Kirk Hallam Community, Technology and Sports College, Derbyshire has embraced Rooted in Reading as a central plank of its whole school literacy policy. Below is the section of Ofsted’s report, Improving Literacy in Schools: A Shared Responsibility, published earlier this week. Clearly Ofsted are unwilling to mention the project by name but you will notice references to ‘passports’ and ‘logs’ and I do know that the HMI who conducted the Good Practice visit was very impressed Rooted in Reading and the impact it was having on learning across the school, due to the effective management of the project by the Head of English and the librarian. You can see all the Rooted in Reading resources by visiting Lincolnshire Teaching School Alliance website or for more information DM @stevewillshaw.
The importance of reading for enjoyment has a high profile at the college. The college’s librarian, working closely with English and other subject teachers, is a driving force in this agenda. The headteacher commented:
At the college, we believe that improving pupils’ literacy skills is vital if we are to raise their aspirations and achievements. Encouraging pupils to read for pleasure is just one of the strands of literacy that the college has used to promote developments in this area. When the college became a specialist technology college in 1998, we invested some of the specialist school funding in the library as we believed that this would support all learners in a range of subject areas. The library is a busy, exciting place to be in. It is a resource that subject teachers can and do want to use. It makes use of traditional books and electronic media to captivate pupils’ interests. Whole-school initiatives such as the development of a 15-minute core reading time every day and book boxes have been used successfully to establish good reading habits. The Literacy Special Interest Group, chaired by the Literacy Coordinator, is being used to identify and share the very best practice in reading throughout the college.
Reading and the library: ‘Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body’
The college’s librarian has a passion for reading and for encouraging young people and adults to read. The library has a vibrant atmosphere, with wall displays and promotional posters such as ‘Turn the pages of your imagination – READ’. The librarian coordinates a wide range of enrichment activities. World Book Day is celebrated for a week. This year, all the activities were linked to the theme of ‘The book that changed my life’. There was a reading breakfast where pupils and staff dressed up as their favourite characters. Competitions such as designing a bookmark were held, with book tokens as prizes, and each day pupils were challenged to guess the name of a book by the clue that was given to them during tutor time.
Pupils of different ages and abilities take part in the activities on offer in the library. One Year 10 pupil described the impact of taking part in shadowing the Carnegie book award: ‘I really like science fiction and fantasy novels and those books have always been my first choice. Now, after reading different types of books as part of the Carnegie group, I have started to enjoy books in the mystery genre.’ The librarian ran a Jubilee Reading Group in the summer term of 2012. Derbyshire City Council had chosen Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White as its Jubilee reading book and the school’s librarian decided to do the same. As well as reading the novel, which was published in 1952, the group also read and discussed non-fiction texts from the same era.
Across the year, the library runs themed sessions on national events; these involve different subject areas and are given a literary flavour. They include Holocaust Memorial Day, National Poetry Day, National Storytelling Week, and Roald Dahl Day. The Storytelling Week involves pupils and staff in making up and telling each other stories.
Reading to achieve
This project was set up between the librarian and the college’s head of physical education. It was cross-curricular and linked with Derby County Football Club. Its aim was to encourage more young people to read, and it used football as a hook. A grant of £500 from the college’s Sports College status fund enabled the librarian to buy books with a football theme. The scheme ran three times over a six-week period, each time with a group of pupils meeting twice a week during ‘core reading’ time. There were three cohorts, each with 12 pupils from Year 7. Boys and girls of different levels of ability were selected, based on recommendations from form tutors and the librarian, and on assessment evidence. A convincing love of football was also a factor in the selection.
During the sessions, pupils could choose from the selection of books bought with the grant and also from other reading-based activities maintaining the football connection. These included: football-related websites; sports pages of local and national newspapers; football magazines; poetry read aloud by pupils; and group reading of plays. Records of pupils’ achievements were made in their reading passports. At the end of the project, pupils were rewarded with a free ticket for a Derby County FC home match, certificates from the football club and a ‘behind the scenes’ tour of the football ground.
The librarian has tracked the borrowing records of pupils involved in the project and can see that most of them have increased the number and variety of books they have taken out of the library. One Year 7 pupil explained, ‘I really enjoyed it when we read a play about football together.’ The pupils’ reading records show that they have continued to choose a wider range of books as a result of the project. The greater engagement and sense of purpose being established in previously hard-to-reach pupils or those at risk of exclusion is reflected in the college’s marked reduction in persistent absence.
