Reading aloud as a way of learning a language

At the Newsam Library’s first ever reading aloud session on World Book Day, IOE lecturer Sam Duncan listed, from her initial research, many occasions on which reading aloud still forms part of our culture, amongst them family life. Yes, it certainly forms part of my family life – although our family consists of two adults only.

Reading a novel by Colette over a coffee in Albi, France

Reading a novel by Colette over a coffee in Albi, France

First of all, there would not be a family without reading aloud, because my partner and I met at a poetry reading…! During the first years, we read our way through a number of poetry anthologies, usually at a dose of one poem a day. Some of those poems were rhymed and others were not, some of them scanned evenly and others went with the flow of the language, some were in English and most in other languages: but we would always read them aloud, at least twice.

When my husband and I meet up or go out now, there is still a threefold motivation, and I am not sure which is the strongest: spending time together, having a cup of coffee, and reading some French aloud. It is a foreign language for both of us and laborious to get through – ordinary sentences are as complex as a Rubik’s Cube, verse does not seem to scan, fiction does not seem to boast a plot, and newspapers are so learned that you would need a doctorate in Classics to get the allusions. Yet it is all worth the labour – to discover a new country and nation, enticing and multi-faceted, through print on paper… and a new language and literature, elegant and melodious, through reading aloud.

Looking for wisdom in the Rue Voltaire in Arles, France

Looking for wisdom in the Rue Voltaire in Arles, France

The best way to learn to use a foreign language actively (short of being five years old) is obviously to live in a country where it is spoken, and the next best way is to listen to and talk to native speakers. But there is no excuse for not persisting anyway: you can always listen to radio and recordings; you can always talk to other learners; and you can always read aloud!

So why not turn to the vast foreign-language collections of the Senate House Library and University College London – or to our own collections, starting with dual-language picture books and story books? There is a search for Curriculum Resources only, which includes children’s literature, and you could look up “bilingual” or “dual language”, “Spanish language texts” or “Text in Spanish”. I am staring at the big bright picture of a banana as I am writing, labelled “banana = plátano”, and I hope it will help me find a banana one day when I need it…

Sculpture by Jaume Plensa in Bordeaux, France

Sculpture by Jaume Plensa in Bordeaux, France

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S. F. Said writes about the opening of the Children’s Book Corner in the Newsam Library at UCL IOE

On 30th March, the children’s author, S.F. Said, opened the Children’s Book Corner in the Newsam Library at the UCL Institute of Education.  The brain child of Sue McGonigle, Tutor in Primary Education and Sally Perry, Curriculum Resources Librarian, the Children’s Book Corner, was set up to encourage student teachers to look at ways in which they can motivate their students to read for pleasure, and to experience first-hand what a children’s book corner could look like in a school or in the classroom.

As you can see from the photos, the event was a great success!   In his inspiring and heartfelt opening, S. F. Said emphasised the importance of reading for pleasure and the importance of teachers and librarians, “Teachers and librarians have never mattered more. They’re the ones who keep the flame of literacy alive; they shape our future!” We couldn’t agree more!  The author’s views on the power of fiction to bring people together and heal differences can be heard on this Radio 4 recording for the series Thought.  S.F. Said writes:

“I’m a huge fan of libraries.  I write my books in them, and I couldn’t do my work without them.  So it was an absolute honour to be asked to open the new children’s book corner in the Institute Of Education Library!

The Institute Of Education trains student teachers, who then go out and apply what they’ve learned in classrooms around the country.  This book corner offers them a brilliant resource, to help them learn how to bring books to life for young readers.

It supports the idea of reading for pleasure, which is something I believe in very strongly. Reading should be fun, and books should be a great thing to display in classrooms, as this book corner shows!

It was also wonderful to hear about work that teachers have done with my books.  I’m always humbled and inspired to learn that Varjak Paw or Phoenix has been shared and enjoyed in a school.  So a huge thank you to the Institute Of Education, to the brilliant Sue McGonigle for inviting me – and to all teachers who have kept the Way alive!”

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Far East Educational Experience

In the ‘Education in Literature Collection’ there are several novels which portray different aspects of the educational experience in Japan.

Botchan by Natsume Soseki (1906). Translated by Joel Cohn 2005. The first-person narrator is proud of growing up in Tokyo where he graduates from the Tokyo Academy of Physics. He takes a job teaching mathematics in Matsuyam on the island of Shikohu. There he runs into difficulties which are mainly the result of his own personality. Ultimately he tries to do the right thing.

