An EduBlether with Ian Eagleton from The Reading Realm

Ian Eagleton has taught for several years and is an English Co-ordinator. He has a passion and enthusiasm for motivating children to read and write. He is also the man behind the fantastic Reading Realm website full of great interviews, reviews and resources.
His new app ‘The Reading Realm’ has just been released and it is fantastic.

Hello Ian, can you tell us about your passion for developing children’s enthusiasm for literacy? Where does this come from? Why did you decide to focus on this aspect of learning?

 Reading and writing has always been an important part of my life. I have very fond memories of my mum reading to me, every night. I remember Alfie and Annie-Rose and Garth Pig and the Ice-Cream Lady. I remember joining in with the story. I remember my mum drawing pictures for me every night of children’s book characters and leaving them out for me to colour in – I still have the scrap book we filled up together.

However, it wasn’t until Year 6 that I actually began to enjoy reading for myself. Reading up until that point involved practising sight words, which were kept in my Grandad’s old tobacco tin. Reading also meant ploughing my way through a very dreary reading scheme. In short, I really despised independent reading time!

Luckily, in Year 6 I had a wonderful teacher called Mrs Perry. She pointed me in the direction of her well-stocked class library and I found the Supergran books. I was off! I suddenly began to read voraciously, every night, until the early hours of the morning. I whizzed through Supergran and all the Roald Dahl books and then began exploring other books and series. There’s something comforting and familiar about reading a series of books when you first begin your reading journey, especially as a nervous child who thought I wasn’t very good at anything!

Mrs Perry also encouraged lots of creative writing – she wold often give us a starter and then just leave us to write away. Or she might give us some characters and challenge us to weave them into an exciting story. I loved listening to her read very day, on the carpet. I remember vividly giggling away to Rebecca’s World by Terry Nation. I also fondly remember being sat at the Listening Station, headphones on, escaping into the world of The Enchanted Horse. There was also lots of drama, plays, acting and art in her class, which I loved and freedom to create – one day, Mrs Perry allowed me to write a story for the younger children in the school on the new school computer. She applauded my use of repetition and the next day I waited with baited breath as the computer painfully, slowly, gradually coughed my story out, over the course of an entire day. What a feeling!

In my own classroom, I have always dreamed of re-capturing this magic. The magic of creativity and escaping through books into far away worlds, full of adventure, excitement and new friends.

What advice would you give those working with children to encourage a love of reading and writing? How do you develop this with individuals as well as at a whole school level?

Read every day. That’s my main one. Sometimes I’ve heard the excuse, ‘But we don’t have time…’ Reading to your class is arguably the most important, effective means of raising literacy standards and inspiring a life-long love of reading in our children. It creates an amazing community feel – for a brief moment you are swept away together as a class on a journey and everyone is exposed to challenging, exciting vocabulary, complex storylines, jokes and fun, dilemmas and wonder. It has always been my favourite thing to do during the day.

I have also tried to include a wide-range of books when I’ve read aloud to my classes – fiction, poetry, non-fiction, short stories, animations of stories, audio books and so on. The app very much aims to replicate this. I’ve tried to include a range of lots of different genres, from lots of authors and publishers around the world.

I often feel that if we can invite children on this reading journey with us and share a special part of ourselves through the books we choose, that they will see the importance and value of reading for themselves.

The Reading Realm app looks fantastic. Congratulations on creating an app! Can you tell us all about it please? Who is it for? What does it do? Why should we download it? 

Thank you! The Reading Realm app is for children aged 5 to 13. There are extracts and passages from classic and contemporary children’s fiction, non-fiction and poetry. With each passage there is a discussion guide and a range of spelling, grammar and word games. I’ve tried to keep the questions in each discussion guide as open-ended as possible – this is not about answering questions for a test or exam preparation! The discussion guides are there to encourage children to explore their opinions and ideas about a text. The games include lots of interactive fun and all the spelling and grammar is linked to the text – this was very important to me.

There are a number of high-profile authors, poets and publishers involved in the project, who have kindly allowed me to use passages from their books. These include Abi Elphinstone, Sinead O’Hart, Eloise Williams, Kathi Appelt, Neal Zetter, Karl Nova, Guy Bass, Holly Webb, Saviour Pirotta, Jackie Marchant, Flying Eye Books, Maverick, Stripes and Lantana.

The tagline is ‘Journey into a world where stories come to life…’ which may give you a flavour of what the app is trying to achieve.

I think the app will provide teachers, parents and children with lots of engaging stories and expose children to new authors. The app also has a variety of weekly Reading Challenges and suggestions, the key aim being to encourage young people to visit their local library and spend some time poring over its bookshelves.

I hope The Reading Realm offers children something special and, with the click of a button, gives them the opportunity to escape from the comfort of their chair, just for a little while, into a magical word where words shimmer, stories weave their magic, characters come to life and exciting, strange and new adventures wait for them.

