Reading Teachers, Reading Students: How Teachers as Readers Groups can help you to develop Reading for Pleasure in your classroom and School Part 2.

In the previous blog I discussed and explored how I have developed my own understanding of how to promote reading for pleasure through my involvement with the University of Birmingham Teachers as Readers Group (TRG). In the second part of the blog I will explore the remaining three important strands that are vital in understanding how to encourage and develop reading for pleasure. These strands are:

•            Reading for Pleasure Pedagogy

•            Reading Teachers: Teachers who read and Readers who teach

•            Reading Communities

Reading for Pleasure Pedagogy.

‘The Teachers as Readers research project revealed that a robust reading for pleasure pedagogy encompassed four specific practices: reading aloud, informal book talk and recommendations, and independent reading time within a highly social reading environment.’

Developing your reading pedagogy is another really important part of encouraging reading for pleasure and can have a positive impact in children’s attitudes, attainment and engagement with reading.   

Reading aloud has been a massively important part of our Reading for Pleasure Project this year. When we read aloud to students we broaden their horizons, provide new knowledge, support vocabulary acquisition, build empathy and most importantly, promote reading for pleasure.

Having made the transition from being a Primary School Teacher to working in a Secondary School in Key Stage 3 it was clear that reading aloud to students was just as important in Years 7, 8 and 9 as it was from Foundation Stage to Year 6. It is clear that students have a “listening level” that is significantly higher than their reading level and when we read aloud to them we help them to access texts that they might not be able to access by themselves. In doing so we are actively promoting reading for pleasure whilst helping them to develop the other important skills described earlier.

Whilst working at my current School, where all the students from Year 7 right through to Year 13 are read to for half an hour a day in Form Time, I have seen the benefits that reading aloud to students can have. They all experience a carefully selected range of texts on a wide variety of subjects such as science articles, environmental issues, historical accounts, biographies and literature that increases in complexity according to the year group they are in.

We have a very diverse population of students who travel from all areas of the city to attend our School.  All of our classes are wonderfully diverse and are mixed attainment. So in any class there are students who have widely differing reading levels, abilities and experiences. Reading aloud helps to level out the playing field by creating a shared experience of ‘texts in common’ for the students which they can all access and discuss.

When you read aloud to students you become the reading role model and you can help students to bridge the gap between the written and the spoken word helping them to become familiar with the rhythm, expression and flow of sentences in the stories or texts which are skills that they might not otherwise acquire or acquire at a much slower rate. This is especially important for students whose second language is English. When planning and implementing a programme of reading aloud it is important to consider the following points:

•            Carefully choose a range of appropriate books and texts for the students to read that includes: books, poems, newspaper or magazine articles that will be interesting and engaging.

•            Ensure that the books and texts chosen to share of ‘high interest’ and reflect the diversity of the School Community.

•            Ensure that you read with enthusiasm and with appropriate expression, pace and pitch. It may sound obvious but use different voices for different characters and vary the volume and tone of your voice according to the action that is taking place in the story.

•            Ensure that you have the time to become familiar with the texts you will be reading so you can read it with appropriate expression and plan for logical stopping places to take questions or comments or discuss language features or vocabulary. Examples of questions that you might ask are:

“What is the trigger in this story?”

“How would you feel if you were that character? What would you do or say in their situation?”

“What do you think will happen next? Why?”

“How do you think the conflict in the story will be resolved?”

“Who is your favourite character? Why?”

“How would you describe this character to others?”

“What’s happened in the book so far?”

“How would you describe this book to others?

Through exploring this strand of the research I was able to:

•            Develop a social reading area in the classroom with a range of quality books and texts.

•            Further develop, enhance and my existing approach for reading aloud.

•            Effectively use my increased knowledge of children’s literature and other texts to enrich children’s experience and pleasure in reading.

•            Let children control more of their own reading and exercise their rights as readers.

•            Make time and space for children to explore texts in greater depth, share favourites and discuss their reading with each other.

Reading Teachers: Teachers who read and Readers who teach.

‘The Teachers as Readers project built on Commeyras et al (2003) American research and revealed that those professionals who were both readers and teachers, and who examined their own experience of reading were better positioned to develop genuinely reciprocal reading communities. By sharing their own experiences of reading, these teachers made a positive impact on children’s desire to read and frequency of reading at home and at school.’

At the University of Birmingham TRG we focussed on the following two areas:

•            Developing a love of reading by being a reading role model.

•            Exploring children’s perceptions of us as readers.

It is clear that Teachers who are passionate about reading, and in particular the reading of children’s and young adults’ books, will pass on that enthusiasm to the staff and students with whom they work. By getting excited about books, taking time to read to students and sharing your interest in books with them you will build a reading community that inspires them by showing the enjoyment that can be gained from reading. The discussions and books you share with them will gift them a lifelong love of reading.

