Jacob Phillips hated reading. He avoided it with something approaching dedication. But when his school joined the KM Charity Team’s reading reward scheme, he channeled that dedication and buried his head in books instead – and it’s stayed there ever since.
The eight-year-old Langdon Primary School pupil had always struggled with words because he is dyslexic, and freely admits he would have done almost anything to get out of what for him was a difficult and tedious chore.
But since the school in East Langdon, near Dover, joined the Buster’s Book Club reading reward scheme last September, Jacob has metamorphosed into one of its most committed readers – a transformation which has astonished his teachers and probably the boy himself.
It’s made him believe in himself
And head teacher Lynn Paylor Sutton says the most important change hasn’t been in Jacob’s reading ability, but in how he feels about himself.
“He has been a success and it’s made him believe in himself,” explained Lynn, who is also Jacob’s class teacher.
“He’s a much more confident person as a result of this year. All the other children know he’s putting in this effort and are encouraging and praising him – and he has never had that before.
“Something about Buster’s has really caught his imagination and he has completely and utterly embraced the scheme. He’s very smiley and willing and we can see him blossoming.”
It was not ever thus. Before the school joined Buster’s Book Club – which turns reading into a competition between classes and even between schools – to say that Jacob hated reading would probably be an understatement.
“It was just the worst thing in the world to ask him to read, and he would do anything to get out of doing any writing,” Lynn recalled.
“Dyslexia can mean that he finds it difficult to read as well and as quickly as other children, and he often didn’t enjoy stories and books as much because it’s such an effort to make sense of them.
“You can do all those things that are good educational practice to try to get a child to read – but the difference is now that he feels different. He realises that it’s hard, but that if you persevere, you get the enjoyment.”
Reading is now a hobby
When you speak to Jacob, and try in vain to name a Roald Dahl book he hasn’t read, it’s hard to believe that this bright, funny boy was once such a reading refusenik.
“I wasn’t very good at reading, and didn’t always do my reading at home. I’d go to my room and pretend to be asleep so I couldn’t do it,” he says solemnly.
“Now reading has become a hobby. Willy Wonka is my favourite Roald Dahl book and I’ve been reading The Dinner Ladies Clean Up, The Baker Street Boys and history books – and listening to Young Sherlock Holmes stories too.
“Once I stole my dad’s newspaper and fell asleep reading it. Dad came up and said: there’s my paper!
“I used to write one word and say I’m not doing any more. Then the school gave me a computer to write and I stayed in all playtime.”
Noticeable change across the curriculum
Now the boy who says he has enough books to fill a lorry is full of ambitions – from having his own library at home to writing his own books, something he has already begun.
Lynn added: “He now actively participates in reading activities in class and volunteers to read extracts to the class. He even participated in our annual reading challenge where he read a fiction extract and poem before a panel of judges and the whole school.
“We see the developments in his writing – and he’s an amazing artist. The change is noticeable across the whole curriculum.”
Competition is the central element of Buster’s Book Club. Each week, every child in the school is set a reading target: they must read at home for a set number of minutes, either alone, with a parent, or by listening to an audio book.
Competition drives the scheme
Classes compete against each other to see which can get the highest number of pupils hitting or exceeding their target. Each week, the school will give out a trophy to the best class – perhaps the class which has read the most, or perhaps the one which has made the biggest effort or shown the most improvement.
Each month, classes compete not just against each other, but against every class in every participating school in their district, to win the big prizes. These can range from visits from authors and children’s TV presenters who read to the children, to vouchers for leisure attractions like the Planet Ice skating rink and Leeds Castle.
The scheme’s mascot is a human-sized giant green bug called Buster, who can often be seen at prize-giving ceremonies for competition winners, and has even made special visits to particularly successful schools.
“Competition works well in our school and Buster’s Book Club has really fired the children up – we love it,” Lynn said.
“The reps go round every Wednesday in their green deely boppers [reminiscent of Buster’s antennae] to remind people to read, and every Monday there’s a prize and a certificate for the class with the most children reading.
“At the end of term, the class with the most certificates wins a big box of chocolates.
“They are desperate to win, so we have lots of children who read for a long time – and they start using the language they’ve come across in stories in their writing too.”
It’s had a radical effect
Indeed, such is their commitment to victory that pupils appear not to be above employing subterfuge where necessary.
“We are only a small school, so we play jokes on each other, like telling each other there’s no reading this week,” Lynn explained.
“Jacob has been so successful that the other children told him that the Queen and the Prime Minister had contacted the school and banned him from reading on Wednesdays.
“Buster’s Book Club has had a radical effect on some of our boys. It has captured the imagination of those children who were perhaps not going home and reading.
“The kids here are lovely – I have such fun with them. And what could be better than seeing the progress of someone like Jacob?”