Over 200 primary school teachers, librarians, classroom assistants and others linked to the book community gathered together on a sunny autumn Saturday to celebrate and learn about children’s books, reading and how to encourage reading for pleasure in the classroom at the University of Greenwich. It takes something special to encourage people to give up a valuable weekend and this gathering of book lovers and educators was indeed something special. The combination of inspirational keynote speakers and well informed, experienced workshop facilitators ensured that everyone left for home at the end of the day buzzing with ideas and enthusiasm. It was a frantically busy event with many ideas shared and with time only to attend two workshops it was not possible to hear everything said but I thought I would share some of the key points that I took away from the day in case they are helpful to those who were unable to attend.
The Books You Read as a Child Are the Most Important Books You Read.
Christopher Edge, award winning children’s author and former teacher made this remark during his keynote speech in the afternoon and this was, I felt, the key to the whole day and the reason we were all there. He expanded on this by sharing a quote from The Lost Childhood by Graham Greene and shown on the slide here. He went on to say that books open doors to other worlds for children and by opening many doors we help children’s understanding, provide them with a refuge and perhaps the possibility that they will in turn create a better world. This importance highlights the need for access to a wide range of books for all children through libraries and schools. It was fascinating to hear how Christopher was influenced by Neil Gaiman’s work as a child, sneaking off school to get a book signed by the famous author at a local bookshop. Discovering that authors were in fact ”real people” inspired him to go on to become an author himself. One very good reason to encourage author visits to schools for as Christopher himself said ”Scratch every writer and you find a reader.”
All Reading Counts as Reading
Heather Wright, the wonderful organiser of the day, kicked off the event by making the point that ”One reader’s trash is another reader’s pleasure.” Each reader is an individual and their reading habits will reflect their own interests and preferences. Even more importantly all reading matter counts, including comics, magazines, cereal packets, posters and online reading. Teresa Cremin suggested that children are encouraged to create a visual montage of everything that they read over a 24 hour period and include all these suggestions in addition to books. This enables them to see themselves as readers.
Reading is About Making Connections
When a reader reads a book they are making connections between their own experience and understanding and the characters and the events in the story. Each reader will experience the book in a subtly different way. In addition when we share and talk about books together we are making connections between people and creating a reading community. In a school this is hugely important in nurturing a positive attitude to reading. In Martin Galway’s workshop we learned about an initiative at the school at which he is a governor where they share one book throughout the whole school. The Take One Book approach enables teachers to share one book that they love with the children, explore it properly and use it as an inspiration for work across the curriculum as a community. You can find out more about the outcome on Herts for Learning website.
As a primary school librarian I know that librarians connect with their users on a daily basis however a key connection that encourages reading is that of a teacher and pupil. Teresa Cremin and the Open University have carried out a great deal of research on this and their website is full of practical advice and case studies on how to become a true Reading Teacher. A Reading Teacher is reader who teaches and a teacher who reads but in addition thinks about their own reading and shares it with their pupils. At Teresa’s workshop we discussed ways of creating reading communities in schools. These included starting staff meetings by reading aloud from a children’s book. reading books at assembly and teachers sharing their own childhood reading histories.
Reading Aloud Makes A Difference
At several points throughout the day the speakers read aloud to the delegates. The effect this had on us as listeners was striking. Roger McDonald, Senior Lecturer at The University of Greenwich read The Rascally Cake by Jeanne Willis and Korky Paul aloud to a large group of adults who enthusiastically joined in with the humorous rhymes and rhythms of the story. When a little later Nicola Davies read aloud her new picture book, Perfect, beautifully illustrated by Cathy Fisher you could have heard a pin drop as we engaged with this moving story told with care and kindness. In each case we as listeners were emotionally engaged with the storytelling and this was evidence, if any is needed, of why reading aloud to children matters. Somehow we have to find time in the school day to make this happen.
Children’s Books Broaden Minds
Nicola Davies says that when she writes books such as Lots (illustrated by Emily Sutton) she wants children to say when they reach the end, ”Wow! I want to know more about that.” Although some may say that war is not a suitable topic for young children she maintains that children are exposed to difficult subjects via the media on a daily basis and therefore it is our duty to talk about the world with all its beauties and horrors with them. In her stunning book, The Day War Came (illustrated by Rebecca Cobb) war and its impact on refugees is dealt with in an extremely moving yet age appropriate fashion. During the Q & A Panel in the afternoon Jane Considine mentioned this subject again, remarking that it is our moral duty to ensure that children learn about lives and worlds different to their own.
This is just a small snapshot of a very full day and there were so many important and interesting topics and points raised throughout the event it is impossible to include them all here. As is often the way in any educational gathering one of the many very cheering aspects of the day was the sharing of ideas, resources and suggestions between those attending. It was a treat to see old friends again, make new ones and to meet Twitter chums in real life. Thanks to the wonderful organisers of Reading Rocks a flourishing reading community of educators has been created and that has to be good news for the children in their care.
If this has whetted your appetite to participate in an event in the future the next Reading Rocks is Reading Rocks North in Northumberland on 13th October and and there is to be Reading Rocks SouthWest in Taunton on 23rd February 2019. For more information please visit the Reading Rocks website.