The Effective Information Literate Student

Effective information searching

 

It’s that time of year when most librarians go about teaching new students about information literacy and reteaching those that have seemingly had their minds wiped over the six weeks of summer. Luckily, since getting rid of having to teach information literacy and putting it into the hands of our teachers on a daily, lesson by lesson, basis (see previous posts for more information) I don’t have that ‘beginning of the year turmoil.’ Yet, I have been thinking quite hard about how the process of information searching works and how to help develop the habits in both our students and staff when it comes to information searching.

 

For the last couple of years these thoughts have progressed in my own mind after reading and conducting research and collaborating with many fantastic teachers. A lot of this work has gone into creating a new model for information literacy and learning (OPUS) more information can be found about this in future posts but an outline also exists under its own tab. What drove me to create this model was to insistence that there is a strong link between the process of learning and information searching. It seems a silly thing think to say because they are of course linked. Finding information is learning at is basic. However, all the models that exist for information literacy don’t take learning and teaching into account and this is the same with teaching and learning models omitting the links to information literacy.

 

OPUS is therefore the ‘glue model’ that sticks both these things together. However, this post isn’t about OPUS per se, it is in fact about some of the questions that led to its creation. Questions such as what makes a successful searcher of information? How can we ensure all students and staff are successful searchers etc etc.

 

Working with a number of teachers we set up an information experiment where we had two (science) classes of equal ability perform a number of tasks over the year. We mapped their abilities, their levelled pieces of work and their output against each other. They were studying exactly the same topics but one class was being taught explicit information literacy skills (through the OPUS model) and the other group had no explicit information skills taught to them. Group A (the group with information literacy training) was given a number of regular opportunities through the year to undertake research and prep (our version of homework – see previous posts for its link to information literacy) was given to aid and support this. Group B had fewer opportunities through the year to undertake research work and their prep was set in a more piecemeal way.

 

There were a number of things we learnt from doing this and this included, importantly, the teachers seeing the benefits of teaching information literacy within their lessons.  Over the next few months I will writing more about this project and it’s impact but for this post I wanted to look specifically about the impact frequency has in creating an effective information literate student.

 

The grid above shows how frequency of information searching has a correlative impact on the quality of a students ability to be information literate. One of the things we were hoping to prove was that by being frequently given the opportunity to undertake research students would become more effective searchers. This almost goes without saying, the more you do something, the more proficient you come at it. But it does still need proving. However, what we also found was that students that were being set research and given the opportunity to research on a regular basis were not only achieving better but were also putting more effort into their searching and so were being more effective.  If you look at the graphic above, one of the many we produced from our work, you can see how we categorized students based on the frequency of their research work and the effect their research was having. In terms of effect we looked at how effective their research skills were throughout the task and also at the end product and its success related to the task objectives.

 

We then plotted each of the students into the four categories from both of the groups. What we noticed was that the majority of students in group A appeared in the maximum effect and high frequency one. In fact 95% of students from group A sat in this category. In group B, the group with a low frequency of opportunities to conduct research, the students were a little more mixed  but the majority (67%) appeared in the minimum frequency minimum impact category. What the results were showing us was that those students that were being fed a regular diet of information literacy skills (through the OPUS model) and being given lots of opportunities to conduct research were being more effective in the quality of work they were producing.

 

Quite obvious when you think about but to see the specific impact that this was having on the students was brilliant and was justification of the style we adopted with group A. Not only is it about training, teaching and making explicit the skills of information literacy but just as importantly regular opportunities need to be given to allow the students to compound these skills and continue to improve. This then needs to be built into our lessons across the school with all teachers taking the opportunity to make these skills visible and to allow students the opportunity to undertake research regularly.

 

 

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Inspecting School Libraries

So there seems to have been another mini pump into the cog of of inspections for school libraries. At the ATL conference they backed the call for support of school libraries (a great thing) by also a call for libraries to be part of the inspection process (a very bad thing).

I’ve spoken about my views before on the inspection of a school library and how support of this will do very little to encourage the use of school libraries. Schools are free to use their money how they wish and with all the government reforms in recent years giving schools more power to do as they want (just look at academisation and the free school movement) they are not going to dictate to schools that they must have a school library. This a completely against everything that they have been doing for the past 6 years. If they cannot dictate a scheme for levelling students to schools then there is no way they are going to make them all have a library. So not only is it a waste of time arguing this point it also masks a number of other issues.

