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Posts Tagged ‘literacy’

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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I admit to doing a double take when I read a recent article in EducationHQ Australia: Graduate teachers’ skills on the improve.

Aspiring teachers have shown improved performance in a national literacy and numeracy test designed to weed out those unsuitable for the classroom.”

Perhaps I’ve lost touch with reality over the years because I have always assumed that the kind of rigorous checking that I went through well before I graduated with a teaching degree, was still in place.

From this statement though, it appears that my assumption was totally off base!

While I have gone on to get a few additional qualifications over the years, my initial training was as a Primary Teacher.  Well before – and I’m talking here about a year into a three year course – all of us had to sit a basic English skills test, which included a check of our spelling, writing and reading skills, along with tests that checked our competence in a range of mathematical processes.  Successful graduation hinged on scoring very highly on these tests.

In addition to achieving these determined levels in English and maths, each of us had to demonstrate an ability to read sheet music – yes we had to play an instrument from a piece of unseen music – as well as to demonstrate basic swimming proficiency – swimming a minimum of 50m in all four strokes – which provided us with a swimming certificate stating our achieved level of competency.

For those of us who didn’t reach a satisfactory level in any four of these mandatory skills, we were required to enroll in ‘remedial’ classes for that category.  Once a set period of remedial tuition had been completed we were  invited to re-sit the assessment to demonstrate our competence.

While I can imagine training institutions balking at the idea of teaching their trainee student teachers to read music and swim (even though I personally feel that this requirement ensured we graduated with a set of valuable skills that some of us didn’t have when we entered teacher training programs) to imagine that a check of basic literacy and numeracy levels have not been part of teacher training programs seems nothing short of farcical.

One can’t help wondering if the lack of these requirements over the years has contributed to the stagnant NAPLAN results which flooded the news so recently.

Couple this thought with thoughts I wrote very early this year which highlight the continually lowering entry requirements for candidates into the teaching profession, and we are left wondering what exactly has and is going on in teacher education programs.

The losers in all this are of course the students in our schools.

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I noticed last week that a work colleague posted a link to a fabulous article written by Sally Dring “Don’t overlook your school librarian, they’re the unsung heroes of literacy”.

When I read this article a couple of years ago, I was delighted to read Sally’s reply to my RT: “it needs saying!”.

Dring’s post highlighted the many valuable attributes and skills that teacher librarians bring to schools:

  1. With dual qualifications in both teaching and library management, teacher librarians are skilled in being able to see the big picture from the perspective of both students and teachers across a range of subjects and year levels.
  2. An expertise of teacher librarians is teaching ‘information literacy’.  Learning how best to locate information online and then learning how to judge its value and relevance to the topic at hand is a skill that can best be taught by teacher librarians.
  3. Teacher librarians are able to support teachers across the school by providing valuable links to resources relevant to curriculum being taught. Teaming with teachers to locate new resources when curriculum content changes as well as providing resource lists for students and teachers is a valuable skill held by teacher librarians.
  4. By encouraging students to shun plagiarism and instead demonstrate learned note taking skills, teacher librarians assist students to become independent researchers.
  5. By utilizing and valuing the skills teacher librarians have at their finger tips – how to approach and start a research assignment and how to locate and assess relevant digital and hard copy resources – school teachers can act as role models to the students in their classes on how to best use the skills of teacher librarians.
  6. The core ‘business’ of teacher librarians is reading and literacy.  Locating the right book at the right time for an individual child or teacher is a skill which should be highly valued and utilized by all members of the school community.

Dring concludes her well stated thoughts by imploring school communities to make the most of a valuable asset so often overlooked:

But many school librarians are seen purely as minders of a spare IT suite or as date label stampers. They are enormously, depressingly, frustratingly underused.

So don’t forget to seek out your school librarian. You will be amazed at how much support they can give you and how much time they can save you. And they really do want to be taken notice of.

It strikes me as sad that nearly two years after first reading Dring’s article in The Guardian, the same issues are still being discussed in the literature.

