Living History

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Getting up close and personal with ancient history was easier in the 70s (that’s me on the far left)

The new national curriculum expects children as young as six to successfully tackle prehistory, but if you ask them what life was like in prehistoric Britain you’d think they gained most of their knowledge from cartoons. Ask a small child to tell you about prehistory and they will mainly tell of a world that is part roaming dinosaur, and part club-wielding caveman. If you ask a child to draw their idea of what life was like in prehistoric Britain, the picture is generally of something along the lines of a sabre-toothed cat eating a woolly mammoth with Fred Flintstone wandering around in the background. I quickly realised that when I was visiting schools with my books I needed to challenge that perception and show them what life was really like.

I went back to the drawing board as talking about prehistory was simply not going to be enough. I thought back to what made me a history addict – how did I become the kind of person who values the place the ancient past has in my life? My love of history started in childhood and remained with me and my first job as a historical researcher allowed me to wade into even deeper waters of the past. I have contributed to, and supported historical research for decades, and last year my own book on the Neolithic site of Skara Brae was published and is now a bestseller. But what inspired that love of history in the first place?

History has always played a big part in my life. For me and my sister every holiday was another adventure of clambering over ancient ruins or running around stone circles. We didn’t have a lot of money, and travel in the 1970s never involved planes, and so that meant visiting historical sites in the UK. My family valued history, but that was only part of it. My school was not blessed with endless funds, and it had very limited resources, leaking roofs, cold classrooms and huge class sizes – but we were close enough to the Roman museums and sites of Verulamium to have school trips there. When I was eight we visited the museum and I was allowed to hold a Roman lamp. I can remember that moment as clear as if it were yesterday. I’d seen pictures of Roman lamps, and hadn’t really given it much thought, but here it was in my hand, a real lamp, and suddenly everything made sense. I could see exactly how it worked. I could almost smell the oil burning and picture the puddle of flickering light that it would cast as I walked the corridors of my villa. That tiny moment holding a real object gave me a physical link to the past.

I’ve worked in primary schools for over decade and, since the publication of my book, I’ve been invited into schools to talk about prehistory. I talk about the creativity and imagination of prehistoric people and how they used that creativity to add to their lives beyond the basic need to survive. I do this by using my Neolithic hamper. In the hamper I have things that would have been familiar objects to the people living in Skara Brae. I expected that most children would not have stroked deer hide, or handled antlers, but what surprised me was how few children knew what limpets were, or driftwood. The objects in my hamper have inspired some wonderful drawings, stories and poems about life in the Neolithic and it demonstrated just how important handling objects is to embedding higher levels of understanding.

There is something in the human psyche that craves physical contact with historical objects to fully understand them, and to forge a stronger link with them. You have only to stand in the British Museum for a few minutes to see how people can’t resist reaching out to touch the exhibits. It is not enough to look at something on a screen. No matter how glorious the 3D rendering is, it can’t possibly compete with the experience of seeing something come to life in the real world.

GET REAL!

How can we make it real in the classroom? Not every child is going to be lucky enough to visit ancient sites, or attend activity workshops, so what can we do in schools? Dr. Tess Machling of the Prehistoric Society has written on my blog before about using archaeology in the classroom. In her post she talked about the importance of being hands-on, and how being able to have physical contact with the processes of archaeology is important to understanding. We are incredibly lucky in the UK in that we have people all over the country working in the field of archaeological reconstruction, and many of these work within schools. It is eminently affordable for schools to find enthusiastic experts who can visit and show how objects were made, and how they were used.

Thanks to the many wonderful makers of replica items in the UK it is possible to create a learning resource box for the school that can be used for many years and adapted to suit different themes, however nothing beats having the expert there with you. I believe that it is not enough to buy the object – to fully engage with the subject you need the skills of the expert too. You need a knowledgeable and passionate expert who can breathe life into the subject.

The extraordinary knowledge and experience of people like Roland Williamson (historian, re-enactor and museum quality replica creator) is worth every penny. Sessions held either in schools or local museums form an essential part of embedding that higher-level understanding of history that all teachers are looking for. Sally Pointer and Gareth Riseborough spend their lives exploring aspects of early technology and then they bring this to life. Their craft demonstrations allow people to see first-hand how people did everything from metalworking to sock making!

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Graham Taylor’s stunning grooved ware pots

Seeing how ostensibly familiar objects are made is a wonderful way to show how creative people in prehistoric societies were. Potter Graham Taylor not only brings the  art of making of ancient pottery to life, but in the process the children themselves are able to create something that is a tangible link to the past. A fragment of a pot, or an illustration of a reconstruction does not even come close to watching a pot emerge from a ruddy lump of clay.

Historian and archaeologist, Kim Biddulph, has the most wonderful website that gathers together the details of a huge number of experienced and qualified people who are able to develop and deliver living history sessions in your area.

The UK is full of people who will bring history to life, from prehistory to the Cold War. If living history in your school means little more than wearing an old bedsheet for the day and calling it Greek Day, maybe it’s time to encourage subject leaders to think again. To really bring history to life, you need an expert.
Dawn Finch is the author of the educational book series Prehistoric Britain, and book one in the series is Skara Brae. Dawn is also President of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals and a member of the national committee of the Children’s Writer and Illustrators Group and writer of fiction for older children.

For more information about school visits and talks, contact me on author@dawnfinch.com

What value……? Creativity

Living in a country that increasingly values only a monetary return on investment (ROI), it seems timely to take a look at some of the more apparently esoteric aspects of our lives, and question what value they add to society.

First up – Creativity

It is a fact that many of the teachers that I work with tell me of the diminishing amount of time spent on the creative arts in their schools. Increasingly I find myself advising teachers how (and why) they should be incorporating the arts and creativity into their curriculum.
But why bother? I have been asked this question countless times; “my child is not going to be a painter or a poet, so why are we wasting time with this stuff?”

