Kerry Lamont, literacy coordinator at Caol Primary School in Fort William, discusses how her whole school and community have taken on the First Minister's Reading Challenge wholeheatedly!
When my headteacher asked me to take on the First Minister’s Reading Challenge, I jumped at the chance. I thought I’d put a few ideas together, start small and see where it took us!
We were in a good position, I thought. We had recently overhauled our reading lessons and purchased many exciting new books and resources for core reading. Our new school building has lovely shared areas that we’d set up as little libraries and we already timetabled ERIC Time across the school. Our classes visit our local library frequently and we have book buddies reading to their P1 and nursery peers each week. So, although there was perhaps some room for improvement and the opportunity to have a little more fun with reading, we were on the right tracks and our challenge entry would be quite subdued and simple, or so I thought. Never did I think that in the space of a few short weeks our view of reading and relationships with our wider community would be so completely transformed!
After consulting staff, we started utilising parent power where possible; a dad who owns a sign making firm designed us some banners and signs with his daughters; a mum who is an author and illustrator was asked to come in and speak to pupils; a dad who is a plumber made us Whisper Phones for core reading lessons. Then almost instantly, reading was everywhere and became, as our slogan suggests, ‘So Caol!’. The kids were warming up to the challenge and our new Book Club welcomed over 30 P4-7 pupils in its first meeting, with ‘Reading is so Caol!’ cakes, of course!
Wave of enthusiasm
All of a sudden we were swept up in a wave of reading fever, thanks to our enthusiastic staff, pupils and parents. Always keen to keep our popular Facebook page up to date, our clerical assistant played a massive part too. Before we knew it, we had received scores of photos of pupils, of all ages reading in a wide variety of locations, including at the top of Glen Nevis, in and around Fort William and in many, many unusual positions at home too. Pupils started visiting the school office with their favourite books, keen to be filmed talking about the books they loved and published on our school Facebook page, of course!
Parents really played a huge part, sending in photos and telling us all about how much their children loved to read; the feedback we have received has been so positive. Very quickly, everyone was buzzing about reading - we almost couldn’t keep up! The ‘Reading is So Caol’ message was growing in strength and reaching thousands of people many, many times daily via our Facebook page, so much so that not much else got done in the office the week before October break!
When our annual book week started, on October 2nd, the momentum just kept building.
Local author Barry Hutchison gave an unforgettable talk about reading and books that had us laughing for days, staff as well as pupils. We built up a firm relationship with our town’s new book shop who were so obliging, being visited by or visiting most of our school’s ten classes in just one week. We opened our school doors to lots of visiting readers, from teachers in other schools, to the headteacher of our local secondary school! Our own headteacher read his favourite story to pupils and even filmed videos of support from local headteachers too. Our new ‘Caol’s cool reader’ stickers were being sported proudly on many blue jumpers! Prizes for our Book Week reading homework competition and our newly created ‘Caol’s Coolest Reader’ trophy were presented during assembly by none other than Clifford the Big Red Dog; this caused great hilarity amongst pupils and staff as he tried, in vain, to ‘hug the headie’! The assembly, which started with all 240 pupils singing our newly rewritten Proclaimers tribute, ‘500 books’, was a great success. As was our annual Book Fair which amassed a huge income, our biggest ever, and earned each class a great selection of new books for our classrooms and shared areas.
Parents were invited to open afternoons which was a great opportunity to showcase our learning and to further our reading challenge with lots of shared reading and photo opportunities, with banners, signs, t-shirts and caps! Parents willingly obliged and gave us wonderful feedback about the impact of our project. One parent commented that ‘it was amazing, everyone was involved as usual… not just the pupils but families too, we loved it’. We couldn’t have wished for higher praise for doing something that we have loved every minute of!
It’s hard to believe that only a few weeks in, we have over 700 photos and videos of our children, parents and the wider community getting on board with us. We have raised the profile of reading so much that pupils are being caught reading outside in the playground daily. We have huge plans for the rest of the session too, starting with the local radio station and press coming to interview our pupils about reading and record some of them reading their favourite books. We aim to further involve parents by inviting them to read to and with our pupils on a regular basis and to provide reading workshops, open afternoons and maybe even hold our own ‘Reading is so Caol’ book festival!
Now that we have been bitten by the reading bug, and with the support of the community and our parents too, we think our project will go from strength to strength! We certainly hope so as we are having so much fun we never want it to end. We hope that our message ‘Reading is so Caol’ will stay with our pupils both now and in the future. What a ’Caol’ legacy that would be!