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Behaviour and the purpose of education⤴

from @ EduBlether

I recently wrote a blog post outlining some of my thoughts on behaviour. The post was emphatically contested by several people on Twitter. This follow up post is by no means an apology, or a way for me to back-track on the comments made. I remain steadfast in my belief and perspective outlined in the original post. However, there are elements where I feel I may have been unclear and certainly there were aspects that were misunderstood. I was hopeful that in writing the original post, I would stimulate interest, debate and discussion. It clearly did do this, but I would like to go over some of the key issues raised to be able to further my own thinking in this area and continue the discussion.

The thing that was abundantly clear from many of the comments was that there are diametrically opposed positions being argued over. Which can feel redundant at times. I feel that the polarity that exists in education, and particularly on social media, is problematic. I do not mean to fuel this in anyway, but I think it is important to understand that there are certain fundamentally conflicting views at play here, and it is important to interrogate your position in this debate in an informed way. As I said in my original post, I think that it is important to determine what you see as the fundamental purpose of school and education. What is it all really for? I think your answer to the question of purpose has a hugely significant impact on your approach towards behaviour.

For me, I believe that one of the fundamental goals of education should be to challenge learners to see the (social) world differently, to be critical of the status quo and to try consciously work towards a world that is inclusive and fair for everyone. This is a view that draws on the thoughts and ideas from Critical Pedagogy, Progressive education, and Transformative Education, and has been heavily influenced by writers such as Gramsci, Freire, Giroux, Biesta, Dewey and more. Through this critical lens, those committed to this type of approach:

  • “Acknowledge and connect with learners’ personal and emotional experience, rather than neglecting the learning potential that lies in these experiences;
  • Engage these experiences through dialogue, which is a form of social interaction that integrates different perspectives, including affective knowledge (emotion/feeling) and experiential knowledge. Dialogue is differentiated from discussion, which can tend to put aside the affective and experiential.”

(Teachingfortransformation.com)

If you read the statements above with behaviour in mind, this gives you a totally different perspective and subsequent set of pedagogical practices to utilise than if you hold a different belief about the purpose of education. On reflection it appears that this is why there was such disagreement, because it seems from the comments I received, that I have an entirely different view of the purpose of education to many of those who disagreed with what I wrote. This is the salient point. Everything else is secondary.

As mentioned in the original post, this is a hugely complex and challenging issue. Of course it is. Because, just as I approach the conversation with my own unique set of beliefs and lived experiences. So do you. However, part of the anger and frustration around this debate comes from the fact that behaviour can be such an emotional and highly impactful aspect of school life. I recognise the emotion, frustration and anger. I work as a Depute Head in a large Primary School. I have a very good understanding of dysregulated behaviour and the impact this can have on school life. I do not want to appear flippant or removed from the issue, or to belittle the very real concerns of my colleagues across the profession. This is what I do every day in my job. I think there is agreement that things are not perfect and there is work to be done in the system to make things better. I also know that everyone, not matter what their perspective or answer to the question on the purposes of education, believes they are doing the best they can to support the children ad young people in their care. However I think it is naïve and reductionist to say that violent, aggressive or even low level disruptions exists and persists because of a restorative practice approach being used in a school. To ignore the wider societal inequality in this debate is theoretically flawed and morally wrong in my opinion. Schools do not exist in isolation, and any impact or effect must be read and understood in the entirety of the context.

My views here have been influenced by the ‘private troubles and public issues’ distinction put forward by Mills (1959) where ‘troubles’ are concerned with a person’s individual character and experience, and ‘issues’ are to do with matters that transcend the individual and the local environment of their life. The following example illustrates the distinction well:

When, in a city of 100,000, only one man is unemployed, that is his personal trouble, and for its relief we properly look to the character of the man, his skills, and his immediate opportunities. But when in a nation of 50 million employees, 15 million men are unemployed, that is an issue, and we may not hope to find its solution within the range of opportunities open to any one individual.

