Tag Archives: books

Book Reaper – bring back your books!

We’ve enlisted the help of the Book Reaper to get our books back for the end of year stocktake. A little bit of horror goes a long way.

book reaping

book reaper

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Creating a reading community – Goodreads

goodreadscontemp

Encouraging young people to read has never been harder – on the one hand. Recess and lunchtimes at our school attest to a full-to-bursting library, but on closer inspection our boys are socialising around the games on their ipads. On the other hand, the technology we sometimes blame for a drop in an interest in literature could also become our saving grace in bringing the passion back in reading.

Photo source: http://pinterest.com/kellianneauthor/books-and-reading/

This year I’m keen to experiment with Goodreads as a platform for reading, sharing and discussing literature. There’s been a decent amount of interest from Year 9 and 10 English teachers, as well as from my team in the library. So, why am I so passionate about Goodreads?

Goodreads is the best of social media. I think it can work very effectively in schools. Just as blogging provides students with a real audience, peer as well as global, so does the Goodreads platform extend reading from a solitary experience to one which can be shared with a whole community. While the Premier’s Reading Challenge is a positive step in encouraging young people to read, I’m looking at more than the completion of a limited list of recommended reading, I’m interested in a platform where students can see what their peers are reading, where they can have a conversation around their reading.

Photo source: http://www.mybookcorner.com.au/articles/798-davide-cali-15-good-reasons-to-read-a-book.html

Reading can be much more than completing a book; within Goodreads it can involve:

  • rating
  • designating a shelf
  • reading reviews
  • writing reviews
  • connecting with classmates to see what they’re reading, rating, reviewing
  • connecting with broader community for the same class community for a text studied – the whole unit can take place within the class group
  • easily finding similar books in the genre, author or a series
  • following people to see what they’re reading, eg students could get ideas from each other or follow their teacher’s list to broaden their reading scope
  • following people to see their ratings and reviews
  • joining or creating discussions
  • following authors and becoming a fan to see their biography, see what books they’ve written, their series, what they’re reading, their latest activity eg. reviews/discussions; sending them a message, comparing your reading tastes to theirs; discovering their blogs and booktrailers/videos
  • creating your own groups or joining public ones

Melbourne High School is full of boys who respond to being stretched and challenged. They are often reading at a sophistocated level and appreciate the opportunity to read beyond a generic list for their age group. Goodreads allows students to browse eclectic group topics, for example, the group for The Year of Reading Proust or Old Norse Literature.
The virtual Book shelves default to “read”, “currently reading” and “to-read.” Students can add more individualized shelves to their profile, organising books by genre, reading challenge, books loved or loathed, by discussion group, and more. The possibilities for teachers are varied. I can imagine rich discussion of texts including all students in a way not possible in class. Social media connects students to each other, and beyond the classroom; it creates opportunities for real conversations, for many literacies, for digital citizenship.

Some teachers have said that they enjoy the competition aspect of Premier’s Reading Challenge. Goodreads provides this also –

goodreadschallenge
If you like the competitive aspect of a reading challenge, you can tailor this challenge to suit you either in the form of a class challenge, a year level challenge, or whatever you like. You could create your own list of books, different levels of difficulty, selection of genres, or you could leave it open.
Students will feel at home in the Facebook-like functioning of Goodreads. They are so used to being connected, it makes more sense to them and is more engaging than a traditional classroom where they don’t often share their learning. It’s fun and it really does encourage reading.

I’m looking forward to seeing how teachers customise Goodreads to their classes and teaching styles. I’m hoping we’ll bring our students back to a love of literature, ideas, good stories, powerful characters, clever plots and controversial issues in the form of books.

Of course, there is more than one way to engage our students in reading. As I’ve mentioned before, students will be enriched by Judith Way’s high-quality Readers’ Cup program. In any case, reading promotion in schools will be most successful when you engage students in a relational way, providing opportunities for them to have conversations about how they felt or what they thought about a book.

