Teachers’ knowledge of children’s literature and other texts

Summary of key findings

In order to successfully foster RfP, the TaRs research project found that teachers need a wide and up to date knowledge of children’s literature and other texts.  

In this short film researcher Professor Teresa Cremin and teacher Claire Williams explain the implications of the findings and how we can address them in our teaching practice.

You can download a PowerPoint for Staff Meetings/Development Sessions, and accompanying Guidance Notes.

Developing this subject knowledge enabled teachers to:

  • Engage enthusiastically and reciprocally as readers in school
  • Make one to one reader recommendations tailored to specific children  
  • Articulate an informed and strategic rationale for selecting/using texts as part of their RfP pedagogy
  • Identify multi-layered texts that inspire and enrich literary experiences
  • Build reciprocal and interactive reader to reader relationships with staff and children.

More research details

Teachers’ knowledge of children’s literature and other texts is not commonly regarded as part of the subject knowledge required of teachers, yet the Teachers as Readers (TaRs) research has shown it is highly significant in developing children as readers who can and DO choose to read. 

The Phase I survey (Cremin et al., 2008) revealed that, whilst teachers do read for pleasure themselves, (73.2% of the 1200 respondents had read for pleasure in the last month), they have limited and limiting repertoires of children’s authors, poets and picture fiction creators and rely upon childhood favourites and ‘celebrity’ authors.

  • Only 46% of the teachers named 6 children’s authors. Roald Dahl dominated the list (744), with Michael Morpurgo (343) Jaqueline Wilson (323) and JK Rowling (300) receiving 300 or more mentions. 
  • Only 10% of the teachers named 6 poets (22% named none at all). Michael Rosen (452) led the list, with Alan Ahlberg, (207) Roger McGough (197), Roald Dahl (165) and Spike Milligan (159) receiving over 150 mentions.
  • Only 10% of the teachers named 6 picture fiction creators (24% named none at all, regardless of Key Stage). Quentin Blake (who illustrated for Roald Dahl, himself and others) led the list (423), with Anthony Browne (175), Alan Ahlberg (146), Shirley Hughes (123), and Mick Inkpen (121) receiving over 100 mentions.

This scant knowledge represents cause for concern. Road Dahl , who was cited by many teachers as their favourite childhood author,  was also the most cited ‘good’ author and was the most popular author to read aloud in class (Cremin et al, 2008a,b). His dominance further reduces the range and breadth of writers being introduced to children and suggests that the profession is over-dependent upon a narrow range of authors and texts. The project’s Phase I data suggest that teachers may not possess sufficient knowledge to foster reading for pleasure and reader development and indicate they may find it difficult to prioritise children’s engagement and response as readers in school.

In the Phase II project the teachers, whose own questionnaires indicated not dissimilar results and reliance on ‘celebrity’ authors, sought to develop their repertoire of children’s literature and other texts. They set themselves targets, individually and in groups and read and discussed their reading. Book swapping between them became common practice as they recommended books they had read and enjoyed to each other. Through these and other practices, communities of readers developed and teachers learnt from each other. 

Teachers gradually started to respond to texts in a more aesthetic manner and came to consider how reader responses relate to their life experiences, knowledge, culture and context (Rosenblatt, 1978). Significantly they began to read children’s literature as engaged readers, not just as teachers, and their discussions with one another as teachers shifted from being about how a book could be used to teach specific literacy objectives to focusing upon how it affected them as readers.  Their widened repertoires increased their assurance as teachers. 

Knowing more authors has made the world of difference to my confidence as a teacher, my ability to talk children about what they are reading (even if I don’t know the actual book, I often know other books by that author, and it’s given me a platform to talk about what I’ve read, to recommend and encouraged me to read more.  (TaRs teacher, Suffolk) 

The Phase II project demonstrated that, when teachers recognise their professional responsibility to expand their repertoires of children’s literature and other texts, they are enabled to talk about such texts, make tailored reader to reader recommendations and foster reading for pleasure. Without secure subject knowledge and thoughtful appreciation of reading and being a reader, teachers are not effectively able to employ a reading for pleasure pedagogy. 

