“Miss! I learnt about the Blue Carbunceruncle, Miss!” The excited shriek comes from a tiny, wide-eyed boy in my tutor group. The knot of his tie is inexplicable; his folder bulges out from under his skinny little arm; the Velcro on one of his shoes is stuck to his trousers. He pauses briefly and looks up, beaming and panting slightly after his hasty trot up the stairs.
I can’t help but grin back. “Oh! You’ve discovered the secret of the Blue Carbuncle, have you? Quite the Detective!” I reply. My voice is filled with genuine glee as I emphasise the correct pronunciation of what is – to be fair- a surprising and confounding word at first greeting. My response is animated, possibly a touch over-egged, but I’m enjoying myself and am getting swept away by the enthusiasm, so I keep going with it.
“Yes, Miss!” He offers a bashful grin and giggle, wipes his nose on the cuff of his shirt, and turns and walks to his desk.
A hand shoots up from the front row. It’s a tall girl with a pristine shirt and ponytails. Her pens, ruler and exercise book are already laid out perfectly on her desk.
“It was hidden inside the duck, Miss!” she yelps.
Another hand “Miss, ‘ow do you say that word of that blue thing, Miss?”
“Mr. Holmes is so clever, Miss!”
“He’s sick, Miss!”
Two days before, I presented my after-school Reading Club kids with the newest addition to our repertoire. We’d already ripped through abridgements of Dracula, Frankenstein, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde, among others. I’d been saving Sherlock for a while. I wasn’t sure if they’d get into it, to be completely honest. I wasn’t sure if the stories might be a bit too obscure and complicated. But fortunately, my instincts were spectacularly incorrect. Contrary to my predictions, Holmes was quite the hit. They couldn’t get enough of him and his sharp-witted, crime-solving ways. I’m pretty sure that two or three kids have decided they want to become detectives since reading about the famous sleuth. I’m sure the HR department at the Metropolitan Police will be delighted.
Reading Club is the highlight of my day. At 4pm, the bell goes and I open my classroom door. Fifteen smiling faces wait in the corridor, books clasped in their clammy paws and a thousand questions on their lips.
“Is Esmeralda going to die, Miss?”
“Does Shmuel go back to Berlin with Bruno, Miss?”
“Was it the monster that did it, Miss?”
“Can I read first, Miss?”
We settle in to our current tome after a quick recap of what we read the day before. We take it in turns to read sections aloud and we discuss what we’ve read. That’s it. We read. We enjoy it. We talk about it. It’s not complicated at all.
I’ve written before about how to get kids reading. I should note that all the kids in Reading Club can decode well enough to access texts aimed at 11 year-olds. The content and vocabulary may be challenging in places, but that’s the beauty of reading in a group with an adult: I can do my teacher thing and support them through the tricky bits.
Katharine, our Headmistress, regularly pops in to Reading Club to see what’s happening (and to soak up its general awesomeness, of course). She is unbelievably supportive and champions reading around the school. We were chatting about our whole-school reading strategy recently when she pointed out that our weakest readers are now the kids that have read the most classic novels. We have a lovely school library, and all pupils have been reading plenty from there. This is, of course, wonderful, and I’m never going to tell a child they can’t read something if they really want to read it, but there are lots of books that they may fall in love with, but might never pick up off the shelf. Let’s be honest: if you were eleven, would you rather read The Diary of A Wimpy Kid or Wuthering Heights?
Whether you’re a Wutherer or a Wimp, it’s important to be exposed to as broad a range of texts as possible. Additionally, there is something fabulous about having read and engaged with the classics. They are the books that have shaped our society and have influenced our collective thinking throughout the ages. Not only should we want to keep the flame of these favourites alive, we should want to empower all children with the cultural knowledge these stories bring.
Inspired by Reading Club, therefore, we have recently introduced a new reading goal for every child. Over five years, every single Michaela pupil will read at least 100 classic novels during tutor time. Some of these will be abridgements, but many won’t be. This does not include any subject lesson reading or independent reading. Many kids, therefore, will read a lot more than this. But the absolute minimum entitlement for every kid is 100 books. Why should we settle for any less?
How the programme works
- All pupils read the same book every day during tutor time. Every child has a copy. The tutor reads along with the pupils and will read aloud occasionally, too. (We buy one class set of each text and rotate. Expensive: yes. WHAT ELSE IS WORTH SPENDING THE MONEY ON?!??!?)
- All pupils take their copy home each evening and read the next section.
- The next day, the tutor gives the class a multiple choice question based on what they read the night before. These are created centrally and provided to the tutor on a PowerPoint.
- Pupils may read ahead or re-read sections if they wish.
- Pupils are expected to carry their own book from the library, which they are welcome to read at their leisure after class-reading time is finished. This equates to about twenty minutes a day.
At this rate, we get through one short book every two or three weeks. Some longer novels can take anywhere up to about seven or eight weeks. In future years, when they are in the habit of reading at home, they’ll read longer sections independently so they can get through weightier tomes in less time.
If you are keen to learn more, here is the briefing document I wrote for tutors, which outlines the strategy in more detail: New Reading Strategy Tutors
Here is an example PowerPoint with multiple choice questions for tutors: Dracula PowerPoint
*Note: ‘Blue’ is the name of our in-house ICT system, which we use to create and assign multiple choice quizzes.