Photo source: http://pinterest.com/kellianneauthor/books-and-reading/

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What’s our future – school libraries and librarians

It disturbs me that we are not seriously thinking about the future of school libraries. This statement will receive incensed objections; teacher librarians are, after all, talking about changes in what we do and how we do it at conferences and in their own libraries. We talk about some of these changes in my own school library – delivering ebooks, providing transferable skills such as critical literacies to our students, delivering online resources. Well shoot me down if I upset you but I still think we’re not getting it. We can’t make changes to our libraries and continue to hold onto the way we’ve always done it. I seriously think we’ll be out of a job soon unless we move along with public libraries and transform what we’re doing. We need to look at future predictions for education and the world of work, let go of what we’re comfortable with and make serious and fast-moving plans for change.

I don’t know about you but I can’t stop thinking about this topic. I don’t plan to retire for a long time (God willing) and don’t like to see myself made redundant. I’m also enamoured with my job and its possibilities, its enormous range of roles, its creative and connective nature, its freedom from the daily grind of curriculum and assessment of exhausted and time-poor teachers, its focus on school community, the empowerment of essential skills teaching, its embracing of transformative technologies. I could go on.

Just this morning I asked Jenny Luca on Twitter what she would be speaking about at the SLAQ2012 conference. She said she hoped ‘to talk about the future of the profession – what we need to do to ensure there is one’. I look forward to following her talk online because I know Jenny understands the imperative nature of this topic and will be worth listening to.

Also this morning I found on Twitter (via Judy O’Connell) a link to this article from Northwest England: ‘Special report: The future of public libraries; what the senior managers think’. I can see in many ways that school libraries (at least the ones in Melbourne, Australia) are lagging behind public libraries in their unwillingness to move with the times. New, shiny, colourful spaces – lovely, but that’s not fixing the problem. I found myself thinking that many of the points made in this article applied equally to school libraries. (You can read notes summarising the meeting here or listen the 60 minute  recording.

I’ve pulled out what I think is relevant to school libraries (open to discussion about these) –

What are the core services of libraries now and in ten year’s time?
  • To provide unbiased access to info.
  • To promote community and civic engagement (For us we definitely need to take a more pro-active role in connecting to the school community and also the wider community. Yes, we’ve been doing that through parent book clubs, providing our libraries for school related meetings and events  but I think we could break out even more and organise events which are not traditionally associated with libraries and books)
  • Digital access (We should provide more online, taking notice of an attractive and user-friendly web design – how outdated are some of our web pages! Let’s not ignore – or block- the students’ mobile devices which already enable them to connect to and create so much)
  • No longer transactional [that is, not based on stamping out books] but moving to transformational [presumably, this means, improving people’s life chances]. (Oh yes! Some school libraries have got this but at my school we are still spending most of our time stamping books and putting print credit on our boys’ printing accounts! How can we move into a transformational role? Something we should be discussing. I’m going to tread onto dangerous ground and even suggest that we avoid freeing ourselves up from the desk because provides us with the busy work our school community is used to observing. If we freed ourselves up we’d be challenged to organise engagement with teachers and students).
  • Force for social change (We can be leaders in modeling and integrating social media into learning and teaching. What other kinds of social change can we impact?)
  • Libraries can be a space for businesses and entrepreneurs,  providing meeting space, patent clinicsinventor clinics.  (Our school libraries should provide spaces for teachers to get away, relax, take part in discussions, collaborative planning – whatever. How many TLs are finding it difficult to catch a teacher on the run for a meaningful conversation? Money is always an issue. Some schools have been able to afford refurbishment, creating beautiful new and welcoming spaces. That hasn’t happened in our library yet but I think we should seriously think creatively and rearrange our spaces. So much space is taken up by our vast and archival non-fiction and reference collection. Beautiful but not the most contemporary face for our library. We also have small rooms housing journals and text books going back so far! What we can’t afford we can make up for using collective creative thought.)
  • In the larger cities, libraries can in the future supply 3D printing and fab-labs (Wow, I’d never heard of fab-labs before) (More about 3D printing here.)
  • Community spaces for all sorts of different things (Bring our school community in! Who has done this and how?)
  • Libraries will increasingly work with communities, where “anything can happen”.  Libraries will be very different “two miles down the road”. Volunteers can deliver more so “every neighbourhood is different” and every library will be different.  We need to employ people who positively react to community and allow libraries to be places which  “people can recognise as their own space”. (I wonder if our school community views our library as their space or our space? Certainly our students treat our library as they would their lounge room – noisy but vibrant. How can we do the same for teachers? I know that Kevin Whitney (Head of Library at Kew High School) does this by providing a quick, friendly service, a ‘yes, we can do that for you’ manner and a cup of coffee and CD playlist.

