Category Archives: Literacy

Walking on Gold at The Roman Baths

Signing books at the Roman Baths

Book signing at The Roman Baths

One of my happiest mornings this month was spent at The Roman Baths with a roomful of children scribbling away furiously. Some wore tunics, some wore togas: all were bursting with exciting ideas for an adventure story inspired by Bath’s Roman coin hoard.

Curator David Baker set the scene with Roman coins to handle, pottery, jewellery and a list of common Roman names.

Once we got started on our stories, the air was filled with a hum of creative energy. There were some fantastic ideas for dramatic beginnings with some truly wicked-sounding baddies. Story middles raced along, packed with twists and turns of the plot. And we agreed that surprise endings – or happy ones – were our favourites, and the ones to aim for in our writing.

I hope I’ll be reading everyone’s finished story soon on The Roman Baths website – and I hope you’re enjoying reading Walking on Gold!

Janine Amos

Co-founder, Electrik Inc

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Spring makeover for Electrik Inc

Pip spring cleanSpring has sprung early at Electrik Inc thanks to the design team at The Curved House. They swept in like a new broom sprucing up our blogsite, installing a bright new banner, sorting out the clutter and generally making sure everything worked. We’re delighted with the result and our mascot, Pip, is very happy to be centre stage championing ‘Our Books’. A big thank you to Kristen Harrison and Rowan Powell.

And congratulations to The Curved House on their own new ‘make a book’ project for children. The creative agency have established a new division, Curved House Kids, and are busy creating books which primary-aged children can either illustrate or write themselves. What a fantastic idea! Check out their website here.

And while we’re on the subject of promoting reading and literacy, we’d like to thank everyone who supported our Stories for Stockings campaign just before Christmas.  It created a great buzz with the magic spreading far and wide all the way to Japan via more than 100 facebook shares.

Jenny Landor, Co-founder

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Improving Literacy

How do you encourage reluctant readers to want to read? I’ve been thinking about this question a lot recently. I know reluctant readers, I’ve met them on author visits to schools and some reviewers have said that my story, St Viper’s School for Super Villains, is a good book for them. But what actually makes a good book for a reluctant reader? Is there a list of gold star stories which will help them to find a love of reading and what advice is available for parents who are struggling with this issue?
I’ve been talking to teachers, librarians and parents about the topic and reviewing the literature. I was lucky enough to visit Stuart Boydell and his wonderful Year 2 class in 2012. He is such a great teacher! I’m very happy to be able to share with you my second guest blog, by Stuart, on improving literacy.

Improving literacy and nurturing an enjoyment of reading has been the aim of successive government policies for decades. The media is peppered with reports on international league tables and school SATS results with depressing statistics about the nation’s reading levels. In this atmosphere we are constantly being reminded that we need to all be doing more and more to help our children get on in an ever-changing world where communication is central to everything they will be doing in the future.

Understandably, there is a growing sense of urgency to see our children learning to read at an ever younger age. For some children, however, reading is a chore and holds little enjoyment. These children are increasingly being labelled as “reluctant readers”. I am sure we all know a child who somebody has labelled as a “reluctant reader”. Yet, I wonder how many of us have actually ever stopped to unpick the term? To be reluctant means to be hesitant, or uncertain. Uncertainty often develops from a lack of confidence or experience. If a child is reluctant to read, it is incumbent upon the child’s teachers and parents to try to ascertain what it is about reading that makes them reluctant. Unfortunately, there is no magic formula. Helping our children to develop a love for reading takes a lot of time, a lot of patience and a huge dollop of encouragement. But, there are a few things we can all do that will encourage greater levels of engagement with books.

For many children, particularly boys, once they have learnt all the myriad skills needed to decode words accurately, it can be a lack of interest, motivation or stamina to read for prolonged periods of time that is holding them back from progressing in their reading. It certainly means reading novels and longer stories will be a huge challenge. Often, however, this is compensated for by an interest in non-fiction books which is, after all, still reading and a core component of school literacy. There will be, of course, a minority of children for whom even non-fiction books will present them with difficulties. But I am sure I won’t be risking my professionalism to be fairly sure that these children will happily read the many instructions and rules needed to understand how to download music or get to the next level of whatever digital game they are playing, Oh and scanning the TV guide looking for their favourite shows. The opportunities for reading go beyond fiction and books!

In an ideal world, we all want children to love story books and ultimately novels. Stories are how they make sense of the world around them and how they play out many of the ideas, wants and frustrations that occupy their minds. Consequently, publishers have been addressing the need to get more children involved in fiction for the last few years. There is a plethora of new and excellent authors out there tackling these issues with strong storylines, but often using language to describe plots and themes which appeal to today’s children.

Increasingly, children are enjoying stories that have strong, feisty characters and a huge amount of humour – think Jack Splat or Jack Stalwart. A simple search on the internet or a quick chat with your child’s teacher will point you in the right direction. I have yet to meet a child who doesn’t love Horrid Henry or Mr Stink. Check out the “Out of this World” series from Scholastic Books. There is a growing trend to produce illustrated books that mix animation with real-life images, which seem to really appeal to children. The texts can be a bit limited, but they are fictionalised stories and short enough to give some children the sense of achievement that they have just read a whole book.

