by Bryan P Harrison, Headteacher Miriam Lord Primary school
Having been a Headteacher for nearly ten years, it would be fair to say that I initially took a cynical approach when my school was asked to join the Power of Reading project. The educational community is full of ‘magic bullets’ and I receive a healthy amount of emails and flyers every week detailing the next solution to my academic challenges. However, Miriam Lord was part of a project led by our local Teaching School Alliance and the promise of fully funded additional training for my staff was simply too good to refuse.
My initial reluctance was also based on the fact that we had recently invested in a new scheme of books to help us further improve our writing outcomes. This scheme was based on using extracts from texts as a stimulus for writing and of course promised to build in all the necessary grammar and punctuation links that were required for a ‘successful’ piece of writing. What more could we want you ask? Well, a lot more would be the answer.
I attended Day One of the four-day training programme and I’ll admit to being instantly sold on the Power of Reading. Having been a teacher for nearly twenty years I’ve seen my fair share of initiatives, but the thing that instantly grabbed my attention was how much common sense the training made. It made so much sense that it had me second guessing ten years of decision making as a Headteacher and questioning my entire English curriculum. That may seem dramatic as, on paper, we had strong outcomes and pupils have always made at least good progress in writing. But the Power of Reading made me realise that the outcomes were simply a mask for more underlying issues.
On the training it was refreshing to talk about ‘English’ teaching; not to break it down into the various components of Literacy such as reading, writing, spelling, grammar and punctuation. As a younger teacher I was a product of the national strategies and even went on to be a Literacy consultant for them. But what I realise when I reflect on that time, and the time since, is how English has been broken down and compartmentalised into different boxes. The Power of Reading looked like it was opening the box up again and getting back to the basic of strong English teaching: find a book that children love, immerse them in it as a reader and this in turn will inspire them to write.
This has also brought us back to the most important aspect of English teaching…the book. For years I have fed my pupils a steady diet of extracts to expose them to a range of different genres. Many of these extracts were extremely short and were used so that pupils got a ‘flavour’ of a style of writing, hopefully enough of a flavour so that they could produce their own identical version. If I didn’t realise it before, which deep down I think I did, I see that this is not substantial enough. Since adopting the Power of Reading at Miriam Lord it has been wonderful to see pupils so inspired and engaged to read again. By immersing themselves in a high quality book pupils are once again fired up to read, and of course, that is making them more fired up to write as well! Upon completing of the first teaching sequence on ‘The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane’ by Kate DiCamillo, the Year Four have been so inspired that they have been borrowing their own copies from the library and pestering parents to buy their own copy for home.
At Miriam Lord we took the decision not to pilot this in school, but to launch in wholeheartedly from Nursery to Year Six. Staff who attended the programme led on training so that we could ‘sell’ the new approach, but this proved to be a straight forward task. Once teachers could see the quality of the texts and the teaching sequences on offer, the approach has been quickly adopted throughout all year groups.
It may be too early for us to measure the success of the Power of Reading on our assessment outcomes, but this has become almost secondary. English lessons at Miriam Lord are full of children talking about books and enjoying texts. Staff are more engaged to teach and feedback from some has been that ‘this is the lesson they look forward to teaching’. I would highly recommend the approach to any school.