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Archive for the ‘Books & Reading’ Category

Stephen King’s writing is legendary.

His books, of which there are more than 50, have sold more than 350 million copies worldwide.  Many of them have been adapted into movies, TV shows and comic books.  In addition to his novels, he has written more than 200 short stories.

While reading the genre of horror, supernatural fiction, suspense, science fiction and fantasy may rule him out as being your favourite kind of author, it is not many writers who have had such an impact on the world of literature or written as prolifically.

So having the opportunity to listen to Stephen King’s thoughts in a short radio interview late last year, I was surprised to find that his words resonated strongly with me.  Most particularly when he said

We forget what it is to be a child.”

my ears pricked up.  Why is it, King questions, that adults forget how to look at the world through the eyes of a child.

His thoughts remind me of the words of that well known educator, Sir Ken Robinson, who in videos such as Do schools kill creativity? also laments the fact that children lose their creativity as they work their way from pre-school through to the end of high school.

Have a listen to this short interview and in the process be spellbound by the incredible drawings that accompany the interview.

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I’m a convert.

I know that reading is a most powerful tool and is the cornerstone of all education.

So, it comes as no surprise to me when I read that Elon Musk, one of the most innovative and visionary minds of our time, credits his success to just eight books he has read.

8-books

A most inspirational characteristic of Elon Musk is the fact that he is a ‘risk taker’.

Not once, but many times, throughout his life, Musk has taken incredible  gambles, many of which saw him lose position, status and wealth.

Determined to follow through on his ideas, Elon Musk is having an incredible, positive impact on our world and is, without doubt, a most powerful role model for students in our schools.

Infographic Source: fundersandfounders.com

Infographic Source: fundersandfounders.com

 

 

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Coming across an article by Will Schwalbe “The need to read” published in The Wall Street Journal late last year (November 25, 2016) I knew I’d hit a powerful article.

The start of his article tells the simple story of a grandmother desperately trying to connect with her grandson who lives far away from her home in Florida.  When she asked the usual kinds of questions about school and his day during their phone conversations, his auto reply of ‘fine’ or ‘nothing’ led the conversation nowhere.  So when she asked an alternate question: ‘What are you reading?’ and he replied “The Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins, the grandmother decided to get hold of a copy and read it in the hope of using this as a springboard for conversation during their next phone conversation.

To her delight, it worked!

The book helped this grandmother cut through the superficialities of phone chat and engage her grandson on the most important questions that humans face about survival and destruction and loyalty and betrayal and good and evil, and about politics as well. Now her grandson couldn’t wait to talk to her when she called—to tell her where he was, to find out where she was and to speculate about what would happen next.

While flagging the danger to our well being and our lives by the constant connectivity enabled today by the Internet, Schwalbe discusses the power of reading.  In short he notes that books are able to

  • create connections between people
  • create connections between people and events
  • enable the reader to hear the expression of an individual/group of individuals

While recognizing that reading is a solitary activity, Schwalbe emphasizes that books creates connections with others in a most powerful way.

Books ….. speak to us, thoughtfully, one at a time. They demand our attention. And they demand that we briefly put aside our own beliefs and prejudices and listen to someone else’s. You can rant against a book, scribble in the margin or even chuck it out the window. Still, you won’t change the words on the page.

The technology of a book is genius: The order of the words is fixed, whether on the page or on the screen, but the speed at which you read them is entirely up to you. Sure, this allows you to skip ahead and jump around. But it also allows you to slow down, savor and ponder.

If you have the chance to read Schwalbe’s full article in The Wall Street Journal, do.  It is a powerful treatise for the power of reading.

Working with young adults in school libraries over many years, I repeatedly tell my students how much they will gain from reading.  Apart from the impact reading will have on their own ability to express themselves verbally and in writing, they will get to experience so much that they may never otherwise be able to explore: history, culture, social issues, love, horror, fantasy, art, passion ….. indeed all that life has to offer.

Read a book ….. learn about the world”

I tell them.  This has forever been the mantra I’ve shared with all the kids I’ve worked with in both the classroom and in the world of school libraries.

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Being one of those people who likes to make a noise – constantly – about the value of reading and being one who just doesn’t understand why it is that the entire education sector doesn’t get the message about the value and importance of reading in the overall school curriculum, I couldn’t resist posting a tweet together with this infographic a couple of weeks ago:

Take note school admins! Haven’t TLs been saying this for years?

