Showing posts with label books. Show all posts
Showing posts with label books. Show all posts

Monday, 12 March 2018

Book Review: 'The House With Chicken Legs' by Sophie Anderson

Taking a mainstay of Slavic folklore and re-imagining it for a generation who are most likely ignorant of its origins turns out to be a clever move for ‘The House With Chicken Legs’ author Sophie Anderson. And to write a debut novel for children which is all about death is brave – but Anderson triumphs.

Marinka lives in a house with chicken legs with no one but her grandmother, Baba Yaga, and a Jackdaw for company. Apart from, that is, the dead people who visit her house every night. And she has no chance to make any other (living) friends because every time she gets settled somewhere the house literally ups sticks and pelts across the world to find a new location.

Then there’s her destiny: to be the next guardian of The Gate between life and death. A destiny she does not want at all. She hates the thought of guiding the endless stream of dead visitors into the afterlife for the rest of her living days.

I said the book was all about death, but actually ‘The House With Chicken Legs’ is all about life. It’s about not getting what you want, growing up, learning about other people, making friends, experiencing the pain of loss, making mistakes, making the same mistakes again, finding joy in the little things, regret, seeing the beauty of the world, loyalty, betrayal, love, kindness… see what I mean? It’s about life and it will make any reader thankful for theirs and those they share it with.

To read this book, and to journey with Marinka, both around the world and through her life, is to understand her every thought and feeling, such is the quality of Anderson’s compelling writing. The book will provoke thought and conversation about life and death, regardless of your beliefs on the matter – in the classroom, or at home, it will provide a good starting point for exploring and understanding traditions and beliefs from around the world.

‘The House With Chicken Legs’ is a beautifully human book that has the potential to draw young readers into the world of literature where real life themes are explored in great detail. Readers who are, like Nina, growing up and beginning to better understand the increasingly adult world around them, will love this coming-of-age story and will no doubt benefit from the lack of clichéd modernity that clogs up other books of the genre. Highly recommended.

Monday, 5 March 2018

Book Review: 'Max and the Millions' By Ross Montgomery

As with all good children’s books these days, this isn’t just a straight yarn. ‘Max and the Millions’ by Ross Montgomery begins by introducing one of the unlikely heroes of the story - a school caretaker with more than just a knack for building intricate models of anything and everything. Next we meet Mr Pitt the typically unlikeable headmaster. And then we encounter the story’s other (full-size) hero: Max, who is hiding in a cupboard. Max loves making models; he’s also deaf. This representation of a ‘minority group’ is important in children’s literature. Montgomery writes sensitively and convincingly about the trials a deaf child might face making this an important lesson in empathy for young readers.

Although this is a story about how a warring society of magically created microscopic people are rescued by a seemingly improbable pair of pre-teen boys and a hoard of pony-obsessed 5 year old girls on a sugar-bender, it is also a story about friendship, fitting in, integrity and small things mattering. Whilst Lower Key Stage 2 children will enjoy the miniature adventures of King Luke and his trusty flea as he fights the Bin King and the Red Queen, they will also be caused to think about how first impressions don’t always count, how kindness and selflessness are key characteristics to develop in oneself and how forgiveness is an essential ingredient for peace and friendship.

The story’s absolute highlight comes when (slight spoiler alert) the tiny Luke becomes king of the united people of The Floor (the minute kingdom the small people inhabit). The power goes to his head and, despite his friend Ivy’s warnings, he forgets the golden rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you with disastrous consequences. Even if no other part of the book is used as a talking point between adults and children, this part should be; it opens up a safe space in which to discuss politics and has parallels to current situations that are playing out on the world stage. The headmaster’s despotic antics throughout the book also provide opportunities to discuss similar issues.

This well-written book is a great choice for parents and teachers of children who have expressed interest in world affairs but who might be too young to fully understand the complexities and unpleasant details of the situations. It’s also recommended for fans of stories such as Terry Pratchett’s The Carpet People stories – those young but capable readers who are quite at home in stories with impossibly fantastical settings.

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Revealed: Read For Empathy Guide from EmpathyLab

Those of you who've been reading my blog and interacting with me on Twitter will know my passion for the transformative power of books. One particularly powerful aspect of books is there ability to develop empathy in the reader.

The new Read For Empathy Guide from EmpathyLab is introduced with these brilliant paragraphs:

"Empathy is a human super-power which helps us all understand each other better. It is also an essential social and emotional skill, crucial if children are to thrive.

"We’re not born with a fixed quantity of empathy – it’s a skill we can learn. Excitingly, new research shows that books are a powerful tool to develop it, because in identifying with book characters, children learn to see things from other points of view. So when you read with children you can build their empathy skills at the same time."

At this year's Reading Rocks conference I ran a workshop entitled 'The More-Ness Of Reading' (click the link for a blog version of it) in which the attendees and I explored how books can help us to become more empathetic. I've also written several blog posts on the matter:

Changing Hearts, Minds, Lives and the Future: Reading With Children for Empathy
The Best RE Lesson I Ever Taught (Spoiler: It Was A Reading Lesson)

Many of my book reviews focus in on ways that children's books might be used in the classroom to encourage children to develop empathy:

'The Goldfish Boy' by Lisa Thompson
'All The Things That Could Go Wrong' by Stewart Foster

I'm something of a fan of reading for empathy. So I was excited to find that EmpathyLab have published in their guide a list of 30 books to build children’s empathy and all in good time for Empathy Day on 12th June - we teachers and parents can get reading the selection of books now in time for then.


So far, of this list, I've only read 'Grandad’s Island' by Benji Davies, 'My Name is Not Refugee' by Kate Milner, 'Can I Join your Club?' by John Kelly and illustrated by Steph Laberis and 'The Island at the End of Everything' by Kiran Millwood Hargrave although there are a few there I've had my eye on for a while. With having read only 4 out of the 30 so far I've got a lot to be getting on with. I think I will make it my aim to read all the picture books first - hopefully my excellent local library will have them in.

