The Teaching Realm: An interview with Freya Odell #25

The Reading Realm Blog Series: Educators doing extraordinary things

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“I was an avid reader, thanks to my dad.  My dad was one of those dads who went into primary school to listen to children read.  We would make great use of the library and he would order books for me to get.  I feel so fortunate my dad was such a strong supporter and encourager when it came to reading.”

Name: Freya Odell

Twitter handle: @fod3

Link to blog/website: wheninromeeng.wordpress.com

What is your current position? (eg teacher, librarian, publisher etc, what year group do you teach etc?) Teacher of English to pupils in KS3, KS4 and KS5

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

I went into education after being inspired by Matilda by Roald Dahl and some fantastic primary teachers.  I wanted to grow up and be Miss Honey and whilst I still have some traits of Miss Honey within me, I find an inner Miss Trunchball sometimes appears!

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Matilda by Roald Dahl and Quentin Blake

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

It’s definitely got a lot harder.  There’s been a lot of constraint and a lack of freedom, autonomy and creativity.  However, we are now seeing a new shift within the education system which I think will really raise standards.

What are your earliest memories of reading and writing?

I was an avid reader, thanks to my dad.  My dad was one of those dads who went into primary school to listen to children read.  We would make great use of the library and he would order books for me to get.  I feel so fortunate my dad was such a strong supporter and encourager when it came to reading.

How do you try and foster a love of reading in children? By doing a lot of reading myself.  I think this is important so try to read as much teen fiction as possible.  And actually, during term time I find reading teen fiction easier.  Once I have finished reading a particular book, I will share it with my class and talk to them about what the book is about, what I liked about it and why I would recommend it.

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

Classroom libraries have been instrumental in getting more pupils reading.  I would build a classroom library with books from charity shops and car boot sales.  Having books that I have read and can recommend supports this.  In addition, introducing a reading challenge – e.g. reading 40 books in a year is a really good way to promote regular reading and I have a display in my room where pupils log what they have read throughout the year.  As much visibility as possible.

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

Keep trying!  It’s just that they haven’t found their story yet.  In some ways you do have to force children to read.  20 minutes a day at least.  Ensure there are no distractions and remind children that immediate judgements about books are usually unhelpful.  You have to give a book at least 50 pages.

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

Matilda will always be up there.  But I have a sad memory in that my dad bought me a trilogy.  It was a fantasy type story involving young people going into a tree and there being a world underneath.  It was scary and brilliant but I cannot remember the name and have never, ever been able to find it.

What was the first book that made you cry? 

The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson.  I love books that make me cry.  I know that the story has had a huge impact on me then.

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The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson

What authors did you dislike at first but grew into?

None that I can recall.  If I dislike an author, I just don’t read the books.

What’s your favourite under-appreciated novel?

Actually, I’m not sure.  I usually read books that others have recommended.  Maybe Simon vs. the Homosapien Agenda which received very little attention until the film came out but I loved it the minute I read it.

Have you ever experienced reader’s block?

Yes and this is OK.  Sometimes, life is tiring and it’s impossible to read.  It’s OK to have a break and flit but important to then get back to it when you are ready.

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

I really like realistic fiction.  I will read anything but I connect more, as a reader, with realistic fiction.

What book are you currently reading?

I try to have two books on the go so at the moment I am working my way through the Carneige list and am reading The Red Ribbon currently.  I also try to read educational material to continually challenge what I am doing in the classroom.  I am reading How to Explain Everything by Andy Tharby.

Where’s your favourite place to read? 

The train.  No distractions and just hours of journey time ahead of me.

Which books do you think have tackled the issues of diversity and difference particularly well?

I think so many books now tackle diversity and this is a brilliant thing.  I think Simon vs. the Homosapien Agenda is fab, George is brilliant, The Hate You Give…the list is endless.

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

  1. Wonder – everything is good with the world if we teach our children to be kind.
  2. Private Peaceful – this book is more than a book about war, it is a book about love.
  3. A Monster Calls – an emotive and important read.

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

Here’s one word: escapism.

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