by Darren Matthews
Throughout our fifty years of research and work with schools, we have always known that it is a reading rich curriculum that allows pupils to thrive. The training, resources and research that CLPE have developed and provided for teachers and schools all place access to quality literature at their hearts.
We were pleased to see the value of reading for pleasure and the importance of access to a wide range of high quality texts recognised in the update to the DfE Reading Framework (published in July 2023). In this series, we will be exploring each of the themes raised in the document, and what better place to start than the books themselves.
The reading framework has this to say about the importance of text choice in education:
“Engaging pupils in literature gives them access to all the things we can learn from great books and stories. They should read, listen to and talk about contemporary and classic writing by a broad and diverse range of authors, where the depth of ideas and language allows for rich discussion and study.” (The Reading Framework, DfE, 2023, p87)
Since 2005, CLPE’s Power of Reading programme, training and resources have assisted teachers in developing their knowledge of children’s literature, better allowing them to make considered and careful choices when deciding what books to bring to their classroom. In that training, we focus primarily on books that can be used to support a sequence of work, but throughout we also allow for reflection and consideration around access to texts that will support the different aspects of reading development, independent and individual reading, and reading aloud purely for pleasure.
“Pupils can enjoy making sense of a challenging text together as a class, a sense of achievement that comes when the seemingly incomprehensible suddenly becomes clear.” (The Reading Framework, DfE, 2023, p87)
This sense of achievement that comes from reading, responding to, discussing, evaluating, and exploring challenging literature in the classroom will be very familiar to teachers who work in Power of Reading schools and have undertaken the associated training. A Year 5 class teacher who participated in the Power of Reading in 2022/23 in her end of year case study observed both “the enthusiasm from the children when reading our CLPE books” and “…how powerfully they can talk about character, emotion and authorial intent.”
We know that there are books that lend themselves to being talked about, thought through, returned to and that children will find engaging for many reasons. When selecting books that might be added to the Power of Reading list, these are exactly the types of books we are searching for. The team at CLPE work to put together a collection that contains books that are emotionally powerful; with storylines and plots that allow opportunities to explore dilemmas, challenges, morality and ethics; and protagonists that children can identify with. Above all, texts that take you into the world of the book - a book you can lose yourself in.
Further, in order to lend themselves to sustained study, we need to be able to see where we can offer in depth and authentic writing experiences, meaningful study of literary styles, opportunities for response that is creative and open-ended, all whilst keeping children engaged with the characters and the story as a whole. These tend to be texts with powerful stories that stir ideas and excite the reader’s imagination and interest. They provide children with a wide range of quality reading experiences including illustrated novels, picturebooks, poetry, traditional tales, and authentic and meaningful non-fiction texts.
We know the influence that reading can have on children’s wider development, the rich and meaningful expansion of a child’s vocabulary, their knowledge of the world, their social development, understanding and empathy, their inference and critical literacy skills, among others. And so, we are constantly looking for and sharing books that have been crafted by writers who work magic with language: they select and shape language with intent, with the response of the reader in mind, generating authentic voices on the page, and allowing us to facilitate opportunities for rich and meaningful exploration of language and grammar in the primary classroom.
In the twenty years since CLPE’s Reader in the Writer research, our Power of Reading training programme, book recommendations and resources have continued to build expertise in teachers’ knowledge of children’s literature and children’s engagement and attainment in reading.
“All pupils should encounter characters, situations and viewpoints that mirror their own lives, so they understand that they matter. Books, however, should also give them a window into the lives of others. For some pupils, stories might be the only place where they meet people whose social and cultural backgrounds and values differ from their own.” (The Reading Framework, DfE, 2023, p87)
The idea of books as ‘mirrors, windows and sliding glass doors’ (Rudine Sims Bishop, 1990) and the transformative benefit this can have for readers is at the heart of what inspired our Reflecting Realities work. It is also an underpinning principle for all of our work and needs to be a core concern for schools as they develop class and school libraries, invest in book stock, and map out texts across the curriculum.
The value of children seeing themselves and the world in which they live reflected in the books read and discussed in the classroom cannot be underestimated. We know that, for many children, there is a disconnect between themselves and the books available to them – the books that reflect and celebrate their sense of self, their heritage and their place in society. What we find in the pages of books is crucial in supporting self-determination and developing critical thinking, which means our choice of texts has the capacity to serve as a powerful vehicle to counteract social injustice.
As one of the project teachers on our recent Mercers funded evaluated Power of Reading in the Early Years project reflected: “To me, as to you, education must be inclusive to all. Aside from ensuring that the curriculum is diverse in content, and giving children opportunities to find themselves in the children’s literature that they select, it is essential that children learn to understand, respect and celebrate difference”
In our Reflecting Realities reports and training, we draw out key insights from the qualitative impressions of the books reviewed and provide a series of recommendations that support schools to make discerning and considered choices.
A Core Set of Literature
“Teachers and English subject leads might identify a core set of literature for each year group that can either be read aloud in story times or read by pupils in English lessons, including high-quality contemporary and classic texts: fiction, non-fiction, poetry and prose. Teachers should also engage their pupils in choosing new books. Refreshing the list of core books regularly, as new books are published and new teachers arrive, will avoid its being set in stone.” (The Reading Framework, DfE, 2023, p88)
The breadth of reading experience – crucial to children’s development as readers and as writers – mentioned above has always been a key message for schools developing a literacy curriculum shaped around Power of Reading texts and approaches. Specific elements of the training focus on reading, response and writing inspired by picturebooks, novels, poetry, traditional tales and non-fiction.
This breadth of reading is exemplified in our recently updated curriculum maps, which support schools in selecting quality, challenging texts for their children and their community. They provide a model for schools to develop their own English curriculum maps, based on text choices that would best suit the needs, interests and experiences of their own children.
Drawing on these maps (and the Power of Reading training) ensures that teachers and senior leaders can design an English curriculum that: provides pupils with exposure to a broad range of literary forms; offers opportunity for progression and challenge; ensures a balance of human themes and forms of extended writing outcomes; and represents the diversity of lived experience in the school community and beyond.
We introduce new books and associated teaching sequences to each Key Stage collection every year, regularly reviewing the Power of Reading content. We always recommend that our member schools do so too. By regularly introducing contemporary books into the English curriculum, we can best ensure that we meet the needs and interests of our children and can continue to reflect their realities in rich and representative ways. If you are working in a CLPE member school, you’ll want to ensure that you sign up to our newsletter and follow CLPE on social media to find out when this year’s new sequences are being released.
CLPE’s English Curriculum Maps demonstrate how to create a progressive English curriculum built around our Power of Reading book recommendations and associated teaching sequences.
The section of the Reading Framework highlighted in this blog contains a checklist of what teachers, senior leader and subject leads might look for when selecting literature for their classroom (p87). As CLPE associate schools have demonstrated in mapping out Power of Reading texts across their own unique curriculums, the high-quality literature recommended, resourced and exemplified in the programme matches all of those requirements and so much more. These really are very special books.
A wider response to the full reading framework is available to read here.