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Archive for the ‘Learning Community’ Category

There’s nothing like a good competition to spur students interest and enthusiasm for learning and exploring.

 

The National History Challenge, promoted by the History Teachers’ Association of Australia (HTAA), is open to Year 1 to Year 12 students across Australia.  As noted on their website:

The National History Challenge ….. is an exciting contest that encourages students to use research and inquiry-based learning to discover more about the past. Students are the historians. They can investigate their community, explore their own and their family’s past and consider ideas throughout history. The NHC encourages the use of primary and secondary sources and offers a variety of presentation styles. It rewards students with generous cash prizes and travel opportunities.

Complete registration details online to get an Information Kit and encourage students to start thinking now about a suitable project.

Keep an eye on the Key Dates page though, as closing dates are not yet available.

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This is the first post in a series I intend to publish on NovaNews.  For ease of access over time, these posts will be listed on a separate page – see page tabs above.

The idea to incorporate Stop-Look-Learn on NovaNews is born from the notion that visuals – especially when used to inspire and educate senior students – is a very powerful tool.

The many videos/thought ideas that are to be included on this page are powerful and beautiful.  They provide stimulation to think outside the box.  They provide inspiration to see our world differently.  They provide opportunity to think about topics that may otherwise pass us by.

While I discovered some a few years ago, others are more recent discoveries.  The common theme of them all is that they contribute to my personal mantra of constantly

Experimenting, discovering, lifelong learning …..

Check out this, the first in this new series.   May it inspire you as much as it has inspired me!

 

Ideas push the world forward

Even though this is an ad published in 2016 for the new MacBook Pro, the video encapsulates some of the most revolutionary ideas that have been developed by man.

How many revolutionary ideas can you spot?!

 

 

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Fortitude Valley State Secondary College, Brisbane’s first new school in 50 years, has just opened its doors for the 2020 academic year.

You may have heard about it or read the publicity surrounding it’s grand opening at the start of this year.  On hand for the opening was Queensland Premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, who informed the waiting press that the $100,000,000 school would be an exciting place of learning for the 140 new Year 7 students who were to start school that day.

Designed by COX Architecture in collaboration with ThomsonAdsett, a leading Australian International architecture and design firm and built by Hutchinson Builders, the Fortitude Valley State Secondary School also has the honour of being the first vertical school in Brisbane.  Clearly proud of this new landmark, these three companies have feature articles on their webpages: COX: A First in Fifty Years: The New Fortitude Valley State Secondary College Opens, ThomsonAdsett: Vertical schools on the rise – Fortitude Valley State Secondary College and Hutchinson Builders: Fortitude Valley State Secondary College.

It is in the ThomsonAdsett article however, that an incidental fact about the process is gleaned from the article which is included in the news section of their website:

We closely collaborated with the Principal (who was appointed after the design phase) to adapt the original design to better suit the management and operations of the school.

Having worked in schools for so many years where I have witnessed the creation of a great many new purpose built buildings, I have always been amazed at the logic of employing a school head, in this case the Principal, or the Head of Department after design plans have been created.

An Arts Centre at one Independent School I worked at, involved the faculty staff and their Head of Department only at the end stage after construction was completed.  Three of the school libraries I have worked in over the years have been designed and built by ‘experts’ that excluded both the Head of Library or the Library Staff.   At another Independent School at which I have worked, the professional insights, experience and opinions of the library staff were neither sought nor considered in plans to revamp the existing school library space.  Instead, a wide cross section of school staff were appointed as the reference group to guide, advise and determine features that should be incorporated.  There is no intention to appoint a Head of Library until after designs are set in place.

If anyone is able to elucidate the logic behind the notion of excluding library staff from having input into the design and construction of its new school library, I would be very pleased to listen ….. and learn.

Apologies though.  I have digressed, venting perhaps a little too much …..

Fortitude Valley State Secondary College does indeed appear to be a wonderful new facility, BUT some, OK, quite a number, have taken to Twitter to express their horror, dismay and disbelief that this new facility designed to operate as a 21st Century school, is to be completely paperless and will not have a library.