It is also vitally important that the students see you as a reader. One strategy we have used is to display ‘I am currently reading poster’ in our classrooms. We then make sure that we regularly refer to the posters by discussing it with the students.

Through exploring this strand of the research I was able to:

•            Extend my understanding of how we can be a positive role model for reading.

•            Become more aware of the importance of talking about and sharing books with students to create shared experiences.

•            Become more aware of the importance of our own and the students reading identities.

•            Share aspects of my own reading identity and history with staff and students.

Reading Communities

‘The Teachers as Readers research project found that Reading for Pleasure strongly influenced by relationships between children, teachers, families and communities. Where shared understandings were established about the changing nature of reading and the value of everyday reading practices, these supported children’s Reading for Pleasure. These reading communities generated new kinds of talk about reading.’

At the University of Birmingham TRG we focussed on the following two areas:

•            Creating reading communities where reading for pleasure is valued.

•            Developing Whole School reading relationships.

As the year progressed I benefited immensely from our TRG reading community through sharing and discussing my reading. It was also really useful to have the time and the space to reflect on my reading experiences and practice and it would be fair to say that we all learnt a great deal about ourselves as readers.

Through exploring this strand with the TRG I was able to:

•            Develop a shared concept of what it means to be a reader.

•            Develop an understanding of how to build reading communities that value and promote reading for pleasure.

•            Create a social reading area in the classroom to encourage students to engage with reading.

There is absolutely no doubt that joining a TRG is probably the best thing you can do as a Teacher to develop your reading pedagogy and confidence in promoting reading for pleasure. Through working with the University of Birmingham TRG I was able to enhance my knowledge and understanding of reading for pleasure and develop my reading pedagogy through sharing my enthusiasm and passion for reading with like-minded colleagues. I would highly recommend that you get in touch with your local TRG and start your reading for pleasure journey. So, don’t delay, sign up to your local Teachers as Readers Group today!

Useful Links:


Useful contacts and Twitter Links:

Dr Nicola Smith













Reading Teachers, Reading Students: How Teachers as Readers Groups can help you to develop Reading for Pleasure in your classroom and School Part 1.

“One of the greatest gifts adults can give – to their offspring and to their society – is to read to children.” – Carl Sagan

Both Charlotte and I are passionate advocates of reading for pleasure. Research shows that it has a number of positive benefits for students that include: developing imagination, helping to develop empathy, literacy, vocabulary and social skills and improving health, well-being and learning. It gives students access to cultural capital and empowers them to become active citizens who can make positive contributions to society.

However, despite all of these obvious benefits there has never been a more important time to promote reading for pleasure because its participation has decreased over time as it competes with an ever increasing range of leisure time activities and the onslaught of social media.

One of the main ways in which I have developed my own understanding of how to promote reading for pleasure is through my involvement with the University of Birmingham Teachers as Readers Group (TRG). I would highly recommend joining a Teachers as Readers Group to any Teacher looking to improve their confidence, knowledge and understanding of reading for pleasure but what exactly is a TRG?

What are Teachers as Readers Groups?

Teachers as Readers Groups consist of small groups of Teachers who meet six times during the year to read, discuss and share children’s and young adults’ literature. They also share strategies to promote reading for pleasure through the development of an effective reading pedagogy. This is by no means an exhaustive list but here are some of the activities that we have engaged in throughout this academic year:

Exploring our own literacy by reflecting upon and learning from our personal experiences with books.

•            Selecting a range children’s or young adults’ books to borrow, read, share and discuss.

•            Learning how to be a reading role model for lifelong reading pleasure.

•            Exploring how to create the optimum environment for reading.

•            Gaining experience and confidence with reading aloud and the facilitation of book discussions.

•            Becoming familiar with the excellent OU website which has a number of excellent case studies and examples of research.

•            Attending and reporting on conferences.

•            Enhancing our reading pedagogies by engaging with research and producing/ sharing our own research projects.

•            Growing and developing a network of support and expertise.

The TRGs clearly help to give Teachers the confidence to be reading role models who encourage the students to become lifelong readers.

In a two part blog I will now explore the five strands of reading for pleasure that we discussed over the course of the year to help develop our knowledge and practice.

In this first part of the blog I will explore and discuss:

•            Teacher knowledge of children’s and young adults’ literature.

•            Teacher knowledge of children’s reading practices.

This will then be complemented by an exploration and discussion of the remaining three important strands in part two of the blog which are:

•            Reading for Pleasure Pedagogy.

•            Reading Teachers: Teachers who read and Readers who teach.

•            Reading Communities

Teacher knowledge of children’s and young adults’ literature.

‘In order to successfully foster Reading for Pleasure, the Teachers as Readers research project found that teachers need a wide and up to date knowledge of children’s literature and other texts.’ 