The guide itself contains mini reviews of each of the books, all of which give an idea of how the book might support the development of empathy. The books which have been chosen explore themes of displacement and migration, experiencing and managing emotions and facing challenging circumstances, such as deafness, autism or bereavement.

EmpathyLab Founder Miranda McKearney OBE says: "It’s time to make far more systematic use of books’ power to tackle society’s empathy deficit. This 2018 Read for Empathy Guide is part of an empathy movement to help us understand each other better. We’re seriously delighted to be working with authors, publishers and Peters to launch it in the run up to Empathy Day on 12 June."

Have you read any of the selected books? How would you use them with children to develop empathy?
Which of the selected books are you particularly looking forward to?
I look forward to hearing from you!

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Book Review: 'Night Speakers: Sleepless' by Ali Sparkes


The Breakfast Club meets The Rest Of Us Just Live Here, but for a slightly younger audience. An unlikely trio of youngsters are drawn together by a mysterious commonality: they all wake up at exactly 1:34 am every night. Something strange is going on, and they're desperate to discover exactly what. Together, meeting secretly in the dead of night whenever they can, they are drawn into an adventure as supernatural elements of the world around them are revealed.

A heady mix of the regular teenager's everyday struggles - problems with parents, troubles at school, awkward friendships - and ancient superstitions, beliefs and beings, Night Speakers: Sleepless is an incredibly moreish book. Ali Sparkes expertly tantalises the reader with a gradual release of information that often allows the reader to feel like they are just one tiny step ahead of the book's protagonists. Sparkes lets the reader believe the reality of what is happening before the characters do, making for a very satisfying read. Although this is true, there is enough suspense left too - not every event can be expected; a perfect mixture from a skilful author.

The beauty of nature is brought alongside the clamour of urban life as the three young people discover they have powers and abilities which allow them to communicate with nature. Although pegged as appealing to animal lovers, this is not your typical animal story. In fact, the fauna concerned in this story act quite as they should where other books might have had them too anthropomorphised; this treatment of the animals in the story makes for an almost believable fantasy. 

With the classroom in mind, Night Speakers: Sleepless would be a fantastic book for character study, setting description and creating tension. There are excellent passages which would stand alone as short texts for a variety of different teaching purposes. Year 6, 7 and 8 children and their teachers would enjoy making comparisons between this and other fantasy adventures set in the real world.

A hugely climactic, cinematic ending brings brief calm before a nosedive into an unsettling cliffhanger as the book's surprise fourth main character speaks menacingly, suggesting that the business of this book, the first in a series of five, is not yet done. Sparkes has certainly created an intriguing enough world for the follow-up tome to be highly anticipated by readers of Night Speakers: Sleepless.

Thursday, 11 January 2018

Book Review: 'Make Me Awesome' by Ben Davis

In this hilarious send up of self-help guides and larger-than-life celebrity life coaches Ben Davis introduces Freddie, gamer and son of a failed antiques dealer, and Chuck Willard, 'inspirer and giver of dreams'.

Things aren’t going too well for Freddie Smallhouse. His dad left his successful job to set up his own business which failed and now they’re living at Uncle Barry’s but he’s about to kick them out. Freddie enrols on Chuck’s Complete Road To Awesomeness programme and sets about trying to make the family’s fortune. One failure after another doesn’t perturb our hero, not when he’s got Chuck’s AWESOME tips and advice to hand.

In this laugh-out-loud tall tale Freddie learns about friendship, integrity and true success as he muddles his way through his response to his dad’s despondency. Amongst the hilarity (the headteacher is called Mr. Bümfacé – pronounced ‘Boomfachay’) there’s a really touching story of how a not-quite-yet teenager might try crazy things in an attempt to deal with a difficult home situation.

‘Make Me Awesome’ is an easy read yet the age of the protagonist (he’s at secondary school), and a couple of the jokes (reference to the rude channels on TV and perverts, for example), mean that this would be really suitable for reluctant KS3 readers as well as KS2 children. With better, slightly more sophisticated jokes than a David Walliams and more plausibility than a Diary of a Wimpy Kid book, ‘Make Me Awesome’ will go down very well with those children looking for a funny, quick read.

Sunday, 31 December 2017

On The @TES Blog: Six Books That Chart My Reading Evolution

On The @TES Blog: Six Books That Chart My Reading Evolution
Another personal blog post about reading (sorry). This one was hugely enjoyable to write due to the fact that books are not just bound and covered collections of paper with words printed on them - they are intertwined with life's real events and characters. I could not have picked six books without thinking particularly of my dad and my wife as well as times and places in my life.

I hope you enjoy reading about the six books that chart my evolution as a reader; I'd love to hear about the books that you'd consider to be elementary in your growth as a lover of books.

https://www.tes.com/news/school-news/breaking-views/six-books-chart-my-teacher-a-reader-evolution

Friday, 29 December 2017

My #52Books2017 (And Why I Won't Be Doing #52Books2018)

My #52Books2017 (And Why I Won't Be Doing #52Books2018)
In 2016 I accepted my first reading challenge (from @saysmiss), set myself the target of reading 50 books and proceeded to beat that target. In 2017 I decided to try for 52 - 1 a week - and set about encouraging others to do the same. So far I've read 63, with a couple of others on the go that might get finished before the year ends.

A great motivation for me has been to have a better knowledge of children's literature, as well as to be genuine in my enthusiasm for reading when teaching it to children (read more in my blog post 'Being a Reading Teacher'). However, what began in 2016 in 2017 has become an indispensable habit. Reading to my target in 2017 has been a product not of hard work but of a matter of course. I am a reader.

