6 The school reading environment
In your mind’s eye, open the door to your school in the position of a visitor. Walk into the school, down the corridors and into any communal spaces.
- What do you see and hear as you walk around?
- Does a reading ethos and culture welcome you?
- What messages do the displays carry about reading?
- Is there a sense of an interactive school community of readers?
The social fabric of every school’s reading environment will be evident in the corridors, on the playground, outside the head’s office, in the staffroom, as well as in the classrooms and library (Cremin, 2019). In vibrant reading communities – in schools and elsewhere – reading aloud, conversations between readers, book swapping and reciprocal recommendations will be commonplace interactions. Books will be seen in readers’ hands, in piles, in displays and in boxes. Additionally, displays of all kinds that promote reading will be evident.
Other ways to help build a reading community in the school include creating book doors (classroom doors decorated with the covers of class ‘books in common’ or artwork of one book), sharing staff and parents’ bookshelves, working on ‘I’m a reader’ displays, and encouraging book nooks on the playground where children and adults can share books, comics and magazines from the outdoor reading box. These will all serve to trigger talk. Some schools assign an adult to read regularly on the playground next to the outdoor box. This can often result in children quickly gathering around to browse the box, which then leads to small groups of readers reading to one another or hearing more stories. ‘Story squads’ of older children can also read with younger ones in the library or in a playground book nook.
In addition, many schools have developed outdoor reading areas, and some seek to combine Forest school with outdoor reading by having a story circle with logs the children can sit on, or a story garden or tent. In planning for reading in such spaces, staff will want to use their RfP pedagogy checkLIST and ensure the time there is learner led, informal, social and with texts that tempt, as you learnt about in Session 5.
Figure 2 shows a poster of the possibilities for outdoor reading adventures in teacher Claire Williams’ school. It highlights how there are multiple ways of taking the school reading environment outside, beyond the classroom and school library. In this example, Claire listened to the book club members’ recommendations for how they would like the outdoor reading to be shaped and gave them the freedom to read in pairs or small groups, as well as in solitary spaces. Initially, the dens distracted the children from reading, but over time members returned to their spaces (up trees, under trees and on log piles) and read, as the adults did likewise. Both children and adults then often came together before the close for a drink, a biscuit and a good book blether. In attending to the creation of a living community of readers through offering outdoor reading, Claire helped enhance the children’s engagement and commitment as young readers.
There is a danger, however, that schools become involved in ‘performing reading’ in public ways, through, for example, purchasing expensive buses, wigwams and reading sheds, and spending time creating displays that may become empty demonstrations for parents or inspectors. This needs to be guarded against. Reading environments are there to be used and need to be shared and shaped by children, as this supports the reading habit. One such environment is the school library, which you will look at next.