It may sound obvious but lack of knowledge about children’s and young adults’ literature and authors is a major obstacle if you are going to successfully develop reading for pleasure. It is vitally important, therefore, that you develop, and continue to develop, your knowledge of children’s and young adults’ literature as well as maintaining your professional learning and own reading for pleasure.

Clearly, the students need access to high quality books and it is therefore essential that classrooms have a wide range of books that reflect the diversity of the school community and interests of the students. This is especially important where there is no School Library. Having books in the home, or books of their own, also has a major impact on students’ reading habits. Children with books of their own read more and are much more likely to be engaged with reading. Library membership outside of School is also positively correlated with engagement levels and reading.  Our School is fortunate enough to have an excellent Library with passionate staff. Our wonderful Library staff ensure that our School benefits from a scheme called Bookbuzz which allows all the students in Years 7 and 8 to choose, and keep, their own book. This has had a dramatic impact on the student’s desire to read. A lack of availability of high-interest reading material is, in our opinion, a major reason why students don’t read for pleasure.

Through exploring this strand of research I was able to:

  • Engage, share and discuss a range of books and texts to inspire and enrich the students’ literary experiences.
  • Be better informed and more confident in making book recommendations to students and to engage in ‘book blethering’.
  • Use this knowledge and understanding to form part of the research project that was submitted to the  website
  • Foster and nurture a ‘shared reading community and experience’ with students by reading and sharing texts that we all had in common.

Teacher knowledge of children’s reading practices

‘The Teachers as Readers research project revealed that when teachers knew more about children’s reading practices and experiences beyond school they were more effective in nurturing Reading for Pleasure and building communities of readers. They understood more about each individual child’s interests and preferences. Thus they came to question what counts as reading in their classes, began to include more than just books and worked in collaboration with children to widen the variety of texts which were recognised for reading.’

I think that most Teachers would say that they have a good understanding of their students and their reading abilities. They will almost certainly know all of their reading scores and levels and would be confident in identifying the next steps in their learning. Through exploring this strand I realised that not all Teachers would actually know a great deal about the children’s preferences as readers, their favourite genres and authors or their everyday experiences of reading at home.

As the year progressed I made efforts to really get to know the students ‘reading identities’ and map out their ‘reading histories’. In order to achieve this the students clearly needed to have an element of choice of the books that they read so it was important to build time into the curriculum for this to happen.  However, it was equally important to monitor the genre of the books the students were reading so that they experienced a wider range of books than they might have otherwise have chosen by themselves. 

In order to build a picture of the students’ reading identities I found it useful to discuss not only what they are reading but also who they read to or with and when, where and how they read. For example, I often told the students to make themselves comfortable when they read because when we are reading at home we rarely sit upright on hard plastic chairs. When you take the opportunity to ask the students questions about their reading habits you often receive some surprising responses.

Questions I have found useful are:

  • What types of books do you like reading and why?
  • Do you have a favourite author or genre?
  • Do you always read….books?
  • Does anyone read to you at home? Do you read to anyone at home?
  • Do you always finish the book? Is it okay to give up a book or should we always finish a book that we start? Should we persevere with books that we aren’t enjoying?
  • What are you currently reading?
  • Is it okay to skip parts and read ahead? Is it okay to find out the ending of a book to enjoy it more?
  • What books have you read this year that you would recommend to my new class next year?
  • What books make you cry or laugh?

Through exploring this strand of the research I was able to:

  • Understand and appreciate the significance of the wider reading experiences of the students in their homes and communities (ie Library membership, book ownership, reading role models at home etc).
  • Expose the students to, and encourage them to engage with, a diverse range of texts.
  • Create and understand ‘reading identities’ and ‘reading histories’ with students.
  • Build reading relationships with students and created shared reading experiences and histories through reading and sharing ‘texts in common’.

I sincerely hope you have enjoyed reading about our experiences as members of a Teachers as Readers Group and the benefits of joining and being a part of one. In the next part of the blog there will be an exploration of the final three strands of developing reading for pleasure that we worked on during the year with our Group.

Book review: Making Every Lesson Count by Shaun Allison and Andy Tharby

This was the first and original title by Shaun Allison and Andy Tharby that has proved to be so good that it has gone on to inspire a whole series of subject specific books. Making Every Lesson Count is highly readable, with beautiful illustrations from Jason Ramasami, and is based around six interrelated pedagogical principles which are central to effective teaching and learning. These principles form the chapters of the book and are followed by a final chapter on Embedding the Ethos. These principles are: Challenge, Explanation, Modelling, Practice, Feedback and Questioning. Each of the strands are presented simply with clear explanations and realistic strategies that teachers can readily access and use to develop teaching and learning in their classroom. The beauty of this book and the subsequent MELC books in the series is that they all share the same six principles focussed around domain specific subject knowledge and content.