Having said this, my original motivation still shines through in my reading list this year - I largely read children's books. I see this as a duty but I also love them intensely.

My #52Books2017 (And Why I Won't Be Doing #52Books2018)
I'm often asked for book recommendations and I happily oblige but when it comes down to making top ten lists I'm hopeless! But look at the average of ratings I've given - 4.2. Read almost anything from this list because I've more than likely enjoyed it.

In 2018 I won't be setting a challenge - after two years of challenging myself I have created a reader in myself and no longer need a challenge to continue my habit. This might mean I read fewer books, longer books, more varied books - who knows? I may just read a similar selection of books and that's OK too. But if you are looking to train yourself to become a reader, setting yourself a challenge is a good way of doing this - some on Twitter are doing #52Books2018 and on Goodreads you can set any number of books as you want.

I regret that I have not tracked the excellent picturebooks that I've read this year - this was because I felt that they shouldn't count towards my 52 (a downside of doing such a challenge). However, there are some reviews of picturebooks here in my book reviews thread: https://thatboycanteach.blogspot.co.uk/search/label/Book%20review

Now for the books I've read, loosely categorised. I have provided links to ones I've reviewed:

My #52Books2017 (And Why I Won't Be Doing #52Books2018)
Young Adult

Island – David Almond
The Rest of Us Just Live Here – Patrick Ness
Northern Lights (His Dark Materials, #1) – Philip Pullman
More Than This – Patrick Ness

Middle Grade

Cogheart (The Cogheart Adventures, #1) – Peter Bunzl
Holes (Holes, #1) – Louis Sachar
Kensuke's Kingdom – Michael Morpurgo
The Girl of Ink and Stars – Kiran Millwood Hargrave
Eragon (Inheritance, #1) – Christopher Paolini
Mold and the Poison Plot – Lorraine Gregory
The Wonderling – Mira Bartok
The Light Jar – Lisa Thompson
Sky Song – Abi Elphinstone
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Stormwalker – Mike Revell
Skeleton Tree – Kim Ventrella
The End of the Sky (A Slice of the Moon #2) – Sandi Toksvig
The Kites Are Flying! - Michael Morpurgo
The Island at the End of Everything – Kiran Millwood Hargrave
All The Things That Could Go Wrong – Stewart Foster
Moonlocket (The Cogheart Adventures, #2) – Peter Bunzl
Time Travelling with a Hamster – Ross Welford
The Last Wild – Piers Torday
The Bubble Boy – Stewart Foster
It Ain't So Awful, Falafel – Firoozeh Dumas
Hitler's Canary – Sandi Toksvig
Who Let the Gods Out? (Who Let the Gods Out?, #1) – Maz Evans
The Night Spinner (Dreamsnatcher #3) – Abi Elphinstone
The Shadow Keeper (The Dreamsnatcher, #2) – Abi Elphinstone
Watership Down – Richard Adams
The Goldfish Boy – Lisa Thompson

Younger Children’s

Coming to England: An Autobiography - Floella Benjamin
Dragons at Crumbling Castle – Terry Pratchett
The Worst Witch – Jill Murphy
The Great Cat Conspiracy – Katie Davies
The Children of Noisy Village – Astrid Lindgren
The Reluctant Dragon – Kenneth Grahame
The No. 1 Car Spotter and the Car Thieves (No.1 Car Spotter, #3) - Atinuke
The Firework-Maker's Daughter – Philip Pullman

Education

What Does This Look Like In The Classroom?: Bridging The Gap Between Research And Practice – Carl Hendrick & Robin Macpherson
100 Ideas for Primary Teachers: Mindfulness in the Classroom (100 Ideas for Teachers) – Tammie Prince
Making Every Primary Lesson Count: Six Principles to Support Great Teaching and Learning – Jo Payne & Mel Scott
Hopeful Schools – Mary Myatt

Non-Fiction

Land Rover: The Story of the Car that Conquered the World – Ben Fogle
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking – Susan Cain
The Empathy Instinct: How to Create a More Civil Society – Peter Bazalgette
True Friendship – Vaughan Roberts
The Joy of Service – Julian Hardyman
Reasons to Stay Alive – Matt Haig
The Big Ego Trip – Glynn Harrison
Soldier Spy: The True Story of an Mi5 Office Risking His Life to Save Yours – Tom Marcus

Adult Fiction

Utopia – Thomas More
Go Set a Watchman – Harper Lee
Chocky – John Wyndham
Who Was Betty? – Laura Jukes
A Clockwork Orange – Anthony Burgess
Transreality – Chris Lackey
The Handmaid's Tale – Margaret Atwood
Towards the End of the Morning – Michael Frayn
The War of the Worlds – H.G. Wells
The Picture of Dorian Gray – Oscar Wilde
Rivers of London (Peter Grant, #1) – Ben Aaronovitch
The Colour Of Magic (Discworld, #1) – Terry Pratchett

So with no challenge and a huge 'to read' pile (I received quite a few books at Christmas) I look forward to next year - what will I read? What will you read?

Monday, 13 November 2017

Book Review: 'The Great Paper Caper' by Oliver Jeffers

Crime novels aren't for children, are they? Are they? Well 'The Great Paper Caper' is. As usual Oliver Jeffers matches his quirky imagery with text bursting with wry, dry humour. Someone is chopping down the trees, but who? And why? The inhabitants of the wood set out to discover the answers to their questions with amusing and heartwarming results.

If ever you wanted to introduce small children to technical legal vocabulary then this book is for you. Alibi, investigation, examined, eyewitness report, evidence, culprit... they're all in the there. And not only is the terminology introduced, the book also provides a great place to begin learning about the process of solving crimes and the following legal processes.

