Teaching a love of reading

Contributed by Chris Youles

English teacher

Fri 16 Oct 2020

Here’s a thought about reading: is it a teacher’s professional responsibility to read children’s books? In the teaching profession, we talk a lot about promoting reading with children, but what about adults?

Recently, I was discussing the joy of reading a book to my class, and a staff member told me that this wouldn’t be their idea of fun. I then remembered that not everyone loves to read. In fact, some adults, just like children, don’t find it a pleasurable experience.

I created a poll on Twitter:

Books2All blog - Teaching a love of reading table
Chris’ Twitter poll, asking if teachers at his followers’ schools were passionate about reading and if they read children’s books

Are those results surprising? Or are they what you would expect?

In my current school, all the children know me as a book lover. They stop me in the corridor to tell me what they are reading or ask to borrow the book that I have read to them in that week’s assembly. My office desk is piled high with books, and when children come to see me, they often joke that they know which desk must be mine.

However, in my last school, the English lead wasn’t like this. All the children knew that he loved writing, and they were sent from throughout the school to show him their work. He ran story competitions, spelling bees and talked to the children all across the school about the power of the written word but, when it came to children’s books, the truth was that he didn’t read any.

He did read, though. In fact, he read voraciously, often getting through four or five novels a month. His bedside table was piled high with books waiting to be read, and his house was packed full of hundreds of books, over-spilling from the shelves, stealthily taking over his house. But the number of children’s books in that collection could be counted on one hand, and I think this was wrong.

Books2All blog - Teaching a love of reading
The usual state of Chris’ desk

I can say it was wrong because that person was me. When I moved school last year, I decided to do something about it. Here’s the truth: I still read a lot, and I still read mostly books aimed at adults, but now I try and intersperse these with reading the latest children’s works, and I also make a real effort to keep abreast of the world of children’s literature.

So, we come back to the question: is it our responsibility to read children’s books? Is an English lead failing their class and their school by not doing so? Well, I would suggest no. It wouldn’t be fair to add something else to what is already an extremely packed workload. What people choose to do in their own leisure time is up to them, and it wouldn’t be fair to dictate or shame those teachers who perhaps do not even enjoy reading.

So, what do we do to help teachers, whose lives are far too busy already, to help them improve their knowledge of what new books are out there? How do we give them that knowledge so that, when a pupil says they don’t know what to read, or a parent asks them for any recommendations, they have something to draw on?

Top tips for choosing a children’s reading book for teachers

Here are my top tips (and some kindly shared by fellow teachers) for promoting children’s books to teachers:

  • Start a book of the week – in my school, this is put on the school website, and I email it to all teachers each week.
  • Staffroom books – each half term, we buy a new picture book or non-fiction book and put it into the staff room for adults to flick through. At the end of the half term, we then offer it out to a year group or class to do some lessons based around it.
  • Start a school podcast – each month, we plan to release a podcast talking about the books we have available in school and what we have been reading. (Here’s ours.)
  • Buy new books for the class – I know this sounds obvious, but anytime you can update your stock with a few new titles that can be shared with the staff and promoted in class will be helpful.
  • Have the whole school read together – during the lockdown, our whole school read Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White so that the children at home and at school could have a shared reading experience. It was wonderful to see the children from Years 3 to 6 wandering around all clutching their copy and to hear staff discussing the book in the staff room.
  • Make looking at children’s books part of CPD/staff meeting time @Natty08 and @Misterbodd have been doing this in their schools with wonderful ideas, such as wrapping the books up to add a sense of mystery or having them laid out on a ‘book blanket’ and then letting the teachers pick a book and have a flick through them, with the option to take away and read any that they liked the look of.

Have you got any more ideas? If so, I’d love to hear them. In the meantime, I am off to try and read some more children’s books myself.

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1 thought on “Teaching a love of reading”

  1. I think it’s possible to keep up-to-date with what’s new in children’s books without reading them – you need to connect with people who do, people whose professional opinion about books you trust (such as school librarians!), subscribe to publishers’ enewsletters and any other sources that review children’s books such as Armadillo Children’s Books. As a librarian myself I read a lot of children’s/teen/YA books but there are too many to read them all – yet I have knowledge of many more and can thus recommend books I haven’t read because I know the age they’re aimed at, the type of books the author writes and the sort of reader they’d appeal to. It’s all part of my professional expertise.
    I love the tips of sharing books across the whole school – but I fear this wouldn’t work quite so well in a secondary school. At primary level it seems to be that all staff take on board the need for literacy (and reading) – sadly, this is often not the case at secondary level and reading is too often seen as the remit of the English department.

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