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Posts Tagged ‘reading’

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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When I first heard about the push to reintroduce Phonics into Year 1 teaching programs, I thought I was hearing things!

Could it be possible that a tried and tested method of teaching kids to read was making a ‘come back’?!

You see ….. when I was a kid ….. learning phonics was a major path to unlocking the mysteries of letters on a page.  Warm memories of sitting on the mat staring at letter combinations and cue cards to help me remember the various letter combinations that made the same sound are as fresh in my memory today as they were when I was very little.

The result?  My ability to pronounce words – as distinct from knowing the meaning of words – is quite straightforward.  Even though I have trouble explaining ‘why it is so’ to those who come to English as a second language, I have clearly internalized a wide range of basic rules.

By the time my son started school though, ‘Whole Language’ was the ‘thing’.  After a couple of years observing that this approach didn’t necessarily suit all learners, I quietly dubbed this new approach as learning to read by osmosis!  Structured instructions had been thrown out the door, immersion in ‘whole language’ was the one and only way.

The sad fact though, ensuring that a generation of children struggled with learning to read, was that this approach just didn’t suit all children.

Building foundations by giving young children a scaffolding on which they can build makes so much more sense.

So it was with much pleasure I recently read an informative article by Kirstie Chlopicki: Why we need the phonics screening test  (Education Review, October 17, 2017; access by subscription to Education Review only unfortunately) which notes that a phonics screening test will soon to be introduced into Australian schools for all Year 1 students.  Acknowledging that children will not learn the complex relationships between sounds and letter symbols in English, a language recognized to be more complex than other languages, unless they are taught “early, explicitly, systematically and regularly” says much for the previous teaching methods.

Announcing the impending introduction of the phonics screening test, Simon Birmingham, Minister for Education and Training has clearly signaled a change in the right direction.

Screening students however is only the first step.

Considering the current frightening literacy levels in a county such as Australia – a developed Western nation – taking action to not just develop but to implement a phonics teaching program is urgent!

 

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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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It was early December last year that a newspaper headline screamed out at me:

Teach teens to read, NAPLAN chief warns”

Finding the same article online (The Age. December 2, 2015) the headline had been toned down a little:

NAPLAN chief says first step to better results is teaching teenagers to read”

The message however is the same: students need to be taught to read throughout their school years, not just up to Year 2, which, it is said, is a common occurrence in schools across our country.

Following a report on the controversial NAPLAN testing conducted throughout Australia in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9 which indicates that reading levels beyond Year 7 are stagnating, ACARA (Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority) general manager, Stanley Rabinowitz, comments that as students get to higher levels there needs to be an emphasis on not just reading to learn but learning to read. 

The assumption is that because we think they are reading, we don’t have to do reading instruction in years 7 and 9.”

I have long argued that reading is the cornerstone of all education.  I’ve talked about this at conferences and endlessly with work colleagues in schools in which I’ve taught.   I’ve blogged long and hard over the years about the importance of reading and the necessity to create an atmosphere that inspires our students to read.

Over the years, I’ve put my words into action by creating a range of innovative and inspiring reading programs within those schools I’ve worked.   Most of all though, I talk with the students in my classes each and every time I have the pleasure of sharing with them in my library.  I talk with them about the importance of reading and the immeasurable joy and knowledge that can be gained from reading. Without a doubt, I tell them

Read a book ….. Learn about the world!”
There’s no doubt in my mind that reading is the key to successful educational achievement.  Resources poured into education seem misdirected if they are not supporting this basic key skill.  Our students need to not just be taught to read, but to be inspired and encouraged to read.  A positive and inspiring reading climate in each and every school must be created.
  • Saturate students with books.
  • Inundate students with positive role models.
  • Make reading a ‘cool’ activity.
  • Initiate enticing book events.
  • Talk lots about books, authors and writing.
  • Encourage a whole school reading involvement.
  • Utilize the enthusiasm & expertise of Teacher Librarians.
  • Talk regularly about the value of reading.
  • Create reading opportunities during the school day.
  • Invite – often – authors, illustrators & storytellers to the school.

There’s no room for complacency.  Programs designed to encourage reading should come with no strings attached.  Negative overtones should not enter the picture.

A fascinating discussion about education was recently presented by Fareed Zakaria in his regular CNN broadcast.  Reporting on the merit of Australia’s announcement for a bold new school curriculum which gave more prominence to coding over history and geography, Zakaria moved the discussion on to the importance of developing workers who not only had skills but learned how to interact, relate and communicate with others.  “Succeeding at work and in life is more complicated” he says “than simply learning to code.”  Distinguishing between ‘relationship workers’ and ‘knowledge workers’ he emphasized the importance of students learning to interact with people.   A powerful tool to develop these skills is reading.