Lessons have begun at Queensland’s only highrise school where learning will be paperless. There’ll be no textbooks and no libraries at the state-of-the-art Fortitude Valley facility.

7NEWS Brisbane

Take a couple of minutes to view the video shot at the opening and then have a read of the many Tweets, which so aptly and succinctly sum up the feelings of the many of us who work in school libraries who understand only too well just what  a school library equipped with qualified and experienced library staff can offer to students, school staff and indeed the entire school community!

It’s hard to fathom the thinking behind making schools paperless.  It’s even harder to understand the logic behind getting rid of the school library.

Sadly, Fortitude Valley State Secondary School is not the only school taking up this trend.  Other schools, such as Siena College in Melbourne has replaced the school library with a “learning centre” where students can discuss ideas and learn technology, such as 3D printers and robotics.  Librarians have been replaced with ‘change adopters’. (The Age: Schools that excel: No detentions, no libraries, no problems for this girls’ school March 25, 2019) And in New South Wales, the new $225 million Arthur Phillip High School in Parramatta, has 17 floors but no library.   As reported:

Rather than dedicating a room to the school’s books and research resources in the form of a traditional library, the new Arthur Phillip High School in Parramatta, which opened this week, will have so-called iHubs for each year level on different floors.

Each iHub will have digital resources and some hard copy books, while “students can access other parts of the school’s collection through the librarian,” said a spokesman for the NSW Department of Education.

The Sydney Morning Herald, Sydney’s new $225 million school has 17 floors, but no library January 31, 2020

It’s great to see that a movement to promote the value of school libraries is gaining traction in educational circles and among parents.  Students Need School Libraries has become the voice for those of us working in school libraries, promoting not just the value of school libraries and all that they offer students, teachers and the extended school community, but the importance of staffing school libraries with qualified and experienced teacher librarians.

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The internet is an endless reservoir of resources.  Wading through what is current, valuable and relevant though can be an exhaustive and laborious process for many, most especially our students.

KidsNews, a resource designed to be informative and appealing to students, presents current and reliable news sourced from a wide range of News Corp publications. The content is written in child appropriate language and is filtered to remove inappropriate content or imagery.  Pitched to students from Year 3 to Year 8, a colour coding system is used to identify age appropriate content and comprehension levels:

  • Green – Simple to medium vocabulary, story content easily understood, accessible to all readers (especially with audio option)
  • Orange – medium level of vocabulary, story content a little more complex but still able to be read and understood at middle to senior primary level (audio option and glossary to assist)
  • Red – contains complex vocabulary and content that is of a higher level, suited to more able readers, requires teacher scaffolding for less capable readers.

Three new articles, divided into two main categories, are added each school day:

  • News — covering current affairs, key curriculum topics, interesting stories about people, animals and things
  • Sport — Australian and international sports events and people.

Aiming to be a quality resource for teachers, KidsNews has been developed as a literary resource for teachers using current daily news stories suitable for students.  The classification of content can be sourced by selecting the ‘Key Topics’ tab from the top menu:

The recent gathering of leaders from over 40 countries worldwide to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the World War II concentration camp Auschwitz is just one of the recent subjects highlighted on this website.  By integrating photographs taken by The Duchess of Cambridge into the KidsNews article Photos a moving tribute to Holocaust survivors this webpage incorporates an explanation of the Duchess of Cambridge’s photographs, a brief explanation of The Holocaust, a glossary of key vocabulary, two extra reading articles, a quick quiz, an audio in which the article is read, a number of classroom activities and finally an opportunity for readers to leave a comment. A clear statement at the start of the article indicates to teachers that the article relates to the Key Topic of Humanities and that both the text and content are pitched at a red – more able –  reading level.

In addition to the content are a range of classroom activities – three per news article – written by teachers for teachers that are linked directly to the Australian curriculum.  As noted on the KidsNews website:

The activities vary each day and are specific to the article. Each activity also includes an extension for higher students. The types of activities include:

  • Written projects for literacy, comprehension and storytelling
  • Art projects
  • Geography
  • Speech writing
  • Persuasive text
  • Maths etc.

