Teachers Reading Challenge 2022: living and breathing reading in South Ayshire

Photo of three children reading a book. The middle child is wearing school uniform.

In January 2023, The Reading Agency spoke to Ashley G., a primary teacher working with P6/7 pupils in South Ayrshire about her experience of taking part in the Teachers’ Reading Challenge. Ashley G. took part in both 2021 and 2022, reading well over the number of books she had set herself to read and gaining two silver badges in both years of the Challenge. We spoke to Ashley about how she translated her own love of reading into pedagogical practice, expanded her knowledge of children’s and young people’s texts and embedded reading for pleasure across her whole school as a result of taking part in the Challenge.

Although always having been an avid reader, Ashley explained that translating this into her own work with children only truly became a priority following her discovery of the Teachers’ Reading Challenge.

‘This has been a game changer for me as a teacher. This led me to research Reading for Pleasure, book training sessions on it and complete the Open University badged course. All of this sparked something in me and I’ve spent the last year working on initiatives in school to promote a Reading for Pleasure culture and reading a ridiculous number of children’s books!’

Since first taking part in 2021, Ashley has embedded a variety of initiatives in her school aimed at engaging children in reading for pleasure. These include taking the children to the mobile library every month (when it is scheduled to visit the village) and liaising with South Ayrshire Library Services to provide every child with a mobile library ticket and access to ebooks and audiobooks through the Libby app (online library service).

‘The children can access Libby at school and at home and it is now a well-used and well-loved resource. Access to Libby has also helped to tackle barriers to reading for some of our pupils who were experiencing difficulty reading books at their interest level and were being put off reading by this. Furthermore, for pupils where they don’t have access to a lot of books at home (as long as they have access to a technological device at home eg. phone, tablet, laptop) this free app provides an opportunity for them to read or listen to a wide selection of modern children’s books at home without cost implications for parents which is so important. Money should never be a barrier to children’s reading, and I feel this is even more important currently given the cost-of-living crisis we are all experiencing.’

Another initiative is running a Reading for Pleasure session for the whole school every Friday afternoon, where students can read in a quiet room or participate in shared reading and book talk with their peers. The school has also hosted family ‘Booknic’ events inviting parents, carers and other family members into the school to read together, building an awareness amongst children and young people of reading as something that everyone can take part in and enjoy, both at home, at school and elsewhere.

‘Engaging the children in school has been going well as it’s a small school and because they get the enthusiasm from staff they are all responding well, even children who are reluctant readers.  Engaging families can be more difficult as we appreciate time demands on parents can make it difficult for them to find time to read with their children.  We invited them in for a Booknic back in October which was well attended and received positive feedback from parents and we ran one again the week of World Book Day.  In our infant class we have just started sending home a RfP [Reading for Pleasure] bookbag for the weekend with a little hot chocolate and mini marshmallow pack and requesting a little photo uploaded to Seesaw with potentially a little review of the book/books or their child’s thoughts on it and we will monitor engagement of this. (…)  Next step I’d like to explore inviting parents to come when the mobile library is at the school to choose a book with their child.’

By expanding her knowledge and reading more of the recently published and trending literature that pupils were interested in themselves, Ashley was better able to engage in book talk and was more confident in recommending texts to pupils. As part of a broader approach to diversifying both hers and others’ knowledge of children’s and young people’s texts, Ashley has also started an Open University Teachers’ Reading Group in South Ayrshire, got the school involved in a Diversifying Reading project with Oxford University Press and joined a Racial Literacy Working Group.

‘I adored reading as a child and when I had my own children I wanted them to have that same love of reading but as they grew older and we moved on to reading chapter books I would choose books I had enjoyed reading at their age and came to realise they just weren’t enjoying them as much as I had. So I knew I had to do some research to ensure they maintained their love of reading. That was why when I saw the Teachers’ Summer Reading Challenge I signed up straight away. I also joined Twitter and started following accounts suggested for children’s literature (which I would highly recommend), visited libraries and charity shops and sourced different types of books from different authors and with a variety of characters.(…) I now feel really confident recommending books to pupils throughout the school and they often read the same ones I have and we chat about them. Class novel choices have also been improved due to my knowledge of current authors and the children have really engaged in the books they’ve chosen from my selection.’