Reading fiction with complex characters and stories trains us to observe others and empathize with other people … which is why many medical schools are requiring that their students read fiction to become better doctors. (at 3.17 mins)

Fareed Zakaria-What in the world- Coding vs humanities

It is encouraging to hear the voice of a highly reputed social analyst support what Teacher Librarians have been saying for a very long time.

Encourage our students to read.  Inculcate reading across the school curriculum rather than relegating it to the sidelines of school programs.

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By the time I finished reading an article in last week’s Age which reported on students’ completion of their English exam, their first formal exam in the annual final school year VCE Examinations, I felt sick and totally grief stricken!

The title of the hard copy newspaper, set the mood of the article:  Relief and thoughts of book burning follow the exam. (The Age. October 29, 2015, p12) While reporting on students’ response to the English exam was the article’s major emphasis, tucked into the article was the students’ response to seeing the English exam over and done with:

Anger boiled over at some schools, with one student burning his Death of a Salesman book, and posting the image on Facebook.

Really?!

The online version of this report garnered an altered title: Whether ’tis nobler to recycle or burn one’s books – the big post-VCE English question, but still bred the same feelings within me. Reporting on the same incident, the text was softened and somewhat less specific:

Anger boiled over at other schools, where students posted images of burning VCE papers and books.

Both the hard copy and online articles started with the same lead line stating that the school captain of a Melbourne school was “tossing up whether she should recycle her VCE English books or burn them.”

The question: ‘Would you ever read it (the studied texts) again?’ was posed to a few students (see 2.03 minutes into the video at the top of the online article). While one student commented that it was good to examine books in depth and gain a better perspective of what the author was aiming to say, the common response from other students  was no – they’d never pick up the book again with one student adding:

I’ll probably never touch them ever again,” he said. “I’m pretty sick of them, to be honest. I’m pretty glad to be done.”

My response:

Heartbreaking!

Burning books?  Never wanting to touch books studied again?  Discouraging the exploration of underlying messages and meanings shared by authors? Turning students off reading for life?  Is this the end goal of our English and Library classes?

I can see some head shaking in response to the veracity of my words though.  Some of you may well be commenting that these are the actions and response of only a few students or that the quoted words of students in these articles are merely their light-hearted response to the joy of finishing their much dreaded final English exam. 

But hang on …. is this really the case?

It was a few years ago when I had a Year 11 class in the school library for a Wider Reading session that I experienced one of those jaw dropping moments that stay with you for life.

With my characteristic enthusiasm to inspire and motivate a love of reading among this testy bunch of teenagers, I held up the first of the pile of books I’d assembled on the desk in front of me, sure as anything that this one would ‘hook’ them in!  To my horror, a collective groan emanated from the class as they saw the cover of Brian Caswell’s “Only the Heart”.  Unable to restrain myself, I proclaimed the brilliance of this novel.   No, they collectively responded.  That was our class text last year.  Engaging with them to suss out why they really disliked it, the answer was plain and simple.   The book had been ‘hashed to death’ with requirements to analyze, discuss and respond to exam questions.  Quite simply, this bunch of teenagers told me quite honestly that they never wanted to see or hear about this book or author ever again.   I was devastated and saddened to think that they had been so cruelly turned off not just one great book, but an accomplished and talented author.

Over the years, I’ve had lots of ‘heart-to-heart’ chats with senior students about books and reading habits.  Many have expressed their dislike of class texts and the inherent requirement to analyze texts to death.  Many of my chats have been with reluctant readers, who openly confide that they just don’t like reading.  Teasing out the reasons for their disinterest has almost always come down to their experience of being required to read specific books that they have found boring and then having to spend copious amounts of time – often a full term – analyzing, discussing and handing in written reports.

These conversations always leave me feeling bereft.

I’ve spoken with English teachers often about this issue, but always have the same facts thrown at me: students need to study class texts over an extended period of time so as to hone their analytical skills, their critical thinking skills and their appreciation of the classics. This ‘full stop kind’ of response invariably allows no openings to my pleas to  incorporate additional or alternate opportunities aimed at inspiring students to read, read and read some more – just for the joy of it!

Yes, I’ve also faced the argument that I’m not an English teacher who has an allocated number of periods a week within which to teach a curriculum and ensure that students complete inherent required assessments.  I’ve also been reminded that I’m a Teacher Librarian who has lots of time to spend dreaming up, creating and staging a range of enticing literary activities.

Well, yes, I guess that’s correct.  A big part of my job as a Teacher Librarian is indeed to inspire a love of reading.  And that’s just what I do and will continue to do for as long as I work as a Teacher Librarian!  I make no apologies for this!