1. Surely it is the job of school librarians themselves to show the quality of what they do and how much value they add to a school. If all school librarians were doing this then the argument would be a lot stronger. By blaming others, school leaders, ofsted etc they are taking away their own part to play in the demise of school libraries.

2. The issue I have the biggest problem with. Who is going to decide what criteria we use to judge school libraries?? I have absolutely no trust in the organisations who claim to support and be the voice of school librarians to come up with the right kind of criteria (let’s be honest what job have they done the last 20+ years to show they understand school libraries – yes I’m talking about CILIP!!!!). So what we could end up with is either a set of criteria created by group so out of touch with school libraries and schools in general that only reflects their own views of what makes a good library or ofsted on their own who create a curriculum driven set of criteria, again with no real understanding of what a library can actually achieve and is more akin to the English department with no understanding of the pastoral, information literacy etc etc part of a library.

I would fear for any future of school libraries that is part of an ofsted inspection especially one whose criteria is created by people who have such a weird, twisted view of what a schoo library is.

ATL, in my opinion have been spun some sort of line, which they don’t understand themselves and have blindly supported something that not only is extremely unlikely to happen but if it were to happen would have such a detrimental impact on school libraries that might mean the end of school libraries as we know them.

In my opinion we would be much much better supporting school libraries by showing school leaders the positive impact that school librarians and libraries have. By campaigning to make sure that every school understands what impact a good school librarian can have and also looking at the actual training librarians have and making sure that there is an element of school librarianship within it that doesn’t try and fit a public Iibrary model into a school one.

We really could make a difference if the people trying to campaign had an understanding themselves of what was actually going to work and what would make school libraries in schools work.

Activating the Reading Brain

The reading brain

So, in my previous post about mapping the reading brain (here) I talked about some of the research I had undertaken in determining what it takes in an individual for them be a successful reader. Similar to my idea of a hierarchy of reading (here) but instead of being about what we can do to make reading fully integrated it is about what must be happening within an individual child for them to become a successful reader.

 

Since publishing this post I had a number of schools approach me looking at how this might be something they could use and implement in their schools. I have had some really good, positive conversations with SLTs and literacy coordinators and SENCos  on the things that they might be able to do in their schools to help every child become a successful reader. It’s also sobering to see that it is both primary and secondary schools that feel this model can be used to further the amount and quality of reading of their students.

In looking at how a model such as this might be able to be used within a school we’ve taken each of the areas and looked at the types of things that might need to occur for that section to be activated within the student.  This could be an activity or something else that is the spur for this section. In working with these schools we’ve also discovered that there are some things that they are already doing and thinking about but that these aren’t as explicit as they should be.

 

There is no particular place to start with a model like this as all the elements are just as important as each other however I’m going to begin with the knowledge section as I believe this to be about the bedrock of creating successful readers.

knowledge

 

When talking about Knowledge the part this plays in creating successful readers can be seen in the choices our weaker readers make. Prior knowledge of a subject gives an understanding and comprehension that cannot be underestimated. It is this velcro, this stuff that we as readers use to turn the ideas of text into an understanding of what those ideas are. The full intentions of the author, with this understanding which we can only infer, become ‘laid bare’ in the text for us. This is true of pretty much all fiction where the author doesn’t make everything explicit, it is a vehicle, and a needed one in fiction otherwise all stories would be extremely tedious. Weaker readers, when they do select books, and this is also true for reluctant readers, choose books that they have an understanding and knowledge of. So for instance the sport mad weak reading boys pick football books. OK a bit of a generalisation however you can see the truth in that reading to those students is something that is hard anyway so they might as well read a book that they get, that they understand the terminology and can infer meaning from.

This knowledge though can only come from having a life. From having experiences as we grow up, from coming across as many different things as possible. You can see where this is heading as I’m sure you know from your own school where a student has clearly lacked this (for whatever reason) and the impact it has on their reading. So what can be do, how can we activate this in a student and help them maintain to this to become a successful reader?

To start with we need to get an understanding of our students as individuals. What do they like, what are their interests? We need to build profiles of them as readers linking together the soft, non cognitive areas of attitudes (my gold dust in reading improvement) and also their abilities within reading such as reading ages etc. We need to make sure that we are providing a range of resources for students to be able to access. Not just different types of books but also different ways of accessing reading. We need to help students create and have new experiences, to build upon their velcro and to give them more of that ‘stuff’ that’s going to help them make connections.

