Reading Challenge 2017

stack-of-books

Image shared on Pixabay under a Creative Commons license

It’s that time of year when I start thinking about the reading challenge I am going to set myself for the year ahead.

Lots of people I know sign up to the Goodreads’ Reading Challenge, however, I find the thought of a numbers-driven challenge absolutely anxiety-inducing. I personally do not find this type of challenge motivational. And, after completing a 1000 kilometre running challenge in 2016, I know that a similar type of reading challenge would not be right for me!

The Goodread’s Reading Challenge does also not really fit with the other reasons I like to set myself a reading goal each year. One of the main reasons I set a challenge is to share it with the students. I display my latest challenge in the foyer of our school library to show the boys that even experienced readers can be challenged and that there are many different ways to approach these challenges.

I also like to set a public reading challenge to promote a reading culture within our school, and to show that reading can be a social activity. Some of the challenges I’ve undertaken have been really good at prompting student discussion. I especially appreciate it when boys give me reading suggestions to help me along with my challenge.

On a personal level, I like a reading challenge to broaden the types of things I read. Left to my own devices I would be entirely happy reading police procedurals, narrative nonfiction, and anything written by Anne Tyler, Kate Atkinson or Margaret Atwood for the rest of my life. Sure I’d be happy – but  I wouldn’t be very good at recommending engaging reads suitable for the teenage boys I work with!

Some of my past reading challenges have been more successful than others. The challenges that I have failed at have tended to be ones where the focus has been too narrow, for instance, historical fiction, and haven’t taken into account my need to remain current with the library’s latest book stock.

Challenges I have undertaken so far have been (photos to follow):

  • 2016 – Reading A-Z: for each letter of the alphabet I read books with titles starting with that letter and a separate book that was written by an author whose name started with that letter (ACHIEVED)
  • 2015 – Reading Through the Ages: for each century AD (until the 19th and then it became each decade) I read books that were either written or set during that period (FAILED)
  • 2014 – Reading Bingo: this one has probably been my favourite so far. I used Random House’s Reading Bingo cards (I completed both as 25 books didn’t seem like much of a challenge). This challenged me to read widely and also some students elected to join in. (ACHIEVED)
  • 2013 – Read Around the World: for each country in the world I read books that were either set there or written by an author who came from there. This challenge was made harder by the fact that I am only fluent in English! (FAILED)
  • 2012 – Read as High as Me: this required me to read a stack of books as tall as myself. This was not too hard as I’m pretty short – but this challenge probably prompted the most discussion with students. (ACHIEVED)

With all this is mind, I’ve decided that 2017 is going to be the year that I read harder. Using Book Riot’s Read Harder challenges from this year and last year, I’m going to personalise a NBHS Read Harder challenge. Using Book Riot’s ideas, I’ll create a list of 52 book types that will challenge me to read widely, allow me to keep up with our latest book stock, and encourage a few of the students to join in too. I’ll get back to you when my list is complete.

How about you? What reading challenges are you giving yourself this year?

Edited to add: here is my personalised read harder list. Wish me luck!

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You’re never too old for picture books : Part 2

De la Peña, M., & Nelson, K. (2013). A nation’s hope: The story of boxing legend Joe Louis. New York, NY: Puffin Books. [Sophisticated picture book, non-fiction, biography]

a-nations-hope

There is a section of my clientele who will read anything boxing related, so I got this one for them. Matt de la Peña’s text is written in verse, which lends a satisfactory rhythm to the story. However, it is the illustrations that make this a much enjoyed book. The double page spreads add atmosphere and tension with their composition and use of colour. And the detail is stunning.  My favourite is the back cover.

a-nations-hope

Suitable for upper primary and above, though historical context (eg, Jim Crow laws) may need explaining.

Themes: race, heroes, resilience, perseverance, hope

Find out more about A Nation’s Hope here.

 

Mizielinska, A., & Mizielinski, D. (2014). Maps. Scoresby, VIC: Five Mile Press. [Sophisticated picture book]maps

Maps is larger than your average book. It is beautifully crafted with lovely, thick pages. And its double page spreads of countries and continents just beg to be poured over with a friend. Each country’s map contains main cities, famous landmarks, native animals, facts and other points of interest. The quirky illustrations are a perfect accompaniment to the out-of-the-ordinary information. The boys at my school love to gather round this book in groups and discuss the things they find. They find the New Zealand map particularly controversial and argue about what they would include if they made the editorial decisions.

