Autumn 2008 Volunteer Meetings

On Wednesday (22/10/08) we had the Sheffield volunteers meeting (that's us in the photo above, in the massive main hall at the Bannerdale Centre) and today (24/10/08) I was in Rotherham.

I enjoyed meeting the volunteers and hearing some real life stories of what it is like to be in a reading partnership. As you would expect they were all very positive about the reading sessions with pupils , but it's clear the relationship with staff at the relevant school can have a big impact. Some work for me then, to strengthen these relationships and reinforce the contribution the Reading Matters volunteers make.

Otherwise, we had a bit of chat, drunk some coffee, ate some biscuits and shared some tips for resources to use in the sessions.

I particularly enjoyed the Rotherham meeting, we held it in the Spectrum, Voluntary Action Rotherham's new building (cheap meeting rooms available!) This is were I worked before starting with Reading Matters, so it was nice to be back and see some familiar faces.


Celebration event for Reading Leaders at Sheffield Town Hall with Leader of the Council Paul Scriven

A great event took place yesterday (21/10/08), I was in a posh room in the Town Hall with 80 or so Reading Leaders and their teachers, Paul Scriven the Leader of Sheffield Council and a bunch of other council staff. All the Reading Leaders (generally pupils in years 10 or 11) who have been partnering younger pupils in reading sessions were presented with a certificate by Paul Scriven. As I said in my very short little speech, it was excellent to see so many young people taking on some responsibility and giving up their time and energy to support other children.

It was obviously something that touched a nerve with Paul Scriven, who had taken time out of what must be a busy schedule to come and talk to the Reading Leaders, and as he said, the next time some one moans about all youngsters being knife wielding hoodies, we will have a perfect counter argument.

There were nearly 100 Reading Leaders in attendance from Abbeydale Grange, Firth Park Community Arts College, King Ecgbert School, Meadowhead School and Stocksbridge High School.


Booktrust Teenage Prize 2008

The shortlist for the Booktrust Teenage Prize 2008 has been out for some time, but is definitely worth a look. All the books look intriguing, lots about troubled youth, two of the books have the word knife in the title, one, The Knife of Never Letting Go, won the Guardian Children's Fiction Prize this year.


It isn't going to teach anyone to read, but this pop-up alphabet book by Marion Bataille looks great and can only help to inspire an interest in letters and how they are formed

Buy at Abc3d at amazon.co.uk.


First Visit to Seven Hills School

I visited Seven Hills School on Wednesday (15/10/08) for the first time, it was a really good experience. Seven Hills (formerly East Hill Secondary and Oaks Park Schools) has pupils with learning difficulties, and the atmosphere in the school is very different to other secondaries I have visited recently. Rather than be very stand-offish the pupils are incredibly friendly and sociable, and they clearly have a very strong relationship with their teachers and other staff.

I am going to be covering one of Reading Matters' Volunteers Mentors who cannot make a few sessions later in the year. I have to say, I am really looking forward to it.


Superb videos about reading from the K5

Two great videos from The K5, I think this one, Tips to Improve Reading Comprehension, is most relevant to Reading Matters:

But, this one, Reading at Home: How to Use Environmental Print, is just great:


Schools On Board

More for my own benefit than anything else (I am brushing up on my local geography) I have put all the secondary schools in Sheffield and Rotherham that work with Reading Matters on an online map.

View Larger Map

If you are thinking of volunteering this might be a good place to see which schools Reading Matters are currently working with. Alternatively if your local school does not feature, you could suggest they get involved!


Days and Weeks

There seem to be no end of celebratory days, weeks, months and years, and I can never keep up. We seem to be in the middle of a whole batch at the moment, it is of course National Year of Reading, but there are a lot of other things going on at the moment:

[Thanks Write Away and Guardian Mortar Board


My first volunteer placement – Sheffield Springs Academy

I placed my first Reading Matters Volunteer Reading Mentors today (7/10/08), at the very impressive Sheffield Springs Academy. The new building, which opened in February (see the article in The Star), is very inspiring, lots of glass and wood give a really open airy feeling even when the corridors are teaming with pupils. There are great views of the city and fields beyond, very different to those old Victorian schools with windows you can’t actually see out of.

