Saturday, 30 March 2019

Why 'Grammar'? Response to 'Making Grammar Meaningful' from 'Teaching English' (Spring 2019)

(This blog is a response to an article in 'Teaching English' (Issue 19,  NATE Spring 2019.

The article is called: 'Making Grammar Meaningful. Grammatical subject knowledge and pedagogical principles for grammar teaching'

The sub-title is as follows:

'Ian Cushing and Bas Aarts set out the fundamental principles of subject knowledge and pedagogy that teachers need to know to approach grammar teaching effectively.')

My response below argues against the idea that these are 'fundamental principles' and most certainly argues against the idea that what is offered in the article is something that teachers 'need to know' or indeed need in order to 'teach grammar effectively'. 

It argues instead that we have other methods to analyse literature which offer much more than the narrow grammatical approach. 


The article asks: "Why teach grammar?" There is also a question related to a 'why teach x' question? This other question is: 'why teach x rather than y'? That's relevant because of limited time in the curriculum. I could put that as: 'why teach grammar rather than narratology, rhetoric, pragmatics, and sociolinguistics?'

The article talks of 'knowing something about how language works'. Grammar may or may not tell us how language works. Or, I might say, grammar may not tell us very much about how language works. This is because the grammar that is being taught is mostly a system for describing language at the micro-level - that is, mostly at the sentence level. Whether this is 'how language works' is debatable. I would argue that language 'works' at the macro level, (ie at the social level), and this has consequences on how it pans out at the micro level, (ie the sentence level). 

The form and function model of grammar (as described in the article) has some problems: which comes first: form or function? Aren't they co-dependent concepts each relying on the other for definition. It's a similar problem with anatomy and physiology. We separate or segment things (anatomy) according to the functions that we've discovered that the bits of the body do (physiology). How do we know that it's important to separate a heart from the tubes around it? We only know how to segment because  we observe that the heart is pumping and the tubes aren't? 

Conceptually, 'function' (as described by the form and function model of this kind of grammar) is problematic because, oddly in this scheme, as shown in the article, a 'verb' doesn't have a function. How can the unit under the microscope (the sentence) have some parts which have functions (nouns as 'subjects' and 'objects') and another part - (the verb) which does not? This seems arbitrary - particularly in relation to something as crucial (ie the crux of the sentence) as the verb. What is a verb for? What's it doing? What is its purpose? 

It seems odd to me that the sole reason for these 'functions' is to operate within a sentence. This seems like a strange self-serving, circular idea of 'function'. Language is part of human behaviour. It functions as our means of thinking, speaking and writing to each other and to ourselves. It has social origins, histories and social functions. I'm not sure why or how this social component is missing from the classifications that we ask students and children to learn - and the one described in the article. One example as an illustration: the increasing use of 'so' at the beginning of sentences in our speech. We can describe it and name it but this doesn't actually tell us why people are doing it or where it comes from, or what effect its use might having on speakers and listeners. 

Another example: grammar tells us that the imperative form of the verb is a 'command'. Children are asked to spot a 'command' in sentences or passages and these are always and only the imperative form - according to the grammar test at KS2. In reality, we can 'command' in different ways, not always using the imperative form of the verb. And sometimes the imperative itself is not very commanding. This tells me that a sociolinguistic approach to this idea of 'function' will tell us more about what the article later calls 'choice' than this narrowly 'grammatical' approach to function. 

The article states: 'explore how grammatical choices serve to construct and shape meaning.' Why can't we put that differently as 'meaning shapes grammatical choices'? To take the example of futurity, with, let's say my choice to write or say, 'going to':  I have a meaning that I want to convey - namely that I'm going to do something. I use my desire to make that meaning to inform my choice of words. And while we're on futurity, this kind of grammar really can't explain why I might use 'I'll be going out later' as opposed to 'I'm going out later'. It doesn't have explanatory power. 

