In his Laureate Log of May 2008 Michael Rosen wrote about two young, newly qualified teachers who asked him: ‘How can we get our students to enjoy literature?’ He went on to say that ‘Clearly, there is no longer time to answer this question during PGCE and Education degree courses. If anyone knows otherwise, let me know.’ Mary Sutcliffe of the Westminster Institute of Education did just that (see Forum in BfK No. 174). Now Alison Kelly and the English Education team at Roehampton University describe their work with students.
Our starting point is borrowed, unashamedly, from Grainger et al’s hugely important Teachers as Readers project. Their findings about the impact of teachers’ own reading on their pupils’ achievements and dispositions confirm our team’s beliefs about the need for student teachers’ subject knowledge about children’s literature to be centre-stage in all our courses. The only way that teachers will, in the words of those above, ‘get their students to enjoy literature’ is if they themselves are avid and informed readers.
The English Education team at Roehampton University has long been committed to ensuring that our students are confident, enthusiastic and knowledgeable about children’s books. We want reading aloud and shared experiences around favourite books and class novels to be privileged as key reading routines throughout the primary age-phase. To this end, we embed regular reading of children’s books in all our courses and we have held to this as a guiding principle as different government interventions come (and go…).
Undergraduate students spend their first term exploring a range of texts in a module entitled just that: Exploring Texts. Drawing from picture books, novels, non-fiction and digital texts, this module gives students their first taste of the many different ways children can be actively engaged in responding to literature. Their awareness of children as readers is heightened by the fact that we ask them to write a story (an updated version of a traditional tale) and prepare it for classroom use. It is at this stage too that all the students set up a database of children’s books that they build up across the three year course. Many tell us that they continue to develop the database well into their teaching lives.
Rivers of reading
We try to offer a model of good practice in our teaching environment too. As you enter our teaching block you will be greeted by photos of all the tutors with their favourite children’s books. The journey upstairs takes you past our Year 2 undergraduates’ ‘Rivers of Reading’. Inspired by the Teachers as Readersproject, each student took home an outline ‘River of reading’ and recorded – in whatever way they wanted – all the reading they did over a weekend. The impact of these was significant: students were delighted by each other’s efforts and amazed by the range of reading they undertook. As one student reflected: ‘Asking children to do this task will show them just how many things require being able to read. I was really surprised just how much reading I did without opening a book or a magazine.’ They were also excited by the potential of the activity in the classroom for getting to know about their children’s out-of-school reading habits.
For our PGCE students – who have just 38 weeks of training – story is the central theme of their opening induction week. This week of story-telling and book-sharing culminates in groups of students producing a poster about the potential of a chosen book. Thereafter the students meet in weekly reading groups to build up their reading repertoires and develop ways of working with picture books and novels. Students preparing to work with EYFS and KS1 children bring in books around a theme (‘Owls’ this year) for six weeks. They take it in turns to take the lead, read aloud and share an activity based on the book.
At the same time our KS2 students are reading Philip Pullman’s The Firework Maker’s Daughter. Each week one student takes the lead, reads aloud (beautifully!) and poses questions. Then a range of possible activities (e.g.role-play, mapping, setting up ‘conscience alley’) are explored.
And last, but by no means least, we have our ‘Poem a Day’ project. Concerned about the uneven experiences of poetry that our students bring with them and keen to attune the students to the rhythms, cadences and voices of poetry, we determined to start every single teaching session with a poem. The team put together a PowerPoint presentation of short poems and these greet the students as they arrive. In just a few minutes we share the poem and spend a little time reflecting on how they might work with it in school as well as highlighting some of its poetic features. The PowerPoint presentation goes onto our virtual learning environment so students have easy access to the poems. Our mantra to the students is ‘A Poem a Day’ in school!
We hope we have reassured you, Michael!
Cremin, T, E Bearne, P Goodwin, M Mottram (2008) ‘Primary Teachers as Readers’, English in Education, 42, no.1, 8-23
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