Connecting Students with Technology in the School Library

The third in a series of posts on school libraries is from Lucas Maxwell, school librarian at Glenthorne High School, Surrey. Lucas highlights the effective use of technology to enhance the student experience and challenge the apathy many students feel towards reading both for pleasure and educational purposes.

Connecting Students with Technology in the School Library

In the school library I manage, I use educational technology on a daily basis. My hope is that it will connect students to their favourite books, authors and other students around the world with similar tastes and interests. Over the past few years I have identified some effective ways to use technology in the school library. These tools have been very effective in the war against boredom, apathy and line every school librarian hears: “I hate reading.”

Skype
Skype has been an amazing tool and we use it in several different ways. One way is to bring authors from around the world into the library. Most authors will Skype with your library for free, so it’s worth taking the time to seek them out. Many of the books our students love are written by authors living in the United States and getting them on a plane to visit would be almost impossible. However, using Skype we can bring them straight to our door for no cost. It’s a good idea to have students prepare questions in advance and to promote the author’s books heavily before the visit. This will ensure a much more enjoyable experience for all.

We also take part in several Mystery Skypes every year. We bring in Geography classes to Skype with other classes around the world, asking Yes or No questions to try and determine where they are in the world. It combines both new and old technology as students use the library’s geography collection along with iPads to try to narrow down the other school’s location. I also appoint student leaders to organise and collect the information gathered about the other schools. It’s a great way to put leadership in the hands of the students and to create a memorable experience where students get to know other parts of the world.

 

World Read Aloud is also another great use of Skype. Our Year 7 and 8 students read picture books to four and five year old students in the United States. Last school year we took part in several of these and they were some of my favourite programs.

Twitter
Twitter has been a huge asset to my own professional development but our students also use it to connect to their favourite authors. Every month our students take over the Library’s Twitter account to ask an author a series of questions. We attach #booklingschat to every question because our book club call themselves The Booklings. This is a completely student-lead program with our Student Library Assistants taking the lead, organising and typing the questions that we project on a large screen for everyone to see. We have had some amazing discussions about writing advice, surviving high school and of course tons of recommended reads!

Padlet
Our students love Padlet. We use it primarily to connect with other book clubs around the world. We recently shared our favourite book recommendations with a class in Colorado and in Scotland. In Padlet, you create a “Wall” where students can add text, images and videos. As an administrator, you are sent an alert whenever a new post arrives. You can also protect your wall with a password that only you and the other book clubs can access. I have also used Padlet to allow students to recommend books that the library should purchase and our Manga Club has used to it to share their artwork with others. The best part is that Padlet is updated in real time so you can instantly see what your students are adding to the wall.

 

Nearpod
Nearpod allows you to create fully interactive library lessons for your students. We have used Nearpod to teach students digital literacy skills. One feature of Nearpod allows you to pose a question to your students. Using its interface you can monitor which students have responded and what they have written. After all responses have been submitted you can share a student’s response with the entire class. Whether on tablets or computer screens, all students using Nearpod are viewing the same thing. Students also have the option to dra

FlipGrid
I cannot recommend Flipgrid enough, it’s a video discussion forum that is perfect for school libraries. Administrators can create their own space on Flipgrid (called a Grid). Within each Grid you can create a topic of your choice. Students can then respond to the topic by recording 90-second videos. We have used Flipgrid to share facts about our hometowns and cities with places around the world, recommend our favourite books and also as a Mystery Flipgrid where we provide hints with other groups as to where we are in the world. Just like the Mystery Skype, we try to guess where in the world they are. In the future, we plan to use Flipgrid to connect with experts in different professions to assist our eleven and twelve-year-old students with various research projects. For more information on Flipgrid and libraries, Librarian John Iona has published a great article in the School Librarian magazine.

I’d love to hear about your favourite ed-tech tools and how you use them to connect your students with others?

(Lucas can be found on Twitter @lucasjmaxwell )

School Librarians and Why Our Children Need Them

This is the second in a series of five articles about the importance of school libraries. Elizabeth Hutchinson is Head of the Schools’ Library Service, Guernsey, and a strong advocate that access to a good school library is a right of every child.

In the following post Elizabeth argues strongly for the role a professional school librarian and the positive benefit it can bring to schools, teachers and most importantly students.

