Slow Reading: the Power to Transform

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Reading programs and the support of a culture of reading is a common commitment in school libraries.  As teacher librarians, and librarians, we promote reading for enjoyment as a means of raising literacy levels through activities such as reading classes; engaging children in the Premiers’ Reading Challenge; running Book Clubs or supporting English teachers. To this end, the Synergy article Slow Reading: The Power to Transform by Dr Pam Macintyre, Senior Lecturer in Portfolio of Design and Social Context in the School of Education at RMIT is of particular interest.

In this article Pam says it’s logical to state, ‘greater understanding produces greater pleasure when reading’.  To fully understand and learn the skill of reading she encourages us to take time and to give students time, through a process of ‘slow reading’ saying:

Students need us to slow the reading, to model and facilitate the enjoyment of contemplation and the sharing of responses and interpretations. We need to share our enjoyment of language, and the delight in the places reading can take us well beyond the physical, geographical, emotional, intellectual boundaries of our daily lives. We also need to share our knowledge and pleasure about the how of what is said, not only the what.

Pam mentions the Australian research, the Children and Reading literature review which reports a 4% drop in the number of children reading for pleasure between 2003 and 2012.  As a passionate advocate of adolescent reading, she notes the opportunities for further research in this field as reading formats change from hard copy to digital.

In promoting a reading culture Pam quotes Terry Eagleton’s, How to Read Literature (2013)  and urges us to encourage in students a peculiarly vigilant type of reading, ‘one which is alert to tone, mood, pace, genre, syntax, grammar, texture, rhythm, narrative structure, punctuation, ambiguity’ (2013, p. 2).

This article, published in SLAV’s professional journal Synergy, provides teacher librarians and educators involved in raising literacy levels through a formal reading program, with a thoughtful approach to developing skilled readers.  Synergy is published bi-annually and is freely accessible online, apart from the two most recent editions.  It is a valuable source of research relating to school libraries.

Congratulations – Dromkeen Librarian’s Award

book_imagination_edited Congratulations to Melbourne High School Head of Library, Pam Saunders, recipient of the 2014 Dromkeen Librarian’s Award presented at the State Library of Victoria (SLV) on 12 October. The award ‘is presented to a teacher, a teacher librarian or a children’s librarian, working within or outside the education system, in recognition of the important role played by this person in introducing young people to literature and encouraging an enjoyment and love of reading.’ Jan-dromkeenPam has a long involvement with libraries and adolescent reading having previously worked as a librarian in schools and public libraries, as well as managing the Centre for Youth Literature at the SLV. In her interview with Tania Scheko, teacher librarian, she speaks of the development of her love affair with reading, saying..

I was fortunate to have become a reader on the lap of my father as he read to me. I remember walking as a very young child to the shop to buy the new magazine Playhour and then my father reading it to me, especially the comics. This was further fostered by a dynamic school librarian, Mrs Cecilia Stubbs, who ran the library at Burnie High School in the 1970s. She encouraged students to use the library, to be involved and, best of all, she challenged my reading, pushing me to read titles which I would not have discovered myself. Titles like Black like me by John Griffin. I hope I have emulated her as a librarian.

Pam’s award shines a spotlight on the role of library staff in the development of a culture of reading within the school and individual students. We know that to instil a love of reading is to give a student the passport to seeing the world through a different set of eyes. At the forthcoming School Library Assoc of Victoria (SLAV) conference to be held 21 November, author Leigh Hobbs and others will explore the importance of the school library, and the primary school in particular, in “Building Community Through Reading”. Reading is a skill for life. Congratulations Pam, you and others like you in our libraries are a positive influence on our students’ futures.

The Dromkeen Medal, this year awarded to esteemed editor and publisher, Helen Chamberlin, and Dromkeen Librarian’s Award have a distinguished history of over 32 years, with previous Medal recipients including well-known children’s book illustrators and authors such as Shaun Tan, Bronwyn Bancroft, Roland Harvey, Ruth Park and Graeme Base. 

Shift Alt Story – how we tell stories online

Whether it’s ebooks, gaming or graphic novels, we’ve all encountered new forms of storytelling.

The Centre for Youth Literature’s new online course, Shift Alt Story explores how stories have changed (and stayed the same) as they’ve collided with new media in all its forms.