Suitable for all ages.

Themes: N/A

Read more about Maps here.

 

Szymank, M., & Bixley, D. (2016). Fuzzy doodle. Auckland, New Zealand: Scholastic. [Sophisticated picture book]

fuzzy-doodle

Aaaaargh! I love this book so much it makes me speechless! It is quite new into the library so I haven’t had a chance to observe the students with it yet, but I love it on so many different levels. Firstly, the story, which is told in verse. It can be read in two ways: as a straightforward caterpillar transformation story, or as a metaphor for the creative process. Fuzzy Doodle is the idea that must be feed.

But my main love for this book is the illustrations. They are divine! The illustrations demonstrate various artistic styles and use different interesting media as well. The printing process is a mystery to me, but whatever shiny black material is used just begs to be touched. I shared this book with our HOD of Art and she loved it almost as much as I did – it’s always nice to have your opinion backed up by an expert! And I haven’t even told you about the different text styles that have been used and how they convey meaning. This is one of those books that I know that I would use a lot if I was still teaching in the classroom.

Suitable for all ages.

Themes: creativity, growing, metamorphosis, transformation

Find out more about Fuzzy Doodle here and there is a teacher resource here.

You’re never too old for picture books : Part 1

I have loved picture books my entire life. I still have all my childhood picture books. And I used picture books regularly in the classroom when I was teaching. Since becoming a high school librarian I have really missed keeping up with the latest titles.

This year I decided it was time to update my school’s sophisticated picture book section (though I call them “illustrated texts” to keep them free of teenage stigma). I’ve spent a bit of time, money and National Library loans looking for the best books to add to our collection.

These books will never show their worth with issuing statistics, but they are browsed heavily and there is nothing I enjoy more than seeing teenage boys surrounding a picture book and enjoying it together. Here are some of the boys’ and my favourites.

Tregonning, M. (2016). Small things. Crows Nest, NSW: Allen & Unwin. [Sophisticated picture book]

small-things

This is a wordless picture book about a young boy struggling with anxiety and a whole lot of worries. The black and white illustrations are breath taking. That such detail and expression can be shown in two-dimensions will never cease to amaze me. New detail emerges with each re-reading of the book and this is a book that demands to be re-read. This is a sad story, however, it ends on a note of hope. Suitable for upper primary and above.

Themes: friendship, loneliness, anxiety, worries

Find out more about Small Things here.

 

Munroe, R. (2015). Thing explainer: Complicated stuff in simple words. London, UK: John Murray. [Sophisticated picture book, non-fiction]

thingexplainer

This book does exactly what it says on the cover: it explains things, complicated things, in simple words. What it doesn’t tell you on the cover is that it’s FUNNY! Every day things, like elevators (aka “lifting rooms”) and batteries (aka “power boxes”), are explained in diagram form and labelled with everyday language. My personal favourite is the explanation for water rooms, or bathrooms as they’re more commonly called! Brought to you by the xkcd guy.

Themes: N/A

Read more about Thing Explainer here.

 

Säfström, M. (2016). The illustrated compendium of amazing animal facts. New York, NY: Ten Speed Press. [Sophisticated picture book, non-fiction]

illustrated-compendium-of-amazing-animal-facts

This is a beautiful book full of random animal facts. The illustrations are black and white and add a touch of whimsy to the fascinating facts. My favourite one is of these adorable sea otters:

sea-otters

A great book for dipping in and out of.

Themes: N/A

Find out more about The Illustrated Compendium of Amazing Animal Facts here.

 

Feel free to suggest other great titles to me in the comments!

 

Interesting reading this week:

Kardos_Interesting_Reading_1891

Interesting Reading by Gyula Kardos,shared on Wikimedia Commons as a public domain work of art

We Are Terrible At Data Literacy. And this is now having a terrifying impact on world politics! Once again, education is touted as being the answer to this problem. But this is a slow way to deal with something that is happening now. I don’t know what a more direct solution is (but surely journalism should hold some accountability too) so I’m going to hide my head in the sand. (Shared by Sally Pewhairangi on Twitter.)

New report on family engagement in public libraries. A project that investigated the ways in which public libraries engage with libraries. Some interesting implications for school libraries and the ways in which we engage with our communities. (Shared by Sally Pewhairangi on Twitter.)

