On a reading success story

linda reading

This is a guest blog by Linda Evans (@missljevans).

I love reading. If I could think of one thing that would define me as a person, something that everyone I know understands about me, reading would be it.  I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love it.  I always have a book with me and, much to the annoyance of my boyfriend who bizarrely thinks I should the books I already own first, I’m always scouring second hand book shops. I watch Book Tube and want to talk about the books I’m reading.  It’s a huge part of my life.

When I was a naïve, slightly disillusioned NQT, I genuinely believed that I would create a mini army of passionate readers within the year.  I thought my passion and enthusiasm for books would inspire them in months and they would all be constantly reading and talking to me about it.  Even as I type this, I cringe a little at my ridiculous arrogance; my sister had lived with me for 20+ years and barely reads anything (once she called me from Waterstones to tell me she was buying a book and I was so happy). Why did I think I could get 100+ students reading that easily?  Surprisingly enough, my great reading plan didn’t work and I was soon snowed under with other stuff.

This past year one of my appraisal targets has been focused on promoting reading and with the help of our KS3 reading homework  it has been easy to identify students who don’t read.  Part of my role has been to use this information and meet with non readers to encourage them to find a book they might enjoy and to hopefully inspire a love of reading.  Sometimes this works; sometimes it needs a few discussions.  And so, armed with this information, I met with some Year 9 students. These were students who didn’t really have much interest in school and who didn’t come from homes filled with books.

I can remember the first meeting with one student, I’ll call her Georgie.  I have never taught Georgie but I had spent sometime with her on an Activities Week when she was in year 7.  Her English teacher had given her ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time’, which she had loved, so it was my mission to help her find another book to keep her engaged in reading.  We chose ‘Girl, Missing’ by Sophie McKenzie and I agreed to read it too, along with another of the  year 9s, so that we could all talk about it together.  I thought I would have time to read this – we had met on Friday – so imagine my surprise come Monday morning when two of the girls, Georgie included, came to find me at break time to ask if I had finished it and what did I think.  Their enthusiasm was incredible; these girls, who were self proclaimed members of the ‘I hate reading’ club, were suddenly eager to read the next book in the series, eager to discuss it with each other and with me.

And so began a pattern for the year.  They would regularly turn up at my classroom at break time, lunch time, even the end of the day; they would come and find me in the staff room to tell me about their new read.  If I was having a stressful day, the sight of these students at the door ready to talk to me about books would instantly cheer me up, occasionally it might have brought a tear to my eye.

At the end of the year Georgie just casually dropped into conversation that she had read 75 books since November.  To go from never reading outside of school to 75 books in 9 months is amazing.  To celebrate her achievements, the English department bought her some books that she really wanted that the school library didn’t have; surprising her with these books was hands down the best part of my year.  Our school library doesn’t allow students to take books out over the summer, but Georgie has special permission and took 14 books home with her.  She’s also agreed to help me with recommendations for reluctant readers next year because she has been such a reading success.

I’m not going to pretend that I have the answers for inspiring students to read, because I don’t.  However I feel reading has been so successful with this group of students, and with Georgie in particular, simply because we have had the chance to talk about books.  We have built a relationship purely on the foundations of books and reading – they know that they can come and talk to me at anytime about what they are reading.  More often than not they are books I haven’t read, but that doesn’t stop the conversations from happening.  Yes, it’s difficult sometimes to remember to have those conversations about books when you have so many other things to remember or focus on, but for me it is the conversations that are the most important factor in encouraging reading.  We need to stop making books out to be some exotic creature (a phrase pinched from one of my colleagues and something I know I have been guilty of on occasion) and help students to realise that they are there to be enjoyed, discussed, criticised, hated, shared.

As September and the new school year approaches, I am excited to carry on promoting reading, hopefully with the help of Georgie and students like her, and if I could recommend one book that has given me lots of extra ideas and things to consider it’s ‘Reading for Pleasure’ by Kenny Pieper.

So my biggest advice would be to have as many conversations about books with as many students as you can (even if you don’t teach English) and read Pieper’s book.

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