Reading and English lessons
As part of the English curriculum, each Year 7 and Year 8 class has one lesson per week in the library. Lessons cover a variety of topics such as graphic novels, different genres, non-fiction, author profiles, project work and whole-class reading, as well as quiet reading sessions. The school makes it clear that an important aspect of these lessons is ‘to teach pupils how to choose books that will be suitable for their interests and abilities in a friendly, non-judgemental way’. Links are made between the weekly library lessons and the texts pupils are studying in other English lessons. A vice principal who teaches English describes how she uses some of the library time. ‘I was teaching Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo to my Year 7 group and we used the library lessons to explore non-fiction texts related to World War One. Pupils used the library research skills they had developed earlier in the year to find and access texts and resources.’
The head of English shares the librarian’s passion for reading and believes that reading widely, often and well contributes to pupils’ achievement and personal development. He is a strong advocate of a scheme which promotes reading for pleasure. A reading log (a ‘passport’) encourages pupils at all levels to read a range of texts, to reflect on them and to share their responses in a variety of ways, and so improve their wider literacy skills.
Each day all pupils have a ‘core reading’ session after lunch. This gives them an opportunity to read daily for pleasure, to talk about reading, to develop reading strategies and to be offered individual support if they need it. The literacy coordinator has prepared activities that tutors can use to develop a balance across the week of quiet and active reading time. Activities include reading short articles about topics that pupils find interesting. She suggests offering crosswords based on the articles provided, to ensure that the pupils have understood key information. Pupils are encouraged to scan and skim articles, often for a second time; this has worked well and become a valuable reading technique that pupils use successfully.
The librarian makes available different types of text for tutors and pupils. A visual stimulus she has created, which she also uses when teaching English, is a book tree.
I use the book tree to help pupils to discover other texts that they might be interested in. For example, one tree has The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins as the trunk and the branches are novels that inspired the writer or that explore similar themes. The books at the top of the tree are the most challenging and this encourages pupils to ‘climb’ the book tree as high as they can.
The books linked to The Hunger Games are:
Divergent by Veronica Roth
The Maze Runner by James Dasher
The Bar Code Tattoo by Suzanne Weyn
The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness
Germinal by Emile Zola
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Attwood
Lord of the Flies by William Golding
The Giver by Lois Lowry
Reading in subjects across the curriculum
As well as promoting reading for pleasure, college leaders expect teachers of subjects across the curriculum to support pupils in developing their reading skills and reading widely. Drama lessons encourage pupils to read widely and fluently. In Year 10 mixed-ability drama classes, for example, pupils are given additional help, when needed, to read, understand and remember a script. By speaking the lines and working out how to add emphasis, pupils are able to spot important linguistic clues that help them make sense of the text. French lessons create opportunities for pupils to develop and apply reading strategies. For example, they use skimming and scanning strategies, consider the context of a sentence and are encouraged to think of more familiar words that have a similar derivation and meaning when trying to interpret new words or phrases. As part of the Year 7 geography curriculum, a scheme of work is being developed using the novel The White Darkness by Geraldine McCaughrean as a stimulus to study Antarctica, other extreme environments, land formation, and weather and climate. Other subjects, including design and technology and PE, also support the development of reading strategies and pupils’ writing and communication skills through research-based projects and presentations.
Reading and the wider community
Approaches have been introduced that seek to extend reading for pleasure into the whole school community. First, all pupils in Year 8 work on a ‘Story Stack’ project as part of English and library lessons. This involves pupils choosing picture books and creating activities based on these to be used when they visit a local primary school to work with children in Year 1.
The headteacher of Ladywood Primary School describes why it is so successful:
Our children love stories but the joy of having a 13-year-old boy read ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ to a captive audience of five-year-old boys is a sight to behold. The pupils from Kirk Hallam take the project very seriously and obviously think about the choice of story, how they can bring the story to life and what games they might be able to play with the children – including dressing up as a penguin if necessary!
Good links with the local library have brought a number of benefits, including several of the college’s pupils being selected as reading mentors for young readers during the summer break, as part of the library’s holiday reading scheme. Kirk Hallam’s pupils are selected on the basis of an application they submit. They talk to younger children about the books they have read and then encourage them to choose other books.
A staff book group has been running for the past two years, again organised by the school’s librarian. Ilkeston Library lends copies of books that teaching and non-teaching staff read and discuss at the next meeting. The college’s vice principal explains: ‘We also use the reading logs used by pupils. The prompts they contain are a starting point for our discussions and we always end up talking about other books we have read.’
Finally, ‘Lakeside Readers’ is a small book group for the local community, mainly mothers with young children, that meets twice during each school term.