(Mills, ibid: 9)

To individualise problems around behaviour, we risk viewing behaviour as a ‘personal trouble’. However, the fact that so many schools can speak to similarities in terms of the struggles they face around behaviour strikes me as more of a ‘public issue’. When analysed further, and you see the trend of children from low socio-economic status, or with additional support needs being excluded at a rate disproportionately higher than their counterparts across the country, there is even more evidence of a ‘public issue’ that requires resolution at a system-wide level, not an individual one.

I was also criticised for trying to monopolise practices that lead to social justice. For me to lay sole claim to equitable practice or the pursuit of inclusion and social justice is wrong and I would never attempt to do this. I am yet to come across anyone working in education that would say they would willingly perpetuate in-justice, or that they are not affected by the inequality that is ever-present in the education system and wider society. It is clear that reading through Tom Bennett’s book – ‘Running the Room’, that there is a clear belief that the approaches he suggests will have a significant impact on the children who are most vulnerable in society. It was clear in the follow up comments to my original post that people believe the way to challenge this inequality is to give the children the skills to behave through high levels of adult control, direct instruction and clear consequences and boundaries in place for any infractions. The argument goes that to tackle inequality, we are duty-bound to teach the children who are not provided with correct models of behaviour, exactly how to behave. This will inevitably lead to more equality.

The approach to tackling inequality promoted here, seems to be an individualised one though that addresses the problem as if it were a ‘personal trouble’, to engage with Mills (1959) again. i.e. helping individual children overcome deficiencies of their character or immediate local environment to gain key skills, attributes and knowledge required to enter the labour market and perhaps advance socially and economically.

My argument here is that to view this as a problem of the individual, rather than a systemic issue, it does nothing to move society forward. We simply have a practice which leads to success for some, but nonetheless perpetuates the status quo which is inherently unequal and unjust. Children are given the skills to advance individually, but only into a system that has a large degree of inequality.

A lot of the comments I received were around the fact that people believe the approach I advocate for (a strongly relational and restorative approach) is impractical, people claim it simply does not work in a real school. “Utopian sentimentalism” was the great phrase Tom Bennett used, which I think was meant to be used pejoratively, but may well be the title of any book I ever write. This speaks to the question raised at the start about your position on the purpose of education. If you favour a neoliberal, business-like efficiency model of education which is built on the transactional value of learning experiences and promotes a replicable model for ensuring children learn more content and does not value highly the lived personal and emotional experiences of children, then I agree that a restorative approach probably is impractical.

Biesta’s excellent article Why “What works” wont work: Evidence-based practice and the democratic deficit in educational research’ (Biesta, 2007) has had a significant impact on my thinking here. Biesta argues that evidence-based practice, or the over-reliance on finding ‘what works’ or what is practical restricts the scope of decision making in education to questions about efficiency and effectiveness. He argues that this also restricts the opportunities for teachers to participate in educational decision making. A focus on efficiency and research-based practice serves to deny teachers the right to make values-based judgements on the educational desirability of any action or strategy and consequently removes their right not to act according to evidence about “what works”. The problem here is that discussions around practicality or finding strategies that research suggests ‘works’, is that it fails to give sufficient weight to the moral and values-based issues inherent in all educational decision making. Why is practicality and efficiency valued above all else?

I think behaviour is far more complex than simply finding a range of strategies that ‘work’. I think this suggest that education and any approach to behaviour is linear, with a simple and observable input-output model. There is no simple solution towards achieving progress with behaviour. It is for this reason that I refuse to be drawn into an argument that poses certain strategies against others to determine which is better. Some strategies will work for some children some of the time. It will be a complex blend of strategies for some, and a more straight-forward approach for others. But what we cannot lose sight of, is the bigger question around purpose. Why are we doing what we are doing?