I wonder if you could also tell us about the process of designing an app. Where do you even start with something like that?

It’s very long and very complicated and very tiring! I think the last time I slept properly was last October!

The app began when I started teaching whole class reading lessons to my children about four or so years ago. I was struggling to find enough books for the children to all access. I was struggling to find books that would engage everyone in the class and I was getting fed up of all the reading worksheets on offer! Luckily around the same time, I became involved in, and led on, a whole school project to improve Reading and Writing across the school. This eventually led to me completing my NPQSL, which focused on raising whole school standards in English.

I started by reading lots of books about reading, writing and vocabulary: Aiden Chambers, Michael Rosen, Doug Lemov, Donalyn Miller, Daniel Willingham, Margaret Meek, Jane Oakhill, Maryanne Wolf, Mem Fox, Teresa Cremin, Timothy Rasinski, Isabel Beck, Steven Pinker and many other great writers have helped shaped my ideas and views.

I also signed up to the Research-Rich Pedagogies website and began exploring what else was going on in schools and searching for examples of good practice. I found Jon Biddle’s work on Reading Rivers really useful and began reflecting upon my own identity as a reader and exploring where the gaps where in my knowledge – I wanted the app to include as wide a range of stories and poems as possible.

I then set up for a few years a Parent and Child Reading Group, after-school, for children in my class and trialled a lot of the resources, games and ideas I was making for the app, as well as exploring how the resources might work in small groups and in whole class situations.

When I was sure that the resources were of a high-standard, I contacted a brilliant app developer called Doug and began talking to him about my ideas. There were lots of scribbled drawings sent over and we talked about what would work and what wouldn’t be possible – at this stage I had quite a few ridiculous, out-landish ideas!

I then spent an awful lot of time contacting authors and publishers and talking to them about the app and what I was trying to achieve. To my amazement, they were all really impressed and a huge number of them agreed to work with me. From there, it was sorting out copyright and permission agreements, which took around four months! I discovered that the world of children’s publishing is an incredibly friendly, supportive place and that lots of authors believed in what I was trying to achieve.

The initial suggestion that the app would take four weeks, didn’t quite go to plan! There was so much to do and so many more authors and publishers had gone on board that I ever dreamed of, that the app ended up taking about six months to create. During all this time, the app developer (Doug) and I were in weekly, sometimes daily, contact – he has been phenomenal! Patient, hard-working and full of creativity.

My husband, who creates databases and software and is an IT consultant, also helped hugely. We were often up until midnight testing ideas, choosing colours, designing games and arguing! My Dad even came over one weekend to help copy and paste thousands of lines of code into spreadsheets.

The app then went out to trial and lots of teachers, children and educators got the chance to feedback and give their views. Things were amended and changed and eventually the app has been released. It can be downloaded via the Apple Store and sells for a one-off payment of £2.99. There are plans to release a second version of the app next year, which focuses on non-fiction, and also plans to write even more original material for the app, but I think we all need to sleep first!

It’s certainly been a challenging, exhausting journey but I think we have produced something that is very special and I’m incredibly proud of the app.

Can you finish up by giving us your top recommendations for the next books we should read? What books are coming out that are getting you excited? 

There are so many! This really is the ‘golden age’ of children’s fiction. I’ve particularly enjoyed Asha and the Spirit Bird by Jasbinder Bilan, The Fox and the White Gazelle by Victoria Williamson, The Wolf Wilder by Katherine Rundell, Julian is a Mermaid by Jessica Love, Emmett and Caleb by Karen Hottois and Delphine Renon, Scavengers by Darren Simpson, The House with Chicken Legs by Sophie Anderson, The Star-Spun Web by Sinead O’Hart, The Peculiar Peggs of Riddling Woods by Samuel J.Halpin,  and Kate Wakeling’s beautiful collection of poetry Moon Juice.

Before recommending some new books that are coming out, I think I’d also like to recommend some old favourites! Supergran by Forrest Wilson, The Enchanted Horse by Magdalen Nabb and Rebecca’s World by Terry Nation are all fantastic and should not be over-looked!

I think I’m most looking forward to Abi Elphinstone’s Rumblestar (I was sent a proof-copy and it’s quite something! Funny, exciting, thrilling and moving and I’d say her best yet!), The Scarecrow by The Fan Brothers and Beth Ferry, Tad by Benji Davies (my favourite children’s author/illustrator) and High-Rise Mystery by Sharna Jackson (I love what Knights Of are doing!).

There are so many exciting children’s books coming out and already out! I love hearing people’s recommendations and opinions on them all. Talking about books is possibly my favourite thing to do!

Visit The Reading Real website for some great interviews, reviews resources and more.

Follow Ian on Twitter – @reading_realm

Download the app here


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