Okay, so let’s answer that one first.
Creativity is the key to developing imaginative thought processes, and imaginative thought processes are the key to problem solving. As a society we desperately need people who are imaginative problem solvers.

Well, that was simple! What, you want more?

Right, let’s have some identifiable scenarios and look at how this fits into all of our lives and imagine (because we have well developed imaginations and so we are able to do this) a life without creative and imaginative problem solvers.

  • I want a carpet fitted but my room is an awkward shape. My carpet fitter is great at maths and so has no problem working out the square footage, but he lacks a creative imagination and so he can’t work out how to work his way around the room economically. He loses money, and so do I.
  • My car has broken down, but all of the diagnostics show that there is nothing wrong with it. My mechanic has all the tools for the job and is well trained, but he lacks a creative imagination and so he is unable to imagine any unusual scenarios that might be causing the problem. I lose money (and a car) and his business suffers.
  • I need an operation. My surgeon is well trained and has the most amazing qualifications, but she lacks a creative imagination. When I’m opened up she checks all of the medical equipment, and the text books, but she can’t see anything wrong that fits what she has learnt. She does not have the imagination to think of what might be possible, and is only able to see what is actually there. I die.

Personally I want all of the people around me to have a creative imagination because it makes for a safer, wiser and more multi-faceted society. I desire creativity and imagination in every person that I work with or hire; plumbers, electricians, cab drivers, bus drivers, cleaners, lawyers, doctors, nurses, police officers, politicians, bankers, hairdressers, teachers… In fact there is not a single occupation that would not benefit from having staff who are creative and imaginative.

In our private lives we are able to achieve greater levels of self-improvement if we are creative problem solvers. Students who are imaginative problem solvers do better with their studies and achieve higher grades. This is turn makes for a better educated society and one that is more caring and self-supporting, and one that is better equipped at problem solving.

But, to convince those sceptics out there, we are going to need some more evidence of that.

 Big businesses know that creativity is vital to success within a corporation. An IBM survey of over 1,500 CEOs from 60 countries found that they overwhelmingly valued creativity in their staff. Frank Kern, senior vice president of IBM Global Business Services said;

“Coming out of the worst economic downturn in our professional lifetimes — and facing a new normal that is distinctly different — it is remarkable that CEOs identify creativity as the number one leadership competency of the successful enterprise of the future.”

The OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) prepared a report from their 17 nations about business practices and staff development. In the report they declared that “creativity and innovation” were key “21st Century competencies” They stressed that staff could not develop if they lacked creativity.

An article from Newsweek (link below) covered a number of case studies and drew on the educational creativity markers referred to and developed by E Paul Torrance. The article drew attention to the global importance of investing in the development of creative societies.
“All around us are matters of national and international importance that are crying out for creative solutions, from saving the Gulf of Mexico to bringing peace to Afghanistan to delivering health care. Such solutions emerge from a healthy marketplace of ideas, sustained by a populace constantly contributing original ideas and receptive to the ideas of others.”

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This conversation starts with the child and so let’s consider the importance of creativity for the young. It is clear that we need to have creativity at the very heart of our curriculum to ensure that it takes its place at the heart of our society. It is not just about discreet teaching, creativity needs to lay like a blanket over every subject area. Teach history using paintings and poetry. Teach science and innovation by using creative writing and imaginative tasks. Teach physical fitness using dance and more physical forms of expression. Add the creative arts into social studies, literacy, languages and study skills. All subjects benefit from a broader approach, and the pupils studying them will benefit from greater creativity and will develop the ability to solve problems imaginatively.This makes for adults with a higher sense of wellbeing.

There are excellent reasons for having a cross-curricular approach to the teaching of creativity, however it is still being removed from the timetable. This is largely due to a misplaced belief that Ofsted and the Government want schools to entirely focus on academic achievement. This is simply not the case and the Ofsted inspection framework tells a very different story.
In 2012, Ofsted Director of Education, Jean Humphrys said; “Children’s ability to appreciate and interpret what they observe, communicate what they think and feel, or make what they imagine and invent, is influenced by the quality of their art, craft and design education.”

In 2014 the Department of Culture, Media and Sport commissioned a report to look into the impact of cultural engagement. Being a Government department they like to put a monetary value on things, and one of their key findings stated: “Arts engagement was found to be associated with higher wellbeing. This is valued at £1,084 per person per year, or £90 per person per month.”  

The report finds that: “These findings suggest that participation in culture and sport could lead to increased employment in the economy as there are associations between culture, sport and job satisfaction”

They also found that engagement with the arts results in a significant increase in the likelihood of young people going on to further or higher education. Despite this evidence headteachers and senior leadership teams genuinely believe that they will not achieve the grade of Outstanding if they have a curriculum that shows a leaning towards creativity and the arts. However the inspection reports that I see tell a different story.

One of the schools that I am connected to recently received a glowing inspection report and achieved the enviable grade of “Outstanding in all areas.” The headteacher at this school is a poet and a writer and has encouraged his staff to work with an incredibly creative curriculum. Every time I visit he is working with the children on a new art project to embed all that they are learning in other subjects. There is a fabulous dinosaur in the library (made to support their prehistory studies) and the dining hall is hung with paper mache fruit (made by children during their science work about healthy eating.) Every class is decorated with the creative work of pupils, and there is a strong ethos of drama, dance, music and art that runs throughout the whole curriculum.

In the inspection report for this school, Ofsted say this about the curriculum: “All of the themes create plentiful opportunities for pupils to practise their reading, writing and mathematical skills, engage in creative musical and art-based activities and debate about issues of morality.”

“Pupils learn in lively, stimulating classrooms and are excited about their learning. Those who spoke to inspectors said that their new creative curriculum was both interesting and challenging.”

But for me the very best reason for developing a school ethos based on imagination and creativity is that it makes for happier children, and happier children make better learners. This is my favourite part of this Outstanding report as it says everything you need to know about the importance of a school that understands the value of creativity.