Explore many more features available on this fabulous website by selecting the How to Use tab at the bottom of the webpage or spend a few minutes watching the video incorporated on this page:

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I did have a smile when I saw this one!!

Schools in Australia finish up this week, so I will be offline over the summer.

May we all have a restful and happy break and take some time to smell the roses, wander though cyberspace at leisure and get stuck into the never ending pile of books that forever accumulate on our bedside tables!!

In between all that I will, for sure, be indulging in the pleasures derived from sharing with my husband and friends our regular stops for

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A link between increased screen time and falling literacy standards of school aged students was extensively explored in a recent Four Corners program aired on ABC TV.   Broadcast on November 11, 2019, the program can be viewed on ABC iview

A report about the program on ABC News (11 November 2019): The first generations of ‘digi kids’ are struggling with literacy as experts warn against screen time makes interesting, but disturbing reading.

Their investigation reports that education experts fear screen time is contributing to a generation of skim readers with resulting poor literacy.  A longitudinal study of Australian children, they report, indicates that by age 12 or 13, up to 30% of Australian children’s waking hours are spent in front of a screen.

In an attempt to explain the low literacy levels being recorded in Australian schools, this program also focused on methods being used in schools to teach reading and questioned whether our education system is failing our students.  Responses by students about their interest in reading books is, to put it bluntly, woeful.  Mobile phones and technology are far more appealing than reading a book.

After analyzing the initial results of a national survey of 1,000 teachers and principals conducted by the Gonski Institute: Growing Up Digital Australia study, which its authors describe as a “call to action” on the excessive screen use “pervasively penetrating the classroom”, Four Corners concludes

The survey found excessive screen time had a profound impact on Australian school students over the past five years, making them more distracted and tired, and less ready to learn.”

 

Infographic: Key findings from the Growing Up Digital Australia study which surveyed 1000 Australian teachers and principals. (Four Corners)

 

It’s clear.  We have a problem.

Attempts to improve reading standards in our schools need to be addressed.  Proficiency and interest in reading will not magically happen without a concerted effort to create change.  Considered planning and thought to devise innovative and inspirational programs that will make reading appealing is essential.

School library staff, a rapidly diminishing group of professionals in our schools, have the skills, the knowledge and and the passion to make this happen.  School administrators, just like those at Caroline Chisholm Catholic College where, as was reported in The Age in early November 2019 – Melbourne school turns its results around by reviving its dying library – must take note and act now.

Just recently, I proposed a range of different ways that could be implemented to improve and develop a positive reading culture.  While not exhaustive, it is a list of ideas that could and should be implemented to ‘start the ball rolling’ in a school that has a poor to non existent reading culture.