Reading-habits-that-lead-to-success-full-infographic-840x7634

One thing’s for sure though – I intend sharing it with my students at school!  It’s too much of a gem to not share!!

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So can there be a link between reading achievement scores as measured by NAPLAN testing and the presence or absence of Teacher Librarians in schools?

Sue McKerracher, Chief Executive Officer of ALIA (Australian Library and Information Association) seems to think there most definitely is an impact to be had, particularly when she states the obvious in a recent release on the ALIA website:

‘School libraries and teacher librarians are well placed to contribute to improving student skills in reading, digital literacy, critical thinking and research skills. However we see only a small number of teacher librarians on staff compared to other specialist teachers in schools.’

McKerracher goes on to quote research completed by Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) to back up her claim:

….. in 2013 only 4-5% of primary teachers and 2-3% of secondary teachers were working in a library role. This compared with 5% of secondary teachers involved in Languages Other Than English, 5% in computing and 6% in special needs.”

While this report suggests that fewer graduates are entering Library & Information Science programs, perhaps a simpler explanation is that fewer teacher librarians are being appointed to roles within our libraries. Sadly, the kind of thoughts I expressed in a recently published article: It’s time: let’s improve schools’ perceptions of teacher librarians suggests that the collective lack of promotion by teacher librarians of their role within schools is surreptitiously adding to the demise of the role we are able to play in schools and the impact we are having on literacy achievement or more specifically, the NAPLAN scores achieved by the students in our schools.

It is no secret to those of us working in school libraries that the myriad of tasks facing us on a day-to-day basis are often totally overwhelming.  Finding the time to create the spin needed to ensure the profile of the library and its staff is recognized, appreciated and valued can be totally daunting.

Be in no doubt though – publicizing what we do, how we do it and why we do it – is an essential part of our role.  The effort put into this important aspect of school libraries can, in the end, be a make it or break it decision that may have far reaching ramifications, particularly at this end of the year in Australian schools, where number crunching hits the top of the list by school administrators.

A recent post by Megan Daley: NAPLAN Results and the Role of the School Library and Teacher Librarian says it strongly and very clearly!

To me at least, part of the issue seems to be that people don’t really know what teacher librarians actually do. Everyone seems to understand the role of the French teacher, the Maths teacher, the primary classroom teacher, the school groundsman, and the school receptionist (AKA the jack of all trades in a school). But few people seem to know what a teacher librarian does and how crucial the role is ensuring the success of our schools and our students.”

Daley doesn’t mince words when she implores those who don’t have the passion to get out of the profession and for those who do have the passion to shout from the rafters so that school communities sit up and take notice.

Take the time to read her post.  It’s excellent!

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Like so many the world over, I grew up with Bob Dylan, listening to his music and enjoying the beauty of his lyrics and music.  When I listen to his songs today, warm memories are evoked  – significant moments in my life.  Dylan’s songs have penetrated my soul.

But while it is fabulous that Dylan has received one of the highest accolades in the world, the Nobel Prize for Literature, to me this achievement signals a new dawn for literature!

It was some years ago that I put an idea into action at one of the schools at which I worked.

I had a vision of staging a Literary Festival which would be all encompassing; one that would inspire and enthuse interest in literature.  I aimed high by insisting that literature was something that stretched across the curriculum and touched all aspects of students’ education.  Although I didn’t articulate it then as strongly as I do today, my idea was based on my strong belief that reading and writing is the cornerstone of all education.  Pitched as a Literary Festival for our senior school, Years 9-12, I ensured that there were inspirational events for all 300 students and all of the teachers who taught them.   With 18 presenters and nearly 50 concurrent sessions in its first year and 26 presenters and more than 80 concurrent sessions in its second year, the two Literary Festivals held in 2007 and 2008 ran over three and four consecutive days respectively.  I have blogged about this event previously: Staging a successful Literary Festival. Always keen to repeat the event, feel free to contact me if you need guidance in making an event such as this happen in your school.  It really isn’t as hard to make happen as it may seem on first look!