Reading in 2016 – digital vs print, the ultimate smackdown! Yes! To all this, yes! Please let’s not have the either / or debate anymore. It should always be “and”; as Kay rightly says, with purpose, pedagogy and learning objectives driving choices. Thanks, Kay, for articulating so well what many of us in Libraryland think! (Shared by Helen Stower on Twitter.)

Research: Yes, Being Helpful Is Tiring. Possibly explains why I finished Term 3 so exhausted! I like that it has tips for those that ask for help, as well as those who are helpers. Now, I’m off for a restorative nap. (Shared by Tim Kong on Twitter.)

Interesting reading this week:

Kardos_Interesting_Reading_1891

Interesting Reading by Gyula Kardos, shared on Wikimedia Commons as a public domain work of art

Online life is real life, aleph-nought in a series. A good reminder that this whole online vs real life is an artificial construct. There is just life. Some of it you will spend online. Some of it you will not. And goes towards the point I tried to make at an ICT steering committee meeting – we need to teach our guys about being “good men” in all contexts, and not just inside the school gates. (Shared by John Scalzi on Twitter.)

Why are we still ignoring @SirKenRobinson? Because New Zealand government policy demands us too? Or because our educational leaders are not brave enough to run their schools in ways that meet policy demand but are not driven by them? Either way, it’s pretty much why I left classroom teaching. (Shared by Richard Wells on Twitter.)

No benefit to single-sex education, Australian Psychological Congress to be told. Aargh! As a feminist, I have such angst at working at a boys’ school. This did not help! But I found it a really interesting read as this is the main thrust of the marketing our school runs. Should I put the cat among the pigeons and share it with our SMT? (Shared by Stuart Kelly on Twitter.)

Genre readers have less empathy? I’m not feeling that. A few weeks ago I shared a post about how literary fiction makes us better humans, so it seemed only fair to share Val McDermid’s response. And what a response! Pithy, funny, and throws some shade. Read what you like, people! (Shared by Rachel van Riel on Twitter.)

Interesting reading this week:

Kardos_Interesting_Reading_1891

Interesting Reading by Gyula Kardos, shared on Wikimedia Commons as a public domain work of art

Screw digital natives: Behaviour not age, is what matters. As an educator, I hate the term “digital natives” and this post pretty much sums up why. Lots of our students think they are really awesome online, but actually their skills are pretty limited or limiting. And maybe so are some of the tasks we set. (Shared by Sally Pewhairangi on Twitter.)

Millenials as digital natives: Myths and realities. Another interesting read on the “digital native” myth that appeared on my timeline. I particularly love the last two paragraphs in the section titled “How Being a Digital Native Does Influence Behavior” – which is certainly the behaviour that I observe at school! (Shared by Trish Webster, I can’t remember where!)

Literary fiction helps us ‘read’ others. Just in case you know someone who needs convincing that reading is good for us. Or who perhaps needs encouragement to read a “literary” novel in between all the crime fiction. It’s not being a book snob, it’s encouraging being a better human! (Shared by Rachel van Riel on Twitter.)

5 tips for helping a student find the right book. Some good reminders here about how we can help our students find “the” book. Time to find a book is one of my favourite strategies – and something I need to remind our busy teachers about! (Shared by Rebeca Zuniga on Twitter.)

Interesting reading this week:

Kardos_Interesting_Reading_1891

Interesting Reading by Gyula Kardos, shared on Wikimedia Commons as a public domain work of art

I can’t even with librarians that don’t read diversely. This. So much this. This to all those school librarians who say they don’t need to buy Pasifika books because there are no Pasifika students in their schools. This to all those school librarians who don’t even read. I. Just. Can’t. (Shared by Book Riot on Twitter.)

John  Dewey hate your digital citizenship curriculum. I’m part of my school’s ICT steering committee and we have been talking about how we don’t teach our students anything about digital citizenship. I think this post is full of important messages and questions we should be asking ourselves before we develop any sort of programme. I’m a big believer in just teaching our guys to be good citizens no matter what space they are in. But I love this idea of COMMUNITY as well. I’ll be sharing this with the rest of the committee. (Shared by Sally Pewhairangi on Twitter.)

