Keep Reading, Be Heroic! Inspiring Reluctant Readers at Kyle Academy

In Nobember 2014 Phil Earle visited Secondary Schools in Ayrshire and Falkirk on the Scottish Friendly Children's Book Tour. Geraldine Moore, English Teacher at Kyle Academy, describes how reading Heroic got her class of S2 boys buzzing about books.

Working with a group of S2 boys who are reluctant readers - and very open about it - certainly is a huge challenge. Even more so when you teach English, since so much of the course is dependent upon reading. For a variety of diverse reasons my class of S2 boys found it difficult to engage in a reading culture. That is, until the moment I introduced them to Phil Earle's writing.

Beginning “Heroic”

Phil Earle "Heroic"

In the weeks prior to Phil Earle's visit - scheduled to take place on Monday 3rd November 2014 at Kyle Academy - I planned to read a number of chapters of Heroic to the boys to introduce them to the author and hopefully give them a flavour of what it feels like to find a book that you genuinely enjoy. After the usual (and expected) moans, groans and mutterings expressing their objections to having to read we eventually settled down to begin Chapter 1. What an experience that proved to be for me! Introducing the boys to Sonny in the opening pages of the novel was like a dream come true. Apart from my voice reading aloud there was no other sound in the room at all: no tapping on the desks, no sighing, no fidgeting, no swinging on chairs. Immediately mesmerised from the very first lines of Heroic my S2 boys sat quieter than I had ever thought possible. Not until the end of the chapter and close to the end of the lesson did they begin to question eagerly - what happens next? Does Sonny get caught? Does his mum find out? And so it went on. A rare moment and one that would be hard to beat. Or so I thought.

Are we reading that book today? was the question from the boys – all of them - as they clambered into the classroom the very next day.

Are we reading that book today? was the question from the boys – all of them - as they clambered into the classroom the very next day.  I purposely hesitated, wondering aloud, quite casually, what we should do for the period. The boys insisted that we read on. Already reading had become the expected and established routine. They questioned, queried, pondered, debated and discussed the plot and the motives of the characters. Without even realising it the S2 boys were becoming involved in the events of the novel and the lives of the characters. They were well and truly hooked on Heroic.

The Great Van Robbery!

S2 boys at Kyle Academy

And so we read on each day until the moment when I announced that it was time to call a halt on reading, suggesting that we needed a change; time to do something different. There were immediate objections until I announced that, actually, we were going to do some Drama. There was an overall resounding yes in the room and I didn’t get beyond that. Before I knew it I had faded into the background and they were quickly rearranging the classroom. They easily reached a consensus that they would re-enact Chapter 1 – the van robbery! The boys then recapped on events, discussed minor details and allocated roles. They were so thoroughly enthralled in the lesson that they were both taken aback and disappointed when the bell rang for them to move on to the next period of the day.

They were being drawn into a world of books, becoming captivated by a good old read - without warning and quite unexpectedly, they were being transformed into a class of boys engaged in a reading culture for the first time in their lives.

And so arriving to class next day they were again prepared to listen to the next chapters. That is until one of the boys spotted a white van parked in the car park at the front of the school. After a brief discussion, before I knew it, they were down the stairs and outside for another episode of the van robbery from Chapter 1. Such fun, such engagement, such enthusiasm, such a genuine display of their love of the novel. Effortless learning through drama.

The boys were by now eager to meet Jammy; curiosity was getting the better of them. And so we read on and each day they became more and more enraptured by Phil Earle’s writing. Unbeknown to them they were being drawn into a world of books, becoming captivated by a good old read. It seemed to me that, without warning and quite unexpectedly, they were being transformed into a class of boys engaged in a reading culture for the first time in their lives.

Hot Seating

All credit to their knowledge, understanding and ability to empathise, it was time to undertake a Hot Seating Activity. Each pupil had to become a designated character from the novel, sit in the ‘hot seat’ at the front of the class ready to be questioned in role by their audience – the rest of their peers.

S2 boys at Kyle Academy

They worked independently leaving me very impressed by their ability to come up with some powerful, meaningful questions as well as appropriate responses relevant to their chosen characters. They asked questions of Sonny such as: How do you think your mum feels bringing up two sons without a dad? Have there been any times when you wished you had a dad living with you? What would you miss most, if anything, about the ghost estate if you moved away tomorrow? And to Jammy questions such as: Do you think Sonny and the others will be coping without you back home? How do you think your mum feels now that you are at last earning money but it’s because you’re in Afghanistan? What would you do if you found out that Sonny or any of the others were breaking any of your rules? And so it went on with the questioning of Tommo, Wiggy, Den, Hitch, Cam, Sonny’s mum and even the van driver!

Meeting Phil Earle!

Then the moment dawned when it was time to meet the author himself. Bursting with enthusiasm the boys discussed questions they might possibly ask him. Because of their love of Heroic they really looked forward to meeting Phil Earle – their genuine interest and curiosity naturally spilled over from the novel to the person behind it. The visit was such a success thanks to Phil Earle being a genuine, real, down to earth, honest, funny person. The S2 boys loved him. A memorable moment for me was when I got the chance to meet him myself. I took the opportunity to tell him about the boys and after listening with great interest he signed my copy of the novel with the message: ‘To Miss Moore + the formidable S2 boys! Be Heroic! Keep Reading! Phil’ He then asked how many boys were in the class before signing a bookmark for each of them individually without being asked to. Yes, they each accepted their gift as something to be treasured. Yes, they felt special. Who wouldn’t?

And so a fantastic end to an unexpected experience. Sincere gratitude to Phil Earle and the Scottish Book Trust from Miss Moore and the S2 boys at Kyle Academy!

Explore Heroic with your pupils with these brilliant learning resources.

Take a look at the gallery below to see the S2 boys in action!


Geraldine Moore

Geraldine Moore is English Teacher at Kyle Academy, South Ayrshire