I like the idea of libraries being places where ‘anything can happen’. Yes, we should run ‘library-type’ events, as we always have, but what about breaking out of our mold and planning something unrelated to libraries and books. How better to dislodge the community’s narrow view of us and our role? I think public libraries are doing this better than us.)

This point interested me –

Public libraries will need to engage more with e-books and encourage “live” literature such as author visits which are really important. [However, it seemed like all the participants, with the possible exception of Ciara Eastell of Devon, did not really have their heart in this one and saw the delivery of books as, well, tedious and somewhat old-fashioned.  This was summed up by one panel member who said “we’re going to get savvier than offering just books”.

Of course school libraries focus on reading for enjoyment and literacy which is central to education. There’s so much more we can do (and are doing in many cases). Reading is not just decoding the writing and that’s why we offer audio and ebooks. But it’s also about many others things such as the thinking, discussion and debates that come out of it. Why not provide regular activities which focus on these things? Some of these things are happening in our libraries and others outside the library. Let’s become event organisers and creators for these things so that we’re not just limiting ourselves to author talks (fantastic as these are). We could do these things in different ways. I haven’t yet skyped an author but I plan to. I have brought authors into our yr 9 English student blogs, and students are thrilled that authors are commenting on their posts and sharing ideas. I’m hoping to organise a Slam Poetry event at the school – outside the library and hope to include teachers from different curricular areas to sit on the judging panel. What are you doing? What would you do if you had more courage?

Are there any limit to what libraries can do?
  • Libraries are provided by local authorities so need to have a responsibility to make life better for people.  However within this,  “the sky’s the limit” as long as framed by core needs.  “The ambition is to create surprises.”

I really like the idea of surprises. I have a plan for a surprise which I can’t share in case it’s not going to be realised. If I had my way, our library would overcome its financial limitations by decorating ‘grunge’ or be a kind of Wunderkammer. What I’ve seen in beautifully refurbished and designed school libraries is fantastic but it’s more a reflection of what librarians want and how they perceive their space than what students want. I say we listen to our students and include popular culture in our designing of spaces.

And this brings me to my final, and most dangerous, paragraph. This is where I lose friends (I hope not!) I’ve observed a defensiveness in our profession. One which occasionally divides teacher librarians and technicians into class distinctions; which sometimes sees us frustrated when we understand more about important literacies than teachers do but are unable to get a foot into classrooms to make any difference; which sees us taking up our precious class time cramming what our professional journals have told us we should be doing – unaware that nobody sees the value in this, unaware that the teacher really only wanted a quick 15 minute talk. Sometimes we don’t listen enough to the teachers, don’t have enough patience to build trust in the relationship before we go for it. Sometimes we don’t ask students if they already know something, or ask them what they really need help with, because we are determined to ‘do’ our planned information literacy lesson. If this isn’t you, then I apologize but I know I’ve been in all these situations at some stage and I’m never going to be there again. Our separation from the rest of the teachers and from ‘owning’ classes of students is difficult, and we have to work hard to build these relationships, because we know that relationships need to be forged before we can successfully teach our skills. I believe these relationships have to be sincere, real, not just as a way of promoting ourselves, and teachers can see through the marketing approach.

