Trendy to Traditional

Reading @KennyPieper’s blog post on reading the other day:

I recognised a familiar problem. My students though are 13+ and can all read, most of them very fluently, but very few of them seem to enjoy reading any more. They don’t sit cross legged on the carpet and puzzle over what the words are but they do struggle excruciatingly to find meaning or enjoyment in the imagined worlds provided for them by some of our greatest authors. Why is this? And why am I so intolerant of it?

In our fortnightly library lesson the other week, I set about observing my Year 9 group David Attenborough styley whilst they attempted the seemingly arduous task of reading for pleasure. “Here we see 25 angsty thirteen year olds sitting in various relaxed poses on sofas, chairs and on the floor. About five are thoroughly engrossed, eyes slightly glassy with absorption – they are far away in a world of words. As for the rest, they are the children that have not been taught to love books as a child. They’re the child that fidgets, that looks anywhere but at the words on the page.”

Favourite Miss Sutherland sayings during this everlasting (for some) 50 minute lesson:

I think you will find the words on the page, not on the ceiling.


Do you know how happy I’d be if someone gave me 50 minutes just to read?


If you can’t sit silently then sit separately.


… repeat ad nauseam

In short I was boring myself. How quickly we forget how hard it can be for students to submit to things that they find genuinely difficult. How easy it is to forget that we (the ones who can suspend out disbelief and relish the world of fiction) are the lucky ones – that being taught to treasure books is a privilege not a rite of passage. So I shut up moaning and reassessed why these kids find it so hard to read for pleasure.

This half term we are using ‘Wild Places’ by Robert McFarlane as our class reader. I decided I would try something new to get them engaged. I ventured into the wonderful world of QR codes.

McFarlane’s book is all about the importance of place and the secrets held by landscape and their significance to the human experience. My idea was for the class to set about finding out secrets about me and engage them in a whispering, gossipy excitement around the room. A little (carefully selected and innocuous) personal information can be a powerful tool after all! We would then talk about our reading experience and then read together with hot chocolate served as a treat because I would tell them about going to a tea shop with my mother as a child and choosing a new book each Saturday. One of my happiest memories. This is how it went:

1. Remove all tables from room, scatter chairs. Posters with pictures and QR codes scattered around the room and one slide displayed on IWB with all four codes and the question: How many secrets can you discover about Miss Sutherland?

2. Greet students at classroom door and tell them to leave everything outside but themselves and their phone. (Instant excitement) Students enter room and quickly work out what they need to do. Not all students have phones or the right app so they have to talk to each other and spread the secrets – builds great atmosphere.

3. Massive sheet of paper on the floor on which students start to build up a picture of me. What they have learned. This includes what they have inferred from only a very short piece of text. (See me sneak in some analytical thought.) Class discussion and I share the point of the lesson and my experience of reading. We discuss the possibility of a book as an enormous QR code. It isn’t just the story but the perspective and emotions of the author, his personal history and the social context in which he is writing. Isn’t that exciting?

4. Handed out books and invited students to spend quality time with the secrets of an author. Students read for a full 20 minutes (armed with hot chocolate) and I could hear a pin drop! Brilliant!

One student said ‘Miss, this was a seriously cool lesson.’

‘Even with all the reading?’ I asked.

‘The reading was the best bit’ she said.


Next lesson we are going to look at the info from the QR codes and use Twitter as a way of crafting writing that invites the reader to deduce and under. Students will then make their own QR codes about places special to them for homework and these will be displayed on our class wall.

I am looking forward to experimenting with more exciting and sophisticated ways to use QR code but what I loved about this was the use of trendy methods to get a successful traditional result. Progress is an good thing!


5 thoughts on “Trendy to Traditional

  1. As a follow up we wrote Twitter posts describing ourselves as if we had to introduce ourselves to a martian race. The challenge was to use language that would infer something about our personality as well as inform our new alien friends. For example, ‘I have blonde hair’ doesn’t tell us much but ‘I am blonde’ has other social connotations – unacceptable or otherwise! We then analysed the opening paragraph of our new text (Wild Places) and thought about what we could infer about the author. Students then made QR codes for homework which told me about a place important to them but they had to choose language (250 characters this time) that could also infer something about their personality or lifestyle.

  2. Thanks Laura – this sounds like a brilliant lesson! I’m going to try this in my next reading lesson. How did the kids create their own? Did they hand design them or copy them from the internet? I’ve just downloaded a QR reader to see how they work – oh how I’m so far behind the times!

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