There is an analysis of a passage from 'Dracula' in the article. It's interesting because the authors play fast and free with their methods: intertwining what I would call 'literary techniques' with the 'grammatical' ones, as if it's grammar giving the lead. They talk for example of 'verbs of cognition or perception'. This isn't 'grammar' really, is it? There's nothing grammatically different between a 'verb of cognition' and a verb of, let's say, 'consumption'.It's much more interesting, surely, to create tables based on, for example 'lexical fields' and find out whether there are 'words' that are doing the job of looking, seeing (ie perception) etc which might include e.g. 'eyes' (not a verb) .  The non-grammatical approach of producing lexical fields is much more productive.

Sensitive literary criticism can focus on the patterns, themes or imagery without using grammar. Oddly, when the authors come to the 'modals' - indeed a good grammatical thing to spot in the lexical field of 'uncertainty' - they've included the modal verb 'will' which is precisely not 'uncertain'!

In the article there is talk of Dracula emerging, and the use of the 'animal metaphor' in the passage. Again, this is not grammatical. The critical technique here draws on the old art of spotting images and figurative language. Fine by me. But figurative language can be carried in a huge variety of grammatical forms. 

Again, if we are trying to explain why this piece is narrated in a particular way, I'm not sure the grammar has much to offer either. Yes, the 'first person' (as mentioned) is crucial because it is the voice of the involved participating narrator. The moment we say this, though, we get into narratology rather than grammar. And, following John Stephens' work, we can ask questions like, what's the difference between 'I' narration and 'he, she it' narration? (We don't even need to use the grammatical terms!) Stephens argues that these different narrations create different 'distances' between text and reader. Again, this isn't grammatical. It's a literary perception. 

Narratology will also tell us that at crucial points in the passage, the diegesis of the account is broken, to e.g. flash back or to make a generalised comment. Why? Grammar won't tell us. Narratology tells us that this 'thickens' an account, so that it is not 'and then, and then, and then'. Thickening an account allows us to perceive e.g. motive, purpose, and 'character' of the narrator (or the narrated focaliser). 

There is also the question of 'reveal-conceal' - again a non-grammatical concept. All writing simultaneously reveals and conceals. Some writing does this more than others. This passage teases and taunts the reader with what he or she might possibly expect, fear or dread might happen. This is why and how it is 'gothic'. Again, we discover this through narratology not grammar. 
All through the passage, we can spot the lexical tricks which invite us to anticipate or contemplate or conjure up what might happen next but which hasn't happened yet because the author has given us the suggestion. Once we have the tool of 'reveal-conceal' at our disposal, we can spot writers manipulating readers more or less, depending on what kind of narrative it is. There are hundreds of ways of doing this and there is no grammatical common ground for them. It's narratological. 

If we look at the passage from the point of view of how it uses rhetoric, we can see an interplay going on between litotes and hyperbole, as with the phrase 'somewhat amused' versus the words 'repulsion', 'terror' and 'dreadful'. Overall, the casting of the scene in darkness, obscurity, the not-quite seen, is either a matter of imagery or it's a matter of the rhetoric of invoking darkness to signify the unknown. Either way, again, it's not grammar that's going to help us locate and analyse this. 

Similarly, we could run a commentary on how the 'body' is signified in the passage: that is, as fragmented and separated. Why, though? Perhaps in order to break up the coherence of the body or bodies in question? A little trip to Freud's 'Uncanny' reminds us that the 'automaton' is a signifier of horror so if parts of the body appear to function separately from the intention of the person, the passage starts to invoke an idea that parts of the body are self-willed. Again, this analysis does without 'grammar'. 

Tuesday, 19 March 2019

Summary of critical methods of close textual reading

Narratology explores how narration, time, thought, speech and ‘focalisation’ are presented: eg flash backs/forwards, first person/omniscient, explicit tagging or indirect discourse, covert authoritorial voice, reveal-conceal key to ‘unfolding’ etc

Prosody shows how authors try to create or emphasise meaning through sound: eg rhythm, repetition, parallelism, long-short variation, assonance, alliteration,

M.A.K. Halliday tried to show that ‘grammar’ is the servant of context, genre, and the intention of people to be meaningful within their social contexts of living, speaking, writing, listening, reading. We can try to find those contexts.

