The Teaching Realm: An interview with Kate Riffler #6

The Reading Realm Blog Series: Educators doing extraordinary things

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“I was always a complete book-worm as a child.  My earliest memory of reading is probably sneaking out new books from my parent’s cupboards – they used to try to hide some so I wouldn’t read them all at once!”

Name: Kate Riffler

Twitter handle: @onlinegoverness

Link to blog/website: www.theonlinegoverness.com

What is your current position?

I’m a private online tutor and educational consultant, working with students all over the world, from the UK to South Korea.  I teach a whole range of age groups, starting with 7, right up to undergraduate!

When, how and why did you get into education? What did/do you want to achieve?

I had never fully intended to go into education, but for my Masters I decided to explore a degree in literature with education.  This was certainly eye-opening!  Far from being an interesting deviation, the ‘education’ element of my course was fascinating to me.  I relished learning pedagogy and theories of how we learn, but most of all I loved helping the children, encouraging them with difficult tasks and watching their horizons grow.  I’m genuinely passionate about helping students find a love of learning – the best thing about being a tutor is watching a student get real satisfaction from learning something new, or even just from crafting a beautifully written essay.  On a broader note, I always want to stress that learning and education isn’t just a matter of looking at books and writing essays – it’s a holistic process too.  Taking the time to read for pleasure, get enough sleep and generally work sustainably is a value I find important to instil in all my students.

How do you feel the education landscape has changed since you started in your role?

Certainly it has become much tougher for students since I started – partly due to increased pressures of testing, and partly due to decreased funding in state schools.  These are problems that need solving, and are always being discussed.  More simply, the work has also been getting harder, so as to distinguish the top candidates – we’ve just seen the 9-1 system implemented at GCSE to try and do this.  You hear on the news that grades are being devalued, but, if anything, I repeatedly have parents tell me how much harder exams are these days.

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“I loved my brothers’ adventure books, and the Madeline series.”

What are your earliest memories of reading and writing?

I was always a complete book-worm as a child.  My earliest memory of reading is probably sneaking out new books from my parent’s cupboards – they used to try to hide some so I wouldn’t read them all at once!  I loved my brothers’ adventure books, and the Madeline series.  My writing didn’t really begin until I was a bit older, but it’s a love that I still have today – there’s little more satisfying than creating a really elegant phrase that succinctly expresses your point.

How do you try and foster a love of reading in children?

Mainly by trying to tailor reading to their own interests.  I have a lot of parents who come to me asking for their children to be taught ‘the classics’, but unless that nebulous category is filled with books they enjoy, it just won’t work.  Much better to find a genre or topic they love anyway, then get them going from there.

What has been your most successful reading or writing lesson or activity with children?

Personally I love the ‘Island’ activity for younger children.  This is where I get children to first imagine an island, name it and describe it, then go on to describe all the different aspects of the island in detail.  After they’ve done that, I ask them to write a story set on the island, and a newspaper report about the island.  This teaches them several different kinds of writing, and as children are naturally so imaginative they love coming up with a whole new world to explore!

What advice would you give to parents whose children say they don’t like reading?

I would say that they just haven’t found the right books yet, there’s one out there for everyone!  Sometimes it’s just about finding the best kind of writing for a particular child – it would be truly rare to find a child who dislikes stories, even if they haven’t yet found a good one in a book.

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“I used to squirrel myself away in my room with a tray of food to read it in one go!”

What books do you remember from your childhood? Do you have a favourite?

It might sound cliched, but the Harry Potter series.  Whenever a new one came out, I used to squirrel myself away in my room with a tray of food to read it in one go!

What was the first book that made you cry?

Birthday Letters by Ted Hughes, which was gut-wrenching.

What authors did you dislike at first but grew into?

Probably the Bronte sisters.  As a child I was told to read Jane Eyre in particular, but as a ten-year old I just didn’t enjoy it at all.  I think that’s a good example of a time when you just need to put the book away instead of trying to read it through to the bitter end.  Now I love it, but it took me a few years to pick up a Bronte novel again!

What’s your favourite under-appreciated novel?

There are too many to name!  Most works by Dostoevsky, but if I had to pick something more specific, then Dracula.  In literary terms, many people say that it’s poorly written sensationalism, but I do love a bit of Gothic horror.

 Have you ever experienced reader’s block?

Absolutely.  There were a good two years in my teens when I just couldn’t find a novel I wanted to stick with, but was obsessed with poetry instead.  It was actually quite challenging for me, and I really worried that I was becoming a ‘worse’ reader, when I now realise that actually I was just interested in a different kind of writing.

Are you drawn to a particular genre or type of book or do you read a variety of genres?

A variety, definitely, although when re-reading I do love 19th century novels, which I can just sit down and sink back into.

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Kate is currently reading Moby-Dick by Herman Melville.

What book are you currently reading?

Moby-Dick by Herman Melville.

Where’s your favourite place to read?

In bed, or curled up on the couch.

Which three books would you recommend to primary school aged children and why?

1: The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams- it’s such a beautiful and bittersweet book about love and friendship.  I know many adult readers who still go back to it again and again.

2: Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll- Carroll’s grasp of wit and pure imagination is something that children love, and can get them thinking outside the box about things they might usually take for granted.  It’s a beginner’s guide to philosophy, as much as a novel!

3: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K Rowling – the whole series is wonderfully compelling, and so rich in characters and vocabulary.  I find it really helps engage and challenge my younger readers.

Finally: in one sentence, what does reading for pleasure mean to you?

Getting lost somewhere between my world and someone else’s for an hour or two.

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