Sunday, 11 November 2018

ARE LIBRARY LESSONS "REAL" LESSONS?


The majority of school librarians in the UK, unlike in the USA or Australia, do not have any teaching qualifications. And yet most of us do teach – whether directly through regularly booked formal lessons or on an ad-hoc basis - to whole classes as well as individuals. If you’ve taken the teacher route before moving into librarianship, then it is possible to obtain both academic and professional librarian qualifications in your own time. However, if you’ve chosen librarianship as your career and then find yourself working in a school environment where a teaching qualification would be useful, about the only way to obtain one is to give up your job and study; not a course of action open to most of us.

It seems crazy to me that school librarians can’t get any sort of recognised teaching qualification whilst “on the job”. I’m not sure why; perhaps it’s a reflection of what the role used to be like – very traditional, focusing on stock rather than services. This is definitely not the case today. I also think it’s partly to do with librarians often being grouped with admin staff within the school structure and thus the assumption by those who have no idea what we actually do is that the roles are very similar. Nothing could be further from the truth!

 In my last job I delivered a range of library and research lessons from year 7 through to year 13. I inherited these when I started the job and to begin with I sort of followed my instinct, talking about books, creating activities to encourage and promote reading, and working with students on a range of information literacy skills. I like to think they were fun, interesting and useful but, on reflection, they were probably a bit haphazard.

After a while I decided I wanted to bring more pedagogy into what I was doing in the library. If my lessons were going to be taken as a serious part of the students’ timetable they needed to be more aligned to the methods used in the classroom. I did investigate obtaining a teaching qualification which proved impossible (that story is another blog!) so I decided to do the next best thing – undertake my own CPD into what I could bring to my library lessons from a teaching point of view.

I was already in a position to observe lessons. I asked teaching staff for advice*, and I undertook some reading and research. (*Most schools should be delighted to help you – if not then I would question why they don’t want to assist you improve your service).

There are several things you can do:



Ø  Create an overall Scheme of Work for the whole year, thinking about long-term outcomes as well as short-term goals. This might feel like a lot of work but it really does help to put everything into perspective. Having an overview means you can ensure your library activities link with the School Development Plan and its targets. Knowing what you are doing helps with planning and resource requirements, and you can see how activities relate to each other.



Ø  Have a lesson plan for each lesson with an introduction, realistic learning outcomes, activities and evaluation/assessment. A lesson plan should describe the learning for the lesson, give timings, information about methods and required resources. Knowing what the learning outcome of the lesson is will enable you to ascertain if it has been achieved. Again this might feel a bit daunting so start small. Create a template to follow for each lesson and create plans a term in advance.



Lesson plan – clearly defined goal
Targets in SPD
Resources required
Prior knowledge
Differentiation required
Introduction – what will students be learning
Direct teaching/guided instruction/activities
Assessment
Closure – summarise lesson



Most of us don’t deliver lessons on our own but usually have a teacher present (whether they participate or not). Share your lesson plan with them so they know what you’re doing and can support you. This sends the message that whilst this might seem like a fun-filled session talking about books, there is a learning outcome linked to school targets.

The bonus about having lesson plans is that you will be able to reuse them – albeit with revisions – plus they will help to reduce stress by keeping your lesson on track and making it more efficient.


Ø  Be aware of student needs and abilities, and involve a range of techniques within the lesson such as whole group discussion, group work, guided learning and individual work. Not all of these will be suitable for every lesson and not all of them will be suitable for every student but try to ensure, for example, that not every activity is group work.


Ø  Following on from this you need to consider differentiation for varying abilities. Sometimes this will be needed within a lesson depending on whether your classes are streamed or not.  Differentiation doesn’t mean more or less questions but at a different level. For example, when writing book reviews more able students could use the Carnegie Kate Greenaway Awards criteria whilst you could create flash cards with descriptive words on for lower ability students to select from.


Ø  Scaffold student learning with prompts, questions and challenges. Break learning into chunks and discuss key vocabulary. Model the steps involved. In the previous example about writing book reviews, this would mean going through a review with the students, explaining about what you expect to see in each section and showing an example of a review that has already been written.


