- Book Week is not a new or innovative idea.
- 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.
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’.
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’ – 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.
At playtimes, all covered areas were reserved for children who wanted to read. The lunchtime supervisors were equipped with raffle tickets that rewarded any pupil who was reading and could answer the following questions: What are you reading? What do you normally read? How is this different? At the end of the week, a raffle was held with a selection of books as prizes.
Visitors and Assemblies
I was eager to invite visitors from diverse professional backgrounds and to promote the importance of reading in all walks of life. I emailed, text, telephoned and tweeted everyone I thought might be able to come in and share their experiences and expertise. I was surprised by how many people were willing to help (many for no cost). Visitors ranged from a teenage sports coach to the local Member of Parliament! We also invited Bristol City footballers to come and share their skills and favourite books and a theatre producer from Bristol’s Old Vic, who taught pupils comedic skills based on A Comedy of Errors. At the end of the week, parents brought in their favourite books and children shared with them all the new things they had read.
Pupils showed great enthusiasm for what they had read, what they had learnt and who they had met. More impressively, however, was the long term impact upon able readers. Teachers noted how, even at the end of the year, able readers were challenging themselves to try different books at home and in school.
Those who require proof of success will be interested that the school’s attainment and progress in reading were outstanding throughout the year.
The effectiveness of our Book Week was in convincing pupils to broaden their reading choices and to choose more challenging material. This was achieved through a range of enjoyable activities that encouraged engagement in and discussion about the literature. I would argue that these are more effective methods for affecting reading progress than repeated scrutiny of assessment foci and comprehension questions. After all, dressing up, sharing books and acting out stories are a much more fun way of learning to read!
Stuart Dyer taught Year Four at a junior school in Bristol and is Assistant Headteacher and Reading Coordinator. He has been teaching for seven years and, before Reading, led ICT and History at his school.