Reading Gladiators at Burnham on Crouch

My name is Rachel Elvidge and I have the best job in the world. I run the year 2, 4 and 6 Reading Gladiator groups at Burnham-on-Crouch Primary School. I am lucky enough to have an afternoon a week to dedicate to my Reading Gladiators sessions. At a time in education where a lot of teaching of reading seems to focus heavily on the technical skills, I am happy to be able to offer something that encourages enthusiasm, excitement and often pure joy. That’s not to say that I don’t consider my Gladiator sessions as an opportunity to impart some serious literacy teaching; the supporting resources are fantastic and delve deep. It’s just that the emphasis is on the sharing, enjoyment and love of reading.

I hadn’t considered, until I became involved with Reading Gladiators, how rare it is now for children to all be reading the same complete book at the same time. Yes, you have your class text, and there are certain buzz books which many children may have read (the latest David Walliams, for example) but to have 8 children and their teacher all reading the same book at the same time, and then passing that book on to the next group of eight… well, it’s pretty special. The feeling of a reading community is being built, and conversations about the story are carried on throughout the week, in corridors and in the playground, as well as during the sessions.

The unboxing of the books is one of my favourite moments. Books are expensive, and brand new books are rare in many schools and homes, especially as austerity bites. The children really do feel important and valued when they unwrap these beautiful editions. They love the fact nobody else in the school has touched them. One boy held his book under his nose and declared with delight that it was “box fresh!” At a recent parents’ evening, two parents sought me out to let me know how their children had carried their books home and shown them off proudly, before settling down to read many of the required chapters in one go. They feel ownership, of the book, the story and even the author.

Some of the children do find the amount of reading a challenge. Part of my role is to encourage that resilience in reading, and I have the support of class teachers in this, as they remind the groups where they should be reading up to, and allow children reading time if perhaps they don’t have this time at home. Not every Gladiator can keep up every time, particularly with the dense Year 6 texts, but we try and support each other and no one is punished for missing a deadline. They know themselves that they gain less from a session if they haven’t quite read far enough, and that’s sufficient. Of course, we also have the speed readers who devour the whole book and have to be constantly told NO SPOILERS!

My colleagues have been incredibly supportive and appreciative of Reading Gladiators. In a data driven world, I worried that the attitudinal gains, which I think are undeniable, but are so hard to prove, would not be noticed, but I was so wrong. The word I constantly hear is ‘buzzing’. The children came back to class buzzing, they are buzzing about this new book, they are buzzing that David Almond tweeted us (actually it was me buzzing that time!) The data looks good too, as the depth of comprehension work reflects in better answering of written comprehensions in class.

There’s so much more I could share with you. The moving moments where children have cried over books, or the memories stories have bought up, and shown such care and respect for one another. The fun we have had entering the mini challenges. The time someone thought melancholy meant a character liked melons. The wonderful comments children have made which have taken me by surprise and moved our discussion in a completely different direction to the one I had planned. The recent session on allegory when I had one of those best of all teacher moments, when you see children just ‘get it’. I also get to read some really fantastic children’s fiction, and discover authors and illustrators I’m unfamiliar with. It’s all so rewarding and just such fun! As I told you… I have the best job in the world!