Study of Rhetoric shows us that knowingly or not, writers use classic and religious rhetorical forms at the different levels of phrases, sentences, scenes, dialogue, tone, literary form. Sam Leith has an excellent book on it.

Intertextuality shows how writers and readers construct meaning out of the repertoire of texts they have in their minds. This repertoire is socially constructed from the milieus that specific readers and writers live in .

Stylistics is a catch-all name for any aspect of what might be described as the style of a text at whatever level eg the use or non-use of figurative language, of digression, of specified types of allusion, register(s), use of discourse markers etc

If we draw attention to a lexical field in a text, it shows us the author's focus and it may show intentional patterns, themes, motifs at work. 

Flow is a way of describing one aspect of response. It can refer to our changing emotions towards characters, scenes, outcomes.

Ideology in texts is created out of narratology, stylistics, prosody, intertextuality and rhetoric. Follow the contexts and genres of these from M.A.K. Halliday and John Stephens and we find ideology is not simply ‘what is written ‘ but *how* and *why*.

Getting meaning from texts is not an objective act. It is always socially constructed and socially mediated and framed. This social aspect is always historical, full of the ongoing contested meanings created over time.

Canonicity is the means by which the circulation of texts is controlled and regulated. It’s how hierarchies are made. There are ideologies in the process of how canons are created.

Once we see how methods of imposing normative processes on interpretation are at work we can talk of ‘queering’ these in many different ways. We might find that there has been ‘queering’ of the normative in classic texts eg Viola/Caesario played by a boy.

Decolonisation of texts is to dissect how colonial, imperial and racial power is enacted at any or all levels of eg narratology, stylistics, rhetoric, intertextuality, and *outcome* of events in the action (diegesis) eg who or what is affirmed/punished.

(I work through some of these in relation to a specific text in my booklet 'Why Write? Why Read?' . The text I look at is the first few pages of 'A Christmas Carol'.)

Sunday, 17 March 2019

My speech from yesterday's Stand up to Racism and Fascism march, London

Sympathy and solidarity especially for the loved ones, families and community of all the victims of Christchurch and also beyond 
to all who feel sadness and fear today.

Today’s demonstration was planned months ago long before the horror and terror of Christchurch, 

but it is that horror and terror we come together today to try to anticipate and to prevent.

It is because we fear it and dread it that we fight against it.

But what is it?

I see the newspapers are busy trying to compare what happened in Christchurch with what they call other acts of terrorism.

No need for that, newspaper people. 

It is what the perpetrators say it is: white supremacism.

It’s been around for a long, long time.

It’s been used  - sometimes by you, yourselves, newspaper people - 
to mock, deride and condemn minorities.
It’s been used - sometimes by you, newspaper people, to justify invading and bombing other people’s countries.
It’s been used by people in power to justify slavery, segregation, discrimination, persecution and genocide.

This tells me that it’s dangerous to trust those in power to fight it. 

Too often, the people in power have been the perpetrators themselves. 
Too often,  it’s people in power who’ve won their power and kept their power by scapegoating and persecuting minorities.

Too often, newspaper people, you’ve helped the people in power do that scapegoating and persecuting. 

It’s people in power who sent vans round saying to migrants: ‘Go home, or face arrest’. 
It’s people in power who created what they called a ‘hostile environment’ for migrants.
It’s people in power who created the Windrush scandal.
It’s people in power who refused to treat Shamima Begum and her baby as British citizens. 

And it was people in power in 1943 who ordered 4 policemen to knock on the door of my father’s uncle’s room at 2.30 in the morning in a little village in western France.

He he had fought for France in the First World War. 
He was a French citizen. 
He had committed no crime, 
He wasn’t ever put on trial.

In a well-organised, orderly way, 
according to the laws of the  day, 
he was deported to Auschwitz 
and never came back. 

This is the kind of thing that people in power sometimes do.

This is why I wrote a warning that I’ll read in a moment. 

It’s dedicated to my parents, Connie Isakofsky and Harold Rosen - who, in the 1930s,  fought Oswald Mosley and his British Union of Fascists on the streets of east London, right where they lived and went to school.  

