School libraries supporting literacy

Boy reading

Image shared on Pixabay with a Creative Commons public domain licence

In these times of rapidly changing technology, with increasing amounts of information (which can vary drastically in quality), and trying to keep up with new trends in school librarianship, it is sometimes handy to be reminded that the core business of a school library is literacy. This is exactly what happened at the National Library of New Zealand facilitated School Library Network meeting held in Hawke’s Bay this March.

Participants at the network meeting were asked to share an activity or strategy they have used in their schools to promote literacy. This exercise enabled us to be exposed to a number of new ideas, with the challenge to implement at least one of them before we meet again next term.

Here are some of the strategies that were discussed:

  • Book of the week – highlighting a favourite book can be done using the library management system (particularly if using the search facilities is a learning focus), or can make a quick and easy-to-change display. (Gail)
  • Creating a reading environment – this could be as simple as changing shelving to create more face-out display or more eye-catching arrangements; or this could involve making an investment in more suitable furniture to create fun reading spaces for students. (Kareanne)
  • Booktalks – talk to classes about new books, favourite books, books on a theme; 5-6 books per session probably works best, and these books are almost always issued. (Sandi)
  • Know your book stock and know your students – it is much easier to match students to appropriate or appealing books if you have a good understanding of both; this is not a quick fix strategy – but it is one of the most rewarding! (Bev)
  • Use that giant TV for book trailers – or even better create videos of teachers or students talking about good books they’ve read, this will help create a reading community in your school and students will understand that teachers are readers too. (Debbie)
  • Summer reading programmes – many school libraries insist all books are returned at the end of the year and then they lock them up for the six week summer break. Why? Let the students borrow books over the holidays. They’ll love you for it. (Sandi)
  • Buy what students recommend – and ask them to make recommendations, especially reluctant readers. This helps give students ownership of the library and makes you feel good too! (Raewyn)
  • Themed library nights – the example we heard was a school had a “boys’ night” and a “girls’ night” when students brought their parents along and participated in activities in the library. Everyone else seemed to think this was a wonderful idea, but I felt a bit uncomfortable with the gender stereotyping involved (the boys got to enter the library by crawling under a cargo net – cool!; the girls got to eat cupcakes – meh.) so I would probably use genre themes, like Action and Fantasy, to avoid that. (Debbie)
  • Shelf reviews – bookshops have some great ideas to promote titles and we should definitely adopt some more of their strategies.  Shelf reviews is one of these, they don’t have to be long and they’re put right beside the book so it’s easy to find. (Tamsin)
  • Reading tree – one primary school commissioned a Year 13 student from a local high school to design and build them a wooden tree, paper leaves are then hung from the tree when students have finished a book. Not only has this been a great display and a way to promote reading and books, the students also like to sit under it and read – just like a real tree! (Steph L)
  • Face out book displays – another bookshop strategy that is so simple and works wonders. If you don’t have enough space for face out displays – WEED! Nothing is more daunting (or boring!) to reluctant readers than rows and rows of spines. (Steph L)
  • Book quizzes – but call it something cool, like BATTLE OF THE BOOKS. Lots of kids love competition, so why not make reading a competitive sport? (Sue)
  • Books in windows – one school has whole-school read aloud time after interval every day. Teachers put the book they are going to read that day in their classroom window, students are then able to “shop” around for which book they would like to hear. This would be a great idea for book week if you want to sample it on a smaller scale. Students get to hear different teachers read, and teachers will soon get a gauge on whether they are picking the “right” books or whether their read aloud skills are up to scratch! (Debbie R)
  • Reading wall – this is an idea I adapted from The Book Whisperer, Donalyn Miller.
    Reading Wall

    Image created by me using Comic Life

    Instead of using a classroom door to show what I’ve read, what I’m reading, and what I’m going to read, I use the back of the issues computer. The idea is that it promotes discussion with students and they get to see that I’m a reader too. I’ve particularly noticed that our students like to tell me what book I should read next!

  • Reading challenges – every year I set myself a reading challenge. I don’t like to set myself a number target so instead try to be a bit more creative. I then display my challenge in the foyer so it is the first thing our community sees when they enter the library. Again this starts lots of conversations (with teachers joining in suggestions on this one) and reminds students that even “good” readers can be challenged. So far I only have a 50% success rate with my challenges, but I think it’s good for students to see that adults can fail at things too.

The strategy that I’m going to work on for the next term is our environment. I’ve got some new seating ordered and I’m really looking forward to seeing how that will work in creating some reading corners. I’d also like to give some more bookshop-like promotion a try.

What happens in your school library to help promote literacy? I’d love to hear some more ideas!

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7 thoughts on “School libraries supporting literacy

  1. I love your reading challenge and reading wall ideas! I do something similar with our Book Group – I’ve had a few displays now that are books that the Book Group girls are reading (as a way to start discussions and have students recommending books to fellow students), and at our next Book Group meeting we are going to be setting a personal reading challenge, so this gives me some great ideas!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Reblogged this on iPractice and commented:
    For anyone wondering about the value of school libraries – you should read this great article about the ways that school libraries support literacy by our friend Steph Ellis. Thanks for sharing Steph!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. It’s true – as each new year begins I look forward to what Steph’s latest reading display/challenge is!
    I now include an additional line in my saved email signature which says, for example, “Currently reading: ‘Unwind’ by Neal Shusterman”. A student saw my sign off once and commented briefly, but more often than not I am contacting parents via this forum. Still, they should be pleased that an English teacher is reading and I guess developing their craft. How else can one judge ideas within student writing if one doesn’t know what plots are cliched vs intriguing? The more examples you read, the better. I digress a little.
    Simple evidence of reading also works. Amongst papers on my classroom desk are the odd books that I need to return. Those observant or curious students closest to my desk sometimes pick one up. Some even ask me why I have so many post-it notes sticking out. (Everything I read becomes a teachable moment).

    Liked by 1 person

  4. What about the “blind date” experience? Without revealing a book’s title or author, Steph reads an extract to her captive audience. After a brief recap of books 1, 2, 3,4 and 5, students write their name on a piece of paper and circle the book(s) they’d like to read. Some students circle all of them, some just one and others, none (and that’s okay, too). These are drawn and students are matched with their chosen book to be issued.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: Teens reading less…or are they? | A Thoughtful Spot to Rest

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