Professional vs Non Professional

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Ok, here goes, I’m going to wade into this debate with my size 12’s.
Even though I know this has extinguished some peoples careers I’m going to go for it.
But, before you pass judgement on my thoughts remember, they are only my thoughts I put down here. I don’t write them to persuade you to think any different from your own thoughts and I certainly don’t write them because I believe your thoughts to be invalid, or wrong and I certainly don’t write this because I don’t value your opinions, so hopefully in reading this if you disagree you’ll remember that they are just my thoughts.
Now I’m going to admit it, I never went to library school. I have no formal library qualification. I do not have a degree in librarianship neither have I taken a course in librarianship. I do however have degrees in English and Education, I have gained MCLIP status and am working towards my FCLIP.
I also believe that the training I have received, working in the best Schools Library Service in the country, under two of the best librarians, managers and leaders you’re ever likely to meet has provided me with more than I could ever have gained from a library degree.
Now if you have a degree in librarianship I am not rubbishing your degree in the slightest I am merely saying that the experiences I had provided me with an equivalence and more, with an understanding of specifically a school library.
At no time in my school librarian career have I ever felt I’ve missed out from not having a library degree, in fact I feel that my education degree has actually massively benefitted me. I have achieved massive amounts in my school, am an Assistant Head and have impacted on numerous aspects of the school.
Yet when I tell some school librarians that I don’t have a degree in librarianship a sharp intake of breathe is heard, followed by the sentence, ‘really, you mean you’re not qualified?’ ‘Not qualified for what’ I always reply. ‘Well not a qualified librarian.’ At this point I normally just walk away. This, I feel is a massive problem in our profession. It is a locust, a disease that is slowly killing our profession. I feel I’ve been relatively successful in my job, maybe more successful than most and still have lots to give but I am shunned because I don’t have a library degree, what. the. hell. is. that. about?
Who cares about the qualifications someone has? If they are doing a fantastic job then do we stop them from doing it because they don’t have a certificate that says they can do it?

Now some people are going to be fuming at this point.
Remember, I value yours and this is only my thoughts on the matter.

So let’s think about some of the (legit) reasons why people may feel like this. It could be that they feel threatened, threatened that someone potentially that hasn’t had the training that they have had is doing the same job. Does this not devalue their job, their role and their qualifications. Maybe it does and maybe it doesn’t. But I’ll leave you with just one thought. In my experience it is these school librarians, who are most vocal in this area, that would more often than not, describe that in their role, they, are quite often teachers and teaching. Now, again my own opinion, but would you not think that a teacher who has a teaching degree would feel that you are devaluing their degree, training, knowledge and job by saying this?

Just have a moment to think and remember it’s only my opinion.

The problem with guided reading and the hidden key to success

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There are so many reading programmes around that promise to solve ‘the’ problem with reading. A strange claim really considering that there is no one problem with reading, there are many problems that require many different solutions. There is no ‘one-size’ programme that can ever think to do this as the real key is about knowing each individual student, their background, how they come to be a weak/poor/disillusioned reader and break down the barriers that are stopping them.
This is probably a far bigger conversation than this blog post but what I do want to focus on is the way guided reading schemes work. Unfortunately and I mean this more in secondary than primary, there seems to be an over reliance on phonics when listening and guiding someone’s reading.
Yes, we all know phonics plays an important part in initial reading as the many strands of accessing texts and printed words come together to form tighter bonds of interwoven ‘reading rope’ but if at some stage in this process something has gone wrong then reading can be hampered.
Therefore, once a student gets to secondary school and all the strands have not been tied together then there needs to be a focus on all the strands and not just one.
Guided reading focuses on the student being able to break down the word they are trying to read. Some help may be given with some sounds, maybe initial etc but the student is encouraged to spend the time to get the word right.
Here, for me is the fundamental problem. When working with a student on their reading they want to feel that they are successfully doing it, they are capable of reading and that they are not, as they have probably felt previously, a failure at reading. By spending time with a student that is struggling with a word and intensifying it by either not helping and letting the silence drip with failure or offering a small morsel of sound like a mother would to a small child “ah ah” we forget the most important thing. Fluency. Fluency is the key because as we spend time in the black hole of that silence everything that student has just read in that sentence has been completely lost, turned inside out and vaporised. Comprehension is just as important as decoding skills and the two aren’t mutually exclusive, in the fact that if you improve decoding you won’t automatically improve comprehension. In actual fact comprehension is a lot harder to teach than decoding as it comes from an individual’s knowledge and experience, things that can be learnt.
Focussing on fluency then is the key. If instead of stopping a reader when they get to a hard word they are given the word and allowed to continue straight away there is good chance that the student will remember what else had happened in the sentence/paragraph. Their working memory hasn’t been taken up with trying to decode it so can work on analysing the meaning. Remember we only have enough space for 7 plus or minus 2 ideas. What is also more likely to happen is that the student will also remember that word so the next time they come across it they can remember how it sounded and independently recite it, as they are seeing the word in context within the sentence they are also more likely to comprehend its meaning.
I have had great success using this technique as part of our 10 week reading intervention using new technologies. In just 10 weeks our minimum improvement is 18 months in reading age and we have run this with 40 students over 4 years now. The evidence that fluency is key is startling. After interviewing students using different methods students were more likely to overestimate their mistakes when we focused on decoding words and were more likely to underestimate their mistakes when we focused on fluency. Focusing on fluency also led to a greater enjoyment in reading, a feeling of being successful at it and more likely to improve in their reading abilities because of it.
So for me there is an inherent problem with guided reading schemes as they fail to put enough emphasis on the real key to a successful programme fluency.

