RGS's Reading Week in lockdown is a huge success

Students threw themselves into a wide variety of structured reading related to their subject areas and also enjoyed compiling reading logs and creating some stunning bookmarks. Librarian SALLY DRING reports

BEING mindful of the additional pressures on both students and staff to complete and set work online, I wondered if a reading week would help to relieve those stresses, as well as making the most of all the fantastic free reading materials available digitally. It was agreed that we would make reading the main focus of tasks set for students in Years 7 to 9.

It seemed like a simple idea, but I wanted to make sure that there was some direction given to students; that, where possible, the reading was also related in some way to the different subject areas in school; and that we could get some feedback as to what the students had been doing. Therefore, just asking everyone to read for the week wasn’t an option and it had to be more structured. Another very important point to consider was that we should not assume that all students had access to reading materials at home during lockdown.

I also had to bear in mind that project tasks spanning several weeks had already been set in some subjects, and so it was important not to interrupt these schemes of work. To accommodate this, I wanted to allow each subject department the ability to join in to a greater or lesser degree. I then asked heads of department to let me know of any particular topics they would like the reading to focus on, my intention being to provide both fiction and non-fiction reading materials related to a subject area. I also realised that it would probably work better if the reading suggestions and tasks were distributed by subject teachers at the beginning of our Reading Week, rather than my trying to send the right thing to the right students at the right time in their timetable!

Library assistant Miss Szcerbinska and I then set about finding relevant and suitable free reading material online. As the school library already subscribes to several excellent online resources such as The Day online newspaper and access to magazine archives (all our online resources, along with access details, are on the library SharePoint page), we were able to find some wonderful articles related to different subject areas and issues such as climate change for geography and science, or cybersecurity for IT and PSHCEe. Our own knowledge of teen and young adult fiction also meant that we could find free extracts from fiction books which were based on the same topics, such as dystopian fiction about animal species dying out or a world dominated by flooding; or a story about cyberbullying. Sites such as World Book Day have an excellent selection of free extracts to read (https://www.worldbookday.com/resources/secondary/?type=extracts&character=&book_author=&illustrator=) and this can be a great way of introducing a student to a book which they will then go on to read. We wanted to make sure that reading materials were accessible for all abilities and so made use of the free offer to schools by Audible (https://stories.audible.com/discovery), which meant that we could also send links to relevant audiobooks. For MFL (modern foreign languages) we could incorporate the translated articles from The Day online newspaper, translated readings from Harry Potter on Audible and French, Spanish and German versions of Peter and the Wolf found on YouTube.

As students would still be adhering to their normal timetables there was a lot to consider: levels for three different year groups; differing abilities; a different amount of timetabled time in subject areas; and different amounts of reading material depending on how much each department was joining in. Plus, suggested short activities to give us some feedback on what students did during their week. We also couldn’t cheat and send the same materials to different departments as then students might receive the same activity from more than one teacher!

A few days before the start of Reading Week we sent out a set of materials to each subject department. They could then choose which to forward on to their students to look at in their lesson time. We asked the students to complete two tasks for them – one was to create a Reading Week bookmark log; the second was to interview an adult (in person at home or by phone/video chat) about their favourite childhood reading. These both had to be submitted by email by the end of Reading Week. Miss Szczerbinska created a set of visual instructions for making the reading log and I made a short video to students explaining how the week would work. A separate list of ideas for optional creative activities was provided alongside this, including a reading log bookmark design competition, and an emoji book uiz was sent out to get everyone in the mood!

There were some beautiful bookmark design entries and we chose two winners in each year group as follows: 

The response following Reading Week has been overwhelmingly positive. Staff enjoyed the week; Mr Griggs wrote: “Just to say my students found the reading week very enjoyable. Only ten out of 82 I teach did not fill in the summary of the articles / books they read and most really enjoyed reading them. The extract from Itch and the articles on global warming, quantum computing and frog robots were the most popular with my classes. A very few chose to read a different book than on the list provided.

