"Back to school" has been a big theme all over the country for the past couple of weeks. We hope it has gone really well for you all.
We have been lucky enough to interview Deputy Headteacher, Mr Allen, to find out why he loves being a teacher and why he thinks reading is such an important part of a child's development.
What do you love most about being a teacher?
From the moment I began training to be a teacher, I realised that I loved how much fun it could be.
Personally, I wasn’t the most engaged pupil at school so I wanted to make sure that my lessons weren’t boring. Of course I soon realised that every lesson couldn’t be ‘all singing, all dancing’ but I loved planning lessons that were different. Whether that meant I was dressed up in a knight's costume or a bed sheet pretending to be Dobby the House Elf, I enjoyed seeing the look on the faces of the children when they realised what I was doing.
I guess my thought process behind it was that if I was bored teaching it then they would probably be bored learning about it and that hopefully they would be more likely to remember it (obviously this wasn’t always the case!!!).
What do you consider to be the main benefits children gain from reading books and being read to?
The biggest thing, apart from improving their skill of reading, is the language the children use. You can always tell which children do and which do not read much at home.
From an early age, if the children are read to more, spoken to more and hear their parents or other family members talk, their speaking and listening skills improve dramatically; in particularly, their pronunciation and vocabulary improves.
As they move further up the school this begins to have an impact on their written work. The children, who read more, generally have a better vocabulary and are able to transfer this in to their work.
What are your top tips for parents who want to encourage their children to read?
Trying to get children to read who are not interested in reading is difficult. I was one of them myself. I didn't read a book from cover to cover for pleasure until I was 19. I had read books at school and I had even studied English Literature at college but they were books that didn't really interest me, I was just told to read them.
My mum was a primary school teacher and I went back to her school to help out when I was older. They had a book fair on at the time and I bought 'Maurice and his Educated Rodents' by Terry Pratchett. Terry Pratchett wrote a series of children’s novels and this was one of them but I didn’t really mind because it looked interesting.
My love for reading was lost at primary school because I was forced to read books I just wasn't interested in. Now, parents, I am not for one minute saying that you shouldn't encourage your child to read their school reading book because they are important, they are pitched at the reading level your child is at. However, alongside that, if they are interested in football let them read a football magazine. If they like horses let them read an equestrian annual. It also gives the children a purpose for reading.
Reluctant readers often struggle because they don’t ‘see the point’ in reading. The best results I’ve seen is when the children have a reason for reading something; when they don’t feel like they are reading.
It is also important for your children to see you read. I know some families have reading nights where everyone reads for a set amount of time and then they discuss what they've read - like a family book club. It doesn't have to be for a long time but again, it gives them a purpose for reading.
I know that there are some parents who find reading difficult, particularly as their children get older and the books they want you to read become more complex; if this is the case use audio books. That way, there is no pressure on anyone; you and your child/children can follow along with the text so everyone has enjoyment.
There are lots of children's books that are both educational and fun. Which books have you read with children in school which you would recommend to others?
I personally believe that all books have the potential to be both educational and fun, it depends on how you use it. However, if you are looking for a book or series of books that are specifically educational and fun, the Horrible History books fit that category perfectly. Although, I would recommend reading them first as some of the books have some ‘choice’ language.
If a child started to get frustrated because they were struggling to read, how would you help them overcome their frustration?
This isn't really a 'one-size-fits-all' kind of answer because it completely depends on the child. From an early age they are taught various reading strategies so it would be a matter of reminding them about those. Some examples of reading strategies are:
- Looking at the page for clues – particularly if there are pictures on the page
- If it was a particular word they were stuck on miss the word out and read the rest of the sentence to try and work it out or use their knowledge of phonics to sound out the word
- If your child is struggling to understand what they are reading, ask the children to read short sections of the story and discuss it with them. Some examples of reading prompts are:
- What has happened in the story so far?
- What do you think will happen next?
- Who is your favourite character? Why?
- Who is the character you like least? Why?
- Do you think the author intended you to like / dislike this character? How do you know?
- Does your opinion of this character change during the story? How? Why?
- Find two things the author wrote about this character that made him / her likeable?
- If you met one of the characters from the story, what would you say to him / her?
- Which part of the story is your favourite / least favourite? Why?
- Would you change any part of the story? How?
- Would you change any of the characters? How?
- Pick three favourite words or phrases from this chapter. Can you explain why you chose them?
- Do you think the title of the book is appropriate? What would you have called it?
- Find two sentences which describe the setting.
- If the author had included another paragraph before the story started what do you think it would say?
Don’t be afraid to let the children ask you questions about either the book they are reading, you are reading or one you are listening to together – you are the best role model!
If teachers find themselves struggling to come up with new and exciting ways to make English fun, where or who can they go to for help?
This totally depends on the school and the authority you are in. We have developed Talk for Writing across our whole school and each class has a consistent approach to the method. TfW allows children to imitate the language they need for a particular topic orally before reading and analysing it and then writing their own version. All classes have the same actions for words which are displayed in each class with the children modelling them.
At the start of each English topic, the teachers create a 'hook' to engage the children. There have been dragon footprints, mysterious suitcases found and crime scenes set up, all to engage the children and allow their imagination to run away with them.
It also gives teachers an excuse to dress up (there might be a theme running through this interview!).
What is the most exciting book related project that has happened at your school?
We always take part in World Book Day in some way or another (again, another excuse to dress up!) but we try and make sure that the children get something out of the day. The older children will read a book to the younger children and vice versa; the children have created story boxes about their favourite book character; we have invited parents in to hear their children and their peers read.
This year the Y5 children planned a Library Day for the whole school. Their aim was so encourage children to use the library more. They planned out a lesson for each class from books they had found in the library in order to highlight to the children how much the library could help them - all of the children loved the day!
I also think the Y5 children loved being teachers for the day!
What is your favourite children's book?
I have a number of books I could choose to be honest (any of the Gruffalo books or the Harry Potter series, particularly Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone are always popular with the children) but I'm not sure I could narrow it down to one so I’ve chosen three.
- Lost and Found by Oliver Jeffers – this is an excellent book for a number of different reasons. Apart from it being a lovely story, it also covers a personal, social and emotional element that allows children to relate and empathise with the characters.
- We're Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen – this book is brilliant from a teaching point of view. You can use it to plan for so many subjects - from the obvious English and Maths, to subject like PE, music and PHSE to name but a few.
- Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White – the reason behind me choosing this is twofold:
a) I love the story and it allows the children to use their imagination (it has talking farm yard animals!)
b) It also has a serious and sad element to the story, which I think is important for children to learn; life is not always a happy ending.
If you could do something else for the day what would it be?
If I wasn't a teacher I would still want to work with children in some way. I find it very rewarding and truth be told, I'm a big kid anyway.
If you could spend a day with one of the PrenderPals, who would it be and why?
If I could spend a day with one of the PrenderPals I think it would have to be Prenders the Parrot. I've always been a lover of Parrots and one of my all time favourite books is Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by J.K. Rowling. I've always been transfixed by her imagination and her ability to create the amazing characters and story lines. I would love to find out why Prenders the Parrot likes it and who his favourite character is. Maybe I could use some of the reading prompts I mentioned before.
The Pals say that Prenders is 'inspirational, wise and fun' and that's something that I've always tried to be with the children I teach so it would be great to get some tips from Prenders.