A little while ago I read a tweet from an author celebrating the news that she’d become a school’s Patron of Reading. I’d never heard of a Patron of Reading before so, intrigued, I googled it. What I discovered is a fantastic scheme that pairs authors to schools, to create a special bond and personal attachment. The author (or poet/storyteller/illustrator) then works with the school to help raise the profile of reading for pleasure with pupils, parents and staff.
I love doing school author visits, but often wish both that there was more time to meet and engage with as many kids as possible (usually either the groups are really big, or I’ll only visit a handful of smaller classes in a day, so won't even meet many of the kids at the school) and that there could be a more ongoing relationship – to follow up on the creative work we’ve done together, see how they’re all getting on, and to continue to encourage them with their reading and writing.
My most fulfilling school visit so far was a week-long visit to The International School of Moscow. By the end of the week, I had visited every single class in the primary school, every child had had an opportunity to ask me questions, and each had started a piece of creative work based on fairytales. As the week went by, it was lovely to walk around the school from class to class and be recognised and greeted by all the kids who walked by, or joined my table at lunch time, either just to chat or to ask even more questions about writing and stories, and it was wonderful to have the time to give them so much more attention than a single day visit allows. Additionally, the classes spent time after my session with them completing the projects we’d started together, which their teachers then gave to me, allowing me to compile samples of work from every age group – from reception up to Year 6 – into a Fairy Tale Newspaper, which both beautifully showcased the work they’d done, and became a wonderful memento of the visit – for both them and for me.
|Helena Pielichaty, the first Patron of Reading|
Whilst I appreciate that not many schools can afford to bring in an author for an entire week, the Patron of Reading scheme allows a lot more interactivity between author and pupils, and permits an ongoing relationship to develop, by sustaining communication and interaction via emails, websites etc, at minimal cost to the school – all they pay is the usual rate for the author’s school visits, which should be at least once every year in order to build up a relationship with each class (as there is little point having a Patron the children never meet.)
The Patron of Reading concept works most successfully when the both the school and the author really make the most of the opportunity, and it’s helpful if the author is relatively local.
So what does a patron do?
The title is extremely flexible to suit each school and each patron, but some suggestions a few possible ideas:
• Visit the school regularly (at least once every year, but preferably 2- 3 times/year).
• Write a newsletter about books they are reading, their own work, etc.
• Support the Summer Reading Challenge.
• Participate in school Book Quizzes
• Share any new ideas they hear regarding reading, books and libraries.
• Judge and/or hand out prizes for book/writing related competitions
• Tweet and blog about their visit and the school they are patron of.
• Dedicate a section of their website/blog to their chosen school, perhaps including that stories, reviews, pictures etc from the children.
• Interact with pupils and parents on the school's website or the author's website.
• Occasionally write to pupils who do something outstanding in terms of reading (eg make amazing progress, win a competition, etc).
• Share work in progress with classes as a special sneak-peek preview
What does the school do?
Again, this varies hugely from school to school, but suggestions include:
• Book the author for a school visit at least once a year (preferably 2-3 times/year) to maintain the relationship.
• Prepare kids in advance for their author’s visit eg by discussing and reading the author’s books beforehand.
• Allow the author to sell copies of their books to children/parents during their visit
• Add a link to the author's website on the school site, and perhaps dedicate a section of the school website/blog to the author, including reviews, stories, pictures etc the children have completed in response to the author’s books/visits.
• Promote the scheme in school newsletters, online and to the local media.
• Put up a display about the author in the school.
• Stock all the author’s books in the school library.
• Have students interview the author for the school newspaper/blog
• Have students review the author’s books and write letters to the author
• Have a special area in the library displaying the author's work.
So what impact has this initiative had so far?
In its first year, the first school to run the scheme reported that it had:
• Sparked extra interest in reading generally throughout the school
• Provided teachers with an added dimension when encouraging reading for
• Given pupils an extra incentive to join in with schemes such as the Summer
Reading Challenge (In 2012 the school had 100% participation - the first in
England and Wales, according to Miranda McKearney, CEO of the Reading
• Inspired parents and made them feel included e.g by submitting comments on
the author’s blog and writing poetry with their children at home
• Boosted the quality of creative writing - even though the author’s (Helena Pielichaty) remit doesn’t include creative writing with them as such, the writing inspired after her first visit was described as 'phenomenal'
• Necessitated extending school library as borrowing had increased well beyond expectation.
Can’t wait to get started? I know I for one can’t wait to become a Patron of Reading!
For more information about the scheme, or to find authors seeking schools in your area, visit www.patronofreading.co.uk
Katie Dale is an actress as well as an award-winning author. She writes both gritty YA and humorous children's fiction, and loves to bring an element of performance to her school visits. Her rhyming Fairy Tale Twists series are especially popular with primary schools- and the kids love her (optional) fairytale costumes! She would love to be a Patron of Reading for a school in or around Cambridge.
For more info on Katie visit katiedaleuk.blogspot.com