Natsume Soseki (1867-1916)was a Japanese novelist of the Meiji Period (1868-1912). He was also a scholar of British Literature and a composer of haiku, kenshi and fairy tales. In 1900 the Japanese government sent him to study in England as ‘Japan’s first Japanese English literary scholar.’ He spent two years at UCL.

A Rabbit’s Eyes (Usagi no me (1974)) by  Kenjuro Haitani (1934-2006), translated by Paul Sminkey (2005). A touching novel about a first-year elementary school teacher and her tough class of outcasts, and the eventual reward for her belief in them. Set in the city of Kobe.

The Housekeeper and the Professor (2003) by Yoko Ogawa (1962- ),translated by Stephen Snyder (2008). A famous professor of mathematics develops a relationship with his housekeeper and her son. Difficulties arise because he only has eighty minutes of memory after suffering brain damage as a result of a car accident. Filmed as ‘The Professor’s Beloved Equation’ (2006),directed by Takashi Koizumi.

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Read Aloud in the UCL IOE Library for World Book Day 2015

WBN1      WBN2

On Thursday 23 April a group of staff from across the Institute (along with a colleague from UCL) came together in the Library to mark World Book Night with a celebration of ‘Reading aloud and listening to others read’.

This event encompassed huge distances in both time and space, with readings from the 12th to 21st centuries, in English, Afrikaans and Gaelic, and by authors from Rabindranath Tagore to Roger McGough to Peter Ackroyd.

The session was introduced by Sam Duncan (UCL IOE Department of Lifelong and Comparative Education). Sam referred to her study of reading aloud in adult life, and the many different purposes and circumstances related to it, and raised the question of how voice interplays with text. (For more on Sam’s research see Duncan 2015 ‘Reading aloud in Lewisham: an exploration of adult reading-aloud practices’ Literacy Vol 49 (2) pp84-90.

The evening was about being read to as well as reading and it was delightful to see colleagues sit back in anticipation of a rich and varied story time, with many of the readings enhanced by a brief description of why the text had been chosen.

The Library had in fact been celebrating World Book Night since the morning, with a book swap outside the library entrance and a reading spa in the library teaching room during the afternoon, where library users were invited to take a break with a cup of tea and a peaceful read. A selection of books from the Curriculum Resources and Education in Literature collections were on display with reviews for anyone looking for reading suggeWBN3stions.

World Book Night, run by The Reading Agency, aims to connect more adults with reading (to find out more go to and our Read Aloud event gave us an opportunity to reflect on the many ways reading, being read to and having access to a wealth of reading material enhances our lives. It’s something we don’t do often enough, even – or perhaps especially – in a Library.

More images of the reading spa are available here and of the read aloud event  here



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‘A photograph album rather than a snapshot’: the CLS Wellcome project

The Centre for Longitudinal Studies (CLS) at the UCL Institute of Education is home to the national birth cohort studies, three of the oldest, largest and most important longitudinal studies in the world. Beginning in 1958, the studies have followed some 53,000 individuals throughout their lives and collected data that shows how an individual’s health, wealth, family, parenting, education, employment and social attitudes are linked and how these aspects affect outcomes and achievements in later life. Findings from the studies have contributed to debates and enquiries in a number of policy areas over the last half-century including: education and equality of opportunity; poverty and social exclusion; gender differences in pay and employment; social class differences in health; changing family structures; and anti-social behaviour. Their work has been described as ‘a photograph album rather than a snapshot’ and is fundamental to social science and policy research.

While the research data collected by these three studies has been preserved, digitised and reused by thousands of researchers, there has been little focus on how the datasets were created, managed and developed. The administrative archive of the three studies, which began in the 1950s, contains fascinating and important records that show how the studies were planned, the decisions made by the teams involved and how they grew and developed over time.

In January 2015, the IOE Archive began a Wellcome-funded project to sort, catalogue and preserve those rich administrative records and provide a fuller historical analysis of the studies for researchers in medical and social science. Over the next 18 months, the 2 archivsts working on the project, Kathryn Hannan and Kathryn Meldrum, will be working hard to repackage and preserve over 75 metres of material and create an on-line catalogue of the CLS archive. The project will also include outreach activities such as seminars, exhibitions and articles.