“The behaviour of pupils is outstanding. The school’s over-riding supportive ethos forms the basis of a friendly atmosphere, in which relationships thrive. Pupils’ attendance is high, and they love coming to school to learn with their friends.”

This is the true return on investment in creativity and the arts; a better society.

Dawn Finch

Children’s author and literacy consultant

Vice President CILIP

CWIG committee member

Links

Shakespeare Week and the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust

This week I’m celebrating the work of Pupil Library Assistants, and also Shakespeare Week.

I am a member of the judging panel for the Pupil Library Assistant of the Year Award. The competition for the prize was very fierce and, sadly, not everyone could make it to the final seven. However, these pupils clearly all had a great passion for books and reading and took this beyond the walls of their schools. Almost all of the pupils not only worked in their school libraries, but they had also had the opportunity to take part in other schemes connected to books and literacy. One of the longlist nominees, Miranda, described a little about her volunteer work at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.

I was so intrigued by this that I invited her to write a blog post in more detail so that she could explain what Shakespeare and the Birthplace Trust means to her and other pupils.  This is published here to take a closer look at the Birthplace Trust, and to encourage schools to sign up for Shakespeare Week. This runs from 16 -22 March 2015 and encourages everyone to take another look at the world’s most famous writer. So from a writer of the past…to a writer of the future!

My guest blogger is…..Miranda K. Gleaves – Alcester Grammar School

Shakespeare Week: the wonderful world of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust

I’m lucky that I’m at a school where being a Pupil Librarian isn’t regarded as a bit bizarre.  Everyone accepts my love of books (I was the first ever Year 7 to get the school’s Gold Reading Challenge Award) and, definitely, my admiration of the playwright, William Shakespeare.

I was seven when I saw my first Shakespeare play (The Comedy of Errors) at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon. My mum explained that I wouldn’t understand every word of it, but that it wouldn’t matter.  She was right – and had to shush me as I was laughing so loudly at the almost-pantomime on stage. No-one should think Shakespeare is incomprehensible, scary or “not for them”.

Thanks to our School Librarian, Mrs Beeson, I was invited, with the other Pupil Library Assistants, on a behind-the-scenes tour of the Shakespeare Birthplace archives and instantly felt that it was the most amazing place.

Since then, I have completed a week of formal Work Experience with the SBT and two weeks with them as a volunteer.  I’ve already arranged to go back!

I’ve helped with conservation work in the archives and at the Shakespeare Houses (having also volunteered with the National Trust for four years, my conservation cleaning experience came in very handy).  I learned how to use the SBT’s unique library system to carry out research, and this enabled me to create a display for the Public Reading Room.  I should also say that the SBT archives are vast – and aren’t just about Shakespeare.  They have masses of information on the local area and my display was on the arrival of Belgian refugees in Stratford at the start of WWI.

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My display.

I’m looking very carefully at the Wolf Hall adaptation on television at the moment, having spent time as a costumed interpreter at Mary Arden’s Farm, one of the Shakespeare Houses. Here, I dressed and behaved as a Tudor, helping to prepare authentic meals to eat in front of the public and discovering the customs of the time (for example, napkins are draped over the left shoulder, those wearing red are ranked more highly than those in blue, and all meals are eaten only with your personal spoon). So far, it looks as though Mark Rylance and his colleagues have got it about right.

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While immersed in Tudor life and language it was fascinating to see at first hand just how engaged visiting school children – also in SBT Tudor costumes – were by the whole experience and how much they learned from it.

I think that Shakespeare Week is a fantastic initiative, and I only wish that I could have participated back when I was at primary school. If I could say one thing to all the pupils and teachers involved, it would have to be “don’t be scared of Shakespeare – he tells great stories”!

With thanks to Miranda Gleaves and her librarian – Louise Beeson – from Alcester Grammar School

You can find out a lot more about the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust using this link.

Take part in Shakespeare Week too! Follow the link for more information and how to join in.

The winner of the 2015 Pupil Library Assistant Award will be announced by 4pm on Thursday 12th March.

Can they dig it?

My guest post this month is from archaeologist and researcher, Dr Tess Machling. Tess has not only worked on many excavations, but has done some inspiring work with young children bringing the past to life through archaeology.

In this wonderful article she shows us how to bring archaeology to life in the primary classroom.

Finding Their Voice

Ask any archaeologist when they first got interested in archaeology and most will immediately become misty eyed and regale you with a tale of their first garden find, the place they visited that made them say ‘wow’ or that odd museum artefact that they returned to time and time again as a youngster. We all have a favourite memory – mine is poking about in the veggie patch at the bottom of our garden for bits of pottery and old glass. Mostly we will tell you about how our favourite find felt in our hands, what it looked like, where our favourite place was. Not many will immediately mention books.

Archaeology (as well as being harder to spell) is unlike its sister discipline history and is all about stuff and things. Dirt and toil. Forget tiny paintbrushes and painstaking care: it is much more hands on than that. It is not about words, the written page, the beauty of language, etc, although of course, like any discipline, its means of conveying itself to the world is often via the written word.

However, for me, the beauty of archaeology is that the whole discipline begins with what we find below our feet: the weightiest archaeological thesis and the most impenetrable work of archaeological theory all started life as things in the ground. And the long and the short of it is that anyone can find something: anyone can dig a hole.

I think this is why the interest of so many archaeologists starts in their youth: when you are young it is natural to scrabble around in the dirt. Children have unjaded magpie eyes which see the world as brand new, constantly seeking out anything shiny, smooth, patterned, or just plain ordinary, as a keepsake. If it can be discovered in a muddy patch of ground, then so much the better. This, in microcosm, is the world of the archaeologist!

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Also, at this stage in their lives children are untroubled by the correct terminology for something, they can just like how it feels, what it looks like or how heavy it is. They will collect things according to what fascinates them, with no reference to adult values of worth or importance. They don’t need to quantify it, describe it or validate it. But I can guarantee they will want to know more about it. What it is and where it came from. How old it is and how it got where it is now. And this love of things dug up is in itself a way into literacy and the spoken word.

