The Reading Realm Blog Series: Educators doing extraordinary things
“Reading for pleasure is my way to relax, escape, learn and empathise about worlds, people and situations that I wouldn’t necessarily have the opportunity to experience.”
Name: Nia Talbot
What is your current position?
I am currently an assistant headteacher at a four-form entry primary school in Fenland. For the first time in my career, I’m teaching in EYFS.
When, how and why did you get into education? What did/do you want to achieve?
For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to be a teacher but I always had low self-confidence and doubted that I would be good enough to work in that field. The first teacher I really remembered who inspired me was my J4 (Year 6 teacher now a days!) teacher who really made the learning fun and interesting, especially History. This spurred me on to want to be as inspirational to others as that teacher was to me. I would play schools with my playmobile and act out what my classroom would be like. Throughout my time in secondary school, I was badly bullied and I always had the mantra that, if I ever managed to become a teacher, I would make sure that none of the children would feel or be treated the way I was. I went on to do a History degree and, in my third year at university, I was encouraged by some of my peers, who were applying for a PGCE also, to apply and I secured my place at Aberystwyth University to do my PGCE. Fifteen years later, I have worked in 3 different schools (including my current school) and have been History co-ordinator, then English co-ordinator and now assistant headteacher, which I have been for 5 years.
How do you feel the education landscape has changed since you started in your role?
Since starting in my current school, there has been a huge change in education. I think more teachers are combining teaching, social work and mental health nursing to support our families. There is a culture of scrutiny and targets, so teachers believe they are not trusted. Teacher workload is an issue and therefore recruitment and retention of teachers is hard. But there is also so much support and knowledge from other staff in your own school, other schools in our areas and on wider platforms like Twitter so that you have the opportunity to collaborate.
What are your earliest memories of reading and writing?
I must admit that I really don’t remember reading or any books being shared in school until my GCSE English Language texts. I remember, in primary school, having the comprehension cards that you picked, read, answered, put back and went to have your answers marked before going to get the next one! My mother, though, absolutely loved reading and our home was filled with books. I remember finding the physical act of reading really difficult for a very long time but always enjoyed listening to stories read to myself and my sisters by my mum.
How do you try and foster a love of reading in children?
I think that a lot of this is done in a more ‘informal’ way. I’ve always talked to my classes about books I’ve read, am reading or want to read and asked them about their reading behaviours and the books that they have loved. I recommend books to children based on these conversations and lend out books regularly. This often leads to conversations between different children about the book I’ve lent and I have a waiting list of children wanting to borrow it because they were recommended by a peer.
Teacher knowledge about children’s literature is so important so that all teachers are able to have these informal conversations. I organised a teachers’ ‘Books and Brownie’s monthly session, where teachers would come together to explore books and give/gain recommendations from their colleagues.
In a more formal way, we changed our curriculum to make sure that it is book-based. We share a book over a period of time and all our learning opportunities are connected to the book.
Giving opportunities for families to share stories together is also a really important part of fostering a love for reading. We organise events like ‘Reading around the Campfire’ and ‘Books before Bedtime’ to get the whole family engaged and talking about reading. I also send a half-termly reading review home so families can discuss new literature and hopefully borrow or buy books to share together.
What has been your most successful reading or writing lesson or activity with children?
When it comes to reading, dedicated book talk is so invaluable. Giving children the opportunity to discuss literature, pose questions, give suggestions and consolidate or adapt their original ideas is so important. Last year, when I was teaching in year 6, we were exploring the picture book ‘Brothers in Hope’. The themes we explored – just by allowing the children to express their opinions and ideas – were mind blowing. They were so engaged and had a much more in depth understanding of the plight of Sudanese lost boys, but also the other themes generated from the conversations, such as gender stereotypes.
What advice would you give to parents whose children say they don’t like reading?
Firstly, I would explain that reading novels isn’t the only text that can be physically read. Exploring the child’s interests can lead you to realise that they do like reading magazines, maps, signage and so forth. I’d also recommend games, where they have to read, such as Match Attax, that families can play together. I’d explain that sharing stories together, whatever the child’s age, is extremely important.
What books do you remember from your childhood? Do you have a favourite?
As I was one of three children and my dad works away, I remember our bedtime routine being such that mum often read with my middle sister. I, being the eldest, often read to my youngest sister before my mother sat down to read with me. The books I remember reading to Heather are books like ‘Maisie Middleton’ by Nita Sowter, ‘My cat likes to hide in boxes’ by Lynley Dodd and ‘There’s no such thing as a dragon’ by Jack Kent. As an older child, I was a Roald Dahl fan and my favourite book was ‘Fantastic Mr Fox’.
What was the first book that made you cry?
I’m an extremely emotional person and most things make me cry, so I don’t remember the first book that did. The book that had the most emotional connection to and made me cry uncontrollably recently was Lisa Thompson’s ‘The Goldfish Boy’.
What authors did you dislike at first but grew into?
I must admit that I haven’t really disliked any authors as of yet. There are always books you enjoy more than others but I’ve never had any authors I’ve disliked. I haven’t really read a lot by authors that the children have like J K Rowling, Jacqueline Wilson, Michael Morpurgo and David Walliams.
What’s your favourite under-appreciated novel?
It’s really difficult to know whether it is under-appreciated. Just because I haven’t heard about it being discussed particularly on Twitter or online, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have a large audience of readers. Last year I read ‘Sleepless’ by Ali Sparkes – I found it really engaging but I haven’t heard it discussed.
Have you ever experienced reader’s block?
I read daily and never not wanted to read but there is one particular book I was bought by my mother-in-law a couple of years ago that I read the first chapter of and really couldn’t get into. I’ve put it back on one of my bookshelves and there it has stayed.
Are you drawn to a particular genre or type of book or do you read a variety of genres?
When it comes to children’s literature, I read lots of different genres. I’m open to exploring a range of books, but I do often read fiction rather than non-fiction or poetry.
What book are you currently reading?
I’m reading ‘The Way Past Winter’ by Kiran Millwood Hargrave.
Where’s your favourite place to read?
I think my favourite place is stretched out on the sofa, normally with my cat, Squeaker, on my lap.
Which books do you think have tackled the issues of diversity and difference particularly well?
The books I’ve used with my classes over the years and more recently are ‘Amazing Grace’ by Mary Hoffman, ‘And Tango makes Three’ by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, ‘Donovan’s Big Day’ by Leslea Newman, ‘Freddie and the fairy’ by Julia Donaldson, ‘Dogs don’t do ballet’ by Anna Kemp, ‘Jabuti the tortoise’ by Gerald McDermott and ‘Ossiri and the Bala Mengro’ by Richard O’Neill and Katherine Quarmby.
Which three books would you recommend to primary/secondary school aged children and why?
I’d recommend ‘Varjak Paw’ by S.F.Said, ‘One’ by Sarah Crossan and ‘Who Let the Gods Out?’ By Maz Evans.
Finally: in one sentence, what does reading for pleasure mean to you?
Reading for pleasure is my way to relax, escape, learn and empathise about worlds, people and situations that I wouldn’t necessarily have the opportunity to experience.