submitted by: Tara Stych
School days. Everyone remembers them.
Some more fondly than others.
As someone who attended school in the eighties and early nineties and has been working in high schools for the last 8 years, I can assure you that they have changed dramatically.
Today’s high school students are taught to hit the marking criteria to ensure they gain the most marks, to avoid giving an examiner to not award marks. A piece of writing may be absolute brilliance but if it hasn’t got the required elements….
Creativity and imagination have little place in our exam system. There is nothing within the mark scheme to award such talent and there is no sign of this improving. New GCSEs favour a 100% exam approach. Students will have a short amount of time in an examination hall, which will inevitably be freezing or roasting you alive, to produce a creative piece of writing. No time for thinking, crafting, redrafting to make it your best. Instead students will probably be taught to ensure they include a selection of techniques and elements from a list they’ve had to revise. There will be no time or reward for a developed, carefully considered response to a question on a novel. By the way, the exams will be “closed book”, which means revision will be filled with learning quotes by rote.
Erm…let’s just take a moment to pause (a luxury students will not have).
Would this excite you about reading and writing?! Would this encourage you to pick up a novel and relish its pages? Would this mean you would ponder on the meanings in the novel, what you could learn about yourself and life around you? Would you want to pick up a pen and paper and craft a beautiful piece of writing? Playing around with the words and structure, manipulating your reader?
Hence the reason I left teaching. It was no place for a literature lover who wanted to share their joy and excitement for what can be found inside those dusty, but beautifully-smelling, pages. I wanted to encourage reading and writing, not discourage it.
It is no secret that with the advance of technology, there are less people reading. There are too many other distractions. As a teacher and a parent, I saw the impact this had (one page of a student’s writing was enough to tell me if they read regularly), but could also appreciate the difficulties and practicalities of getting our young ones to read regularly. Rather than making our lives easier, technology has simply made them busier. Jam-packed in fact. With the constant demands from our offspring, and demands from schools to complete a variety of homework pieces, spellings and reading from the tiny age of 4, it is no wonder that reading becomes one of those other chores you are expected to get done and the TV, mobile, ipad and laptop the much needed, and very much deserved, break from the insanity.
However, we can’t escape the facts. “Reading is more important to children’s cognitive development than their parents’ level of education or social class” (The Reading Agency, 2013).
But what can we REALISTICALLY do about this?
My answer was Literature Delights. I left my teaching career behind and embarked on a new journey, starting my own business to promote the excitement, enjoyment and benefits of reading and writing. We are still in our early days but there are big plans.
My time in the classroom showed me that it was crucial to start when children are young. I have therefore started Book Explorer classes for young children. We start with a story time and to encourage focus and attention on the story, children are given an interactive story bag. These contain a variety of objects that link to the story we are reading. Children are able to explore these objects and connect them with the story. They become excited to discover “what is in the bag this week?” Recently for a Peter Rabbit tale, children had coconut shells to make the sound of the horses of Mr and Mrs McGregor’s gig, rabbit ears to wear and pears and onions that are found in the garden the rabbits climb into.
The children then take part in a variety of activities that bring the story to life. We often include sensory or messy play activities. After hearing the myth of Icarus, children were given water beads, sand, shells, sticks, lego characters and playdoh to recreate the story or their own imaginary island in a tray. So much learning and discovery takes place during these activities whilst still being fun and creative. Parents will often enjoy these activities too, not least because the tidying up is done for them! However, they also get to meet other mums and build their confidence in making reading exciting for their little ones.
Let’s be realistic. This is not something we, as busy parents, have time to do at home with every book or even on a regular basis. I know how many hours I spend planning and preparing these classes and I have a first class honours degree in literature, a teaching qualification and experience. Our lives are already crammed full and we are told that so many things are important are crucial. There just isn’t room for everything.
Hence the Book Explorer classes.
These are currently running in Hoole and Tarporley. You can find out more by visiting our website http://www.literaturedelights.com or our facebook page http://www.facebook.com/literaturedelights.
It is from these foundations that we will build and promote a fascination in literature for all ages. It is time for the arts and creativity to be more highly valued, not diminished as is the current position. The evidence for the benefits of reading for pleasure is overwhelming. It is not just about academic ability but about your wellbeing too. Dr Josie Billington conducted research into the benefits of reading for pleasure amongst adults and found “higher levels of self esteem and a greater ability to cope with difficult situations”, that they found “it easier to make decisions, to plan and prioritise” and had “greater understanding and empathy with others” (2015, p.4) amongst many other benefits. Her report can be read here: http://www.quickreads.org.uk/assets/downloads/docs/Galaxy-Quick-Reads-Report-FINAL%20.pdf
We have plans for classes, clubs, sessions and courses for a variety of age groups in both reading and writing. We will work with individuals, groups, businesses and charities. Anyone who feels they want to read or write. If you have any requests then don’t be scared, get in touch!