A Case for School Libraries – what we need to achieve in our school libraries

Now, if you’re a regular reader you will know that I do not hold with the current view that school libraries should be made statutory or that they should be a forced part of an inspection.

The first point I believe is a futile one to argue as there are so many reasons why it can’t happen. But importantly I think our effort should be put more into each of us showing our schools the reason why we should have a school library through the work and impact we have and our schools making a conscious decision. Not a decision forced upon them. Rather than putting the blame for a lack of success on other things and different circumstances we should instead be the masters of our own destiny.

The second point about inspecting a Library again I feel is counter intuitive. There is as much in recent Ofsted documentation that shows they do get it and understand the importance of a school library. Having been inspecting in this new literacy rich style inspection Ofsted are clued in and value reading. But importantly my argument and what Ofsted also realise is the impact a school library needs to have outside its physical space. If reading is only seen by going into the library then the library is not a success. Simple.

Now by no means do I think that a Library shouldn’t be visited by an inspector or the librarian or literacy advocate (literacy coordinator) be spoken to, in fact to gain an overall view of literacy across the school I think it’s vitally important that this conversation does go on. I just don’t necessarily agree that forcing Ofsted to visit the library is the way to gain success.

This post however is not about my views on this it is in fact an argument as to why school libraries are important. I have had the pleasure of visiting numerous school libraries across the country as a trainer and a consultant over the past 10 plus years and have run a number of successful libraries myself in some of the most deprived areas of the country.

The current school I am at, I feel, embodies everything I have learnt and am still learning (you can never be done in education and can still learn no matter how much experience you have!) about running a successful school library. This article then is an example of what can be achieved by a school library and a school librarian and the impact they can both have.

Now you can argue, and many have, on the purpose of a school library and what it should do within a school. My feelings are that a school library is a multi-faceted place that can and should be and do numerous things for numerous people but ultimately I would say the core things a school library should be and do are:

1. Provide resources to enhance the learning in and out of the classroom (books, websites other relevant resources which could include technology)
2. Provide knowledge to enhance teaching (information literacy skills for staff)
3. Provide knowledge to enhance learning (information literacy skills for students)
4. Teach the weakest readers to read and improve reading of all students
5. Engage the school into a love of reading (the whole community)

Now let’s take these one by one I and I will explain a little how about what we do and how we meet this criteria. It’s also worth knowing that I dislike things in school that are done because they look good. I firmly believe in joined up thinking and practice, about partnerships that are deeper than one offs and are about fundamentally making a difference not just a perceived one.

1. Providing resources is probably the staple of a school library. The types of resources you have help to define the service you offer. But, and this is where most people get it wrong, your resources should be dependent on the need of your customer. It shouldn’t be a case of you dictating to customers what you think they want but you responding to their needs. Resources can also in this sense mean physical resources such as the room or the librarian.

Part of what makes our library different is how we respond to our students in organising our stock. Now, many libraries organise stock in many different ways but all use similar principles and the same over-arching theory. This model is an off shoot of the public library method of organisation where you are putting together an organisation of physical resources that any one could access. However, this isn’t the best model in a school. In fact it is this type of system may just be the reason why there are those that don’t value or use school libraries.

Our system of organisation isn’t a tweak or a slight difference it is a wholesale change of metholodology and attitude. Having spoken to students and listened to what they and staff have told us we have completely changed our non-fiction organisation.

We use a system invented by ourselves but reflective of our customers. Non-fiction books are taken out of Dewey order and placed on shelves dependent of where they will be studied in the curriculum. So each bay is labelled with the subject, science, English, maths, history etc and then each shelf is a year group. These shelves are further sub divided down into the terms they are studied in so searching becomes ultra easy for students to find the correct book.

Now I know the first argument is going to be ‘but teaching students the Dewey systems prepares then for university’. Unfortunately I don’t believe this to be true. What we need to teach our young people is how to recognise that a room they have walked in has an ordering system, how to find out what that ordering system is and finally how to find what they want in that system. Dewey is just one example of this. If we teach though the process of searching and of organisation then this is the transferable skill that will set them right for their whole lives.

This ordering system isn’t just a one off though. It is linked inextricably to our process of information literacy, more on this later though!

The rest of the collection is then broken down further. Any fact book that can be read for pleasure is shelved in a ‘facts for fun’ section in the middle of the fiction books. This is to promote facts as being able to be read for pleasure and to encourage all types of readers to view themselves as such. We then take out books that we know departments are going to need to help teach the subject and place these in boxes ready to go out to departments at the very beginning of the term. This is similar to creating book boxes for staff however instead of waiting for them to be requested we provide them straight away. The books are therefore being used more and the students and teachers are the overall winners of this.

Finally, any other books are placed in a special collection that is much more specific, uses Dewey and is a lot smaller so the right books can be found easier.

As I said this organisation system is responding to the need of our students and staff and it also links strongly into our work on information literacy within the school. As mentioned earlier I don’t like things that don’t fit together and work in tandem. In thinking and working this way each small part makes a much bigger whole and this is where our work on information literacy comes in.

In most school libraries the librarian will run some information literacy sessions for students. Normally this will be some sessions for year 7 maybe some for year 10 and then some for sixth formers. This is what you will see in most schools and not very often will you see anything better. It will just be the librarian and it will only be a very very small number of lessons. This then means that it can only ever have a small impact, only ever be more about surface understanding and because it only comes from one person it will more than likely be forgotton.

