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Modern School Libraries - The Real Story

Bob Dylan once famously sang, ‘the times they are ‘a-changin’ and to me, it feels like truer words have never been spoken! Unprecedented challenges exist for today’s educators and students, where the need to pivot between online and on-site teaching is often swift and increasingly, anticipated. Over recent weeks, our teachers have juggling a ‘hybrid model’ of teaching, with students learning simultaneously from home and at school.

The increase in digital and online learning requires students be equipped with vital skills for navigating our rapidly changing, technology-rich world where fake news and misinformation abounds. Students today engage just as much with the process of locating reliable information, as interpreting the content. Informed learners simultaneously learn about a topic whilst also learning how to use information critically, ethically, and creatively.

School libraries and teacher librarians play a pivotal role in teaching these fundamental tenets of digital and information literacy to students, while also promoting affective engagement with reading, for both purpose and pleasure.

Technology and Reading

Recreational digital reading is enormously popular amongst our students, and it is an absolute game-changer for boys who find reading print books a challenge. eBooks and audiobooks have transformed the ways in which we engage students with stories and reading. With the flick of a switch, functions such as ‘read to me’, audio with text highlighting, embedded audio / video, text magnification, dyslexic-friendly fonts and a host of other interactive elements are engaged. Boys who struggle to decode traditional print text now have unhindered access information and stories because those literacy barriers are finally broken-down.

At ATC, purposeful digital reading is facilitated via our extensive range of print and digital resources. Our online databases and media platforms support student learning across a range of subjects. Library guides (Libguides) are a handy support for teachers and students as they provide ethically sourced, reliable information which is carefully vetted by teacher librarians and aligns with Australian Curriculum.

The Skill of Reading

Reading is a skill that underpins almost every aspect of our lives. ‘Reading for pleasure’ refers to reading that we to do of our own free will, anticipating the satisfaction that we will get from the act of reading (Clark & Rumbold, 2006). When we ‘read for pleasure’, we improve our general knowledge (which is useful in all subject areas), build comprehension and vocabulary skills, and develop greater sense of empathy for others. Moreover, reading for pleasure leads to enhanced imagination and creativity, mindfulness and enriched narrative writing (Senechal et al., 2018).

However, if we define reading merely in terms of proficiency in decoding and comprehending text, we drastically undervalue the skill and art of reading. If we want to engage students in reading, we need to ignite their curiosity about the world, fire up their imaginations and get them exploring new and fantastical worlds! We want them to deep dive into the lives of a variety of characters who lead interesting, unpredictable and exciting lives. Confidently identifying as a ‘reader’ is just one of several interacting components that constitutes effective reading. Clark and Teravainen (2017) argue that a skilled reader is someone who has strong cognitive skills, demonstrates reading behaviours and engages affectively.

Opportunities for affective engagement with reading are regularly offered throughout the year at ATC. Our Junior, Middle and Senior School Book Clubs and timetabled library lessons offer our boys opportunities to engage with books regularly. As they sit chatting about books, without realising it, they are engaging affectively with reading while also building essential reading skills. Together, they are inferring, making predictions, synthesising, summarising and exploring author’s intent – all while building positive and meaningful relationships with their peers. The snacks are optional, but they certainly prove effective in boosting attendance!

In considering the work of a coalition of literacy organisations and many years of personal experience, I am of firm belief that encouraging young people to choose what they read, when they read and with whom they read is vital in establishing positive, lifelong reading habits. Volitional reading is paramount in my opinion, and it certainly does not take a backseat at ATC.

It would be naïve to believe that all it takes to get boys hooked on reading is to just find them the right book. Instead, we need to adopt a multifaceted, holistic approach to promoting books and reading. Holden (2004) claims the path of a reader is not a runway, but more a hack through a forest, with individual twists and turns, entanglements, and moments of surprise. Dedicating regular times for purposeful and recreational reading, as well as embracing opportunities to engage in effective reading habits, which are often experienced via book clubs, book launches, author talks and other special literary events will, slowly but surely, build effective readers.

Literary Events and their Role in Captivating Readers

Every year, our library calendar grows bigger and better, and for very good reason! Promoting books and authors in fun and creative ways helps to foster in our boys, an innate love of literature and reading. When I see authors at ATC being treated like ‘rock stars’, where boys jostle to shake an author’s hand and snag an autograph, I know we are definitely on the right track!

Our annual Literary Festival and Book Week celebrations are our flagship library events at ATC. For an entire week, our boys are immersed in a wide range of fun and interactive literary experiences. We further encourage boys to engage with books via our ‘Readers Cup’ competition, ‘Premier’s Reading Challenge’, ‘National Simultaneous Storytime’, ‘Library Lovers’ Day, ‘Reading Hour’ and ‘Indigenous Literacy Day’. Special events such as these contribute to building a culture of reading and a sense of excitement and wonder about books.

Modern school libraries are no longer places solely dedicated to silent reading and study, with cardigan-clad librarians scurrying around attending to dusty, over-stocked bookshelves. They are dynamic and vital learning hubs; the heartbeat of every school and I feel so very fortunate to teach in a school that truly values our libraries.

As literary genius, Dr Seuss, once famously penned ‘The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go’ and here at ATC, we want our boys to go very, very far.

Happy reading!

Mrs Kristy Reynoldson

Reference List

Clarke & Rumbold, C.K. (2006). Reading for Pleasure: A Research Overview. https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED496343.pdf

Holden, Paul, A. (2013). Reading literature makes us smarter and nicer. Time.com. Retrieved from http://ideas.time.com/2013/06/03/why-we-should-read-literature/

Sénéchal, M., Hill, S., & Malette, M. (2018). Individual differences in children’s written compositions: The role of online planning and revising, oral storytelling, and reading for pleasure. Cognitive Development, 45, 92-104.