The book throws up some excellent discussion points around justice (Did the culprit get what he deserved? Should criminals be allowed a second chance?) and motivation (Can crime ever be justified? Should we be empathetic towards criminals? How far should you go to be the winner?) making this a useful text to read to inspire debate in the classroom. It also has an environmental focus: teachers could look further at how nature is being damaged by humans, potentially by providing linked non-fiction texts which children would be more inspired to read because of the story's context.  

'The Great Paper Caper' is a great example of how picturebooks use images to do more than illustrate a text. The illustrations have to be read and interpreted too - without them the story would be incomplete as the text alone does not give all the details. In the context of the whole story there are plenty of opportunities for teachers to do reading comprehension style activities (particularly focusing on inference skills, it is all about finding clues, after all) using just the pictures.

This is another triumph for Oliver Jeffers, and one that has stood the test of time; it was first published in 2008. Here is a book which a child can enjoy alone, with an adult, or during a variety of different school lessons, and one that's sure to raise a few smiles as well as questions.

Book Review: 'Here We Are' by Oliver Jeffers

When you spot J.M. Barrie's quote "...always try to be a little kinder than is necessary..." tucked away at the beginning of a book you can almost be certain it's going to be a must-read for children. Especially in world where we seem to see so much unkindness.

But that's not the world Jeffers focuses on in 'Here We Are'. In fact he looks at humanity and our planet positively and hopefully, encouraging his readers to re-envision what they see around them. Of course, these 'notes for living on planet earth' are inspired by the author's son so the optimistic standpoint is one of childish naivety, and that's OK. Adult readers will understand the negatives behind the positive statements - the book provides a stimulus for adults to discuss world events and issues with children at an age-appropriate level.

The book has excellent Science and Geography links - Jeffers, in his inimitable style, illustrates the solar system, the night sky, the human body and species of animals providing engaging starting points to several areas of the national curriculum. In fact, so good are these that you'll be crying out for an Oliver Jeffers 'How Things Work' style non-fiction book to use in all aspects of the STEM curriculum.  

First, 'Here We Are' is celebration of the planet on which we live; it encourages awe and wonder as we notice and learn about the world around us. Second, it gently urges its readers to look after the things around them - the environment, others and themselves. A double page spread beautifully illustrated with an impressive variety of different-looking people serves as a great talking point alone - how should we treat those who look different to us? Even though we look different, are there similarities? These are such important questions for young children to be discussing if our societies are ever to be more empathetic.

C.S. Lewis said "A children's story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children's story in the slightest" and Oliver Jeffers never fails at this. Adults reading this book will be reminded about what life is really about and will be inspired to ensure that in all the areas the book touches upon that they are good role models to the children in their life. 'Things can sometimes move slowly here on Earth. More often though, they move quickly, so use your time well.' is definitely advice needed by adults more than by children. 

If there were to be one overarching theme I'd say it was wellbeing. And not that selfish kind that only says look after yourself, but the type that celebrates the positive impact of caring for the wellbeing of others. In fact, the five ways to wellbeing are clearly all celebrated in this book: Connect ('You're never alone on earth'); Be Active ('...when the sun is out, it is daytime, and we do stuff' accompanied by a gorgeous yellow-tinted illustration of all kinds of activity); Take Notice ('There is so much to see and do here on Earth...'); Learn (the whole book is about learning new things); and Give ('just remember to leave notes for everyone else.'). What parent wouldn't want wellbeing for their children?

Basically, this is essential reading and needs to be a staple on library shelves and in schools and homes. Books do have the power to change perceptions and this one is something like a manifesto for how children will need to operate in order to change the way things are going in the world. But, I'd even recommend this to adults who might never read it with a child - it could be the gentle reminder they need to adjust their lives for their own wellbeing's sake.

Book Review: 'Balthazar the Great' by Kirsten Sims

'Balthazar The Great' is a simple story about belonging. Balthazar the bear is freed from the circus but must find his way home, but where does he belong? The striking illustrations, alongside minimal text, tell of discovery and explore issues such as animal rights, friendship, loneliness, regret and relief.

This book would be a great place to start conversations with younger children about any of the above topics. So many questions for discussion spring to mind: Should circuses be allowed to feature animals? Where do polar bears come from? Do we only belong with people who are like us? What makes family so important? Is it possible to be friends with someone who looks different? What does it feel like to be alone in a foreign country? It's easy to forget that young children are able to engage with these ideas and picturebooks like this are a great safe space for them to begin to grapple with life's big questions.

Kirsten Sims' colourful gouache and ink illustrations and quirky typeface will appeal to fans of author/illustrators such as Oliver Jeffers, but that's not to say they are too similar. This artsy approach to picturebook creation should mean that this pleasant little story stands out on the shelves and is read by many.

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Whole Class Reading: Providing Challenge For Children Working At Greater Depth

With whole class reading increasing in popularity, one of the most asked questions is around the issue of catering to the needs of all learners. Recently, I tackled how to help lower prior attainers within the whole class reading session and promised at the end of that blog post to write this one. So here it is.

To preface my suggestions I'd like to point out that this list is not at all exhaustive and what you do with the children in your class who are working at greater depth should very much depend on what their individual needs are, based on your assessment of them. I'll also admit that although some of these are ideas that I've tried out, others are ones that I'd like to try so any feedback when you have tried them would be gratefully received!

I've also managed to get some insights from some other teachers who are advocates of the whole class approach to reading, so it's not just me going on at you for once.

Howay, let's get doon to business.

Remove all scaffolds

This is an obvious one. To be working at greater depth you would expect a child to be working independently. If you've been providing vocabulary definitions for the children then remove this and require that the children use contextual and morphemic analysis to work out word meanings. If you've been giving children prompts as to how to word an answer, remove these. If you've been doing something similar to my Scaffolding Inference technique (where you lead children towards making inferences by first asking relevant questions about vocabulary and information retrieval) then switch to providing a variety of question types that don't link or scaffold.