Ø  Build on students’ prior learning and experiences, and relate the lesson to their own lives as this will engage them more. For example, if you are delivering a lesson on copyright, using real life examples of people they know who have been prosecuted and fined for breaching copyright will have more impact. Likewise find out what authors and genres are popular, and what previous books they have enjoyed reading, before any book talks so you can link books you mention to these



Ø  Focus on higher order skills. Create tasks and activities that encourage questioning, connect concepts and ideas, use inference and creative thinking. Involve student voice – this empowers them and gives them ownership of their learning.


Ø  Incorporate assessment for learning (also known as formative learning). This is an on-going process and helps students stay motivated. It also encourages them to be active, to see where they need to go in their learning and how to get there. If you can see how students are doing, you can determine if they understand or not.


Ø  Finally, plan but don’t be too rigid – expect the unexpected! Some of the best learning outcomes I’ve had have been when I’ve had a totally unpredicted question and grabbed the chance to engage the class. Sure, I’ve gone off plan but I just carried on with it the next lesson. Some opportunities are too good to miss!

Thursday, 31 May 2018

WHY AREN'T CHILDREN READING IN SCHOOLS?



There are four major factors involved in creating readers. Actually I should really say there are five because the home environment has a huge impact, usually before any of the other four participants appear on the scene. But I’m focusing on creating readers in a school setting here. I’m also aware that many schools do have children who read but, unfortunately, many don’t! 

 




TEACHERS

·         Many have no in-depth knowledge of children’s/teen/YA books so they are unable to recommend an appropriate book to a student. They often have no knowledge about new authors, who writes like, what to read next, award winners, popular authors or genres.

·         Many consider themselves to be “non-readers” so are not visibly seen as a reading role model by students. Most people read – newspapers, magazines, websites, fiction, non-fiction (it all counts) – yet do not share this with students regularly.

·         Even if they are avid readers they are often only familiar with the type of books and authors they like, or non-fiction connected with their subjects.

·         Some don’t see reading as being “their” responsibility.

·         Most are too busy, overworked, under pressure and stressed to take time out of a busy curriculum to explore books and reading with the students.

STUDENTS

·         So many have not had any “good” reading experiences. All their previous reading experiences have been with books they were forced to read that they did not enjoy or understand. This reinforces the idea that “reading is not for them”.

·         They have no family background of reading; there are no books at home, they were not read to as a child or taken to the library thus they have no reading role models in the home.

·         If they never see an adult reading they will make the assumption that “not reading” is adult behaviour which they will emulate.

·         They don’t know what sort of reader they are or what sort of books they enjoy. They have not been given the opportunity to browse and explore a varied collection of books, to make mistakes in what they choose, to discuss their reading likes and dislikes with somebody knowledgeable who can make suggestions. Thus they will find it difficult to select a suitable book. And if they always choose a book that they find boring or too hard it will reinforce the idea that they don’t like reading or that they can’t do it.

LIBRARIAN

·         If the librarian is not given any status within the school, and their skills and expertise are not recognised by the staff, they are often not used to support and engender reading.

·         Many librarians are solo workers with no dedicated time to spend with students discussing books and reading, guiding them in their choice of reading material. If students aren’t given allocated lessons in the library and the only time it is available to them is during breaks, those who do not like books or reading will not be anywhere near it then!

·         Often librarians are relegated to a “babysitting” role, much of their time is taken up with administrative tasks or they have additional jobs within the school such as photocopying or covering the reception desk. This prevents them from fully engaging with the students and building up relationships so they can give advice and support, and make recommendations.

·         The school does not have a librarian so there is nobody with the necessary skills, knowledge and expertise.

SCHOOL

·         If there is not a whole school reading ethos and reading is not valued it is likely that students’ attitudes will mirror this.

·         Often there is no SLT support for reading for pleasure with the focus being on reading for attainment and reaching target levels rather than creating readers. This focus is unlikely to create lifelong readers who challenge themselves, read outside their comfort zone and question what they read.

·         No time is given for reading in the curriculum. Library lessons, browsing and silent reading are all seen as a “waste of time” because the impact of these activities is difficult to measure.

·         There is no SLT support for the library or librarian. They are not seen as a professional or adding any value so they receive little or no budget. If the library is not supported financially it can’t buy new books or run activities to encourage and sustain reading.

·         This lack of recognition often means the librarian is not included in relevant meetings or initiatives, nor are they given the information needed to do their jobs properly.

