Love for literature

7th December 2007 at 00:00
Are you creating avid readers or joyless book critics? Ask pupils what they want to read and how they think it should be done, advises Kevin Harcombe.I may be wrong, but do the words "enjoy" and "reading" seem rather absent when leafing through the National Literacy Strategy? "Investigate", "evaluate" and "understand narrative structure" are certainly there, but where are the references to "thrill", "laugh" or "weep"? Are we teaching children to be accomplished critics rather than avid readers? We want more than decent Sats results at Redlands Primary School and we start by asking pupils how they feel.

In November last year, a survey found that 66 per cent "loved" reading. More than half preferred to read in their bedroom, some in the garden and one "on the top stair". Less able readers were more lukewarm and girls complained that we were not catering for their tastes. In all cases it was clear that school had real influence on pupils' reading and we wanted to use it well.

They told us what types of books they liked and we used our English budget to buy them. They told us our library was fabulous, but they wanted to brighten up the reading scheme bookshelves in the corridors. We responded by sanding them down, painting them to match the colour-coded reading schemes and crowning them with matching coloured papier-mache animals.

Also, could we have nicer book corners in classrooms? And some comfy cushions to lounge on? That's what you get for asking.

We reintroduced a "class book" for the teacher to read aloud simply for the joy of pupils losing themselves in a good story. We also raised parental awareness of the importance of hearing their children read aloud by providing training and creating a Reading Champion Tree - a painting of a tree on the glass doors of the two reception classes, with children's names inscribed on golden leaves if their parents have heard them read four times a week.

This peer pressure certainly worked for some. For those whose parents still are not hearing them read, we have recruited a group of surrogate parents, our volunteer Reading Heroes, who come into school daily. Last month, for the first time, every pupil had their name on the tree.

Our annual Book Week featured a visit from the superb Michael Rosen, the children's laureate, and he had a huge impact. A picture quiz was organised, which involved pupils having to match each teacher with their favourite book (with book tokens for prizes). They could then sign up to hear the corresponding teacher read an extract. A local bookshop owner read in assembly while classes trooped up to our nearby library. The week culminated in fancy dress with staff and pupils dressed as book characters.

We have since begun a seven-year adventure to commit to memory 21 great tales, three for each year at school. Reception begins with Little Red Riding Hood and Year 6 finishes with Orpheus and Eurydice. This gives pupils a tremendous bank to draw on in their own writing and a fund of great stories to last them for life.

At the last survey this September, 87 per cent of pupils "loved" to read. Still only one at the top of the stairs

Kevin Harcombe is head of Redlands Primary School in Fareham, Hampshire and is National Primary Headteacher of the Year. His favourite children's book is The Fib by George Layton.

Top tips

Budget to replenish your book stock annually - books should be objects of desire and the smell, look and feel of a new one adds to their appeal.

Publicise new acquisitions in assembly.

Enthuse each other. Talk about what you enjoy reading and why with pupils and staff. Spend a staff meeting sharing favourite reads. It contributes to staff well-being too.

Look at filmaudio adaptations to hook pupils.

Act out scenes from stories and compose incidental music for them.

Set up quizzes, such as Who Wants to be a Millionaire, to test the pupils' knowledge.

For primary resources see

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