Answers with more detail

This will just be an extension of the skills required to be age-related but you might require children to find more pieces of evidence from the text, and to give more detailed explanations as to how the evidence they have found helps them to answer the question. Sometimes structures borrowed from secondary school can be helpful (ie PEE) but an over-reliance on structures is probably not what you'd expect of children working at greater depth. In a sense, what you are looking for here is that reasoning that we expect children to do when working in maths. Linked to this, you might look to set more difficult inference questions, for example ones that might rely more heavily on prior knowledge*, than on what information is presented in the text (*all inferences rely on some amount of prior knowledge).

Succinct answers

If it's SATs you're thinking of, then time is at a premium. If you want your greater depth children to have a chance of answering the questions about the third text well, then they're going to need a decent amount of time during the hour to do it. This time is only really available if children work quickly through the first two texts. But quick work can often mean mistakes are made, so we need to ensure that rather than rushing children are really good at giving succinct answers. Perhaps you could give a word limit on answers, or get children to edit their existing answers down so that thy still communicate their understanding, but with an economy of words. This technique is part of the Reciprocal Reading approach.

Creative written responses

If children are already a dab hand at answering the whole range of comprehension questions (verbally or in writing) then ask them to produce a creative written piece in response to what they have read. Perhaps they could rewrite something in a different genre, write their own version of what they've read or write the next part of the story using clues from the text? You can specify as much or as little as you like as to the outcome, but you might want to stipulate that their writing demonstrates a reading skill, for example, that what they produce summarises all the main points of what they've read.

Comparisons to other texts

Children working at greater depth should have the capacity to read several texts within a lesson, including the whole class text, and to respond by comparing them. This variety of texts could be provided by the teacher, or selected from the library by the children themselves. You might want to point them in a general direction by asking them to get books on a particular theme, or containing certain character types. You could make it really difficult and ask them to draw parallels between their current reading book and the class text - there may be very few links so this would really stretch their comparison skills. The outcome of an activity like this could be written or verbal and could be developed into a short presentation such as one entitled If you like the class book, then you should also read...

Creating aids for future reading

This could be done as more of an extension task. Children could read ahead looking for words and phrases that their peers might need clarification on. They could then access a computer to create a interactive whiteboard slide which contains word meanings, or pictures of unfamiliar nouns, for the next lesson. This will encourage them to engage with the text thoughtfully and will also challenge their own vocabulary skills. Alternatively, they could create a set of questions, based on question stems and the reading domains (see my Reading Roles for a way to get children really autonomous with this) which could then be used in the next lesson.

Similarly, Ashley Booth (@MrBoothY6) suggests a children predict the questions they are going to be asked:
"I like to get my higher ability to read the text independently and then predict the questions they believe will be asked."
Read and respond to more

This is a simple tweak. Whereas lower attainers and your core group might be focusing on smaller chunks of text, children working at greater depth could be looking at large excerpts, or even whole chapters, particularly when it comes to summarising. For example, in the third text on the 2017 Reading KS2 test, questions were asked that require children to either skim or scan large parts of the text in order to locate information that would help them with providing an answer. This kind of exercise definitely builds resilience - our children working at greater depth can't get away with saying 'But there's nothing in the text to help me answer this!'.

Book-based debate

Debate is a great way to get children responding to a text. It would require a certain amount of collaboration if children were to work in teams to develop an argument either for or against a notion proposed by the teacher. Alternatively children could debate one on one after spending some time developing their argument independently. Another option would be to get children to write a discussion text where they present both sides of an argument. To really push children on this, you could children to work together to come up with a notion based on the book or text they have read. For example, notions could be around whether or not a character acted morally, whether or not a character is good or bad, whether or not a character should do what they are contemplating doing.

Linked to this, @_MissieBee has asked children more formal test-like questions along these lines:
"Something I’ve found that challenges the kids is to find evidence to support opposing points. For example, in a mock 3-mark question based on Wonder, I might ask “August is a shy character. How far do you agree with this statement?” They would they have to find evidence to argue both sides of the coins - where/how does he show he is shy, but also, does he do something that could prove that he isn’t? If they don’t do this effectively, it’s also a good lesson in how a quote can be taken out of context (in the media!)."
Another debate-related activity is this idea from Rhoda Wilson (@TemplarWilson):
"Posing questions with no clear-cut answers encourages the children to argue their point of view, justifying with evidence from the text.
For example, the question Who is most to blame for the death of Romeo and Juliet? could be answered and argued in lots of different ways:
  • The parents - After all they started the feud that forbade their relationship
  • Friar Lawrence - he married them. Surely he should've know better as a responsible man of the church?
  • Romeo and Juliet themselves?
Once the different arguments have been generated, they can be ranked from most to least reasonable and justified with evidence from the text."
And now for some more ideas from some of your favourite Whole Class Reading advocates:

Mr. Dix from @MrACDPresent recommends working on fluency and reading aloud:
"I'm currently trialling something I read Herts For Learning are giving a go in terms of intonation and expression. I'm spending more time focusing on children reading accurately and correctly, thinking about which words to emphasise in sentences and which syllables to stress when pronouncing longer words (we have very high % of EAL and this is proving beneficial). 
This in turn is allowing children working at greater depth to start playing with this aspect of the curriculum and it has been really exciting so far to see them do something they've never done in class before. Children can change the stressed words in sentences/extracts to see if they can change the meaning by doing so. They can also change their expression (tone, speed, volume) to manipulate meaning and discuss author intent. They then need to share and explain these meaning shifts to others. This is not only supporting their fluency when reading but also allowing them to purposefully manipulate inferences rather than just decipher them, as well as explain a complex process to their peers."
Alex Rawlings (@MrARawlings) has worked with his children who are working at greater depth on answer questions where two different reading domains are combined:
"An example of this would be requiring the children to make a prediction as well as give an explanation of author's intent. The question might be: 'Use the text to help you predict how the character will respond and explain why the author would allow this to happen.' So children would have to predict what would happen to a character next based on what is stated/implied in the text, and then record an explanation about why the author would want this to happen to the character. Maybe the author wanted you to feel sorry for him/her; or the author was staging a twist in the story as the plot has plateaued; or as the story has reached its climax, the author is beginning to tie the loose ends of the storylines; or maybe the author wanted the character's reaction to be unexpected as he/she wanted to leave the story on a cliffhanger."
I hope all these ideas are useful as you develop both your practice as a teacher of whole class reading and your children who are, or have the potential to be, working at greater depth. I leave you with a challenge of your own from Jo Payne (@MrsPTeach):
"Think of the children working at greater depth when planning your main lesson objective and activities. Aim them at your strongest readers and scaffold and support others to achieve the same or similar. That way, you know they'll be challenged appropriately. We call this top-down planning."

