There’s a phenomenon when it comes to forced participation. If it’s not quite for you and you don’t want to join in you’re accused (openly or implied) of being miserable and boring. I am one of these ‘miserable and boring’ people – to the point of stubbornness. Thing is, why should I feel I have to prove something? I don’t like clapping in time, I don’t want to join in with actions or move round a room in a role play. I’m far from mature but I’ve got a comfort zone for a good reason, and it’s comfortable.
Last week I went to a teachmeet that was kicked off with a positive motivation-fest. For quite some time the impending keynote was enough to make me not go at all, and I had to give myself a talking to – why should I miss an evening that I wanted to go to for the sake of 30 minutes at the start? I cringed my way through it (using ‘taking photos of the participation for Twitter’ as a superb cover for not joining in), but afterwards was left feeling that I really needed to prove my get-up-and-dance, look-at-me-I’m-crazy-you-never-know-what-I’m-going-to-do-next credentials. I had a bit of a moment at work the next day. Still irritated by the forced participation, I let my views on the subject be heard and heartwarmingly, everyone there agreed with me. I felt much better.
This isn’t a dig at our keynote speaker, they’re very good at their job and very successful at keynoting. Lots of people were probably there as much to see them as I was there not to. They were excited and happy and motivated in all the right places which is great. It makes sense that the best we can be for our pupils is happy and positive and for them to feel the same – it’s just that different people get that in different ways.
I’ve thought about it quite a bit – why, if we work with children, are we expected to want to jump up and down on command in a room full of people we don’t know? Or perhaps, worse, do know. Surely there’s a difference between being happy and being extrovert? Why should those that don’t want to be told how to have fun be labelled as – ‘lemon-suckers’ or ‘dark lords’? I did my fair share of joining in when I was a youth – sometimes it was ok, sometimes it was awful. After a careful consideration of my experiences I have decided I’ve done enough of that stuff and I’m happiest not to. Makes me think though, I’m a grown up and to a great extent get a choice, but what about those more introverted kids that we work with? We plan great events, performances, shows and for every child who revels in it, there’ll be those for whom it’s a nightmare.
Is it perhaps a primary thing rather than a secondary thing? Are you more likely to have an expectation of extroversion if you work in a primary setting? I had an interview for primary teacher training light-years ago that was enough to put me off schools for life, and there was certainly some gentle ribbing about singing with actions in assembly when one of our secondary trained staff left for a primary school. Do secondary schools go too far in the opposite direction? Do they turn their noses up at things like this? I certainly think there’s more reluctance among staff to ‘take part’ – a workload thing? Maturity? Losing face?
I’ve actually got some pretty good ‘get-up-and-dance, look-at-me-I’m-crazy-you-never-know-what-I’m-going-to-do-next credentials’, thank you very much:
- We very successfully ran the University of Essex Silly Society, that’s pretty daft. We were so good at that it probably had an impact on my degree classification…
- I’m quite adept at a Steps routine. Perhaps a little rusty nowadays, but give me half an hour with the Gold DVD and I’ll be fine.
- I make dens in the garden if I get bored in the holidays. Actually, Howard’s never quite sure what he’ll come home to. I’d created the whole Solar System out of coloured paper and stuck it to the ceiling one year.
- We used to have a sign on the back of the front door reminding me to check if I’d drawn cat whiskers and a nose on my face after I once went to the post office without remembering to wipe them off.
- Eurovision ALWAYS involves fancy dress.
- Actually, anything can involve fancy dress. I’d go to the pub as a pirate just because I’ve got the hat.
Why do I need to list these things? Maybe because there’s also these things:
- I make Howard go first and talk to people (restaurant, hotel reception, shops – anywhere).
- I make sure I miss out numbers in bingo so I don’t win and have to yell out.
- I hate talking to people I don’t know on the phone. Have to properly work myself up to calling any company to sort something out.
- I’m rubbish at networking or talking to people at parties. The chances are I’ll be sat sitting in a corner.
- I’m even more rubbish at self-promotion. I don’t have t-shirts or anything.
Turns out there’s not one thing or another. It’s perfectly possible to be a bit of both and to be honest, I think that’s what makes it seem natural. If you’re ‘up’ all the time it doesn’t seem genuine.
Now I’m fully aware that the comfort zone can be a dangerous place and I’m getting quite good at stepping out of it, just to test the waters. In the past few years I’ve done scary MEd tutorials, scary speaking at conferences, sat at the front in a comedy club and got picked on (seats were allocated, I’m not completely daft). I do a similar thing with olives – try them again every one in a while and see if I like them. I’m at a place where I wouldn’t pick them off a pizza, but I’m still not buying a pot from the deli counter.
