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.