‘Packed with practical teaching strategies, Making Every Lesson Count bridges the gap between research findings and classroom practice. Shaun Allison and Andy Tharby examine the evidence behind what makes great teaching and explore how to implement this in the classroom to make a difference to learning. They distil teaching and learning down into six core principles challenge, explanation, modelling, practice, feedback and questioning and show how these can inspire an ethos of excellence and growth, not only in individual classrooms but across a whole school too. Combining robust evidence from a range of fields with the practical wisdom of experienced, effective classroom teachers, the book is a complete toolkit of strategies that teachers can use every lesson to make that lesson count. There are no gimmicky ideas here just high impact, focused teaching that results in great learning, every lesson, every day.’

What this book is not, however, is a silver bullet with all the answers with regards to what constitutes effective teaching and learning. Instead it recognises the complexity involved in the learning process and discusses the six pedagogical principles in terms of:

  1. What the research evidence suggests.
  2. What has been discovered by observing inspirational teaching colleagues and other Professionals in School settings and the on-line networks of Teachers.
  3. What can be continually learned and refined from the day to day experiences as Teachers.

This gives the book a real integrity and allows Teachers to pick and choose from the strategies that are suggested and use those that are most effective in their own class and School settings. Each chapter clearly describes the fundamental elements of teaching and learning behind the principle before offering practical strategies that can then be adapted by using subject specific knowledge and pedagogy.

What makes Making Every Lesson Count such a great book is that it is highly readable for busy practitioners, offers an evidence-informed definition of great teaching and empowers Teachers to deliver high quality lessons and develop their practice.

This is an excellent book that is suitable for all Trainee Teachers, NQTs, experienced Teachers and anyone looking to use evidence based practice to help them ‘Make Every Lesson Count’. I wish I had had such a wonderful guide to effective teaching twenty years ago when I embarked on my career as an NQT. I would highly recommend this book and it is an essential read for Teachers everywhere.

Shaun Allison is currently Deputy Headteacher at Durrington High School. @shaun_allison

Andy Tharby is a practising English Teacher with and excellent blog entitled ‘Reflecting English’ @atharby

What we are reading this summer: Part 2 Charlotte

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Similar to Kev, I have a huge pile of both YA and adult books to read over the summer holidays. (However I don’t quite inhale books to the same speed at Kev can!). In terms of my reading for pleasure, I gravitate towards thrillers, so my list perhaps is a slightly gruesome one. The 5 books I am looking forward to reading the most are….

  1. Someone We Know: Shari Lapena

Snippet: In a tranquil, leafy suburb of ordinary streets – one where everyone is polite and friendly – an anonymous note has been left at some of the houses. ‘I’m so sorry. My son has been getting into people’s houses. He’s broken into yours.’ Who is this boy, and what might he have uncovered? As whispers start to circulate, suspicion mounts. When a missing local woman is found murdered, the tension reaches breaking point. Who killed her? Who knows more than they’re telling? How far will all these very nice people go to protect their secrets?

This is Lapena’s 3rd book now, usually they are released in hardback and if you head to your local supermarket, they are only £5. You will devour this in one sitting, it is perfect escapism for a rainy afternoon!

2. The Rosie Result: Graeme Simison

This the 3rd novel in a series, the first one being ‘The Rosie Project’, of which was probably one of my favourite books. This follows the story of Don Tillman, a Genetics Scientist with Autism. ‘The Rosie Project’ was Don’s road to getting a girlfriend, and in this 3rd (and perhaps final) instalment, we see Don trying to help his socially awkward son navigate through school and even open the most precise cocktail bar in the city. This series is funny and truly a life-affirming read, so I am really looking forward to reading this next book! I really like this media quote to describe why you should read this!

‘Don Tillman is surely one of the most recognisable, distinctive narrators in modern fiction … While this book is deeper and more thought-provoking than the first, there are many moments of humour and unexpected joy … Uplifting, eye-opening and definite food for thought on whether we need to adapt to the world, or whether something the world is a better place in accommodating us as we are.’ – My Weekly

3. Lullaby: Leila Slimani

I am a big fan of thrillers set in different countries, this novel is Slimani’s first translation to English and is CREEPY. I am currently reading this, and whilst I am enjoying the descriptions of Paris, it really is one to read in daylight.

Snippet: When Myriam, a brilliant lawyer, decides to return to work, she and her husband look for a nanny for their two young children. They never dreamed they would find Louise: a quiet, polite and devoted woman who sings to their children, cleans the family’s chic Paris apartment, stays late without complaint and hosts enviable birthday parties. But as the couple and their nanny become more and more dependent on each other, jealousy, resentment and suspicions increase, until Myriam and Paul’s idyllic domesticity is shattered . . .

This novel weaves you into family life, makes you feel part of the family then completely shatters the opinions you had of pretty much each character. Again, great escapism, I certainly don’t think about my GCSE planning whilst reading this!

