Developing a reading culture

At the end of last year, I took advantage of my gained time and having a trainee teaching one of my classes to finally  tackle the culture around reading in KS3.

We’ve been using AR for 2 years now and that’s had some impact, but not enough on our really reluctant readers. We’ve also been doing a daily Stop, Drop and Read but that begins to cause more problems than it’s worth!


  1. Staff are using SDR time to do admin tasks instead of reading.
  2. Students who do read are not given the opportunity to enter in to a reading discourse.
  3. Some students see SDR and library lessons as painful, pointless and boring.
  4. Students only think of English teachers as readers.


  1. Clearer guidelines need to be issued to staff and those who join mid-year need to be properly informed about SDR.
    We also need to highlight to staff the benefits to students’ reading ages that the daily SDR offers and the importance of that in their day to day teaching and some students’ ability to fully access their exams.
    There is a wider school issue about workload (which is way above my pay grade to tackle!) We are offering staff 20mins of quiet reading time; a time to just stop and breathe during a, potentially, busy day. However, they see this as an opportunity to make a tiny dent in the never ending to do list.
  2. I made mini-review cards for students to fill in. This is a voluntary activity and they are rewarded with house points. In the first month, without any real pushing by staff, both myself and the librarian were pleasantly surprised by, not only, the amount of reviews we were getting but also by who was writing them. We found students who we assumed were reluctant readers asking to fill in review cards and share books they enjoyed with others. These will be displayed next year both in the library and the English corridor and, if I have my way, other places around school too – still desperately trying to prove that reading is not just an English lesson thing!
    The next step is to introduce longer review options, which we will store in a review folder or on FROG (depending on how effectively the FROG champions work this year!).
  3. We have students who keep rereading the same book for as long as possible as they can’t be bothered to go to the library to change it. Or those who deliberately wait until SDR to ask to change their book so they can spend as much of the 20 minutes as possible not reading. Although staff are not supposed to let students do anything other than read during SDR time, there are still those who regularly manage to go for a wander. To combat this, we have added reading books to the list of essential equipment that Y7 & 8 tutors need to be checking for and the library is now available for them to use during tutor time to exchange books and quiz.
    I’ve also revamped the library lessons. Our fortnightly sessions used to be split between library and literacy, but with packing, unpacking and moving the class very little of either was achieved. We decided to embed a weekly literacy focus into our lessons and spend the whole lesson on reading and reading / book related activities.
    I am building a bank of reading related tasks for students to choose from which allow them to engage with their book in a variety of different ways and give the reluctant readers a little gap between books, in the hope that it stops reading from feeling monotonous and never ending for them.
    These will be recorded and displayed if appropriate with the students permission and although house points can be awarded, these will not be marked. Their purpose is to allow students to engage with what they’re reading and to promote a reading discourse around the school.
  4. A little over a month before the end of the school year, I sent out an email requesting staff who would be willing to volunteer for a Student Recommended Summer Read. I was hoping for a small group of staff from different departments. I was surprised to see my inbox light up continuously for the first 15 minutes after the email was sent. However, I was a little disappointed that all responses were all from female teachers; I was concerned that this would not encourage some of our reluctant male readers. But I quickly learnt that the women in our school respond much quicker to emails than their male counterparts, as slowly  more male names added to my list. By the deadline, I had 44 staff who wanted a book and from a range of departments, including the admin team. With 24 recruits from all ability ranges in Y7 & 8 we met during tutor times to select books. They had the following instructions:
    – Choose a book you’ve read and would like to share.
    – Consider who you’re choosing for.
    – Don’t stitch any member of staff up!
    The books and a mini-review card were distributed and they’re starting to come in. So far  the reviews have been positive (3 or more stars) and a lot of staff have been surprised by their enjoyment of a genre they wouldn’t have necessarily chosen. What I’ve really been pleased by is the amount of staff who want to know who picked their book so that they can thank them and discuss the book.
    We plan to run this again for the Christmas holiday.


Our next steps are to bring in an author to work with our reluctant readers and to development parental engagement of the reluctant and weaker readers. However, with the start of my maternity leave looming I’ve left my maternity cover to embed and strengthen the new strategies started last year and the next steps will begin on my return.

Why change can be good.

Being an English teacher at the moment, means that I am in the middle of a LOT of change and it is feeling overwhelming at the moment, regardless of whether or not I like some of the changes. However, there is something that is making me smile and filling me with hope for 2016 / 17: the KS3 curriculum…

Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of changes here but if you’re lucky enough to be in the right school with the right people around you it is such a golden opportunity.  During the January INSET we started working on mapping out our KS3 curriculum for next year and, being honest, I was a little worried about whether or not the department would like the vision that I thought would work best for us and our students. Luckily, they jumped on it.

We’re planning to break away from the rigid constraints of each unit being bookended by a holiday, so if there’s an INSET, bank holiday, snow day etc then you have to start looking at what lesson can be ditched. Or you end up rushing through the text (or worse still, not finishing it) and turning our students off reading or associating oncoming holidays with rushed assessments and stressed teachers who suck the fun out of the lessons. We’ve decided on 3 units a year but each unit is going to mimic the project style learning that primaries use. Each unit will have a title that is deliberately vague; each unit will have 2 set assessments; but the rest is down to the class teacher to decide. Each unit will have the opportunity to explore factual and fictional texts / extracts, as well as offering students the chance to practise a range of writing skills, but delivered with a variety that a unit titled ‘Writing to inform, explain & describe’ would often be lacking.

The head of department and myself wanted the team to be able to have opportunities to explore what they’re passionate about in English, as well as what catches the interest of their classes. As well as having time to focus on the skills that their classes need to work on. But we didn’t want them to be constantly counting how many lessons they had left before they would start to feel the pressure of falling behind.

It was heart warming during our INSET meeting to watch the teachers round the table become excited about where the random unit titles that were being thrown out could take them and their future classes. However, I think the excitement may have come from something else, something deeper and, perhaps, subconscious: their professional judgement was being trusted. Myself and the head of department were, essentially, saying to them all that we trust them to know their students, know their subject and to teach to a high standard without being given a prescriptive scheme of work (which, let’s be honest, often gets ignored completely or adapted). We’re not leaving the department high and dry; we are going to create a resource bank that will grow during the curriculum’s life. (I shall share what we’re doing after our next meeting and it moves from draft to confirmed plan.)

I’m not naive, I know that a curriculum map like this could create lazy lesson planning done in a rush the morning before and it could increase the work load to start with, but wouldn’t that happen no matter what we did? I also know that this will need careful monitoring by me to ensure that all students are getting full access to the full spectrum of English, but I’m happy to do that if it means the staff and students are enjoying what they’re doing in their lessons a bit more.

In addition to that, I’m lucky enough to have been invited to join the assessment working group at my school. We’re working together to create our version of levels and the new assessment policy. This is so exciting to me, not just because I’m a teacher geek, but also because everyone who is sat round the table has similar ideas about education: enjoyment, progress and character building are all important and none is more important that the other and we cannot lose focus on that in the new curriculum. These meetings have been some of the best meetings I’ve been in as I feel like we are all working towards a common goal and that our professional judgement and opinions are trusted. As well as seeing the passion in teachers of different ages, subjects and positions genuinely makes me happy. (I know, I’m such a saddo!)

So maybe, in our world of constant change and feeling under valued and undermined by those who are running education, we can and should see KS3 as a light in the dark. A chance for us to trust our colleague’s professional judgements and experiences and create something that we can be really passionate about which will truly benefit those who are lucky enough to enter our classrooms.