Instead, what we have done is realise and understand the power of the classroom. We know the power that the teacher has and that consistency is the key to produce anything successfully. What we have done then is put the onus in the classroom and make it so that any piece of work set utilises the skills and explicit teaching of information literacy to make it successful.

Whilst reviewing our homework policy we came up with a radical idea of flipping it so that students came to the lesson prepared. This change means that research becomes a lot more important and has a greater focus. Instead of students taking away work to compound their knowledge they have to research the information to bring to the next lesson. This means that students are coming to the lesson with an understanding of what they are going to learn and so the rest of the lesson can be compounding this knowledge.

With such a great idea you need to have a model in place to make sure the setting of the work is going to produce the best quality.This is again where the library comes in. By being a part of this initial decision we could put into place the consistent use of the information literacy PLUS model. This stands for purpose, location, use, self evaluation and fits perfect as a model for teaching in the classroom.

When a piece of work is set our teaching and learning policy states that it must be done so through the PLUS model. With training from us teachers know that they can spend a little time with the class clearly defining what it is they are looking for. Giving them a clear definition of the purpose of the work. This means each student walks away from the lesson knowing exactly what they are looking for. Teachers also use the location stage of the model to talk about where this information might be found. This then includes talking about keywords, internet searching and quality of resources, analysing websites etc and also skimming and scanning to find the information. Not only then do students know what they are looking for they also know where they are going to find this information.

To make this even more successful we gave time to departments to think about their prep pieces and to rewrite them with this in mind. This meant that they were of a much higher quality, explicitly taught research skills and were geared towards a better quality of end product from the student.

As we were changing things to have students being prepared for the lesson we also had departments create subject overviews so parents and students alike knew exactly what was going to be studied when and in which year group. On these subject overviews are also books and other resources students might like to use and trips/visits their parents might like to them on in the holidays etc.

This method, if you haven’t already guessed, is the one we copied for our restructure of our non-fiction collection. As previously mentioned I try to make things link together to add value to each other and this is a perfect example. Everything we do has a reason for it and links to something else, strengthening all parts and their impact.

This model therefore means that information literacy is fully embedded in each classroom with all teachers experts in teaching the skills of info lit and led by the library and supported with resources and training by the library. It is part of the important policies in school and bought into each lesson by the teachers where it impacts on the quality of the learning and teaching in the school.

No bad eh. This for me is the potential a school library has and what it can offer in terms of impacting on teaching and learning, the bread and butter of a school.

It goes beyond this too in the work we do on engaging readers, creating a community of readers and teaching our weakest how to read. We track all students in their reading, run numerous interventions and provide teachers with knowledge, expertise and strategies to help those weak readers in the classroom to do the best they can. Our work was given an outstanding by ofsted in our inspection last month with the lead inspector ‘blown away’. Our tracking model is second to none and actually provides us with evidence to show the impact a Library has on reading for pleasure. It’s not about numbers but individual students. It’s about understanding exactly where they are coming from what barriers exist, understating how they can be overcome and providing the knowledge and experience to make this happen.

This is what can be achieved in a school through the library and the librarian and it has come about not because we’ve made school libraries statutory, not because we’ve made them part of the inspection protocol but because we have shown our school through hard work and graft the impact we have and because of this our school values us and knows the importance we have as an integral part of the school.

This is what we should be trying to achieve. Not waiting for someone to do something that might make our roles a little easier but to take control ourselves and spend our time making a difference in our own school getting them to see our worth and value through this hard.

So this is the case I’m making for School Libraries. Don’t wait for someone else to do something for you that might or might not happen. Take your destiny into your own hands and show the value you have to your school. Because if you do have value then it will be seen and it will be celebrated.

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Let’s ban Gifted and Talented readers

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Gifted and Talented, or G&T is probably the worst label ever given to a group of students. For many many years I’ve argued that we should get rid of the term and was delighted when Ofsted produced their report last year on the ‘most able’.

 

There are many reasons why it is such a poor label without even getting into the argument about why we shouldn’t label people at all. By splitting people into groups we automatically start to cause differences and conflicts between the groups. If these groupings didn’t exist then there would certainly be a lot less of this negative feeling between differences. Especially when we think that it’s so very difficult to categorise anyone and in any particular way due to us all being so individual.

However, with the grouping G&T this automatically assumes that success is based on innate ability and that unless you happen to be particlularly talented at something then you cannot succeed.

This not only sends the wrong message to all the students who not fall into this category but the wrong message also to those that do happen to be categorised this way (more on these students later).

Let’s first look at how these groupings are decided. They are created through either tested means early on in the child’s education of through evaluation of someone believing they have a particularly high apptitude for it. Once you’re G&T you’re always G&T and if you’ve never been G&T you never will be.

This makes the false and damaging claim that intelligence is fixed. That you cannot master or be good at something unless you are blessed with a born talent for it.

This is something that is not only seen in our schools but in the wider world and especially the media. We praise sportsman for their natural ability and their gifts in their sport and we lavish huge bonusses on our CEOs who seem gifted in business and stand in awe of those artist and musicians who produce masterpieces. But, what we fail to recognise is the hard work, graft and dedication that has gone into this seeming talent.

Michael Jordan is the perfect example of this. When we think of his name we think of one of the greatest sportsmen ever. When we learn that he was dropped from his varsity basketball team we laugh and joke and think that clearly the coach must have been out of his mind and surely with hindsight looks silly for doing so. It never enters our mind that actually at that point in his career Michael might not have been that good. That it was because of that setback that he started to work harder, to iron out his flaws to perfect his game as best he could so that he became the player we know.

