Student teachers at Glasgow University were sceptical when they were asked to take away hundreds of children's books for summer reading. Six months on, an innovative event with local children has made them see Roald Dahl et al in a new light, as Henry Hepburn discovered
The potential for children's books to educate as well as entertain has come to life for student teachers at Glasgow University.
Primary pupils visited the university to take part in an event with the theme of texts that teach. Event organiser Julie McAdam, who teaches language and literature at the university, devised the project with colleagues Moya Cove and Geraldine Copeland. It was a response to complaints by students that there was too much theory and not enough chance to put ideas into practice.
Students were asked to read 15 children's books over the summer before entering the second year of their BEd degree, and were then put into groups of 10. Each group picked a book which it would present to pupils from St Augustine's, St Patrick's and St Paul's primary schools, with the aim of encouraging reading and, in turn, writing.
The event, held last month, required student teachers to prepare a book bag filled with items related to their selected books. "You can't just give a book to a child and say this will teach a text," explained Ms McAdam. "You have to want to engage with the book."
Students came up with ways of stimulating enthusiasm for learning based on the books. Stephen McSorley was in a group that chose Once, by Morris Gleitzman, about a Polish boy who refuses to accept that his parents have been killed by the Nazis. The group wrote a diary entry from the viewpoint of someone affected by events described in the book, and stained it with coffee to make it look authentic.
Another choice was Elephant Dance: A Journey to India, by Theresa Heine, in which a young boy learns about his grandfather's life in India. Lyndsey McLaren and her group got pupils to brainstorm and come up with words that might describe India, so that they could make holiday brochures.
Natalie Burke used The Vicar of Nibbleswicke, by Roald Dahl, in which the title character gets his words confused. She said that this gave pupils an opportunity to learn about dyslexia, but also to experiment with words, seeing which ones they could turn back to front. The project helped her appreciate that older primary pupils could handle more complex vocabulary and concepts than she anticipated.
The event complemented the idea of enquiry-led learning, which emphasises learning activities that are long-term, interdisciplinary, student-centred and connected to the real world. It was also seen as a chance to broaden children's understanding of the university, as well as influencing their educational aspirations.
TEXTS THAT TEACH AT GLASGOW UNIVERSITY
Chinese Cinderella: The True Story of an Unwanted Daughter, by Adeline Yen Mah - an autobiography about a difficult life as an unwanted and deeply misunderstood child.
Katie Morag and the Two Grandmothers, by Mairi Hedderwick - a picture book featuring the resourceful Katie Morag on the Isle of Struay, and a prize sheep that gets stuck in Boggy Loch on show day.
The Desperate Journey, by Kathleen Fidler - the story of the Highland Clearances as they affect one small family.
The Hundred-Mile-An-Hour Dog, by Jeremy Strong - a humorous tale about attempts to train a boisterous dog.
Hiawatha, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow - a picture book of the epic poem.