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Archive for the ‘School Libraries’ Category

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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Such simple advice.  Profound, simple and very accurate!

For those of us working in school libraries, we don’t need to be told the amazing power inherent in books.  We know it.  We feel it when our library patrons – staff and students alike – express

  • the anticipation of borrowing a good read from a vast collection
  • the excitement when a book of choice is finally found
  • their thoughts about a book read when returning it

Building upon the wisdom shared by the Simpsons, we must recognize that books also have an amazing power to:

  • allow us to learn about other people, cultures, religions
  • let us explore the world and the universe
  • explore the geographical wonders of countries
  • enable us to learn facts about life as it was in history
  • delve into the life of others, learn about relationships, develop empathy
  • expand vocabulary & language skills: the basis for improved writing
  • let us slip into a fantasy world where imagination can roam free
  • develop critical thinking and analytical skills
  • provide relaxation and reduce stress
  • entertain us: make us laugh, feel happy, feel sad …..
  • improve self confidence as we discover others living in similar circumstances
  • expand our knowledge on an infinite range of topics
  • allow us to teach ourselves new skills
  • promote improved concentration
  • engage in a great, inexpensive hobby

The OECD’s 2018 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) results were announced a few days ago.   The results for Australia are not good.

Australian 15-year-old reading scores are way below those of their peers in ten countries – including Singapore, Estonia, Canada, Finland, Ireland, Korea and Poland.

And around 41% of Australian 15 year olds have failed to meet the minimum national standards in reading – up from 31% in 2000.

Since PISA first assessed reading literacy in 2000, Australia’s mean score has declined by the equivalent of around three-quarters of a year of schooling …..

The Conversation (December 3, 2019)

Tackling the cause of lower reading standards is imperative.  Let’s discuss what is not working, what is working and how we can do it better.  Let us all join forces – school administrators, teachers, those of us working in the field of school librarianship, students and parents – and tackle this issue together.

There is a perception in schools that school libraries are simply a repository of books and information.  No – it is not true!  So much more goes on inside the school library.

My many years working in school libraries has taught me much.

Teacher Librarians do not differ at all from Maths Teachers, Science Teachers or History Teachers.   All of us constantly, express and share with students our passion, our excitement and our awe of the subject matter that is the focus of our teaching.  Teaching is not just a job that involves imparting information.  To be a successful teacher, it is essential to engage our students and to engender a love of the subject matter we are teaching.

Read a book ….. learn about the world”

has forever been the mantra I’ve shared with students I’ve worked with in both the classroom and in the world of school libraries.  It has been a deeply rewarding time in which I have been able to indulge in my passion of connecting students with the wonderful world of literature.

It is incredibly important and powerful to establish a “connection” with students as they come into our school libraries.  Chatting about books being selected, books being borrowed and demonstrating a familiarity with the library collection is essential.  Those of us working in school libraries engage daily with students:

  • showing an interest in what they are reading
  • letting them know we are very familiar with children’s and Young Adult (YA) literature
  • helping students find books that interest them
  • ensuring that books are in their appropriate reading range
  • chatting about the book they’ve chosen as they borrow
  • sharing titbits about the book, the series or the author a student is borrowing
  • providing a safe and comfortable haven for those who need a quiet place ‘to be’
  • assisting struggling readers and those who come to English as a second language

As I  collect my bits and pieces, pack my bag and close the door on this chapter of my working life, I leave knowing that I have managed to engage with students and share with them my passion and love of reading.  I look back with fond memories of some of the standout events I have initiated and held in the cause of promoting a love of reading and the warm buzz emanating from those who attended.

The warm memories of achievement, knowing that I’ve been able to make a difference will be my inspiration as I move onto my next challenge.

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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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In just three days, our Year 12s will be sitting their end of year English exam.

While this exam marks the culmination of their compulsory English studies, for their teachers it marks the beginning of next year’s cycle.  Preparations for the 2020 cohort of VCE English students began several weeks ago as English teachers met, discussed and selected the texts that would be used next year.

And, as has been the process seemingly forever, these ‘class texts’ will become the focus of students’ English classes in which they will be required to spend copious amounts of time – often a full term – analyzing, discussing and handing in written reports.

My passion to nurture students’ love of reading remains as strong as ever.  So ….. as I read over a post I published nearly four years ago, in which I responded to VCE students’ disdain toward the books they had been required to read for their English studies, I feel sad to think that not much has changed.   The strength of my words then, remains unchanged:

I’m passionate in my belief that reading is a core skill which underlines all educational achievement. We need to ensure that we inspire students to read, to read anything and everything they possibly can. We need to ensure that students leave our classes and schools with an embedded love, desire and appreciation of just how much reading can bring to their lives – forever. Reading does not just fit into English or Library periods, but is a skill which extends across all aspects and subjects of the curriculum.

NovaNews: Do required reading and class texts inspire a love of reading? November 8, 2015

The entire post can be read here:

Do required reading and class texts inspire a love of reading?

November 8, 2015 by NovaNews

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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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Almost single-handedly, Amazon, the online giant store, has redefined how we shop.

Amazon’s dominance in the book industry has been profound.  Large retail bookstore chains and small independent bookstores have been impacted greatly by the seemingly unstoppable growth of this online monolith forcing the closure of bookstores and changing the way we search for and purchase books.

And ….. it seems ….. there’s no end insight.  Amazon Books has launched into retail sales.  And, as they have in the past, Amazon have once again set out to redefine how we shop by using data driven stats to create book displays that tempt and guide the purchaser.

A not too happy account of how Amazon is reshaping bookstores appeared recently on the KOTTKE.ORG blog: Amazon’s data driven bookstores.  For the most part, this post laments the fact that online sales data rather than informed bookstore staff recommendations are being used to promote good reads to the public.

But, as in the past, little will stop the growth of this incredible market driven company.   As I blog, 7 Amazon Bookstores are already open in the US, with 6 more slated to be opening soon.  Without a doubt the current list will be updated regularly as the rollout across the US continues.

A recent post on Recode (a fabulous website I’ve just discovered!) gives an up close look inside the recently opened New York Amazon Bookstore.  In between the telling photos are some interesting observations by Dan Frommer – so take a few minutes and have a read of the post: Photos: Inside Amazon’s first New York City bookstore.

My day to day life is immersed in books.  Not only do I love reading, but my day time job revolves around igniting the magical spark of a ‘love of reading’ in young adults.  To nurture this love of reading, I  constantly make recommendations and, like the staff in book shops, I talk to my library patrons about the kinds of books they enjoy and ask what they have read previously to inform me about their tastes and interests.  The kind of philosophy that has dominated libraries and book shops for millennia – putting the right book into the right hands – cannot be achieved by relying solely on circulation or sales stats, the approach reportedly being adopted by Amazon Books.

Anything that encourages reading though is undoubtedly good!

So instead of looking at the flaws and mistakes of Amazon Bookstores, perhaps those of us encouraging and promoting books in schools can look at some of the great ideas being introduced by Amazon Bookstores and adopt them:

  • lots and lots of face out books for starters certainly makes for an appealing look
  • increased displays of ‘if you like this, how about this’ would also be welcome
  • and how about if we start using circulation stats in a big way to drive the creation of displays

Hmmmmm ….. it seems like I’ve just hit a new spark of inspiration!

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I came across a fabulous link the other day from Education Technology and Mobile Learning which is perfect for use with students by either English teachers or any of us working in school libraries.

The Digital Storytelling Wheel for Teachers post looks like one of those posts that will keep any teacher and their students busy for a very long time as they work their way through exploration of a huge range of iPad and Android Apps together with a host of Web tools.

I just love the graphic too!

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