We automatically think that he must have been born with the gift and that that gift is what we should praise. Michael himself sums up in the great Nike advert all the times he has failed and that each time he has done so it has encouraged him to work harder at getting better. He wasn’t the same player in the varsity team that he was when he was breaking NBA records and it wasn’t a gift that led him to this it was hard work.

Back to our gifted and talented group at school and this praising of talent is just as obvious in our libraries as it is anywhere else.

On the one hand we talk about engaging reluctant readers and those pesky ‘problem’ boy readers (by the way I don’t believe we have a boy reading problem and our incessant focus on it is to the detriment of girls and their reading) but on the other we talk about book groups for great readers, testing comprehension on books that have supposedly been read for pleasure and we spend time and resources on those groups that ‘can’ read. Even the language of praise I’ve heard some librarians give compound this contradiction. ‘Wow , you read that really quickly you must be a great reader’ or ‘your understanding of that book is excellent your such a good reader’ and how about ‘you made that seem effortless.’ What messages do our actions and language give to those students we’re supposedly being inclusive of?

Let’s look closer at those actions. Book groups for great readers, excellent idea with lots of priveledges etc. But what does it show to our ‘weak’ readers? That effort and hard work gets rewarded or that good reading gets celebrated?
How about testing comprehension on pleasure reading? Does that say you can read whatever you want we don’t mind, just as long as you enjoy it? Or if you don’t pass the test after reading then you’re a failure?
Then you’ve got all the rewards and resources given to the good or competent readers. What’s that message going to say?

Outside of the actions how about the language. Does praising a student for how quick they read a book or how well they’ve understood it create positivity in those readers who don’t read quickly or find it hard to comprehend texts?

Even though librarians say they are fully inclusive of all types of readers their actions, languages and everything else is saying something very different.

But what’s even worse though is that this isn’t just counter intuitive for engaging weak readers it’s also detrimental to our supposedly competent readers. Think back to our gifted and talented label. Our message that to succeed is to find things easy and be talented at something naturally. What this achieves is students that stop improving because to improve they have to work at something but working at something and finding it hard means they’re no longer gifted because it doesn’t come naturally so they are a failure.

This is the reason why so many students labelled as G&T plateau and fail to live up to their potential. By praising talent and end product all we end up doing it instilling in these students what Carol Dweck defines as a fixed mindset. The ability to see intelligence as fixed and there to be no ability for growth.
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Instead what we need to be doing, especially with reading, is to praise and celebrate the process, the effort that gets put into reading and to reward it.

Instead of running book groups for great readers we should do it for readers that put the effort in regardless of their ability. We should instead use different language for these students too. Let’s not say ‘well done for reading that so quickly’ let’s instead say ‘well done you must have worked really hard to read it that quickly’.

Suddenly things take a very different, positive, or growth mindset view. We’re now showing students that hard work, not talent means success. This also means that students who then fail or believe they have failed in their reading don’t see this as a negative, as a fixed mindset student would, but as an opportunity to work hard to achieve.

This becomes massive, becomes vital to giving students that grit that they need to succeed in their reading. When they fall off that reading curve it’s the thing that gets them back on again.

So think about how you run your library, how you really promote reading for all types of students. Gifted and Talented is just one example of how we should change the ways we go about things. We need to explicitly promote the idea of a growth mindset through our actions and language.

You might talk a good library and reading promotion but do you actually deliver it?

How to Improve Whole School Literacy

So we’ve just been given an outstanding by Ofsted for our work on literacy across the curriculum and for our library provision. 2 things I’m extremely happy about, not least because I am in charge of both! But also because of the vision we have had for the last 2 years concerning literacy and 5 years for the library. The library especially has been an area where we’ve revolutionised what a school library can achieve and how it can impact across the curriculum. From information literacy and study skills through to reading for pleasure our library really is the driving force in all of this.

 

But for this post I want to focus on what has made the work we do on literacy in our school as outstanding.

 

As I said earlier the literacy focus we have been on started 2 years ago when I took on the role in part of my duties as an Assistant Headteacher. Literacy was a word that, similar I would imagine to most schools, was regarded with a hint of disdain and given ‘that’ look. The word itself is not a particularly nice one and conjures all sorts of different connotations. But importantly from all the baggage that literacy carries with it in education it was viewed as someone else’s job. This was the challenge to begin with and what needed addressing first.

 

The key, as with anything that you want to get working, especially in a school, is to get people on board. The best way, I have always felt, is to make people value it. To see it as something that is worthwhile to them and if you are to achieve this to target the right people.

I’ve always been quite taken aback when listening to people about how they feel you can make anything happen in a school. This is of particular note in school libraries where librarians really feel that the only way for anything to happen in a school is if it comes ‘from above’ and the school’s SLT back it and force it into being. The idea of the carrot and the stick is an important one but especially when it is in a school you should be very careful when using the stick. By forcing people to do something immediately gives an opinion as to why it is being done, immediately gives people an excuse not to do it and more importantly takes away from the value that might be there. In making people bring literacy into their teaching and forcing them to do it the only result you will receive is one where people either don’t do it or they do it to very low standard.

