Doors Opening Across the UK
Links and Trails – The Adventure of Literature
Since the excitement of winning an Education Resources Award in the ‘educational book’ category earlier this year, I have continued a pioneering trail with ‘Opening Doors’ across the UK in schools, conferences and cluster meetings!
A recent Michael Rosen tweet seemed to sum up the kinds of approaches we are supporting schools with:
“The best way to learn how to write well is to investigate how good writers write …”
I want to tell you about some very exciting links and trails which are arising from schools delving deeper into the potential of quality texts – getting inspired by great writers and teaching with such rigour and passion that pupils’ own writing starts to reach new heights. Schools who have worked for longer with the Opening Doors team have tended to find that more links and ideas evolve as the books’ strategies are more frequently used, with one creative possibility leading to another.
There are no better messages or phone calls than the ones telling me that schools have taken suggestions and possibilities further, reaching the stage where they can run their own area CPD or ask us to support them towards becoming an ‘Opening Doors School’ with a quality text curriculum as a ‘norm’ – raising standards of reading and writing for all. That definition of ‘quality’ can of course mean picture books, children’s fiction, poetry or literature from the present and the past. The ‘Opening Doors’ books have a focus on the use of famous literature because that’s where some primary schools could better exploit potential for knowledge building and mastery learning: a more in-depth vision for English can be the result. The scope for what can be learnt about language, style and form is huge.
Let’s consider the use of more literature as a knowledge trail – an exciting set of links which lead teacher and pupil to more possibilities. Here are a few lines I started with from James Reeves’ ‘A Garden at Night’:
Over the bed where the poppy sleeps
The furtive fragrance of lavender creeps.
Here lived an old lady in days long gone,
And the ghost of that lady lingers on.
For easier access, exploring just a sliver of text can stimulate so many questions:
How can a poppy ‘sleep’?
What is a ‘furtive’ fragrance?
Is this a beautiful garden or a sinister one?
Even with four lines, the trail extends, winds and fascinates. Pupils can invent their own questions but teachers should be sure to have specific teaching points designed to deepen learning. Pupils can learn about the way Reeves uses alliteration, rhyming couplets and some unusual and mysterious imagery to set up the night scene. Why not use an open, ambitious learning objective to challenge pupils from the start?
How well can you write an original night scene in a garden?
Then, below this, tag the aspects of poetry and spelling, punctuation and grammar (SPG) you wish to teach en route. The writing becomes the main target, the flow of ideas is maintained and pupils’ SPG is improved in context.
Following brief taster drafts with advice and feedback plus exposure to the full poem, I found the pupils’ own crafting of ‘A Garden at Night’ showed just how much had been learnt from Reeves. Young poets were emerging!
A Garden at Night
Here lived an old, old Spirit,
From days where the world had magic,
An old woman whose spirit lives on,
To protect the garden from evil and wrong.
Moonlight dances across silvery petals,
While the soft smell of steam drifts from the kettle;
The house tells of warmth and of kindness in the day,
But dark corners of the garden speak of death and decay,
Yet the good spirit protects it for evermore,
And evil and darkness can’t live here, for …
Warmth in the petals and the strength of the sun
Outnumber the darkness two to one.
Then the sun rises,
The spirit finds repose,
And the day begins with the sweet scent of the rose.
By Rebecca Worley, Year 5
I hope you enjoyed that!
The trail is endless. It’s our trail as well as theirs, and it will lead to much more reading which links with core classroom texts. ‘The Secret Garden’ by Frances Hodgson Burnett is an obvious trail to find but try also ‘The Door in the Wall’ by H.G. Wells. Teachers using this text have also branched off into image-making on types of plants or flowers: thorns, roses, weeds, weeping willow. Then there are neglected gardens or cultivated gardens, the appeal to the senses of standing in a garden at night and stopping, listening, hearing.
What about the author trail? What other poems do you know by James Reeves? He is an exceptionally talented poet who wrote brilliantly crafted poems for children from around 1952 to 1975. Look for ‘Prefabulous Animiles’, ‘The Snail’ or ‘The Wandering Moon’. I have included ideas on ‘Hippocrump’ and ‘Slowly’ in Opening Doors to Quality Writing: Ideas for writing inspired by great writers for ages 6 to 9. The work we do for specific, targeted teaching in the precious minutes we have with our pupils can be systematically complemented with whole text reading if we lay down these trails for deeper learning.
I have been working with schools on constructing reading journeys year by year, including poetry trails, which start to include an expectation of link-reading for all pupils. Ask yourself: ‘Which books do I now love which I would never have encountered without a teacher’s recommendation?
‘Reading for Pleasure’ very much encompasses ‘Reading for Challenge’
Take a look at the amazing Churchfields Junior Reading Express underground map concept, which is creating an expectation of quality text trails for all learners in a very creative and inclusive way. Click this link:
This is a school with whom I’ve worked for years, and in which they have developed approaches and ideas in an incremental and evaluative way: an approach which their school community is now reaping the benefits from.
If we can keep opening doors with reading trails and the whole in-depth adventure of literature, we can help our pupils excel and develop more connections in our pupils’ minds with which to comprehend and enjoy reading. Aidan Chambers in ‘Tell Me’ calls them ‘matches’ in the mind.
When faced with a new text, the brain searches through its archive to find anything that ‘matches’ with something in the new text. If no match can be found, we say the text is too difficult for us. The more matches the brain finds, the easier it becomes to read the new text.
Chambers, Aidan (2011). Tell Me: Children, Reading and Talk with The Reading Environment. Stroud: The Thimble Press.
Cox, Bob (2016). Opening Doors to Quality Writing: Ideas for writing inspired by great writers for ages 6 to 9. Carmarthen: Crown House Publishing.
Cox, Bob (2016). Opening Doors to Quality Writing: Ideas for writing inspired by great writers for ages 10 to 13. Carmarthen: Crown House Publishing.
(Contains the full unit on ‘A Garden at Night’.)
Reeves, James (2009). ‘A Garden at Night’ in Complete Poems for Children. London: Faber and Faber.
Links to the ‘Opening Doors’ series:
My website and Twitter pages:
The books themselves:
Testimonials to the impact of the books:
Opening Doors to Famous Poetry and Prose – link http://bit.ly/2gMY7YK
Opening Doors to Quality Writing (ages 6–9) – link http://bit.ly/2holG7n
Opening Doors to Quality Writing (ages 10–13) – link http://bit.ly/2g2Zhvf