Categories
education

Why reading David Walliams’ books is OK…

This blog was prompted by a few tweets I have seen in the past few days about supermarket shelves being dominated by the books of authors like David Walliams. Some teachers are seemingly disappointed by the popularity of these books, because they do not deem them to be challenging enough or of a high-enough quality. This blog is not an attack on those people who tweeted their own point of view. It is merely me explaining why I think reading those books is ok.

It is perhaps the lack of challenge which explains their popularity; the ‘easy read’ aspect may travel some distance in explaining the enjoyment children get from reading them. Their basic language and frequent humour allow the books to be read across different ages. In fact, the 2019 ‘What Kids Are Reading’ Report (which surveyed over 1 million children from Year 1 through to Year 12 from nearly 5000 different schools) shows that Walliams’ books are among the most read titles for children in years 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8. Therefore, it is completely understandable that supermarket shelves are stocked with Walliams’ books, as they are operating on a popularity model of supply and demand. Yes, Walliams’ books seem to dominate, but this is obviously because children actually enjoy reading them. Not only can they read them with their peers in class, but they can discuss them with children or siblings who are a couple years younger or older than them. This surely only leads to more engagement with reading, as children have more opportunity to recommend other books from the same author or discuss parts they liked with each other. This is an opportunity for reluctant readers to engage with others about reading. An opportunity that should be capitalised upon, not condemned.

For the reluctant readers out there (of which I was certainly one as a child), books like the ones Walliams’ writes might be the only ‘buy-in’ to reading that they can find and truly engage with. They might not enjoy reading the lengthier fiction books that use long words they don’t understand (I only liked the Beano comics and Match magazine as a child). By discouraging children from reading these books, we run the risk of discouraging reluctant readers from reading altogether. Once we have children engaged with reading, then we can start to encourage them to read texts with more challenging vocabulary or more complex plots and character arcs/development. When reading independently in class or at home, they should be allowed to read what they want, otherwise reading becomes a chore.

We shouldn’t be saying to children, “Oh no, don’t read that. It’s too easy for you. Read this instead”.

We should be saying, “Why don’t you try this book when you’re finished with that one?”

When I was a child, Roald Dahl’s books were all the rage. To some extent, they still are now. Not once have I ever seen anybody criticise his writing. His plots and characters were never too complex (although wonderfully creative) and the vocabulary used was never particularly challenging (although often completely made up). His books featured a lot of peculiarity and humour. His books were read in many different year groups. See where I’m going with this? I’ve likewise never heard any criticism of Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, which seems to be just as popular and challenging as Walliams’ books. 2 of the top 20 books that high-achieving Year 9s read are from the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. Should we tell them to stop reading them because they are too easy for a 14-year-old? Of course not. Francesca Simon’s Horrid Henry books don’t seem to be receiving any criticism either. The WKAR report states that 6 of the top 10 books struggling readers in Year 5 read are Horrid Henry books. Another 3 are Roald Dahl. So why the focus on David Walliams? There seems to be a bit of an unfair bias here (speaking of bias, be aware of my confirmation bias because of the stats I am using).

Another point I think a lot of people are forgetting is that we underestimate how quickly children can get through a book. The WKAR report states that children of a year 3 age tend to read around 37 books in one school year on average. What does it matter if one or even five of those happen to be Walliams’ books? Reading for pleasure is as equally important as reading to improve vocabulary, to widen our knowledge base or to improve comprehension ability. We cannot teach children how to access reading if we can’t get them enthused about reading itself. Children like to read multiple books from the same author, so let’s allow them to do so. The most important factor in fostering a love of reading is choice.

What is important is that we explain to children that popularity does not correspond with quality. The number 1 song in the pop charts is the most popular, but that doesn’t mean it has the most meaningful lyrics or the most beautifully played instruments. A film reaching the top ten grossing films of all time does not necessarily mean it is one of the most critically-acclaimed films of all time (I’m talking about you Jurassic World).

The level of challenge in books is crucially important, but so too is reading for pleasure.