The Tory government of the day gave permission to that British Union of Fascists to parade through those streets. It was only the collective action of 100s of thousands of people that stopped them. 

My parents showed me that we ourselves have to organise, and to turn up,  to stop the rise of racism and fascism,

and they taught me that we must never forget that fascism often comes disguised. 
It often appears making promises. 

The poem is called:
I sometimes fear...

"I sometimes fear...

...that people might think 
that fascism only ever arrives in fancy dress 
worn by grotesques and monsters 
as played out in endless re-runs of the Nazis. 

No. Not always so. 
Fascism can arrive as your friend

It can arrive saying that it will... 

restore your honour, 
make you feel proud, 
protect your house, 
give you a job, 
clean up the neighbourhood, 
clear out the venal and the corrupt

remind you of how great you once were

remove anything you feel is unlike you...

It doesn't walk in saying, 

"Our programme means:
mass imprisonments, 
and mass murder."

They don't say that. "


Tuesday, 12 March 2019

20-point plan for Reading for Pleasure

Here is a 20-point plan for Reading for Pleasure that I created a few years ago (one or two things will be a bit out of date). It's for you to use, adapt,. change, improve to suit your school and your curriculum. I hope it's useful.

Get everyone at your school talking about books with Michael Rosen’s 20-point plan

1. Improve home-school liaison

A good starting point is to have someone from each year group who is responsible for talking with individual parents and carers about their child's reading.
The discussion should be:
  • very specific, and matched to the interests of a child and his or her parents or carers
  • about particular books, magazines and reading websites, named libraries (ideally including a local one that’s easy to get to) and book clubs that might interest the child and his or her carers
  • ongoing, not a one-off chat. The follow-up discussion should include a review of what worked well, and it's a chance to offer lots of new ideas about books, magazines and other reading that will hold the child’s interest and enthusiasm.
Michael believes that it's important to share the idea that books and talking about books really matter. This can be difficult when the main leisure activities of many families are watching TV, playing computer games or spending time in online chatrooms.
He says that to help children understand the importance of books, "We have to think about libraries, about free books for children. This means we have to encourage children to visit their local library. And this means involving the parents as well. There are plenty of parents who don't even know what is available in the local library, or even where it is."

2. Hold events

Another great idea is to have writers, illustrators, storytellers, librarians, and book enthusiasts visiting your school regularly to talk about books and perform to your children and their carers.

Quick and easy events to promote reading

Some events won't take lots of time to organise. The key is to hold events on a regular basis, as this will help your school to become a place where everyone talks about books and reading – if it isn't already.

Pull-the-stops-out events to create a splash

Go for a more ambitious event held once a year or every term. Why not have a launch event for the first day of your campaign to get everyone reading! Once everyone feels inspired by the first event, ask the children and their carers for ideas about what kind of reading event they'd like to hold next.

Reading enthusiasts

You can invite people who are passionate about reading into the school, but there will be lots of book enthusiasts among the teaching and support staff, parents and carers, and older children in the school already. All these people might enjoy becoming Reading Buddies for younger or more reluctant readers.
It's important to set out some ground rules for Reading Buddies. Here are a few:
  • Spread enthusiasm for reading and books. Some able children love reading; others who read well are turned off from it. Other children find it hard to even get started, but there will be something every pupil is passionate about, and finding this out at the beginning will help when they choose their first book for the Reading Buddy session.
  • Make sure you have plenty of books available that will appeal to your more reluctant readers. For example, include reading materials based on sport or cartoon characters as well as non-fiction.
  • Ask the able reader to let the reluctant reader choose the book for the session.
  • Support them by helping them work out when it might be a good time for the other pupil to play a bigger role in the reading, if appropriate. But give Reading Buddies freedom to run the sessions the way they want – trust them to make it work and for some of their enthusiasm to rub off.
  • Think about building passion for reading long-term rather than expecting to see results right away. Getting their peers involved can make a huge difference to the way some children think about books.
  • Provide sufficient time in the school timetable for the Reading Buddies system to work, and to enable the pairs of children to read whole books.

