Walk into pretty much any school library, anywhere, and I suspect that you’ll find something similar if you wander over to the non-fiction section. One, maybe two books, on every topic that you know are taught in schemes of work. You know the type of book, one of those lovely and really colourful books on any topic…say magnetism! Now, wander over to the issuing desk, and ask “Why is that there?”. The librarian should be able to tell you exactly why “oh, they study that in Term 2 during Year 7, so we bought a copy in”. Sounds logical. Then step back and think…How is that one book meant to support an entire year group? Can 170, 200, or even 240 students crowd around that book to read around their subject? Could any level of short term loan make this system work? Can all students prepare for an end of year or topic test with that single copy of a book?
Ofsted ask Outstanding schools to demonstrate that ‘Pupils read widely and often across all subjects’ (Ofsted, Improving literacy in secondary schools: a shared responsibility, p.8). The History teacher in me wants to get up and clap at this. I would love all of my students to read widely and often around the subject. It would make lessons so much more fun if students came with this experience. We could really get into some very deep debates and facilitate some awesome learning!
However, is ‘widely and often’ even possible with physical reading stock? I mean, realistically? Dixons Allerton Academy has one of the largest school libraries in the country, and as the winners of the School Library Association Inspiration Award (2014) we have a nationally recognised school library. I can say with complete certainty that we could not house enough stock to allow students to always read widely and often…not without a serious extension of several floors!
This is where I think school libraries often need a bit of a shake up when it comes to non-fiction. If this goal is to be achieved it should be an expectation that school libraries engage with e-books and electronic resources. They should become core to what a school library does, and not a nice to have extra.
E-books offer, in real times, far better economies which genuinely allow all students to read widely and often around their subject. Take a typical non-fiction book for Key Stage 3. On a platform such as VLEBooks (this isn’t a sponsored post VLEBooks just happens to be our platform of choice) you can typically pay £8-12 for a non-fiction book and that allows 400 accesses per year. Combine this with a little bit of single sign on work (outlined in this previous post) and you can embed the book ready to be accessed in a single click in your Learning Platform or VLE where teachers can easily signpost to it. As we have done in Frog:
With a quick click the book is available. Alternatively, as you can see above, we have also included direct links using single sign on to specific Britannica Articles which contain three levels of differentiated subject matter with scales to match reading age. Combined with Frog rules you can differentiate the links very nicely. However, even if there isn’t the political or financial backing for a high quality VLE such as FrogLearn in your school, a similar (although less differentiated) outcome could be achieved in a free platform like Moodle.
You can also see that we have curated ClickView and YouTube videos to support each topic in each scheme of work. These resources are mapped on sites which match up with schemes of work. From our next Dixons Cycle (late March) there will be an expectation that students must complete this, at first in science and then throughout all subjects. With quizzes on the same page that students must complete we can track that students are learning from the content. This will produce data which will help to ensure that all students read widely and often around the subject.
Effectively, it’s the nature of e-books, and e-books on a credit model, that will make it possible for students to read widely and often around the curriculum. We can provide an electronic copy of a book to each Year 7 student to ‘rent’ for their weekly reading, for around £8. This is not possible with one or two physical books which would cost the same price.
Increasingly I believe it is the role of school librarians to support and prioritise electronic resources if they want to have large scale impact. Senior leaders need to ask the question of whether a non-fiction section is helping students to read widely and often around the curriculum. If not, they then need to ask if e-books alongside a student friendly and differentiated database package such as Britannica would offer the school far more.by