4. Notes on a Nervous Planet

Now, this probably shouldn’t be on this list because I have actually already read it… twice. HOWEVR, it sits on my bedside table and I dip into it if I ever need a bit of help to switch off. If you haven’t read this book, quite frankly, buy it immediately, hide away from any distractions an read it. It is an important, beautiful and wise book that deserves to be read by all. You might have seen in the recent issue of ‘Vogue’ edited by HRH Duchess of Sussex, she included a poem called ‘The beach’ taken from this book, which has got people talking about the funny words and poignant look on our world Matt provides. I highly recommend this, please give it a read!

5. How to Fail by Elizabeth Day

My favourite commuting activity is listening to podcasts, and Elizabeth Day’s ‘How to Fail’ podcast is one of my favourites. (Essentially, she interviews interesting people about the failures they have gone through and how it has helped shape them). This podcast series was based on her book, which shamefully, I haven’t had the chance to read yet. (On a podcast note, particularly great episodes are Lily Allen, David Baddiel and Kelly Holmes).


This is a book for anyone who has ever failed. Which means it’s a book for everyone.

If I have learned one thing from this shockingly beautiful venture called life, it is this: failure has taught me lessons I would never otherwise have understood. I have evolved more as a result of things going wrong than when everything seemed to be going right. Out of crisis has come clarity, and sometimes even catharsis.

Elizabeth Day is a journalist, and writes beautifully. Her description of her moments of failure are heart breaking and I know this will be an interesting read.

I hope you are enjoying your summer, getting in a bit of reading for pleasure!

What we are reading this summer: Part 1 Kev

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Image result for summer  reading

As another busy academic year ends and we begin to enjoy the Summer Holidays it’s a time to rest, reflect, recharge and, most importantly, read. Along with a veritable feast of children’s and young adult books that I will be reading I will also be catching up with some of the books that are particularly important to me. In this blog I’d like to share five of my summer reads that I am really looking forward to reading.

The first is Descent of Man by Grayson Perry.

I am particularly interested in exploring masculinity and, in particular toxic/ non-tender masculinity and so am really looking forward to reading this book by one of my favourite artists.

Grayson Perry has been thinking about masculinity – what it is, how it operates, why little boys are thought to be made of slugs and snails – since he was a boy. Now, in this funny and necessary book, he turns round to look at men with a clear eye and ask, what sort of men would make the world a better place, for everyone?

What would happen if we rethought the old, macho, outdated version of manhood, and embraced a different idea of what makes a man? Apart from giving up the coronary-inducing stress of always being ‘right’ and the vast new wardrobe options, the real benefit might be that a newly fitted masculinity will allow men to have better relationships – and that’s happiness, right?

Grayson Perry admits he’s not immune from the stereotypes himself – as the psychoanalysts say, ‘if you spot it, you’ve got it’ – and his thoughts on everything from power to physical appearance, from emotions to a brand new Manifesto for Men, are shot through with honesty, tenderness and the belief that, for everyone to benefit, upgrading masculinity has to be something men decide to do themselves. They have nothing to lose but their hang-ups.

I really like Grayson’s Men’s Right manifesto:

The right to be vulnerable

The right to be weak

The right to be wrong

The right to be intuitive

The right not to know

The right to be uncertain

The right to be flexible

The right not to be ashamed of any of these.

The second book I’m looking forward to reading, on a similar theme to my first choice, is Boys Don’t Try? by Matt Pinkett.

I’ve been following Matt Pinkett on twitter (@Positivteacha) for some time and really like his ideas. This promises to be a fascinating book dealing with the issue of boys understanding of masculinity and how this impacts on school communities. 

There is a significant problem in our schools: too many boys are struggling. The list of things to concern teachers is long. Disappointing academic results, a lack of interest in studying, higher exclusion rates, increasing mental health issues, sexist attitudes, an inability to express emotions…. Traditional ideas about masculinity are having a negative impact, not only on males, but females too. In this ground-breaking book, Matt Pinkett and Mark Roberts argue that schools must rethink their efforts to get boys back on track.

Boys Don’t Try? examines the research around key topics such as anxiety and achievement, behaviour and bullying, schoolwork and self-esteem. It encourages the reader to reflect on how they define masculinity and consider what we want for boys in our schools. Offering practical quick wins, as well as long-term strategies to help boys become happier and achieve greater academic success, the book:

offers ways to avoid problematic behaviour by boys and tips to help teachers address poor behaviour when it happens

highlights key areas of pastoral care that need to be recognised by schools

exposes how popular approaches to “engaging” boys are actually misguided and damaging

details how issues like disadvantage, relationships, violence, peer pressure, and pornography affect boys’ perceptions of masculinity and how teachers can challenge these.

With an easy-to-navigate three-part structure for each chapter, setting out the stories, key research, and practical solutions, this is essential reading for all classroom teachers and school leaders who are keen to ensure male students enjoy the same success as girls.