Finding the right people for the job

Here are some ideas for finding the right people to run exciting reading events at your school:
  • Ask children to volunteer as Reading Buddies.
  • Send an enthusiastic note home asking for adult volunteers to come in and perform stories, sing songs about favourite characters, and offer an extra pair of hands to help children make their own books in class.
  • Ask your local librarian for their advice on running events, and read number 6 in this guide for ways to make everyone aware of their local library.
  • Look for writers, illustrators and storytellers who might come in to your school. 

3. Create close links with booksellers

Forge and maintain good contacts with booksellers – they can provide support for the writers, speakers, performers and storytellers who visit your school.

How to do it

  • Invite local and specialist bookshops into school as well as syndicated book fairs.
  • If there's a children's section in your local bookseller's, the buyer or shop manager (sometimes the same person) will have a good overview of what books are available. He or she will also be well-informed about authors and illustrators, and used to organising author visits to schools and setting up a bookstall to sell copies at the same time.
  • Raise awareness about the places where books are available by including information in your school pack for families (see number 6 in this guide). Like a library, it's free to go in and browse at a children's bookshop, and there are usually comfy places to sit and read!
  • Many good booksellers have regular storytelling sessions in their shops, often on Saturdays and Sundays. They will sometimes feature authors and illustrators, including well-known ones or local authors who have been working in school with the children already. Set up a regular email update with your local bookseller so that you can let the children know when to visit their shop. You might have time to send a short note home about it, or to put a newsflash on your school's website.

4. Appoint a school librarian

The aim is to have someone who is trained and interested in running a school library. If you don't have a school library already, setting one up takes time and commitment, and keeping it running in a way that continues to inspire children does too. As well as encouraging learning, reading and sharing good books helps children pick up social skills like insight and compromise, which help any school to run more smoothly and happily.

First steps

Try starting with a small library in every classroom. Get together with colleagues and work through some of the common objections to this. Write them down. You might come up with things like:

Not enough space?

Make room. Books might get sidelined if the library is hidden away, instead of open somewhere everyone goes, like a school hall. On the other hand, if you have a selection of books in each classroom, teachers can work with the school librarian to select and theme the library to suit current discussions and curriculum work. And the books can be circulated to different classes throughout the term.

Not enough in-school expertise?

Bring it in. The children's expert at your local library should be able to come in and help you set up the right kind of library for your class or school. They will have a wealth of knowledge about promoting and supporting reading that they can share with you.

Not enough time?

Find a volunteer. If you ask, you might find a parent or carer, or better still, two parents or carers, who can support the teachers, and perhaps eventually take on the job.

Use it!

Once you have your fabulous library or libraries set up in school, make sure you find time for the children to use it regularly.

5. Set up school book clubs

Your aim is to have an active book club that includes every teacher and every child in every class, and their carers too.

A few ideas

  • Conduct a survey and ask everyone what kind of book club/s there should be.
  • To appeal to everyone, you might need to set up different clubs for different interests. You should be able to use the model for one club for all of the others, with a few tweaks.
  • Work with your school librarian and other book lovers to organise the right books and to help the club run smoothly.
  • Promote the book club/s with help from the children, and cover some of your literacy objectives at the same time. For example, you might challenge your pupils to design posters to encourage other children to join in.
  • Refresh the books frequently to generate wide-ranging, and in-depth, conversations about reading.

6. Share information on local libraries

You want every family in the school to know where the local library is, when it’s open and what's available to the children, and to be using these fantastic public institutions regularly. The books are usually free to borrow, which means children can read whole books all of the time, rather than just excerpts.

So how do you do it?

Trips to the library

  • Take children to the local library and bookshop/s in school time. Plan the visit in advance with the local librarian and bookshop owner, so that everyone can get the most out of it.