The Institute For The Future (USA) has published its Future Work Skills 2020 report. If you look at the summary below, you get an idea about what we should be thinking about in terms of our own future for school libraries.

You’ll have to view the original version to be able to read this. There’s so much here we could be helping the school community to realise: novel and adaptive thinking, new media literacies, transdisciplinarity, cross cultural competencies – we have the potential to play a role in all of these. We should take note of the ‘rise of smart machines’ prediction and free ourselves from the repetitive work which stops us from getting out and doing more essential things. We can do so much for social media competencies across the school so that the whole school focus is on a globally connected world. Just take a look at the Optus Future of Work Report 2012-2016 and its appeal for flexible workspaces. Futurist speaker, Tom Frey, lists teachers as one of the jobs which he predicts will disappear by 2030. But coaches and course designers will stay, according to the report.

Believe these reports or not, we should be looking at the future; things can’t stay the way they have been. We have been lulled into thinking that education will not be subject to the changes which take place in business because it actually hasn’t changed for such a long time! But this disconnect will not last too long, and we need the mindset and understanding to move with the changes. We should be part of schools which educate students for their future world; let’s look outside the walls of our libraries and our schools, and start moving.

(I am a secondary school teacher librarian and speak from this perspective. Views expressed are my own and do not represent those of my school).

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Neil Gaiman on copyright, piracy and the web

@WackJacq tweeted a link to this video (thanks!)

Neil Gaiman explains his shift in thinking about copyright and web piracy in terms of literary works.

It makes a lot of sense, and I’m happy Neil took the time to give his personal take on the new publishing and sharing/mixing potential on the web. As he says, people were discovering him through his pirated books, and the result was that sales increased a great deal; “you’re not losing sales by having stuff out there.”  We need, as Neil says, a whole new way of looking at copyright. What is shared online raises an awareness and brings people to find things they would normally not have found.

As Neil says, that’s an incredibly good thing.

 

 

 

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Goodbye Fiction Focus blog – but why?

This morning I read a tweet that left me in shock:

New FF blog post So long and thanks for all the fish: This is the 798th post to the Fiction Focus blog sinc… http://bit.ly/9eNNmK #FFblog

Following the link I discovered the bad news – Judi Jagger would no longer be writing the Fiction Focus blog:

This is the 798th post to the Fiction Focus blog since it began in early 2008. We didn’t quite make the 800. Unfortunately funding is no longer available for me to continue in this role, so my involvement has ended.

Whether or not my colleagues will have the time to maintain the blog will decide its fate. It certainly cannot be at the rate of posts that there have been in the past as they have an enormous workload.

Thanks for all the positive comments that come this way over the past nearly-three years.  I have enjoyed every minute. No, make that lovedevery minute.

I know that I speak for many people, teacher librarians in particular, for whom the Fiction Focus blog has been the first port of call for best quality YA fiction reviews and current information about books and reading.

The blog has been a wonderful extension of the CMIS Fiction Focus journal published three times a year by CMIS, Department of Education and Training (WA).  Although we’ve relied on the hard copy journal for a long time, the blog has been a welcome development at a time when social media transforms static publications into writing which has a personal voice and invites commentary and discussion.

I’m completely baffled as to why such an initiative would be terminated.

If you’ve enjoyed the Fiction Focus blog, please join me in expressing your gratitude to Judi and the team, and leave a comment on this blog or, better still, on Fiction Focus’ last blog post here.

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It’s a book!

