Oxford Reading Spree


Today, for my post-SATs treat, I went to Larkrise Primary School for this year’s Oxford Reading Spree- a wonderful celebration of reading and children’s literature. It was great to meet up with so many familiar faces and to meet some new ones.


Ed Finch started the day by welcoming us all to his school and making sure we all knew the essential information for the day- like where the Roving Bookshop could be found.


The first speaker was Simon Smith, a familiar name on Twitter. He had spoken at Oxford Reading Spree in 2017 so it was great to hear from him again. Having set the scene about his school and its location, he then spoke passionately about reading comprehension (not the test kind!), the importance of teachers selecting the books they use with their children, how guided reading is vital to developing reading and of the importance of picture books for everyone. Plenty of music to my ears!


Nicki Cleveland then ranted (very nicely!) about the importance of libraries- both school and public- and the vital role they- and librarians - play. Her dedication to and enthusiasm for her role were evident and she used plenty of evidence to support her points. It is truly shocking to know that libraries are statutory in prisons, but not in schools, meaning we have ‘children growing up in the UK who stand a better chance of having access to books if they are convicted of a crime than attending their primary school’. Having discussed the benefits of having a school library, she then appealed to the audience for help by submitting case studies to the Great School Libraries website. (Find out more here.)


Next, Ian Eagleton reflected on his ‘Reading River’. His very moving and gently humorous session looked at his experiences growing up and how he was constantly looking for characters who reflected him in books when he was a teenager. He finished his session with a poem he had written called ‘The Army of Teachers’.


All this bookish wonder- and it was only coffee time! After a quick break (involving a trip to the bookshop!), we returned to the hall to hear from Ceri Eccles (@Teacherglitter) who was full of enthusiasm and ideas for ‘books and hooks’, including a wonderful severed arm belonging to Grendel! You had to see it to believe it!


Nick Swarbrick led a very entertaining and thought-provoking session about what children shouldn’t read- texts which cross boundaries or are concerned with topics which attitudes have changed towards. He questioned whether some texts are engaging for or relevant to children… He certainly offered a lot of food for thought!


Just before lunch, we were treated to a wonderful story with Adam and Charlotte Guillain, who were making the case for humour and rhyme in books. They were running one of the workshops in the afternoon as well.


After lunch, I was lured to Simon Smith’s session by the promise of lots of books- and indeed there were books a-plenty. Simon challenged everyone to think about who they should be shared with, when and why. He emphasised the need for teachers to know the books they are using- and the children they are using them with and to be mindful of all the things we don’t know about our pupils. At this time, Jo Cummins (@BookSuperhero2) held a workshop about the ‘serious side of funny books’ and the Guillains spoke about the ‘importance of unimportant books’. It was hard to choose where to go!


Once settled back in the hall, the head of Ryefield Primary School, Mr Tucker, told us about all the wonderful things he and his staff have been getting up to to engage their pupils with books and reading. I loved the alien tablets and am wondering how soon I can plagiarise his idea, subtly passing it off as my own!


The day ended with Bob Cox talking about the importance of using high quality texts. He shared many examples of children’s work inspired by using such work and his enthusiasm and energy were a great way of finishing the day!

Exhausting, but very enjoyable, this year’s Oxford Reading Spree was another great success- I’m already looking forward to next year! Many thanks to Ed Finch and his team for organising such an enjoyable day!

Please excuse the quality of the photos- all of the speakers were very animated and moved around a lot!

Oxford Reading Spree 2017: part 2!

Full of words of wisdom from the morning sessions, it was time for lunch! An amazing spread was on offer and everyone loaded up their plates before heading off to their first workshop.

There was an amazing array of workshops on offer, but after much consideration, I choose to go to 'Storytelling Schools' with Chris Smith. It was no surprise that we started with a story and then some games to develop storytelling skills. Chris then told us about the Storytelling Schools programme and the success schools are having using it.

The second workshop I chose was 'Making books with anyone, any age' with the very talented Mini Grey. She was fascinating to listen to as she enthused about the joys of making things. She told us that writing books is a way of sending your ideas to others- of travelling through time!

She showed us a whole range of pop-up books and talked with such enthusiasm about how to make them and how they work- it was so inspiring to listen to! We all made a little book which folds over on itself- great fun and so much potential for using with children!

It was then time for the 'Open Space Discussion Groups'. Jack Brown, a member of Larkrise staff, had been gathering ideas for topics that people wanted to discuss. The idea was simple; you could drift from discussion to discussion contributing and listening to what was going on.

Different conversations were held all around the school on a whole host of topics!

Nick Swarbrick was the next speaker, talking about books and parental involvement in EYFS. He was questioning whether what we offer parents is a partnership and how we could address this-' it should be a dance which we dance together!' Very thought provoking!

Any session entitled 'Reading is a many splendored thing' gets my support! Martin Galway works for the Herts for Learning team and was full of good ideas and food for thought!

The day ended with Mary Roche speaking about using picture books to develop critical thinking. She was wonderful, using children's comments to illustrate her points about comprehension, making connections and developing their language.

All too soon, the day was over and the lovely Ed Finch was drawing everything to a close. It had been a wonderful day, leaving everyone buzzing and full of new ideas and enthusiasm.

I am so gald I attended the Oxford Reading Spree this year- and am very much hoping that a) we can do something like it and b) that they hold another one next year!

A huge well done and thank you to the team from Larkrise and everyone who gave their time and expertise to make it such a success.

Oxford Reading Spree 2017: part 1!

Today, I went to Larkrise Primary School in Oxford to join others at the Oxford Reading Spree. It has been a wonderful day; spending time and sharing ideas with others who are passionate about reading has been a joy- and there was cake!

From the moment I arrived, everyone was so welcoming and friendly. Having managed to not get lost for once, I was there in good time and able to browse the amazing 'Roving Bookshop'- a real treasure trove of picture book delights. I bought some fabulous things which I look forward to sharing soon!

Once settled, the day began with Simon Smith sharing his passion for reading. He showed us books that had mattered to him growing up.

'Make sure you make books important!' was his message. There should be a 'no excuses' policy about reading to a class every day and teachers need to find things that fire children's enthusiasm and imagination. It was satisfying to hear someone saying things that I believe so passionately!

Next, Mary Myatt, making the case for demanding texts. She claims her research shows that children are 'crying out' for more challenge and must be exposed to more demanding reading material- 'we are a challenge seeking species.' 

'Reading to children is a very efficient way of exposing them to complex vocabulary and the lexical complexity that can only come through reading.'  Mary talked about exploring etymology and the joy of language- something I feel very strongly about! 'Tell the children to pick a word they like the sound of ...'

Andrew Moffatt spoke about the 'No Outsider' approach and shared some wonderful examples of what this looks like in his school. Using a selection of carefully chosen picture books to open and encourage discussions, the children at his school are taught how wonderful it is to be different and how we should all respect each other. I believe most schools do this, but he certainly seems to have developed an approach that is highly successful! Inspiring stuff!

We then had an introduction to the picture book code with Mat Tobin. 'Picture books allow children space to think...Understanding of pictures can be above and beyond... Allow a landscape for language to blossom...'

Mat used 'Rosie's Walk' and 'Granpa' as examples of how the text and illustrations work together. He talked of finding 'new ways of exploring the secret dance between words and pictures'. He then looked at 'The Journey', exploring how the illustrations interact with the text and add clues to the story. Fascinating and inspiring, the session gave us all a lot to think about!

And all this was before lunch!  Part 2 tomorrow!