There is one other reason we might be asked to do all these stupid things of course. The joy of uniting in hatred of the motivation. The swearing in corners, the days of feeling disgruntled either side of it, and the coming together with a common enemy. Maybe it’s all a clever tactic to unite us? The ultimate team bonding exercise as we debrief at the pub afterwards. Shouldn’t be at the expense of making us not want to go in the first place though.
Two days after the motivational incident it was my birthday and I got the most wonderful necklace from Howard that I think says it all. Meet the Indifferent Iguana. The card inside the box reads, “With the exception of you, this little reptile doesn’t really like human beings all that much. She is very sarcastic and will give you confidence and help you to stop worrying about stuff“. I think the iguana has got it pretty much sorted. Let’s listen to her.
In part 1 I talked about motivating pupils to read, particularly in Catch Up sessions. Obviously there’s a bit of a difference between persuading a Year 8 (who’d rather have a fight down the corridor) to come for a reading session, and getting a whole bunch of them to pick up a Penguin Classic* over playing Potty Racers on their laptop at break time. The art of encouragement is a thin line between showing them something that will develop into a lifelong passion and creating a force so stubborn they will refuse to even judge a book by its cover. *or Horrid Henry to be honest.
We’ve got a few things on the go at the moment to encourage a culture of reading and quite a lot involves simply giving them books. Our approach is reasonably subtle and we don’t force them. I would suspect this a natural reaction to having so many pupils with low levels of literacy and poor relationships with reading. That’s not to say they get away with not reading of course, just that we’re more likely to whack some bonus points towards kids that do some awesome reading than take breaks off one who doesn’t.
Anyway, some of our encouraging things. Probably best to list and explain.
- World Book Day – Key Stage Two are pretty good at doing this each year. I’m mostly aware of it when I see Iron Man or an Oompa Loompa traipsing down the corridor. I know they’ve got a visiting author coming this year.
- 10 minutes reading – This is during tutor time after lunch and it’s supposed to be the whole school. It settles the kids down from whatever has kicked off during football and hopefully encourages a culture of reading across school. We’ve probably slipped a bit. I don’t know if everyone who doesn’t have pupils with them at that point reads anymore, but I love my 10 minutes sitting by myself with a book (‘Us’ by David Nicholls at the moment).
- No library – This isn’t particularly a good thing. We’ve got scraps of space and the room that was the library has now been turned into the catch-up room. What has happened though is that the books have been moved into classrooms so hopefully there are more that are instantly accessible to the boys. We’ll get our library back with the new build hopefully, but I also hope we keep a lot of books in classrooms.
- Trip to Waterstones – With some ring-fenced money we had an open-to-all-staff trip to Waterstones one Saturday. General books were chosen and class teachers had got their pupils to make lists of what they would like in the classroom. They could pick anything.
- Blind Date With A Book – I did this a couple of years ago and I’m doing it again in a couple of weeks. Read my BDWAB post for a full rationale, but it’s basically an excuse to give each child a book to keep. I’ve put a few in that I think will challenge them and that they probably wouldn’t try given a free choice, but I’m not stupid so I’ve gone for ones that won’t alienate them completely.
- We Are Writers – We’re writing a book. Scholastic run a scheme where you can get your pupils work published – a chapter each to write whatever they want. We’re using the pupils’ creative writing and I set it all up the other day so hopefully we’ll get started soon. In addition to the BDWAB books, we’ll give each pupil one of these from school, and let parents buy more if they want them.
- Read to them – Underestimated I think. For most of us this is our first experience of reading. Pupils love it no matter how old they are. You can get them to follow in their own book or let them just listen. They hear how you intonate and express yourself; they hear words they’ve never read. A couple of weeks ago we had a heating and electricity failure at school. As I cursed the powering off of my computer halfway through an email, I heard the teachers in rooms either side of me both start reading to their groups and it was lovely (not as serene as you might imagine. The power had gone which is almost as thrilling as snow to a 13 year old boy).
- Prizes – Comes under the ‘give them free books’ banner. Money and chocolate are lovely prizes but books are great for prizes too and less likely to be frowned upon.
- Book crossing – Haven’t tried this with them yet. It’s that thing like geocaching but with books. My thoughts are along the lines that they’ll have to pick a book they love and then leave a copy for people to find. We could do it in-school and have a map with pins or go wild and do it properly.
The Rights Of The Reader by Daniel Pennac
I bang on about this book every now and again. It’s essentially an essay about reading, and there’s a lot of it that makes sense – especially if we’re into getting pupils to enjoy reading for the sake of reading. It’s not a book about strategies or methods, it’s just something that made me stop and think about what ‘gets in the way’ and how we might learn to love reading again. I would love for more people to read it (there’s a poster illustrated by Quentin Blake you can download too. I have it above my desk).
He starts by showing a child’s journey through reading. From bedtime stories and learning to understand words, or being told to put a book down and go out to play; to analysis of texts and the use of ‘If you don’t do your reading, there’ll be no television’. At some point, it’s possible for reading to cease being a wonder and become the enemy.
