As the new academic year kicks off, and we are in full swing of our block of insets to launch the Literary Curriculum up and down the country, we have been spending an awful lot of time waxing lyrical about the benefits of teaching through text. So, we felt it apt to reflect on some of the many reasons why to adopt book-based provision in the classroom; how it can have a dramatic effect upon children’s outcomes and levels of engagement; and how beneficial it is to broaden children’s literary repertoire by exposing them to a range of beautiful and important literature as well as a range of significant authors and poets. So, here we have our eight reasons to give a book-based approach a go:
Books can provide the best opportunities for children to write for a range of meaningful and ‘real’ reasons… From writing letters to the mayor of Hamlin to convince him to rid the town of rats, to creating a guide to looking after your lost thing; from creating a Wikipedia page about Bluchers in Boy in the Tower to creating a conservation campaign for an endangered animal in The Journey Home. When the context feels strong and necessary then audience and purpose is easy!
By creating points of immersion, using process drama and props, and developing engaging starting points where children are plunged into the theme, setting or atmosphere of a book before they even read it, we can hook children’s interest and create real points of resonance that they will remember – and that will give them something to write about! It’s always best to ‘reserve the reveal’ and get them fully hooked before sharing the book with them – and continue the immersion all the way through the sequence.
Once children are inside what we like to call the ‘bubble of a book’, it’s possible to get them using the most complex grammatical devices without them even knowing they are doing it! If we’re writing to a member of the royal household in Firebird, we must use the subjunctive and if our sentences need to have ‘when’, ‘where’ and ‘how’ questions asked of them, children are using adverbial phrases before they even know it! We would usually advocate waiting to reveal the grammatical terminology until after they have used it – it can give children a real sense of importance, achievement and pride to know and use the technical terms.
Many of the best ‘teaching texts’ are not necessarily the books children would pick up for themselves – they are not always the most immediate of books in terms of colours and visuals (they are not pink and sparkly and there are no underpants in sight!), so children would not necessarily choose these in a bookshop or library. However, when they are carefully curated and children are guided through such books in a structured and ‘safe’ way, they are the books we remember the most, that create the most resonance with our lives and that ultimately have the most impact upon us.
The best children’s literature isn’t literal! In fact, the best books leave us pondering and questioning things about characters, relationships and ultimately our own lives! They definitely ask more questions than those they answer. Some books will have uncomfortable resolutions – others will feel unresolved! Some will leave us elated, upset, annoyed, outraged or indignant – and that’s okay! Children should be made to feel a range of different emotions from the books they read and it’s alright that they won’t necessarily like them all! All of this is what builds critical reading skills in children.
When children are given real reasons to write, it impacts positively on their written outcomes; when children publish, it can improve them dramatically. Whilst traditional book-making is wonderful, any kind of opportunity for an outcome to be published for a distinct audience is valid and so worthwhile. This could be performance, posters, newspapers or leaflets – as long as someone will see it, it has value! And because we are exposing children to whole books – never extracts – they know what books should look and feel like and will be desperate to emulate their favourite authors.
It is so important for us to consider other ways of life and develop understanding for people, cultures and communities – and there is no better way to do this than through literature. When we are totally immersed in a book, it is possible to completely detached ourselves from our own lives and become completely absorbed in others’. This is so important for developing empathy and the wider the range of authors, genres and contexts, the better for broadening children’s horizons!
The best authors use the best language and by exposing children to this literariness, children will ultimately begin to emulate the sort of words, phrases and grammatical devices that will inform their own writing. There’s so much rich variety of children’s literature on offer, from poet laureates to children’s laureates, from award winners to classic authors and if we make this children’s literary diet then it won’t be long before this becomes the norm in their own writing!
Posted in: Curriculum