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Reading (for pleasure) in the time of a pandemic

At Hopscotch, our thoughts are very much with all schools at this uncertain time and we are keen to support educators in light of the nationwide school closures. Each week we'll be posting a blog, direct from a teacher on the front line, about their experience and challenges they're facing. Below is the third in the series written by Charlotte Harrison, Literacy Coordinator at Bishop Challoner Catholic Federation of Schools in East London.

As the whole-school literacy coordinator at an East London secondary school, my days are usually devoted to running around talking about books, recommending new reads, putting on events and organising author visits. As soon as schools in the UK ‘closed’ for most students, I found myself wondering how I’d be able to adapt and do similar though the computer.

Suffice to say, I don’t have all the answers yet. And I probably won’t ever. This strange and unsettling time is unlike anything many of us have ever known, and hopefully will ever know. What is my responsibility however, is to remain a constant in my students lives. If Miss Harrison, the bespectacled ginger giant, can’t physically be parading around middle grade and young adult literature, she’ll be doing as much as she can via trial and error online!

Reading in the time of a pandemic

It is a truth universally acknowledged that reading (for pleasure!) is fundamental. Most crucially, reading for pleasure can be therapeutic, a means of developing empathy whilst simultaneously allowing for an escape of sorts. When stuck inside, following government protocol and social distancing, reading a book is a chance to travel to other places, times and worlds.

So, the first thing I did was compile a list of as many creative digital resources as I could find. This ended up being a diverse list from a range of institutions and organisations, with resources that parents could easily adapt where needed and students could work on independently.

I shared this with all the teachers in my English faculty and a copy was then put on the school website. I also shared links to these resources on social media, in the form of a Twitter thread – which ended up being transformed into this list on the Film Stories website. The intent was to make the list accessible to as many of people as possible, plus it let me work out the best system for getting out additional resources in future.

The aim of these lists and the resources they feature is not to replace the school environment and replicate the classroom setting. We as practitioners want to empower parents, guardians and young people by providing them with resources that make the experience as creative and engaging as possible.

My recommended reading go-tos

There’s a range of resources that encourage engagement with reading. One favourite would be Authorfy, which features a gallery of masterclasses from a wide range of authors. Why not set a home learning task that begins with one of these videos, either preselected or let them choose, before reading a book by that author? They could then complete activities inspired by what they read – book reviews, writing an alternative ending, illustrating characters or settings to name but a few.

Or, if you’d prefer students taking ownership of the books they are reading, they could give Book Trust’s ‘Book Finder’ a try. Young people pick their age group and a ‘type’ of book and in return receive lots of different recommendations. Local bookshops, Waterstones, Hive and Amazon are still posting out books as they are classed ‘as an essential delivery item’. Many publishers have reduced their children’s books to just 99p for Kindle editions, with the Kindle app itself being free to install on most phones/tablets – meaning that the worlds these books provide are literally just a few clicks away.

Project Gutenberg have a library of over 60,000 free eBooks should you want to encourage reading of the classics. It would also be worth having a look at what your local library or Ideas Store may be offering too, and signposting students to their online resources.  Additionally, if students prefer being read to, Audible have created a special bank of thousands of books, across six languages, from modern young adults and children’s literature. The service has promised to remain free till schools reopen – without any need to register.

Neil Gaiman defined a book as ‘a dream that you hold in your hand’. I hope that some of these reading resource suggestions help with providing your students means and encouragement to access those dreams.

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