The real way to get something done in school is to highlight your key stakeholders, the people that are actually going to be delivering what you want and get them to buy in to it. Get them to see how it’s going to be beneficial to them. In a school these stakeholders are the teachers. The people on the ‘front line’ doing it. These are the people we need to get on board and especially as the importance is placed so heavily on the classroom and the learning that goes on in there they are so important to the success of what you are trying to achieve.

 

So, instead of bullying people into taking on literacy we wanted to show that it was something that actually a lot of people were already doing. We wanted them to see that it didn’t need to be an add-on or a bolt on but something that can play an important part in their teaching. By doing this we explicitly showed the link between ‘literacy’ and teaching and learning. We highlighted all the things that teachers were doing in the outstanding classrooms that were also aspects of literacy. These things included knowing their students, their weaknesses and their strengths, putting together a seating plan that took this information into account, allowing students thinking time to answer questions, the importance of questioning in the classroom, how opportunities are taken to help students think and write in the subject they are in and the difference between them. For instance, how does a scientist talk and write like a scientist and how does this differ from a geographer?

This explicit nature is something that we wanted to promote from the very beginning to teachers and to show them that these aspects of literacy aren’t a bolt-on they are instead integral to the classroom. We wanted the buy-in from teachers to be that they could see how this would benefit them and improve their teaching, but also that they were already doing a lot of these things and that this was evident from going into classrooms and seeing teachers teach.

 

Now, there is obviously a lot of work that has gone on in the last two years within the school regarding literacy and this was the starting point and the foundations that we wanted to lay our strategy on but we also wanted to create a whole community of literacy confident and competent people. This wasn’t just about the classroom (although we knew this was a massively important area). We wanted the school to be consumed by literacy and for it to be an everyday thing and not something that felt like it had to happen.

 

From the very beginning I had an idea of what we wanted to achieve and how we were going to go about it and this was seen through the last two action plans we formulated regarding literacy. But it’s only been the last couple of months when I’ve gone out to talk about our journey that I’ve put it in a more pictorial format. As you can see below this is the model I wanted to achieve and this is what we’ve held true to throughout that has led us to this point. Now, by no means am I saying we are finished. There are refinements, new projects and different things we need to improve/change and react to but this is the model that is going to led us through these challenges.

imageAll of the points are really just as important as each other and there is no way you could take out one and continue to have a holistic success. But in the middle I have started with, what I feel, is the foundations that the rest is built upon. The teacher and the classroom. How do we go about making sure all our classroom practitioners are confident and competent in improving student’s literacy in their own classroom. This has to come through training opportunities, sharing best practice. Through advice and guidance and through allowing teachers to say that they would like help. This has to be the environment that you create if you want it to work. It certainly isn’t an easy job either. How do you go about giving training on literacy without it seeming to be condescending or just boring? How do you go about creating people to take that first step into acceptance before they begin to see the benefit? A challenge indeed and one that might never be won entirely especially if you have a large school with lots of teachers. But, if you stick to the understanding that literacy is really just good teaching and learning and use this as your avenue for training then it becomes training on how can I improve my teaching and not just another literacy course.

 

Just outside of this ring lies the consistent application of whole school expectations. Once you’ve got the staff buying into the idea of literacy as T&L then you need to set some expectations that are consistent across the school. This is not to create a stick to hit people with but to allow the students an explicit understanding of what is expected of them in every lesson and how it can help them. For instance we’ve introduced some presentation guidelines for how students should be presenting their work in their books. We explain to students that they will be using their books to go back over and revise from so the work needs to be clear so it can be used in this way. If it isn’t then there is little point in doing it. For the teacher it also makes it a lot easier to mark as the work is clearly marked classwork or prep work (our homework) and attention is taken on detail to make it legible. By being consistent across the school the students know what is expected of them and how they can go about achieving it.

We also introduced last year common literacy marking codes. Instead of these just being an extra piece of work for teachers they are bought in line with our school’s marking policy. We introduced four very simple marking codes and made an expectation that every three weeks (part of the existing policy) all books would be marked with one sufficient paragraph marked for literacy impact. This was made clear via stickers on the front of each book highlighting this and was integral to the whole school policy on marking. Again, it wasn’t about making more work it was about making a positive impact. We asked teachers when looking at spellings in the sufficient paragraph to look at subject specific spellings. Were students getting right the important words in their subjects? We also backed this up with training on how you can give students help in getting the right spelling. Time is given for students to reflect on their marked work and to respond to targets etc, knowing whether students have learning difficulties (i.e. dyslexia) and how they can help (not just highlighting the mistake but either giving the correct spelling or the initial sound). All these things and more were given to teachers as part of their armoury in helping the students to improve and ultimately to show progress.

 

As we move further out from our initial building blocks we started to look at directed student improvement and how we could help those students that struggle with literacy for whatever reason. We wanted to be able to provide for these students outside the classroom so that they could learn as much in the classroom as possible. One thing that you might have noticed from my posts is that I firmly believe that we need to focus most our efforts on the classroom and maintain as much as we can in these periods. I’m not against taking students out of lessons for intervention but I think we need to think seriously hard about why we are doing it and the impact this is likely to have. In most schools literacy 1-2-1 is very common at the moment. Students are taken due to being below level 4 (catch-up fund). They are taken because they are SEND. They are taken because they are eligible for pupil premium money. They are taken out for a multitude of reasons and a number of them are taken out for all of these because they happen to fall into each category. Now they don’t get taken out of core lessons, because these are ones where they need extra help, they are taken out of option subjects. More often than not these are the subjects that they do excel in and more than likely enjoy the most.