The approach I am advocating for here is highly personalised, and unique to individual children. It is about connecting with children’s personal emotional experience and being responsive to a range of needs. This is not a cookie-cutter version of simply ‘managing’ behaviour that can be replicated with ease from school to school. It is about growing and developing genuine human connection and meaningful relationships built on tolerance, mutual respect, unconditional and relentless positive regard for the children we teach. This process will be different for every teacher and child working with each other, in every school up and down the country. Yes, there are strategies and approaches consistent in all schools committed to restorative practice, but at the foundation of it all is practice that is built on relationships before anything and everything else. This is a cultural approach, a statement of values, a community working together – not a shortcut to an efficient model to fix things in the short term. Perhaps some of the criticism restorative practice receives is from teachers reflecting on their own experience of restorative practice, where children descend into chaos, are relentlessly disrespectful and start acting like they own the place. The belief is that the children take advantage of the lack of punishment and consequences which ultimately leads to serious disruptions in learning and puts people’s safety at risk. This is not what restorative practice looks like in my experience. But just as those who advocate for stronger boundaries and more consistent consequences feel frustrated when they are characterised as punishment-driven, joyless, cruel, Dickensian teachers, so to are those who are faced with the above caricature of restorative practice.

R. F. Mackenzie, a key figure and radical voice in promoting a progressive model for Scottish Education said:

“I believe that human nature is generally good, that human beings react generously to conditions of freedom and that therefore teachers doing experimental work in education would be wise not to try and mould children into some shape but to help them grow into freedom”

(Mackenzie, 1965:9)

There is a certain amount freedom that is afforded to child through restorative practice. Freedom to find out who they are and how they want to interact with the world and those around them. I am not suggesting for a second that children do not need guided or nurtured through this process. A high level of support is required to help children grow into this freedom.

I find McCold and Wachtel’s (2003) notion of the Social Discipline Window helpful to explain more fully the intent behind restorative practice and what this ‘freedom’ looks like. The axes of control and support give us 4 quadrants to describe approaches to behaviour.

The idea here is that with a high degree of support, along with a high degree of control/challenge, we can work with children to achieve better behaviour choices and actions.

If we have a high degree of control, with low levels of support, we are in the quadrant where our choices around behaviour, as the adults in the building, are simply given ‘to’ the children, without any flexibility or opportunity for challenge. This quadrant is punitive, and in my opinion, less aligned with my aims for education as laid out previously.

I know that some of the criticism around this approach is often directed at practice that would actually fall in the bottom two quadrants, described as neglectful or permissive. This is not the approach I argue for, and I think it sometimes leads to the misconceptions around what restorative practice involves.

By working predominantly in the ‘To’ quadrant, by forcing children to comply to a system with very low tolerance or flexibility for any behaviour that does not follow the rules, I believe we are not recognising children as humans in their own right, with their own perspective of justice and what is fair. We are simply reproducing the set of societal and cultural norms that have been agreed upon by those in positions of relative power, and have led to a large degree of inequality and a system in need of change. For me, this approach to behaviour does not model the democratic, transformational, or critical potential of education that I hold dear. It does not allow children to find their voice and learn about making morally or ethically based decisions by themselves. If children are simply ‘behaving’ for fear of the punishment, my view (through a wide range of experiences and observations) is that when the fear of the punishment is no longer there, the undesirable behaviour can continue.

I have argued repeatedly in this post for approaches to behaviour to be discussed in a way that pays cognisance to the question of the purpose of education. What you believe children are at school for, and what experiences you believe are educationally desirable, will have a huge impact on what you think is the correct way to approach behaviour in schools. I have acknowledged the tendency in this debate for toxic, unhelpful polarity to take hold, and while I disagree with the notion of perpetuating false dichotomies in educational debate, I do believe it is important to question your beliefs, and align these with writers, theorists and practitioners who argue for a similar thing that you believe in. By not doing this, you risk working in a system and adopting a range of strategies that perpetuate injustice and do not lead to meaningful change for those who need it most. As the adage goes; If you don’t stand for something, you risk falling for anything.

References

Biesta, G. (2007). Why “What Works” Won’t Work: Evidence-Based Practice and the Democratic Deficit in Educational Research. Educational Theory, 57, 1-22.

Mackenzie, R.F. (1965), Escape from the classroom. London: Collins

McCold, P. & Wachtel, T. (2003). In pursuit of paradigm: a theory of restorative justice. Restorative  Practices 

Mills, C. Wright (1959) The Sociological Imagination. New York: Oxford University Press.

An EduBlether with Dr Emma Kell⤴

from @ EduBlether

 

Originally published May 2019

We had a good EduBlether with Dr Emma Kell about her book and teaching in general. The book is a fantastic, warts-and-all look at teaching, told through many stories of real-life practitioners. Despite some horrific stories, the book remains positive and hopeful about our profession.