I thought I’d do a quick Sunday night post, nothing too deep or taxing on the brain. I just liked the simple truth of this little Macmillan book trailer –

With all the technology and options we have, there’s still something to be said about a book in your hands, take it anywhere, it doesn’t break, it’s light, doesn’t need power…

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Have we understood picture books yet? What is YA literature?

shaun tan

Shaun Tan and Markus Zusak, two of Australia’s favourite and most talented authors/illustrators, have received international acclaim by winning in two of the major categories at the Deutsche Jugendliteraturpreis, Germany’s most prestigious awards for children’s and YA books.

zusak

Shaun Tan received first prize for the Picture Book category for his Tales from outer suburbia and Markus Zusak won the Youth Jury prize for The Book Thief.

bookthief

According to Tim Coronel in Publishing Perspectives, the award jury commented on Tan’s book that

 ‘the way that pictures and words work together in this carefully designed book is perfect.’

The Youth Jury also commented on Zusak’s story that 

‘many individual stories of the experience of youth in the Second World War have been written, but none match up to the narrative of this book.’ That’s a serious recommendation, especially from a German judge, considering the enormous output of literature on this subject.

tales from outer suburbia

The whole problematic issue of picture books and their audience continues to generate debate. In our school library, the picture books shelf conceals many illustrated stories worth deeper analysis in the classroom, but few will remember this as they pass them by.

Shaun Tan describes his picture books on his website:

They are best described as ‘picture books for older readers’ rather than young children, as they deal with relatively complex visual styles and themes, including colonial imperialism, social apathy, the nature of memory and depression.

red-tree

Understanding Shaun Tan’s thinking behind his picture books is a key to understanding just where Tan’s books belong. Michelle Pauli has written a very interesting article about Shaun Tan in The Guardian. Although Shaun’s books depict ‘a surreal world of bizarre animals, skew-whiff buildings, dreamlike landscapes and invented languages’, his books are far from fairy tales or pure fantasy, and that is because ‘Tan’s worlds, however fantastical they may appear on first glance, have their own internal logic. It is what he describes as “groundedness”, and he regards it as crucial to the success of the stories’.

“By itself, just to draw crazy creatures has limited appeal – if I had to give up one thing it would be the wild imagination. When the work becomes too detached from ordinary life it starts to fall apart. Fantasy needs to have some connection with reality or it becomes of its own interest only, insular. In The Lost Thing, to have creatures flying around is unsatisfactory without the context. It works because it exists in opposition to the world in the rest of the story.”

the-arrival

The fact that we still cling to narrow categories, such as ‘picture books’ and ‘Young Adult’ not only confuses readers but also pre-judges and precludes books from taking their place in the world of serious literature. Yes, many people understand and appreciate the complexity of Tan’s picture books and graphic novels (The arrival), but many more won’t give them a second chance when they see the children’s book award sticker or don’t even see them at all if they’re displayed in the children’s section of the book shop. As Tan says,

One bookseller in Australia took the children’s book award sticker off The Red Tree as he felt he could sell more that way, and sold an extra 30-40 copies a month. It’s about simple things like font size – people think they can judge the age a book is for by the font size and assume that it’s for little kids if it has a big font, but that’s silly. I don’t worry too much about those things as the creator because I figure that the books will find their own audience and sometimes I like the idea that they can give adults a surprise pleasure.

It’s interesting how readers feel there must be a definite meaning within the symbolism of Tan’s books. Tan himself avoids being pinned down to a single interpretation.

Tan is reluctant to delve too deeply into the “meanings” of his fables. Towards the end of The Lost Thing he writes, “Well, that’s it. That’s the story. Not especially profound, I know, but I never said it was. And don’t ask me what the moral is.”

If artworks cannot be pinned down to a clear and definitive interpretation, then picture books of Tan’s calibre are surely written and illustrated with the same infinite possibilities in mind. How could an artist have predicted, for example, all the interpretations that would come out of his or her painting? One thing is for sure – so-called children’s books, such as those by Shaun Tan and Markus Zusak, are fertile ground for rich discussion.

This has been cross-posted at Fiction is like a box of chocolates.

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