Thursday, 24 August 2017

3 Books That Introduce New Vocabulary To Children

Discovering new vocabulary is one of the most exciting parts of reading, but children don't always know what new words mean. Of course, children can be taught methods of finding out what new words mean - morphemic analysis and contextual analysis are the techniques that come in most handy in the primary classroom - but some books do the job for them. Whilst these books are not a substitute for learning the skills needed to decipher new vocabulary, they are a great way to get children into the habit of actually finding out what unfamiliar words mean. Some children are quite happy to skip over unknown vocabulary, which leads to a lack of overall understanding of texts, and one of the most important jobs of a teacher is to enable children to have excellent comprehension skills; if a child can read with understanding they can learn almost anything.

There are several children's books out there which in one way or another creatively and cleverly give definitions for words that children might not already know:

The Great Cat Conspiracy by Katie Davies


This particular book encourages the use of dictionaries - something which some children appear to be allergic to! Perhaps by using this book with children they will catch the passion that the main character has for understanding new and difficult words.

The best way to share examples from this book is to show you some pictures of the book's pages where illustrator Hannah Shaw has done a sterling job of communicating Katie Davis' desire to help children to learn new vocabulary:




Small Change for Stuart by Lissa Evans

'On the second day there was nothing to do. Nothing, nothing, nothing.
Which is why, when his father said, 'Ah there you are. I was just thinking of going for a brief perambulation. Would you like to come too?'
Stuart answered, 'Oh all right, then.'
By 'brief perambulation', his father meant a short walk. That was the way he talked all the time...'

Stuart's father writes crossword puzzles and as such prides himself in the use of words that most people don't use. It's up to the narrator or Stuart's father to explain what the words mean. Here's another example:

''When I was a youngster,' his father told him as they walked, 'there weren't any houses in this part of Beeton at all. This whole area was sylvan.'
'What's sylvan mean?' asked Stuart.
'Wooded. And there was a stream running through the middle of it.''

Stuart appears to be used to the way his dad speaks so sometimes there are no explanations for words such as 'mechanisms' and 'diversified', (although a sentence containing 'conflagrated', 'incediary' and 'armaments' is translated by his father as Stuart has no idea what he is talking about!) meaning that children will also have opportunities to discover some word meanings for themselves.


A Series of Unfortunate Events series by Lemony Snicket

In the most well known of the books here, and representing 13 books in all, the narrator often interjects with definitions of more unusual words. Take this example from the first page of the first book 'The Bad Beginning':

'Their misfortune began one day at Briny Beach. The three Baudelaire children lived with their parents in an enormous mansion at the heart of a dirty and busy city, and occasionally their parents gave them permission to take a rickety trolley - the word “rickety,” you probably know, here means “unsteady” or “likely to collapse” - alone to the seashore, where they would spend the day as a sort of vacation as long as they were home for dinner.'

Another example where one of the characters, rather than the narrator, explains what a word means:

'“‘Perished,’” Mr. Poe said, “means ‘killed.’”
“We know what the word ‘perished’ means,” Klaus said, crossly. He did know what the word “perished” meant, but he was still having trouble understanding exactly what it was that Mr. Poe had said.'


Of course, if you've read any of the Lemony Snicket books, then you'll know they celebrate learning and the reading of books, and the vocabulary used reflects this - there are plenty of other words used that children can discover the meanings of themselves. And hopefully they will be inspired to do so by the way some definitions are included in the text.

All of the books I've chosen are also well-written, exciting and original stories which, apart from their entertainment value, have many other qualities. 'The Great Cat Conspiracy' provides teachers and parents with an opportunity to discuss senile dementia and how we care for the elderly as well as introducing younger readers to the crime/mystery genre. 'Small Change for Stuart' encourages problem solving and could provide great links to books like 'The Invention of Hugo Cabret'. The 'A Series of Unfortunate Events' books contain an alternate view on what it's like to be an orphan when compared to, say, Disney films - there are also opportunities for comparative work between the books and the film adaptation and the Netflix series.

So, if you find your class, or individual children, unwilling to engage with new vocabulary, perhaps one of these excellent books could inspire them to become a vocabulary detective.

This blog post has the potential to be an ever-changing beast with your suggestions - have you come across any books which take a similar approach to the ones mentioned above? Please comment below, or on Twitter or Facebook.

Friday, 18 August 2017

Book Review: 'All The Things That Could Go Wrong' by Stewart Foster

This book isn’t about Dan. And it isn’t about Alex. It’s a book about bullying and friendship. Dan is angry about his brother and Alex has OCD and worries about everything; Alex is an easy target for Dan. But their mums are friends and they force them to finish off building Dan’s raft together – neither of them relish this prospect to begin with, but as they work together, things begin to change.