Daniel Pennac, The Rights of the Reader. I love the way Austin Kleon writes about the books he’s read. I was a late discoverer of this book. And I’ll admit to having bought a copy that I haven’t yet read. This post has moved the book up to the top of my TBR pile. And I have no doubt that I will refer to it often as I think about devising a long-term literacy strategy for my school. (Shared by Austin Kleon on Tumblr.)

Libraries matter: 18 fantastic library infographics. Some great facts and figures here to help advocate for libraries. And while it’s heavily American-based, there’s also some really good dos and don’ts of design to be seen in the various infographs.  (Shared by Bridget Schaumann.)

Close reading II: The reader-friendly library service

Open book

Image shared on Pixabay with a Creative Commons public domain licence

Chapter two: Finding out what readers want

This chapter outlines how public libraries can gather statistics and information about and from their users. Again, school libraries have a bit of an advantage as we can gather a lot of information from our Learning Management Systems and the age range of our users is quite specific. However, I think it is important to remember not to make assumptions about our students’ preferences and how they use the library. We can still gather information that will help us improve programmes, stock, and library organisation.

The image of the library is as much a barrier as the reality.

There is so much truth in this statement (page 54). One of my biggest frustrations is how our library is perceived by some students and staff. Throw away comments about libraries as quiet spaces, being only about books, and perhaps not being required in our changing educational landscape reveal to me that many people do not see the library as it is now. Or worse, lack the imagination to see how the library can contribute to teaching and learning. This is not only my biggest frustration but also my biggest challenge.

Another common discovery is that people are very prejudiced about what they will not read but not so definite about what interests them.

This (page 74) is certainly true of my experience helping teenage boys select reading material! I like the suggestion that staff don’t have to take the expert role and can encourage users to recommend books. I know I have found this helpful when a student has asked for a recommendation and a classmate overhears and suggests books they’ve enjoyed. The students almost always take what their classmates suggest over what I offer them. I need to encourage more of this peer discussion around reading.

I like the authors’ suggestion to tempt users to overcome their prejudices rather than preach to them. Instead of making a “worthy” display about diversity in literature include diverse books in displays with other themes, such as “Books we love” or “Bite sized books”. This way reading choices are being opened up and barriers are being broken down. Someone who might swear they would never read chick-lit / fantasy / gay fiction could quite happily pick up a brief one of these if they were displayed with other short books (aka Bite sized).

How do you choose what to read next?

This is a simple question (page 75) that can provide library staff with a great deal of information. The answers to this question reveal barriers and provide a greater awareness of issues such as displays, stock arrangement, signage and library organisation.

Actions arising from this chapter:

  • Change the way the library is perceived
  • Encourage peer discussion about books and reading
  • Survey students about how they choose what to read next: include regular library users as well as non-users, keen readers and reluctant readers

Reference:

Riel, R. V., Fowler, O., & Downes, A. (2008). The reader-friendly library service. Newcastle upon Tyne: Society of Chief Librarians.

Teens reading less…or are they?

reading-girl

Image shared on Public Domain Pictures with a Creative Commons public domain licence

Given the interest in my recent post about school libraries supporting literacy, I thought it might be timely to republish my thoughts on school libraries and teen reading.  This is an article that I originally wrote for SLANZA’s Collected magazine which was published in August 2015 (Issue 16).

When we browse the internet, we are not really ‘surfing’ at all.  We are reading.

Lili Wilkinson

In July, following a Radio New Zealand news report titled “Teens reading less, say school librarians” (Gerritsen, 2015), there developed an interesting discussion on the New Zealand School Libraries email list (schoollib listserv).  A lot of the comments contributed to the discussion about young people’s reading habits were based on anecdotal evidence, library borrowing statistics, and gut feelings.  As information professionals perhaps a deeper look into the matter is required, in order to ascertain whether teenagers are in fact reading less, whether this is a problem and, if it is, what can be done to remedy it.

Are teenagers reading less?

There has been little research done on young people’s reading habits and preferences within New Zealand, with most local studies focusing on reading achievement.  However, recent research carried out in the United States and Australia seem to confirm the gut feeling of educators – that teenagers are reading less.  A 2014 report by Common Sense Media (Rideout, 2014) that reviewed a number of studies and databases found there was a sharp decline between the percentage of 9-year-olds and 17-year-olds that “read for fun” every day.  They also reported a sharp increase in the number of 17-year-olds between 1984 and today who say they “never” or “hardly ever” read (Rideout, 2014).

