Beyond Early Reading – Case Study

Our fifteenth title, Beyond Early Reading, by David Waugh and Sally Neaum is now available. Here is the third of three extracts from it to give you a taste of the content and the approach. Let us know what you think.

Introducing book talk

empower increase create At the start of the year, many children in Beth’s Y3 class did not read for pleasure. Few children had access to books at home, the local public library had closed and readers as role models were scarce in the community. It was  a struggle to motivate them to read. When asked about favourite books, few could name recent reads, and many answered the question with the names of TV programmes and films.

To address this Beth aimed to:

  • increase the children’s exposure to a wide selection of children’s books;
  • empower the children to select and explore books;
  • increase the children’s love for books and motivation to read;
  • create a reading for pleasure culture in her classroom.

She carefully selected a collection of high quality, illustrated children’s fiction that represented a range of genres, interests and reading levels, and planned a lesson around exploring the books. Children were invited to move around the displayed books, looking for covers or titles that appealed to them in different ways, with a short time to ‘dip into’ several of them. Unusual and attractively illustrated books certainly created a level of interest, but key to the engagement of the children was the type of communication Beth encouraged during this exercise. This was designed to be achievable by all children, whatever their confidence or ability in reading. Asked to choose one word to sum up a book, to point to the book they thought looked the most interesting, to give the name of the person they would recommend a book to, or to show everyone the picture they liked the best in a book, children quickly gained confidence and enjoyed contributing. She asked them to decide which of the books they would like to have in their classroom during the following week, and a small selection was made.

With the chosen books displayed and accessible, Beth timetabled daily slots when she read them to the class, and when everyone (adults included) read them for their own enjoyment. These times always included informal chat about their responses to the books, with everyone’s contribution valued.

Beth also prioritised times when she recommended a book she had particularly enjoyed, talking with enthusiasm and passion, modelling behaviour, vocabulary and different types of response. Each day she was seen reading for pleasure, and every day she made informal comments about something she had been reading for her own enjoyment. At the end of each week the class voted for their favourite books from the selection and repeated the process.

As the term progressed, Beth introduced new ways of communicating about books, for example, giving children ‘shelf shouters’ to write a one-sentence recommendation about a book (much less daunting to create and more easily read than a book review) and setting up league tables of everyone’s favourites. One day when she wasn’t in school, she challenged a volunteer to champion a book in her absence, and thereafter encouraged children to do this, following her model. Other staff came to ask the children for advice about books and they recommended books for other classes (older as well as younger).

By the end of the term, book talk had become a natural part of every day, often instigated by children. Children readily used the vocabulary modelled by Beth to discuss and describe books, and there was genuine excitement at new books, and about book-browsing sessions to choose the classroom selection.

Books that Beth championed became the most frequently read and the most commented upon. Children asked to borrow them to take them home to share and were diligent about returning them. Beth’s own reading and knowledge of children’s books increased as she prepared for reading to the class and for championing book talks. It became obvious that her increased level of knowledge about, and passion for, specific books steered the children’s excitement and motivation to read.

Children often chose to read during Golden Time (reward time of self-selected activity) and those who previously had struggled to participate in guided reading sessions were far more engaged and keen to participate.

Activity 2

  • List the ways in which Beth introduced short and achievable ways to increase communication about books in the classroom.
  •  Using these as a model, plan a series of informal book talk activities to use with a class in the school library, with the aim of enabling children to develop preferences and make informed choices about books they borrow. Activities should be short, varied, interesting and achievable for all children.
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