Twitter 101 with James Dawson and Dawn Finch

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Twitter 101 with James Dawson and Dawn Finch

At the London and South East SLG LibMeet we were lucky enough to have top YA author James Dawson with us and he helped us out in a discussion about the merits of social networking and using Twitter. If you haven’t discovered him yet, James is particularly entertaining on Twitter and is more than aware of the importance of social networking. I’m deeply envious of his huge number of devoted followers, but I hope I’m worth a follow too!

You can follow James @_jamesdawson and me @dawnafinch and decide for yourselves.

Firstly, are you on Twitter? If not, why not?!

These days it is vital that School Librarians are more proactive with their approach to their work, and this should include embracing and using social networking. Many of us are now used to using Facebook amongst our friendship groups, and this format is not ideal for use for work or school, but what about Twitter?.

Twitter at its most basic is a simple forum for people to share short comments (140 characters long), links and photos and to retweet (share) other member’s messages. It is a fantastic way to link with your followers (pupils) and to express a public profile for your library.

For starters – get an account! Obviously you are going to need to check that this is okay with your headteacher and SLT. If you can, choose an account name for your library account that shows that you are a school library, this will help. Authors love library accounts and are far more likely to reply if they can instantly see that you are school library. If you have a private Twitter account, keep it that way and don’t link the school account to yours. Everything that you post on your school account should represent the ethos of the whole school and should promote books and reading.

Next – follow people. Search for authors and other librarians that you know and see what they post. If they are interesting and posting regularly (and replying to questions) then follow them. A lot of people will follow you back, but don’t take it personally if they don’t. Search for organisations connected to books and reading, and follow them. Because you want to keep this interesting for young people, avoid the dryer more sales-orientated organisations and stick to things that your pupils will want to read and share.

Make it known. Pupils will not follow you if they don’t know you are there. Put the Twitter name on all of your emails and stationery. Stick a poster up in the library saying that the library is on Twitter. Make sure that the staff know about the account and have the account name in a prominent place so that others can follow too.

What to say! Twitter is full of things that are of interest to young people. Seriously, have a search and see what other people have posted and share it with a retweet. Start off by sharing things like new books in the library (with a photo) and tell people what the library offers. Are there school events you can share? Author events? Book launches? Follow your local bookshops and share their events. Search for events by the most popular writers in the library, and retweet their posts. Don’t wait for something interesting to come up, search for things and keep your Twitter feed interesting and up to date. Start up a Library Twitter Group at school and take pupil advice on what should be on there.

What not to say! Basically, if you wouldn’t put it on a t-shirt and wear it around school, then it shouldn’t be on your Twitter feed! It sounds simple but you have to be in work-mode at all times online. Make absolutely sure that you do not post anything that the parents and governors might find inappropriate.

What next? Direct contact with authors is one of the best reasons to be on Twitter. Authors use Twitter all the time and you can find most of the top names in children’s and YA fiction on there. Search your favourites and see if they reply to other people, and then Tweet them too! Just write a message with their Twitter name in it, and see if they reply. You’ll be amazed how many will reply to an account that is clearly a library.

#hashtags When you have worked out how to do your tweets and are finding it easier to navigate the pages, you should start using hashtags. These are the little bits that you add into your messages so that people can find other messages with the same themes. Basically you write your message, and then you add a hashtag into the body of the message. For example, if you are writing a tweet about how great the library is, you might use #lovelibraries and it will become a link that other people can use to find people who also love libraries!

Some of the most useful hashtags for librarians are #lovelibraries #amreading #shoutabout but you might also like #amwriting as lots of writers use this one. Keep a note of the hashtags that other people use so that you can use them too.

Advanced stuff! When your account is busy and active you might find that you need to start thinking about how to organise your account a bit more. This is when you might want to try things like Hoot Suite. You can organise things into lists so that you can just see the tweets that matter to you and your library.

 In summary, we need to be out there, be visible and be active in all aspects of reading and literacy and social networking is just another part of it. Agree with it or not, it’s not going anywhere and so we may as well use it to our advantage!

 

 

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Ask A Librarian – “Help, I’m not that good at reading!”

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Over the years a lot of parents have come to me to quietly ask how they can help their child with reading when their own reading is “not good enough.”