A closer look at the methodology of most of these studies, however, reveals a very narrow definition of the term “reading”.  “Reading” in these circumstances seemed to be identified as reading self-selected books in one’s own time.  Aronson (2014) contends that a young person’s complete reading life needs to be understood; it should encompass all forms of reading, include in-school reading, and be “platform agnostic”.  Reading in this wider context includes that done on social media sites, such as Facebook and Reddit; fan-fiction; online news and magazine articles; TradeMe auctions; or gaming cheat sites.

In these studies, “pleasure reading” is also a troublesome concept.  Aronson (2014) argues that ‘for most adult professionals it’s often impossible to draw a clear line between work and leisure reading’ (para. 6).  The same could be said for young people.  They may chose to follow up in their own time on interesting content covered in the classroom, or research done for class assignments may take meandering side roads as new facts or characters are discovered.  Common Sense Media’s Seeta Pai (2014a) agrees with Aronson on this and suggests ‘engagement is perhaps a better yardstick than pleasure’ (para. 6).  This distinction also removes the value judgment placed on “work” or “fun” reading.

Drawing the conclusion that teens are reading less because of declining borrowing statistics in the school library is equally problematic.  There are a variety of reasons that may lead to lower borrowing numbers that do not mean the students are no longer reading.  These include: students accessing reading material from other places; reading library material that is not allowed to be issued; reading library material but not borrowing it; and reading e-books that are privately owned, borrowed from elsewhere, or have been illegally downloaded.  Using borrowing statistics as a measure of reading also returns “reading” to that narrowly defined activity that can only be done with traditional print materials or with materials that can be checked in and out.

Until more research has been done into the complete reading life of young people it is difficult to say whether or not teens are reading less.  However, it is probably safe to say that teenagers are reading less traditional print materials and do not identify the activities they participate in online as related to “reading”.

Is this a problem?

There are numerous studies that present evidence of the correlation between pleasure reading and a wide range of benefits.  Manuel and Carter (2015), in their research into Australian teenagers’ reading practices and preferences, collated studies that show reading for pleasure matters for a number of reasons.  It matters because it supports broader literacy development and learning; enables young people to develop their own, better-informed perspective on life; is a safe, inexpensive, pleasurable way to spend time; allows young readers to understand and empathise with the lives of those in different situations, times and cultures; and improves educational outcomes and employment prospects (Manuel & Carter, 2015).  Reading for pleasure also matters because it has been shown to be more important to children’s cognitive development and educational success than their parents’ level of education or socio-economic status (Manuel & Carter, 2015).

However, Manuel and Carter (2015) could not find any Australian research comparing children’s leisure reading across different formats or media.  This leads one to the conclusion that the “reading for pleasure” referred to in their article refers back to that narrow definition discussed earlier.  If this is the case, then the fact that teenagers are reading less traditional print materials is a problem.  If the benefits found to be evident in these studies are only related to this type of reading our young people are not getting them.

Further to this, it is a big problem, as Miriam Tuohy (2015) pointed out during the listserv discussion, if young people do not think of themselves as readers.  If teenagers view reading as an activity solely done with traditional print materials, and that is not an activity they participate in or enjoy, they are potentially closing themselves off to the benefits associated with being a reader.  As Aronson (2014) states,

we need to…not just honor all reading…but to keep offering new doors, new opportunities, and new options to teenagers…The idea is to keep opening doors, so occasional readers recognize that there is something of interest – something appealing, stimulating, or unexpected – waiting for them when they do take time to read. (para. 10)

What can we do about it?

For young people there are a variety of barriers to leisure time reading.  Reader reluctance can generally be categorised in to five main reasons (Merga, 2014):

  • Time availability: for example, crowded curriculum, lack of focus on “pleasure reading” at high school, sporting and other extra-curricular commitments, sibling care, homework, after school employment;
  • Preference: for example, low appeal, other pursuits have a higher priority;
  • Skill deficit: for example, not a competent reader, low confidence, second language learner, slow reader, low parental literacy, limited exposure to reading;
  • Access and choice: for example, difficulty in locating engaging books, paucity of books or dearth in quality, inability to employ choosing strategies, need access to books that are relevant and of interest;
  • Physical and cognitive factors: for example, concentration issues, visual language processing difficulties, optical issues, tired or hungry, cognitive impediments, inability to sit still.