What is abundantly obvious throughout your book is that you love your job! Can you let us know what it is that you love about teaching and teachers?

To be honest, I’ve been pretty rubbish at anything else I’ve ever tried! Let’s just say bar work wasn’t for someone as clumsy… On a serious note, there is no better feeling in the world than being in mid-flow in a lesson with laughter and the sparks cracking and a genuine feeling of equipping young people for a better future. Teenagers are raw and difficult at times, but I love their in-your-face honesty, their integrity and the fact that most of them wear their true selves with such pride. I pride myself on being known as a ‘nerd’ by my GCSE students, who themselves have caught my love of unusual and funny words.

Few things inspire me with such hope and optimism as meeting new recruits to the profession, with the fire in their bellies and their moral compasses firmly fixed on making a difference. It’s our duty as experienced teachers to guide and mentor them through the tricky early years, nurturing that spark, modelling our own humanity and fallibility and mopping up the inevitable tears when things don’t go quite right. To see new teachers I’ve worked with go on to happy and fulfilling careers, making differences to thousands of children, is such a great feeling.

I love the feeling of pride of being part of a vibrant and special school community – of walking the corridors and admiring the colourful displays and stopping for minor-crisis management and chats about politics, crisp flavours and identity theory.

You spoke with over 3,700 teachers as part of your research. What was the best story you heard?

I think it has to be Helena Marsh’s story. Helena is an inspirational leader who shows that there ABSOLUTELY can be ‘another way’ from the excessive scrutiny and punishing accountability measures that afflict many teachers. She is so often on my shoulder, with her various mantras: consistency of outcome, not of approach; trust teachers unless and until they give you reason not to – then identify and offer the support they need; know your worth. Leaders like Helena help me keep faith in the profession, even during this exceptionally difficult period.

Following on from this, what was the story that shocked you the most?

The one about the women forced to have a miscarriage at work. She’d been in for an extra-curricular event on the Saturday and the Head refused to accept that she was too ill to be in work that week. I must admit that I hesitated over publishing it (though I heard the story first hand and know it is true) – six months later, a teacher who’d been forced to go through the very same thing at a different school got in touch. So not even she was ‘alone’ in her horrific treatment.

What do you see as the biggest challenges for teachers across the UK at the moment? 

There are so many. The realities of the funding crisis biting is going to be the final, toxic straw for many, I fear. But for me, it’s the steady and relentless erosion of trust and professional autonomy. Teachers don’t mind hard work – what they do mind is feeling that their voices aren’t heard; their experiences, values and education not valued.

You offer practical strategies in your book for moving forward with teaching. Can you please give us a brief overview of these, both at a National level and within individual schools? 

In individual schools, it all comes down to school culture or ‘how we do things around here.’ More often than not, it’s the small things. The ‘thanks you’s and the ‘sorry’s and the ‘good mornings’. It’s about leadership which is build upon a foundation of humanity, humility and essential humour.

At national level, I must admit that I’m currently furious. Yes, teachers can pull together and make the difference within their respective school and virtual communities, but this ‘crisis’ is a perfect storm that has been brewing for YEARS, arguably since the advent of the National Curriculum. Ministers have obfuscated and fudged and even now seem unwilling to acknowledge that there’s any problem at all. We need actual practising teachers and leaders to be LISTENED to. I’m usually very ‘Pollyanna’ but I can’t actually see things getting much better at the national level unless something radical changes at government level. Where ‘toxic schools’ and horrific experiences which have lead teachers to ‘implode, explode or walk away’ used to be the exception, they now appear to be more common than not and it makes me feel sick and sad for the profession I love and the children, like my own, who are going through the school system.

Episode 25 – An EduBlether with Haili Hughes (John Catt Educational Series)⤴

from

Our first episode in the John Catt Educational Series.

In Part 1 of our John Catt series we interview Haili Hughes on her new book ‘Preserving Positivity’. This is a wide-ranging discussion all about how best to keep experienced educators in the classroom, as well as looking at the reasons why so many teachers leave the profession. We discuss some of the similarities and differences between Scotland and England to identify the similarities and differences. While dealing with complex and challenging aspects of teaching, the book is pragmatic and optimistic, as was this conversation.

