The name Book Talk borrows from Aidan Chambers book Tell Me: Children, Reading and Talk with The Reading Environment (2011) where he identifies ‘booktalk’ as an essential part of children’s development as readers. This really resonated with me as however much I might like hiding away with a book, part of the pleasure of reading is definitely discussing and sharing with others. It also pinpointed what frustrated me so much about the approach to reading in my children’s primary school and other schools I have visited – outside of class books and reading, very few people were actively facilitating ‘booktalk’.
This was also the finding in the OU/UKLA research project, which examined teachers’ reading lives and found that their knowledge of children’s literature was narrow and tended to focus on a limited range of authors so they were therefore not in a strong position to recommend texts to young readers or to discuss their reading. This has prompted a much wider project exploring how to change that situation and really exciting activity in the schools that have engaged with it, much of it focussed on increasing the amount and quality of booktalk.
I am particularly interested in how children perceive reading for pleasure and research I did as part of my MA dissertation looked at children’s online book reviews and interviewed some Y6 children who self identified as keen readers. Book talk came across as one of the central ways in which they enjoyed reading and included talk such as: speculating about alternative endings or directions in books; comparing different characters, both within and between books; making links to other books; and discussing who should play a character in a film of the book. Most of the children mentioned discussing books with their parents or older siblings or cousins. It also emerged that recommendations from fellow keen readers and swopping books shaped their reading. What also came across was that none of the children interviewed (admittedly a small group in a single – Ofsted ‘Outstanding’ – school) saw school as source of book recommendations or somewhere that supported an engagement with reading for pleasure “they ask if you are reading different kinds of books and if you are ‘challenging yourself’ but apart from that they don’t really ask you”.
So Book Talk was set up to support more booktalk.
If you are a teacher (or indeed a parent) and haven’t already read Aidan Chambers’ book, it is a must read. As is checking out the OU RfP website which has lots of materials on it and action research that is going on in schools up and the down the country testing out how to engage children in reading for pleasure. Also take a look at Book Clubs in Schools (full disclosure, I work with them) who have developed a model that emphasises readers reactions, opinions and connections to books and aims to develop confidence and skills in talking about books.