All of the statistics used in this blog are taken from the most recent WKAR report for 2019. You can access it here – http://whatkidsarereading.co.uk/

I wrote another blog a while back about engagement ideas for reading. You can find it here – https://mrmorgsthoughts.wordpress.com/2019/03/10/engagement-with-reading-ideas-to-implement/

Categories
education

Ideas for engaging children and fostering their love of reading

Below I have bullet-pointed different ideas you can implement in class and school-wide to increase engagement with reading and therefore foster a love of reading too. They are in no particular order. They are ideas that can be implemented with little cost or effort (for the most part).

  • When reading in class together, children follow along with a ruler (idea taken from @solomon_teach)

This ensures all children stay on task and that they do not get distracted. If they lose pace, they can check with the person next to them and get back on track quicker.

  • Don’t use reading as a punishment

You are killing any pleasure or joy for reading if children are doing it as a punishment. Find an alternative for them to do.

  • Hold a book club at lunchtimes or before/after school

This can be done with any type of text. I’ve done it previously with a group of boys uninterested in reading with football match reports, annuals and magazines.

  • Put a sticker inside the front cover of the book for children to put their name in

This is great for instilling a sense of ownership for a class text. Children feel more responsible for the book and take greater care of it. Also much easier identifying who it belongs to! Can even go one step further and allow space on the sticker for the child to leave a review (idea taken from @MrCFoyle as pictured below). Imagine the influence that can have on a younger child, if they see one of the children they look up to has read and enjoyed the book!

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  • Let them see you read every day (other than in lessons)

This can easily be done at the start or end of the day. If your school sets early morning work as children come in, then sit there reading. I do this every day. Children come in quietly as they can see I’m reading. Once they finish their short task, they pick up a book and start reading also. They do not need to see you reading children’s fiction necessarily – at the moment, my class see me reading Closing the Vocabulary Gap by Alex Quigley. This could also be at the end of the day, where you read to the class as a whole.

  • Take an interest in what they are reading

Ask children questions about their book. Ask them about the author’s style, whether it is part of a series or not, who their favourite character is, what it is about etc. The list of possible questions is endless. Sometimes, if it is a task that children can get on with independently without much teacher input needed, I wander around the room picking up the book they have on their table and simply read a few pages of it. Occasionally, I  read the chapter they have just read and ask them what they think is going to happen next and discuss it with them, throwing in my own ideas.

  • Never discourage their choice in a book

We are all aware that David Walliams does not write the most challenging texts, but neither did Roald Dahl. The fact of the matter is that children enjoy reading them so we should let them read them. Instead, ensure your class texts have a suitable level of challenge. For your top readers, make them aware that David Walliams’ books are fine to read, but that they should also challenge themselves with other more difficult books (for which you can make suggestions!)

  • Class teacher swap

Once a half term or term, send teachers into a different classroom to read. We trialled this for world book week and the whole school loved it. Children have asked for it to happen again. It was great for us as teachers to be able to share our favourite books, especially outside of the key stage we teach in.

  • Reading in assembly

Ensure all teachers do this occasionally for the same reasons as above! Normally, we have 3 teachers that do all assemblies. For world book week, everybody read in assembly except those 3. Again, children loved it. We scanned in the books to show on the projector along with questions to get children guessing.

  • Communicate that giving up on a book is OK

Sometimes books simply aren’t interesting enough to us and we give up after a few chapters. We should allow children to do the same – both individually and as a class. In my NQT year, we read Cosmic as a class. The class hated it. That doesn’t mean it is a bad book; it just wasn’t suitable for that class. I explained that to them and we stopped reading it.

  • Let them have a say in what you read

Do a class world cup of books (idea taken from @MrBoothY6) to help you choose what book to read next. If they liked a book by an author, why not read another book from the same author? You could give children a choice of a few books, wrapped up with only a few words written on them to entice them. Have a class vote and decide what you are going to read next. Idea taken from @SadiePhillips pictured below:

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  • Have a variety of texts in your book corner

Plenty of affordable magazine and children’s newspaper subscriptions exist –  FirstNews, Amazing Magazine, Phoenix Magazine. You can buy classics 2nd hand for pennies online!

  • Let children get comfortable when they read

You may have beanbags, sofas and cushions in your book corner, but can that space fit more than 5 children? Let the children slump on the tables, put their feet up, lay their heads in their arms – whatever makes them comfortable. Do we sit upright on uncomfortably hard, plastic chairs when we read at home?