First, let’s start by taking a little time to put that into perspective. I’m not going to bore you with depressing (and suspicious) national statistics, we’ll just have a little positive thinking instead. A lot of adults lack self-esteem in their reading due to poor or incomplete schooling in their own childhood, or lack of higher level development in their adult reading – they simply don’t do it much and so haven’t improved. Lacking self-esteem means that people see themselves as worse readers than they actually are. That is a shame, but it certainly does not mean that you lack the skills to support your child’s reading. Every parent that I’ve worked with in this situation has turned out to be a far better reader than they thought they were – they just lacked self-esteem and practice.
As an experiment I once took a group of struggling teen readers and we used school assessment guidelines to assess the reading levels of various pieces of common adult reading materials – Nuts, Loaded, Hello, OK and the red top newspapers, the kind of thing most often found in their homes. They were surprised to discover that these averaged out at a level 5 – which would be the level expected from a bright ten year old. So it’s not surprising that adults are not finding that their reading ability is improving in adulthood – the material they are reading is not going to help.
But, that’s still ok (no pun intended) you don’t have to be reading War and Peace to help your child with their reading, and you certainly don’t need to be forking out large sums of cash to buy into expensive schemes. Put the self-doubt to one side, you are the perfect person to help your child with their reading because you have the one thing that a scheme or reading package doesn’t – you have their love. Your child loves you and that means that they want to please you and make you proud. At that all important pre-reading stage they will listen to you and that is when you can get books into their lives – before they are reading at all.

Start off by setting the scene – have books in your house so that you can build a reading and booky atmosphere and environment. You can get books cheaply from charity shops and boot sales, and a library ticket is free! You can sign a tiny baby up to the library and borrow books so that they can develop their sight by looking at bright colours and wonderful images in picture books before they even know what words are. The very first step towards your child enjoying reading is to make sure that they see books around the home all the time.

Next, learn with them! If you are really not sure about how they are learning to read at school, be honest and make an appointment with the teacher to chat about it. I have never met a teacher who would not be understanding and helpful to you with this. They too want what’s best for your child’s development and they will help you to help them. They can show you how reading is handled in the school and can give you strategies to support and encourage your child.

Then, enjoy it. We are lucky enough to be living in a golden age of children’s literature. I have worked with children’s books for over a quarter of a century and I have never seen finer books than those being published today. Some people keep harking back to children’s books that were published a century ago but these (though undeniably great) will not interest a modern child. Their world is completely different to those books and reading for pleasure at a young age hinges on the ability to identify with the characters and the story. Books written today will speak to your child in a language that they understand. It doesn’t matter that your child has not read some heap of antiquated classics, maybe they will later, maybe not. In my experience most of the adults who claim to have read the classics have actually seen the movie!

Modern children’s and young adult fiction is stunningly good and varied. I haven’t read a so-called “grown up” book in ages as most of my reading material is for younger readers – and it is superb! High quality books for young readers are published all the time and some of the best writing around is to be found in books for children and young adults. Seriously, read it yourself and share the experience with your children, you won’t regret it! Challenging, thrilling, beautifully written and rewarding books fill the shelves in every bookshop and library. This means it can be a bit of a minefield choosing, so ask the librarian which books are the ones most enjoyed by readers.

Don’t rule out series books, and certainly don’t allow snobbery to creep into your choices. Boys particularly love series books, and there are some that could hook your child for a very long period of time as they wait for the next one along, and devour a huge string of stories. This is all about reading for pleasure, forming a reading habit, and it should be fun. Your child should be allowed to pick up a book that catches their eye and give it a go. It might be something you don’t like… tough!

Most of all the best thing you can do as a parent is to help your child see reading as a pleasurable and everyday activity. It’s not homework, it’s not a lesson, it’s simply something that always happens in your home. If books sit at ease in your family, then reading will become a natural part of your child’s life and a habit they carry with them always.

You do not need to be a “good” reader to support this at home, but you do need to be a book lover – and the two are not the same!

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If you are genuinely concerned about your own literacy levels, or those of someone you know, there are many courses that will support you and help adults in this situation. You are not alone and it is important to remember that. You can find out more information about adult literacy courses by using this link to the National Literacy Trust website or call the Gov.uk courses guide free on 0800 66 0800 .

