Challenging Pupils with a Whole-School Novel

Pupils at Trinity

At Trinity High School, we are passionate about improving the literacy of our pupils and nurturing a genuine enthusiasm for reading. The value of a lifelong love of literature cannot be underestimated: it can strengthen the reading, writing, talking and listening skills of our children, and can bring them immeasurable joy.

For the past two years, we have worked hard to develop such enthusiasm in our pupils through our ‘Whole School Novel’ initiative. The aim of this project is simple: to create a culture of reading by providing staff and all lower-school pupils with a copy of an engaging, carefully-chosen novel. This allows our whole school community to read for pleasure in unison beginning with a Drop Everything and Read period across the whole school.

My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece

Last year, our chosen novel was My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece by Annabel Pitcher, which raised controversial yet vital issues for discussion such as alcoholism, family breakdown, grief, Islamophobia, friendship and resilience. 

Pupils engaged with the book in a variety of ways. In Support for Learning, our targeted S1 pupils were partnered with senior students who supported them with the novel through paired reading. Both the S1 and S6 pupils loved the experience, and the attainment of the S1 group in their reading assessments significantly jumped allowing them to ‘close the gap’ with the rest of the year group. The RE department embraced their role in whole school literacy by committing ten minutes reading of the novel at the start of every RE period and linking their teaching of Islam to the novel’s themes and characters. In addition, a group of our S3 pupils had the privilege of visiting Glasgow Central Mosque. This visit tied in strongly with the novel’s theme of tolerance: it gave our pupils the opportunity to learn about Islam and to re-examine attitudes towards this faith. An interfaith speaker addressed the whole of S3 on the importance of a multi-faith society allowing pupils to consider the impact of the issues raised in the novel in the real world. 

Additionally, we were lucky to be visited by Annabel Pitcher herself. This was a memorable day for everyone involved; our pupils were treated to fascinating talks and workshops, and were able to chat to the author and write some fantastic fiction of their own. Pupils involved in the creative writing workshops then led a lesson on creative writing with their English classes, developing their confidence and leadership skills.

Finally, we enjoyed a day of interdisciplinary activities to round off our project. We began the day with a DEAR period to finish the novel together. In Graphic Communication, pupils designed their own front covers for the novel, and created interesting and vibrant text portraits of the central characters in the novel with the guidance of our Art specialists. Many excellent creations were produced, which are displayed proudly throughout our school building! S6 students led drama workshops for S1 and S2 pupils improvising key scenes from the novel bringing it to life in dramatic style.

Building on the Project

Following the project, we continued to build on our culture of reading with the History department choosing a Department Novel to enhance their World War One topic, and an English class piloting reading groups where groups of pupils chose an e-book and set weekly reading targets themselves so they could discuss and blog about their book. Through detailed evaluations, we learned that targeted groups transformed their attitudes to reading, both parents and teachers were overwhelmingly positive about the project, and targeted pupils significantly raised their attainment in reading assessments. As a result of our work on this initiative, we were proud to be nominated as finalists in the ‘Raising Attainment in Literacy’ category of the 2018 Scottish Education Awards.

Enhancing our Project with the First Minister’s Reading Challenge

Based on our evaluations, we have chosen the brilliant Tribes by Catherine MacPhail for our 2018-2019 school novel, and cannot wait to get started; we have even created an audiobook narrated by 28 staff across the school to support the reading process. In the third year of our successful project, evidence of the culture of reading at Trinity is everywhere: discussions in the corridor, displays around every corner and a great buzz about what adventures this new novel will bring.

The Scottish Book Trust continues to be a source of great inspiration for us as we aim for excellence in literacy: the plethora of fresh and exciting ideas posted on the website and blog are invaluable as we plan and prepare innovative projects. In addition, the First Minister’s Reading Challenge allows us to share our good practice with other Scottish schools and, in turn, allows us to be inspired by the fantastic work of fellow practitioners throughout the country. We feel very lucky to be a part of such an exciting national project and we look forward to the great opportunities it will continue to provide for our pupils!

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