Just recently, I read another great article, this time by Aussie writer, Kay Oddone, who in her take on The importance of school libraries in the Google Age notes the positive attributes of teacher librarians and implores readers to user her arguments as a “catalyst for discussion” to bring about change.

As I consider the arguments presented by these two writers and being cognizant of the two year gap between their publication, I’m left wondering whether anything much has changed in the intervening years.  And if nothing much has changed in the intervening years, perhaps the question that needs to be asked is ‘Why?’

Why is the role of teacher librarians still not valued in our school communities?

It is one thing for teacher librarians to bemoan the fact that they are not valued by their school community or its administration.  To ask why though is, quite frankly, confronting!  After all, no one wants to admit failure.  Yet, to bring about change, we need to be able to objectively assess what it is we are doing, look at it from all sides and angels and figure out a different path.

I can already hear the wail coming from a large body of teacher librarians reading this!

  • It’s not easy!
  • We’ve tried before!
  • There’s not enough time!
  • It’s impossible to change school culture!

What we need to be able to do is to brainstorm different ways to approach issues of concern.  By looking at just some of the statements mentioned by Dring in her article, ideas tumble to mind.

  1. Highlight the ‘teacher’ in teacher librarian:  Don’t assume that teaching staff and students know that you have dual qualifications in teaching and librarianship.  Repeatedly and excessively refer to yourself and those on your team as teacher librarians highlighting what you can do to assist them.  If the school community doesn’t know about our skill set, how can we expect them to utilize our skills?!
  2. Run assignment ‘help’ sessions:  Be proactive: volunteer to run an ‘introductory’ session for a new topic or assignment which may include where to start an assignment, how to find resources or how to best organize information located.  Don’t fall into the trap of volunteering to run such sessions for the one subject or the one teacher or the just the one year level as that leads to the possibility of ‘routine’ overshadowing the wide range of skills that can be offered by teacher librarians.  By ‘sprinkling’ the volunteering offer among different subjects, teachers and year levels a ‘buzz’ can be created and a ‘need’ for the skills on offer can be generated.  When demand can’t be met, other voices may well take their request to admin for you!
  3. Collaborate with teachers:  By asking teachers to assist in the location and evaluation of new resources, a ‘team effort’ between teachers and teacher librarians will be initiated while increasing awareness of all the valuable resources available, so invite teachers to help locate new resources: new hard copy books, new eBooks and new online resources.  Creating joint ‘ownership’ of resources is an important and valuable way to increase their use!
  4. Run library skills workshops:  Run imaginative and fun workshops for students outside of class time on basics such as using the library website, where to find information, how to use databases, the dangers of plagiarism and note taking.  Creating a presence for the library in the eyes of the student body will underline that teacher librarians are able to do lots more than just fix the photocopier!
  5. Promote library resources:  Share and publicize lists of resources available through the school library.  Make access to these resources easy to find and easy to use. Share these with both staff and students.
  6. Be heard in staff or faculty meetings:  Teachers are busy and struggle to find time to do everything, so reach out to them.  Request a short time allocation at full staff meetings or ask faculty heads for 10 minutes of a faculty meeting and share skills that can be offered as well as how/where resources can be located on the school intranet or library webpage. Don’t try to share ‘everything’ at once.  Aim for a series of show and tell sessions or a few sessions a term/semester.
  7. Hold workshops for teachers:  Help new and old staff overcome their hesitation to utilize library staff and resources by running orientation sessions sharing the location of resources in both the library and on the library website.  Hold these at the start of the year or during the year over a recess or lunch break.  Food and coffee/hot chocolate are valuable enticements!
  8. Create ‘foot soldiers’:  Always have at the back of your mind the aim to create ‘foot soldiers’ to further the library cause.  Once teachers know how much assistance teacher librarians can provide in the delivery and support of curriculum content, the more they will act as role models on how best students in their classes can use both library resources and the skills of teacher librarians.  And if, as I suspect some of you are saying – ‘tried this and it didn’t change anything’ – try again by targeting different more influential teachers in the school.  Remember to always target those teachers who are most likely to tell others on staff what a fantastic support you have been to them!!
  9. Promote reading culture in the library:  Never forget that all library staff are the school’s resident experts on reading and literacy.  Promote this regularly in every possible way with all teaching staff and all year levels: hold book events, create challenges, flyers, posters, websites, competitions and circulate reading lists online and in hard copy.  Being innovative, staying fresh and keeping the library collection vibrant are as important as never giving up – even when programs laboured over don’t succeed the way it had been hoped!
  10. Create a visible presence for the library and its staff:  And finally ….. create a visible and ongoing presence for the library and all library staff.  Publicity is a key to success. Once a program has been initiated and put in place, be sure to ‘sell it’ by telling the whole school community what was initiated, who was involved and what was achieved.  Publicity should come in every form imaginable: newsletters, library and school blog posts, social media, wall displays and student presentations.  No amount of publicity is too much!

