Wellesley College has a thriving reading culture and is reaping the benefits, which include winning the Kids’ Lit Quiz 2016 world final in Auckland.
Wellesley College is a full primary school for boys in Lower Hutt. In August 2016 it represented New Zealand in the world finals of the Kids’ Lit Quiz and won after a thrilling competition against teams from Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, Singapore, South Africa, UK and the US.
Jane Kent, the school’s librarian, has coached students for the Kids’ Lit Quiz since 2004. Each team of 4 have consistently placed in the top 10 in regional finals in most years as well as gaining 2nd place in the national finals in 2009. This year, their A Team came 1st and their B Team came 3rd.
Tom, Archie, William and Harry, the A-Team boys, see the school library as pivotal to their success. In their own words, this is what the boys say about their library and reading:
The library and our librarian influence everyone in the school
Ms Kent’s reading and reading choices influence everyone a lot. Ms Kent will talk about new books and you can ask for them after the book talk, or at any time you can say ‘I like this book, do you know any books I’d like from here?’ There are so many books in the library and the librarian knows so much about them so she helps you to access stuff.
Everyone has books on the go
Every class has silent reading times and everyone gets out a book and reads. Even if you don’t like reading that much there are so many books that people want to read, like a fiction series on sport. It’s not fine literature, but it’s good writing and it appeals because you’re reading about things that you like. Classrooms also have a small bookcase with lots of books. So, if you don’t have a book you can come to the school library, which is only a 30-second walk away, or you can get a book from your classroom.
The school library is a place where you want to be
The school library is a nice place, and there are many places where you can get away from people and just read. If you want to come in and do work, there’s a bank of computers.
You can read anywhere
You can throw a ball around and get tired but you can read for hours and not get tired, and you don’t get bored. We play cricket, football and rugby which are dependent on the weather, but you can read anywhere and at any time of day.
Reading helps you to understand
Reading helps you to understand words in context and when you are writing, your brain flicks back to when you read a sentence. Reading makes your writing go from bad to good or from good to great.
Read, read, read
'Read, read, read and remember' is our advice for other teams entering the Kids’ Lit Quiz. You don’t have to read really fast. If you slow down, you’ll enjoy it a lot more. Not only does cram reading or skim reading not work, but you will miss important bits. Also, if you don’t like what you’re reading, don’t try and read it because it’s not satisfying. If you enjoy it, you will remember it.
Jane Kent, Librarian, and Steve Girvan, Deputy Principal, credit the boys’ success at the Kids’ Lit Quiz to their innate love of literature and the school’s reading culture.
Reading is celebrated
Jane: In the first round of the Kids’ Lit Quiz, we just do lots of different questions and I tell the boys about reading classics and that sort of thing. However, a lot of it is not what I do, it’s the culture in the school where reading is celebrated and it’s part of what we do, it’s what we are.
A well-resourced library
Steve: It’s the whole environment. The library is such an attractive and inviting environment that you just want to come into it. Having a full-time librarian is also a wonderful resource.
Teachers passionate about reading
Jane: Our teachers are passionate about reading. They realise the importance of reading and so do our parents.
Steve: It’s been teacher-led. The teachers are often talking about what they’re reading, both formally and informally. For example, at Professional Learning, a teacher will talk about what they’ve read in the holidays at a formal gathering. There’s also teacher reading. We make sure that the class sets the teachers are sharing are good literature and the teachers are passionate about that, as in a teacher might be standing in front of a class and is reading or every student has a book and is following. Every day, teachers are reading to the students. You can go into classrooms and the students have their reading logs where they put up the books they’ve read. In some classes, it’s almost a competition as to who can read the most books.
Jane: It’s not just a matter of finding the shortest books either. They are actually putting up what they’re reading and enjoying. They have read it, you know they have.
Steve: The teachers know whether the students have read the book or not too because they’ve read the book as well and that’s really important. It shows the students that the teachers are interested in good literature.
Jane: There are subject (fiction and non-fiction mixed) book lists on the school intranet and 2 of our Year 8 teachers who are literature gurus have their own book lists too, so they’re all readily available and the boys will come in with the book lists and ask for this and that.
Peer recommendation and book sells
Jane: There’s a lot of peer recommendation which works really well. If students see other boys reading some books, then they will come and ask for them or something in that series. We do quite a lot of talking with the boys, actually selling the books.
Steve: Book selling is a big part of the boys’ programme. In most, if not all classes, the boys get up and do a book sell. They sell a book and then they get questioned on it.
Jane: Books are issued for 2 weeks and while we have a limit on the number of books they can borrow at any one time, students know they can return their books the next day and borrow more if they wish. They do their own issuing and returning at any time. The library is open all day from around 7am to 3.30pm. There are lots of boys in here during morning break. The library is very well utilised.
Community-wide expectations and attitudes
Jane: There’s not just a reading culture in the school but in the whole community. You know there’s interest amongst the parents, the teachers, the library staff. It’s all of the groups working together and saying, ‘we encourage reading, we support reading.’
Steve: You’ve just got to keep promoting and explaining the importance of reading. The message going home to parents is ‘Kids who read, succeed.’ There is an expectation that there will be at least 15-20 minutes of reading at home each night, either being read to or reading independently.
Jane: With the Kids’ Lit Quiz, it’s a step up from the first round in the regional competition where they get to confer with each other and write their answers down. In the second round of the national competition, they either give it a go or hang back and not do anything. We say it’s better to put your hand up and get the answer wrong rather than sit there and not try. It’s part of the school culture to instil confidence in them so they’re prepared to take risks and back themselves.
Reading as a positive, not a problem
Steve: If a child says they can’t read, we just say ‘you can’t read yet, but you will get there!’
Jane: We’re all enthusiastic about reading and we don’t let students look at reading as a problem. It’s a challenge, not a problem. It’s a challenge for us to find the right book to hook them in in the first place. There’s nothing better than when you give a child a book and you know they’re not a reader, when they come back and say ‘Have you got any more like that?’ Then you know, this is it — they’re just off after that!