Creativity for control freaks

26th May 2006 at 01:00
Peter Greaves shows how teachers can let go without losing it. This week: Doing it? Buy the book

There are times when I feel like I'm playing the role of a teacher in a movie, rather than doing it for a job. It's those times when all the kids are looking straight at me, and any writing or drawing is focused and appropriate. I stop talking and silence hangs as they wait for the next word. In a movie, this can happen at a teacher's whim. In my classroom, it only ever happens when I'm reading them a really good book.

I have always tried to have a book on the go with no other motive for reading it other than that it's a great book. We don't look for all the subordinate clauses, the words ending in - ies or even for alternatives to the word "said". The most we will do is stop and marvel at the author's skill, looking back with wonder or forward with expectation.

One undeniable benefit of reading such a book to a class is the access it gives pupils who couldn't read it independently, either because of textual complexity or lack of stamina.

At this point I would like to thank Rachael Olsen. I sat next to Rachael when I was nine, when our teacher was reading The Silver Sword to us.

Rachael had a copy and brought it in so we could follow our teacher's words. I look back now and see following along as the literary equivalent of those bikes you get where an adult is pedalling furiously up a hill and the child sits on the back, making much less effort, but getting to the top nevertheless.

Remembering this, I try to get as many copies of the book I am reading into the classroom as possible. If you choose a well-known book, the school probably has a set of six in its guided reading resources somewhere, and maybe a few extra copies in the library.

I've got to know someone who works in a charity bookshop who puts books by certain authors to one side for me, selling them for peanuts. In one school, when I couldn't find copies any other way, I had success in simply sending a letter home telling my parents which book we were about to read.

A local bookshop supplied copies on sale-or-return and about half my class bought the book. As a bonus, we got a few copies to keep as commission.

In my desert island classroom, I would love to find a set of books with which I can take my stranded class on an adventure. If I had to choose the book, I would always go for a Dahl, perhaps Matilda.

The choice might be predictable, but I have not found an author who so consistently weaves laughter, tears, seriousness and frivolity together in a way that can enthrall seven-year-olds and adults alike. If I could read only one book, that would be mine. What would yours be?

Peter Greaves teaches at Dovelands Primary School in Leicester Email:

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