  1. At the outset, it is important to avoid the ‘blame game’.  No one person or group of people within a school can be the root cause of a school’s poor reading culture.  Identifying issues of concern and then creating a program that tackles the issues constructively is what needs to be put in place.
  2. Ideas and enthusiasm are more important than throwing lots of money at the problem.  No amount of money on  its own can garner an interest in reading.  Sure, having money in the kitty can be a great help, but not having oodles of money to fund a whizz bang program shouldn’t be a show stopper.
  3. Refurbishing an old library or building a brand new library in a school will not, on its own, inspire a changed school reading culture.  If such plans are in place, a program to inspire the joy of reading should be implemented well in advance of the construction of a dedicated new building.  Such a program should commence at least 12 months ahead of construction beginning.
  4. Creating a positive school reading culture requires a comprehensive and well thought out program.  Utilizing the skills of Teacher Librarians, professionals  who hold recognized teaching qualifications along with qualifications in librarianship/library management, together with other trained and qualified Library Staff – Librarians, Library Technicians and Library Assistants – should take a leadership role in the school to lead and advise other school staff in the creation of an innovative and inspirational program.
  5. A successful program to inspire a love of reading that may have any chance of initiating a changed school reading culture can only be achieved if a school’s Library Staffing is at an optimal level to ensure programs can be effectively initiated, planned, communicated, staged and at their end – evaluated.  Ensuring that a skilled and experienced Head of Library is employed to be the voice and the driving agent of both the Library Staff and programs that are to be initiated is essential.  A good starting point to determine Library Staffing numbers is through ALIA – School Libraries.
  6. To ensure the success of any programs initiated to improve and develop a positive school reading culture it is essential for Library Staff to team with the school’s English Staff.  Ideally the Head of Library and the Head of English will work as a unified team initiating, planning, communicating and staging events that will feed into altering the current school reading culture.  Strength in numbers along with the authority they hold as respected faculty leaders will have a powerful effect at many school levels: administration, teachers, students as well as the extended school community.
  7. Both Library Staff and English teachers across the school should lead by example.  Becoming role models to their students by openly demonstrating and expressing their love of reading is stating the obvious.  By talking about books read/or books that are on a teacher’s list to read and most of all, silently reading in the classroom when that is what the students in the class have been asked to do, sets a powerful example to students of the value and importance of reading.
  8. Reading is an essential life skill and is a component of all subjects across the curriculum.  As such, it is the responsibility of all teachers in the school to demonstrate to their students the value and importance of reading as an essential life skill.  Bombard all teaching staff with promotional information to develop their awareness of the value and importance of reading as a life skill essential to all subject areas and to help them find ways to incorporate reading into their daily lessons.  And yes, that includes sport, maths and science subjects too!
  9. Teachers across the school need to be encouraged/required to participate in Library/English based events and activities in the same way that all staff are encouraged/required to participate in the many sport, music and art events that occur throughout a school year.
  10. Schools regularly present awards, prizes and scholarships to students for achievement in a variety of endeavours.  Aim to present prizes, awards and scholarships to students for literary pursuits in equal measure with those awarded for sport, art and music.
  11. At the time of developing the school calendar, consideration needs to be given to co-curricula and extra curricula programs that focus on literary pursuits.  So often the only inclusions in this area revolve around sport, art and music.  If a school is serious about wanting to change its school reading culture, it must tweak time allocations and program offerings to incorporate literary related events.
  12. School administration personnel, the school’s Curriculum Committee or the schools’ Teaching and Learning Team need to to devise ways to promote the place of reading based initiatives into the school calendar.  Ensure that students who want to pursue footy training or choir practice at lunch time are also able to attend literary based events being held in the school.  Lunch times are precious non class times.  Check these times are not all devoted to the usual trio – sport, art and music.
  13. To effectively develop a positive reading culture across the school there must be a ‘top down approach’.  High level action from Principal/Deputy Principals, Executive and the Teaching and Learning team emphasizing the joy of reading needs to be developed and implemented.
  14. Introduce programs that aim to ‘ingrain’ reading as a habit.  Consider the implementation of the DEAR (Drop Everything and Read) program at the start of each English period.  To ensure the right message is being shared, the program should require the participation of all students and all teachers.  Explore other similar programs until the right one is identified.
  15. Schools are not just comprised of students and teachers.  A wide range of support personnel, including maintenance and administrative staff are also part of the mix.   Most importantly and not to be forgotten though are the parents of students in our care.  Programs that extend across the school community should be a major focus if aiming to create a positive reading culture.
  16. School students spend more time in their home with their parents and family than they do in school.   Creating specific programs for parents to educate them of the importance of reading skills and programs that help them learn how to encourage their children to read is as essential as those programs being developed for use in the school.

Having spent many years working in education, in a variety of school settings as both a classroom teacher, a teacher of Deaf students, a Teacher Librarian and a Head of Library, I have seen and experienced much.  Working in a school that has a rich and exciting reading culture is exhilarating.  Working in a school that has a poor to non existent reading culture is heartbreaking.

Although I have recently tendered my resignation to my current school, it is my hope to still be able to contribute, in some way, to the collective consciousness of those working in schools, stating loudly, clearly and often:

Reading is the cornerstone of all education!