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.

As a Teacher Librarian I constantly grapple with the issue of engaging students with literature.  Over the years, I’ve devised many an alternate approach to put books into the hands of students in my school.   Many of these alternate approaches were incorporated into Literary Festivals I organized at one school.  I have also blogged, written and presented about some of the many activities, programs and events I have organized over the years in my library sessions.  If interested, have a read of this post: Engaging readers: Tried and tested ideas that work!

Perhaps it’s time for all of us – secondary school English teachers and Teacher Librarians alike – to step back and take a look at the nature of our program content and question whether what we are doing is encouraging or discouraging our students to become lifelong readers.

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The joy of learning and the joy of reading are two topics I am deeply passionate about.

So when I heard that Professor Stephen Krashen, a world leader on the topic of literacy, was touring Australia last week, I was very keen to attend one of his presentations.   With some disappointment though  I realized that I wouldn’t be able to attend either of his two Melbourne presentations.   Buoyed though by the enthusiasm of a work colleague who did attend saying that he was brilliant, I resolved to do the next best thing and explore the beliefs, research and teachings of this inspiring professor for myself by researching all that is available online.

Ah the joy of online learning!!

To my delight, I found lots by and about this eminent educator and proceeded to devote a number of hours to a self styled ‘online’ learning program and as a result, now feel I’ve got a good handle on how Krashen believes we should be pursuing the ‘teaching’ of reading in our schools.  Most inspiring of all is that Krashen’s approach fits in perfectly with my own beliefs!

Like Krashen, I believe that the best way to teach reading and extend our students’ skills is, quite simply, by having them read!  Exposure to good quality reading material which is readily available, providing positive role models and ensuring that students have as many opportunities to knuckle down and read are essential ingredients to nurture reading.  Reading is not something that can be compartmentalized into English classes and taught.  Indeed reading is a skill and a focus of every school subject and is the reason why in past schools I have created school wide Literary Festivals in which literature across the curriculum was celebrated.  In addition to authors and illustrators,  a wide range of artists, all of whom are united in their passionate desire to engage, stimulate and challenge students with their love of the written and spoken word were included in the Literary Festivals held.  I’ve written extensively about Staging a Successful Literary Festival.

I was very pleased to come across a presentation by Stephen Krashen where he spoke at The University of Georgia College of Education in 2012 on the very same topic as his Melbourne presentation: The Power of Reading.  It was great to listen along and realize that his words illuminated the handout given to me by a work colleague from Krashen’s Melbourne presentation.  As I listened, I found myself jotting down some of the key points he made:

Opening his talk, Krashen aims to debunk the myth that millions are illiterate and that teachers are to blame.  Very few, he says, presumably in relation to US children, are completely and totally illiterate.  The problem he maintains is that demands for literacy have been increasing faster than we cope.  Officially he explains, the lowest 25% (referred to in statistics as the lowest quartile) have low literacy. It is obvious, he says, that there will always be 25% who are at the lowest percentile which does not equate with them being illiterate!

After stating emphatically that he knows how to develop literacy, Krashen gives the simple one word solution:

READ!

One kind of reading which works better than anything else, he claims, is the kind of reading we do obsessively and it is called free voluntary reading in which there is no requirement for any kind of formal response.  Krashen has adopted these three words as a slogan, elevating them to a process called Free Voluntary Reading (FVR).  In his online talk, he explains:

There is one kind of reading that works better than any other and it was the kind of reading you did last night before you fell asleep”….. The kind of reading that really counts is the reading you and I do all the time that we do obsessively. We call it Free Voluntary Reading (FVR) … reading because you want to. No book reports. No questions at the end of the chapter. You don’t like the book you put it down and pick up another one. Free Voluntary Reading is the source in my opinion of our reading ability; it’s the source of most of our vocabulary, all of our educated vocabulary just about comes from reading, in most cases, our ability to handle complex grammatical constructions, … most of our ability to spell well…. our ability to write with a good style, much of our knowledge of the world, comes from reading.

Acknowledging that no discussion about reading can be complete without reference to a book by Daniel Faber called Hooked on Reading, published around 1965, in which the notion of Sustained Silent Reading (SSR) is raised as a tool to promote reading, Krashen then spends considerable time detailing the results of research studies which support the value of both FVR and SSR.  The results are profound.

The case for Free Voluntary Reading, discussed at length in his Melbourne presentation, is explained quite fully in The Power of Reading – skip to 15.33 minutes into the video continuing for about four minutes. This explanation is also published in a 1983 article in The Reading Research Quarterly.