No reading in my library thank you!

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Whenever I go and talk about the work our library does and how we encourage students to discover a love of reader I always love to cheekily throw in the fact that I dislike students reading in the library.
Although it’s a little tongue in cheek and I omit, to begin with, the fact that it’s during lesson times, it is based in truth. A couple of years ago I also banned silent reading happening in form times.
My main argument and rationale behind this is that it can only have a negative impact on reading. Strange you may think that by stopping students from reading during lessons I’m actually improving reading but this is actually the case.
Reading, is like any creative past time. You have to be in the mood to do it. The conditions have to be correct and there needs to be a want on the readers part to do it. I am an avid reader, a grade A readatron that devours books but I don’t want to read all the time and I certainly don’t want to read when I feel like I’m being made to. In most cases if I feel like I’m being made to do anything I’ll most likely do the opposite.
I remember back to when I was at school, I was a very typical boy reader, meaning I wasn’t a reader. I hated our English lessons when we were forced to trudge down to the library and read. We’d pretend to pick a book, or spend ages umming and ahhing (time wasting) then sit chatting to each other, “sorry miss I was just asking James what was happening in his book and whether he was enjoying it as from the blurb it sounds really engaging”. Now does that sound familiar or what!
Yes, there are those students that absolutely love reading and will jump at the chance to spend any lesson time reading but do I really need to concern myself too much with those students, not at the moment. What I need to worry about are the kids that are like I was. How do I engage them in wanting to read? Well the answer certainly isn’t to force them to do it. They need to see that reading is something they can do and they can enjoy and they need any barriers that are stopping them from seeing this to be removed. This means categorically not making them do it.
Instead if they are in the library it is to engaged in activities and learning that shows/helps them to remove these barriers. I’m a big fan of data and using it to understand an individual. That is why we track our students for reading. It allows us to get a picture of them and their barriers and this helps us to them put things in place to break down these barriers and help them to become readers. I will probably talk more about our unique tracking models in different posts but fundamentally these are the reasons why I dislike students reading in our library.

Curators of curiosities

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Having worked in libraries for a number of years and it has always struck me as fascinating how many different names and job titles a librarian and a library can have.
This strange phenomenon only seems to take place in schools where a library, it seems, has always struggled to find its place.
I’ve come across LRC (learning resources centre), Digital Resource Centre, Information Hubs, Information and Learning Hubs, Central Resources Centre etc etc. librarians have been introduced as information technicians, resource managers blah blah blah.
I’ve always found it quite funny how people try and move away from the word library and librarian. Both words, that to me, not only sum up all these other titles but imply so much more too. Is there anything wrong with being a librarian and working in a library?

If so then I think I’d like to change my title to the Curator of Curiosities and work in Central Curiosity Centre.

A title that I feel aptly sums up my role and retains a little bit of mystique!