Create an information pack

  • Get everyone interested in the local library by creating an exciting information pack for your children and their parents/carers. Make the pack attractive by:
    • personalising it with your school logo
    • using photographs and artwork
    • using quotes from pupils who love reading, saying how brilliant certain sections of the library or bookshop are for finding books about what they’re interested in, or why a particular event at the library was so inspiring. Give examples wherever you can, but enough of them so that you have a wide coverage and overall appeal – anything from stories about fairies and football to non-fiction about pirates and crafts.
    • using quotes from parents/carers who love books and will happily recommend their favourite reads. Present the recommendations in a way that appeals to reluctant adult readers too
    • including facts and figures about the library, like opening times and how many books you can borrow
    • bringing quotes and colourful images together into eye-catching graphics that will capture the imagination of families who aren’t currently tuned in to reading. Ask a colleague for help if you don’t have the computer skills yourself
    • setting a school or year group challenge to design an attractive library and bookshop information pack for the school. Get creative!

Get the word out

  • Give a copy of the pack to every family at your school.
  • Encourage using the local library and bookshop whenever you can, to help make every child and their family feel comfortable in these places. For example:
    • make this the subject of an assembly, and mention it often in other assemblies
    • include it in letters home and in the headteacher's message on the school website 
    • have it as an item on the agenda for discussion with families at parents’ evenings
    • put copies that can be picked up in hotspots like the school entrance
    • don't forget about your local bookshop/s (see number 2 in this guide).

7. Adopt an author or illustrator

If you can, try to work with an author or illustrator – ideally both – for an extended period of time. This is a great way to achieve some of your literacy objectives about understanding an author's work in more depth. If you bring them in to school, or work on a project with them online, you can also promote creativity in the classroom.

How to find the right author for your school

  • First decide what you want to achieve. Perhaps you have a theme for the term that you'd like to tie in with, so you can look for an author who has written in this area.
  • Work out what kind of visit you want it to be, like having the author reading from their book or holding a creative writing workshop. 
  • 'Sell’ authors in your school by putting up pictures and information about them. If there’s a screen in your reception area, you could show a rolling film about favourite authors and illustrators.

Organisations that provide lists of creative people

To find writers, illustrators and storytellers who might visit your school, you could start with this website:
Children's Writers and Illustrators Group (CWIG) of the Society of Authors
A group of children’s writers and illustrators who’ve all had at least one book published.

10. Read widely

School trips or events are an ideal opportunity to get your children reading more widely. Whatever the theme, there are bound to be lots of different sources of information and ideas about it.
Seize the opportunities by:
  • working closely with your school librarian to see what relevant books you already have in the building (see number 4 in this guide)
  • asking your local librarian to advise on books for the school to borrow
  • sending a letter home and putting a message on the school website asking families to bring in relevant books and other literature to share. If it's a history or local geography project, the request might be something general like asking parents/carers what their favourite books were when they were children
  • including anyone who’s involved in your school, like cleaners, caretakers, gardeners and dinner ladies. Some of these people will have been in the area all their lives and will have valuable knowledge they can share with the children.
You can very efficiently cover cross-curricular objectives by running literacy together with a shared year group or school focus.
As Michael says:
"If we don't learn to love books, we don't read. And if we don't read widely, we don't think deeply".
School trips or events are an ideal opportunity to get your children reading more widely. Whatever the theme, there are bound to be lots of different sources of information and ideas about it.
Seize the opportunities by:
  • working closely with your school librarian to see what relevant books you already have in the building (see number 4 in this guide)
  • asking your local librarian to advise on books for the school to borrow
  • sending a letter home and putting a message on the school website asking families to bring in relevant books and other literature to share. If it's a history or local geography project, the request might be something general like asking parents/carers what their favourite books were when they were children
  • including anyone who’s involved in your school, like cleaners, caretakers, gardeners and dinner ladies. Some of these people will have been in the area all their lives and will have valuable knowledge they can share with the children.
You can very efficiently cover cross-curricular objectives by running literacy together with a shared year group or school focus.
As Michael says:
"If we don't learn to love books, we don't read. And if we don't read widely, we don't think deeply".

11. Try regular themed activities

Make sure you get books involved whenever there’s a themed activity happening at your school.