In 2014, Prehistory was added to the English National Curriculum and, to help with the topic, I carried out a week long archaeological dig with sixty 7 to 9 year olds at my daughter’s primary school in Hertfordshire.  After all, with a mind boggling one million years of human history to cover in just 11 weeks, we thought it might be an idea to give them a taster of the basics first!

To understand archaeological time you really have to understand -our second long word of the day –  ‘stratigraphy’, which is the order and position of layers in  the ground. The best way for very small children to grasp this concept is to go and dig: generally, the lower you go, the older the things you find are. At our school, we started on the surface with 21st century Lego bricks and plastic pen lids and as we got lower came up with early 20th century marbles and pen nibs. Within a day or so they had got the idea to the point that, when someone said they might find dinosaur bones, one 7 year old girl piped up with the blistering retort ‘No, you won’t! They will be much, MUCH, further down as they are very old’.

Although the concept of almost one million years was never going to be easy for a young child (let’s face it, how many adults can actually relate to time periods on that scale…I’m not sure I can) they had the idea of depth equals old.

They also then grasped the idea that each period of ‘old’ had a different name: if ‘archaeologist’ and ‘stratigraphy’ were  big enough words, then ‘Palaeolithic’, ‘Mesolithic’ and ‘Neolithic’ were going to take a bit of doing. But, by relating them to technology – these were all ‘lithic’ or ‘stone’ ages which were followed by the ‘Bronze’ age and then the ‘Iron’ age – they all started to use the terms frequently and, what was more amazing, accurately!

In addition, they desperately wanted to know about what they had found with each child identifying strongly with whichever artefact they had discovered. They all wanted to know what their find was made of and how old it was. They got online and typed in search terms and they looked things up in –specialist, I should add- archaeology books I had brought in. All this from children who had often shown no interest in the written word. The children added written labels and descriptions to these finds as they created their class museum: not once did a child have to be told twice what their find was and each eagerly showed their peers and parents which find was ‘theirs’.

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Some of our “finds”

The aspect that stood out most strongly to me (I am a volunteer reader at the school and know the children well) was how much the children who were not traditionally ‘academic’ related to the topic. The disengagement so often seen in children with little cultural capital was replaced by a newly unleashed knowledge and a feeling of empowerment: an ability to tell their peers exactly what they had found and a pride in their achievement. Words that would baffle the average adult tripped lightly off the tongues of children who struggled with CVC words on the page. Some four months on, little bags of finds, sometimes also contained in home-made and labelled egg-box museums, still arrive at school for me to examine.

Their aspirations also changed: several now decided that they would like to be archaeologists when they grew up with a few deciding that they wanted to be a Dr of Archaeology, ‘…like Dr Tess’. During a visit to Stonehenge, one little lad stood gazing absentmindedly at the stones and recited his new title over and over in a whisper ‘Dr. Hussein, Dr Hussein, Dr Hussein. I’m going to be Dr Hussein’.

For that one moment alone it was all worthwhile…..

Article written by Dr Tess Machling

Archaeologist and researcher

A brilliant bundle of questions from Burlington Danes.

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Every year during the week of World Book Day we authors get out and about doing all sorts of book related things. One of my visits during this week was to Burlington Danes Academy in North London. I’d read a lot about the school before I went and was greatly looking forward to visiting an “Outstanding” school.
I had lots of contact with school librarian Elizabeth Gardner before the visit, and so I was confident that I would be visiting a well run library and some keen and eager pupils – and I was not wrong. It was easily one of my favourite school visits and I felt very welcomed. I had two sessions with year seven, and in the middle a brilliant picnic lunch in the library with the pupils who make up the school’s Literacy Squad. I must say, I love the idea of the Literacy Squad. They help out in the library, go on buys for library stock, and work hard to keep up the profile of books and reading in the school. The Squad are a mix of all sorts of people and they were superb fun to spend lunch with. As we ate and chatted they wrote down their questions for me and I was handed a bowl full of slips of paper. The questions were brilliant, but sadly we ran out of time before I could answer them all and so I’m putting them all here on my blog with my thanks to the dazzling pupils of Burlington Danes Academy, and their wonderful library staff.
Thank you so much!
A few people asked what influenced or inspired me and where I get my ideas.  (Felix, Aishni, Polinu, Maisie, Jai, Christian, Mariam, Zahra, Beth, Kareem)
I love stories and my whole life has been spent either hearing them or telling them. To me the best stories are the ones that lift you from your world and place you somewhere else. I’ve always written stories, right from when I was small, and writing them is one step better than reading them! To read a story is to be Somewhere Else, to write a story is the be the master of the Somewhere Else. 
I find my inspiration everywhere, but the best inspiration comes from the world around you. I think it’s important to keep your eyes open and your head up and spend as much time as you can in the real world. The world is strange and amazing and in it you’ll find all the inspiration you’ll ever need.

What are your favourite things to write about and what’s your favourite genre? (Felix)
Even though Brotherhood is fantasy, I feel that I’m still writing about real people and their varied life (and death!) experiences. I like to write about real life, but with a twist. I like to think of it as the world out of the corner of your eye – the world that might possibly exist if only you could see it. I write in my favourite genre and so the books that I read are along these lines too.

When you write and read scary stories does it scare you at night? (Polinu)
Fear is a strange thing, and we are often most scared of things that can do us no harm whatsoever. Human beings are incredibly brave and can overcome the most extraordinary things. I am sometimes scared at night, just like everyone, but it is possible to take those fears of things that are unreal and turn them into a thrill and enjoy it. It’s a bit like that fear that you feel at the peak of a rollercoaster just before it plunges down. I think it’s important to understand that fear is part of our lives and can make us stronger.

What would you tell a pupil who wants to be an author? (Jai)
Oh that’s easy- write down all the things! Writers write, all the time. When you see something interesting, funny, intriguing – write it down. When you get an idea – write it down. When you have a flash of inspiration – write it down. You need to have a big store cupboard of ideas so that you have the ingredients to write a story when you need it. It seems like a big task when you start but writing and reading are habit forming and if you let them into your life it all becomes a habit and no longer seems like work.