Curiosity

After Knowledge comes Curiosity. For a student to be successful in reading they need to have in them the want to read. This is really the fundamental of the non-cognitive skills with the leading light being that of attitude. If a student does not want to read, no matter how proficient they are, they will not do it. This attitude leads to a curiosity to find out more, to know more, to read more. It is with questioning and wonder that a student will become successful in achieving this but how can we achieve this in our schools? How can we foster this with our students? The first thing is to truly understand a student’s weakness is and the reason why their attitude is as it is. Is there something that is holding them back or something that has led to them having a negative attitude. By analysing and assessing these soft skills, or fundamentally the non-cognitive skills we can begin to put things into place to make an improvement. Whether this knowledge needs to specific interventions or an ability for us to promote different things in different ways to the individual depends on many things: how we work, our contexts in our schools, the time we have to work with students etc but the knowledge that we gain from doing this tracking leads us to what we can do.

Another important thing is to make sure that the school is promoting and disseminating a love of reading for pleasure. Now, in my opinion this is best done through a library and librarian where all types of reading is allowed and celebrated, where reading is promoted across the school and in every classroom and a culture is built where reading is not only celebrated but is also accepted as the norm. This article doesn’t aim to say whether a library is the best place for this to happen: there are schools where a library and librarian is in place and this doesn’t happen and also schools where a library and librarian aren’t present where it does happen. For me, a library is the most obvious and visible place (the thing with reading is that it needs to be visible) however I do not wish to ascribe to schools the method which they should use (maybe another article at another time).

 

Cognition

The next step on our way to activating the reading brain in our individuals in schools is all about cognition. We have talked already about the importance of non-cognitive skills and especially that of attitude. But alongside this, if we are to truly activate an individual into reading, we need to give them the skills to be able to physically read. For so many students this is the backbone to comments that start ‘I don’t like reading’. What is behind this is the fundamental ‘I don’t like the process of reading I have been through’ or ‘I don’t like what I associate reading to be’. What is the student at a reading crossroads and what can you do about it knowing what the barriers are?

Is reading given a chance in the curriculum across all subjects or is it only ever associated with English. Are opportunities given to promote the benefits of reading and the enjoyment that reading can give as well as giving a positive interpretation of what reading actually is?

This is where the ‘literacy’ element of reading comes into play. This is where the school needs to promote the links between literacy and good teaching and learning across the whole school. In a classroom where a teacher not only understands the weaknesses some of our students face concerning literacy but has strategies in place to help them, differentiate etc and allow them access to the learning the promotion of reading skills is explicit. Knowing that some students need reading chunked as they process words slowly, or that they have trouble decoding so bullet pointing reading can be of real benefit, is extremely useful for both the teacher and the student. This is what literacy skills across the curriculum really entails and what ultimately makes a difference.

To make this happen though we need to track the students to know this and to be able to share this information. We also need to think about how we can use our knowledge of our students’ weaknesses to be able to help them in different ways. Do we think this is going to be via 121 intervention. What is the benefit of this? Are we taking students out of lessons they enjoy/are capable of, just to give them more of what they know they cannot do? Or, are we trying to improve the quality of teaching in our school so instead of having an intervention for 1 hour a week extra they are receiving help and guidance in all their lessons so 25+ hours a week?

 

Grit

 

Finally, the last piece of the jigsaw that is activating the reading brain is that of grit. How we can have young people sustain reading? How can we keep them on the reading curve and make sure that when they fall off they get straight back on? Young people need to have this resilience built into them around reading if they are to be successful but what things can we do to help make this happen? This is where we need to think back again to perception to those ‘soft’ non-cognitive skills, to young people’s perception around reading. We need to continually praise and challenge students with their reading and there needs to be someone in school is invested solely in the students’ reading outcomes. Do you have someone like this in your school? Do you have someone that is committed to engaging young people into reading and wants them to continually improve. More importantly do they this under the guise of allowing students the ability to see that they can read and that they can enjoy reading?

 

In activating the reading brain in our young people we need to have all these things going on all the time. As a school we need to realise exactly what it is that is stopping from young people from reading in the first place and then put things in place to break down the barriers that exist. We are all capable of being successful at reading though some need more support than others. Fundamentally, these are the things that make a difference. These are the points that when encouraged, nurtured and grown will have an impact and will create readers.

