Sunday, 3 September 2017

Teachers' Reading Group - The First Five Sessions

At the end of May, I started a Teachers' Reading Group at my school.  I have nine teachers who attend fortnightly, on either a Tuesday at lunchtime or a Wednesday after school.  Interestingly, of the nine there are three teachers who are in their first year, at our school and in teaching.  This is actually all of our first-year teachers, so I had a 100% success rate signing up that group.  It is a shame though, that it appears that they're not being introduced to more children's authors as part of their teaching qualification. 

I also have two teachers in the 1-3 year category, and four who have been teaching for over ten years (including one who has taught for over thirty), so I have a wide range of experience levels.

I selected each of the topics for the meetings from the "Building Communities of Readers" booklet by Teresa Cremin, Marilyn Mottram, Fiona Collins and Sacha Powell.

First Meeting

Our first meeting was on "widening knowledge of children's authors and contemporary writers".  We went over more of the teacher questionnaire results.  In particular, we talked about how a lot of teachers had written the names of authors who were their childhood favourites, and there was a lack of current writers.

I gave the teachers copies of reading for pleasure research (from my earlier presentation at a staff meeting).  I wanted them to always have that to remind them of the importance of reading for pleasure.

Everyone signed up to Goodreads and we set a goal to have read a book by the next meeting.  I brought some good books from our library, as I've done at each of the meetings since then.  I take a piece of paper and record the barcodes so I know what's gone where.

Second Meeting

This meeting was about "reflecting upon personal reading histories and current practices and exploring consequences for classroom practice".  However, it started with sharing the books that we had read (which we do at every session) and then going over a few of the results from the student surveys I had helped our teachers carry out prior to the meeting (I ended up doing eight classes - 200 children).

It was surprising that within each class there was a range of answers to the same question.  For example, in each class some students thought their teacher read aloud every day and some thought it was less than once a week!  We talked about individual class results, which showed that when teachers read aloud more often (as indicated by the answers from the majority of students), their students were more likely to believe their teachers definitely read and that they love reading.  

The teachers went on to discuss the difficulty in protecting read aloud time when other things encroached on it, and shared ideas for dealing with that.

Then we looked at our personal reading histories and how they could be shared with students - doing things like talking about the books we liked when we were children, or bringing in old books from home.  During the conversation, one of the teachers mentioned that she did reading recovery as a child.  I asked how she felt about sharing that with her students and she said she hadn't thought about it but was happy to do so.

At the end of this meeting, I took a photo so I could share it on the library's Facebook page and let our school community know what we are up to.

Third Meeting

Our third meeting was about "planning, organising and sustaining regular opportunities for children to read independently for pleasure".  We talked about the opportunities children have to read independently for pleasure, where they get to read, and how it gets worked into the school day.

We also looked at the questions in the student questionnaire about whether students liked reading, whether they thought they were any good at it and whether they read with anyone at home.  We discussed the fact that 66% of our students read more at home.  The most common reasons they gave were because they have more time, their favourite books are there, it's quieter and they're more comfortable.  The students who read more at school felt they did so because "it is a subject" (in other words they have to!), because it's busy at home and because there are more books at school.

We talked about ways to encourage children to discuss their reading with each other.  I shared something that I'd seen work well for a teacher several years ago.  She sat her students down in the library and before they returned their books she gave them time to talk about them with each other.  A lot of teachers from our Teachers Reading Group have now been doing this with their classes and it is very successful.

Fourth Meeting

At this meeting we looked at "extending knowledge of children's comics and magazines".  I brought in a huge selection of graphic novels and we browsed through these.  I'd recently been looking at the borrowing histories of some of our "priority readers" and could see that several had found their passion for graphic novels.  I talked about some of the more popular graphic novel series that had hooked these developing readers.

During this session a Year 2 teacher reported back about what happened when she talked to her class about her own reading journey.  I found her story really heart-warming, so I asked if she could write something so I could share it, and here it is:
This week I shared with my Year 2 class how I found it hard to read when I was little and that a beautiful lady, Mrs Howl, helped me to learn to read.  This created a discussion about Paula's role when she comes into our class at reading time to help some students.  The discussion took many directions with the tamariki [children] saying "we read together to help each other".   One beautiful 6-year-old said, "wow, if you didn't learn to read then you wouldn't be able to be our teacher and teach us how to read".  Another boy said, "as long as you try your best you can learn to read or do anything".  I shared that is why I love to read as the passion and support from Mrs Howl made me want to keep trying to learn to read.  This meant that after lots of hard work I was able to read my own chapter book and now any book I wanted.  Year 2's are so fantastic and it was definitely inspiring sharing my own reading journey.  I observed some of my students sitting on the mat listening with big smiles on their faces.  It was a beautiful, honest, feel-good moment that I will remember so thank you Michelle for inspiring me to share my history with my class.
This teacher said that in particular some of her lower achieving students were very inspired by hearing her story.

Fifth Meeting

The fifth meeting was about "discovering useful information about children's out-of-school reading habits, cultures and practices".  We talked about valuing all kinds of reading - online, paper-based, recipes, signs, receipts, games etc.  I shared the idea of reading rivers and gave them some handouts about it, including Jon Biddle's example on the Research Rich Pedagogies website.  I also showed them the one I had made.

A reading river is where you record everything that you read over the course of 24 hours or a weekend.  It helps the children to notice how much they are reading when they don't realise it.  It's also really good for teachers to get an idea of what kids are reading at home.  Our teachers were very enthusiastic about this, they liked the idea of putting reading rivers up on display so students' peers could see what they are reading.

I was pleased to see that one of the teachers took this idea and shared it back with the other teachers in her team.  The impact of the Teachers' Reading Group is moving wider and I'm really happy about that!

As we have gone along the teachers have got to know one another better (none of them are from the same team and several are new to the school).  We have had some great discussions around reading, not always directly related to what we've been covering!  I'm learning a lot and the cross-team pollination of ideas has been wonderful.