It should be noted that while students may offer one barrier for their reluctance to read (‘I don’t like reading’), this attitude will often involve a number of reasons (‘I’m not very good at it and I can’t find a book I like and I’d rather be doing something else’).

School librarians will be able to look at this list of barriers and see which ones they can have an impact on.  However, they will not be able to mitigate all the factors and will need help from the wider school community to affect real change.  Parents have perhaps the greatest impact on their teens and it is never too late for them to encourage reading habits.  Parents can help by:

  • modelling reading themselves;
  • providing access to reading material at home;
  • setting aside time for teens to read each day;
  • acknowledging the many and varied forms of reading (Pai, 2014b).

Manuel and Carter (2015) offer classroom teachers a range of actions to engage teenage readers, some suggested by students themselves.  Strategies teachers can adopt include:

  • providing time for students to discuss books with each other and become part of a reading community;
  • allowing more student choice in book selection;
  • more judicious selection of compulsory texts;
  • teachers reading aloud;
  • allowing time for silent reading of self-selected material.

School librarians need to lead the charge in engaging young people in reading – in all its forms.  They should advocate for a wider definition of the term “reading” and what is considered acceptable reading material in their schools.  They need to reassess the cultures of their libraries and how they fit with their 21st century learners (Bichan, 2015).  They should ‘look at themselves and their services through the eyes of young people who have a preconceived idea of what a library is’ (Blake, Hale & Sherriff, 2011, p.210).  They need to enjoy working with young people and be passionate about libraries.  And perhaps most importantly of all, rather than shake their heads and question why teenagers are not reading, school librarians need to question themselves.  A good place to start is with asking what barriers am I, my attitudes or my library policies creating that disengage young readers?

 

References:

Aronson, M. (2014, May 22). Are Teenagers Reading Less? | Consider the Source. Retrieved 8 August 2015, from http://www.slj.com/2014/05/opinion/consider-the-source/are-teenagers-reading-less-consider-the-source/

Bichan, G. (2015, July 28). Re: Teens reading less – lets attack this radically and positively [Electronic mailing list message]. Retrieved from http://lists.canterbury.ac.nz/mailman/private/schoollib/2015-July/023225.html

Blake, A., Hale, J., & Sherriff, E. (2011). The hard-to-reach reader in the 21st century. In J. Court (Ed.), Read to Succeed: Strategies to Engage Children and Young People in Reading for Pleasure (pp. 201–224). London: Amer Library Assn.

Gerritsen, J. (2015, July 28). Teens reading less, say school librarians [Website]. (Radio New Zealand). Retrieved from http://www.radionz.co.nz/news/national/279843/teens-reading-less,-say-school-librarians

Manuel, J., & Carter, D. (2015). Current and historical perspectives on Australian teenagers’ reading practices and preferences. Australian Journal of Language and Literacy, 38(2), 115–128.

Merga, M. K. (2014). Western Australian adolescents’ reasons for infrequent engagement in recreational book reading. Literacy Learning: The Middle Years, 22(2), 60–66.

Pai, S. (2014a, June 5). Where, What, How, and Why Teens Do and Don’t Read | Consider the Source. Retrieved 8 August 2015, from http://www.slj.com/2014/06/opinion/consider-the-source/where-what-how-and-why-teens-do-and-dont-read-consider-the-source/

Pai, S. (2014b, July 11). 4 Surprising Findings About Kids’ and Teens’ Reading, Plus What You Can Do to Help Kids Read More. Retrieved 8 August 2015, from https://www.commonsensemedia.org/blog/4-surprising-findings-about-kids-and-teens-reading-plus-what-you-can-do-to-help-kids-read-more

Rideout, V. (2014). Children, Teens, and Reading: A Common Sense Media research brief. San Francisco: Common Sense Media. Retrieved from https://www.commonsensemedia.org/research/children-teens-and-reading

Tuohy, M. (2015, July 28). Re: Teens reading less – lets attack this radically and positively [Electronic mailing list message]. Retrieved from http://lists.canterbury.ac.nz/mailman/private/schoollib/2015-July/023251.html

Wilkinson, L. (2011). Creative reading and insideadog.com.au. In J. Court (Ed.), Read to Succeed: Strategies to Engage Children and Young People in Reading for Pleasure (pp. 201–224). London: Amer Library Assn.

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!