Saturday, 8 December 2012

The Big Read - Developing reading, literacy and responsibility

This year we are launching our biggest Learning to Learn programme of all time called 'Learning at Brookfield' or L@B for short.  It is a whole school initiative that focuses purely on Year 7's.  We are using Dweck's Growth Mindset and the 5R's as the basis of our programme.  Each half term we focus on one of the R's.  In that half term period, two departments champion this attribute explicitly, whilst the remaining teaching staff promote it informally.

This first half term we have been focusing on 'I am a Responsible Learner'.  The English department are one of the two championing departments and have been running an exciting project to promote responsibility, literacy and reading.  It is called the 'Brookfield Big Read'.  Sarah Page, an English teacher at Brookfield summarises the project as follows:

The ‘Brookfield Big Read’ is a challenge that runs for six weeks at the start of Year Seven. There are several aims. Primarily, it is to foster a love of reading for pleasure. For some readers, this means encouraging them to continue with the good reading habits that many of them have developed at our feeder primary schools. For these readers, the objective is to expose them to a wider variety of texts and authors and to inspire them to read more challenging books. For other readers, the ‘Brookfield Big Read’ aims to support them in developing good reading habits by challenging them to read more regularly and to discuss their reading with parents and peers. In addition to developing a culture of reading with the pupils, another of the challenge’s goals is to promote responsibility and independence in the students’ attitude to learning.  Overall, the aim is to motivate Year seven pupils to develop an enthusiasm for reading whilst taking responsibility for setting themselves targets and achieving their goals.

At the start of the challenge, all pupils are issued with their ‘Brookfield Big Read’ card. On this card they set themselves as many as three overall challenges, which they aim to achieve over the six weeks. Then they have to set themselves weekly targets in order to achieve their goals. Examples of targets might be to read a trilogy of books by a particular author or to read as regularly as half an hour each day.
Each week pupils are expected to discuss their reading with their parents and ask their parents to sign off their target. The class teacher will discuss each pupil’s challenge with them throughout the six weeks and also set aside time for pupils to read during class. The pupils love to share what they have read and this often supports and inspires others in the class, so often the class teacher will ask pupils to read out from their novels or to recommend their novels to the rest of the class.
Pupils can gain L@B merit points if they demonstrate responsibility during their challenge. Therefore not only do they need to complete their targets and ask parents to sign their cards, but they also need to ensure that they renew their library books on time and bring a reading book when asked to by the class teacher.

At the end of the challenge there is a class celebration of all of their achievements. Pupils are asked to present what they have enjoyed about the challenge and to share the texts they have relished. It is an opportunity for pupils to reflect on what they have read and how they have become responsible for their learning.

After introducing the challenge and linking it explicitly to our L@B focus, students began to set themselves their own targets.  As Sarah explained, these targets varied from students to students dependant on their initial level of reading.  Teachers helped students where necessary but ultimately these targets were self set by students which allowed them to take ownership of them.  It also provides that extra piece of motivation to achieve them when it is one that they set themselves.  When responsibility and self regulation are what we are trying to promote, giving them full control is key.  So what were some of these targets?  Well here are a few examples from our students:  

  • To ready 20 pages every evening.  (The Hobbit - JRR Tolkein)
  • To read aloud to my mum 3 times a week.  (Flash Flood - Chris Ryan)
  • To read an entire book from a different genre.  (I Shall Wear Midnight - Terry Pratchett)
  • To read 4 chapters a day
  • Read three books
  • To read for an hour a day
  • 20 pages a night
  • To read a book recommended by my Mum
  • To read a different author/genre
  • Read a book recommended on Frog
  • To read a book a week
  • 50 mins a day
  • Longer and more challenging texts
  • To read half a book a week