Creating readers is a long-term mission; there isn’t a simple formula that can be applied and it will not happen overnight. Ideally it needs everyone on board, from the SLT through to the staff, and the librarian should be recognised as a valued professional colleague with specific skills and expertise.

It can be done without all four aspects being involved – I’ve worked in schools where I wasn’t really supported yet managed to create readers (although it pains me to think of how much more I could have done if I’d had that support) – but the one factor you really do need is a librarian.

Books are the tools of our trade and most of us are slightly obsessed with them. So it’s no surprise that we know Patrick Ness has another book nominated for the Carnegie Award, that Jim Kay who illustrated “A Monster Calls” is also illustrating the Harry Potter books (number four due out later this year – fingers crossed) and that Chris Riddell has a new poetry book out in September!
If I want advice on my boiler I talk to a plumber. Likewise if you need advice on books and reading, talk to a librarian.

Monday, 9 April 2018

DO SCHOOL LIBRARIES STOCK LGBT FICTION?


It always amazes me how many people write about school libraries and don’t involve school librarians in the conversation. They collect evidence, state “facts” and make suppositions – many of which are untrue – and then seem surprised when said school librarians point out they’re wrong. I’m not sure why as school librarians are in the “information business” – constantly telling our students to check their facts and verify the authority of their sources - and if somebody’s got the wrong idea about what we do then we need to put the record straight; there’s already too much misinformation floating around about school libraries as it is.

An article recently appeared in the TES Online titled “How many LGBT books do you have in your school library?” The author was shocked when a friend discovered there were no LGBT books in her school library, did some sleuthing herself (asking teachers in other schools) and, based on their responses, came to the conclusion that the majority of schools have either a limited selection of LGBT fiction or none at all. They went on to speculate – without any research or evidence - that this was because:

·         LGBT fiction was absent from many stockists and bookshops

·         School Library Services (SLSs) that supply school libraries provide filtered books

·         The bulk of LGBT fiction comes from smaller publishers which SLSs do not stock

·         Librarians cherry-pick their stock and favour celebrity authors

I cannot believe that school library did not have a single book featuring LGBT characters. Surely at the very least it would have some Patrick Ness on the shelves considering he is a Carnegie winner? Or John Green, following the popularity of the film “A Fault in our Stars”? The fact a catalogue search did not bring up any LGBT fiction doesn’t mean there wasn’t any … the success of any search depends on the keywords used in cataloguing stock. If neither of the authors mentioned above were catalogued as LGBT, they wouldn’t feature in a search.

The majority of school libraries DO stock LGBT fiction – both books containing LGBT characters and books written by LGBT authors. How they are promoted and displayed depends very much on the ethos of the school and the support of the SMT. In my workshop “Diversity and Inclusion in Libraries” most of the questions raised about challenges to these books are from teachers and other staff, not from the librarians. We do not censor books. Yes, we select our stock. We have neither the budgets nor space to be able to buy everything we’d like to so we have to make choices. Sometimes that means going for the more popular books, those that we know students will pick up and read but a look at the comments from librarians around the recent “celebrity-heavy” WBD books will give you an indication of how we feel about these. If we’re guilty of “cherry-picking” then it’s probably in favour of more diverse authors rather than the popular ones!

The same is true of School Library Services. They don’t provide “filtered” books but, rather, use qualified, experienced librarians to evaluate and assess them. This is a service for busy school librarians enabling us to select stock from SLSs knowing it is appropriate; it merely takes a step out of a process we all do whenever we buy a book for the shelves. It also means that teachers choosing library stock, who do not have the book knowledge or time to investigate every resource, can be assured that the books are aimed at the intended user.

There is a huge amount of LGBT fiction available – both from mainstream and smaller publishers. Book suppliers, as well as SLSs, use a range of publishers, not just the larger companies - it is one of the benefits of using them – and LGBT fiction is not absent from their stock. Besides, if you require a book they do not feature you can request it and you can always ask for a selection covering a specific topic or genre; it is worth remembering that book suppliers employ professional librarians to aid in stock selection and review.