There are often two sides to every story and Stewart Foster tells both equally well in ‘All The Things That Could Go Wrong.’ Over 61 short chapters Dan and Alex take it in turns to tell the story from their perspective giving the reader an inside track into the mind of both a child with OCD and a child who is channelling their feelings about their own difficulties into bullying someone else. Children can often be very black and white about bullying - this book will help teachers and parents explore with children the possible causes of a bully’s behaviour. It could also encourage children who are expressing their emotions in a negative way to talk to someone about how they are feeling.

The tension between the two boys is held throughout the book, making for an exciting read – children and adults alike will not want to put this book down as they end up rooting both for Dan and Alex. The book would be great to read aloud to the class but individual chapters could be used equally well to link to other texts that focus on similar themes (such as ‘Wonder’ by RJ Palacio and ‘The Goldfish Boy’ by Lisa Thompson) – particularly the ones which give an insight into why Dan bullies Alex.

A thoroughly enjoyable read for readers aged 9-13 who love to read exciting stories about real life issues.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Book Review: 'It Ain't So Awful, Falafel' by Firoozeh Dumas

Firoozeh Dumas is an Iranian author - right away you have a reason to be using this book, 'It Ain't So Awful, Falafel', in your classroom; the majority of us teachers teach very few texts by non-white authors. As Darren Chetty wrote 'diversity should start at story time'.

And whilst the focus of this laugh-a-page, partly-biographical novel is difference, it serves better to highlight the differences in how people treat those who appear to be different. In many ways the book's protagonist 'Cindy' (real name Zomorod) is no different to the group of friends she builds after she moves to California, yet she experiences varying degrees of treatment from other key characters in the book. It's useful in the classroom to have both positive and negative examples of how others should be treated - this funny and charming story has both.

Once the scene is set the story revolves around the Iranian Hostage Crisis of the 1970s - we see how events abroad cause people to stigmatise and behave  negatively towards those who they perceive to be linked to things happening in far-off places. The story is a safe place to start classroom discussions about stereotyping, ignorance and critical thinking.

The other main theme of the book is relationships (what book isn't about relationships at its core?); what's striking is that despite her embarrassment at times, Cindy clearly loves and respects her parents - positive parent-child relationships are not always portrayed in children's literature. 'It Ain't So Awful, Falafal' also shines a spotlight on close friendship groups (Cindy's contains a nominal Christian and a Jew), relationships between children and their friends' parents and it has a literal look at the concept of 'love thy neighbour'. All of this provides further opportunities to discuss the treatment of others, especially in a plurality of differing relationships.

For a light-hearted springboard for exploring some heavy subjects, an upper key stage 2 teacher couldn't go far wrong by introducing 'It Ain't So Awful, Falafel' to their classroom. With super-short chapters this is the sort of book equally as perfect as an end-of-day read aloud as it would be in a more formal reading lesson. Highly recommended.

Monday, 13 March 2017

Book Review: 'The Night Spinner' by Abi Elphinstone

Ask a child what 'The Night Spinner' by Abi Elphinstone is about and they will speak of magic and monsters, adventure and action. But those are just plot features. Beneath all that, this is a book about far more.

In actual fact, this book is about loyalty, kindness, bravery, resilience - all those things we're attempting to teach our children through well-intentioned school display boards and PSHCE lessons. Where these attempts might not have long-term impact, a book like this, in the right hands, really could.

Aimed at Key Stage Two children, this rip-roaring adventure, where dull moments are banished, is the perfect vehicle for many-a lesson on those personality traits that we all agree are essential for our children to possess. As an adult, it's difficult to see where the reality of the story ends and metaphor begins: one of the book's main villains is a dead ringer for depression as she steadily drains the lead character, Molly, of all hope, leaving her feeling increasingly unable to go on with her quest. Throughout the book Molly, aided by a colourful array of characters, learns how better to deal with her feelings of self-doubt and becomes a case study in how to overcome adversity through perseverance. There is so much for children to learn about themselves as the thrilling story unfolds.

It's becoming increasingly popular for a female protagonist to be associated with action and adventure stories but Abi Elphinstone's trilogy is a welcome addition to the growing canon of books fronted by strong female leads. The fact that Molly Pecksniff - who doesn't flinch at jumping from a bridge onto a moving train with her wildcat - is a girl, certainly does not make this a book for girls. Whilst it is important that girls have such a positive role model, its also crucial that boys are presented with a character who really challenges gender stereotypes. Books like this have the power to change minds and shape thinking.

For all of this, 'The Night Spinner' and its two preceding volumes thoroughly deserve a prominent place on the shelves of our libraries and schools. Not that they will stay on the shelf for long!

Friday, 3 March 2017

On Why I'll Still Be Dressing Up For World Book Day And The Power Of Books

There has been increasing dissent over World Book Day and its staple activity: dressing up as a book character (although I heard of one school whose children had to come dress up as an adjective!). Does it really encourage children to read, or to become true readers? Can a one-off event really 'get' children to read?

There are plenty of other initiatives out there too that are intended to encourage children to engage in reading. Extreme reading photograph competitions, reading reward programmes, author visits, library trips, decorated reading corner contests, book lucky dips, sleepovers, literary lunches and all manner of other events and programmes - all are carried out in the name of promoting reading for pleasure and creating life-long readers. 

I've led on reading in a previous school where we did most of the above things - Ofsted noted that 'pupil's achievement in reading is outstanding'. But can such events and initiatives really have such an impact?

I would say yes, with one caveat: that all of the above are truly book-centred. By this I mean that whatever is done in the name of encouraging reading actually involves the opening, and reading of books. If everything is done tokenistically, however, paying lip service to books, taking the name of books in vain, then there will be no impact. But if books are being read, then they are being allowed to do their thing.