Also of interest is his reference to Silent Sustained Reading (SSR) in a study by Elly & Mangubhai in Singapore, which is written up in Language Learning, (at 19.45 minutes into the video) in which he sates:

Students who did reading did better on grammar tests than those who had grammar classes!

Why should this happen?  ….

If you read a lot your knowledge of the conventions of writing , your knowledge of vocabulary and grammar it’s acquired not learned; its subconsciously absorbed, it’s stored deep in your central nervous system, it becomes part of you.   They have no choice but to write well.”

Krashen goes on to give a number of case studies some of which are people reflecting on their reading experience.  The conclusion, he says, he is coming to (at 24.46 minutes) is that:

Children who grow up with poverty, with access to books, are the ones who make it. Those who don’t,  don’t make it.

As someone who has worked in the field of Teacher Librarianship for more than 20 years, Krashen’s endorsement of the value of libraries is profound!  Others writing about the value of libraries, Teacher Librarians and reading field such as SHOUT for Literacy and Libraries also make reference to Krashen’s research, writings and presentations.

As a profession, our role is to promote the value of libraries and the wealth of reading choice they offer students.  It is our professional responsibility to continually remind teachers in our schools the undeniable value that students can gain from engaging with literature for no other reason than the joy of it.  I believe that the continual over-emphasis placed on students by required text study, most often kills the joy of reading.

If an interest in this topic is high on your ‘knowledge’ agenda, I would highly recommend you take an hour and have a listen.

Apart from this video I found a number of other valuable online references, including Krashen’s website and blog, as well as An Introduction to the work of Stephen Krashen where drop down menus give more information on topics of interest.

So, it seems, I have been able to enjoy a professional learning experience virtually.   Wonderful!!

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The succinct messages that can be encapsulated in infographics are inspiring.

When I read through this one: The Future of Smartphone Reading I thought it’d be interesting to document it here if only to look back on in years to come to see whether some of the 2016 and beyond predictions come true!

Enjoy:

Created by waypharer.com

Created by waypharer.com

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It was back in early December last year, just a week or two before the end of the academic year, that the devastating results of the International testing of Year 4 students was released.

For Australia, it came as a profound shock to see that we were ranked 27th out of a total of 48 countries tested.

Schools, educators, politicians and researchers went on the back foot to explain and account for the poor results.  Given the timing of the release of these results however, the outcry that hit the press with a thud diminished rather quickly as the summer vacation took a hold of the nation.

As students Australia wide return to school next week for the start of the new academic year, it seems timely to revisit this issue.   The 7.30 Report  aired on December 12th 2012, is a good place to start.  Various excuses were proffered, including the fact that our classes are multicultural unlike the monocultural classes found in a range of countries such as Finland, Singapore and Japan or that Asian countries actually train their students to be successfully in testing.   Other excuses offered looked more seriously at issues of teacher preparedness, quality and incentive.  The accompanying article “Educators demand school overhall after poor results” also makes interesting reading.

Australian schools get poor grades

Some legitimate issues raised in this report are well worth considering:

  • Lifting the status of teaching has long been an issue of concern to teachers.   Writing about this previously- Teachers: A school’s greatest asset! I have often lamented the fact that our teachers are not given the recognition they so deserve.  It’s time.
  • Attract suitable candidates to teaching by lifting the entry level score.  Including interviews in the selection process may also help to weed out those who end up in teaching as only a second or third preference.  Why should our students be serviced by professionals who got into teaching because they didn’t get into their first course preference?
  • Teacher preparation programs perhaps need more fine tuning to ensure that graduates have a good handle on both theory and practice.   It’s a no brainer that graduate teachers have knowledge, competency and skill in their subject area, but trainee teachers also need to learn how to successfully impart that knowledge to students.
  • Retaining talented and capable teachers in our schools is essential if standards are to be achieved and maintained.  Exploring why today’s graduate teachers do not remain in the teaching profession needs to be undertaken.
  • Better pay has been a demand of teachers seemingly for eternity.   That politicians promise and then back track is a constant.  Adequately and meaningfully rewarding teachers for their skills and the challenging job they perform in society is essential.
  • Provide adequate support to teachers to help them cope with the stressful role they perform.  While it is often stated that teaching is a stressful, emotive and demanding profession, little support is currently in place.
  • Parents as partners may sound like a lofty goal, but educating parents about the important role they play in their child’s lives is often overlooked.  If all parents were aware of the gains to be achieved by reading nightly to their children, we may well see a lift in overall student performance.

Clearly, Australia, its educators and politicians, need to come up with constructive approaches to address the low literacy levels identified.  As Teacher Librarians, I wonder what solutions we could offer?

It’s an issue well worth pondering.

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