Shift Alt Story is a four week online course, delivered in a similar way to the Victorian Personal Learning Network (VicPLN). Each week participants explore different aspects of story and how they work and change in different online platforms. With a weekly toolkit of handy web tools, professional resources and guest speakers, Shift Alt Story connects your passion for reading to the exciting new world of digital storytelling and transmedia.

Here’s a excerpt from the first unit of the course.

Sometimes it can feel like storytelling and publishing are changing at break-neck speed: we wanted to create a safe space where we could explore these changes together, to play and discuss the challenges and possibilities of digital storytelling with teenagers and children. This course will be a shared experience. We know that young people are playing in this space, and so can we. It’s an opportunity for teachers, librarians, creators and young readers to learn from each other in a new environment.

The course starts on the 1st September. For more information or to book your place in the course, visit the Shift Alt Story page on the State Library of Victoria’s website.

CBCA Book Week 2014 – Connect to Reading

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Children’s Book Week this year is coming up on 16-22 August.   It’s a  special week on the Australian literary calendar as an opportunity to highlight quality Australian children’s literature and, as the 2014 theme suggests, spend the week connecting readers with great stories.  We are fortunate in Australia to have a strong community of writers and enthusiasts supporting the writing of children’s and adolescent’s literature.  They are ensuring stories are written through Australian eyes and embedded into young minds at a time when our identity can be diluted by the mass of other pursuits that fill the lives of young people.

School libraries in particular plan this week as an opportunity to connect with readers, their teachers and their families.  Visiting authors conduct writing workshops, book highlight activities are planned and special efforts are made to tie the event into student programs.

The new Australian Curriculum also supports the role of local literature in our students’ lives stating:

The presence of Australian literary texts and an increasingly informed appreciation of the place of Australian literature among other literary traditions will be part of the national English curriculum.  Australia’s evolving ethnic composition and the increasing national importance placed on our geographic location in the Asia-Pacific region brings with it a variety of cultural, social, and ethical interests and responsibilities. These interests, and the collective cultural memories that have accumulated around them, are represented in a range of literatures including the inscriptional and oral narrative traditions of Indigenous Australians as well as contemporary Indigenous literature.
To assist you in making the most of the 2014 CBCA Book Week, here are a few resources to launch ideas:
We’d love to hear if you have more ideas to share?  Please ‘leave a reply’ to this post.

Text to speech – supporting online information access

There are a growing number of online tools to support students in need of literacy support. As part of a new series on web based literacy aids, this post from Catherine Hainstock talks about how text-to-speech programs can support students’ reading online.

Implementation of the Australian Curriculum  is in full swing across the nation and as a result schools are committing more resources towards their Literacy programs. The demands and opportunities for TL’s to support this literacy focus may vary, but as information specialists our core business is to ensure our students can effectively find and interact with information.

After giving a brief demonstration on advanced Google searching to our school’s Literacy Support teacher, I wondered about other ways to improve access to online information for students who may be struggling. Many of the mainstream tools students use for accessing information such as Google Search and Wikipedia do not support students with literacy needs as well as they could. There are a number of ways we can help improve this experience. First I turned my attention to browsers; I found they offered very different experiences and levels of assistance. Text-to-Speech support is available on most browsers (you can read about the options here). When I tried them I found:

  • Bing relies on Microsoft Window’s software being installed on your computer. The system was complicated and required a lot of reading to work out. The version we had installed on our computers used a very robotic voice
  • Firefox’s add-on Text to Voice app plays MP3’s of selected text so it’s very slow. Any words it doesn’t recognise, it spells out. Again it was a very robotic voice
  • Google’s Chrome Speak app (available from the Web Store) was easy to install and provided options for varying the rate, pitch and volume but once again the voice sounded very robotic
  • Once I added Google’s US English Female Text-to-speech voice extension to Chrome (available from the Web Store) and activated it in Chrome Speak’s options (found under Chrome Settings – Extensions – see image below), the voice offered pleasant web reading support.

It’s important to note different schools run different versions of software, different implementation programs and have preferred devices including mobile devices and BYOD programs. In mycase, I used desktop computers in a school library for testing. Every school is unique so it’s important to investigate and experiment with your own equipment.

Many schools in Victoria are also restricted to only one browser, usually Internet Explorer. As information specialists, it is vital that we recommend and push for technical decisions to be based on educational criteria, so explore browser tools and lobby for programs if you think they will benefit staff and students.

In the next instalment I’ll look at improving access via search engine tools and options.