Some ideas to make it happen

  • There are all kinds of local, national, and international projects and activities going on during the academic year, and your school may already be involved in some of them. They’re all good opportunities to include books and reading.
  • Arrange for each class to visit the local library to find books to support the activity’s theme, and ask children to bring in magazines, pictures, internet print-outs and other things to read from home. 
  • Reading of all kinds, in all genres and for all ages will be stimulated by these activities, but you don't need to cover all bases at once. If you have an active and varied programme throughout the school year, you will have covered lots of ground by the summer.
  • Follow up themed activities in term-time with reading challenges for the holidays.

12. Get the reading habit

Just by spending time on books and reading, you are asking children to see how important they are. This will really help children to see books in new and imaginative ways.

Ideas to try

  • Develop a school policy to read books out loud every day. For example, assembly is a great time to promote reading.
  • Recommend to parents and carers that they keep reading to their children.
  • Encourage children to chat about the books they are reading. Every angle and approach is valid, and this is particularly true where reluctant readers are concerned.
  • Run a survey asking every child in school the title and author of three books they have read recently. You could even develop this into a more detailed book review challenge.
  • Give children time to read a book in school every day. Don't give them excerpts that can be fitted in to 15 or 20 minutes, but instead 15 or 20 minutes for them to read from a whole book, and give reluctant readers support through a Reading Buddies scheme.

13. Collect odd, old books

Make reading more intriguing by finding a place for old or strange books to live in your school, alongside information literacy.
Do this by:
  • having exciting, ever-changing, even weird books that provoke ideas and conversation in the headteacher's study and on every teacher's desk
  • visiting a local charity shop or second-hand bookshop and picking up some odd, old books as bargain buys, if you're stuck for inspiration. Find different kinds of bindings such as leather and cloth, and different styles of lettering like gold blocking
  • getting the children to see if there are any old books at home that aren't read anymore. Is it because they're so covered in dust that their identity has become a mystery? Is there something intriguing lurking between those covers that you could all discover in class?
  • displaying old posters or wall charts that show what book promotions used to look like. You could experiment with tea-staining to make the display lettering look aged too
  • organising a book treasure hunt:
    • Hide books around the school, ideally thinking about why each book might be hidden in a particular spot. For example, link the name of the author with an object in school, or the story with the name of a teacher or classroom.
    • Have a treasure hunt to find each of the old books hidden around the school.
    • Use your assembly to talk about what happened.

14. Keep and use book reviews

Another idea is to regularly cut out and keep, or copy and paste, reviews of children's books. You and your colleagues can check them now and then to stay informed about which new books are coming out, why they’re good, and how they might link to ongoing work and discussions in school.

Getting started

  • Look out for children's book reviews in newspapers and magazines.
  • Search the web for reviews of children's books that have been written by children as well as adults. You could try these websites for starters:
Stories from the Web
A website that gives children the opportunity to write and read book reviews – set the challenge for your pupils.
Books for Keeps
News, articles and over 1,000 children’s book reviews every year – for fiction, poetry and non-fiction. 
A children’s books magazine packed with reviews, articles and interviews with authors and illustrators. 
The Children’s BBC website has a simple guide on how to write a book review.
Read a children's book review, then buy the book. 

Don't forget about them!

Keep the best and most relevant reviews in an accessible place – either on a desk or shelf, or in a digital file on the computer system.
Start a system of adding to and sharing the reviews with your colleagues, children and their parents/carers – don't let them grow dusty on a top shelf. For example, they could be the subject of a monthly staff training session after school.

15. Avoid hidden catches

Find time in the day for free reading and discussions about that reading. Some of the chat should be between the children themselves, and it's important to hold back from setting a comprehension test every time a book is opened as this can become a barrier to enjoying reading.
If you create regular opportunities for the whole class to share their views about what they’re reading, it allows the children to find out about other perspectives and to reflect on them.

So how do you go about it?