Prime your library to gain readers

Further to my previous post about using psychology to improve reading I thought I’d continue looking at ways in which we could use these theories to improve reading and our libraries.

One area that I love the idea of is priming. It comes from the misconception that you are actually aware when you are being influenced by something and how this affects your behaviours. In reality we are completely unaware of the constant nudging we receive from the ideas that are formed in our subconscious mind.

My favourite illusionist/mentalist is Derren Brown and it is this that he relies on so much to perform a lot of his work. For any of those that have watched his shows I was particularly taken with how he used this knowledge in the Hero at 30,000 feet episode. In this he created a belief in an ordinary young man that he had the potential to seize opportunities and be better than he ever thought was possible. Derren uses this gentle nudging of the sub conscious all the way through the episode. If you haven’t watched it I would certainly urge you to seek it out.

This is happening all the time everywhere we go and there are certain people and organisations that know and use this to their advantage. Advertisers are a prime example but so are places such as casino’s, probably the best example. What they do so well is to prime their customers by playing certain sounds very loud. As soon as you walk into a casino you are blasted with a cacophony of postive happy sounds. These are sounds of people being happy, sounds of money coming out of machines, of people winning. All of this gives the customer a feeling that they too can win and encourages them to want to be part of that feeling.

So the question is, if everyone else is using this knowledge can we, on libraries do the same thing and what would it look like?

The answervo think, or at least an answer is to think along the ideas and the premise as t o why this works. The users are being made to feel good about themselves in each example. The noises and sights of a casino are there to be a positive thing: lots of flashing lights and happy sounds draw the users in and with advertisers it is the little nudges on the sub conscious that work. What if we combined both these in our libraries? I don’t mean play sounds of people winning or being happy because our goal isn’t to have people spending money. Our goal is to have people wanting to use our spaces and to want to pick up books and read. So why not play noises, sounds that make our users happy and then use the sub conscious nudging of advertising whilst their ‘guard is down’ to encourage them to read?

One thing that we, and other libraries do is play music through the day. I’ve always been fascinated by the effect this has on young people, especially when you look at the types of music you play. This interests me so much that we actually undertook some research.

We don’t play classical music, as some places do, we instead pick a certain type of easy listening, current music. This is mainly indie based with a hint of folk for softer it’s softer tone. So for instance over the last couple of weeks we have played Ben Howard, Mumford and Sons, Paulo Nutini, Damien Rice, Amy MacDonald, George Ezra, Jason Mraz and Kate Walsh. A good mix of a certain kind of music. We wanted to find out what impact the music was having on students so we decided that at random some days we would play music, some days we wouldn’t and we would monitor a couple of different things.
1. No of students in the library
2. How much work they were doing
3. Their happiness, gauged by simply asking if they were happy today!
4. How they were working i.e. in groups, on their own etc

We did those over the course of a half term, 8 weeks to have a long enough time and also to pick different days so we weren’t always not playing music on the same days. Now, there are of course so many different sets of possibilities, reasons and variables as to why we might have got the results we did. It might have nothing to do with the music, or it might have everything to do with it but we found a couple of interesting things.

1. There was no link to the number of students using the library. We averaged around 80 students at breaktime and 120 at lunch(these totals were taken at the same time each day of how many students were in the library at that time so we may have had many more use the library over the course of these times).

2. We noticed a vast increase in the amount of work being completed when the music was playing. This was frpm our ‘gut’ feeling but also in asking students how much work they had done what there answers were.

3. Students regularly commented that there happier when the music playing. We made no comment to them about the music at all during these times, just asked the same question on each day.

4. There seemed to be no relation to how students worked and the music. We thought that we might see more individual work with the noise from the music stopping groups from talking, however this wasn’t the case.

Other things that we noticed though was that the noise level from students was lower when the music played. We don’t have a silent library policy but the students used the music as a self regulator always staying below that of the music level. Funnily enough on days when we had music playing we noticed the students that had used us during the day came back after school, whereas this happened a lot less on those days when we didn’t play music.

The final and probably most interesting thing we discovered was that on the days we played music more books were being borrowed, both fiction and non fiction. The library felt like it had a much better vibe on these days too that the music was somehow doing something to everyone’s mood.

It was certainly an experiment worth taking and one that justifies why we play music and why we choose the music we do. So maybe this is psychology having a positive effect on reading and our library. Or maybe it’s just a load of rubbish!

