The Reading Realm Blog Series: Educators doing extraordinary things
“I have a pile of cushions stuffed under my desk: every day we spread them across the classroom, the children get comfy and I read the class story…”
Twitter handle: @_MissieBee
Link to blog/website: https://missiebee1.wordpress.com
What is your current position?
Year 5/6 teacher and English subject lead
When, how and why did you get into education?
I started training in 2010, completing a 4-year BAEd with a music specialism. I hadn’t ‘always wanted to be a teacher’ – despite my mum having been a teacher forever, the idea didn’t come to be until about a month before I had to start my UCAS applications. I’d previously wanted to study English literature or language, but I realised I had no idea what I would do with that degree. I’d been a gymnastics coach since I was 14 and had enjoyed working with children, so teaching seemed the next obvious choice.
How do you feel the education landscape has changed since you started in your role?
I’ve only been teaching for 5 years, but unlike my mum (who has, in nearly 40 years, seen the workload and accountability in education skyrocket), I feel like I’ve experienced some really positive changes. There seems to be much more of a focus now on the wellbeing of staff, the reduction of workload and the broadening of the whole curriculum.
What are your earliest memories of reading and writing?
My mum would always brag that when I was at nursery, the teachers told her I’d often have a group of children in the corner reading a story to them! She said the first letter/sound I recognised was ‘Q’, because the letter looked such an odd shape. I remember reading Elmer the Elephant and there was a page which said something like ‘Bang!’ on it – I would read this simultaneously with my mum, but say ‘Bang exclamation mark’!
We would always share a book together at bed-time, right up until my pre-teens. My favourite was The Once and Future King by T H White; we’d take it in turns to each read a page aloud.
How do you try and foster a love of reading in children?
By talking about books all the time. I contact authors on Twitter often, share their responses with the children and print them off to display around the room. I also try and make it the most important part of our day. I have a pile of cushions stuffed under my desk: every day we spread them across the classroom, the children get comfy and I read the class story.
What has been your most successful reading or writing lesson or activity with children?
Reading: Not a standalone lesson, but twice now I have taught with books that have accompanying films – Holes and Wonder. One of my favourite activities is watching the film with the children after studying the book together in such depth – the children are so much more attentive and notice the most minute of details that are missing or have changed! It’s also so interesting to hear how they may have pictured things differently in their heads.
Writing: I was inspired by an idea from @EnglishEffects on Twitter, renaming it ‘Ramble & Write’ for use with my children. The photos say it all!
What advice would you give to parents whose children say they don’t like reading?
That they probably haven’t found the right book yet! Is reading celebrated in their home? Are there books on bookshelves displayed in the living room? Do the children see the adults around them reading? Allow children to ‘give up’ on a book if they’re not enjoying it – there’s no joy in forcing yourself to read something you dislike. However, often a child says they don’t like a book because they don’t understand it – when I read a story aloud, it removes the difficulty of having to decode and comprehend the vocabulary so the children can just listen and enjoy. This is the beauty of parents sharing books with their children – if that isn’t happening, it’s hardly surprising that they say they don’t like reading.
What was the first book that made you cry?
The Time Traveller’s Wife. I had never cried at a book before that. I sobbed like a baby! Since then, the only other book I’ve cried at was Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. Such a brilliant story.
Have you ever experienced reader’s block?
Yes! I’m experiencing it right now. I went through it a few years ago until my boyfriend bought me Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. I read it non-stop for 2 days and then proceeded to devour books for the next few months… until I hit a wall again. I hate that I’m extremely impatient (perhaps a symptom of being a typical millennial) and if a book doesn’t grip me quickly enough, I won’t pick it up again. I’m also extremely picky about writing styles – even if a storyline is gripping, if the writing style irritates me, I just can’t get over it!
Are you drawn to a particular genre or type of book or do you read a variety of genres?
In the past, it has been fast-paced thrillers (see previous: me being impatient!). My boyfriend used to joke that I would only read books that started with ‘The’: The Couple Next Door, The Girl Before, The Whisperer, The Girlfriend, The Honeymoon, The One, The Breakdown, The Sister (I’m literally listing books off my Goodreads here, and I’m actually shocked at how monotonous it’s beginning to sound!).
However, I started reading Origin by Dan Brown a few weeks ago and despite it being the epitome of a ‘fast-paced thriller’, I’m fed up already. I feel it’s such an overdone algorithm of writing now: short chapters, constantly alternating between storylines, and as soon as you reach an interesting bit, you don’t get to continue that part of the storyline for another 20 pages. Last year, I randomly chose to read Call Me By Your Name by André Aciman – a genre I never would usually have chosen – and thoroughly enjoyed it.
What book are you currently reading?
I’m about to start Sweet Pea by C J Skuse – I saw that @MrsPTeach and a few other Tweachers had recommended it, so we’ll see!
Where’s your favourite place to read?
If the book is good, then anywhere!
Which books do you think have tackled the issues of diversity and difference particularly well?
In class, we’re currently reading The Island at the End of Everything by Kiran Millwood-Hargrave. The children are fascinated; not only have the majority of them not heard of leprosy, but they are appalled at the idea of the segregation that occurred. This is why I love reading with children – books are key for building empathy.
Which three books would you recommend to primary/ secondary school aged children and why?
100 times over without a doubt – Holes by Louis Sachar, for primary school children up to adults. There are so many layers to this book – I’ve read it multiple times, and each time I notice something new. It’s just so clever!
Both Groosham Grange by Anthony Horowitz and Who Let the Gods Out? by Maz Evans have been fantastic to read aloud as class stories as they’re brilliantly funny.
Finally, what does reading for pleasure mean to you?
It’s like a spa for my mind. I’m generally an incredibly anxious person, but during the time I’m reading, I’m not comparing myself to anyone else, or worrying about anything – my mind is completely elsewhere, and it’s great.