What influenced you to write about ghosts? (Christian)
I’ve always loved ghost stories and love any story about the unknown and the unexplained. The world is full of the most amazing mysteries and I’d love to write about lots more. I think that we all secretly want to believe that there is more to the world than what we can see, and that makes for great stories.

What do you like about horror? (Moo ha ha ha! Evil laugh from Mariam)
To be honest I’m not a huge fan of what people think of as horror because I’m a total wet blanket and easily scared. I find that the horror genre is full of blood and gore and I’m not a splatter fan. I do like creepy suspense that makes me jump and makes me wonder what that movement was in the shadows…. I’d like to read a lot more horror that wasn’t just about slaughtering teenagers and was more about spooky situations and creepy mysteries. There is a lot about, and most of the best stuff is written for young adults so it’s a great time to be a fan of that kind of book.
Oh-and I don’t do zombies (*shudders*) because there is just no reasoning with them, and now they can run!! Ghastly.

What is your objective with your books? Do you want to entertain or change things in the world? (Reece)
Hmmm, that’s a tricky one. I think that every writer wants to do a little of both, but if pressed for an answer to that question they would really just want to tell a good story. The other details come in later when we are refining the story and thinking about the mechanics of it. At the heart of it we get an idea for a story and grows and grows until it’s all we can think about, and then we want to tell it. I think that maybe if you started off trying to tell a story that was designed to change the world it could end up preachy and patronising.

How do you publish your stories and where do you go for this? (Johnley)
First of all, finish your book. That’s the best advice I can give you, actually finish it properly. Then give it to other people to read. Make sure that these are people who you can trust to give you an honest opinion and not just say nice things about it!
There is a wonderful book called the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook and you can find it in every good library. It will give you all the advice you’ll ever need to get your book out to publishers and it has lots of great contacts.

How do you feel when you finally complete a book? (Tamara)
Relieved! Honestly, it’s hard work writing a book. It’s not hard work like digging holes or building houses, but it’s hard work on the head and eyes, and you don’t get much time for socialising and fresh air. The first thing I do when I’ve finished a book is take a day or two off and catch up on some sleep and seeing friends. Then I start with the editing process and so it’s a deep sigh and back to the beginning!

What has growing up been like? (Tamara)
Not always easy, not always hard. It’s been a challenge at times but challenge in your life makes you a better person. If everything was easy in your life you would be a dull and boring person. We need lots of different things to happen to us in our lives to make us interesting people.
I’m not sure I’m qualified to answer this question as I’m not sure I’m quite grown up yet!

How long does it take from a publisher agreeing to print your book, to it reaching the store shelves? (Aaron)
Well, that’s a question with many answers! It can take a few months, it can take a couple of years. Publishers try to think of the best time of year to publish books and so that might mean that you have to wait for several months for them to get your book out. There is a long process before a book is published too – all the editing and design stuff – and that can take a very long time. One of the first things you learn when you start working in this area is that you need to be very very patient.

What do your parents think about your book? (Jamal)
Honestly, they could not be more proud. I think that my dad’s friends are probably sick of hearing about me as he talks about me all the time. My parents have both been incredibly supportive and they love my book – but then they would say that, they are my mum and dad!
I’m very close to my sister, Angie, and she’s great at making me get out of the house and away from my computer. She keeps my feet on the ground and is great fun to be with. She is proud of me too, but never let’s me get too big headed and I love that.

What do you have to do to get in “the zone” with your writing? (Maisie)
One of the most important things to writing a good story is to spend a good deal of time just thinking about it. I’m a great believer in the importance of daydreaming and staring into space. I often find music that ties into the work that I’m doing, and I sit and stare into space listening to music. When I’m clear on my ideas then I have a splurge of writing lots of things down. When I’m doing my writing I have to make sure that I’m not facing the window. Human beings are fascinating, and if I am facing a window I will end up sitting watching the world go by instead of paying attention to what’s going on in my head!

Do you have a favourite book? (Jordan, Juliana)
I have thousands! I have books for every mood and every season, and what is my favourite one day might not be my favourite on another. I do love classic Gothic novels, so books like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Bram Stoker’s Dracula are pretty high up on my list of favourites.
As a child I loved Edgar Allan Poe, but that’s a bit on the creepy side. I really enjoyed writers like Ray Bradbury and John Christopher as they wrote about these amazing worlds that were completely different to my life, and for the longest time I wanted to go and live on another planet.
Generally speaking my favourite book is usually the book I’ve just finished reading. If I don’t like a book then I don’t usually stick with it to the end, that means that if I’ve finished a book I must love it.

What tips would you give when trying to create suspense in writing? (Alice)
Firstly, don’t give your reader all the details. Hold back some of the key details so that your reader can speculate and guess at some of the things going on. Give them some spooky suggestions that things are going on behind their back, and then let their imagination fill in the details. Generally speaking people are very good at scaring themselves!
Secondly, make your villain just human enough to believe in, and then take away their humanity. It is our humanity that makes us good people with a sense of right and wrong. If you take away a character’s humanity, their ability to judge what’s right and wrong, then the normal rules of society don’t apply to them and that’s very scary.

If you could have a super power (that is not invisibility) what would it be? (Jamal)
Gaahhh!! I was going to choose invisibility! I’d love that. Hmmm, let’s think… I love to travel and have been lucky enough to visit some amazing places around the world, but getting to places is incredibly tiring and expensive so I think I’d like to be able to travel by just clicking my fingers.
I was going to think of something noble and world improving, but I’ve opted for something thrilling and fun instead!