Integrating information literacy into the curriculum a journey #1

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So, as alluded to in a previous post, we are in the position in our school where we no longer teach information literacy through the library, at all, period.. Well at least not in the sense that the majority of schools do.
In most schools, if information literacy is taught at all, it tends to be through the school librarian running a couple of sessions in the year 7 induction, maybe some for Yr10 students and if they’re lucky some at KS5.
My argument for this though is that info lit skills are basic skills. They are not the bedrock of info searching but also for learning. You need to learn something you assess what your gaps are you think about where you might find the knowledge you gain it and then use it. Pretty much the same process as an information search. Yes along the lines there are bits and pieces that differ, nuances etc but the general principles are there.
So, if a librarian is ‘teaching’ these skills they are only ever, in the scheme of things, drops in the ocean of a students learning. And if we know anything about learning information has to consistent and persistent if it is to be taken in. Therefore in reality information literacy taught in most schools is worthless.
These were and are my beliefs and being someone that likes to keep busy innovating, creating and improving I don’t like spending time on things that are worthless.
So, after spending years trying (and failing) to get the school to understand the purpose, nature and benefit of info lit I decided that what I needed to do was change my understanding of teaching.
If I could show a way of convincing staff and senior leaders that info lit could enhance teaching then I had more of a chance to integrate info lit into our school.
After a lot of pitching ideas I managed to get a slot on an SLT meeting where I proposed a simple model for accessing information (I called it independent learning – before the phrase became a buzz word!) and showed how you could use a consistent way of setting work where students would be able to produce a higher quality output and teachers would gains kills to improve their teaching.
SLT liked it and agreed to give it a trial to see how it fared. Luckily at the same time our Assistant Head in charge of teaching and learning was looking at our homework policy to see if we could do something different which would improve the quality of it and stop the 80% of detentions which were made up from students not doing it.
This, I knew, was the opportunity to make info lit / independent learning fully integrated into the school. If we could somehow tie the two together then not only would I not need to teach worthless info lit lessons but we could have info lit skills being used in every classroom across the school.

Free CPD for Herts 12 March

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It’s been nearly two years since our SLS closed (don’t get me started on this!) and so also two years that I’ve been offering free CPD to Herts and surrounding area librarians each half term through my school in Welwyn Garden.
In that time we’ve had some fantastic talks and sessions and supplied librarians in Herts with some great opportunities and great training.
From the 100 or so Herts librarians we reach around 60 with regular attendance of 30 at each session. It’s been a great success and a marker on how much school librarians value quality CPD.
Our next session is 12 March and will be a LibMeet where we are asking librarians to come and show something the are doing in their school that quantifies under the title of ‘The future of School Librarianship’.
We want to see what things people are doing that they believe will/should be the future of our profession including anything inspirational and anything the feel is the stalwart of a school library.
I’m going to be taking the opportunity to talk about 2 very different things that I will allude to in future posts and I hope other people will come with something extra special.
Although we started the CPD for Herts libs we welcome anyone and everyone that wants to come for free training and networking!
It should be a really exciting session and if you’re interested in coming please do get in touch to book a place!

Carnegie 2014 – a teaser

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I’ve been very lucky this year that when the long list for the Carnegie award was announced at the beginning of Feb if already read all but 2 of the books.
Not often does this happen but since the addition of a longlist published after the nomination list it is more likely to happen.
There are some absolute crackers on the list (I won’t give away my favourites yet!) and some that are interesting inclusions in different ways.
Now, every year there is always a discussion around the remit of the award, how the books are chosen, for what reason, the age appropriateness of the books on the shortlist etc etc. even the students that take part year after year in our book group joke about the fact we never pick the ‘right’ winner.
However anything that provides PR, conversation or anything around children’s books is in my mind a great thing. But at this time of year even I delve into the internal struggle of picking what I want the shortlist to be and what I think it will end up being. This isn’t anything against the decision of the judges on to what they will put forward, even our students understand the difference between a popular book and a Carnegie award winner but it is always fun seeing how much the two lists overlap!
This year I think and hope, promises to be the year with the biggest crossover.
It’s a really difficult one to call with some authors that have appeared numerous times and some new ones with fantastic books. Over the coming weeks I’m going to be announcing my want and expect lists and will let you know my faves!