We will be keeping you up-to-date with progress over the next year and showing you some of the fascinating items to be found in this archive collecion.

The cohort studies and their outputs are described on the CLS webpage.

The project has been funded by the Wellcome Trust.




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Hesse’s romantic and sinister tale of boarding school life

Merciless cramming according to an obsolete curriculum… constant fighting and bullying at a boys’ boarding school… pressure from peers and pressure from parents… vast social differences and social mobility through achievement… ardent friendship and careless betrayal… overpowering desire and fear of falling in love for the first time…

Sounds familiar? It’s not from one of the academic works on adolescence at the Newsam Library, or one of the contemporary novels for young people in our collection of children’s fiction: it is a rather ancient novel from our Education in Literature Collection. Hermann Hesse published this early masterpiece in 1906. I shall read from it on World Book Night on 23 April.

The coming-of-age story Unterm Rad (Under the Wheels) has been translated as The Prodigy. Hans Giebenrath is not really a prodigy, just a gifted and ambitious boy, pushed ever harder to perform, by father, teachers and pastors in unison. In fact, Hans thoroughly enjoys outdoor sports, relishes nature around his quaint old hometown, and excels at constructing things; yet, gradually all pleasures are wrestled from him, and his life feels drained of life by fifteen.

Maulbronn Monastery, site of the college in the book. Photograph by Harro52 from Wikipedia.

Maulbronn Monastery, site of the college in the book. Photograph by Harro52 from Wikipedia.

The college is located in a mediaeval monastery, which offers Hesse a marvellous backdrop for the central part of his plot, as romantic as it is sinister. In portraying Hans and his best friend Hermann – the model child and the rebel, the hardworking student and the high-flying poet – Hesse worked through his his experience at the same boarding school in Maulbronn, which was supposed to prepare him for a career in the established Protestant church. He did not last long.

Hesse’s story-telling is still chronological and realistic here, his language sustained and accomplished, thoroughly nineteenth-century. The boys’ given names, from August to Emil, have fallen out of fashion now, and the habitual address with their family names seems even more bemusing. Hermann’s revelation: “I say, I have a sweetheart” rings in your ears weeks after, for the language as much as for the message. Yet the world of the past which Hesse conjures up before your eyes can be adequately described in the terms that I used in the first paragraph: the parallels are astonishing.

In German-speaking countries, Hermann Hesse (1877-1962) is still a cult author over half a century after his passing. He is regularly honoured as a philosopher as well as a novelist, although he expressed his concepts by way of fiction rather than essays; he is also famous as a lyrical poet and expressionist painter. There is an idea that you should reread his novels, which you would know from your youth, at different stages of your life. As I have just experienced once again, this idea is a good one.

Calw in the Black Forest, the model for the town in the book. Photograph by Softeis from Wikipedia.

Calw in the Black Forest, the model for the town in the book. Photograph by Softeis from Wikipedia.

You are invited to mark World Book Night with a celebration of reading in the UCL IOE library on 23 April 2015.

From 17:00-18:00: Celebrating Reading Aloud and the Joys of Listening to Others Read in the Library Teaching Room.

For more information, please contact Sally Perry at



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‘Troublesome knowledge’

‘Troublesome knowledge’ and threshold concepts were two of the topics covered by keynote speakers at the Information Literacy conference in Newcastle (LILAC 8-10 April 2015). The first keynote speaker to catch my imagination was Ray Land, a Durham educationalist (you can check his education publications on the library catalogue).

I was very intrigued but not entirely clear about the library slant on these concepts until Barbara Fister, an academic librarian from the US and final keynote speaker, filled in the blanks in her talk: ‘The liminal library: making our libraries sites of transformative learning.’ She stressed that knowledge is not only troublesome, but it is transformative, integrative and irreversible.  Fister argued that scholarship is a not a linear process but should be a conversation with library sources which are basically people talking to other people. As  result, students may have to wait for the eureka moment in the liminal space — the  library — the space where they can explore and experiment with sources.

I quite like the idea of the library and information literacy skills helping to deal with this uncomfortable knowledge through finding, using and evaluating information. I really want to throw out the idea of the library as a one-stop shop for a quick answer while at university, but rather, the library is a real and virtual place for exploring and searching for knowledge beyond a degree — for lifelong learning.

Newcastle LILAC was a fantastic conference full of innovations, information and troublesome knowledge which posed more questions for future thought.










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