Tag Archives: Library Visits

School Libraries and Librarians – The Beating Heart of the School

heart-of-schoolThe recent report by the Libraries all party parliamentary group came to the conclusion that school libraries and school librarians are a good thing.

I tweeted the following: If you want to raise literacy standards in schools, isn’t a school library and a librarian who knows about books an obvious place to start?

I’ve been surprised at how often that has been retweeted – it seems so blooming obvious to me!

I visit many schools. Some really don’t have a library at all! Some have a few tatty books in the corner. Some have wonderful libraries – usually supported by tireless parents.

I often visit international schools. Many of them physically build the school around the library, which becomes a central hub of learning. I know they have pots of money and dedicated intelligent parents with time on their hands to help out, but I think they show what happens when you take libraries seriously.

These libraries are run by people called Teacher Librarians. Yes, they check books in and out and do all the library stuff, but they also teach about which books are good to read and they teach how to research. They help children to find things out in between and after lessons.

Teacher Librarians know their stuff, they know which books are new, cool and inspiring. They know the right book that will get a particular child reading. They are also whizzes when it comes to researching the internet. They are Librarians – they know how to find stuff out!

Teachers in primary schools have so much going on. They have little spare time to read children’s books to recommend to their children. This is where a dedicated Librarian comes in.

If we are serious about raising literacy standards, I presume that means we want children to be able to read beyond a standard piece of text on a screen – to read anything freely and confidently.

Literacy only comes through hard work and practice. Hard work and practice means reading a lot. A good book makes you want to read – the hard work becomes a pleasure.

If there is no one to recommend brilliant books and inspire children to try new things, how are they ever going to put in the hours to achieve a reasonable level of literacy?

If you have a school librarian, someone to inspire you and keep you interested, then you need the books on hand to read – preferably in the well-stocked school library – the beating heart of the school.

How to get a home tutor really cheap

readingtogetherI heard on the news this morning that more and more families are hiring home tutors. While that may be a good thing if your children need particular specialist help, there are things that you can do that will have a much deeper effect on your children’s education and also on the happiness of your family. They are not only cheaper, they are free!

The press and politicians love to bash schools. They do it to sell more papers and gain more votes. The care and education of the children comes a long way down their list of concerns.

Schools actually do an amazing job. Each year they are asked to achieve more and more, and are given a hard time if they can’t squeeze more into the same sized brains that enter their doors each year. The world is changing just as fast for teachers as it is for you I. Schools and teachers are doing an amazing job keeping up while meeting unhelpful political targets. Teachers want to teach, not win votes for politicians.

Teachers only have so much time in the day and rarely have time for a one to one sit down with your child. If they do, they are probably, subconsciously making sure there is no physical contact and that no part of the conversation can be misconstrued.

Children come home from school tired. They’ve been working hard all day. The last thing they want is to see the smiling face of a home tutor when they get through the door! They’ll put up with it and may even, reluctantly, learn something because, generally, children do what they are told.

You, as a parent are the best home tutor a child can have and you come free! Every thing you do is a potential learning situation. Separating colours for the wash, weighing and measuring, counting, adding and taking away. So many irritating moments can be made simpler and more fun but remembering to turn it into a game. I know it’s hard to remember when you are exhausted too, but it does make it so much easier than fighting and arguing.

But there is one simple thing you can do that no teacher or home tutor can do that will change the lives and educational prospects of your children more than anything else.

Snuggle up together at bedtime and share a book.

You don’t have to be the greatest reader in the world or be able to do all the whacky voices. You are your child’s hero, so whatever you do will be great. If you can make the time to spend twenty minutes or half an hour reading to your child every night, you will be increasing their educational prospects more than any other intervention could ever hope to.

However sophisticated we think we are, we are still apes and we still need moments of physical closeness to bond. It is that closeness that children crave that modern life does its best to exclude. If children learn to relate reading with the best, cosiest time of their day, they will want to learn to do that magic trick themselves.

Following along as you read, is the best way to learn those long words and see them being decoded before their eyes. Learning to read is the hardest job any of us encounter in our lives. It requires thousands of hours of practice to become fluent. And fluency in reading is the key to pretty much every subject in education. Even sport has become an academic subject! Without fluency, don’t waste money on home tutors. They will force learning in one ear for it to pop out of the other. A tutor should enhance a hunger for knowledge, not be there to force it in.

The stories you read at bedtime will stay with your children for ever.

And, if you remove TVs and computers and any other electronic distractions from the bedroom, you’ll find that children who’ve had that special, bedtime story and a quiet review of the good bits of the day or prayers, if you are that way inclined, will go to sleep happy in the knowledge they are loved and that someone has the time to care about them.

This can be your quiet-time and relaxing end of the day too – every day.

What do teachers want from an author visit?

SchoolVisitWhat do teachers want from a school visit?

I’ve been visiting schools for years now, telling stories, sharing my writing strategies, showing how to draw things and, I hope, inspiring the odd child here and there.

I’ve never been a teacher. I’ve not trained as a teacher. In staff room conversations, it’s clear that many teachers think I’m an ex-teacher that has escaped! But I’m not. I started as an illustrator and was pretty much taught to write by my editors. I don’t think of myself as a writer, because I’m dyslexic and have my own peculiar ways of planning, plotting and writing stories. I’ve worked very hard to find my own way of doing it. If I had to do it the way the National Curriculum suggests, I would never have written anything. But I think my experience is useful for those kids, like me, who just don’t get it.

My focus is on dreaming up stories and characters, writing them down and drawing the illustrations. Schools and teachers have a very different focus, and the system makes them change that focus all the time. There’s a whole new curriculum coming along. It’s hard to keep up as a teacher – harder if you are not in the system very day.

Some schools I go to are happy just to have a day of fun, celebrating stories. I feel that others want “measurable outcomes”, a phrase that makes my heart sink, but I appreciate the world we live in and know that teachers are under huge pressure to deliver and much work can be achieved during and following an author visit.

No one teaches authors how to do school visits. We write a book and are thrown in at the deep end, complete innocents thrown to the crocodiles, and we have to work something out – quick!. My sessions are like Jazz. I have a whole load of riffs that I can call on from years of experience. I modulate my delivery according to the age the group and the life experience they have. I sense the level of the audience and play what I feel will be the right note. Sometimes its spectacularly right and at other times… less so!

And then I’m gone and never quite get time to talk to the teachers to get some feedback or know what they would have preferred. They are far too polite to make suggestions, but sometimes I’ll see follow on work at the end of the day, and that gives me new ideas for how I can tailor what I do, so the next group can take my characters and situations and draw or write their own stories.

If you were planning a perfect author visit to school, (you’d want J K Rowling, I know!) what would you really like an author – like me – to do? It would be good to know!