Sunday, 6 August 2017

Teachers' Reading Group - Getting Started

Late last year, I read an excellent book called "Building Communities of Engaged Readers: Reading for Pleasure" by Teresa Cremin, Marilyn Mottram, Fiona M. Collins, Sacha Powell and Kimberly Safford.  The book is based on two studies by the UKLA (United Kingdom Literacy Association) on teachers' knowledge of children's literature, and how they can improve it and build reading communities in their classrooms. 

Earlier this year, I was lucky enough to fly to England and research reading for pleasure.  I met with Teresa Cremin and heard her keynote at the UKLA National Conference.  She was very inspirational and it was a highlight of my trip.  I was really keen to share her work with the teachers at my school.  I felt it would be an excellent way to work with teachers and help them to better help their students foster a love of reading.

Less than a week after I returned from England, I persuaded our DP to let me attend a staff meeting and administer Teresa's Teachers as Readers questionnaire (choose the 'Review your practice" tab).  This is part of the Open University's Research Rich Pedagogies website.  I copied the questionnaire and made a couple of little adjustments (like changing 'literacy coordinator' to librarian).  I didn't want the teachers to do it online as I wanted to collect the results myself.  

Part of the questionnaire has the teachers name six children's authors, six children's poets and six children's picture book authors/illustrators.  I had several teachers come up to me later on to tell me that they had remembered more names after they handed in their questionnaire, or that they were embarrassed that they couldn't name more authors.  One put a little sad face directly on her questionnaire!  It definitely got them thinking about their knowledge of authors.

My main aim for administering the questionnaire was to initiate our own Teachers as Readers project at my school.  I was told this would need to be voluntary; I would have to convince our teachers to give up their own time to be part of this project.

The following term, I was able to get ten minutes to talk about my trip at a staff meeting.  I  chose two things to talk about, that I thought would be of particular interest to teachers - Empathy Lab (see my SLANZA conference slides to find out more about that) and Teachers as Readers.  

I started by emphasising the importance of reading for pleasure.  I shared some research from the OECD (Slide 2 below).  This had quite an impact - I could hear mutterings and surprised comments arising from it.  I also shared other research (Slide 3), showing the impact reading for pleasure has on academic achievement.  I talked about the fact that reading is not just learning to read, but wanting to read.  The will as well as the skill.

Then I talked about the Teachers as Readers work done by Teresa and her team.  I reported back about the results from the questionnaire (Slides 6-8).  I compared our results with those from the 1,200 UK teachers that Teresa's team surveyed.  We were quite similar in our knowledge of writers, worse when it came to knowledge of children's poets, and better in our knowledge of children's picture book writers/illustrators.  Then I shared the conclusion from Teresa and her team based on the results of the research (Slide 9):

I talked about phase two of the Teachers as Readers research, which was a project to help widen teachers' knowledge of children's literature and build communities of readers in their schools (Slide 10). 

Then I flicked over to the last bit of our research (Slide 11).  This was our teachers' own rating of their repertoire of children's books.  Only 25% of them gave themselves a seven or more.  I said that I felt that they should all be aiming for a seven or above, for the reason I showed them in Slide 9 - to support their students in their development as readers they need to have a good reading repertoire.  I said that if they were interested in improving their rating, I would be running our own Teachers as Readers project.  I went over this in Slide 12.  I didn't want to put them off by talking about the questionnaires involved or the length of the project, but I did want them to know what they were signing up for.

I sent them out an email after the staff meeting, with a Google doc attached so they could indicate what the best times were for our Teachers' Reading Group, and how often they wanted to meet.  And then I crossed my fingers!  I was hoping for four teachers, one from each of our Year 3-6 teams.  I got nine!  They teach from Year 1-6 (in fact, one was a new entrant teacher who didn't even have any students yet!).  I also have another two teachers who can't attend in real life but did join our Goodreads group.

I ended up with two Teachers' Reading Groups, as I didn't want to have to turn anyone away.  I have a Tuesday lunchtime group and a Wednesday after school group.  The consensus was for fortnightly meetings, which has worked well.  Having the two days has also proved useful, as we've had teachers switch between the two as commitments come up.

So, I started with the questionnaire and that highlighted the gaps in some teachers' knowledge and made them feel uncomfortable.  Then I showed them the research that proved why it's important, and I think those two things really helped get teachers on board.

In my next post I'm going to summarise what we covered in our first five sessions.  The "Building Communities of Readers" booklet is a big help if you are going to run Teachers' Reading Groups as it goes through what you can cover in each session.

I am SO pleased with how things are going - I am having lots more conversations about books and reading with teachers, even those not in my Teachers' Reading Groups!  I think running the project has positioned me as an expert in children's literature and reading for pleasure in a really visible way.  There has also been some lovely feedback from the teachers about the impact on their students.

Another benefit that arose after I administered Teresa's questionnaire on our staff, was that I encouraged our principal to promote reading by having his photo taken each week while reading various picture books.  This has proved a popular segment on our library's Facebook page.

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