Thank you for organising this - it gave them and us a welcome break to the usual activities.”

Mr Fearnley discovered that audiobooks were more popular than the book extracts with his Y7 class, an opinion I found shared by a lot of students, leading me to email round a reminder that North Yorkshire Libraries membership includes free access to digital audiobooks and that you can easily join the library online. Mrs Wainwright reported that: “I have some really quite wonderful pieces of work from reading week.

At the time of writing almost half the students have completed a recently sent out survey about Reading Week and the positive feedback is continuing. There was a good spread of opinion on what type of reading the students most enjoyed. 

When asked whether they had discovered something new they might like to read more of, two-thirds answered either ‘yes’ or ‘maybe’ and there was a lovely variety of comments on what that would be:

I discovered that I liked to read science articles.

More of the science audiobooks on audible and physics articles.

I'd like to read more of my favourite books in French and other foreign languages. I'd also like to read more autobiographies.

I would like to read more non-fiction books on subjects like sport and climate change. I found these really interesting.

I never really listened to audio books but now I am listening to them a lot

Some of the book extracts sounded good, and I might like to read the rest of the book.

The science activities made me want to read more about the earth and its structure. The audio books from French and English made me listen to more than one chapter.

Some students felt there was a bit too much reading to do and they would have preferred to be left to choose their own material. This is something to consider in future – as departments were taking part in their own ways, maybe some students received much more than others simply because of their combination of subjects or the way their timetable fell. Also, how can I balance the desire to encourage reading for pleasure with making sure there is some kind of structure, bearing in mind that it is term time and that we need some degree of feedback to show that some reading has been done. Interestingly, those who had been less enamoured with being provided with reading material tended to be the already keen readers who wanted to get on with their own books. A further lesson that I have learned is not to ask 350-plus students to submit two pieces of work by email but to set up some other form of handing in the tasks!

The interviews that I asked students to do with an adult about their favourite childhood reading books and memories was fascinating and a pleasure to read. The good old favourites were mentioned in abundance – The Magic Faraway Tree, Anne of Green Gables, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe – along with some I had forgotten about, such as the Brer Rabbit stories. Classics such as Lord of the Flies, The Old Man and the Sea or A Kestral for a Knave were remembered, as was the impact they had had on the reader. Many adults noted that it was one specific book that had awoken them to the joy of reading and made them want to read more; and many had fond memories of curling up with a book on the sofa or in a sunny spot in the garden and losing themselves in a story. Some of our students had learned about a book they now wanted to read themselves. There were some funny tales of reading incidents. One mother related how she had been reading a Stephen King novel in class when she was meant to be reading The Mayor of Casterbridge and she had reached such a scary point that she screamed out loud! A father reckons that reading The Jungle Book instilled in him a fear of snakes!

A look inside just a couple of students’ logs shows just what a variety of reading was done:

The Reading Week rating is currently standing at almost four out of five stars and there have been some lovely comments. 

It has definitely given some food for thought when planning future reading weeks under ‘normal’ circumstances.

It was a great way to lose yourself and forget all the chaos happening right now

I enjoyed reading different things that I wouldn't normally choose to read, such as some of the book extracts.

I do not enjoy reading normally but Reading Week made a difference.

I loved Reading Week a lot! because it introduced me to lot of new types of reading and different subjects!

I think Reading Week was fun but we should be left to read our own books only

It gave me a chance to catch up on the reading I've missed, I'm going to take time out of every week to start reading more.

I really enjoyed Reading Week as I got a chance to relax and read for pleasure as well as learning lots of new things. Thank you!

Reading week for me was interesting in some subjects but not so interesting in other subjects.I did enjoy the subjects that introduced reading by involving the work that we've already been doing. It was fun :D

It was a nice change from concentrated text-book work to keep life refreshing.

I read things I didn't normally read in reading week and I think that's good.

During Reading Week I've read many articles about something I would like to know more about.

Reading Week was fun, I liked how we could relax whilst reading the things that our lessons sent us. I also had lots of spare time to read my own book