Saturday, 28 October 2017

The Problem With Your Class Novel

OK, I'll admit right away that I'm not about to lambast the time-honoured tradition of choosing and reading aloud a book to your class. Actually, to me, doing that is almost sacred - it's an absolute must for so many reasons.

So, if you don't currently read a novel to your class, make sure this half term is the half term when you start. But I suspect I'm preaching to the choir here, and if that's the case, there are a couple of points to bear in mind.

When do you read your class novel? Is it given priority or is it on a if we've got time basis? A practice seems to have arisen that could be seen as cheapening the act of reading for pleasure: reading the class novel at home time. Potentially, children could begin to see reading as something only done to kill time and, whilst that can be true and valuable, it might be a damaging attitude to be inadvertently generating. Given that 3pm is the time when many teachers will read perhaps the only book that their children are truly invested in, I think it's worth challenging, even if it is controversial. 

Unless you are totally committed to safeguarding that time for reading, there are so many pressures on that end of day slot - giving out letters, sorting out things to take home, assemblies and just a general end of day feeling. What would happen if you brought your class novel time to the beginning of the day, or the start of the afternoon? From my own experience I've found that it is the best, most relaxed, most inspiring way to start a morning or afternoon of learning. It can calm, focus and provide a shared experience which can feed positively into the rest of the day.

Another way to ensure that reading, particularly reading of a shared text, is prioritised, is to link it to your curriculum. This will depend on your school's policy but there may be opportunities to link to your topics or your English work. Again, many of you will already be doing this, but I think the raising of another point in relation to this might be helpful.

Be careful not to over-rely on your class novel, particularly during your English lessons. Yes, class novels are a great way to support the teaching of SPAG (I wrote about some ways of doing that in October 2017's Teach Primary Magazine), writing composition and reading skills but if they are all that is ever used, children run the risk of not being exposed to a wide variety of reading materials. 

An easy way to get around this is to use your class novel as an anchor point to which you link other texts, fiction and non-fiction. Find other books, stories, excerpts, leaflets, articles and so on that have links to your class novel and then use them throughout your curriculum. If you've selected your class novel well, then children will most likely be invested enough to want to read linked texts as well, which in turn might help them to better understand the class novel.

Conversely you might want to consider reading a novel which is not at all linked or used to teach anything else. This will be much more likely to develop that reading for pleasure.

For those children who are preparing for statutory tests, for a chance of success it is probably crucial that they are not taught reading skills solely through the use of a class novel. In the tests they come up against unknown texts and, regardless of difficulty, they are less likely to want to read them in a meaningful way - in comparison to their class novel they won't be as interested or invested in those texts. If all they've ever had to do is practise reading comprehension skills based on a book that they love and care about then they may not have the resilience to be able to access unfamiliar texts such as the ones they will encounter in the tests. Whether or not be click bait title works remains to be seen!

For those unswayed by arguments involving testing its worth pointing out that in real life we access a wide variety of text types and, if someone isn't a 'reader' (for want of a better phrase) then the thing they're least likely to need to read is a novel. In fact, what they need to be able to read to survive in life is non-fiction. Whilst using a class novel to teach literacy skills can be really engaging and worthwhile, using them as the only text type might not prepare children for life.

I urge you, I implore you, to read your class a book, a little each day, preferably at a prioritised time. But I also warn against the potential dangers of becoming too reliant on the class novel
as a basis for other learning.

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