Image credit: Chinese children in class with Australian kids at Carlton State School, H2002.199/1074,  State Library of Victoria Pictures Collection

 

Finding time to build influence

In the final post in her series on advocacy in libraries, Catherine Hainstock discusses the eternal question – how do we find time to build influence when we already feel time poor.

In my last post I explored some basic strategies teacher librarians can use to build influence; behaviours and practices that can open doors, rebuild and strengthen our place at the heart of the school. But building influence requires more than being likable, reliable, knowledgeable, and competent. We know that even wonderful TL’s and school libraries can be overlooked when it comes to school planning. Not only can we be overlooked – we often have to deal with people’s outdated perceptions of our role. But with so much to do, we feel we have no time to change perceptions or raise awareness. The harsh truth is that the worst thing we can do is wait for someone else to fight for us.  If we do nothing, there is an increasing risk of downsizing or closure. Let’s not kid ourselves, the change we want will only begin through our actions. We are, after all, leaders and owe it to our customers and profession to:

  • provide and maintain a vibrant, enchanting and relevant service and,
  • make sure everyone is aware of it and engaging with it and invested in it.

Building influence requires time, and our time is scarce.  The only way to make time is to re-examine what we already do and make some changes. In 2010, Lyn Hay and Ross Todd published  A School Libraries Futures Project: School Libraries 21C, a report on the status and future of school libraries in New South Wales. The report’s focus is evidence-based practice (EBP) as a tool for building influence (you can find out more about EBP here):

In my experience one of the things preventing library development …  is the difficulties that many school librarians have in thinking and acting strategically rather than operationally. (Discussion participant)

How much time do we spend on strategic thinking compared to operational activities? General management duties like shelving, covering, cataloguing, creating displays, purchasing, resourcing (need I go on) often fill up our days. While these jobs need to be done, arguably they are not a teacher librarian’s core work.

Time spent shelving or cataloguing doesn’t improve our influence or position us as leaders in the school but it keeps things running smoothly. (It’s like housework – it’s important but no one appreciates or notices the effort!)

As we start to look for time, we need to think laterally about other resources available to us. Perhaps the book club might enjoy creating displays or a group of parents or students could learn to shelve and cover books. People are often happy to help but we need to invite them into the library and give them the opportunity to participate.

It might not be as simple as that, but it’s a good place to start. By prioritising some duties over others we can begin to ‘create’ time. Steven Covey’s  Time Management Matrix from  The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People  is a wonderfully simple and effective tool. You can use the matrix to quickly identify low priority tasks and feel better about giving them less time. It also reinforces the idea that it’s essential to focus on planning and relationship-building if we want to be leaders. Lifehacker’s article Why You Shouldn’t Check Your Email First Thing in the Morning might provide another simple yet powerful solution to time management.

And what do we do with this hard won time? The NSW School Libraries Futures Project reports that:

Operational actions without the visioning, strategic thinking and long term planning were not seen as particularly effective. Strategic actions start with teacher librarians thinking through key actions which contribute to raising their profile in the school, being proactive within the school, and showing leadership, and being proactive in their leadership role, in order to facilitate change, library improvement and capacity building.

Simply put, use any time you can find to lay plans and build influence. Time can be a barrier, but there are ways to improve our situation if we’re willing to look for opportunities and change the way we operate. No matter what the obstacles, we must try to stay positive and be active in our advocacy efforts. We need to maintain our respected role at the heart of the school and work to build relationships with others as we chip away at the things that are holding us back.

Other posts in this series:

Image Credit: (ca. 1930), Arnold De Biere’s crystal clock and crystal bell act , State Library of Victoria Pictures Collection.

Can eReaders Encourage Reading?

A recent study from the Pew Research Center focussed on the growing popularity of eReaders. The Rise of e-reading confirmed a significant increase in users – 21% of adults had read an eBook in the past year. Their research also found that eBook readers read more books (both formats) and read more often.

These are the types of results that catch a Teacher Librarian’s attention. Could this also be true for students? Might eBook readers be a way to encourage reluctant readers to read more and/or read more often? This might be the case.

In 2012, SMU conducted a study with middle years students who struggled with reading. They found that eReaders motivated students to read, but there were marked gender differences. While both studies were conducted in America, they are valuable reading for Teachers and Teacher Librarians making pedagogical and acquisition decisions as  Australian schools introduce 1:1 iPad and BYOD programs.