Preparing a Reading for Pleasure policy

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In March 2012 Ofsted published the document Moving English Forward. This document was designed to tackle the problem of low and falling literacy levels in the UK and, for the first time, it mentions the need for a specific Reading For Enjoyment/Pleasure policy (see Moving English Forward, paras 65 – 71, pages 29-31) and we have seen evidence of these expectations on many Ofsted inspection reports since then. Mention of the presence of such a policy, or the lack of one, has been featuring on the front page of many returned reports since November 2012 when the new inspection framework was implemented.

To help school librarians engage with the process of implementing this policy in their schools, CILIP SLG ran a course dealing with both the document Moving English Forward, and policy preparation. Barbara Ferramosca lead a workshop on writing a Reading for Pleasure policy on this day and it proved most informative and useful.

My guest post today is written by Barbara, school librarian at Lilian Baylis Technology School in London – a school that was rated by Ofsted as “an outstanding school in all aspects” after their inspection under the new framework early in 2013.

If you have any questions about this post, please comment and they will be forwarded to Barbara.

 Preparing a Reading for Pleasure Policy

 

Every school must provide a School Reading for Pleasure Policy during an Ofsted inspection: it is a simple fact that has huge consequences for our profession and a huge potential that we cannot afford to miss.

Promoting a reading for enjoyment ethos is our field of expertise and it would not surprise me if a member of your School Leadership Team had already frantically accosted you with the question: “What are we doing to promote reading for pleasure in this school?”.  If they have not, you must take the initiative and write the policy: if you present it to them, they will probably be just grateful that it is something they do not need to think about anymore, a box ticked in their inspection checklist!

During our workshop, discussions lead to some very important points to consider in preparation for an inspection.

Find endorsement for your policy

The policy is a public document, an official school policy and it is at the heart of what you do: it explains your library commitment and beliefs in nurturing a genuine lifelong interest in reading in all your students. It does it by clearly acknowledging  the widest possible definition of the term “reading for pleasure”  and by involving different stakeholders that will give weight to the document. If it is a document whose principles are agreed upon by students, governors, members of staff and parents, it will become an important  reference document for your service.

It always sounds a daunting task to write a policy, especially if you have never written one before and it could become quite challenging and time-consuming to try to get all of these stakeholders involved. However, if time is of the essence, make sure to involve at least your students as a matter of priority.

Ensure that students are on your side

There is the possibility that Ofsted inspectors will not come and visit the library or speak to you . Your reading for pleasure policy is but a way to show what the library is doing because there is another more powerful voice that you can use to make sure that your message comes across loud and clear to them. Inspectors will speak to your students in several occasions and you must make sure that they will speak highly of the library and the impact that has on their attitude towards reading. Let them be your ambassadors. As a result of this, our advice was not to fret and spend a lot of time trying to put together a complicated and long policy but keep it simple, short and to the point.

What should a reading for pleasure policy include?

The Teachers’ organisation has some very useful guidance on how to draft a comprehensive policy. They specify that a school Reading for Pleasure Policy or Statement could include the following:

  • a statement on who/what the policy is for;
  • a clear outline of the difference between the Reading for Pleasure policy and the school literacy policy: this is absolutely necessary and we cannot underestimate the importance of reiterating this difference, especially with the Leader Management Team of our school. Literacy is a direct effect of Reading for enjoyment and we must ensure that we make clear the difference between the two in the clearest terms possible.
  • a statement about the importance of using the widest definition of reading throughout the school. This could include newspapers, e-books, comics, etc. this is the point in your policy where you decide on your school’s definition of reading for pleasure. Ideally you want to use the widest definition possible and have it officially accepted in order to challenge any possible decisions that are made in the future that threaten our students’ right to choose what they want to read.
  • a statement on the value of reading for pleasure and how it links to wider academic, social and emotional development: you must use authoritative sources and use quotes from these sources in order to give clear evidence of its impact. We have attached a brief bibliography of studies that you may want to refer to or quote for this purpose
  • access and equalities issues in relation to reading for pleasure. This should include accessible formats as well as consideration of the content of the books made available for use by the children: your policy must clearly state a commitment of the library to provide different books and resources in different formats in order to meet the needs of your students (i.e audiobooks, dyslexia-friendly publications, ebooks, books in other languages, etc.). Firstly, there must be an official acknowledgement that students may prefer to access stories in formats other than the printing. This is also particularly important in terms of the financial impact of such a statement simply because books in different formats cost more than simple paperbacks!
  • the importance of the role of the teacher and other adults in school in relation to fostering a love of reading through a wide range of activities: this is the point in your policy when you acknowledge the importance of using role models in the school to support your message and that every single member of staff is responsible for reinforcing a positive attitude towards reading for enjoyment. This is what the inspectors will look for and now is probably a good time to get your Headteacher on board with this idea!
  • links to planning for reading for pleasure across the curriculum for both the whole school and individual classes: after writing all the above, make sure to mention, maybe a series of bullet points, what the library is doing in order to give some concrete examples. As mentioned before, you can decide whether you want to write all the initiatives that you manage in detail. Discussions during the workshop lean towards writing brief descriptions rathen than complex and detailed ones.
  • information about the practical ways in which home-school links can support the school policy: links with parents and how to empower them them to support their children is on the checklist of every inspection and we cannot miss to mention how the library contribute to this. Even if you just attend parents’ evenings or academic review days with a library stand and give posters out, include this in your policy!
  • a statement about the importance of the use of the school library and making links with the local public library;
  • a commitment by the school to ensuring that all pupils have regular access to the school library, properly staffed, including the consideration of free access at break, lunchtimes and before/after school: this may sound redundant however in many occasions we have heard of colleagues’ experiences where the library was used as classroom or as an occasional venue for school events that are not led by the librarian. It is important not leave out a clear commitment from your school part to ensure that students have the opportunity to visit your library on their own free will to browse or borrow a book.
  • a statement on the budget share for reading and library resources – it should be adequately funded on an annual basis, in line with other school budget areas: budget, budget, budget… in a quick show of hands exercise, it was pretty clear that the majority of the librarians attending our course felt that the library was underfunded. After a number of considerations, we felt that we had two big weapons in our arsenal to change this situation: firstly, your school’s FEAR of Ofsted. Secondly, the fact that reading is appearing more and more often in the FIRST page of many Ofsted school reports. We must turn this fear to our advantage by asking our school Leadership Management Team these simple questions: “How confident are you that students are happy with the resources available in the library? How confident are you that they will answer positively and enthusiastically about their attitudes towards reading and the initiatives led by the school? How confident are you that ALL students are aware of the importance of reading for pleasure to their future?” Now is the time to push the point that a library which is understaffed and underfunded will never achieve these goals. To make your point even more effective, do not hesitate to mention other schools’ reports where reading is mentioned: Adam Lancaster showed us a number of examples of reports of other schools in his area so his advice for us was to find these reports and use them!
  • implications for professional development and support: is the school ready to give you opportunity to lead staff insets regarding the latest children literature or on how to promote reading for pleasure in the classroom? Is the school ready to acknowledge that you need time to attend professional courses?
  • a commitment to evaluate the Reading for Pleasure policy. A reading for Pleasure policy should be reviewed ideally once every year.