You see, books contain power. The power to grab a reader by the scruff of the neck and drag them kicking and screaming into a literary chokehold. Or sometimes they have the power to reach out and take the reluctant reader in a loving embrace, comforting them and whispering sweet lullabies, enchanting them with beautiful words and far-flung worlds. Books have the power to whisk a non-reader away on an unforgettable reading honeymoon that they'll forever seek to replicate as they court book after book after book. Books persuade, they cajole, they seduce, they occupy, they engage - they can be absolutely tyrannical. 

Books contain power and if we can let those covers open and give our children even the smallest of glances, eventually these children will meet their match. And their match will change their lives forever. Of course, the opportunities we provide must be meaningful and some children will require more structure and perseverance than others, but eventually, books can take a hold of anyone.

So if dressing up is what's necessary to allow the innate power of books to prevail, then that is what we must do. If events and initiatives are what it takes to unleash the potential in the books that sit, waiting, on our library or book corner shelves, then fill up your calendar.

But you don't need to wait for those days and weeks in order to marvel at the wonders those pages contain - every day, every lesson is an opportunity to read from those books. Anyone who dislikes dressing up for World Book Day only does so because they really love books and regularly experience the delights of daily reading. They are the ones who hold the secrets of how the power of books can be unleashed every time our children step into their classrooms - so don't dismiss them for their strongly held views, listen to what they are holding up as an alternative... and then do both.

Our question again: how do we 'get' children into reading?

The simple answer?

Books.

Reading books. With them. To them. 

Books. Whether that's in front of a class of dubiously-costumed 5-year-olds, in that timetabled reading session or during a topic lesson, the answer is books. Be that a lunchtime book club, a visit  to a book shop, or the coach ride to the museum, the answer is books. Always books.

Only books will 'get' children into reading so use them in abundance, prolifically, and at every opportunity. They will do their thing.

Click here to read more about reading!

Friday, 10 February 2017

The Unexplainable Joy Of Comparing Books

Regular readers of this blog will know of the journey I've been on with reading. And now, having a good solid year of reading behind me, I'm really reaping the benefits. Of course, each book I read is a benefit in itself, but now I'm beginning to experience particular moments of awe and wonder. I know exactly what causes these moments but as yet am undecided on why they occur. I can't quite put my finger on what is so joyous about what essentially is this boring-sounding lesson objective: to make comparisons between texts.

A few years ago, every KS2 test had that part at the end where children were required to make comparisons between the texts they'd read during the test. The last of the current interim objectives for reading states that children should make comparisons within and across books although the KS2 reading test framework only asks that children should make comparisons within the text (and last year's test didn't test this at all). I recently wrote about pairing non-fiction texts with fiction texts but as far as I know teachers always paired fiction texts with other fiction texts - this is common practice.

I recently read the excellent 'The Goldfish Boy' by Lisa Thompson and I was struck, not by similarities (it's a highly original concept) but by the links I naturally made to other texts as I read. I was told of children trying to solve a mystery which occurs on a single street during the summer and was reminded of Michael Frayn's 'Spies' (a novel for adults and one of the best books I read last year). I read of a boy who lives with the guilt of feeling responsible for a younger brother's death (not a spoiler as this is revealed early in the book) and instantly recalled Patrick Ness' genre-defying 'More Than This' (and was also caused to reflect on the links between this and the latest series of 'Sherlock'). I made more overarching links to current favourite with teachers, 'Wonder' by R.J. Palacio, as both books deal well with the treatment of those who live with medical conditions.

Whilst reading 'Hitler's Canary' by Sandi Toksvig with my class I read 'The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas' by John Boyne with my book club (Friday lunchtime, read and discuss, read two more chapters before next week). Initially the links to be made were so strong that we all commented on how we kept forgetting which book it was we were reading: both set during World War Two, both a first person account told from the perspective of a young boy (Bruno or Bamse), the first chapters in both even mention the boys dressing up as ringmasters and performing plays! The links as we read became deeper: they each provide a different view of the Holocaust, with each book deepening the children's understanding of the other.

The next fiction text I will link to 'Hitler's Canary' will be a picture book: 'The Whispering Town' by Jennifer Elvgren and Fabio Santomauro. It's another account of how the majority of Denmark's Jews were smuggled out of the country to safety during World War Two; the Danish people working together to resist the Nazis. I'm hoping it will give the children the opportunity to engage with historical events in a different way. I'm no expert on picture books (seek out people like Mat Tobin and Simon Smith for people who really know their stuff) but I believe they harbour the potential to engage children at a deep and meaningful level within their few pages. 

Deborah Wiles said, "Telling stories with visuals is an ancient art. We've been drawing pictures on cave walls for centuries. It's like what they say about the perfect picture book. The art and the text stand alone, but together, they create something even better. Kids who need to can grab onto those graphic elements and find their way into the story." I'm hoping these visuals will further spark the imaginations of the year 6 children and that they will feel that thrill of finding two stories that link. One of my favourite authors, Philip Reeve, said, "Even tiny children looking at a picture book are using their imaginations, gleaning clues from the images to understand what is happening, and perhaps using the throwaway details which the illustrator includes to add their own elements to the story." Just imagine the potential impact a series of linking texts, including picture books, could have on a child's imagination and understanding.

This blog post, unlike others of mine, is more of a statement of intent than anything. I've experienced that unexplainable excitement of making links between texts I've read and I want the children I teach to feel it too. I intend to be more intentional about is, seeking out and providing them with a rich tapestry of high quality fiction texts, many of them short to ensure breadth, to expand their mental library. Many of the children I teach have not been brought up on picture books and bedtime stories as I was - I feel it is my duty, and my privilege, to continue to share the joys of reading with them, with the hope that this will create a life-long love of books.

So, a couple of questions remain to be asked: when have you experienced that strange elation of making links between two or more books? Which fiction books do you use as paired texts in class? Perhaps you can even answer that which eludes me: why is it such a good feeling when I make a link between two books? I'd love to hear from you in the comments section below!