The motivation and stamina to read longer texts is undoubtedly a bit of an uphill challenge for some – but it isn’t an insurmountable challenge. The best way to develop these skills, like all skills, is to develop it slowly over time. You can’t run the Bath half-marathon if you haven’t got out there and built up your stamina! Most children will have an area or topic of interest that you can tap into. Tap in sensitively and discreetly! Try to avoid the temptation to have an ‘action plan’ of how to maximise reading potential from your child’s interests – it is amazing how quickly they will change their interests! Work with them, taking the lead from them, as much as you can. Talk to them when their interests appear on TV or in articles in the press or magazines (shared reading is a common practice in schools and is a lovely way for parents to engage with their children). It is always worth remembering that there is nothing wrong in sharing the task of reading a book.

In short, don’t be unduly alarmed if your child seems to only be interested in short, sharp bite-sized reading material like non-fiction books or comics. These texts still require children to use many of the skills needed to be competent readers. Small, easily-digestible reading chunks are often enough for some children. As their interest grows so too will their desire to read more. And, with carefully chosen fiction that taps into their interests, they will soon be mixing their reading between fact and fiction in the much the same ways as we do.

To get yourself started check your local library and book stores for any reading competitions and lists of latest quality fiction out there or pop in to see your child’s teacher and find out what reading materials the schools use to engage the children. There are plenty of reading and writing competitions on-line that taps into all manner of subjects. Grab a cup of coffee and trawl through the different websites. Check out the World Book Day website as well as the ReadZone pages.

Stuart Boydell

King Edwards School, Bath

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Encouraging Reluctant Readers

How do you encourage reluctant readers to want to read? I’ve been thinking about this question a lot recently. I know reluctant readers, I’ve met them on author visits to schools and some reviewers have said that my story, St Viper’s School for Super Villains, is a good book for them. But what actually makes a good book for a reluctant reader? Is there a list of gold star stories which will help them to find a love of reading and what advice is available for parents who are struggling with this issue? I’ve been talking to teachers, librarians and parents about the topic and reviewing the literature. One person who has some really interesting views on the subject is James Roberts-Wray, a Year 4 teacher who is passionate about children’s literature. I’m delighted to be able to share with you our first guest blog, by James, on Encouraging Reluctant Readers:

James Robert-Wray blogHave you ever entered a competition where you had to complete a sentence as a tiebreaker? Have you ever won? I have – twice. I’ve been given a portable stereo, as well as a holiday for two in the Algarve.

The story of how I won the holiday is for another time, but the stereo was won after considering quite carefully the subject of this post, namely how to encourage children to adopt a reading habit. The competition was run by the Puffin Book Club and, though I don’t recall the exact words of my winning entry, I do remember the gist of it.

It seemed to me that the Puffin Book Club succeeded by creating a community of readers, a club which anyone might join. The feeling of belonging, with reading as a shared endeavour, was its most important feature. This may seem like stating the obvious, but I think too often reading is viewed as a solitary process, something done alone in a quiet corner.

Think for a moment of adult reading behaviour. We may spend happy hours reading alone, but we also talk to friends about what they are reading, we seek out recommendations at our local bookshop, read reviews online, attend author events, or even join a book group. Why should this be different for children? Indeed if we are to encourage reading for enjoyment as a lifelong interest, then we should be modelling this with children.

As a teacher of primary aged children I try to promote this sharing of books as much as I can. Books often go in ‘crazes’ within my class, as pupils see their peers enjoying particular books. They want to join the party, and share what their friend is so enthusiastic about. This works particularly well with series of books. Try a child with ‘Stormbreaker’ and before you know it half the class are reading their way through the Alex Rider series. Give a reluctant reader ‘The Bad Beginning’ and, if they enjoy it, 13 books later they have read the whole Series of Unfortunate Events and more importantly, have become enthusiastic rather than reluctant readers. Children like reading series, because by doing so they sidestep that awful question, what shall I read next?

Of course, using peer pressure to encourage children to read is easier for a teacher to engineer at school than a parent in the home environment. But sharing a book with your child helps, as does modelling good reading behaviour by keeping up your own reading habit. If a child does not see you reading, what conclusion will they draw about the value of reading? Visit bookshops and libraries with your child. Do not assume that the books you read as a child will be of interest. Make proper non-computer, non-television space for reading. Use the five finger test. Put a finger on any word your child does not know. If you have reached the bottom of the page and have run out of fingers, the book is too difficult – change it.

Watching a reluctant reader turning on to the pleasures of reading is one of the most rewarding parts of my job. It’s not something I judge from reading test scores or English exams. It is the child sat down reading before school starts – unasked – transported by their book to another place and time.

James Roberts-Wray

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