The Benefits of Having a Patron of Reading
How do you create a reading culture in your school? How can you encourage reading for pleasure and enthusiastic engagement with books and the art of writing? Unfortunately, I have no magic wand, glib answers or quick fixes to offer. What I do have is a not-so-well-kept secret that needs to be shared as widely as possible: the Patron of Reading scheme.
The beauty of the scheme is in its simplicity and flexibility: authors register their interest with the website, and schools can then approach them to see if they would be a good ‘match’
The Patron of Reading scheme is one of those rare educational flowers – a grassroots initiative that encourages collaboration between individual schools and children’s authors, poets, storytellers and illustrators. I came across this initiative through an article on Scottish Book Trust's website while I was looking for ideas to promote reading for pleasure in school. At that time, there were only three schools in Scotland taking part, all of them secondaries – but I was intrigued enough to get in touch.
The beauty of the scheme is in its simplicity and flexibility: authors who are interested in taking part register their interest with the website, and schools are then able to approach them to see if they would be a good ‘match’.
Comely Park PS has been incredibly fortunate in partnering with picture book author Lynne Rickards as our Patron of Reading. We chose Lynne because her picture books, like Pink!, could be used as a focus for Health and Wellbeing topics. Also, her website was lively and child centred and she was fairly local – nice direct train from Glasgow to Falkirk for visits!
One of Lynne’s major contributions was to help our P4 pupils write, design and launch two picture books. Our two P4 classes came up with two characters – Gallus the Crow and Hooley the Owl. Each class then came up with a different book featuring these two characters. Lynne was great in introducing P4 to the idea of structure for a picture book – the children loved the idea of starting with a problem, having three goes at fixing it and then reaching a resolution. This approach really captured the children’s imaginations and helped them produce a coherent piece of writing. Lynne was also able to help them with establishing an identity and characteristics for characters that was the same throughout the story: this was something that P4 really struggled with before, and added to their producing what they called a ‘proper story’.
In addition to leading workshops with classes, Lynne has judged writing competitions and dedicated space on her website to her young readers at Comely Park PS, giving parents the opportunity to see first-hand how an author can encourage reading for pleasure. (For more information on Lynne’s work with Comely Park PS students, see her blog.
Regular and effective communication is important to ensure Patron visits are productive
When you’re choosing a potential Patron, I would advise that location is important. Patrons of Reading will need to have their travelling expenses reimbursed by the school if they make any visits on top of their agreed fee, so look for someone fairly local to partner with. Raising the funds for patron visits can be a great focus for school enterprise initiatives: P4 at my school used the money raised from their Scots and English book launch to fund future visits by their Patron of Reading, a great interdisciplinary learning topic with a real-life application!
Regular and effective communication is also important to ensure Patron visits are productive. At the start, Lynne and I established clear goals: I identified that structure and characterisation were the aspects that I wanted her expertise for. We were in regular contact via email, and I kept her informed of the work I was doing in class both before and after her visits. This meant that when she visited it was really easy for us to team teach and develop the children’s ideas in a very organic way.
The potential for positively influencing the reading culture in schools is only limited by your combined imaginations
The benefits of having such a proactive Patron of Reading have been immense. The children have adopted Lynne as part of the school, regularly corresponding with her online about books, reading and writing. They are always excited when they know that their Patron of Reading is coming out to visit them to help them with their writing - and they thoroughly enjoy having their questions about the workings of the publishing industry answered by their very own author! At the launch of the two Gallus and Hooley picture books, parents were keen to tell us how their children were looking for Lynne’s books in the library!
This unique relationship between school and professional author relies on the goodwill and dedication of both partners, and the potential for positively influencing the reading culture in schools is only limited by your combined imaginations. So please, check out the website for yourselves, get involved – and spread the word!
If you want to find out more about Lynne’s activities as Patron of Reading for Comely Park, check out her blog post.