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Books, and the importance of keeping up to date and changing what we use/what we do with it.

Lockdown provided me with a great opportunity to do more of what I loved –read! Not as much as I’d hoped, I’ll grant you, given two young children who needed home-schooling, and remote learning to set up and deliver to my class, but some, definitely. I even set up a book-review blog (thanks for visiting!) and started a Twitter account with the purpose of connecting with like-minded book-loving teachers (@richreadalot if you fancy joining in!).

So I set myself a target…read new books, read different books, and read books by authors whose work I hadn’t read, seen, or used before in class. And what a result I’ve had! Not just in my own reading for pleasure, but since returning to school in the enjoyment I’ve seen the pupils have when they have read or listened to these ‘new’ tales, and done work that has led from them.

There’s an age-old problem at play here. Teachers need results (I’d hoped we were moving away from all that, but sadly it doesn’t seem to look like it…). To get results we need to be secure and clever in our use of texts to maximise what we ‘get from them’ in the classroom. And that’s fine – plenty of teachers use great books to engage children in learning and inspire writing and discussion. But then we get stuck…we go back to the same old stories again and again (and I’m not knocking this, just cautioning – there is a place for classics and great texts to be revisited, without doubt!).

We often don’t feel we have time to read new books, plan work based on them, cross—reference with curriculum documents and consider their place and value in the long term scheme of things, so we use the same book that worked last year, and the year before! Often, these books seem to be by the same authors too, thus narrowing the range that a child is exposed to as they journey through school. We, as English leads, need to make sure this is challenged and doesn’t happen if possible.

It takes time, yes – time to read, time to think, time to plan and see where it will take you and what you can do, but it’s worth it, both from a pupil and a teacher point of view. I’d encourage all teachers to constantly be reading and keeping abreast of new books and new authors and themes, and looking at where they might fit in to what you’ve already got. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel – many of the activities that you use for one book can be used for another. Many of the books may fit alongside a particular topic and have cross-curricular links.

My advice for making the most of new books, and getting them into your classroom is this:

· Find/make time for teachers to be able to read/discover new books. This may not be your decision to make in school, so approach your English lead or SLT and suggest it. It could be a staff meeting (or part of one) dedicated to sharing books (teacher ‘booktalk’ sessions in staff meetings!), a termly visit to/from a local bookshop and recommendations from staff there, or a shared resource such as a padlet where teachers can record their reading and others can access (see @Mat_at_Brookes for a great example of such a resource).

· If you are SLT/English lead – set an expectation that at least one ‘new’ text will be rotated in each year.

· Get in touch with publishers, organisations, bloggers (hello!) and authors online to receive notifications about new releases. Often, publishers will have promotional materials and activities available as a book is launched – from author readings to worksheets and planning packs- make the most of them! Examples of organisations that might be a good starting point include: Booktrust, CLPE and the National Literacy Trust, but there are hundreds – use them and their recommendations and share your own.

· Read the books for pleasure first: if you enjoy reading a book, not only will you discover and expand the range of texts you are aware of, but the enthusiasm is infectious, and when you come to share a book you love, then fellow teachers and pupils can experience the ripple effect of that in your recommendation and subsequent teaching.

· Keep notes…it’s easy to think of ideas as you’re reading, then lose track afterwards. Keep a small notebook and list ideas for activities under the title of the book, maybe adding notes about a topic it will fit with, or a page number for a great quote. Look at as a place to get ideas, too.

· Share ideas books in class – read extracts/blurbs with the class and see what they think! In my class, often reading a book purely for pleasure as a class read can lead me to include it as a book I use for teaching further down the line as suggestions from children about activities crop up as we’ve read. Follow @MrBoothY6 for a look at his reading schemes for Primary Year groups where extracts feature prominently in focused Reading skill lessons.

Some of these might be new, some might already be in place in your school, and some may be controversial, but… if we don’t want children to read the same authors or titles all the time, we need to model that in our use of texts too. Challenge yourself and thus your pupils with new books they wouldn’t choose themselves – new authors (don’t even start me on the DW argument…), themes to make them think (more important than ever that views and attitudes are broadened...), and genres (ever read a book completely written in verse before? Try Joseph Coelho’s new Zombierella series out..!).

It keeps things fresh, up to date and inspires the readers in our care, and that’s what we’re all here for, after all, isn’t it??

This blog was first published by Nexus Education in July 2020

Nexus Education is a community enterprise sharing ideas, resources and CPD to over 11,000 schools across the UK via Nexus Education has also donated over £47,000 to UK schools in the past 12 months via NeXworking.

Follow me on Twitter: @richreadalot

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