 Brief bibliography of sources that you can quote

Clark, C. & Rumbold, K. (2006) Reading for Pleasure: A Research Overview. London: National Literacy Trust. Retrieved from http://www.literacytrust.org.uk/research/nlt_

research/271_reading_for_pleasure_a_research_overview

Clark, C. (2011). Setting the baseline: The National Literacy Trust’s first annual survey into reading – 2010. London: National Literacy Trust. Retrieved from

http://www.literacytrust.org.uk/assets/0001/0336/Omnibus_reading_2010.pdf

Cliff Hodges, G. (2010). Reasons for reading: Why literature matters. Literacy, 44(2),

60-68.

Cremin, Teresa (2007). Revisiting reading for pleasure: Delight, desire and diversity. In: Goouch, Kathy and Lambirth, Andrew eds. Understanding Phonics and the Teaching of Reading: A Critical Perspective. Berkshire, UK: McGraw Hill, pp. 166–190. Retrieved from: http://oro.open.ac.uk/12950/2/

 

** ESARD (2012) Research evidence on reading for pleasure. Retrieved from: http://www.eriding.net/resources/pri_improv/121004_pri_imp_reading_for_pleasure.pdf

 Hairrell, A., Edmonds, M., Vaughn, S., & Simmons, D. (2010). Independent Silent Reading for Struggling Readers: Pitfalls and Potential. In E. H. Hiebert, & D. Reutzel (Eds.), Revisiting Silent Reading (pp. 275-289). Newark, DE: International Reading Association.

 National Endowment for the Arts. (2007). To read or not to read: A question of national consequence (Research Report #47). Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved from http://www.nea.gov/research/ToRead.pdf

 OECD (2002) Reading For Change Performance And Engagement Across Countries – Results From PISA 2000. http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/43/54/33690904.pdf

 Sullivan, A. & Brown, M. (2013) Reading for pleasure puts children ahead in the classroom. London: IOE. Retrieved from: http://www.ioe.ac.uk/89938.html

 Twist, L., Schagen, I., & Hodgson, C. (2007). Readers and Reading: The National Report for England 2006 (PIRLS: Progress in International Reading Literacy Study). Slough: NFER. Available online: http://www.nfer.ac.uk/nfer/publications/PRN01/PRN01.pdf

 

 

 

 

 

Moving English Forward – Ofsted, Literacy and the School Librarian

In 2012 Ofsted published the document – Moving English Forward. Their concept behind the document was to attempt to answer the question: how can attainment in English be raised in order to move English forward in schools? CILIP School Libraries Group for London and the South East felt that this was such a huge and complicated issue that it warranted a training day to help us understand what these new changes meant for school librarians.

We invited Adam Lancaster (2012 School Librarian of the Year and literacy champion) to be our guest speaker to help shed some light on this issue and introduce us to the implementation of the document.  It was a fantastic and incredibly interesting day and I have taken the time to summarise the key points here, but there was so much in the day it was very difficult to encapsulate it all. I hope I have done the day justice.

We had as our starting point the new Ofsted inspection criteria and the latest government White Papers as well as Moving English Forward. The new Ofsted framework has been updated to take into account the falling and low literacy levels of young adults and children in our country.  The Ofsted inspection framework now makes specific mention of reading for pleasure, and of creating a specific reading for pleasure policy within schools. Ofsted inspectors will now be reading with children (with a particular focus on year 7 and 8 pupils of high and low ability) and are expecting pupils to be reading materials “deemed appropriate for their age.” (Ofsted quote) The biggest change in the framework is the push to ensure that literacy is interwoven with every single subject on the curriculum. Literacy should now be considered everyone’s business and not just an issue for the English department.

With that all in mind we welcomed Adam to CILIP HQ to help us understand what this all means for school librarians.

Firstly, Adam talked about Literacy in schools and the need for teachers to be preparing pupils in advance for all subjects that they will study. “Teachers talking to pupils about their research beforehand makes their work more purposeful” This all makes sense, and we know that a prepared pupil comes to the library with the tools that they need to help themselves. To support this Adam recommended the PLUS method of learning at these stages – Purpose, Location, Use, Self evaluation. The concept behind this is at the root of the guidelines for what makes outstanding teaching – the development of a pupil who is a successful independent learner.

We then talked about how we see ourselves as school librarians. In the discussion we saw ourselves as nurturers, supporters, facilitators, energisers, readers, presenters, event managers, organisers and general dogsbody! But it was clear that not many of us see ourselves primarily as educators. Adam discussed how we should raise our profile within the school and engage fully with the educational process.

“Know the game and play it!” Every school is different and has a different feel, it is vital for school librarians to know who can be helpful to you and why. It is also important to be reading all available policies and documents on the teaching of literacy. Be informed. Link what you do to what others in the school are doing, intermesh your work with theirs. This is not just about sticking with the English department – as we say, literacy is everyone’s business and it is important to work with other departments. Map your aims against the school’s policies – and be certain that you can always deliver, and over-deliver!