There are stories from Pennac’s teaching career with ‘reluctant’ readers, uncovering the pleasure of reading and developing a thirst. Stories from his youth and from parenthood. The book concludes with the ten ‘Rights Of The Reader’. There is an explanation for each right, and in the words of Pennac, ‘if we want my son/my daughter/ young people to read, we must grant them the rights we grant ourselves‘. So here they are:
- The right not to read.
- The right to skip
- The right not to finish a book
- The right to read it again.
- The right to read anythihng.
- The right to mistake a book for real life.
- The right to read anywhere.
- The right to dip in.
- The right to read ou loud.
- The right to be quiet.
I would love it if all my boys adored reading and shunned the real world as they opted to bury their heads in the pages of their imagination…
There are a few who are like this, but they’re more likely to be up until the early hours playing XBox online with some kid in America than up until the early hours reading books with a torch under the duvet. I know that’s the case with a lot of children, not just my rock-hard behavioural gang, and it’s certainly not a new issue. I’m not sure what the statistics are for the amount of books children have at home, but I do know that quite a few of ours aren’t likely to have a duvet, let alone a bookshelf, so it’s one of our priorities to give their love of literature a boost.
I work with various literacy interventions, but the most structured one I use is Catch Up Literacy (EEF project here). We’ve been running this successfully for about 8 years now and the impact on pupils who receive this intervention goes beyond learing how to read. The EEF report highlights improvements to pupil motivation and attitude to learning, as well as confidence and enjoyment – certainly something we’ve found as well. Quite often our pupils crave attention and recognition from adults, and dedicated time for 1-1 interventions gives them that. I generally have a whole lesson for a 20 minute intervention and the luxury of that extra time means I can focus on a particular target, work on other skills or look something up that they’ve been reading about. If they spot a book in the room that they’re interested in I’ll let them have a go no matter the level and give them a hand.
They’re eager to read. They see it as something mature and aspirational. They want to read about Biff and Chip because it’s safe and familiar, but they’re aiming for books with a spine and no staples because they’re ‘proper’ books (doesn’t matter whether there’s one word on a page, that spine makes a massive difference). It’s hard when they’ve got bits of knowledge. They (like many others) have been in and out of school (sometimes several) picking up the occasional topic; great with graphs, not so hot on shapes; learning about ‘igh’ but no idea what to do with ‘th’. We’re gap filling and when they think it’s too ‘baby-ish’ their enthusiasm can wane.
One of the things we use to combat this is rewards. We have a range of different reward systems throughout school and with Catch Up it’s stickers. Simple enough; each of them has a bookmark that they pop a sticker on after a session and when it’s full they get a prize and certificate. I like to think I’m fairly well versed on the ins and outs of rewards and motivation, and I know that the ultimate aim is for each and every one of them to be intrinsically motivated to participate. To be honest, most of the time they are, but that 16mm square sticker and the thought of a funky pencil at the end can be the most wonderful carrot when necessary. Intrinsic is great when they’re in a good mood, but we all need a bit of extrinsic now and again whether that’s a shiny sticker or a pay cheque.
Actually (this is the researchy bit) quite often they forget to put their sticker on, or we don’t quite keep track of how many blank squares are left, so all of a sudden we realise it’s prize day and it all gets very giddy. This of course is a great way to do rewards – my own disorganisation turns a spot of fixed ratio/fixed interval reinforcement into variable ratio/variable interval. Brilliant. Also, as a point of interest that I should probably re-investigate, when I was researching rewards and behaviour during my MEd, I found various bits of evidence that whilst extrinsic rewards/token economies don’t necessarily have the impact most teachers want, they do work with pupils with SEN. Wildly searching through old notes and a rescued hard drive, things I’ve found that may support my crazy statements are below. They may or may not be of use:
Capstick, J. (2005) ‘Pupil and Staff Perceptions of Rewards at a Pupil Referral Unit’, Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties, Vol 10. No. 2, 95-117
Hufton, N. R. and Elliot, J. G. (2004) ‘Motivation Theory and the Management of Motivation to Learn in School’ in Wearmouth, J., Richmond, R.C., Glynn, T. and Berryman, M. (eds) (2004) Understanding Pupil Behaviour in Schools: A diversity of approaches., London, David Fulton.
Witzel, B. S. and Mercer, C. D., (2003), ‘Using Rewards to Teach Students with Disabilities’. Implications for Motivation, Remedial and Special Education, Vol 24, No. 2, 88-96
So is reading its own reward? Most of the time I think it is. Sometimes things need a bit of a boost to get going and I’m happy with the system I’ve got. But what do we do on a wider scale, once we’ve taught them to read? How do we encourage them to read widely and for pleasure? Part 2 will look at some of the things that we’re trying in order to get them going.