 

School Librarians and Why Our Children Need Them

I offered to write this to raise awareness of the importance of school librarians, which may seem a bit strange as the head of a Schools’ Library Service (SLS) where we are the only professional librarian support on our Island of Guernsey. It may seem that I am trying to do myself out of a job but that is not the case.

Even where schools do have a full-time professional school librarian the support from an SLS can save schools money and be invaluable. I feel that if schools understand the role of the school librarian they will also begin to understand what is on offer from SLS’s too benefiting schools, teachers and most importantly their students.

The relationship between teachers and the school librarian is a special one. The best schools are those who have school librarians, where the Head teacher has employed them for the very fact that they are qualified. Providing a specialist who can help embed research skills and support literacy development across the curriculum. These schools have Senior Leadership Teams where teachers are expected to work with the librarian when they are planning any kind of research or where the focus is on literacy.

From using the school library for books or online resources, teaching digital and information literacy, supporting literacy intervention to encouraging reading for pleasure these schools understand the benefit of collaboration for their student. This relationship leads a better understanding of the needs of the teacher and students, which in turn leads to time saved, better quality resources and students who are independent learners.

These nurtured relationships also lead to collaborations that is not immediately associated with the school librarian such as help to organise international collaborations, attending parents evening to support students and parents outside school, create makerspaces, help with coding and yes, librarians still have time to run book clubs, reading initiatives and as Barbara said in her last post, also be there for that child who needs a quiet space and someone to talk to at lunchtime.

In the last year alone librarians from SLS have co-taught from reception to 6th form. We have planned schemes of work and curated the right resources for our students. Our librarians have connected our students with students from America, Mexico and India and have plans for many more. We have increased the use of online resources through teaching in the classrooms, we have taught referencing and copyright to e-safety lessons helping to engage students in critical thinking and independent study.

We have brought authors and experts into the classrooms and with the support of our public library run numerous events from Carnegie and Greenaway lunches to Non-fiction November and World book day quizzes bring students from different school together to celebrate books and supporting literacy. We have run training sessions for teachers, created reading lists, written blog posts, attended parents evenings and generally spent time raising awareness of the importance of school libraries to a child’s education and the world of work. However, none of this would be happening if our teachers and schools did not understand the librarian’s role in teaching and learning.

If every Head Teacher, Senior Leadership Team member and teacher understood that this is what happens when librarians are engaged and supported the benefits to their students would increase seven fold. Schools need access to qualified librarians and Head Teachers need to understand why it is important.

Over the years as school budgets were cut the school librarian was commonly the first person to go. When schools started to use the Internet many thought that school librarians were no longer essential and books were no longer important as there was another way for children to get all the information they needed. They did not realise that an important skill set that was currently being taught was at risk of being lost and was going to be needed more than ever.

Now whilst I agree the opportunity to find information has become quicker it is also essential to teach our students the skills to assess, evaluate and find good quality information. Schools who no longer have a school librarian do not have this skill set available to them and we risk having a world of people who don’t have time or understand the importance of making sure that the information they read is correct. Unfortunately, teachers who have grown up where they as children were not taught or had the opportunity to use a school library do not always understand the need for them and along with that do not have the skill set to teach their students these essential research skills.

What can teachers do?

Your starting point is the school librarian. Go and find out what books are in the library for the subject you teach. Arrange a meeting with the librarian and talk about what your curriculum topics are and find out if there is any budget left to order more. What else do you need to ask?

• Does the library have any online resources that can support your topic?
• Can the librarian help you search these resources and explain how the citation tool works?
• Do they have any tools to teach referencing?
• Are they willing to teach your students these skills?
• Can they help you with global collaborations?
• Are there any online tools that they have used that would be useful for you to know about?
• Do you have any reading lists for my year group or topic? If not can you make one for me?
• Is there a book club for students/teachers?
• Little Jonny (not his real name) is not performing well do you know how much he reads? Can you help to find a book he might enjoy?

Students the message to you is simple. Go to the school library, if you read you will do better in school.

Parents, the last message is for you. Go and find out if your school has a good library and a qualified librarian. If not then ask them why. Your children deserve the best and this is the perfect place to start.

The Oft-Hidden Role Of The School Library

The following post is written by Barbara Band, School Library, Reading and Literacy Consultant, Features Editor of The School Librarian, and Ex-President of Cilip.

This is the first of a series of guest posts around the importance of School Libraries and in support of the recent letter from Dawn Finch to the Secretary of State for Education, Justine Greening to highlight ‘the shocking decline of library provision and the numbers of qualified librarians in state-funded schools and colleges in England.’ The letter has over 150 co-signatories including authors, illustrators, presenters, the Bookseller Association, National Literacy Trust, and Society of Authors.