This, I believe, is where a large amount of the problem lies. What message is this sending to the student who now never spends time in school doing the things they enjoy but instead they end up doing more of the things they don’t? But also within this they are missing out on so much from not being in the classroom. Learning isn’t always about 1-2-1. What about group work, or class discussions or someone asking the question that you’d never ask but need to know the answer to understand. All these things are missed when we take the student out of the lesson. Ideally, what we want is for the student to be catered for with their needs inside the lesson, for the teacher to know the student’s weakness and to have strategies to be able to help them. This then links us straight back to our foundations. Teacher confidence and competence. We don’t just mean confidence in teaching explicit literacy skills but confidence in knowing what strategies they can use for different students. If we can give students in lesson similar support they would receive in 1-2-1 on top of all the other things inside that lesson then imagine the progress they would make.

This is just what we’ve tried to achieve in our school. Firstly by looking at the students that are likely to fall into numerous categories so as staff we can work together to make sure that these students aren’t being pulled in a number of different directions. We call this work intersectionality as it is about how students can intersect in a number of different ways. Students that are pupil premium eligible, ones that are SEND and ones that have weak literacy are all tracked centrally and collaboration goes on to make sure we are providing for all these students exactly what they need, when they need it. Yes we still run 1-2-1 sessions for students but we’ve changed the way we’ve done it allowing maximum impact with minimum disruption. OK, so some of this might just be about admin but it’s also about ethos and changing the way you go about things. These students have become a target group and they are highlighted on class context sheets, as part of a tracking group and are students that all staff are aware of. Just from having this information it means teachers can help them with the kind of help they need. On top of all this we also provide teachers with the strategies that we know will help the students in the lessons. By giving teachers these strategies we can then help them to allow the students to make the progress and to gain understanding in lessons. It’s about breaking down the barriers that are stopping them from doing so.

 

Outside of this then comes parental engagement. Parents are an integral part of this process as anything else. We need them on board with this but we also need to be able to help with their confidence and competence. Just like teachers in the classroom, parents at home play a big part in imparting information to their children. We want them to be confident in not only giving across the school message of consistency (such as presentation of work) but also in helping them to help their children improve. We therefore give parents strategies they should be using at home to help. We regularly meet with our intersectionality parents and talk about the individual areas of improvement for their children and we can all help them. This engagement is a massive factor as it ties to so many of the other levels in our literacy plan.

 

Finally we believe that all of this needs to be surrounded by students having positive experiences around literacy all the time. This needs to make students see that all the aspects of literacy, reading, writing, speaking & listening as natural every day things. Nothing special in terms of one offs but important every day things.

So this is our ethos and the things that have led to such a positive impact and therefore inspection from Ofsted. As I said earlier we’re by no means finished we still have a long way to go but we’ve certainly made an excellent start.

Implementing Lancaster’s Hierarchy of Reading

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Since its conception and feature on this blog (here) I’ve had a number of schools enquiring about how they might implement such a model in a school.

It’s been heartening to see that the model has not only produced a decent conversation around reading but also what its potential might be in a school setting in raising achievement around reading.

I’ve ‘tarted’ up a little the original sketch but the content remains exactly the same. What’s even more exciting is that it works both as a model for the individual but also for larger groups and whole schools.

The message I’ve been talking to the schools about is how they need to make sure all the stages are constantly active. This is important as it requires you to be aware of what you are doing and offering the students in your school at all times. It’s also important as at any one time you may have students at any stage on the hierarchy so need to keep this in mind.

One thing the schools have been keen on is using the model as a whole school approach to reading improvement as well as a classroom based approach.

Through these conversations I’ve been thinking about the key points of each stage and how these may actually look in a whole school or class setting. It’s interesting that I’ve been speaking to both primary and secondary schools but actually the more I’ve been thinking about it the principles really remain the same.

I thought it best to look at each of the stages and think about what it might look like both in a whole school and a class model.

Stage 1 Attitude

A student’s attitude towards reading books is the most important stage. It doesn’t matter how competent at reading an individual is, if they don’t want to do it they won’t. Although many judge the non-cognitive side to learning unimportant it’s probably just as if not more important than the cognitive side of things.
In this first stage of the hierarchy we’re thinking about the young person’s thoughts towards reading, hoping to engage positivity around it and sometimes this comes largely from a reader’s past or a perception on their own ability. If they have perceived themselves to have been a failure in the past then they will more likely have a negative view of reading. If they’ve also had bad experiences in primary school, maybe through phonics, then again this will impact.

Whole School

-Do you judge students by their attitudes to reading?
-Is reading seen positively throughout the school?
-Are staff role models for reading?
-Do you personalise reading to engage different types of readers?
-Is only traditional reading (books) seen or do you promote all types of reading?
-Do you have a focus on reading for pleasure?
-Do you engage parents and the wider community in reading, i.e. is reading seen outside of the school too?

Classroom
-Is reading welcomed, celebrated in your classroom?
-Are opportunities taken to talk about pleasure reading?
-Are fiction books used to engage and deepen understanding in the topic?

-Do your students see you as a reader?

Stage 2 Opportunity

Opportunity is about providing students with rich literacy and reading opportunities in and outside of the classroom. If students don’t perceive that they have the opportunity to read then there is very little chance that they will engage in it. Participation and engagement is key in this stage and so is the relentless drive to make sure opportunities always exist for students in as many different guises as possible. Awareness is integral to this stage too so you need to be thinking about and how you are providing these opportunities.