With chapters on sexism, mental health, violence and aggression and the problems caused by “banter” this promises to be an interesting and challenging read showing how much good we can do for society if we can do better with our boys in school.

My third read is The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri

I have read the excellent No ballet shoes in Syria by Catherine Bruton and The Boy at the back of the class by Onjali Rauf both of which explore issues regarding refugees and asylum seekers and I was drawn to this book through my experiences with these books and through following news coverage in the media.

In the midst of war, he found love

In the midst of darkness, he found courage

In the midst of tragedy, he found hope

The Beekeeper of Aleppo.

What will you find from his story?

Nuri is a beekeeper; his wife, Afra, an artist. They live a simple life, rich in family and friends, in the beautiful Syrian city of Aleppo – until the unthinkable happens. When all they care for is destroyed by war, they are forced to escape.

As Nuri and Afra travel through a broken world, they must confront not only the pain of their own unspeakable loss, but dangers that would overwhelm the bravest of souls. Above all – and perhaps this is the hardest thing they face – they must journey to find each other again.

Moving, powerful, compassionate and beautifully written, The Beekeeper of Aleppo is a testament to the triumph of the human spirit. Told with deceptive simplicity, it is the kind of book that reminds us of the power of storytelling.

This is a novel of immense importance telling a true story with compassion and humanity.

This book lead nicely to my fourth choice which is End of Time by Gavin Extence

Gavin Extence is a talented author. I am a fan of his other books which have dealt with a range of topical social issues including bullying, the right to die, the poverty gap and mental illness. I was keen to see how he would manage the story of two Syrian brothers who are trying to go to the UK to flee the war and persecution.

Beneath the stars, on a stony beach, stand two teenage brothers.

They are wearing lifejackets that are too big for them and their most precious belongings are sealed in waterproof bags tucked inside the rucksacks on their backs.

Turkey is behind them and Europe lies ahead, a dark, desperate swim away.

They don’t know what will come next, but they’re about to meet a man who does. He calls himself Jesus, the Messiah. He is barefoot, dishevelled and smells strongly of alcohol.

And he doesn’t believe in chance meetings. He believes he has information about the future – information that will change three lives forever . . .

This is a timely, and important, book at a time when there is an increasing intolerance of parts of the western world to those escaping oppression and poverty.

My final read is something completely different. I am a massive fan of Stieg Larsson, Henning Mankell and Hakan Nesser and through reading their books I discovered the hugely talented Jo Nesbo.  So my last book is The Knife by Jo Nesbo.

This is the twelfth book in the immensely popular ‘Harry Hole’ series and I have thoroughly enjoyed reading ever one of his books thanks to the way in which the plot twists and turns.


Harry is in a bad place: Rakel has left him, he’s working cold cases and notorious rapist and murderer Svein Finne is back on the streets.


Harry is responsible for the many years Finne spent in prison but now he’s free and ready to pick up where he left off.


When Harry wakes up with blood on his hands, and no memory of what he did the night before, he knows everything is only going to get worse . . .

Despite his obvious flaws, and there are many, Harry Hole remains one of my favourite characters and I’m really looking forward to reading this from the master of Scandinavian noir.

I hope you have enjoyed reading about the books I will be reading over this summer and we would love to hear about the books that you have read or are intending to read so please get in touch with your suggestions and recommendations.

Mission: Summer Reading

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What are you reading right now? Now, I don’t mean a teaching and learning book… or a textbook to familiarise yourself with content, just the reading to read.

There is a wealth of information at the moment about why we should be getting pupils to read for pleasure. It helps with vocabulary acquisition, helps with building imagination and empathy, and consequently help them enormously in their academic future. I can see lots of creative displays, lessons, and curriculum planning being done to weave this in to lessons too, which is fantastic. But what we need to remember, because of the Matthew Effect (see previous blog post explaining this), if pupils don’t feel like they can read, and they don’t feel that intrinsic reward for reading, and the enjoyment you can get from reading for pleasure is not there, pupils won’t read. I’m sure many of you have witnessed a pupil in ‘Everybody Reads’ rather stare a page in a book than actually read said book, which is so frustrating! So how can we tackle this?

Being a good reading role model

I would be interested to see if any teachers moaned, if their summer ‘task’ involved reading a book for pleasure. Thanks to recent research and high profile publications, reading for pleasure in schools is having a major revamp, but that cannot just be us telling pupils to read.

The recent EEF report on Literacy is just one piece of research that teachers across the secondary curriculum are reading to help them improve literacy in their subject area. But before the recent wave in focusing on literacy, a lot of teachers weren’t confident in how to get pupils to want to read. In my own research project, I found that form time reading slots were often revolved around bribery ‘we’ll just read for 10 minutes then we can play a game’ or was valuable marking time for the tutor whilst the class maybe read. I found that this was mostly because it was often a battle to get pupils to read, and one that they just didn’t want to enter. Hopefully, this post will help you to both explain to pupils why we should be reading but also help them to really enjoy it.

