Book Talk

We have recently introduced and/or re-invigorated several methods for helping the children to develop good reading habits. We want our pupils to become experienced readers: that is young people who see themselves as readers; who are discerning about what they like; who are adventurous in their choice of reading material; are motivated to read widely and constantly. Our practice in school is constantly evolving as we search for the way to ensure we give the greatest number of pupils the best chance possible of developing these habits. We’re not there yet but you can assume we will not rest on our laurels.

The benefits of good reading habits are indisputable. As a head teacher, on a daily basis, I see evidence of the strong link between reading and engagement with school; between reading and learning; between reading and self-discipline; between reading and an interest in the world we live in and the people we encounter. One area of our practice we are looking to develop further is something we call ‘Book Talk,’ which has us drawing on the research of Aidan Chambers in his book ‘Tell me.’ I am sharing my thoughts on this with you now because you may find it useful for when you are talking about a book with your own children.

Aidan Chambers’ approach is effectively a method for encouraging a ‘growth mindset’ in readers. He calls anyone who always sticks to the same kind of book as flat-earthers (ie people displaying a fixed mindset). They avoid exploring the world of books predominantly because of fear: the fear of boredom, of difficulty and of exhaustion. Book Talk then is about encouraging pupils not just to talk but talk well about books and hence to break through that fear barrier. It is about encouraging the part that talk plays in the lives of discriminating, thoughtful, pleasure seeking readers. When Aidan Chambers and his colleagues carried out research into these kinds of readers- there emerged several common denominators. Firstly these readers were affected by other readers who they respected, about what these other readers thought of books and how they spoke about the books they had read. They were also affected by what they themselves said to others about books. One 8 year old called Sarah said, ‘We don’t know what we think about a book until we’ve talked about it.’ In other words the process of becoming an experienced reader is very often a social process: our talking about books gives us the energy, information and impetus to explore beyond.

Aidan Chambers listened closely to what went on when experienced readers talked about books. They discovered that even experienced readers often initially skirt around deep discussions about meaning until they had heard what their friends had to say about likes and dislikes. The starting point of most discussions are quite ‘surface level’ and meaning only gradually emerges from the conversation—it is discovered, negotiated, made and arrived at organically. We try to re-create this in Book Talk by avoiding asking the question, ‘Why’, and instead saying ‘Tell me..’ ‘Why’ is rather examinational and children end up trying to play ‘guess what is in the adult’s head’ rather than expressing their own thoughts. ‘Tell me’ on the other hand suggests a desire for collaboration and indicates the adult really does want to know what you think. It anticipates dialogue rather than interrogation. We then work hard as teachers to hold ourselves back; to keep as quiet as possible and so allow the pupils to develop their dialogue about the book naturally and without our intervention. In this respect Book Talk’ feels very much like Philosophy for Children but with a book. As with P4C it is particularly critical that each response is valued. This is about personal response to a book: there is no one answer and there is no one answer better than the next.

I hope you find some of this useful and some of you go forth reinvigorated to talk about books with your children. I have attached at the bottom here some guidance about Book Talk that you might be interested in. I will put this on the school website also. I have also attached our guidance about how we can work together to help your children to become confident, experienced readers.


Happy New Year to you all!

This term’s value is ‘responsibility,’ a value that we revisit more regularly than most others because, along with ‘perseverance’ and ‘forgiveness,’ it is one of our core values.

We have discussed in assembly these last few days how important it is to take responsibility not just for yourself but also for others; that in taking responsibility for/ looking out for others – in particular important others who you are linked to directly- like family, like friends, like the school community- you are also attending to yourself because they help to sustain you in turn; that in taking responsibility for yourself you must be careful not to ‘take’ from/ upset others. We have encouraged the children to dwell on their strengths and what they can do rather than feeling put out or jealous at the strengths of others; to take these strengths and try to use them to ‘give’ of themselves rather than take. If this is all sounding a little convoluted, blame the head teacher and trust the teachers, in the coming weeks, to bring some clarity to the children’s thinking. They will be focusing on taking responsibility for what you say; for managing our anger; for our family and friends and for using our gifts responsibly.

I am really pleased that all of our children now take part in the KS2 communities because they represent a valuable and significant opportunity for the children to take some responsibility for others in school but also beyond school, in the local and wider community. Next week we will be holding interviews for new House Captains. The remit and level of responsibility these children take on seems to grow termly and we are trying to give as many pupils as possible the opportunity. This term we will be holding cooperative sports afternoons again- the aim being for pupils to build valuable experiences of cooperating responsibly as a team.

We have spent some time this week also talking about British Values and how our society expects us to be responsible citizens. Children in KS2, at least, should be able to recall some or all of these values and how they relate to their lives in school and beyond – so please do ask them. To start the conversation off, the most obvious example of democracy in action in school is how, through our School Council, all children have a vote and have a say in how the school should be run.

When it comes to behaviour, we use the words responsibility and forgiveness a lot; a lot more than we use the word ‘behaviour’ which is such a loaded term and usually has negative connotations. We look to encourage our children to take responsibility for their actions; to see mistakes in their behaviour simply as that- mistakes- and hence another very good opportunity for learning. In this sense behaviour is being seen as very much part of the curriculum as opposed to a hindrance to it. We expect the children to be honest about their mistake and, as often as we can, if there is to be some kind of ‘response’ to the mistake, we look for them to take on some kind of responsibility, one that is appropriate to the mistake. A good example I use to illustrate the point with parents was when two older children were laughing (uncharitably) at some younger ones playing in the playground. They became play leaders for a week, after which they felt impelled to sit down and write contrite letters about their actions the previous week and thereafter took on the job of play leading for the rest of the year. Of course this was a perfect strategy with a perfect outcome but we don’t live in a perfect world and it doesn’t always work so smoothly. That said- it illustrates our intent very clearly.

If you want to find out more about our values and the kind of things we try to get the children thinking about, please look on the school website.