Staff at Castle Douglas Primary School in Dumfries & Galloway believe that an ethos of pupil led discussion, organisation and creative input has been the key to positive engagement and participation in the First Minister's Reading Challenge in their school.
They have worked hard to ensure that pupils are at the heart of their reading journey and that young people’s opinions and ideas are the foundation on which their reading culture has been built.
Raising pupil voices
One of the first steps was the election of a group of Reading Ambassadors. Pupils in P4-7 elected one representative from each class to share their views, develop reading for pleasure initiatives and organise events.
These newly elected Reading Ambassadors then implemented a whole school reading survey. This survey helped them to find out what pupils enjoyed about reading and the areas that they felt could be improved, providing a pupil centred framework for future development.
At this stage the school library was outdated and its book selection was primarily chosen by adults. No mechanism existed for pupils to request new books and class reading time was used as an ‘early finisher’ reward, rather than dedicated time in which everyone could read for pleasure. The school decided that they would like to invest in a wider, pupil influenced, choice of reading materials and work towards establishing a whole school culture of reading for pleasure.
Reading ambassadors organised a second hand book sale to raise money for new books in the library and pupils suggested favourite authors, genres and subjects. Purchases were made based on these suggestions and the updated library now has selections that better reflect pupil interests. Consequently motivation to read has increased, pupils feel empowered to make further requests and discussions about favourite books are more common.
One previously reluctant reader explained that when he could select his own book, and read at his own pace, his enjoyment of reading increased. His confidence to search out new novels has also grown and his mum noted that books had featured for the first time ever on his Christmas list!
In order to make books accessible to all, a set of Kindles was also bought by the school. Young people can now access texts as audiobooks or with clearer fonts and coloured backgrounds, which many pupils have found beneficial.
Reading Ambassadors also encouraged staff members to get involved in the reading journey. They created ‘ask me what I am reading’ lanyards for teachers and distributed them on a rota basis, encouraging book discussion across the whole school community.
Reading for pleasure is now a dedicated classroom activity and teachers’ focus is on encouraging children to choose and enjoy books from the updated library.
As this culture of reading for pleasure spread throughout the school, pupils and staff began looking at how they could share their enthusiasm with the wider community.
Pupils began writing a weekly column for the local newspaper The Galloway News, reviewing and recommending books they had enjoyed, even continuing into lockdown. Sharing their love of reading with the wider community has raised children’s confidence, prompted book discussions with parents and led to an increased interest in newspapers as another reading option. Indeed the school now subscribe to the children’s newspaper First News.
The Reading Ambassadors also organised an innovative scheme to share their love of books within the local school cluster. Each class was paired with a similar class in one of four local primaries, and both schools then chose a single book to send to their partner class as part of a Big Book Swap. A huge amount of discussion, deliberation and reading of various texts ensued, until each class had made a book choice and a list of recommendations. This was followed by excitement as books from partner schools began arriving, and cosy, hot chocolate fuelled story times were enjoyed by all of the children involved.
Using pupil voice to build your reading culture can help motivate your learners and increase engagement. You can self-assess your school’s pupil participation using our evaluation toolkit.