Step 1: Get reading yourself

This could come as both reading adult texts, and talking to pupils about the genres of books you like, and what you are reading at the moment (obviously, not recommending your latest thriller to some lovely Year 7’s!…). OR you could read a couple of books that are aimed at the age group of your form. Just to put this in perspective, young adult fiction does not take long to read and the conversation with pupils is suddenly different. Now you have something to back up your ‘it’s time to read’ instruction.

“Well actually, this book is really good, and if you like a bit of an action book this you would love this”. I am a HOY and one pupil came to me at the end of the day having been really told off for not reading his reading book (he had done anything but). In fact, when we picked this apart, he said the last book he actually enjoyed was ‘War Horse’, so we got him a couple of historical themed books… which he LOVED. He was being a typical teenage boy, he didn’t want to tell the teacher in front of the whole class that he needed help choosing a book. He was also stubborn and didn’t want to believe that there was a single book in the world that he might enjoy. Reading yourself, especially for your own pleasure means you are going through the process of finding a book you’re are interested in, persevering through a slow chapter, googling what a word means… all things that immediately switch off reluctant readers. When I was completing my teacher training, my mentor said to always complete the tasks you want pupils to do, so you can understand the process and explain and help them better. This is what you are doing when you read!

In a recent Women’s Hour BBC Radio 4 programme (podcast available) with Cressida Cowell, the newly appointed Children’s Laureate, she spoke avidly about why we need to model to children that it is okay not to enjoy a book, but not give up entirely on reading… to find one that you want to stick with. When we have been through this process ourselves as readers, it is easier to explain this to pupils. You don’t need to know every children’s book ever to be able to recommend books for them, just where in your school they can go for help.

2. Help pupils to reward themselves

The crux of reading for pleasure is the intrinsic reward of enjoyment, so I do believe strongly that we shouldn’t be giving extrinsic rewards for reading too much. However, to encourage pupils to read until they are enjoying it there are perhaps a few things we can do. Here are just a few thoughts;

1. Build a profile of the books that your form are reading, they have to have finished the book in order to make ‘your wall’, perhaps then at the end of the year choose one book randomly for a prize. The more they read and contribute, the more chance they have of winning.

2. Or, once a month, why not get pupils to share what they have been reading, this could also help recommend books to pupils who need something to try next!

3. Give them your time, and try to facilitate parent time to talk about reading. Either through their planner, or an email home. Some parents will take a huge interest in what their child is reading, but some won’t. I found with the most unlikely pupils that asking them about their book unleashed a great conversation and strengthened my relationship with the pupil, as well as them loving telling me all about the different motorbikes in the book.

And finally…

Reading is as useful for adults as it is children, (I think another blog might come on this topic…) so use your summer to switch off and READ! Me and Kev are fairly obsessive readers, we are happy to recommend! 🙂

Empathy Matters: Developing Empathy through the Power of Stories.

Reading is, in our opinion, one of the greatest ways to educate your students and whilst it can certainly help students to develop their vocabulary and Literacy skills and learn new concepts in Maths or Science it can help them to develop ‘Cultural Capital’ and more important than that, to develop empathy and emotional intelligence.

Why does Empathy matter?

Empathy is defined as ‘the ability to put yourself in someone’s shoes and understand what they are going through; it’s the ability to feel what they are feeling.’

Students are now facing an ever more complex range of challenges such as bullying and mental health issues as well as the wider issues such as racism, gender inequality, homophobia and Climate Crisis (to name but a few), so helping students to develop empathy is more important than ever. Empathetic people have the ability to connect with others on a deeper level and can lead to individuals being kinder, more compassionate and more inclined to help each other as we work together to tackle some of the greatest challenges that we have ever faced. Empathy is therefore an increasingly important skill for students to develop if they are to flourish in the future, after all as Ken Blanchard stated:

‘None of us is as smart as all of us’.

Empathy through stories

It is clear that reading and stories has a key role to play in helping to develop empathy. When we read stories, we have the opportunity to understand and experience it from the perspective of the various characters. We literally see the world through their eyes and vicariously enter their world. This allows us to develop an understanding and respect for the experiences of others.

We recently read a number of excellent books with the students all of which were chosen to help students develop empathy and become more aware of the experiences of Refugees and Asylum Seekers around the World. The books, with a brief synopsis, were:

No ballet Shoes in Syria by Catherine Bruton- A wonderful book about and 11 year old girl called Aya who has just arrived in Britain with her mum and baby brother, seeking asylum from war in Syria.

‘When Aya stumbles across a local ballet class, the formidable dance teacher spots her exceptional talent and believes that Aya has the potential to earn a prestigious ballet scholarship. But at the same time, Aya and her family must fight to be allowed to remain in the country, to make a home for themselves and to find Aya’s father – separated from the rest of the family during the journey from Syria.’

