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The Reading Challenge in action

Natalie Steiner’s class took the LifeJackets Reading Challenge in Haringey, North London. Here’s how it went… 

When did your class complete the Reading Challenge?

I was teaching a Year 6 class (age 10 and 11) in Haringey, London, and we completed the challenge at the end of the summer term 2018.

Which text did you read out and why did you choose it?

We read the poems The Sound Collector by Roger McGough and Epilogue by Grace Nichols. I was rushing to complete the reading challenge before the end of the school year and starting my maternity leave so it was extremely handy that the Reading Challenge supplied the poetry texts.

I liked the fact that these two poets were so contrasting, both in terms of the poems themselves but also the poets’ genders and nationalities. I showed the children pictures of the poets when we read the poems as I wanted them to notice that people of different backgrounds might write about topics linked to home, homelessness and refuge.

How did it make the children think about Home differently?

Roger McGough’s poem is about the familiar sounds you might find in your home and very gently introduces the idea that that familiarity (your home itself) can be taken away from you. Reading the poem and the resulting discussion gave the children an opportunity to express their feelings about everyone’s right to have a home. They were interested in what might be regarded as a necessity or a luxury item. I think most children felt reassured that the class’s consensus was that everyone should be entitled to a home and safety.

“While most of the pupils enjoyed a chance to daydream about material possessions, one boy dedicated 18 floors out of 23 in his imagined tower to the poor and the homeless.”

Many children in the class could identify with the subject in Grace Nichols’ poem as they too had a different mother tongue than English or they recognised that a parent had had to learn English. Bilingualism and trilingualism are often praised and regarded positively in school but the idea of being forced to lose some of your heritage seemed a new discussion point in the classroom.

How much did your class enjoy the exercise?

They really enjoyed both the chance to have a class discussion about the topic relevant to everyone and the creative tasks. The conversation and activities are suitable for children of all abilities and were very open ended. The children particularly enjoyed designing their own “perfect” home. One girl drew a tree house with a room for unicorns. Another child seemed to draw her home within a church but with space for six cars. One boy’s ideal home was located on the moon with eight Jacuzzis. While most of the pupils enjoyed a chance to daydream about material possessions, one boy dedicated 18 floors out of 23 in his imagined tower to the poor and the homeless.

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In what way did the children think differently about “Home” following the exercise?

Before my class took part in the Reading Challenge, we had a few months earlier coincidentally studied the topic of immigration to Britain. One of the aspects of the topic had been to look at a family who came during the Windrush from the West Indies to London. We had watched a documentary which showed how their home life had changed over 20 years including fashion, gadgets and through an increased income.

Through the Reading Challenge, I feel the children had a chance to reflect on the history topic and to consider the topic of home more generally. It crossed over more into personal and social learning. They were being encouraged to reflect on their own homes and to empathise with the imagined voices of the poems.

What suggested improvements would you make to the Lesson Pack?

I don’t really have any. I hope that I find an opportunity to repeat the Reading Challenge with my classes in the future. I think they are an excellent way to develop a relationship between the teacher and the class as they promote interesting discussion. The teacher can find out a lot about his/her pupils by their creative responses to the texts. I would spend more time around the discussion points, allowing the children to talk about the texts and the ideas in smaller groups so that they all have a chance to respond.

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