This episode is kindly sponsored by
John Catt Educational www.johncattbookshop.com
@HughesHaili
@JohnCattEd

Episode 24 – An EduBlether with Patrice Bain (Powerful Teaching – Unleash the Science of Learning)⤴

from

In this episode of EduBlether, we welcome Patrice Bain, co-author of the book ‘Powerful Teaching – Unleash the science of learning’. We discuss knowledge, critical thinking, assessment, curriculum and lots more.

It was a fascinating discussion with some great practical ideas for how to begin using these research-informed strategies or ‘power tools’ in your classroom.

http://www.powerfulteaching.org
http://www.patricebain.com

Listen: https://soundcloud.com/edublether/edublether-episode-24-an-edublether-with-patrice-bain

Episode 22 – Nurture and Inclusion – An EduBlether with James Kidd⤴

from

On this Episode of EduBlether we discuss the very large and complex issue of Nurture and Inclusion with James Kidd. James is passionate about Inclusion and Nurture, and his rich and varied experiences across different schools and local authorities make him a perfect person to have a discussion with about the vast themes explored in this episode.

Listen: https://soundcloud.com/edublether/episode-22-nurture-and-inclusion-an-edublether-with-james-kidd

Episode 19 – An EduBlether with Blair Minchin⤴

from

In this episode of EduBlether, we have an EduBlether with Blair Minchin, a passionate and enthusiastic Primary Teacher in Edinburgh who, amongst a range of other things, creates superb videos sharing his practice on Twitter. Please follow him on for some excellent content @Mr_Minchin We also have our usual features where we recommend the work of Jennifer Gonzalez @cultofpedagogy. Check out edublether.wordpress.com for more great content and if you like the show please rate us on iTunes.

To listen: Listen

EduBlether John Catt Educational Series⤴

from

John Catt Educational are a leading publisher of professional development books for educators around the world. Check out their titles at JohnCatt.com


We have teamed up with John Catt Educational to bring you a series of EduBlethers with a select group of authors from John Catt Educational.

We are in the middle of securing dates and will publish them below.

July

An EduBlether with Haili Hughes – Preserving Positivity

Episode 16 – An EduBlether with David Cameron⤴

from

In this wide ranging interview, David Cameron shares his thoughts, experiences and wisdom. An exhilarating interview.

Listen to Episode 16 – An EduBlether with David Cameron.

An EduBlether with Vocabulary Ninja⤴

from @ EduBlether

We were lucky enough to catch the Vocabulary Ninja to have a chat about his new book, his app and vocabulary in general. It is hard not to get passionate about vocabulary after reading this, we are sure you will enjoy it as much as we did.

Can you tell us about how you became the vocabulary ninja? Was there a long and gruelling training regime? Let us know about your journey.

Vocabulary Ninja stated quite simply out of a reflection on how one particular year had went, the results the Y6 pupils achieved and how things could be improved. Within this period of refection, I decided that vocabulary would become a driving force of everything that happened within the classroom and around the school.

I decided to introduce a word to my class everyday, and because I was doing it anyway, I thought that I would share it. So, I created a blog and Twitter account and shared the word of the day every day for people to use. That’s it. I’m really proud to see where Vocabulary Ninja has developed in the 2 and a half years it has been running. One of the best things about it, is the people you get to engage with as a result! It’s amazing! Who knows what will happen in the next 2 and a half years.

As someone who is a true advocate for the power of words, what is your favourite word?

Well that is a tough question. In terms of how I have seen a word used in such a skilled way by a pupil, it would have to be translucent. A pupil used it to describe the wings of a dragon, it was a real lightbulb moment for me personally and the pupil, as to the impact this word had on the writing, and the deeper meanings it portrayed. She pupil built a vivid image of this dragon using words such as emaciated and frail. Perfect!

Is your book only relevant to the teaching of English and Literacy, or will the content be useful and transferable across the curriculum? 