At the beginning of every lesson, students would spend 10 minutes reading silently whilst the teacher went round and discussed targets with the students.  Over the weeks students filled out their Big Read Challenge card with new targets and comments, concluding the challenge with a final evaluative comment.  Parents signed these cards at home when their child had met their daily/weekly target.  This helped both support the child and provide motivation where needed.  When it got to the end of the six week challenge, students assessed whether they had met the target.  In fact many of the students had not only met their personal challenge, but even exceeded it.  Students were then asked to write a review of the six weeks, discussing the book or books they had read and also reflect on how responsible they had been.  A few examples of the book reviews can be found here and here.  This was an excellent chance review their progress and highlight any L@B examples.  To add a further element to this challenge, a selection of students work would be publicly exhibited at our local Waterstones store.  The reason for this ties into Ron Berger's 'An Ethic of Excellence' book (which I highly recommend that you read) and gave students a real audience, which in turn instilled a sense of pride when completing their work.  Many students asked when the display would be up which only increased the profile of the challenge further.    

And the last element for the students would be explained in our Year 7 L@B assembly.   As they were working through the challenge, the English teachers had been monitoring how Responsible these students had been.  They had been particularly looking at the way the students were learning, not just what they learnt.  They had forwarded these names to me as 'nominations' with examples of how they had become a more responsible learner.  Here is an example of 10 students:

  1. A.M: A student who has really focused on a being a responsible learner. He works well in groups, on his own and has, without fail, met the 'Big Read' requirements (remembered his book every lesson, 'Big Read' card signed every week and he has increased his reading from nothing at all to 15 minutes a day).
  2. A.H: Arranging to hand in early as she knew she would be absent; excellent attitude throughout.
  3. T.H: Using initiative to support others (one of the Responsible Learner criteria)
  4. A.K: Seeking ways to extend her work always (taking on responsibility for her own learning)
  5. E.N: Responding enthusiastically to a challenge and striving to meet it.
  6. H.N: He has worked very hard on his reading and has independently written two reviews about books he has read.
  7. C.M: For her continued enthusiasm with the Big Read project, completion of an excellent book review and for setting great targets every week.

  8. L.T: She has read 7 books in total, challenging herself all the way. She has produced some excellent work as a result and handed in a superb review.

  9. J.M: he has taken the challenge very seriously, set herself thoughtful targets and taken great responsibility over the management of her time.  She has clearly enjoyed it, as has mum who has left some very detailed comments!
  10. Z.P: Amazing effort towards work in class, her book is exemplary and she responded to extending her BIG READ challenge and produced several book review.
These students were highlighted in assembly as individuals demonstrating excellent learning qualities.  In particular, we used them as examples of being responsible learners and as role models for other students.  They represented a shift towards being 'Growth Learners' and made becoming a better learner achievable for other students.  They were rewarded with certificates and one of our Responsible learner wristbands.

So what are the English departments overall thoughts after this exciting challenge? Neil Chance, our English AST, summarises it here:

During the course of the Big Read Challenge, students were openly discussing learner attributes, and, more specifically, the skills required to become responsible learners. Students really enjoyed the challenge of setting their own targets and managing them, and were fairly consistent at bringing in their own private reading material. The focus on 'responsibility' allowed teachers to highlight successes and difficulties in lessons, as well as providing opportunities for discussing methods to tackle those difficulties.

Targets were sometimes met and exceeded; other times they were not achieved - often because the target itself was too challenging (but this was encouraged at the beginning of Year 7 as teachers were still becoming acquainted with the strengths and weaknesses of their students). Whether the 'responsible' focus helped students achieve their targets is difficult to ascertain without a more in depth investigation - but it certainly didn't hinder them!

As a department, next year the focus would be on promoting the L@B skills more explicitly and asking students to become more self-aware and reflective regarding their own strengths and weaknesses as 'responsible' students.

As our first flagship challenge for our L@B programme, the Big Read has had a huge impact within our school.  The challenge itself, the learning conversations, the public exhibition and the reinforcing of such as vital quality (being responsible) and the push towards becoming a Growth Learner has been amazing.  We may not have turned every single student into a responsible learner or avid reader, but we have taken steps to highlight these areas with our students.  We have also begun to embed the culture of learning and exceptional learners at our school and look forward to the remainder of the year and the rest of the L@B programme.

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