This has been a really exciting week for us at Toppsta. 10,000 of Toppsta Reading Records have gone out to primary schools across the UK. For me, this is a key moment; not only do we provide a really valuable resource to schools (for free!) but we also get to help children track their reading and hopefully help them to begin to develop an understanding of which books they like and why.
As part of this process I have started working much more closely with schools. This involves spending time, trying to understand the challenges and the interests of teachers as well as providing useful resources like our book review template and tips on how to write a book review . This has meant spending much more time on Twitter, where this incredible community of teachers swap ideas, share concerns, debate challenges and support each other. Over time it's been interesting to discover which schools are committed not just to tick the 'reading box' but to encourage a genuine love of reading.
One such school is East Brierley Primary, which is based near Bradford. The Headteacher, Lysa Upham is clearly a booklover and so I asked her if she'd be interested in writing a behind-the-scenes blog piece on how she's created a School of Reading. I think it's both practical and inspirational and it made me want to jump in the car and visit it to see it all in practice! I have learned so much through this piece and I LOVE the idea of DEAR time, what a brilliant idea. Congratulations Lysa and East Brierley, you have inspired us all.
Becoming a reading school - by Lysa Upham, Headteacher at East Brierley Primary School
My personal love of reading is what drove the development of our school love of reading. As an avid reader and someone who loves talking about books I slowly began to raise the profile of reading for pleasure in school. I would recommend books (and authors) to parents for their children to read and regularly discussed books used in class linked to topics. When a teacher recommended that a parent spoke to me about books for their child, I decided we needed to add some oomph to our reading process so all teachers would feel confident making recommendations.
Our children were mostly very good readers but we were not sparking a real love of reading. In order to develop a real love of reading, staff needed to be the start point. During training, we asked teachers to name five classic authors, five new authors, five illustrators, five writers of picture books, five writers of non-fiction and five children’s poets. This opened the door to changes.
Our PTFA supported our move to develop reading by funding upgrades to class reading areas and the visit of a storyteller to school. We reintroduced story time into every classroom every day. This has been lovely to witness. More copies of those books have appeared in class for children to read along with the teacher and parents discuss reading the class book at home too. We introduced DEAR time (drop everything and read) with an expectation that everyone in class would read. This was truly transformational. I try to visit classes during DEAR time too so I can read during the school day! Very quickly, children settled into this reading-some brought in books home, a queue formed the class favourites and more children visited my office for recommendations and to borrow my books. Book talk started to happen in school, in the playground and with parents. Parents talk about having DEAR time at home and it soon became a favourite time of the day in classes. When asked about DEAR time one child said it is best when his teacher is thoroughly engrossed in her book and wants to finish a chapter as they might get an extra few minutes reading time. He told me this with a real excitement. I love that a wider range of authors are discussed in class – and any updates to the reading areas include a wider base. Hearing teachers say they are reading a book recommended by a child in class is fantastic.
We continue to have whole class reading, group guided reading and one-to-one reading used as most appropriate for classes, groups and individual children. Both reading and comprehension are strengths in school. Far more importantly, there is a real buzz about reading. Parents buy books for school to fit in with our topics, children are recommending and lending books to each other and to members of staff, increasingly staff are making recommendations to each other and topics and books used in school are changing as a result. The discussions about reading really help us get to know the children well, I love the opportunity to recommend books and read recommendations made to me of books I’m told I’ll absolutely love. A shared passion!
Books are probably the first thing you notice in school –they are on everyone’s tables, our reading areas, our library and my office (which is also seen and used as a library). We use Twitter to connect with authors-the children are so excited when they receive a response. We even had an author visit to open our school ‘May Day’ celebration this year, sessions with authors for all our children and a fabulous author visit for our younger year groups. We have a planned storytelling evening for our younger children which our PTFA arrange (and who doesn’t enjoy hot chocolate and stories!)
We have raised the enjoyment factor and are now planning our next strategies which include developing written reviews by the children and more author visits. Reading opens so many doors. It opens the entire curriculum and beyond and it provides a release from the stresses of everyday life. I love the challenge to find a way into reading for children, to find the right book, and having the whole school on the case is amazing! Our love of reading developed from a real passion for books and a sharing of stories though not because we set out to but because we couldn’t help it.