Queenwood is an independent girls’ school situated on the Lower North Shore of Sydney.
A rigorous academic curriculum within a balanced program of activities has been the key characteristic of Queenwood’s education for over 90 years. The school prides itself on creating space for students to engage with big ideas and connect with a diverse range of people and communities. The result is a contemporary liberal education designed to form young women who are motivated to make a difference.
Just Read and Book Talks
At the beginning of 2020, the QLiteracy Committee initiated the Just Read project under the guidance of Dr Margaret Merga. Dr Merga is a former senior lecturer at Edith Cowan University and specialises in the research areas of literacy, libraries and research methods. The research question for the project is: would engagement in daily timetabled sustained silent reading improve K – 12 students’ literacy skills, attitude and motivation to read for enjoyment? This required all students from K – 12, teachers, executive and administrative staff to read silently for 20 minutes every day. Following the initiation of the project, a Student Advisory Committee was formed in both the Junior and Senior School. Student voice is important because it empowers and inspires members of the committee to promote Just Read within the student body. One form of promoting Just Read is through book talks.
Book talks are a highly effective way for students to share a novel they have recently read. Atwell (2007) explains that book talks are brief, enthusiastic oral descriptions of a text and are given with the intention of enticing others to read the book. Students explore main characters and outline the plot and themes in the story. Reading stems may be used to provoke further thought about the text. E.g. ‘I was surprised when’, ‘I noticed’ and ‘I learnt.’ Lastly, the student provides a recommendation for others who may be interested in the story.
You may be wondering, ‘when do students receive time at school to recommend books to each other?’ At Queenwood, books talks occur for 2 – 5 minutes at the conclusion of Just Read. Students have just finished reading their own chosen story and are open to hearing about other novels, which may end up being their next Just Read book. As stated by Wozniak (2011), research has shown that students become more interested and eager to read a particular novel after they have listened to a book talk about it. This is supported by the increase in borrowing seen in the Junior School library.
When interviewing teacher librarian Miss Emily Basham, she explained that since the introduction of Just Read at the beginning of 2020, students are increasingly borrowing more books outside of their scheduled library time. They can borrow three books during library lessons, plus an additional ten books in their parent’s name, outside of library. According to Miss Basham, the most significant change is students recommending books to each other.
An example of this is when a member of the Student Advisory Committee delivered a book talk on The Land of Stories to Year 2 and in the following library lesson, the majority of the class wanted to borrow the novel. Miss Basham also mentioned that due to the consistency of Just Read, students who were previously reluctant readers have been visiting the library more frequently to borrow the next book in their series.
It is also important to consider the views of students to help maximise the benefits of book talks. After surveying my class, it was apparent that students thought book talks exposed them to new, exciting novels and highlighted a range of different genres to explore. Many students recorded that book talks helped to build confidence when presenting in front of an audience. One individual explained that they expand their vocabulary when listening to and delivering book talks. Another stated, “every time someone in the class recommends a book, I’m excited to borrow it from the library.” Finally, a group of students indicated they had borrowed a book following a recommendation from a peer. This justifies the effectiveness of book talks in the classroom.
Presenting book talks in the Junior School introduces students to a wide selection of literature, whilst also building comprehension, speaking and listening skills. This helps to establish a reading community within the classroom where students learn about each other as readers (Hudson, 2016). Calkins (2001) believes the books that mean the most to us are the ones we discuss with our peers. Therefore, through the delivery of book talks, we are assisting students in becoming lifelong, habitual readers.
By Isaac Dargan
Isaac Dargan currently teaches Year 3 at Queenwood, a K - 12 all girls' school based in Sydney's lower North Shore. Previously, he has taught at schools in London and the Eastern Suburbs of Sydney. For the past 3 years, Isaac has been a member of the QLiteracy Committee at Queenwood and one of their greatest achievements has been establishing the Just Read project. Isaac is passionate about improving students' literacy skills and one way to achieve this is through sustained silent reading.