It’s a great question. The book is stacked with ideas to support reading and writing, via vocabulary. However, there are over 50 topic word banks based upon the national curriculum, etymology sections that swirl their way through history, geography and science, and most importantly a range of content to your mentality towards teaching vocabulary.This mentality has the same applications across the curriculum, not only thinking about vocabulary, but in everything that you do as a teacher. You’ll see what I mean!

Your book recommends some fantastic ideas, strategies and games for improving vocabulary in your classroom. Which of these is your favourite and why?

I think simple things are the best. My favourite is the word of the day, the original and the best. The beauty of the word of the day is that it has so many applications. The main aim of the word of the day is to widen and deepen a pupils vocabulary. By discussing the associated SPaG, word classes and definitions with pupils, then giving then the opportunity to apply. Then revisit, use orally through the day and week. Slowing helping pupils seethe word in action. It’s a mindset – it’s free. Words are there all around us, as teachers we must make them a priority in our classrooms. If someone was to implement one idea from the book, it would be this.Further to this. The free Vocab Lab App has been a revelation! Nearly 100K downloads and the feedback that I receive is wonderful! If you haven’t downloaded it for your personal or school iPads yet, then you are missing out!

What do you see as the main barriers to children developing a wide ranging vocabulary? How do we, as educators, best work against this? 

Honestly, and I touch on this in the book. You, teachers. And a child’s home life too, but yes teachers can be a big barrier. So, ok, this is a barrier, but let’s not look at it as a negative, but rather an opportunity for change. By making vocabulary a priority of our own and thinking about it as a valuable ally, rather than the enemy, then we can begin to win the war of words! 

You have also developed a Vocabulary Ninja app. Can you tell us a little about how this came about and what the app does? 

I love the apps that I have created so far. The Vocab Lab is amazing really and is due for an expansion upgrade very soon! The Vocab Lab has 100 very common words that pupils often use within their writing, mostly because the have no alternative. As a year 6 teacher, the App for me, was a way to impact on more children at once and to promote independence. The App gives 6 alternative for each word – children (and adults) love using it.Plus – it’s free! I also have a Word of the Day App too, again totally free. This has both Words of the Day, appear in the App every day! Super handy! The App’s are designed to make teachers lives a little easier, reduce workload and improve outcomes for pupils and schools.

Finally, there are so many competing agendas in a school. Why do you think vocabulary is so important and what can it do for our learners? 

I honestly don’t think there is enough time in the school day for vocabulary to become a competing agenda item,  and rightly so. But it must form part of teachers daily routine, part of your mentality and your schools ethos towards learning.Words impact and unlock the curriculum. Quite simply, if pupils understand more words, then they will be able to access more of the learning opportunities put before them in science, english, maths, PE, in conversations and so on.

There won’t be a test, it isn’t measurable, but its impact will be profound.

Website – www.vocabularyninja.co.uk

Blog – vocabularyninja.wordpress.com

Twitter – @VocabularyNinja

 

An EduBlether with Ian Eagleton from The Reading Realm⤴

from @ EduBlether

Ian Eagleton has taught for several years and is an English Co-ordinator. He has a passion and enthusiasm for motivating children to read and write. He is also the man behind the fantastic Reading Realm website full of great interviews, reviews and resources.
His new app ‘The Reading Realm’ has just been released and it is fantastic.

Hello Ian, can you tell us about your passion for developing children’s enthusiasm for literacy? Where does this come from? Why did you decide to focus on this aspect of learning?

 Reading and writing has always been an important part of my life. I have very fond memories of my mum reading to me, every night. I remember Alfie and Annie-Rose and Garth Pig and the Ice-Cream Lady. I remember joining in with the story. I remember my mum drawing pictures for me every night of children’s book characters and leaving them out for me to colour in – I still have the scrap book we filled up together.

However, it wasn’t until Year 6 that I actually began to enjoy reading for myself. Reading up until that point involved practising sight words, which were kept in my Grandad’s old tobacco tin. Reading also meant ploughing my way through a very dreary reading scheme. In short, I really despised independent reading time!

Luckily, in Year 6 I had a wonderful teacher called Mrs Perry. She pointed me in the direction of her well-stocked class library and I found the Supergran books. I was off! I suddenly began to read voraciously, every night, until the early hours of the morning. I whizzed through Supergran and all the Roald Dahl books and then began exploring other books and series. There’s something comforting and familiar about reading a series of books when you first begin your reading journey, especially as a nervous child who thought I wasn’t very good at anything!