The Boy at the Back of the Class by Onjali Q. Rauf- The Boy at the Back of the Class is a child’s perspective on the refugee crisis, highlighting the importance of friendship and kindness in a world that doesn’t always make sense.

There used to be an empty chair at the back of my class, but now a new boy called Ahmet is sitting in it. He’s nine years old (just like me), but he’s very strange. He never talks and never smiles and doesn’t like sweets – not even lemon sherbets, which are my favourite! But then I learned the truth: Ahmet really isn’t very strange at all. He’s a refugee who’s run away from a War. A real one. With bombs and fires and bullies that hurt people. And the more I find out about him, the more I want to help. That’s where my best friends Josie, Michael and Tom come in. Because you see, together we’ve come up with a plan. . .’

The Bonesparrow by Zana Fraillon- This is a beautiful, vivid and deeply moving story about a refugee boy who has spent his entire life living in a detention centre. This book highlights the importance of freedom, hope, and the power of a story to speak for anyone who’s ever struggled to find a safe home.

‘Born in a refugee camp, all Subhi knows of the world is that he’s at least 19 fence diamonds high, the nice Jackets never stay long, and at night he dreams that the sea finds its way to his tent, bringing with it unusual treasures. And one day it brings him Jimmie. Carrying a notebook that she’s unable to read and wearing a sparrow made out of bone around her neck – both talismans of her family’s past and the mother she’s lost – Jimmie strikes up an unlikely friendship with Subhi beyond the fence. As he reads aloud the tale of how Jimmie’s family came to be, both children discover the importance of their own stories in writing their futures.’

Boy 87 by Ele Fountain- An original and beautifully written page-turner of a novel about love, survival and the strength that can be found in a hopeful human spirit’

‘Shif is just an ordinary boy who likes chess, maths and racing his best friend home from school. But one day, soldiers with guns come to his door – and he knows that he is no longer safe. Shif is forced to leave his mother and little sister, and embark on a dangerous journey; a journey through imprisonment and escape, new lands and strange voices, and a perilous crossing by land and sea. He will encounter cruelty and kindness; he will become separated from the people he loves. Boy 87 is a gripping, uplifting tale of one boy’s struggle for survival; it echoes the story of young people all over the world today.’

Reading these four beautifully written books allowed the students to really explore the struggles and experiences of Refugees and the difficulties that can be experienced through seeking Asylum. They experienced the full range of emotions that the characters involved in the books felt and gained understanding of some of the key themes such kindness, freedom, hope, loss, grief and friendship.

Whilst reading these excellent books we helped the students to explore and develop empathy through the following simple ways:

  • Asking them to answer questions about the characters and their experiences such as ‘How do the characters feel? How have their experiences affected them?”
  • Asking them ‘What if?’ questions. We encouraged the students to really see the story through the eyes of the characters by asking them ‘What if that happened to you?  What you would do? What would you say?’
  • Asking them ‘How would you feel?’ We tried to encourage the students to relate to the characters experiences and comparing it to their own. We asked the students for example how they might feel if they went to another School in another country and no-one in that country spoke the same language as them.
  • Asking them to answer questions as if they were the characters using role play and hot-seating. We asked each other ‘How do you feel? How have your experiences affected you?’

The last strategy was perhaps the most powerful and the students genuinely experienced the story as if it were them and not the characters in the book. It was a powerful experience to immerse themselves in the stories and life experiences of the characters in the books providing them with the opportunity to connect with other worldviews

In a famous quote Barack Obama stated:

‘When I think about how I understand my role as citizen, setting aside being president, and the most important set of understandings that I bring to that position of citizen, the most important stuff I’ve learned I think I’ve learned from novels. It has to do with empathy. It has to do with being comfortable with the notion that the world is complicated and full of grays, but there’s still truth there to be found, and that you have to strive for that and work for that. And the notion that it’s possible to connect with some[one] else even though they’re very different from you.’

It is clear that reading these four books helped the students to explore and develop empathy and understand the world through the powerful human connections with the characters. It also highlighted the power of stories and how when given a diverse range of fiction students are much more likely to become more empathetic and emotionally intelligent people.

Simple strategies for developing Empathy through reading and stories

  • Choose a range of books to read aloud time that show a variety of experiences and cultures.
  • Ask questions related to characters’ responses, feeling and actions to the events and their experiences in the book.
  • Encourage your student to think about how they would have responded to the events and experiences of the characters.

We would love to hear about which stories and strategies you have used to develop empathy with your students. Please get in touch and share your practice.


The Empathy Lab is a great organisation set up specifically to build children’s empathy, literacy and social activism through a systematic use of high quality literature. Their strategy builds on new scientific evidence showing the power of reading to build real-life empathy skills. The Empathy Lab has a range of excellent resources and book lists that can help to get you started. They also have a brilliant mission statement: Read stories. Build empathy. Make a better world.