And the Geek shall inherit the Earth…

It can’t have escaped your notice that I’m a geek. I make no excuses for this, I’ve have been a geek all of my life. Well, I make no excuses now, but this was not always the case. When I was young, a scared teen, I made lots of excuses, and I hid from my geekdom. Each time that insult was hurled at me I wanted to be like everyone else. That word hurt. So much.
I just wanted to be normal.

But I was never cut out to be the sporty cheerleader type, it just wasn’t me. I tried to have the right clothes and say the right things, the dumb things, the bland things… but I couldn’t be something that I wasnt. I didn’t have the hoards of friends or the cool social clique. I wasn’t invited to parties or allowed to hang out at the cool places.
I had piles of books, not sporting trophies. I had comic book characters, not gangs of friends. I had the library, not the school disco.
I tried to be the same, but I was different.
This was not a good thing.
Not then.

Time rolls forward (as timey-wimey things tend to do) and things change. Well, not all things, I’m still a geek – but today I’m not afraid of people knowing that.
And nor are others.
As a writer, I go into schools and I meet teenagers and they are seizing this word – geek – and laying claim to it with pride. It is no longer a fearful thing to be a geek, now they can stand proud and glory in their geekdom. Oh it’s not easy, and it never will be, but I have such admiration for these young people. They are doing what I never felt strong enough to do. They are standing up for their life choices and their intellect, being so very different and unique and I couldn’t be more proud of them all.
It’s good to be different, and it’s better to be weird.

This is the day after the country ground to a halt to watch the big five-o for a certain Doctor and never has geekdom been so powerful – or fashionable.
Today we celebrate.
Now all of us geeks can all stand proud and say “you go ahead and jump on our wagon, there’s room for you all, but don’t forget that we were here first, and we’ll be here long after Arcadia falls.”

Now the geeks have taken over. Look around you, we’re everywhere. We are the Whovians, Nerdfighters, Gleeks, Potter Heads, LARPers, RPGers, FanFic writers, Starkids, YouTubers and vloggers. Amazing people like John and Hank Green, Charlie McDonell, , Felicia Day,and so many more, all speaking fluent Geek. There are so many now that frankly you’ll have to ask a young geek to tell you more as I have trouble keeping up!
It’s a revolution, and it’s freaking brilliant.

In the acknowledgments of my book I dedicate it to every freak, geek, nerd, weirdo, storyteller and creative crazy. I pay homage to everyone who knows with absolute certainty that there is a world that exists out of the corner of your eye, and it’s different.
It’s very different.

So here’s to you all, and I celebrate the fact that we have taken that word back. Geek. That’s how you take the hurt out of words, by owning them.

So go ahead, it doesn’t matter what people think any more. I’ll be celebrating the glorious and multi-faceted world of geekdom to my last breath.
Say it loud, we’re geek and we’re proud.

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Ask a librarian.

As a children’s librarian I have been asked a lot of the same questions over the last decade. I know that parents often have similar concerns about their child’s reading, and so I thought I would share some of those questions with you, and my answers.

I hope you find them helpful.

I have a child in infant school and they don’t seem to be reading as well as the other children, what can I do? Some of the other children are on much higher books, why is my child not the same?

This needs a longer answer, but I’ve already covered in a longer post, and I’ve covered a lot of the issues that cause stress in parents about their child’s reading. Relax, it’ll be fine, they are all different and taking the pressure off is the first step to reading enjoyment.

 My daughter is seven and has read the first two of the Harry Potter books, but I think the next ones will start to get too scary for her. I don’t want to stop her reading or censor the books, but she’s only seven and easily scared!

People tend to forget that just because small people can read a book, it doesn’t mean they are emotionally ready for the content. After all, I’m sure your eight year old boy is more than linguistically capable of tackling all of the words printed in Nuts and Loaded magazines, but would you give him a copy?

The Harry Potter books are a good example of this desire to push books to bright readers too early (not that I’m comparing Harry to Loaded!) Remember that Harry is eleven in the first book, and so his life experience is based around the life of an eleven year old (albeit an extraordinary one!) Some seven and eight year olds are absolutely fine with a story that features an abused orphan who is locked in a cupboard and not allowed to deal with the death of his parents, but many are not. Children are often fine with scary magical elements, but it is the emotional content that may disturb and upset some young children.