All publically funded libraries; public, school, FE etc, are facing a sharp decline in funding, staffing, and resources. That’s why it’s important we work together to highlight the essential and valuable work done by libraries across all sectors.

The Oft-Hidden Role of the School Library

The figures concerning mental health and young people are rather alarming. Sixteen million people in the UK experience a mental illness with 75% of these starting before a child reaches their 18th birthday. Figures also show that 75% of young people with a mental illness are not receiving treatment causing many of them to self-harm, become suicidal, violent and aggressive, or drop out of school. The mental health and well-being of students needs to be addressed so they can develop – socially, emotionally and academically – a young person who is dealing with mental illness is unlikely to reach their full potential with consequences both on a personal level and for their future within society.

At a time when a young person is transitioning from child to adult, when they have a need to be accepted and find their place within the world, the school environment can feel very hostile. Busy days are measured out in short periods of time, punctuated by bells ringing and people rushing about – the pressure is on to achieve, meet targets and deadlines with the resulting increase in stress and anxiety.

The school library is a unique space. It is often described as “the heart of a school” yet I also feel that it is frequently an “oasis”, an area of calm within a frantic milieu. A place that supports the whole child – their reading and literacy needs, their study and curriculum needs, and their well-being. This latter pastoral role is too often overlooked and undervalued.

The school library with a librarian provides a safe environment with a member of staff who is not a teacher and does not have to rush off to deliver a lesson to a class somewhere. We have very different relationships with the students; when I was nominated by two students for the SLA School Librarian of the Year Award, one of their comments about me was “It’s a formal relationship but we think of her as a big friend”.

During break and lunchtimes, students are able to step back from what they have been doing in the classroom and “just be”. Many of them hang around the desk, chatting, and it’s at times like these that an often seemingly innocent remark can ring alarm bells – all school librarians will have received safeguarding training. In my previous school, students who were dealing with stress, anxiety, panic attacks and depression, and were unable to cope for the whole of the school day, were often sent to the library. Some people may see this as “babysitting” and yet I recognised that I was providing a distinctive service they could not get elsewhere.

How much worse would these students have been if there hadn’t been a library for them to use? What would have been the impact on their long-term mental health and academic achievements? Over the years I have supported so many students in so many ways.

Benefits

– School librarians are able to provide authoritative and trustworthy resources to those who, perhaps, have just heard a family member has cancer, have been told they have dyslexia, are being bullied, want information on managing exam nerves, coming out or improving their self-confidence. Alongside this comes the time to just listen or answer questions.

– Bereaved students can often feel overwhelmed in the school environment. As an adult, I know how grief can suddenly overtake you and yet I am able to step away from my desk to collect myself. Students aren’t able to do this – they have no other option and they don’t want to cry in front of their peers. Many times such students were sent to the library – I would give them the box of tissues and space, or stop what I was doing and let them talk, depending on their needs.

– Students with Asperger’s Syndrome can find school a confusing and sensory overloaded environment. Being able to spend “downtime” in the library at breaks enables them to reset and cope with the rest of the day. Many of my Asperger’s students would have their “own” chair and table where they would sit and read, ignoring everyone else, and I made sure that nobody disturbed them.

– I had a very active pupil library assistant team, many of which had SEN (Special Educational Needs). I nurtured their strengths so they could become active and useful members of the team, gaining valuable workplace skills and increasing their self-confidence. The then Headteacher remarked that “it was no surprise that all of them found the transition to University life straight forward”.

– Break-times can be tough on those who have not yet found their “place” at school. This is especially true for younger students who have come from smaller schools and find the larger older groups of students a bit intimidating, as well as those who are not sporty, arty, musically inclined or part of the “popular clique” – the school library gives all of these a place they can escape to until they find their feet.

– The school library is an ideal place for projects and activities which bring diverse groups of students together engendering a sense of community and belonging. In the past I have seen miscellaneous students connect over a chess board or Warhammer game; in fact, it is rather wonderful to see those slightly lonely souls being drawn into the group by a common interest, and to see them laughing and interacting with the others.

The school library has a huge role to play in the well-being of students which should not be underestimated. If we are serious about improving the mental health of young people then we need to recognise that school libraries and librarians are part of that agenda.