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It’s just over 12 months since France passed new laws banning smartphones, tablets and smartwatches in schools.  The law came into effect just one month later and aimed to extend an earlier ban of smartphones in classrooms, in place since 2010, to a ban of smartphone use across the entire school premises.

Studies citing the success or otherwise of the ban are hard to come by.  An article in Forbes magazine a year later, The Mobile Phone Ban In French Schools, One Year On. Would It Work Elsewhere? (August 30, 2019) indirectly comments on its benefits by quoting research from the London School of Economics:

  • due to increased concentration, limited phone use in schools directly correlates with exam success
  • restricting phone use is a low-cost policy to reduce educational inequalities
  • reduced screen time reduces the negative impact of social media: bullying
  • phone theft has been reduced

The Forbes article notes that the most difficult aspect of the French ban is enforcing it. Despite the consequences, including confiscation or detentions, students being students, have found ways to get around the ban, mostly it seems by using their mobile phones in either the toilets or in the playground where there is less supervision.

So how does this report bode for schools and students in Victoria?

Announcing the new Government Policy on June 26, 2019, Victorian Minister for Education James Merlino stated quite clearly the bounds of the new policy and its intended aims:

Mobile phones will be banned for all students at Victorian state primary and secondary schools from Term 1 2020, to help reduce distraction, tackle cyber bullying and improve learning outcomes for students.

Mobile Phones To Be Banned Next Year In All State Schools, 26 June, 2019

It sounds good.  Will it work though?  Will students comply or will they rebel against school rules imposed on them by the Government?

Could this ban becomes counterproductive?

Instead of banning mobile phones, should we instead be acknowledging the negative issues raised and do what we know to do best:

Teach students how to use mobile phones responsibly!

The arguments for and against the ban of mobile phones in schools raise many issues:

  • Can we ignore the fact that mobile phones have become the dominant mode of communication?
  • Does a ban of mobile phones in schools inadvertently highlight their negative use: aka cyberbullying?
  • Should we not be tackling the sticky central issue surrounding mobile phones – distractability?
  • Is the onus not on educators to create programs that develop and improve sustained concentration?
  • If mobile phones are a dominant part of our daily lives, doesn’t it make sense to incorporate them into our day-to-day school life?
  • Can educators, by creating positive opportunities for the use of mobile phones in the classroom, effectively teach students appropriate use?

So hot is this issue becoming, that a recent post on Education Review (October 4, 2019) took the question to the streets.  While watching this short video, I couldn’t help but notice the preponderance of mobile phones in the hands of people on the street behind the interviewer!

 

 

As we edge toward D Day – or should we be saying B (Ban) Day?! – educators still have a month or so to toy with some of the positive possibilities of using mobile phones in the classroom.  Take a few minutes to read through Will Longfield’s article: I’m a teacher, and I have no problem with phones in my classroom. Here’s why. (EducationHQ News, November 18, 2019) to glean lots of pertinent insights of the value of mobile phones in the classroom and ways they can be used in a classroom setting.  Some salient points raised:

  • learn what mobile phones can do – recognize an apps User Interface
  • cameras in mobile phones can take photos of teacher’s notes
  • monitor what’s going on – mobile phones should be screen up on desk
  • voice recording between two students = authentic student reflection
  • listening to music may not be all that bad
  • it all boils down to developing mutual teacher-student respect

Yet ….. arguments such as these are countered by the positive results reported in one school in New South Wales which has been trialling lock-up pouches for students’ mobile phones.  Reporting on ABC News: When schoolkids lock their mobile phones away in pouches for the day, amazing things happen (22nd June, 2019) students themselves are saying that they valuing the opportunity to be disengaged from technology.