You know if your child is emotionally ready for certain books or not, just don’t ever make the mistake of choosing books for much older children simply because you have a bright reader. Take advice, ask a librarian (ask me!), ask a good bookseller (not one that just wants to sell you the latest bestseller.) This is not about censorship, it is about guidance. If in doubt, read it yourself and ask yourself if your child is ready for this material. If your child is too young to emotionally deal with certain material, or too young to bond with the characters in the book, then you will only succeed in putting them off. Save these books for when they are ready to really enjoy them, and are able to fully appreciate the complexities of the plots. Don’t give in to parental snobbery or pushiness (“my daughter is only eight and has already read Twilight/Hunger Games/War and Peace…”) Go with what you know about your child, and be honest about what might upset them and what they might not be emotionally ready for. There is a vast amount of material to choose from, you just might need a bit of assistance to navigate the choice. Take them to a good library and a good bookshop and you’ll find all the help you need. Encourage them to read what they will enjoy, not what they feel under pressure to say they have read.

 The only thing my boy wants to read is comics and comic books, how can I stop him?

Why would you want to?

I almost left that answer there, but I do need to make a bit of an effort to convince you all!

Comics are AMAZING!! Don’t stop your child from reading anything, and don’t be critical unless you have dipped your toe in the water yourself. I grew up on comics and progressed to graphic novels and I’m still hooked. Reading is reading, and comics are a fantastic way for children to contextualise higher level vocabulary using visual prompts.

And they’re cool.

My child’s school doesn’t have a school librarian, does it matter?

Yes. 

OK, so I should say more than that – but it seems glaringly obvious that your child deserves the very best for their education, and you have every right to expect your school to provide that. A good school employs staff members who are qualified for the job. A school librarian has a very specific skill-set that goes far beyond handing out a book. They are supportive of your child’s reading and involved in their progression. They provide the expert advice and support that you and your child require for them to progress with their literacy, and engage in books and reading.  A librarian should be there to ensure that reading is a pleasure, a lifelong habit, and this in itself will have a massive positive effect on your child’s life.

Why would you not want this for your child?

Good literacy will vastly improve your child’s life and their opportunities in the future. Quite simply, they will be smarter if they read more. Fact.

If your child’s school does not have a library and a librarian, ask why.

This leaflet will give you all the reasons why your child deserves this, and what to look for in prospective schools.

 Ok, that’s it for now – more soon!

If you are not lucky enough to have a school librarian, you can always ask me a question.

NOT reading lessons!

Your dear little lad has brought home Him, you know the one, the kid who is smart and funny and who you wish you didn’t like because he seems to be perfect at everything. He has normal and regular parents and a normal and regular vocabulary…so why is he already on Gold books?

LESSON ONE…….

STEP AWAY FROM THE BOOKBAG!

And relax…

Seriously, looking at other children’s books is not helping you or your child, it is only putting more pressure on you both and turning what should be an enjoyable activity into homework.

Human beings are hardwired for reading, that’s the good news. Most children have an epiphany moment with their reading somewhere between the ages of five and ten – yes, I said TEN! The epiphany moment is quite remarkable – a child can just suddenly find the right book or the right motivation and they whoosh off with their reading.

So what does the school expect? They probably won’t tell you, but your child will be expected to comfortably reach Level 2 by the time they enter Year Three. This means that they will be assessed through a series of increasingly dull and worthy texts to ensure that they can do things like blend phonemes, understand what a text is about and answer questions about it and recognise the component parts of a book like an index and a glossary. The bare bones of reading are pretty tedious and the chances are your child will be doing this stuff long before they reach transition to Year Three. So relax.

If, however, your child is not quite there, it doesn’t mean that they won’t get there with a little help. A good number of children have issues that may impact on their reading and hold back their epiphany moment, but that doesn’t mean they can’t achieve the basics that will get them a comfortable Level2/3 at infant-primary transition.