Mrs Perry also encouraged lots of creative writing – she wold often give us a starter and then just leave us to write away. Or she might give us some characters and challenge us to weave them into an exciting story. I loved listening to her read very day, on the carpet. I remember vividly giggling away to Rebecca’s World by Terry Nation. I also fondly remember being sat at the Listening Station, headphones on, escaping into the world of The Enchanted Horse. There was also lots of drama, plays, acting and art in her class, which I loved and freedom to create – one day, Mrs Perry allowed me to write a story for the younger children in the school on the new school computer. She applauded my use of repetition and the next day I waited with baited breath as the computer painfully, slowly, gradually coughed my story out, over the course of an entire day. What a feeling!

In my own classroom, I have always dreamed of re-capturing this magic. The magic of creativity and escaping through books into far away worlds, full of adventure, excitement and new friends.

What advice would you give those working with children to encourage a love of reading and writing? How do you develop this with individuals as well as at a whole school level?

Read every day. That’s my main one. Sometimes I’ve heard the excuse, ‘But we don’t have time…’ Reading to your class is arguably the most important, effective means of raising literacy standards and inspiring a life-long love of reading in our children. It creates an amazing community feel – for a brief moment you are swept away together as a class on a journey and everyone is exposed to challenging, exciting vocabulary, complex storylines, jokes and fun, dilemmas and wonder. It has always been my favourite thing to do during the day.

I have also tried to include a wide-range of books when I’ve read aloud to my classes – fiction, poetry, non-fiction, short stories, animations of stories, audio books and so on. The app very much aims to replicate this. I’ve tried to include a range of lots of different genres, from lots of authors and publishers around the world.

I often feel that if we can invite children on this reading journey with us and share a special part of ourselves through the books we choose, that they will see the importance and value of reading for themselves.

The Reading Realm app looks fantastic. Congratulations on creating an app! Can you tell us all about it please? Who is it for? What does it do? Why should we download it? 

Thank you! The Reading Realm app is for children aged 5 to 13. There are extracts and passages from classic and contemporary children’s fiction, non-fiction and poetry. With each passage there is a discussion guide and a range of spelling, grammar and word games. I’ve tried to keep the questions in each discussion guide as open-ended as possible – this is not about answering questions for a test or exam preparation! The discussion guides are there to encourage children to explore their opinions and ideas about a text. The games include lots of interactive fun and all the spelling and grammar is linked to the text – this was very important to me.

There are a number of high-profile authors, poets and publishers involved in the project, who have kindly allowed me to use passages from their books. These include Abi Elphinstone, Sinead O’Hart, Eloise Williams, Kathi Appelt, Neal Zetter, Karl Nova, Guy Bass, Holly Webb, Saviour Pirotta, Jackie Marchant, Flying Eye Books, Maverick, Stripes and Lantana.

The tagline is ‘Journey into a world where stories come to life…’ which may give you a flavour of what the app is trying to achieve.

I think the app will provide teachers, parents and children with lots of engaging stories and expose children to new authors. The app also has a variety of weekly Reading Challenges and suggestions, the key aim being to encourage young people to visit their local library and spend some time poring over its bookshelves.

I hope The Reading Realm offers children something special and, with the click of a button, gives them the opportunity to escape from the comfort of their chair, just for a little while, into a magical word where words shimmer, stories weave their magic, characters come to life and exciting, strange and new adventures wait for them.

I wonder if you could also tell us about the process of designing an app. Where do you even start with something like that?

It’s very long and very complicated and very tiring! I think the last time I slept properly was last October!

The app began when I started teaching whole class reading lessons to my children about four or so years ago. I was struggling to find enough books for the children to all access. I was struggling to find books that would engage everyone in the class and I was getting fed up of all the reading worksheets on offer! Luckily around the same time, I became involved in, and led on, a whole school project to improve Reading and Writing across the school. This eventually led to me completing my NPQSL, which focused on raising whole school standards in English.

