From Ahlberg to Rowling – how well do you know children’s literature?

14 June, 2021

Image of Debbie Thomas, guest blogger

Debbie Thomas is the Lead School Improvement Adviser for English with Achieving for Children, who provide children’s services for Kingston and Richmond schools. She also works closely with The Centre for Literacy in Primary Education and the Wandle English Hub. In September, Debbie will be joining the team at the Open University, as a Lecturer in Reading for Pleasure.

In this guest blog Debbie looks at the latest research underpinning the development of a reading for pleasure culture in schools and the importance of teachers developing their own book knowledge.

Reading for pleasure vs reading proficiency

A significant body of research now tells us that reading for pleasure is one of the single most important factors in educational success for our children (OECD, 2002). But this presents a challenge for teachers – how do we implement a reading for pleasure ethos and provision, in a system that demands accountability and reading proficiency?

It helps to consider the research into Reading for Pleasure. The seminal study on Reading for Pleasure in the UK was conducted in 2014, through the ‘Teachers as Readers’ research by Teresa Cremin et. al. This study concluded that to develop children’s RfP effectively, teachers need to develop:

  • Considerable knowledge of children’s literature and other texts
  • Knowledge of children as readers
  • A RfP pedagogy:
    • social reading environments
    • reading aloud
    • informal book talk, inside-text talk and recommendations
    • independent reading time
  • As Reading Teachers – teachers who read and readers who teach
  • Reciprocal and interactive reading communities

(Cremin et al., 2014)

But where should teachers begin this journey?

I would assert that developing our knowledge of children’s literature and becoming  ‘Reading Teachers’ are critical first steps.

The opportunities for the teaching profession to engage with children’s literature are greater than I have ever known. Authors have never been more accessible – through author visits, literature festivals, or even engaging directly with teachers and their classes on Facebook and Twitter. Book Awards, including our own new Spark! Kingston and Richmond School Book Awards, celebrate the best in children’s publishing and provide the opportunity for schools or individuals to discover the latest titles. And there are numerous websites and blogs that provide book reviews and booklists to help literacy leads navigate their way through the 1000s of new titles published every year.

These are all important resources for teachers to tap into in order to develop their knowledge of children’s literature. However, the ‘Teachers as Readers’ research highlighted that it is not just teacher knowledge of the latest titles that matters. It is also important for teachers to understand their own experiences of reading, to reflect on what it means to them to be a reader, and how this can impact on their pupils’ experience of reading. Creating space and time for teachers to develop this understanding –  to become ‘Reading Teachers’ – needs more consideration.

Help is at hand…

To address this issue, the Open University, in collaboration with UKLA, set up the OU/UKLA Teachers’ Reading Groups (TRGs). Since 2017, over 100 groups have been established across the UK and internationally. Groups include a range of education professionals as well as teachers: teaching assistants, librarians, head teachers, reading volunteers and more. Their aim is to foster children’s Reading for Pleasure by supporting members’ own RfP and research-informed practice.

TRGs provide the time for teachers to reflect on their own knowledge and practices; the space to create a development plan for an area of their work in RfP; the opportunity to build a supportive professional community around RfP both locally and online; and a place to share the results of their development work via the OU RfP website. In just five sessions across an academic year, members will develop their knowledge of high-quality children’s literature and be supported as ‘Reading Teachers’.

I have been running a local group for the Kingston and Richmond areas of south west London for the last four years and have seen significant changes in my members and their schools. Take a look at one of the examples of practice – The Lockdown Book Club – from Lovelace Primary School, Kingston.  I will be launching a new group in September 2021 and would encourage anyone who is interested in joining our local group to get in touch.

Details of how to join a TRG local to you can be found on the OU Reading for Pleasure website.

Don’t forget!

You can find resources to support all aspects of the literacy curriculum on the Literacy Hive website. Start your search here.

teachers looking at selection of picture books