Something that came through very strongly was the need for school librarians to be more pro-active in their schools. “Don’t be, or be perceived to be a victim!” It is time for school librarians to take a stronger stance for what they can do, and to show what they are capable of. To do this the key is obviously to be fully informed about literacy issues, and about documents like Moving English Forward.

School librarians should know and be able to quickly identify low level readers and have a strategy to deal with them. They should also know how these pupils are being taught in class, and how they are being assessed. What is specifically being done by you to raise the reading levels of pupils? To know this it makes sense to understand the assessment process in school, and to feel comfortable using higher level linguistic and literary terms – just like a teacher.

It wouldn’t be a challenging talk without a bit of controversy, and Adam does believe that school librarians need to take on a role that is more intermeshed with the teaching of reading and literacy within the school and to change the way we see the school library. Librarian as teacher is a hot topic at the moment, particularly in these days of performance related pay. Personally I feel that the school library is part of an educational establishment and therefore needs to be part of a pupil’s education. I do feel that school librarians should see themselves as educators. There is an average of twenty five teaching hours a week in school, and every single moment should be getting something new into a child’s head. It is a tiny part of their lives – and I don’t feel that it is unrealistic for them to be learning for every bit of the time that we have them – including in the library.

That is not to say that these need to be lessons in the strict sense, as school librarians we are using our knowledge and passion to inspire and enthuse pupils about reading, and that’s still learning. We want them to enjoy reading and to form the habits for it so that they progress and always have reading in their lives. To do this we must understand the educational nature of progression, as well as still making it fun and enjoyable. We are school librarians, and thankfully the nature of our job is one of multitasking!

A bit more controversy…. Dewey (brace yourselves) does not always suit your pupils, and so be prepared to arrange your library to suit your pupils. Ok, now this one raises a lot of eyebrows and is a detailed issue that I will cover in a longer post later. I’ll just say that I have seen Adam’s shelving scheme in action at another school and it really does work. He has rearranged the stock according to termly requirements and the demands of the curriculum. The books do still have their spine labels, but are split into a number of parallel arrangements around the library. Pupils can come in and quickly work out where the books that they need are, and take them out. Simple. Adam’s argument for this is that we should be teaching pupils that when they enter a library they should first be aware that the room has an organisation system, and next they look at the plan to see how it is arranged.

As I say, it’s a contentious issue and one that I will give more space to in a longer blog post – but I warn you in advance, you’ll be looking at Dewey very differently after!

And on to Ofsted inspections. I know how frustrating it is for librarians to work flat out and then, when the inspectors come, they don’t even step in the library…. Adam says they shouldn’t have to! Now, this sounds like more controversy, but hear me out, it makes perfect sense and is a bit revelatory. A fully integrated and successful school library is evident from the moment the inspector walks in the building. The positive impact of the library should be evident in the building and in the teaching and it should show. The library will be referenced in teaching and in the very fabric of the building – in posters, displays, but also in the written work that the children generate. Before the inspectors come they will have researched the school and the library should be on the website so they can take a look at the space there, but they have a very limited amount of time inside the building and a visit to the library will not always be top on their lists. If you are doing it all right and the library is a vital part of the school, and an essential cog in the machine of their education, it will show in every classroom they enter.

Almost all schools now would claim to have a whole school reading ethos – but do they really? Are pupils actually reading for pleasure and can this be seen in every classroom and in every teacher? Does the school genuinely and actively embrace reading or is it lip-service? We need ALL teachers from every subject to be actively demonstrating their enthusiasm and love for books and reading in every classroom and every lesson.

So, summing up the key points of Adam’s talk…

As school librarians we need to prioritise – are we spending time on things that will have a positive impact on learning? That is why we are there after all. This is an educational establishment, not a public library and so our priorities should be different.

Show the impact of your actions – has it made a difference? We need to ensure that everything that we do links into teaching and learning. Make it enjoyable! When a child says “I don’t like reading” what they are actually saying is “I don’t like the process that I’ve been put through in the pursuit of reading success.” Is it all working? Are we having a positive impact on the reading in our school? Would your reading ideas work better than those currently in place?

Be informed about literacy teaching. You are part of this process and therefore you should understand fully how the pupils are taught and assessed. Stay on top of government and Ofsted changes and reform, read the White Papers. We have opted to work in an educational environment and that should have an impact on how we do our jobs. Being informed means that you are talking the educational language that the children are accustomed to, and it makes it easier to find things that they will enjoy and yet still be considered part of their reading progression. We need to use everything we can to set up reading habits that they will carry for life.

Use individual teachers. We have a tendency to assume that the SLT are going to be the ones that will help us to implement policies and library related engagement, but why are we doing that? I for one was sagely nodding at the “get the SLT on board” comment  from others – but I was wrong!  Adam is on the SLT and knows how hard it is to get teachers to take on a scheme that they are not fully engaged with. At a grassroots level the only schemes that really work in schools are the ones that the teachers like and support. If you want something done it is far better to show individual teachers how it can benefit them and have them support your ideas up the chain. Work your way up the chain, not down, and you’ll have better success than yet another policy or idea mooted out by the SLT to resistant teachers. Understand the politics, remember, know the game and play it!

And one of the most important points – don’t be precious! You have to be prepared to separate what you think is best for the library, from what might be best for the educational needs of the pupils in your school. It’s not personal, and it’s not about you, it’s about what is best for the educational needs of these pupils.

The most important point though – believe in the importance of what you do! What we do as school librarians is incredibly important. We are giving these young people the ultimate transferable skill to vastly improve the quality of their lives – reading.

 

Footnote – the afternoon of this day was spent on library policy documents, Reading for Pleasure policies, and evidence gathering and these will be covered in separate blog posts so please follow this blog for further info, and on twitter follow @dawnafinch or use #slgtraining.

To find out more about Adam Lancaster please visit his website and follow him on twitter @dusty_jacket