Illustration of Evil Emperor Nurbison by Andy Riley, 2016
Like many institutions concerned with teacher training the UCL Institute of Education has, as part of its library, a collection of resources for use in the classroom. This collection has two roles: to show what is available to support teaching and to provide material student teachers can take on their school experience placements.
As the focus of the collection is on what is currently available, new material is constantly being added and older material is removed and considered for our Historical Textbook and Classroom Teaching Materials collection. Finding new material for this collection is both a delight and a challenge. So much is produced but only a selection can be purchased so I felt particularly fortunate to have the opportunity recently to meet a group of people at the cutting edges of producing and using these resources. It was at the School Library Association (SLA) annual weekend training course in Gloucestershire and it brought together both the creators (authors, illustrators and publishers) and the users (in this case school librarians). Here are a few things I learned…
Keep calm and carry on
The weekend was highly charged in more ways than one. Most people arrived as the outcome of the EU referendum became clear, and regardless of one’s in/out persuasion the news took some absorbing. Several European countries were represented among the delegates and while there were many discussions of the vote, people were keen to carry on with the business in hand and talk about schools and libraries. Some felt the run up to the referendum had drawn even more attention to the need to make available to school children the resources and skills to make informed choices in such a rapidly changing world.
And as if to highlight the tension the weekend was peppered with thunderstorms – the most dramatic taking place during a Skype session with author Katherine Rundell, stuck in Italy but valiantly delivering her talk about Wolf Wilder as thunder crashed around us.
Know the power of stories (and related pictures)
Stories – in the form of novels, folktales and picture books – are a crucial part of our Curriculum Resources collection. We aim to provide both classics and new writing to help student teachers with literacy work, and to assist them in developing an enthusiasm for reading in their classroom. Several of the speakers addressed the importance of stories, like author Andy Robb who worked with his audience to show that everyone has an exceptional story to tell, not least school librarians. When readers connect with these stories they get hooked on reading. SF Said (who opened our own Children’s Book Corner in 2015) revealed that the story that had ‘hooked’ him was Watership Down, and author Mike Revell described how discovering Harry Potter was pivotal in leading him to read and eventually write. Several speakers emphasised the crucial role of adults like librarians, in ensuring that good stories are put in the hands of young readers.
Other speakers considered the issue of how illustration works to enhance these stories. Jim Kay, for example, masterfully demonstrated how he brought his own experience, influences and creativity to illustrating the Harry Potter books, while adhering carefully to JK Rowling’s words.
Many children’s publishers were present and keen to talk to delegates about new titles. It seemed a testament to the publishers’ appreciation of the key role school librarians play that they came laden with proof copies of new publishing which were eagerly snapped up. As ever I was struck by how much of their stock school librarians have to read in order to do their work effectively.
Consider books – but not just books
The resources in the CR collection are essentially tools to be used in the classroom. The optional sessions during the weekend provided an excellent opportunity to learn about what these tools can achieve in expert hands. As one would expect books featured significantly, with sessions on reading for pleasure and award shadowing for example. But in their quest to support and inspire learning it was clear that the speakers, trainers and delegates had a much broader view of what constitutes the right tool for the job. Tech was high on the agenda with a discussion session, for example, on the impact of book blogging and vlogging. Annie Brady, SLA school librarian of the year, gave an inspiring workshop on how she is using board games in her library in St Paul’s CBS Secondary School, Dublin to support both literacy and numeracy. Before giving practical advice on selecting the games and the opportunity to try some out, Annie described an impressive array of benefits from number and shape recognition, to critical thinking, problem solving and developing empathy and social skills. The programme also provides a link with families and it seemed to set the library up as a fun, constructive and refreshingly surprising place to be.
From school library to academic library
I came away from the weekend with a long wish list of resources and new ideas about selecting stock to deliver stories, information and skills. Speaking to so many people dedicated to encouraging reading and information literacy left me with an increased appreciation of the many issues relevant also to academic libraries: the need to see your service through your users’ eyes, to engage, to innovate and to find the highest quality resources and spread the word about them. And perhaps most motivating of all was the sense that if children can have positive library experiences in school, they are likely to come and find good library experiences at university.
Special thanks to Andy Riley and Hachette Children’s who provided the illustration of Evil Emperor Nurbison to the event.