When asked about the best new title she had discovered as part of the Challenge and why it resonated, Ashley selected two texts with main characters that reflected different life experiences, pointing to the importance of representation within children and young people’s literature.

‘Amari and the Night Brothers’ because it’s an exciting, fantasy adventure book where the main character is a black girl. So often in this genre the girl is a side character, but instead here was a great female main character which was so refreshing. Also, although it’s a small village school I work in we have a very diverse pupil group and I loved the fact this book included a wide variety of characters with good representation of other ethnicities. This book and its sequel ‘Amari and the Great Game’ have been so popular in my class and we’re now eagerly awaiting the third book which is due to be published in September this year.’

‘Another was Ella on the Outside by Cath Howe, as the main character had eczema. I would have loved to have read a book that featured a character with eczema when I was growing up as I suffered quite badly with eczema myself. Most of the years I was in primary school I was admitted to hospital for a week or so to get it back under control.  So I feel this book would have been comforting for my younger self to have read, and it would have been helpful for educating other children on eczema. I always felt really aware of how my skin looked to others at school and (like in the book) some children were nasty about it.’

Ashley also told us about how the Teachers’ Reading Challenge had informed her work with pupils with different reading levels, providing her with the confidence and the resources through which to engage more reluctant readers.

‘One pupil told me that I wouldn’t be able to find books they would enjoy, but I managed eventually. The first I found that he enjoyed was ‘The Humiliations of Welton Blake’ by Alex Wheatle and that then gave me an idea of the types of books he was likely to enjoy. I researched websites for recommendations ‘if you liked this book/author you might enjoy…’ and I took to Twitter asking for recommendations from others too. Eventually I came across Anthony McGowan’s ‘The Truth of Things’ (which includes three novellas). I ordered my own copy, read it and gave him my copy. The student has now read all three novellas, followed it up with the fourth instalment ‘Lark’ and has recommended them to another student in my class who has now also read all three novellas and is currently reading ‘Lark’. I have now sourced similar novels by a different author for them to try to ensure I maintain their current level of enthusiasm.’

‘Other more reluctant readers have really enjoyed the ‘Dog Man’ series and ‘The Bad Guys’ series we recently purchased for our school library. One pupil in particular has really engaged with graphic novels and has read every book we have in these series and researched to find out if there were any more she hasn’t read yet for us to purchase. She has also enjoyed the ‘Smile, Sisters and Guts’ set by Raina Telgemeier and is currently enjoying ‘When Stars are Scattered’ by Victoria Jamieson (on my recommendation). She now feels so passionate about reading she takes books out to the playground, constantly requests more daily reading time and has shared her book recommendations in whole school assemblies (at her request!).’

For other professionals working in the education and literacy sectors who might be feeling uninspired, Ashley recommended reading up on new and relevant texts through Twitter, signing up for The Open University’s newsletter (which often details relevant free training and webinars), joining one of the Open University’s Teachers’ Reading Groups (TRG), joining the Teachers’ Summer Reading Challenge and reading and logging as many books as possible. Ultimately though, Ashley explained that engaging children in reading hinged on being a reading role model herself – translating her love of reading into the classroom:

‘By expanding your knowledge of children and young people’s literature you’ll gain the confidence to do this (…) It’s really helped my pupils knowing how much I love reading. We’re a small school, with about 70 pupils, and I’ve taught the vast majority of the pupils at this point (…) There are two Mrs G’s at my school and they refer to me as Mrs G. the book teacher! They know I live and breathe reading and many of them are beginning to do so too.’

When asked about future plans, Ashley explained she would be taking part in the Teachers’ Reading Challenge in 2023 and was already exploring ideas for examples of pedagogical practice to submit to The Open University so as to gain her Gold badge.

The Reading Agency

Join our mailing list

Get our newsletters to stay up to date with programme news, resources, news and more.

Back to Top