  • Children only read half a page out loud

When reading together as a class, let children only read half a page. This gives the less confident readers the confidence to read out loud but also means the less engaged have to pay attention, as you could ask them to read at any point. Reading half a page also ensures a lot more children are heard reading every day.

  • Dedicate time to reading

Every teacher’s timetable is full. It always is. But dedicating time to reading is of the utmost importance. That doesn’t necessarily mean a specific slot in your timetable (although I would strongly advise having this), but including it in other lessons. In PSHE, why not read a text with a bully in it to get the anti-bullying message across? In History, why not read through a historical source and base the lesson around that? Or a piece of fiction set around the same time and fact check it (The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas comes to mind)? If you have a spare 30 minutes after a school trip or assembly or after anything, why not read more of the class text?

  • Don’t always write from something you’ve read

Writing in literacy lessons doesn’t always have to be from a class book. It is important that children read a text for pleasure without having to do any real work around it. Question them yes, but don’t insist on a diary entry here and a newspaper report there. In my experience, I’ve found that reluctant readers are just as reluctant in doing the writing pieces based around the class book. By forcing them to constantly do writing based off a text, we are pushing them further away from enjoying reading. They will always associate reading with work. Instead, use more videos, pictures and experiences for your writing stimuli.

  • Watch and read author interviews about your class book

If your class text is very famous and popular, you’re likely to be able to find some videos about it on YouTube where the author is discussing it. Newsround occasionally have authors on and love4reading regularly have author Q&As in the blog part of their website (as pictured below):

 

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  • Contact authors and illustrators on Twitter

There are plenty of authors and illustrators on Twitter who are happy to respond to teachers. Come up with questions as a class that you want to ask. As you can see below, SF Said (Varjak Paw series) very kindly (and very quickly!) responded to questions I put forward for the Year 3 class at my school.

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  • Pre-teach vocabulary before you read together as a class

Define all the vocabulary in the upcoming chapter before you read it as a class. This helps those with weaker vocabulary understanding to be able to access the text too.

  • Invest in a text for every child

I understand this is an ideal situation, but when reading a class text, it works best when every child has their own copy. Speak to your SLT about funding this – we funded it this year through the money made from the book fair. If funds are tight, then you can always buy a copy between two for upper KS2 classes.

  • Build up reading stamina

If you have reluctant readers, start with shorter class texts and slowly build the stamina up. If the book is 300 pages long, it is going to take too long to read and they will lose interest. There are plenty of great children’s books that have short chapters and are sub 200 pages.

  • Test reading speed daily for 1 minute

With the less confident readers, test their reading speed every day for 1 minute using the same text for a week. This can help to improve their reading speed and therefore open up space in their working memory.

  • Watch the TV show/Film adaptation of the book

After we finish a book, we watch the film or TV adaptation of it together. Children are always excited to watch it and it creates great discussion about what was left out and kept in from the book. We recently read Skellig. The class loved the book but thought the film was terrible – this prompted great discussion about how scriptwriters/directors might interpret texts differently to how we do!

  • Sign up to a review website like Goodreads

You could write class reviews about a book and add books to your class wishlist. You can even find similar texts to read!

  • Dressing up for World Book Day (in pyjamas!)

A lot of families simply cannot afford a costume for their child – why not let children come in to school in their pyjamas? This is more inclusive and you can relate it to the fact that reading before bed time is a great activity. You could encourage children to bring in their slippers to wear in the classroom as well as their favourite teddy (so they have an audience to read to!)

  • Let children choose what text you read at the end of the day

When the children come into class in the morning, let them vote for which picture book they want you to read at the end of the day. One child = one vote! Simply use cubes, two books and two boxes. A wonderful idea shared by @_missgould on Twitter.

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  • Have a school vending machine where children can get books!

This incredible idea comes from @DaveShawICT. He bought the vending machine for just £40 online. Children who read at home x3 a week enter a raffle and then win a token which they can use in the machine. What a great idea! Some schools do a similar thing with old buses and turn them into a libraries.

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I will look to update this blog with other ideas that I hear of!

Contact me on Twitter if you have any great ones to share – @_mrmorgs