Our first guest in 2017 was English teacher and author of ‘Reading for Pleasure‘, Kenny Pieper. Here’s how his author biography describes him:
“Kenny Pieper has been teaching English for seventeen years and still loves every minute of it. He stands shakily on the shoulders of giants in the shape of his amazingly inspiring colleagues. Deep down, he still can’t believe his luck that he gets to do this.”
Kenny is also an associate tutor at the University of Strathclyde and a Partick Thistle football fan. Originaly he had no plans to start work as a teacher, initially travelling to Romania and doing admin for a charity. He was ‘tricked’ into entering a classroom with 30 15-year-olds in it who he had been told were university students who wanted to talk to him. In fact, despite the shock, Kenny left the room knowing that teaching was the career for him. He started out teaching for two years on a Greek island before moving back to Glasgow and taking up a job in a large secondary school where he still is today.
Are there still too many children in Scotland who leave school unable to read?
The latest PISA results showed that the situation in Scotland has deteriorated in reading standards. This is in the context of the implementation of the ‘Curriculum for Excellence’ and a ‘broad general education’ in the first years of secondary school. Kenny is keen on the child-centred nature of the changes which he realises is a controversial aspect but he is concerned that people don’t seem to know what to do about the dip in reading standards. Primary schools, he thinks, are doing some amazing things but may have moved away slightly from a former emphasis on literacy skills. Kenny doesn’t see many children coming to secondary school unable to read and write but he does see some weaknesses. First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has introduced a reading programme in lower primary school which Kenny hopes will mean a gradual improvement in literacy.
Can you teach (force) children to enjoy reading?
Kenny is sure that it is not possible to teach or force anyone to enjoy reading.
We need to develop habits…and teach young people strategies so they don’t give in and tell you it’s boring.
As a teacher, Kenny tries to get to know the kids and find out what they are interested in and do everything he can to find a book which will interest them. He is happy that children are reading anything to begin with but then he tries to ‘slide a book across to them’ to help them to develop. A lot of children don’t have what Kenny describes as ‘reading histories’ and we need to take the time to help them build this up. The joy and happiness he sees when children finish a book helps them to move on and finish more and more, with the support of a teacher to maintain and increase the challenge.
Kenny feels we often mythologise about our own reading histories which isn’t helpful – we sometimes don’t acknowledge that we also read ‘nonsense’ when we were younger. However, if we keep the reading habit going and read better books, big things begin to happen.
How important is the child’s background?
Kenny believes that one of the greatest challenges is where children come from homes which don’t have books.
Teachers can be the one significant adult in a child’s life who reads.
He ensures he reads in front of children and talks about books. he makes sure children in his class have the best quality books, even if he has to buy them himself. It’s crucial children from backgrounds without books know what it’s like to be a reader.
Does format matter – are electronic books just as good as paper?
Kenny prefers real books. In his research, he has found that we take in less information from a digital book than a paper book. We focus more on the reading as we turn pages and we see the left hand side of the book getting bigger as the right hand side gets smaller. He thinks real books are ‘a wonderful aesthetic experience’.
How can other teachers help?
Kenny tries to encourage his colleagues to talk to their classes about subject-specialist reading books. The younger children in Kenny’s school created an e-book last year which contained short interviews with 30 adults from all parts of the school and included a photograph of them reading. This helped to get the message across that reading is important to everyone not just the English department. There are many ways to promote reading in a school, with prominently-displayed photos of site managers and admin staff reading, for example. All of Kenny’s classes start with 10 minutes of reading time.
No-one is allowed to speak – everyone learns what a reading atmosphere is and ‘what readers do’.
How can parents help?
Kenny asks parents, “What can you do in 10 minutes?” He means that we should identify where there are 10 minutes – half time at the football, while you wait for your dinner, etc. 10 minutes gives you a start which may well grow. 10 minutes in the classroom and 10 minutes at home at night is 20 minutes a day and that’s a good start to the reading habit which Kenny thinks is crucial. It’s all about encouragement not enforcement.
I say to parents – the first thing you should do is read in front of them.
It might be uncomfortable but reading the same book as your child heelps to support them to build up a ‘reading history’.
Pedagoo – what is it?
Pedagoo began as a way of connecting with others in Scotland who wanted to talk aobut what was happening in education. It was a blog, an online community, a space to talk for Scottish teachers. It grew into events – virtual and real-world – including #PedagooFriday on Twitter and the whole focus is on positivity.
What are the benefits of staying at the same school for a long time like Kenny has?
Kenny believes you build up a reputation and connections with colleagues, with parents and in the community. As he teaches in the community where he grew up, it also gives him the opportunity to help some of the more reluctant kids – those who don’t believe education is for them and don’t believe they can get a good job. He points out to them that he lived in the street next to them and he did it.
Use #PedagooFriday on Twitter
Kenny’s blog: http://justtryingtobebetter.wordpress.com
Kenny’s book, ‘Reading for Pleasure’: http://www.crownhouse.co.uk/publications/reading-for-pleasure
Introducing The Pivotals!