It may be difficult to build time into the school day for free reading and discussion. To stop it being squeezed out by other things, establish a principle that children can get out their reading books or talk about what's happening in them whenever there’s a gap, like waiting for a visitor to arrive or while you’re setting up the projector.
You can support this principle by:
  • showing a keen interest in the book that each child is reading
  • encouraging discussion by asking open-ended questions. For example, ask the children if anything like the incident in the book has happened in their lives
  • putting children into different groups to chat about their books
  • not always knowing the answers to the questions you ask about the books children are reading. Show that you are discovering things too, and that literature can have different meanings depending on your experiences, what you know, and even what kind of mood you woke up in
  • having your own book on the go that you can read in the gaps, alongside the children. You can chat about it in an excited way, sharing your criticisms with the group, but take your turn!
Michael recalls one book that really stood out when he was a boy at school. His teacher, Mr Scotney, read one chapter a week and Michael and his friends were desperate to know what happened next. Michael recommends:
"Leave spaces where you can talk and argue about a book."

16. Have plenty of books around

Always make sure there are lots of wonderful children's books in the room whenever a meeting about literacy is taking place. This is particularly important at times when teachers are helping parents and carers to understand the meaning of literacy.

Some wonderful books

Michael has a list of books he recommends. It isn't exhaustive, but it's a good start:
  • So Much by Helen Oxenbury
  • I Want My Potty by Tony Ross
  • Dogger by Shirley Hughes
and any books by:
  • Quentin Blake
  • Anthony Browne
  • Lauren Child
  • Emma Chichester Clark
  • Polly Dunbar
  • Michael Foreman
  • Mick Inkpen
  • Colin MacNaughton
  • and many, many more.
"Apologies to those I've not mentioned," says Michael.
If the school budget doesn't stretch to buying these books, borrow them from your local library.

17. Encourage varied reading

It’s really important to provide a variety of reading materials to suit different interests, so you can get all your children excited about reading. 

Easy ways to provide reading materials for a broad range of interests

  • As well as giving children the opportunity to enjoy 'classic' stories at school, you should have books that tie in with TV shows and films, and annuals and football programmes open at the junior supporters pages. 
  • Place a book basket at the front of the school, to catch children's eyes as they enter the building. Provide information about how they can borrow the books, and make it easy to do so that budding reading enthusiasts aren't put off at the first hurdle.
  • Display the books in school face-out, so that the bright cover illustrations and graphics can capture the attention as well as provide information about what's inside.

18. Perform stories

Performance is another good way to engage children in the excitement of stories, by bringing the text off the page.

Some ideas

  • Regularly wrap up meetings with carers with a read-aloud session from a children's book. Choose stories that are really well-suited to being read aloud, such as Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler's masterpieces.
  • Say very clearly at the beginning of the session that it’s compulsory to join in! Encourage carers to be vocal by getting all staff to agree beforehand that they will take part too.
  • Enjoy it!
Michael says: 
"Schools aren't just about teaching children to read, but teaching children to be social beings. And it's taken us thousands of years but we've invented these wonderful things called books and fiction and stories in order to find out how we should be social beings. Odysseus finds out how to be social; if you like, it's the theme of almost every book we put in front of children."

19. Share precious books

Establish a school culture that values the sharing of favourite books from childhood, and you will uncover some fascinating stories together.

Get started

  • Have a teacher’s meeting about ways you might gather personal tales of getting, owning, and perhaps losing a precious book. Start with your own experiences to get the ideas rolling.
  • Use the ideas you've come up with to encourage parents, grandparents and other carers to share their memories of favourite books from childhood. For example, ask them to bring in and show off the books and magazines, no matter how humble, that they've kept since they were children.
  • Avoid responses that set one book off against another in terms of literary merit or production quality. If the books are dog-eared, all the better – this could start a conversation about what books can be made of.
  • Time and inspiration permitting, turn the gathered memories into projects that support your curriculum objectives in an enjoyable way, without the need to squeeze reading into allocated slots through use of text extracts.

20. Train colleagues on children's literature

Be clear and vocal about your support for specific instruction on children's literature to be integrated into teacher and assistant training courses again.

How to raise the profile of children's literature training

  1. Talk with colleagues about what you as a school would change about the present system. 
  2. Lobby relevant organisations to help make this happen.
  • Teacher and assistant teacher training bodies like the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) have a Curriculum Network development group that schools can get involved in. 
  • The QCA also provide 'good practice' case studies and information on working with parents.
  • Consult with your local authority to promote local needs such as continuing, and perhaps increased, access to the rich resources in your local library.