Take it as read

From text­books to Christ­mas clas­sics, the books teach­ers will be tak­ing to the pool

TES (Times Education Supplement) - - EDITORIAL - Adi bloom

Teach­ers’ sum­mer hol­i­day book choices re­vealed in Tes poll

FOR SOME teach­ers, this sum­mer’s pool­side read­ing in­cludes such page-turn­ers as The A Level Mind­set and the AQA A-level bi­ol­ogy text­book. For oth­ers, noth­ing says “height of sum­mer” quite like Charles Dick­ens’ clas­sic, A Christ­mas Carol.

And then there are those who take a more con­ven­tional path, load­ing their suit­cases with block­busters by James Pat­ter­son, Lee Child and Jodi Pi­coult.

A snap poll by Tes reveals that some teach­ers clearly have an idio­syn­cratic def­i­ni­tion of pool­side read­ing. More than half – 55 per cent – of the those who re­sponded will be read­ing books about ed­u­ca­tion dur­ing the sum­mer hol­i­day. And even more – 60 per cent – will be read­ing books re­lated to their sub­ject.

“Wow,” says Gemma Moss, di­rec­tor of the In­ter­na­tional Lit­er­acy Cen­tre at the UCL In­sti­tute of Ed­u­ca­tion. “I’m deeply im­pressed. They’re not tak­ing much time off.

“I think it’s prob­a­bly to do with the lack of space and time to re­flect dur­ing the school year, and the need to think se­ri­ously about the is­sues that are fac­ing them. It’s about not just churn­ing out exam grades – they need to be able to think re­flec­tively as well.”

‘Slut­tish’ habits

Moss be­lieves that the choice of ed­u­ca­tion the­ory as hol­i­day read­ing may also re­flect the in­creas­ing trend for on-the-job teacher train­ing. “You have more staff now who aren’t well pre­pared – who haven’t come up through the univer­sity route,” she says. “And there­fore they are do­ing the read­ing in their own time.”

Even so, many teach­ers are still plan­ning to un­wind with a novel. The most pop­u­lar genre by far – ac­count­ing for a quar­ter of the vote – is thriller-mys­tery, with sev­eral teach­ers nam­ing Lee Child and James Pat­ter­son as their sun-lounger au­thors of choice.

“I find it re­ally en­cour­ag­ing that peo­ple are read­ing for re­lax­ation and recre­ation,” says Mick Con­nell, of the Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion for the Teach­ing of English. “It re­flects what we ac­tu­ally do as en­thu­si­as­tic read­ers – we’re slut­tish, aren’t we? We en­gage with any­thing in front of us.

“We don’t al­ways have to be read­ing stuff that tests us, or stretches us, or im­proves us. There are times when we just want to be wrapped up in a story.”

The sec­ond most pop­u­lar genre, named by nearly one in five teach­ers, is lit­er­ary fic­tion. Awards have clearly had an in­flu­ence on choices here: Naomi Al­der­man’s Bai­leys prize-win­ning novel, The Power, is on a large num­ber of teach­ers’ hol­i­day read­ing lists, as is The Es­sex Ser­pent by Sarah Perry, named book of the year by book­seller Water­stones. And Mar­garet At­wood’s dystopian fan­tasy, The Hand­maid’s Tale, is ac­com­pa­ny­ing sev­eral teach­ers on hol­i­day, pre­sum­ably be­cause of its re­cent adap­ta­tion as a TV se­ries, which has been ap­pear­ing on Chan­nel 4.

“That’s the wa­ter­cooler stuff,” says Moss. “That’s what the well-read young per­son is

read­ing. It just shows they’re keep­ing their hori­zons open, cul­tur­ally. They want to keep up with what’s worth think­ing about.”

Some lit­er­ary choices, how­ever, are more un­ex­pected: sev­eral of the 267 teach­ers who re­sponded to the sur­vey list A Christ­mas Carol as their beach­front novel of choice. This pre­sum­ably has more to do with its pres­ence on the GCSE cur­ricu­lum than a de­sire to off­set the drea­rily damp Bri­tish sum­mer by read­ing a book set in win­ter.

“That’s real swot stuff,” says Moss. “I refuse to be­lieve they’re read­ing A Christ­mas Carol for plea­sure. It’s not Dick­ens at his best.”

Many teach­ers plan to un­wind in a more tra­di­tional hol­i­day man­ner: with a doorstep bi­og­ra­phy. Twenty-two per cent of re­spon­dents said they would take a bi­og­ra­phy or au­to­bi­og­ra­phy on hol­i­day, in­clud­ing co­me­dian Eddie Iz­zard’s Be­lieve Me and Lion by for­mer lost or­phan Sa­roo Bri­er­ley.

And 18.5 per cent are opt­ing for his­tor­i­cal non-fic­tion, with ti­tles in­clud­ing This is Lon­don by Ben Ju­dah and A His­tory of the World by An­drew Marr.

His­tor­i­cal fic­tion (16 per cent) and ro­mance (12 per cent) are also pop­u­lar among those sur­veyed, with sci-fi lag­ging be­hind (8 per cent). Even fewer are in­ter­ested in short sto­ries (4 per cent), po­etry (3 per cent) and hor­ror fic­tion (3 per cent).

Re­source­ful read­ing

The 9 per cent who have said that they are read­ing other types of fic­tion in­clude those who are keep­ing up with the lat­est chil­dren’s and young-adult nov­els.

“The teach­ers I’ve worked with like to be able to rec­om­mend books to chil­dren,” says James Bowen, di­rec­tor of lead­er­ship-train­ing or­gan­i­sa­tion NAHT Edge. “To say, ‘I’ve read it and I think you’ll like it’.

“You’re al­ways on the look­out for things you can use in the class­room: ‘I could use this in a writ­ing ses­sion’ or ‘I could do a read­ing ses­sion based on this book’. Plus there’s some fan­tas­tic chil­dren’s lit­er­a­ture out there that speaks as well to adults as it does to chil­dren.”

Mean­while, any class­room fans of Fifty Shades of Grey are keep­ing their predilec­tions well hid­den: only 0.6 per cent of re­spon­dents ad­mit to tak­ing erot­ica with them on hol­i­day.

But Con­nell in­sists that any read­ing at all – no mat­ter how du­bi­ous its lit­er­ary mer­its may be – sets a good ex­am­ple for pupils. “Kids can leave a les­son think­ing, ‘Ooh, Miss is mad about books. She’s al­ways on about them,’” he says.

“Teach­ers can sur­rep­ti­tiously slip across the idea that it’s quite nor­mal for peo­ple to read for plea­sure.”

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