Whole School

-Do you provide students with literacy rich reading opportunities outside of the curriculum?

-Is your library an engaging place with a knowledgeable person in charge running lots of reader development events?

-Do you only provide extracurricular reading activities for the stronger readers?

-Is reading seen across the school or just in certain places?

Classroom

-Do you provide opportunities within the curriculum to discuss/use reading?

-Are links made to further learning through reading?

-Do you provide students with information on the types of reading that help them?

 

Stage 3

This stage focusses on the actual application of reading and supporting students to be able to actually go about the process. It is about making sure students feel they are capable and improving their self-efficacy around reading. This is the stage of mastery and motivation with both just as important as each other especially if you are to keep the reading flow going with students.

Whole School

-Do you test students for their reading abilities and use this as an initial guide?

-Do you have an understanding of the specific weakness around reading of your students?

-How do you teach you weakest readers to read?

-Do you share information about reading weakness with teachers and staff to guide their teaching practice?

-Do you give teachers strategies to work with weak readers and differentiate appropriately?

-Do you organise training for all staff to improve pedagogy around reading?

 

Classroom

-Are you aware of your weakest readers?

-Do you know what support they need to help them improve?

-Do you adapt your teaching to make sure support is given?

-Is your seating plan conducive to allow weaker readers to flourish?

-How you break down the language of your subject to aid students?

 

Stage 4 Culture

Although this may seem a really strange one to have in here it is an extremely important area that is nearly always overlooked. A reading culture goes beyond just paying lip service to reading and saying that you involve some parents and local schools. A real culture is deeply ingrained in the whole society. Reading isn’t seen as special it’s just seen as a natural thing and needs to come from all different directions. For this reason an in classroom instruction is hard to define. If anything it is the accumulation of all the stages before that creates this ethos within the classroom.

It is worth thinking if everyone, especially those not directly linked to the school viewed reading as positive then the knock-effect to your parents and students becomes massive. This stage is probably the hardest to achieve as it relies heavily on the social responsibility of everyone. However, just because it’s difficult it shouldn’t mean that it’s not important.

 

Whole School

-How is reading seen outside of school?

-Who do you engage to promote/engage young people into reading?

-Is reading a priority in your society, if not why not?

-Are parents, staff, society figures seen as reading role models?

-Who takes responsibility for reading in your school?

 

So these are the stages we’ve been talking about and the ways in which the schools are going to approach them to achieve a whole school and classroom based success around reading. It’s also worth highlighting that all of this and the success of the model means that it has to be fully integrated into the school. This is especially important with a classroom based element that relies on improving teacher pedagogy. The point is that all these things are about improving our knowledge of and the learning/progress of all students. Reading is fundamental to this process but the buy in from staff is that it’s also about helping them to get all students, regardless of ability to learn to their potential with fewer barriers preventing them in all their subjects.

If you’d like more information about the model and how you might go about setting this up in your school then please do not hesitate in contacting me.

The Library Touchpaper Article

For those interested in the article that I wrote for the School Librarian Journal please see the article below.

Introducing the problems

Ok, so this is a big one. How do you introduce something that you know is challenging the way people go about things in a profession? Something that tries to move people on in their roles, that tries to get them thinking in a different way?

Something that you believe passionately in and that you know will make a big difference to a profession and something you know will have a direct impact on the quality of what is provided in school libraries across the country.

Well hopefully this is the beginning of that as today I start to light the school library touchpaper. Spurred on by things such as the millennium problems and more recently EduResearch, I’ve been thinking long and hard about the key questions in school libraries today. The real big big issues. What are they, what do they mean and more importantly how do we go about answering them?

Surely for us to make any kind of difference these are the things we need to be discussing, to be talking about and trying to uncover a way to move forward?

Sure publicity about school libraries and librarians is great but what actually does that achieve? Does it give us anything, do anything for us? Does it change anything at ‘grass roots level? The answer to that is most likely no, not really anything of any substance at least, nothing that’s going to be long lasting. PR is great but it’s only ever going to be short term, when the dust settles on an article or a report we’re straight back in the same place we’ve always been. When all the talking is finished that’s all it really is, words. Words won’t change anything, but people will.
So what’s really going to make a difference is us. If we take things into our own hands, if we provide the substance that’s going to have an impact and change things then we can really do something special. And I don’t mean run a one off event that might look good but again gives no real substance or meaning to anything or change anything. I don’t even mean an event that lasts longer than a one off I mean fundamentally changing something or producing something that changes the fabric of our roles.
So, I’m setting a challenge. A challenge that’s going to get school librarians all thinking about the big issues, and not just thinking about them, but coming up with a solution. A solution that’s going to give us the substance that words and PR can’t. Substance that’s going to change everything for the better and that’s going to be long term.

That is the challenge and that is the purpose behind the library touchpaper conundrums.

The touchpaper conundrums

They are called the touchpaper conundrums because ultimately I want them to spark a debate. A debate that is going to focus us and our profession on coming up with a way to improve the things we do, to make sure our role answers the key questions. By showing the value that we have in a school we can show the reason why all schools should have a school librarian and qualified information professional in charge. It’s OK talking the talk but this is going to us walking the walk to.

As I see it the conundrums cover the big problems that we have in school libraries such as engagement, our role within education, reading improvement and information literacy. The conundrums are therefore a way of trying to come up with a solution for these problems.

