Book Clubs, Biscuits and Bake-offs: Reading for Pleasure at Barnes Primary School
by Scott Griffin, Barnes Primary School
15 June 2023
Reading has always played a fundamental role in the lives of children at Barnes. Whether through the systematic way in which phonics is taught, the use of high-quality texts to teach our English units, or the rich and varied stories that are shared with children in assemblies - books are key to our curriculum.
Three years ago, before this wonderful award existed, if asked, I would have waxed lyrical about how competent our children were when it came to reading. Our end of key stage results had always been strong and the work that children produced showed excellent understanding of the texts they read. However, if asked about reading enjoyment, I wouldn’t have felt as confident. Yes, a significant number of children were extremely keen readers, and yes, those that were reluctant were encouraged to do so, but did enough children do what we really wanted them to do: read because they wanted to, not because they were told to? And if they did, how would we know? This is when the Spark! School Book Award took centre stage.
How did we promote the award initially?
In 2020, Barnes dived headfirst into the awards. We saw the potential this had to promote reading for pleasure and the associated benefits and wanted to maximise its potential. Initially, these were the key drivers we used to promote the award:
Twitter - If we saw a child reading one of the books during independent reading sessions, we tweeted it; anytime a child responded creatively in their reading journals to one of the books they had read, we tweeted it; and as we were learning remotely for large parts of the first award, if children posted anything Spark-related on Teams, we tweeted it.
The newsletter - Almost on a weekly basis, we updated the parents about the award’s latest developments and competitions they could enter.
Assemblies - To keep the award current, I would regularly appear, via a recorded video, discussing one of the books or sharing a creative response from a child somewhere within the school.
Author meets - Whether live (online) or by watching the recordings on YouTube, every child in school was able to meet their favourite authors.
Themed events - Our annual house reading event used the Spark! books as texts for the finalists to read and children were encouraged to dress as Spark! book characters for World Book Day.
Display - A designated display space was created in each key phase. This meant the books were visible and available to read all year round.
The importance of staff involvement
I cannot stress enough the importance of teacher and support staff involvement. Put simply, teachers have to read the books. By doing this, teachers are able to engage in spontaneous book talk, the easiest and most enjoyable facet of the reading for pleasure pedagogy to achieve. In the areas of the school where this happened, the enthusiasm for the award – and as a result, reading for pleasure in general – was profound. Children would talk to you in the corridor, find you in the playground, and even write messages in their reading journals to share their thoughts on the exciting new books they had read – even when you weren’t their class teacher! Creating a reading connection through the Spark! books was only the start, because once the children saw adults as readers, they then wanted to share their thoughts on all the books they had read, not just the finalists. This remains the case today. Children adore talking about books when they know you, their teacher, loves to read as well.
How have we maintained enthusiasm for the award?
We are now in our third year of the Spark! initiative and it continues to play a crucial role – the real driving force, in fact – in our reading for pleasure philosophy at Barnes. It’s important to always look for new ways to promote the award in order to keep it in the minds of children and parents. We continued with the key drivers mentioned above and added to them in a variety of ways. The most successful ones have been:
The Barnes Bake Off - This is an annual event and a mainstay of our school calendar for many years. In order to take part, children bake and decorate cakes according to a theme. In 2022 and 2023, we themed the event around the Spark! Book Award. The efforts for two years now have been quite extraordinary.
Book Club and Biscuits Book Club - After reading a series of case studies on the Open University’s Reading for Pleasure website, we started lunchtime book clubs for LKS2 and UKS2. As the title of the club suggests; children were greeted by a cup of tea and a custard cream on arrival, before they spent the rest of their lunchtime discussing the focus text. The quality of discussion around each book was so impressive and showed a deep understanding of the plot, characters and themes. These sessions were a huge hit with Y3 and 4 in particular.
Voting - We made this process special. Each child was able to participate, regardless of whether they had read all the books or not. Children were given tokens to vote with and the number of votes you could cast depended on how many of the finalists you had read. For those who hadn’t read any of the finalists, they were able to cast one vote according to the book that appealed to them the most. By doing this, the Spark! books continued to be read long after the vote had been counted, as children didn’t want to miss out on the exciting stories their peers had read – harnessing the ‘power of peers’ to encourage RfP!
My school has taken part in the Spark! School Book Awards since its inception and I can say, wholeheartedly, that it’s the most effective initiative I’ve ever been involved in. It has been the principle driving force behind our whole school reading for pleasure strategy and I have witnessed it transform reluctant readers into keen readers and keen readers into reading machines. It has also helped staff to realise the crucial role they play in the reading habits of children. More specifically, if teachers read the books children are reading - namely the Spark! finalists - and create moments within the school day to engage in conversations around these shared texts, whether in passing in the school corridor or planned within a lesson, then children will - and do - read more.