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Posted by Nosy Crow, March 21, 2014

Reading for Pleasure in schools – a guest post by a primary school teacher and “reading cheerleader”

Today’s guest post is by Rosie Chapleo, a teacher at Charles Dickens Primary School – Nosy Crow’s neighbours. Rosie is a member of our monthly book group and is also responsible for a number of literacy and reading-for-pleasure initiatives at her school – and here’s some of what she’s been doing to get her pupils excited about reading.

Despite the fact that I have spent the past three years as Science Co-ordinator at Charles Dickens Primary School (a somewhat obvious role given my unusual degree in Zoology), it felt like it was time to take on a new challenge. Fortunately, my head teacher was able to see beyond the ‘scientist’ pigeonhole and had also taken note of my interest in children’s literature.

My resulting role as something of a reading ‘cheerleader’ within the school means that I am currently lucky enough to be asked to devote a great deal of my endless ‘primary-school-teacher-enthusiasm’ towards reading. Tying-in with our whole-school focus on reading, my goals are both to raise interest in children’s literature amongst the school’s staff, and to encourage all of our pupils to read for pleasure.

As a member of Nosy Crow’s book club, I was asked to write this post to explain our approach towards rejuvenating our classrooms’ book corners – our first step towards building a deeper love of reading across our school.

To put it simply, we’ve opted for a two-pronged attack: a monthly injection of new books through our ‘Book of the Month’ initiative and purchasing a selection of new core books for every class’ reading corner.

‘Book of the Month’ is a straightforward attempt to encourage children to talk to one another about their reading. Each month, classes are given a few copies of the year group’s book which is linked to a whole-school theme (recent themes have included ‘dogs’, ‘witches and wizards’ and ‘winter’.) They are asked to talk about the books – with each other, on the school blog and with their teachers.

With regards to re-stocking our reading corners, I was faced with a somewhat larger task. My remit was to ensure that our children are exposed to classics as well as new titles – including fiction, non-fiction and poetry.

We began the book corner revamp by inviting teachers and teaching assistants to brainstorm a list of books they felt were ‘absolute musts’. We asked for suggestions based on their own reading as a child, as well as those they have experienced children enjoying. We also reached out to the wider world via Twitter – resulting in a stack of Margaret Mahy’s books being donated by one passionate family! We felt it was important that we all had ownership over our choice of books, as enthusiasm for a good book is infectious. The enthusiastic response from all involved suggested that I was on the right track – everyone wanted to have their say.

Once compiled, I shared our list of books with teachers and teaching assistants – a process which led to some interesting conversations. Some staff assumed that I had made a mistake when I issued a long list of picture books earmarked for Years 5 and 6 (our nine to eleven year old pupils.) However, I managed to convince the detractors by reading Jon Klassen’s ‘I Want My Hat Back’ aloud in the staff room. By the time I had finished, people were fighting to have the book, and others like it, in their pile!

Before placing our orders, we dragged out all of our old books and had a thorough sort out. Those that had been loved to death, or were very old or torn, were culled (we later sold them in the playground to raise funds). The remaining books were sorted into themes – with the aim of making it easier for children to maintain a tidy book corner.

This week, we have finally had most of our newly selected books delivered and I have been like a child in a sweet (/book) shop! I have spent a lot of time sitting cross-legged on the staffroom carpet, sorting books into year groups and classes, then labelling and stamping each one. Sadly, once they’d been sorted and shared amongst classes, our seemingly long list had been spread very thinly. My neat piles of shiny new books handed to each teacher felt like a very meagre offering. I’d have liked to have given them more than double the amount of books but funds simply won’t stretch that far… Sadly, our huge, glaring constraint is budget – there will never be enough money to put all of the wonderful books out there into our classrooms!

In an attempt to combat the prohibitive cost of a classroom full of new books, book selections have been divided between the three or four classes in each year group. Every half term, the selections will rotate around the classes – meaning, in short, that the children will always have something new to discover!

So far, our focus on reading for enjoyment is working. ‘Book of the Month’ is already generating positive responses. I’ve enjoyed a steady stream of “Miss C, Harry Potter is AMAZING” on the stairs and at playtime, and have found reviews of ‘The Witches’ scrawled on scraps of paper and stuffed into my pigeonhole!

It’s unlikely that the book corners will remain looking as shiny, new and up to date as they do at the moment. With time, these new books will (it is hoped) become well-loved and dog-eared. At that point, we will take stock once more and I will be forced to undertake the delightful task of deciding which new books we will introduce to the children. Until then, I’m busy choosing spy-themed books… Suggestions welcome!