This summary draws upon the following papers which are available at http://oro.open.ac.uk/

Cremin, T., Mottram, M., Bearne, E. and Goodwin, P. (2008) Exploring teachers’ knowledge of children’s literature Cambridge Journal of Education 38 (4): 449-464. 

Cremin, T. (2010) Motivating children to read through literature in G. Gillon, J. Fletcher, and F. Parkhill, (Eds) Motivating literacy learners in today’s world Auckland: New Zealand Council for Educational Research (NZCER)

To read more about the research: see the Executive Summaries, related papers on http://oro.open.ac.uk/ or the core book, or the UKLA/Primary National Strategy professional development guide to developing reading for pleasure (based upon TaRs, Cremin et al., 2008).

 

Building Communities of Readers Cover Building Communities of Engaged Readers Cover

Review your practice

This self-review document, adapted from the TaRs Phase I survey is designed to help you consider your knowledge of children’s literature. The TaRs research found that teachers need a rich and constantly updated knowledge of children’s literature and other texts in order to support the development of independent young readers. It is pivotal to foster RfP and a core professional responsibility.

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Practical classroom strategies

The project had a massive impact on my knowledge of children’s books which was previously over-reliant on Dahl! Now I’m using a range, including picture books, poetry, choose your own adventure, comedy, mystery and multicultural literature and have a large bank of books I can use and recommend.
(TaRs teacher, Birmingham).

1. Adopt an author or ten!

Focus on getting to know the work of one writer really well or even a pair. Stuck on who to choose? Are you familiar with, for example, the work of Mini Grey; Patrick Ness; Ian Whybrow; Frank Cotterell Boyce or the partnership between Jeanne Willis and Korky Paul? BookMatch in Oxford Owl offers good summaries which may help.

2. Inspirational illustrators: select your top five

Find ten picture books in school and choose the 5 you like best, then look up the creators on the web , either alone or as a class or with staff and find out about and then share your top five. Matt Tobin’s padlet will help - or try Letterpress

3. Playful poets: widen your repertoire

Set yourself the challenge of getting to know the work of a new poet each term- read their work to the children and focus on their style, themes, and voice. Many have websites and YouTube also offer audio readings to enjoy.

4. Comic capers, magazine malarkey and news

Ask children to bring favourite comics to share with you and /or visit the local newsagent to see the range. What are the most popular in your school? Check out sites which offer support for using newspapers, magazines and comics and read, share and enjoy. See Scottish Booktrust for example.

5. Take the world literature challenge

Focus on getting to know authors who include a focus on diversity and write tales set in other countries. Examine the texts in your classroom; do they reflect the diversity of the children? Explore the texts at Letterbox library.

 

6. Explore digital book apps

Digital books are growing in popularity. Have a look at recent award winners, such as those from Nosy Crow below. Flip Flap Safari won the 2015, Goldilocks and little bear won the 2016 UKLA Digital Book Award. Check out the criteria to help make your own choices.

7. Read award winners

Annually librarians select brilliant new books for the Carnegie (novelists) and the Kate Greenaway (illustrators) Medals are awarded in June: http://www.carnegiegreenaway.org.uk.

The shortlists of both are well worth reading, as are the shortlists for the UKLA Children’s Book Awards, chosen by teachers for teachers: https://ukla.org/awards/ukla-book-award

8. Invite your class to set you a reading challenge

Dare yourself to step outside your comfort zone and invite your class to set you a challenge - a genre, an author or a particular book that you are invited to read. You might offer challenges back too when you’ve completed yours!

9. Create an Alphabet of Authors

Try creating an A-Z of authors (or poets/picture fiction creators) as a snowball in class or in the staffroom. Start alone, then add to in pairs, groups and as a whole class. Create a wall display with visuals in a corridor.

10. Visit a brilliant bookshop

Some high street bookshops have specialist knowledge of children’s literature, but if you seek our local specialist stores or online booksellers you’ll find much more diversity. We like Norfolk children’s book centre and Just Imagine Story Centre amongst many others.

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