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Posts Tagged ‘School Libraries’

Every now and then I publish a post on my other blog which has as much relevance here on BevsBookBlog as it does on NovaNews.  So here’s my recent NovaNews post.   It would be great to have some feedback from my many readers here!

 

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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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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Inspiring kids to read is one of the joys of working in a School Library.   Convincing them to take a book in hand that will hook them into hours of joy and discovery is so inspiring, so invigorating.

‘Read a book …..  learn about the world!’

This has to be one of my all time favourite signs to pin up in my Library displays.   Chatting with kids, getting them on board with the joy of discovery …..   Wow ….. it’s so inspiring, so fulfilling.  Having one of those bubbly

‘Have you read this?’   ‘What do you think of that?’   kinds of bookish conversations with kids is so much fun.

Reading, the joy of reading, sharing the passion I have for reading …. this has always been the icing on the cake for my work with kids in schools.

Discoveries of recent months though, in which my life has become so overwhelmed with all things web based has made me wonder ….. just for a fleeting second ….. whether all this ‘new stuff’: social networking, social media, Web 2.0 tools, embedding technology into the curriculum ….. whether all this ‘new stuff’ will challenge the previous status held by books in our schools.  That heaven forbid, kids today will have no time to read books or explore the wonders they hold.

Just a few days ago, I was asked how I’d feel if all the books we currently have in our Library were removed.

A second of panic hit me ….. a gasp ….. the thought: ‘no ….. it’s just not possible’ reverberated through my head.  Before I knew it, I blurted out my reply: No, it won’t happen, it couldn’t happen!  I love to curl up with a book in my hand.

Then someone sent me this clip of Phillip Roth talking about the future of the novel:

Roth’s forlorn tone when he states that the book

can’t compete with the movie screen
can’t compete with the television screen and
can’t compete with the computer screen

nearly had me believing him.   Throw into the mix, articles reporting the negative stats on book sales vs eBook sales and wow…. the traditional novel, the one you relax with on the couch, curl up with in bed, crave to read in between the daily routines, certainly does seem like it’s under a death sentence.

Take a look at our children though ….. the ones that sit wide eyed on our laps or in clusters at our feet in our classrooms or Libraries listening intently as we share the joy of a story.   Are they not being inculcated from an early age into the joy of reading, the wonders of books?

Is the book about to disappear?  Is it to become a relic of past life?  Have a listen to this podcast Is the book Dead? a recorded discussion held at the State Library of Victoria on September 6th 2007, then let me know what you think about the future of the book!

(Previously posted on NovaNews – October 10th 2010)

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