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How online community tools can boost reading

  By Deborah Jenkins   - Monday 15 October 2018

Deborah Jenkins previously worked as class teacher at Heathfield Junior School, Whitton, and is currently a long-term supply teacher in East Sussex

Weaving literacy into school life via the cloud can provide structure to the year and get everyone ready for school-wide events

Working in many schools, I notice incredible differences in the emphasis put on reading. Some schools are rigid about the daily signing of reading journals, with daily reading – individual and/or guided – built into the timetable and regular class discussions about books. Others leave it up to individual teachers to emphasise the importance of reading, encouraging children to read widely and take suitable books home (some do, some don’t). Either way, it’s possible that the way we present reading to children makes it come across in isolation, as something we do specifically in guided reading time or for homework.

One way to raise the profile of reading is to weave it into the very fabric of school life. At the heart of everything we do, the reading experience can promote inspiration, inclusion and involvement in many cross-curricular activities. All of this can come together to have maximum impact during big events.

I discovered Capita’s Reading Cloud through a colleague, and have been impressed by its potential to transform and expand the reading experience for young people, their teachers and parents. It’s basically an online community reading tool, as well as a hosted software system for managing a school library.

It can be accessed on any device via an app and its features for students include creating your own avatar, finding friends at school, interacting with others, writing and reading book reviews and receiving book recommendations based on past choices.

Somehow, when a colourful image of a book pops up on the screen as a recommended read, young people take notice. It’s far more compelling than a parent or teacher standing next to you, muttering “I know David Walliams is great, but how about CS Lewis this time?”

With Reading Cloud, all these things can happen within the safety of your own school community, but are accessible anywhere.

Planning key events

Reading is best modelled as a tool for life, when used to communicate key information. With the Reading Cloud, all members of the school community have their own logins so information can be disseminated widely and in plenty of time for special events. No more sighing from parents because the teacher coordinating Comic Relief sent a late letter home, giving them only two days to organise a costume or items for a cake sale.

In the run-up to this sort of school-wide event, promotional content can be written in advance and scheduled to appear in the News section.

To get children excited about an event, such as Comic Relief, videos can be uploaded of children involved in money-raising events or taking part in a fancy-dress parade, and used year after year to inspire subsequent participants. A news item can be sent to flag up dates when fundraising ideas should be in or sponsor forms submitted. Office staff will appreciate being able to put this kind of information out via the Reading Cloud rather than having to type endless letters. They can refer parents to the information posted online rather than locate copies of letters that mysteriously disappear between the classroom and home.

Resourcing teachers

World Book Day or National Poetry Day are more traditional ways of highlighting books and reading in school. Coordinators can upload videos of author talks and book trailers, inspiring prospective readers and modelling how to do this themselves. After a story-writing competition, children can be videoed reading, talking about or advertising their own stories, to then be enjoyed by all members of the school community.

Lists of suitable books for individual children or classes can be posted in the Records section, allowing children to prepare for the "guess my book" charades or the "story sack" activity you are planning to do on the day. This will have a dual effect of saving time on preparation in class and involving whole families in the event.

For National Poetry Day, you could use the Reading Cloud’s featured word of the day or fact of the day as a stimulus for writing a poem. Ideas for activities can be accessed via catalogued links, such as to the wonderful stimuli on Poetry by Heart (make a paper aeroplane with one word on, throw it, pick up another one and add an adjective). Pupils could be filmed reading poetry, and these could be filmed for comment after the event for a speaking and listening focus.

Resources for pupils

Resources can be tailored for different activities in school, and used to support and inspire students across a wide range of events. For example, in the run-up to Sats week, the fact of the day could focus on issues relating to mental health (eg, "getting enough sleep helps keep you alert and positive"). Blogs could be written by heads of year/parents/the school nurse, encouraging pupils to stay positive, maintain a can-do attitude and eat a healthy diet. Photographs could be posted of the pages of past test papers, annotated to remind them about which questions are probably looking for fuller answers than others, and how to set out calculations in the most readable way.

Successful pupils can be interviewed after Sats to share which revision methods helped them most, and teachers can upload details of different strategies to help rehearse and embed key concepts. These resources can be used year after year, and allow parents to reinforce the messages given at school about steps to success.

A school-wide reading example

I once worked in a school where, in the run up to World Book Day, the whole school read the same book over a half-term period. The book was introduced in an assembly and the gripping first chapter read to the school. Teachers designated chapters per week until just before the breathtaking dilemma was resolved, and then the final chapter was read in an assembly, too. It was a great book and we had the whole school buzzing about what would happen in the end.

The Reading Cloud would have been a fabulous tool with which to build on this idea. Schedules could have been created and news reminders sent, instead of us having had to endlessly search our emails for the one telling us how far to read this week. Children could have posted their different plot predictions on the blog and teachers could have taken it in turns to read the chapters at other times, posting them on the cloud for children to access at home for homework. Time was our biggest enemy. It could have been our friend. (Don’t tell, but I never actually finished reading the book!)

Does Reading Cloud sound too complicated? I watched the webinar and played around with the tabs on the website. After half an hour, I was sold. CPD is also offered in the form of user group events with each Reading Cloud school being offered ongoing support via a helpdesk, if needed.

Reading should be a worthwhile activity on its own, I hear some say. But ultimately, reading, like the internet, is a tool with which to communicate. The ability to model this and to demonstrate its relevance across a variety of media is, I believe, what marks the Reading Cloud's huge potential.

This article was first published by TES.com on 3 October 2018.

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