A research project has found that teachers who read for pleasure have better book knowledge and feel more confident, calm and stress-free in the classroom.
Research has shown that there is value in helping teachers becomereading role models for the pupils they teach, and that developing teachers’ subject knowledge of children’s literature can contribute to a child or young person’s enjoyment of reading.
As lecturers in initial teacher training on a PGCE primary programme, we believe that this habit should be developed as an integral part of teacher training. Teachers who read themselves and share their love of books in the primary classroom can, in turn, encourage children to read more.
So, we set up a year-long children’s literature blog with our PGCE primary trainee teachers which was originally designed to support them in widening their range and knowledge of children’s literature and to develop their confidence to share and use texts creatively in the classroom. We asked them to review three children’s books during the year, based on their own enjoyment of the book, the age range of children they had used the book with and ideas for use in the classroom.
The blog generated lots of data for us. And there were two particularly interesting trends; firstly, it enabled us to measure whether we were successful in supporting the trainee teachers to develop their own subject knowledge of children’s literature – which it did. We ended the blog period with a focus group and this was where the second trend emerged; as well as looking at how we could improve PGCE trainees subject knowledge of children’s books, we found that they had used books diagnostically to support their own wellbeing in the primary classroom.
Reading for pleasure among the trainee teachers during the blog, was a common feature. The trainee teachers were also using children’s books, of all genres as a form of escapism from the stresses and strains ofteaching in the primary classroom.
During the focus group we asked the trainees a range of questions about reading for pleasure and what had made them become a reader. The joys of reading became apparent, namely, how they had enjoyed “getting totally lost in a book” or “absorbed” by the narrative. It also became evident that they had close personal associations with certain texts from their own childhoods, and the fact that they could turn the page of a book and by knowing what was on that page gave them comfort and confidence to share that book with their class.
The term bibliotherapy is becoming more widely recognised, increasingly moving away from its original medical model – whereby practitioners ‘prescribed’ self-help books to patients suffering from depression or eating disorders, for example. New ideas on reading for wellbeing are now increasingly looking at the use of books as a form of escapism.
In order for reading to have wellbeing affects, readers should identify with the characters in a story and form an emotional connection with them. By doing so it is then easier for the reader to use situations in a book, to solve their own problems, and also realise that their problems are not unique to them, nor unsolvable.
Teaching is a stressful occupation. Our research has highlighted that reading for pleasure can alleviate stress; escaping into the pages of a book at the end of a busy day, can help and support teachers.
We have also found that trainee teachers often don’t read purely for pleasure, citing time constraints as the reason. Our blog project forced them to read as part of their professional development, and because they wanted to improve their subject knowledge. Wellbeing was secondary, but nonetheless became part of the project, almost by default. One of our students summed it up nicely: “Books are like best friends during stressful times.”
Our findings will be shared with delegates at a forthcoming UK Literacy Association (UKLA) international conference. Encouraging teachers during their training to read for pleasure is vital. As we have found, if young teachers read for pleasure, it helps them to use texts creatively and gives them confidence exploring these books with students in the primary classroom. If they then feel secure in their subject knowledge of children’s literature, this in turn supports their wellbeing.
Time, support and professional development for teachers to enable them to engage with children’s literature is of paramount importance. Our research has demonstrated that this benefits not only children’s literacy across the primary classroom, but teacher wellbeing.
Creating a culture of reading should be on all school’ list of priorities and to do this, teachers should have access to new and varied children’s literature. Sitting down with a good book is a pleasure, with gains to be made in all aspects of literacy alongside teacher and pupil wellbeing.