Over the past few years, I have been lucky enough to work with Hare Street Community Primary School in my home town, Harlow. It’s a wonderful school by any measure. Most striking, is the sense of community. It’s very evident, almost as soon as you enter the building. Of course, this is predominantly down to the nature of the relationships between staff, children and parents. There’s warmth to spare and a sense of shared purpose. This sense of community is further reinforced by the environment.
Each year, the school engages in a whole school book project. Every year group, from nursery to Year 6, take part. Books are read, enjoyed and explored very deeply. From this, all kinds of learning opportunities are explored: writing, music, art and across the curriculum wherever a genuinely fruitful link can be made.
Each project has a suprisingly healthy shelf-life, given the typically tight timescales of primary education. This is not a rushed affair. Details of the shape and duration of the project are given in the blog relating to David Almond and Levi Pinfold’s The Dam linked below. In essence, it works like this:
- In the summer term, SLT identify a curriculum focus for the following year and this influences the book choice. For example, last year’s focus was music and eventually David Almond’s The Dam was chosen. I say eventually, as time was taken to consult with staff. Imposing a book is not advisable. The book has to work with all year groups – perhaps with some modifications or complementary book choices. There is an additional requirement that sometimes presents additional challenge: the text choice needs to lend itself to a whole school trip to a fresh location. Satisfying both of these requirements presents its challenges, but so far, so achievable.
- I, or in the case of the Zeraffa Giraffa project, my colleague Penny Slater, set about writing a whole school inset that thoroughly explores the book, and explores its potential to influence work in class.
- In January, the school inset is devoted to sharing and developing these ideas. A close read of the text starts the day.
- Teachers then have a whole term to allow ideas to ferment, share ideas, challenge and support one another.
- In the summer term, the projects begin. Timings may vary; the outcomes certainly do. Year 2 and 6 produce sharing assemblies based on their work. The trip takes place. Specialist teachers provide complementary lessons. The learning council (Year 5 students) plan and deliver lessons based across the younger year groups, all stemming from the context of the book. Work is done; learning happens. Displays are mounted. They stay up all year. Why would such investment be limited to anything less. The school is transformed by a shared purpose, shared experience, and as a result a shared language. The power of sharing books in this way does something – a sort of social gluing – that is hard to imagine unless you see it for itself. Perhaps you might like to visit.
Each of the past three years’ projects have been captured in some way in the following blogs:
Sadly, 2020’s work on Sidney Smith’s astonishing, award-winning, Small in the City has been somewhat disrupted. The initial work had been done. There was some excitement. Certainly, the close read in January had thrown up a staggering range of insights.
This looked to be something very exciting indeed. And it will be. The world just needs to get itself back on an even keel. And when it does, as always, Hare Street will be ready and waiting. In time, we’ll be sharing something of the process, and more of the outcomes of this project back on the Herts for Learning website. It should be something special.