  • Read with your child. When they hit a word that they don’t know, remember, they have never met this word before and will need an introduction. Let them try three times, no more than that because it becomes horribly frustrating.
  • Let your child read alone. No help, no input, just let them sit with words in front of their faces. These need to be their choice and it might be something you loathe. Tough!
  • Read to your child. I can’t begin to tell you how important it is for children to be read to. Not just picture books, longer books with chapters that they are not yet ready to read alone. It is a superb way of expanding their vocabulary, gives them something to aim for, and it’s lovely. Do not assume your child is too old for this, you are never too old for a bedtime story.
  • Acknowledge and draw attention to the fact that there are words everywhere. Give them reading with a purpose so that it does not feel as if you are expecting them to carry out a homework-like task. Ask them what the competition is on the cereal packet, put the subtitles on when they are watching their favourite tv show, stick post-it notes on the objects around the house that have new and exciting words to learn (such as television, radiator, refrigerator) Children have incredible powers of assimilation and suck up new words with ease – provided they see and hear them repeatedly.

The most important thing you can do for your child is to enjoy reading yourself and stop making it a chore. Make it a treat and let them soak up any words that they want (I’m a great fan of the literary qualities of the Beano) and stop putting pressure on them to be the same as others. They all learn at different paces and all come to reading in different ways. You probably don’t need to buy any special books or sign up for some expensive plan or club, just look out for reading opportunities everywhere.

Remember – only one in ten adults regularly read a book, and yet we expect 100% of small children to do it. It just might not be their thing, and there may be educational issues that need addressing, but it doesn’t mean they can’t become independent readers who enjoy diving into a book.

Most of all…RELAX!

 

Originally posted on www.beingamummy.co.uk

Dawn Finch is a YA author and for the last decade she has specialised in reading development in young children. She is vice-chair of the London and South East School Libraries Group and a published author. Her book (Brotherhood of Shades) is a contemporary ghost story and is published by Harper Collins.

You can ask her questions about books and reading at www.dawnfinch.com

 

Why your child deserves a school librarian.

Dawn Finch, Vice President CILIP, YA author, school library and literacy consultant.
Follow @dawnafinch

With over a decade of UK school libraries under my belt, and as a YA author, it is easy for me to see why your child needs a school library with a trained professional to run it. I’ve seen first-hand the positive difference this makes not only to your child’s development in literacy, but also to their enjoyment of reading and their linguistic progression. It’s not just about stamping books out, it’s about understanding and nurturing your child’s reading, guiding them so that they can successfully navigate the maze of reading and emerge triumphant and in charge. So much more than Biff and Chip and struggling to the end of a scheme. It’s about becoming a lifelong reader and having something in your life that will change it for the better. That’s what school librarians do, and they do it because it’s their passion and it’s important to them. Your child deserves that person in their life.

You can read the research for yourself – try this survey from Australia that shows the impact school libraries have on children’s literacy.
Or maybe look at what’s being said in the House of Lords.
Or just some common sense from a writer who knows a thing or two about reading. Neil Gaiman’s lecture for the Reading Agency is well worth a watch.

But I know I don’t really need to convince parents that their child deserves a well stocked library run by a qualified librarian. You know it makes a positive difference to their education, and their lives.

Sadly it seems that increasingly the people we need to prove this to are head teachers and SLT members. As parents you need some evidence to prove your case and to get what your children deserve. So, when you are visiting schools to decide which one to commit to for your child’s future – take this leaflet with you. This explains exactly why your child deserves a good school library with a professional librarian. Download it here from the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals, print it and take it with you when visiting prospective schools. It will help you to see if the library you are being shown is a successful and supportive place, or just a room full of books. The leaflet will give you key points to look out for, and questions to ask. This way you can be sure that your child will be getting the support and materials that they require, and deserve.

This is not about a librarian banging on about her profession, it is about your child’s one shot at a brighter future. Their next school might make or break them, so why not expect the best? It is a simple fact that their literacy levels will be much higher if they have access to a real library. We’re not talking a room with books in – this is about real libraries run by professional people who have the right training for the job. This is a highly skilled profession, and your child deserves the right support from trained people. This is your child’s right to a better future, don’t stand for anything less.

A poster from the incredibly talented Sarah McIntyre says it all – a powerful search engine with a heart.

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