Lindsay Bruce: Whole School Reading Days

English blog: Why we became a reading school

In my previous blog I outlined our motivations for becoming a Reading School. We were clear why we wanted to do it and the impact we really hoped we would have. We just needed to think of a hook; a way to get the students to buy in to the new culture. We decided the best place to start would be with the new Year 7 and we would use their Transition Days to sow the reading seed. We picked Wonder by R.J Palacio and planned the Transition Days around it. This book, if you haven’t read it is about a boy with Treacher Collins Syndrome who must start school for the first time. It deals with friendship, bullying, trusting adults, and diversity – perfect for children about to start secondary school. We bought every student a copy and gave staff enough time to read it. I then chunked down the pages and allocated each period the pages to read. Each lesson was divided into themes and key content; all the teacher had to do was plan a lesson linking the themes and content in any way they liked to their subject area. The only thing we stipulated was the member of staff should read to the students. Our colleagues were tremendous and really engaged with the task – bear in mind we had not fully taken the steps to be a Reading School, this was the first step for staff.

The transition days went so well. The students loved the book, staff were fully engaged, and the Year 6 students joining us in September expected nothing else than reading being an important part of their time at Moreton. More than that, every child starting Moreton School in September had a book to finish reading over the summer.

After the transition days my headteacher said that she would love to share the experience with the rest of the school. It had been such a joy buying all of the students a book so we wanted to do the same for the current Year 7 and 8 (who would become Year 8 & 9). We calendared the days for the second week back after the Summer holidays and decided two days would be enough to get the students going as they would have Curriculum Reading Time starting the week following (see blog 1). We picked two books that looking back were perfect choices for our students. For the new Year 8 we went with A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness and for Year 9, The Hate You Give (THUG) by Angie Thomas. They were both big hits! The key themes in both texts really spoke to our students and helped us find a way to engage them in conversation about the issues they face.

One area we had to consider before we got going was how staff would cope with the themes of A Monster Calls – the main character, Conor’s, Mum is dying of cancer. We held a staff briefing and told staff if this was too much for them then another member of staff would be on hand to come and read to the class. Likewise, there was a fair bit of swearing in THUG and so we offered the same to colleagues who did not feel comfortable reading it. After the two days were over we held a staff breakfast with SLT serving everyone, as a way to say thank you for everyone’s enthusiasm. Moreover, it gave everyone a chance to discuss the books – what they had loved and found difficult about them. This also modelled to colleagues how we could discuss the books with the students as they continued to read them independently during Curriculum Reading Time.

My favourite thing about the reading days was walking in to classes period 1 and having reluctant readers saying they did not want to read for two days – in fact being totally outraged that they were going to have to read for two days –  and then seeing them period 3 desperate to find out what happens to Starr or why Conor imagines a tree coming to get him. They had become ‘readers’. This is supported by a student voice I did in November to get some ideas about how the different reading initiatives were being received. 100% of students said they had enjoyed the whole year reading days and wanted to have more of them.

So, we are currently planning our next whole year reading days. Year 10 students have been asking for them and want to be involved in Curriculum Reading Time, therefore, in the Summer term years 7-10 will all be bought a book and will have at least two days where they read as a year group. There are some great discussions between staff about what books we should use: should we harness the Manga craze sweeping the school and do a graphic novel? What about poetry? Or explore LGBTQ+ young adult fiction? Any suggestions would be welcomed! We’ll let you know what we chose but one thing is for sure, every student at Moreton School from Year 7-10 will have a book that they can take home, read, and discuss with their friends. We believe everyone is a ‘reader’ they just need to find the right book – we’ll keep trying until all of our students find it.