Located in central Oxford, The Story Museum celebrates stories in all forms and explores their enduring power to teach and delight. Working closely with one of our fundholders, the museum has developed several innovative outreach programmes to engage local school children from areas of multiple disadvantage.
Aimed at 8-12 year olds identified by teachers as ‘reluctant readers’, the Story Museum’s Extreme Reading Adventures project provided six ‘adventures’ linked to identified books, with a focus on making reading fun and engaging. Each week, the students received a gift of the book for the following week, wrapped as a present. The associated immersive adventures were planned to prompt imaginative and engaging responses to the worlds the students had been exploring independently. Throughout the project, the team kept a record of feedback from the students according to their particular reading preferences. At the final session, each child was presented with a book that been specifically chosen for them.
Selection criteria included disaffection towards reading and learning, a lack of confidence in class, specific learning difficulties, or a socio-economic situation that presents barriers to accessing books. One child was a young carer. The schools were selected on the basis of catchment areas, highlighting areas of higher than average socio-economic deprivation (measured through postcode indices of multiple deprivation, and numbers of students receiving free school meals) and high levels of students with English as an Additional Language.
The Extreme Reading project was developed with the support of the Maggie Evans Fund, a named fund held by Oxfordshire Community Foundation. After a short but intense period of depression, Maggie Evans took her own life aged 29, and her family uses her charitable fund to help children discover interests that were Maggie’s own passions: a love of reading, stories and illustration. The fund has partnered with local schools since 2012, and this project has been a way to cement longer-term relationships with teaching staff so as to improve the quality and impact of the work.
The Story Museum has adopted a rigorous approach to impact assessment, firstly by commissioning an evaluation of the Extreme Reading pilot by Coventry University, and then working to adapt the programme in response to feedback. They are now using a quantitative measurement of self-esteem to measure success, known as the ‘Myself as a Learner’ scale, alongside wide-ranging qualitative feedback from learners, their parents and teachers. Quantitative results showed noticeable improvements in comfort with problem-solving and discussion, and the extent to which students perceived themselves as clever. The qualitative interviews demonstrate improved vocabulary, and much more prominence given to fun and enjoyment associated with reading.