By referring to this event as a “Literary Festival” from the outset, I was reiterating my firm belief that the event should focus on all aspects of the written and spoken word.  When discussing my ideas with other staff, I pitched widely for ideas of the kinds of artists who could be included.  At its end, both Literary Festivals included traditional presenters such as authors and illustrators, but they also included poets, clay animators, puppeteers, scientists, journalists, musicians, actors and motivation speakers as well as hip hop artists and songwriters – all of whom are united in their passionate desire to engage, stimulate and challenge us with their love of the written and spoken word.

The songwriter we had in sat around with an enthusiastic group of students running a workshop which aimed to have them compose a short song: words and lyrics.   Singing and playing their music to a small audience was a fitting finale.  The hip hop artists we brought in presented fabulous sessions to a large audience and then ran workshops in which students were guided on how to go about creating their own hip hop music.  By the end of the Literary Festival, CDs were created of the students’ work.  While only one small part of the overall Literary Festival, these workshops turned out to be one of the highlights of the overall event.  The English teachers and students alike were overwhelmed with the end result.

Undeniably – these were ‘magical’ learning events!

So when I heard that Bob Dylan had been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, I felt that my thoughts of nearly ten years ago had finally been vindicated.

While some raised their eyebrows in surprise at the award for Dylan, I feel that finally songwriting has found its rightful place within the world of literature.  An awesome achievement!!

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Last week my husband and I went for a coffee at one of our favourite spots in outer suburban Melbourne.

Getting out of the car, we could hear someone shouting.  It didn’t take long to realize that the young guy, looking slightly disheveled and ‘out of it’ who was standing on the corner was the one shouting a string of abusive rants at another more ‘cleanly’ dressed guy who was hastily retreating from the scene.  Fortunately, nothing ‘ugly’ transpired, but the incident of just a few short seconds left me rattled, pensive and concerned.  It’s a question I found myself asking earlier this year following a similarly unexpected incident when I blogged Are we failing those we teach?

Reinforced by daily news reports of violent, antisocial behaviour involving theft, assault, abuse and even murder by young perpetrators, one can’t help feeling frightened, anxious and nervous about the ramifications of young people who know no limits on their behaviour and it’s impact on society.

Then, last week, I read the horrific account of the sexual abuse endured by a 16 year old boy at the hands of his classmates.  Hoping that the revelation of his story, 30 years after it occurred, may prevent other children from being hurt, this brave 46 year old stated that

Silence is the perpetrator’s greatest weapon”

A shiver coursed through me as I reflected on the damage that may have been perpetrated on students long before ‘mandatory reporting’ by those of us working in schools became compulsory by law.

Such disturbing thoughts were compounded last week when I read the recently published Young Adult (YA) novel Saving Jazz by Kate McCaffrey.

Over the years, I’ve had lengthy discussions with teaching colleagues – teacher librarians, librarians and general teaching staff in secondary schools – as well as school psychologists and social workers about the inclusion or exclusion of novels in school libraries written for the YA market on a range of tough themes: rape, incest, anorexia, pyromania, drugs, abortion, suicide and more.    The argument of whether to include books of this nature in school library collections vacillates between exposing or hiding from teens influential ideas that may encourage them to ‘experiment’.

Following my read of McCaffrey’s latest book though, my belief is reinforced that well written novels which clearly present a social issue and then guide teens on appropriate ways of responding to deviant behaviour most definitely belong in our school libraries.  While confronting, well written literature offers students a safe place to learn and explore real life issues.

It is also my strong belief that it is incumbent on teaching and ancillary staff working with teenagers to read these kind of novels so as to develop a real awareness and an understanding of the impact of changed social dynamics that dominate the lives of today’s teens.

I hope that this short review of Saving Jazz will inspire many educators to dip into the real world of teenagers so as to learn, explore and understand the real life issues facing today’s secondary school students both in and out of the classroom.

Saving Jazz – Kate McCaffrey

saving-jazzA hard hitting ‘in-your-face’ novel about cyberbullying.  When Allison is found floating in the bath by her mother, the story of what and why is revealed by a series of blog posts written by her friend Jazz.  As the ugly truth about events that occurred is revealed, the reader develops an increased appreciation of the grave ramifications that can result from posting on social media.  A well written novel, which presents a clear, well defined message through the voice of Jazz and at its end is quite uplifting.  Despite the mature age theme, this novel is highly recommended.

Rating:  *****
Theme Fiction:  Social Issues
Suitability:  Year 10-12+

 

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