On the 5th March, it is World Book Day. I’m waiting for my son to come home with the usual, “We can dress up as a character from a book.” Most teachers I know will already be filled with dread and searching the charity shops for something they can use to make Skellig’s wings or put into Mr Twit’s beard. I have yet to do this dressing up on WBD thing. It is perhaps more challenging at secondary level where it’s tricky to be Jane Eyre and get recognised for it. The students are more likely to ask if you have come as the maid from Downton Abbey. Doubtless, for many English teachers, it will be the old hags from Macbeth again.
Why do we do this? I am relabeling it World Look Day because it seems to have become a celebration of who can wear the best outfit. Ebay is awash with ready-made costumes for the occasion. This further reduces the value of the exercise as children don’t even need to read the book or discuss the character – they can be instantaneously transformed into Harry Potter without having to undertake any reading experience whatsoever.
My experience of WBD has always been of the dress up / get a token kind. Does this promote books or reading? What are we saying about reading? Yes, it suggests books can be fun and it gives kids a moment in a bookshop where a book is affordable for them. People will argue that it brings a character to life – does it? How does Fantastic Mr Fox, sounding like the boy who usually sits next to you during lessons and wearing an outfit based on a film, bring the character Dahl created to life?
I would like to make the following suggestions for WBD:
- Encourage some build-up to the day – set students the challenge of reading for half an hour every evening for a week. As the week goes on, explore the obstacles that arise to prevent this happening – including other options like t.v., social media or gaming.
- Cancel the timetable and let students read for as long as they want – at the very least do this in English that day. Let them chat about what they read and if that takes them off on tangents, so be it. If possible provide them with a cushion and a cuppa so they can read in comfort for a change.
- Create a Buzz Book / Extract in advance of the day and encourage as many staff and students as possible to read it – then form book groups which include staff and students of different ages and discuss this text. If you are using an extract choose something with strong elements of atmosphere (e.g. Heart of Darkness / Jamaica Inn) and make this the focus.
- Compare reading from a page and reading on a device. Use one extract which half the class read on a device and half from a book (not a photocopy!). Then swap. How does it differ in terms of feel and experience? Is recall similar?
- Ban a book – padlock it into a cage or pet carrier and see what the reactions are. Who wants to read it now they can’t? What questions does this process throw up about the written word?
- Discuss our negative experiences of reading. Which book would you put into Room 101? Create a book and chain (like a ball and chain) and discuss how hard and unappealing reading is for some people. Acknowledging this might be exactly the kind of reverse psychology that works.
- Bring in favourite books for small children – what makes them work? Students love this “looking back” process and it can rekindle an earlier love of books which may have been lost in the education process.
- Bring in a favourite book, read aloud from it and explain why it’s so great. Then see if anyone else wants to read it.
- Dress and behave as a character they’d like to write a book about and spend time explaining to people why this book would be worth reading.
- Find the best quotation you can from a random page of a novel.
- Decide which page of a novel you would frame.