While only time will tell the outcome of this debate, it is heartening to read positive comments, such as those in a recent KidsNews article which reports findings in schools in which a ban has already been trialed. The article: Kids in schools that have banned devices are seeing the benefits, whether they like it or not (August 12, 2019) reports that:

  • kids are now playing and having conversations with their friends at lunchtime
  • kids are finding it easier to be organised at school without their mobile phones
  • students are doing things together; not sitting on their phones
  • students no longer have to check their phone every two minutes
  • not being able to check emails and timetables during lunch forces students to get more organised
  • fully immersive conversations at lunchtime have replaced conversations that go off track when people look at their phones
  • social interaction among students has improved
  • the absence of phones had helped students to avoid distractions during the day
  • Michael Carr-Gregg (child psychologist) adds that banning phones is a sensible *mental health strategy* that lets children focus on learning

It will be interesting to re-visit this issue sometime in early 2021 to check the impact the ban has had on students in schools throughout Victoria.

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Reading the front page article in The Age last week: ‘Minimal progress’: State sued for ‘abandoning’ autistic boy’s education (Adam Carey, November 5, 2019) was heartbreaking.

If you or I were to be the parent of this young man, we too, no doubt, would be devastated to see our 17 year old child leaving school functionally illiterate and innumerate.  It’s natural, as a parent, to want the very best for your child.  Becoming their advocate, trying to ensure that maximum effort was being expended by the school to provide the best and most appropriate education which ensured his/her best outcomes would become part and parcel of the daily parenting routine.

But having spent a considerable part of my career working in Deaf Education, I am able to see both sides of the situation.

As a parent, my heart breaks.  My child has equal rights to that of his non-disabled peers.  The school, most especially a ‘special ed’ school, must provide a solid, well thought out program that aims to develop my child’s skills and abilities to the most maximum level.  A basic accomplishment, I would think, as a parent, is that my child be literate and numerate by the time he/she graduates from school and that by the time he leaves school he would be able to function as a contributing member of society at an independent level.

But, as an educator, I am all too aware of the myriad difficulties posed by the individual needs of each and every student in special education schools.  As an educator, I know that no two students are the same.  Programs need to be modified and tailored to become the best fit for each student.  As an educator though, I know too, that many parents are unable to come to terms with realistic hopes and aspirations they hold for their disabled child.  While the educator has spent several years studying the  implications of specific disabilities, the etiology of different conditions, and the pedagogy which will help dictate the best educational program and teaching style appropriate to meet specific needs, the parent comes in cold.  Most often, when they attend meetings with principals and teachers at the chosen special education school, they are still dealing with the shock of the diagnosis of their child’s condition.  While being confronted with a myriad of decisions about their child’s education in those initial years, for some the shock of diagnosis may extend for a very long time.  For others, it may never be overcome.  Being able to develop realistic hopes and aspirations of the child’s development and potential abilities by the time of graduation can, over this time, be severely impacted.

So when I read about a case such as this one and recognize the inevitability that a finding in favour of the parents could, as stated in this news report, ‘have implications for thousands of families who believe their child has been excluded from learning due to a disability’, I feel a severe lurch course through my body.

My heartbreak is not just for the parents and the child, but for all those educators who have spent countless hours pouring over lesson plans, meeting to discuss best practice, agonizing over how best to prepare this young man for life outside of the safe confines of the school.  Having worked in a special education field for such an extended time, the fear of not providing the very best for students in my care is one that never diminishes – not even after 20 years!

Working in mainstream high schools now, I am often overwhelmed by the complexity of education and the enormous demands made of teachers who have not had the opportunity to study the  implications of specific disabilities, the etiology of different conditions and the pedagogy which may help dictate the best educational program or teaching style appropriate to meet specific needs.  The inclusion of students with diverse needs in mainstream educators’ classes can be confronting and demanding.  It is not uncommon for the needs of the special needs student to dominate each lesson, a reality which could effectively impact other students in the class and may well lend credence to complaints that the teacher is not catering to the needs of all students in the class.

I have blogged long and hard about the many demands placed on teachers working in our schools: Passion vs Process! and Why teachers are irreplaceable! are just two that jump out from the many.

I am extremely sympathetic to the needs of disabled students and am horrified by reports such as those published in a recent edition of Education Review: ‘Reluctant teachers’: Disability commission told some are resisting diversity (November 6, 2019; accessible by subscription):

The disability royal commission heard earlier today that some teachers are “resisting diversity” by not catering to the learning and behavioural needs of students with a disability.