I’ve already launched a couple of these questions via my blog www.readingeducator.wordpress.com and also at the Hertfordshire CPD meetings that I run through my school. Not only did they spark that initial interest and debate in what the answers might be and how we can go about answering them but it has also provided people with a platform to go away and continue to think and do something about these questions.

Defining the problems

Actually putting together the conundrums was a task in itself. How do you go about defining a problem in one question? The wording has to be right but you also need to have an idea of what you are trying to achieve.

I initially starting thinking about the areas that I thought were the most troublesome in a school. I spend a lot of time working with librarians across the country either through INSETs or through providing consultancy to schools. This has given me a great opportunity to listen. Just listen to what librarians are saying.

Areas such as getting young people to read, using resources and creating information literate young people are the ones most frequently mentioned. These are the things in schools that you hear most school librarians complaining about or banging their heads to try and achieve. But also along there is the continual question around the school librarian’s role in a school, how they can make a difference to the quality of teaching of learning (the bread and butter of a school).

So in trying to set the right questions I felt I needed to set myself some parameters. If I wanted these problems to answered, to be meaningful then I needed to work out what was going to be important.

The parameters I set to focus the questions and then hopefully the outcomes are as follows:

  1. They must be relevant to school librarians and their roles in today’s schools and education system
  2. The questions must be based on improving school librarianship
  3. They must require a solution that uncovers principles rather than the creation of a new model
  4. Have a defined end-point

With these points in mind and with the knowledge of what the potential problem areas might be I began to formulate the questions that would require debate, research and potentially improvement as the ultimate goal.

The questions that I created are therefore:
1. In what ways can a school librarian impact on the quality of teaching in a school?

2. If a student needs to find information what process produces the best result?

3. What are the optimal conditions in a library needed to encourage a non-reader to read?

4. What is the shortest time period needed to improve a student’s reading age by 1 year?

5. Which organisation of physical resources produces the most effective search outcome?

6. What are the necessary and minimum requirements to create a reading culture in a school?

Covering those main areas and requiring more thought than just a simple answer these questions are geared towards having librarians think about what the answers might be. To question the way they go about things in their own school and ask whether it is the right way. To celebrate those people doing something special that is maybe answering one, some or more of these in part or in whole.

It is about us as school librarians taking ownership of making a difference to our own profession and showing what we are capable of and how important we are to our schools.

What now?

Now the questions are ‘out there’ I want people to start thinking about answering them. At the moment there are no answers to these questions. I want people to discuss with each other and to formulate their own. I would welcome responses to myself or to The School Librarian where we will run a follow up article covering what librarians are starting to do and the solutions they are coming up with.

I’m also really keen to organise a specific event with some of our top school librarians to spend a whole day researching how we might answer the questions. Not only would this be a great opportunity to further the work we are doing but it would also be great CPD for all of those involved, sharing the practice that they have seen and formulating a potential way forward for schools and their libraries.

If you would like to get in touch with me with your views and maybe any other questions or theories as to how you might answer them I would love to hear them. Please email aln@monkswalk.herts.sch.uk

My thoughts on that Bookseller article

I’ve probably written this post about 5 times, trying to calm myself down a little from some of the feelings expressed in the recent Bookseller article which can be found here.

In it the article expresses opinions from different people on the case put forward for statutory school libraries. I started reading believing that I was going to be proud of the opinion put forward about school and school libraries in such an important book trade magazine. The title certainly suggest that I wouldn’t be anything other than happy with the contents. After all school libraries are important to the overall success of a school where they are run correctly and have an impact in a number of different areas.

However I was left a little astounded, verging on angry with some of the comments made. In one paragraph it clearly states that a library is not a library unless you have a qualified person in charge of it. This has to be a comment, I feel, I disagree with the most in the article. Mainly because I feel it is just plain wrong. The premise is the fact that if a library has a qualified librarian then it will be a success. Yet in my experience (having been a school advisor for many years and working in a large number of schools across the country) some qualified school librarians are doing an appalling job whilst other ‘non-qualified’ staff are having more impact with reading and literacy through the school library than you could imagine. I myself have no formal library qualifications, I have degrees in English and in Education, yet the work we achieve in our school has been judged to be at the highest level. You can read more on my thoughts of the qualified situation here. Had the comment been about  having a knowledgeable member of staff in charge of the library I would have wholeheartedly agreed but this I feel gives the wrong impression.

The second point I was stuck and worried on is the insistence of a school library being subject to an Ofsted inspection. I completely agree that a library should be seen as part of the fabric of promoting literacy and especially reading in a school but what worries me is how an inspection would be carried out by an inspection team and who would write the guidance and grade descriptors for doing so. This is by far the biggest worry I have. The point about a successful school library is that it is reflective of the needs of the school and the students. There are no standard ways of doing things that make a success. This is exactly the same reason why Ofsted look for no specific style of teaching just that it is right and has an impact. Am I suddenly going to be dictated to as to how I should organise my shelves, what books I should stock, how I interact with teaching and learning in the school?

I can soundly speak from experience, having had Ofsted in on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week, that the process they are working on at the moment with regard to reading and literacy is spot on. Part of the requirements the lead inspector gave us the afternoon before the visit was a specific meeting with the literacy coordinator (me) and that he wanted to listen to 4 of our weaker students read and visit areas we had identified as promoting reading.