The messy business of impact

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In pretty much every workplace and beyond people are always concerned with impact.

What impact is the government reforms having? What impact is the new Tesco advert having on sales? What impact is my parenting having on my children? Etc etc

Just behind impact is its smaller yet more important siblings measurement and proof. When you talk about impact you can help but also talk about measuring it. As a society and a human being we are concerned to the point of obsession with measuring impact. It makes sense though, if you’re going to talk about impact and it’s important to you then you need to think about how you’re going to measure it so you can prove it.

How do Tesco measure the impact of their new advert – sales figures most likely, focus groups potentially, surveys etc. what about the government then? Maybe opinion polls, votes at local/general elections? And the parent? Well maybe how your child acts in relation to the moral code you’ve tried to instil, how they grow up as a human being maybe?

There’s something each of these have in common and probably akin to any way of measuring and proving impact. It is by looking at the outcomes. If the outcomes are what you had hoped them to be then you have been a success. If the government puts austerity cuts in place to save money then they’ll look at how much money has been saved – the outcome. If Tesco wants to measure and prove their new advert again it’s the outcome, sales figures etc and a parent? Well no surprise it’s again the outcome – how close to my ideals of a success have they grown up to be?

The only problem, and the messy part of impact and measuring impact is that you cannot categorically prove impact. It may seem strange but in most cases it’s either impossible or very difficult to say definitively that the outcome has been defined by the action.

Let’s look at Tesco and their new advert. They release their new advert and then look at sales. Sales are up on last year and the advert is a success (ok there’s probably a little more to it than this but just go with it). We can assume that the advert has had a positive effect on sales. But do we know that categorically? Yes it seems the most likely answer but how about any other things that may have occurred?

A national press article slamming another supermarket for their food containing non traditional meat? Or a link to a sweat shop in India? Or how about the advert coinciding with the closure of another local store?

Ok some of this may seem far fetched but the point is there, you cannot definitively pin the outcome on the action.

How about the government then and their austerity cuts? They are saving money so things must be working? Maybe or maybe it’s because we’re taking more care of finances all over the place and being less frivolous , accounting for everything so that money is being saved? Maybe, maybe not?

How about the parent? Well you only need to think nature vs nurture for there to be many variables. And that’s the real point in each of these issues there are too many variables to be able to measure with any kind of certainty what impact your action has had.

How about in education then does this happen there? You bet it does!

In fact it happens on daily, neigh hourly basis! We are forced to think exactly that, what impact is my teaching etc having on the learning of the children. Importantly it’s also part, or should be part of a library. What impact is the library having on teaching and learning, students, the school?

But let’s think a little about the implications in a school and the classroom.

First let’s think about a history teacher in the classroom who teaches a terms worth of the Romans. A student takes an assessment at the end and the student passes.

How about a student who is failing in their English GCSE? A teacher runs some extra intervention, 3 months later the student is back on track. Excellent in both examples, you may think.

But maybe in the first example the student’s dad is a historian specialising in the Romans? Maybe. And in the second example the student’s parents pays for some extra tuition from an external tutor. Maybe.

The thing that makes impact so messy is the variables. It’s due to these variables there is no way to actually prove impact.

It may be a shock but I’m afraid it is the simple truth. You cannot prove impact.

So the question is if you can’t prove impact then what’s the point and what have we been doing all this time?

Although it seems silly it is vitally important that we do this. We need to put all our cards on table and be as explicit as possible as to what we have done.

We need to do this because instead of trying to prove impact what we’re really saying is, it’s started here, I’ve done this and the outcome is this. Prove that I haven’t had an impact.

And that’s really what it is. Doing everything you can to have an impact, being explicit about it and noting the outcome. If the outcome is positive then it’s very difficult to say you haven’t had an impact.

It’s very hard to prove impact but even harder to disprove it too.

So what does this mean then? What it means is that we need to be explicit about the things we are doing, we need to rate start and end points, we need to measure and track progress and lay it all out.

So how about a library then?

What are you doing to improve reading in your school? Where did your students start, what did you do with them and where did they finish? If it was a positive outcome then challenge someone to prove from your tracking that you didn’t have an impact.

The tracking part is vitally important too. If you can’t show all the things you have done then there is no way your argument can hold up.

So the real answer to proving impact is to ask someone to disprove it!

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.

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