I started by reading lots of books about reading, writing and vocabulary: Aiden Chambers, Michael Rosen, Doug Lemov, Donalyn Miller, Daniel Willingham, Margaret Meek, Jane Oakhill, Maryanne Wolf, Mem Fox, Teresa Cremin, Timothy Rasinski, Isabel Beck, Steven Pinker and many other great writers have helped shaped my ideas and views.

I also signed up to the Research-Rich Pedagogies website and began exploring what else was going on in schools and searching for examples of good practice. I found Jon Biddle’s work on Reading Rivers really useful and began reflecting upon my own identity as a reader and exploring where the gaps where in my knowledge – I wanted the app to include as wide a range of stories and poems as possible.

I then set up for a few years a Parent and Child Reading Group, after-school, for children in my class and trialled a lot of the resources, games and ideas I was making for the app, as well as exploring how the resources might work in small groups and in whole class situations.

When I was sure that the resources were of a high-standard, I contacted a brilliant app developer called Doug and began talking to him about my ideas. There were lots of scribbled drawings sent over and we talked about what would work and what wouldn’t be possible – at this stage I had quite a few ridiculous, out-landish ideas!

I then spent an awful lot of time contacting authors and publishers and talking to them about the app and what I was trying to achieve. To my amazement, they were all really impressed and a huge number of them agreed to work with me. From there, it was sorting out copyright and permission agreements, which took around four months! I discovered that the world of children’s publishing is an incredibly friendly, supportive place and that lots of authors believed in what I was trying to achieve.

The initial suggestion that the app would take four weeks, didn’t quite go to plan! There was so much to do and so many more authors and publishers had gone on board that I ever dreamed of, that the app ended up taking about six months to create. During all this time, the app developer (Doug) and I were in weekly, sometimes daily, contact – he has been phenomenal! Patient, hard-working and full of creativity.

My husband, who creates databases and software and is an IT consultant, also helped hugely. We were often up until midnight testing ideas, choosing colours, designing games and arguing! My Dad even came over one weekend to help copy and paste thousands of lines of code into spreadsheets.

The app then went out to trial and lots of teachers, children and educators got the chance to feedback and give their views. Things were amended and changed and eventually the app has been released. It can be downloaded via the Apple Store and sells for a one-off payment of £2.99. There are plans to release a second version of the app next year, which focuses on non-fiction, and also plans to write even more original material for the app, but I think we all need to sleep first!

It’s certainly been a challenging, exhausting journey but I think we have produced something that is very special and I’m incredibly proud of the app.

Can you finish up by giving us your top recommendations for the next books we should read? What books are coming out that are getting you excited? 

There are so many! This really is the ‘golden age’ of children’s fiction. I’ve particularly enjoyed Asha and the Spirit Bird by Jasbinder Bilan, The Fox and the White Gazelle by Victoria Williamson, The Wolf Wilder by Katherine Rundell, Julian is a Mermaid by Jessica Love, Emmett and Caleb by Karen Hottois and Delphine Renon, Scavengers by Darren Simpson, The House with Chicken Legs by Sophie Anderson, The Star-Spun Web by Sinead O’Hart, The Peculiar Peggs of Riddling Woods by Samuel J.Halpin,  and Kate Wakeling’s beautiful collection of poetry Moon Juice.

Before recommending some new books that are coming out, I think I’d also like to recommend some old favourites! Supergran by Forrest Wilson, The Enchanted Horse by Magdalen Nabb and Rebecca’s World by Terry Nation are all fantastic and should not be over-looked!

I think I’m most looking forward to Abi Elphinstone’s Rumblestar (I was sent a proof-copy and it’s quite something! Funny, exciting, thrilling and moving and I’d say her best yet!), The Scarecrow by The Fan Brothers and Beth Ferry, Tad by Benji Davies (my favourite children’s author/illustrator) and High-Rise Mystery by Sharna Jackson (I love what Knights Of are doing!).

There are so many exciting children’s books coming out and already out! I love hearing people’s recommendations and opinions on them all. Talking about books is possibly my favourite thing to do!

Visit The Reading Real website for some great interviews, reviews resources and more.

Follow Ian on Twitter – @reading_realm

Download the app here