During the inspection our school library was visited regularly as the school has highlighted it as an area of promoting literacy. The library also has an impact in the classroom, providing knowledge of weaker readers to teachers and strategies to use to help them. Inspectors were then seeing the impact the library was having in the classroom and on teacher pedagogy, another reason why inspectors came to find out more.  Students and teachers commented to inspectors on the use of the library, how it promoted reading and literacy and so again inspectors visited to find out more. Reading can be seen clearly in our corridors and from the moment you walk into the school. Again, we were visited with inspectors wanting to find out more. The library and reading is seen far beyond the four walls of the physical space and this is the point.

In my meeting with the inspector we spent an hour talking about the work the library does (an extra half an hour on whole school literacy was covered too). The inspector fed back to the headteacher how he had been ‘blown away’ by this work and commented to me how astounded he was at the comprehensive nature of the work we achieve around reading improvement and reading for pleasure. We spoke about information literacy, independence and he was keenly interested in the way we organise our non-fiction books. (3 collections. 1. book boxes that go to depts when they start a new topic. 2. a facts for fun collection – pleasure non-fiction and 3. books organised by subject they are studied in (history, science, geography etc) and sub-divided into year group and then again into term studied: autumn; spring; summer). When he questioned students about this structure they waxed lyrical about how easy it was to find the right book they needed and how it had made them more likely to use the resources in the first place. The impact, the inspector could see, was clear and this was what he was looking for.

I was delighted by his interest in literacy and reading, the way he worked with the students he listen to read and his knowledge of what good reading and literacy can look like in a school. He was extremely knowledgeable on what to look for but was also looking at what worked best for the school and our students.

Now maybe it’s the editing of the article rather than the actual comments that make it comes across as not the positive one I was hoping for. But I do certainly feel that there is an agenda that I’m not entirely happy with as it could have potentially disastrous implications for many schools. For me it’s not about inspecting a library but an inspection team looking at how the school promotes reading engagement, improvement and pleasure through the whole school and the role the school library plays within  this. This is much more useful and actually something many inspection teams are doing and it is already clearly having a positive effect. If you read Ofsted reports many schools who are not yet good have on their front page of their report it is because ‘pupils do not read frequently or widely enough’.

The Reading Stretch Zone

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Ofsted have focussed a lot on reading recently. So much so that it seems an inspection team can be guarenteed to ask to listen to the weakest readers read. Being able to say this with confidence comes from experience.

Ofsted are looking, and say this in their guidance, for the ways in which a school teaches its weakest to read.
Although maybe not specialists the inspectors want to listen to whether the students have been equipped with the correct strategies that help them to access the text on the page.

The questions they are likely to ask the students are whether they are involved in any sort of intervention that helps them, how often they read and if they choose to read for pleasure outside of school time.

I will no doubt talk in more detail about my experience of an inspection and what was covered in regards to reading and literacy in other posts as this post aims to look at the specific phrase in the inspection guidance ‘pupils should be reading books at the correct level’.

I’ve already written a couple of comments about this and specifically how I feel towards it. Reading for pleasure, to me, is about reading whatever book/item you want when you want. It doesn’t have to be at the right level for you to enjoy it.

However in yesterday’s post on reading flow found here you can see my argument as to how challenge is needed for reading improvement.

This for me is where the line is blurred and maybe where a specialist might offer Ofsted some degree of help. Reading for pleasure and reading for gain are simply two different things. Yes they intertwine in many ways but they are still two different entities.

We already do a large amount in both areas with our students. We can successfully track and prove impact with regards to reading for pleasure and reading for gain and have numerous whole school and specific strategies to help all types of readers. But one thing we are beginning to introduce is making this distinction explicit to our students.

We already talk a lot to them about reading for pleasure about attitudes to reading and growth mindsets concerning reading. We also make it abundantly clear that we want them to want to read. That is our goal.

However we also want to instil in them the knowledge of what is needed to be a successful reader of pleasure and one of gain. What these traits are and how they can take advantage of this knowledge depends on what they require. This is about ownership, independence, self organised learning. Give them the tools and step back. Allow them to utilise this knowledge.

To aid in this development we have adapted stretch zones, recently common in learning, and placed them in the context of reading.

It is a perfectly simple idea but it tied nicely into the work we are already doing. In year seven students work through a reading charter. This requires them to think critically about their reading personality, who they are as a reader and importantly how they go about the process of reading.

They are challenged to try different types of books, to read widely (as Ofsted would say) and to reflect on this within the charters. They are also asked to think about how their choosing of books changes over time and to continue this self assessment of their reading.

Our addition then for next year is to have them also think about the books they are choosing in terms of their comfort zones. Which books are they reading that stretch then? Which ones are easily in their comfort zone and which ones are too challenging.

Students will use the above picture to mark the books they have read. In doing so they will become aware of which types of books set in that reading flow area and which books push them too far. They can see that pleasure reading books can fit in any zone but importantly which zone they need to be in to improve. They can also be aware and take ownership of their reading edpecisllly if they look at their zone chart and see they are only picking books well within their comfort zone and not stepping out of this into the stretch ‘flow’ zone.

Armed with this knowledge they can make informed decisions about their reading and about how they can succeed at the type of reading they choose.

Already, early indications show this to be a massive success and on top of this it shows explicitly that students are reading books at the right level but also that they are able to make informed decisions and to feel that it’s ok not to read a book that’s stretching them because this time it’s for pleasure!