Bookish

Bookish website

Bookish is a new book recommendation and e-commerce site competing with the likes of GoodreadsLibrary thing and Amazon. Although some question the effectiveness of these sites, Bookish promises a different experience based on the resources and expertise available to publishers driving the project.

Bookish is a collaboration between a group of major publishers  claiming their recommendations engine, with input from real editors, is the best yet. With publishing heavyweights like Penguin, Random House and Scholastic on board, the site has already collected an impressive list of contributors, 400 000 author profiles and 1.2 million books in their catalogue.

At this stage, Bookish is leaving the social aspect of recommendations to established sites like Goodreads although they do link to Facebook. Their focus is editorial content – delivering magazine style essays, articles, news and reviews written by authors and professional editors.

Bookish represents an interesting commercial model for publishers to position themselves as an alternative to community based book recommendation sites. Whether Bookish stays impartial, only time will tell.

Talking Reading

With a recent study indicating that approximately 44% of Australian adults have a literacy level below the minimum required for everyday life, promoting reading and literacy has never been more important. The Talking Reading project on ABC Pool is a wonderful resource for anyone with an interest in developing literacy skills and promoting reading.

The project brings together interviews with literacy experts, librarians and authors. The episodes were recorded during the National Year of Reading and are hosted by Tony Wilson, Paula Kelly and Sally Rippin. One episode features the fabulous Miffy Farquharson, who talks about her love of reading and reveals that she has read close to 15,000 books!

Other episodes explore young adult literacy technology (featuring our own Kelly Gardiner), apps for literacy (with Dan Donahoo) and author profiles with authors such as Leigh Hobbs, Cath Crowley and Alison Lester.

You can view all of the episodes and find out more about the project at the Talking Reading site. It’s an excellent resource full of ideas about promoting this critical skill and fostering a love of books in young people.

Infinity Ring: Read the books and play the games


Today our guest post comes from Joy Burlak, Education Resource Centre Manager at Sunbury Downs College. Joy explains how the Infinity Ring series of books and games is taking her school library by storm.

A poster came across my desk from Scholastic, promoting ‘Infinity Ring’ “Fix the past. Save the future. Read the book. Follow the guide. Play the game. www.infinityring.com ” 

Such intrigue! I could not let that go without further investigation. The poster had piqued my interest in the exact way we try to entice students – we want to stimulate their curiosity. I was curious.

I went onto the Scholastic website and read about the ‘New Multi-Platform Time Travel Adventure Series Infinity Ring.’ The concept is simple. There are 7 books in the series. Each book comes with a guide which allows access to a new adventure in the online interactive game ‘Infinity Ring.’ I was hooked. Then I saw the promotional video.

The pace and drama of that video was enough. I showed it to some of my students and they too were hooked.

All I had to do now was organise for the IT department to unblock the game, and then we had to allow permissions for Unity web player to run across the network.

In the meantime students were reading up a storm, making sure they had finished the book before the game became available. The day finally arrived and the first student started playing. Soon enough we had an audience to be proud of. Those who had borrowed the book (I bought 3 copies) ran off to get their copy so they could sit and read and then get onto the game. That first day created 6 reservations for the book.

The first book is called ‘A mutiny in time’ by James Dashner. It introduces our heroes and the premise of the series and then takes the reader on a wild adventure back in time to Christopher Columbus in 1492. The adventure continues with the first game when students are taken back to1792 and the French Revolution. There are 7 books in the series, to be published over the next 18 months. James Dashner wrote the first book and will conclude the series, however the books in between will be written by other authors. This allows for a shorter publishing run and ensures interest remains at fever pitch.

The graphics are amazing and the plot is complex enough to challenge Year 8 students. I would suggest Year 9’s may even learn something. The website comes complete with Teachers’ Notes and free Common Core whiteboard activities. Circulating whilst students play the game provides an excellent opportunity to challenge their curiosity. A comment was made about crossing to the other side of the river, so my natural question was “What is the name of the river that runs through Paris?” The name d’Artagnan came up, so again the questioning continued – is he a fictional character or is there an historic link? The answers had to be provided the following day, before the game could continue.

We have decided to have 1 day each week as ‘Infinity Ring’ day. Students will be either playing the game (after reading the book) or actually reading the book. The best of both worlds!

Thanks to Joy for telling us about the passion of her students for this new series of novels. We’re off to read the first novel and start playing!