I think our Reading Matters volunteers will be very happy there, the Resource Centre is very will appointed, and all the staff I met were very appreciative and welcoming.

Seemed to me a good example of how the architectural environment can really help to inspire the people who use it, Kevin McCloud would be proud.


Book Week at Newfield

Today (6/10/08) I had the pleasure of spending the afternoon with a group of pupils, a local author, a councillor, school staff and governors at Newfield school.

As part of the school’s book week, Louise Taylor, the Learning Resource Centre Manager, had arranged for the author Malcolm Rose (www.malcolmrose.co.uk) to talk about his work and inspire the pupils to create some stories of their own. She was kind enough to ask me along and I was really glad she did. It was my first visit to a school as the Reading Matters Project Manager, and what a great start. Everyone especially the pupils and Malcolm were so enthusiastic, it was great to be a part of, although the ‘dark’ theme certainly produced some unsettling results.

Newfield is the middle of a massive construction project and the new school building is looking impressive. Louise is already working wonders in the current library, including working with the Reading Matters volunteers, so who knows what she’ll achieve in the new state-of-the-art resource centre?

To my shame, I haven’t read any of Malcolm’s books, but I am certainly going to. It is just a question of where to start – more than books in about 20 years, that’s some going. Kiss of Death has just been added to the booked up scheme (worth a look if you work in a school and fancy some free books - www.bookedup.org.uk) so I reckon that’s worth a look, the Lawless and Tilley books are set in Sheffield so that would be good, but the pupils seemed to be going for books from the Traces series – I’ll see what they’ve got in my local library. You can see Malcolm in person at the Off The Shelf, I’d recommend it).


Getting Trained

I am trained!

Over two days last week (1 and 2 Oct 08) I completed the Reading Matters volunteer training course with the Leeds Reading Matters project at the very leafy Elmete Centre.

I really enjoyed it, and I could not believe how quickly the time went. At some point I will be delivering the course myself, so I felt a bit of an imposter because all the other attendees were getting prepared to start with their reading partners in local schools.

I was very lucky because it was a great group of volunteers; a very friendly cross-section of students, retired people and professionals who have found some time in their busy schedules. They all brought something different and, for me, it was a great insight into the generosity of the people who give their time to Reading Matters. Although, having said that, it is clear what a buzz the volunteers get from the reading sessions with young people.

It was also great for me to meet Lisa, Christine and Janet from Reading Matters in Leeds.

As well receiving the training from them, I was able to spend a bit of time getting the benefit from of their years of experience at Reading Matters. The Leeds project is a perfect model for me in Sheffield and Rotherham.


The Baby in the Mirror

Whilst awaiting the arrival of Rose I read The Baby in the Mirror by Charles Fernyhough (check out his associated blog The Ladybird Papers). He is a lecturer and researcher in developmental psychology and the book tracks his personal and professional insights into the development of his own first child.

It has some fascinating stuff on language and reading, I was particularly interested in a short section about ‘storyworlds’ whereby readers use their imagination to fill in gaps in an author’s literal narrative, “[readers] behave as though they were within  that world, rather than looking in on it from the outside”. This is true of all readers from the very young, with which the book is dealing, right through to adults. However, a subtle difference is suggested; an adult reader might become emotionally absorbed in a narrative whilst still understanding that it is fiction, younger children, however, respond emotionally as if they were ‘in’ the storyworld.

How exciting – not just to read and enjoy a good story, but to be ‘living’ within it! 


Meeting my first volunteers

On Tuesday I met my first couple of Reading Matters volunteers. They were both incredibly competent, so Elaine (Belcher, my predecessor) gave them a nice short-and-sweet version of the Reading Matters training session to get them up and running and ready to start in Sheffield City School the next day!

I was hugely impressed, both by the volunteer’s aptitude and enthusiasm and Elaine’s skill at informing and inspiring them.

One of the volunteers was from the Sheffield Dyslexia Centre (Sheffield Dyslexia Centre, Unit 6, Riverside Court, Don Road, Attercliffe, Sheffield S9 2TJ, Tel: 0114 2441777, there is a great article on the BBC CSV Action website with lots of information). It was a great example of the extended network Reading Matters has developed; expect a presentation at a future Volunteers Meeting.