets of books that are shared between the three schools.
3. Structure: If you’ve never been part of a book group, you may not know how they tend to work. You need enough people to get a decent discussion going without getting out of hand; we’d suggest between 8 and 15. It is also recommended that there are questions prepared in advance of the meeting to focus on the discussion. We started off …
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This is an extract of an article first published in the August 2015 Edition of UKEdMagazine. You can read the magazine freely online by clicking here. The online version of this article was updated in 2020 in accordance with website and policy changes.
Debbie Light and Mel Aberson share the Twitter account @TeacherTweaks. They are passionate about teaching and learning and their first book ‘Lesson Planning Tweaks for Teachers’ was published by Bloomsbury in June 2015.