A school librarians’ guide on how to cope with intimidating silences, fidgeting audiences, and reading a book aloud when it’s wordless…
I’ve been shadowing the Greenaway award for a few years now, and every time it’s a different experience. So much depends on the titles, and the children you’re working with. Is it a small Yr 6 reading group or a class of 30 Yr 2s? If you’re trying to engage them with Something about a Bear by Jackie Morris, talking about the beautiful figurative language is great in a Yr 6 class, but is guaranteed to make most of Yr 2 start playing with the velcro on their shoes. But ask the Yr 2s to play “spot the animal” on every page, and they’re hooked! It’s not the most intellectual of debates, but it starts a conversation about the illustration. Which is exactly what you want.
Discussing illustration doesn’t come naturally to everyone (me included). And everyone has their own techniques for making the most of shadowing. Below are a few ideas (some mine, some ‘borrowed’ from my excellent and enthusiastic colleagues). And if you’re reading this and you’ve got some other tips for shadowing success… please leave us a comment!
First things first: I read the books. All of them. This means I have an idea of the order I want to look at the titles in. Then I look at the Free Resources in the Group Leaders section of the Carnegie Greenaway award website.
Reading Group Shadowing
Shadowing the award with a reading group gives a lot more time for discussion of the books, and if it’s an established group who’ve already discussed other shortlists (Say Non-Fiction November, Or the FCBG Book Award) then they’re more comfortable speaking up and saying what they think. Things I’ve found help to make the most of shadowing with a reading group are:
- Doing an introduction activity (usually a “First Impressions” activity where they rate the books based only on the cover and blurb. You can keep these and get them to amend their rating as you look at the books week by week).
- Leaving any longer or more in depth titles (like “Once upon an Alphabet” by Oliver Jeffers) until the last week for discussion, and let a different child take the book each week. So they have a chance to read it properly rather than just dipping in.
- Start by discussing one of the titles you know will appeal, usually because it’s funny, and get them interested.
- Don’t forget to discuss the cover, the blurb and the endpapers. Then move on to the book. Think beforehand about what you want to draw the group’s attention to- use of colour? Use of space? Which character is the most important? How is the story communicated- does the illustration enhance or contradict the text? How do you know how the character is feeling? What visual clues are there to help you guess the setting? What happens next….
- Make sure you do a final vote. Voting slips are helpful to make sure there isn’t too much ‘peer pressure’! If it is a really young group get them to put their hands over their eyes and put their hand up for their favourite. It does not always stop peer pressure but the children generally like to do this.
Whole Class or Year Group Shadowing
Shadowing the award with a larger group is fun, but it’s more difficult to manage the discussion and keep everyone engaged.
Things I’ve found help to make the most of shadowing with a whole class or year group are:
- Read the book right through, and then stop and ask specific questions about the illustrations. General questions eg “What do you think of the use of colour?” often get met with a slightly awkward silence and some fidgeting. “Why do you think the girl’s coat is red?” works better.
- If it’s a really large group, try scanning in one or two key pages of the book (though no more than 5%…. ) so you can put it on the smartboard as well as holding up the book. Otherwise you get a continual chorus of “Miss, we can’t see…”.
- Choose some short extracts or specific illustrations from longer books, as the whole class won’t be able to read the whole book in the time. Still remember to focus on the cover and endpapers.
- Especially with a younger group, try and give them a task to concentrate on as you’re reading. Spotting something in the pictures works well, or choosing their favourite character.
As I get more familiar with the books over the months I run shadowing, I find new things to like about all of them. My favourite often changes, and the students often surprise me with how they engage with the titles. Being presented with a wordless book and asked to read it to 30 6 yr olds is daunting, but having done it a couple of times, I was amazed at how they responded to it. And I found something to say too! I’m really looking forward to our Carnegie and Greenaway awards lunch next week… I know who the shadowers want to win. So will it be cheers or groans when we finally reach.. “And the winner is?”!
Written by Emily