While three special education teachers told the commission that all students should be valued, welcomed and able to attend mainstream schools despite having “complex needs”, they added that’s some teachers were “resisting diversity”.

The teachers’ testimonies followed alarming evidence from parents who said their disabled children were “bullied relentlessly”.

At the same time though, I am sympathetic of the never ending demands placed on those mainstream teachers who have disabled students in their classes.  While the accountability and paperwork required annually by the NCCD (Nationally Consistent Collection of Data) is excellent for ensuring that the needs of disabled students in mainstream schools are being considered and met, this is yet another level of pressure on mainstream teachers – another hefty piece of paperwork  added to the many others already facing teachers.

Clearly it’s tough all around:

  • the opportunity for disabled students to be educated in mainstream schools is their right
  • demands on mainstream teachers to provide suitable programs are confronting and complex

Is the solution:

  • improved education for mainstream teachers of the intricacies involved in teaching disabled students?
  • increased mainstream education settings for disabled students?
  • the provision of more special education support teachers in mainstream schools?
  • better counseling for parents of disabled students?

Or is it all of the above?

Or ….. should the move to integration vs segregation be revisited?  Should we be taking a long, hard look at whether or not the very specific needs of the many disabled students presently in mainstream schools are being lost?

And for those disabled students being educated in special education schools, we need to continually ask whether or not we can do it better?  Are programs in special schools effectively addressing the needs of students and their parents?

Unfortunately, there are no easy answers.

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I’m passionate about the value and importance of reading.  I’m also passionate about the importance of shifting reading from being a ‘chore to be endured’ to one filled with joy and excitement.

Connecting students – particularly secondary aged students – with books and reading has long been a challenge I have approached with enthusiasm.  Yes, it can be challenging to motivate teens, but when that ‘connection’ is achieved, the end result always leaves me feeling quite overwhelmed!

But, without a doubt, one of my most enjoyable teaching challenges in the libraries in which I have worked has been my work with EAL (English as an Additional Language) students. 

Giving these students the confidence to believe that their English writing, speaking and listening skills can be advanced by reading often comes as a surprise to them.  But, with a firm belief that reading is the cornerstone of all education, I have never doubted the benefits these students could gain if they simply engaged with books.   

Teaming with their EAL teacher, the once a fortnight sessions with these students, were well thought out.  Holding the sessions in the school library set the scene and made them focus on my end goal of getting them to read as much and as often as possible.   The highly participatory sessions planned by me in conjunction with their EAL teacher ensured that the session required the students to listen and to speak, to read and to write.  Engaging the students with each other and gently guiding them through set activities was a key to our successful program.  Working hand in hand with their EAL teacher was a bonus and of course provided a better student-teacher ratio.

The basis of the program was two fold: developing skills that would help them locate books in the library with the same kind of ease as native English speakers while at the same time focusing on specific aspects of their EAL program:

  • how genre stickers on library books give content information
  • how salient features of a book help predict its content
  • how delving into books helps them decide if it is a book they can tackle
  • how reading can expand students’ vocabulary
  • how reading can develop students’ writing skills
  • how writing can be improved by focusing on an author’s use of language
  • how the perspective of text impacts our understanding
  • how the author’s language choices enhance the message communicated
  • how writing for different purposes and audiences impacts the writing style
  • how reading examples of persuasive, creative and reflective texts can assist their ability to write

All the while students were required to complete a reading log which they were required to email fortnightly to the me, their Teacher Librarian.  This gave the students a written record of what they had read, new vocabulary they had picked up as they read as well as a short statement about the book and whether or not they enjoyed it, found it challenging and would recommend it to others.

A most powerful voice to kick-start these sessions has been a TED talk by Lisa Bu: How books can open your mind.

 

The increasing number of students who come from non English speaking backgrounds reflects the growing ethnic diversity in our country.  Programs specifically tailored to their needs must be provided.