Sticking with a negative attitude is most certainly not going to change anything.  Taking a step back to look at a situation with fresh eyes is demanding, exhausting and very time consuming.  Could the effort be worth it?  Is an improved role for teacher librarians and school libraries guaranteed by the effort expended? Quite simply – no it’s not.  But if we don’t try to turn the situation around in our schools, yet another two years may go by in which teacher librarians continue to be underutilized and undervalued.

UPDATE:  This post has subsequently been edited and re-published in Connections: Issue #99 2016 under the title: It’s time: Let’s improve schools’ perceptions of teacher librarians (13th October, 2016)

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Every now and then stories I bump into in cyberspace pull me up short ….. literally stopping me in my tracks.

So it was when I came across a story about Andreas Panayiotou, a 45 year old British tycoon.  Said to be worth around £400 million and ranked 200th on the Rich List, his secret shame is that he is illiterate.  That’s right ….. this successful businessman, who never learned to read, has instead developed coping strategies: emails are read to him by his PA as he drives to work while he dictates his replies and his lawyer and accountant handle legal and financial documents.

David Cohen’s article: “Secret of the £400 million tycoon who does not know how to read” in The Evening Standard makes compelling reading.  Panayiotou’s says that he is speaking out now as a way of highlighting the appalling literacy statistics recently published in the Evening Standard by Tom Harper: Shock figures that spell out the extent of London’s reading crisis

Recounting his story, he comments that today when he tries to read, he feels like he returns to those days as a seven year old when he was shamed by his teacher for being unable to read aloud in class:

I can remember it with absolute clarity. The teacher is going round the room asking different kids to read. I am praying he won’t call me. He calls one kid. Then another. I am getting hot and anxious. Sod’s law, third kid, he turns to me. ‘I don’t wanna!’ I say. ‘Why?’ he asks. I don’t want to say in front of everyone that I can’t read. The teacher starts shouting. He thinks I’m being cheeky. He throws me out.”

Reading this article makes me reflect on the enormous power we hold.   How often do we stop to consider the impact of our words on our students, or the influence we have on their mastery of basic skills?   How often can we sway the interests of students in our classes?  Some may say ….. but this story happened nearly forty years ago ….. it’s different today.   Is it?  Have a look around your school.  Listen.  Observe.  Notice.

Just recently I quite accidently stepped on a landmine.  In the course of a casual chat with one of my students she mentioned that she’d been ‘counselled’ by a casual teacher in our school about the impact her music studies were having on her achievement in maths classes.  Alarm bells rang for me as I attempted to undo the damage that this senior school student was feeling as she tried to decide which subjects she would take up in her final year of school.

In the midst of exploring new methods of presenting the old, we need to take stock and remember that a basic focus of our teaching must be to develop and extend the literacy levels of our students.   Enabling students to be immersed in a world of literature is the province of Teacher Librarians.  Who better can provide the support and guidance so needed by all members of our school communities?

Teachers can be both charismatic and powerful role models.   Abusing the power we hold is morally reprehensible.  Taking responsibility for ensuring that all children learn to read is essential.

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