Apart from dedicated EAL teachers, Teacher Librarians have a wealth of skills to be supporting these students and their teachers.

Let’s show schools what we, Teacher Librarians can achieve when we set our minds to it.

Providing support to any of you wanting to give this a go, but not sure where to start, would be yet another challenge I would love to tackle!

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Timetabled Wider Reading sessions has been a given in each of the school libraries in which I’ve worked throughout my career.

Working in senior libraries, Wider Reading sessions have been scheduled with each class once a fortnight during an English period.  With the English teacher accompanying the students into the library, I’ve always felt that the session is as much for the teacher as it is for the students.   In the hope that the teacher will take on board my words of wisdom and exciting titbits about the latest great reads and their authors, I always try to pitch my enthusiastic words carefully.

Sadly though, there has been many a time when I’ve ‘lost’ the teacher to the photocopier, to the quick trip back to their desk for the forgotten whatever, to a quick/long chat with another teacher who happens to be in the library at that time or to any number of ‘more important than teaming with me in the library’ reason that calls the teacher away.  Then there are the times when the scheduled session with me is cancelled at the last minute: the students need to finish an essay, an assignment, a something or other which they will be doing in the library during their scheduled session.

Undoubtedly, these occurrences confirm in the minds of the students that their Wider Reading session really isn’t as important as their regular English period; that the Wider Reading session is a just a ‘filler’.  Students are always ready for a ‘zone out’ session.  Bad signals are easily sent and even more easily received.

Very disappointing.

Those times dampen my enthusiasm.

Those sessions however, when the English teacher has been on the same page as me, the teacher librarian, and has worked hand in hand with me,  the students are focused and engaged.  Those sessions are absolutely brilliant and rewarding because it is in those sessions that I am sure that the the students are really achieving my end goal – developing a love of reading!  It is these kinds of sessions which continually bolster my own enthusiasm to continue inspiring students to read.  It also confirms my belief that the role of teacher librarians in promoting reading and its value with both students and staff across our schools is of undeniable value!

Knowing full well that the students’ sessions with me once a fortnight are but an isolated burst, I depend on the English teacher taking on board what I have to offer so they can reinforce it with their class during regular English periods.

Perhaps it was in an attempt to engage the English teachers more fully in the Wider Reading sessions, that in one school I worked, the library team decided to give the Wider Reading sessions a new slant.  In consultation with English teachers, the teacher librarians devised a program in which various aspects of writing style were the focus.  The program, liberally peppered with examples from novels in the library collection, was presented once a fortnight when students came in for their ‘Wider Reading’ session.  With a workbook to complete, there was an expectation that students would complete ‘homework’ and present it for correction by the teacher librarian.

The program was very well thought out and was great at highlighting writing style to the students.   Giving students ideas to improve their own writing style, the students were unwittingly being forced to read novels for a purpose: examining authors’ writing style.

As good as these sessions were though, the program unsettled me.  I found myself questioning the purpose of the Wider Reading program we were presenting.  Almost overnight, we seemed to have lost the opportunity to use this once a fortnight session to freely expose and encourage students to develop a love of reading and recognize for themselves the deep seated value that reading can bring as a lifelong skill and instead replaced it with an additional English period where the focus is on reading for the purpose of eliciting a written response.

We no longer had the time to explore other exciting programs which had been a part of our previous Wider Reading sessions:

  • cross age reading activities in which Year 10 student selected, considered and then read picture story books to the Preps – an activity which had a huge impact on all participants
  • a poetry showcase venture which was completed in conjunction with our local public library
  • a Writer in Residence program in which Year 10 & 11 students could be inspired to read and write
  • author visits which inspired and ignited interest, passion and reading

My passion is to encourage the growth of a reading culture in our schools.  As I’ve said so many times before, I passionately believe that reading is the cornerstone of all education.  Reading has an indelible impact on students’ ability to write.

So, at the bottom of all my thoughts rests one question: How can we make the most of that precious once a fortnight Wider Reading session to inspire in our students a love of reading?

Indeed – food for thought.

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