Of course, the problem with all of this is that a school librarian needs to be aware of LGBT fiction in the first place. Most professional librarians are; they are conversant about LGBT authors, books with LGBT characters, how suitable they are for different ages and so on. And if not, they have the skills and contacts to obtain any information they require. They can discuss any challenged titles demonstrating both the legal requirement and well-being needs to stock LGBT fiction. The issues arise when schools appoint a “librarian” who isn’t … just putting somebody in charge of a library doesn’t make them a librarian and too many schools are trying to cut costs by doing this, appointing people who have no experience or knowledge (and thus don’t have to be paid as much), and really aren’t sure how to provide a well-balanced and inclusive collection.  And if the librarian isn’t selecting books for the library then it’s more likely that whoever else is doing it is “cherry-picking” rather than looking at gaps and how they can be filled. A professional librarian who is a member of CILIP (the Library and Information Association) also has a code of professional practice that covers equity of resources and services. Furthermore, the CILIP School Libraries Group (SLG) has produced an LGBTQ reading pack, available to all.

Of course, selecting books is only the first step. It is essential they are displayed and/or signposted so they can easily be found, and the library needs to make it obvious that it is a safe space for LGBT students. One of the ways we can do this is with posters highlighting trusted websites where students can get useful information. It’s no good expecting students to turn to a book instead of going online; for many the latter is a more natural environment plus accessing information on their phones or computers gives them privacy.

I’m not saying that every school librarian is perfect, knows every LGBT book that’s ever been published and has them all in their libraries. They don’t and there’s still a lot of work to be done. But far more DO have LGBT fiction that would be suggested by the original article. If you think a school library is lacking in these resources then perhaps the first step would be to look at how LGBT students are supported throughout the rest of the school, particularly in view of the fact that the Stonewall School Report 2017 found that “40% of LGBT students are never taught about LGBT issues” and that only “only 29% of LGBT students said that teachers intervened when they were present during homophobic, biphobic or transphobic bullying”.

And if you’re looking for some book suggestions, these links might be useful:




Books featuring LGBT characters (including picture books, primary and secondary), School of Education, Brighton University


Thursday, 25 January 2018

THE MIXED BLESSINGS OF BOOK DONATIONS


School libraries need to be well-stocked with a wide range of resources for all ages and abilities. Not just fiction books but also non-fiction to support the curriculum, provide inspiration for students’ interests and exploration of whatever piques their curiosity. School libraries cater for very specific needs, some of these will be the same in every school but each with have its own peculiarities: the curriculum, the interests of students which can vary wildly – a town with a local ice hockey team is likely to have a large proportion of the student body interested in the sport and I’ve worked in schools where there was a huge interest in fishing yet none of my local colleagues reported the same  – and every school librarian will have a wish list of specific titles; the next book in a series, a new publication by a popular author, something they’ve seen in a bookshop that will fit in well with the collection.

In a time of budget constraints stocking a school library that fits all these parameters can be hard to achieve so donations can be useful. However, I would often find that the donations turned out to be inappropriate, nevertheless I still said “yes” every time somebody said “I’m clearing out some books, would you like them”?

Why? Because you never know what gems you might find – after all, one day there may be a Harry Potter first edition that you could sell for vast sums (I wish!). But alongside that yes would be the caveat that the library had a stock selection policy* and that anything that wasn’t suitable would be offered to departments first and then given to charity. I never had a single person say they weren’t happy with that.

So how did I decide what to keep?

  • The first assessment would be on the condition of the book or magazine. Was it in a reasonable state with no sticky substances or pages falling out? Was it damaged or defaced?

  • Fiction – if it was a popular book then I would keep it for additional copies. If it was something that I didn’t think would be borrowed (for example, where I already had the book with a more up-to-date cover or it was by an author who was no longer read) then I would use it for the “reading boxes” that I stocked in every tutor group or put it in my regular book sale to raise funds for new stock. If the book was recent and “as new” I would consider it for a library competition prize.

  • Non-fiction – these were assessed for relevance to the curriculum, accuracy and whether they were up-to-date. School librarians struggle to get others to understand that we constantly need to weed our stock. As librarians, our task is to help students find the information they need, to guide them to a book they may enjoy, and the ultimate aim is for students to become readers for pleasure and independent learners, finding what they want without our intervention.  We cannot stand over every student and check what they have taken off the shelves – if a student does their homework using an out-of-date library book and gets it wrong, who is at fault? Facts change over time – we no longer have nine planets – and even recipe books have to be treated with caution. Older ones would not give guidance regarding unpasteurised products and pregnancy.

  • Basically any book I added to the shelves from donations had to supplement or enhance what I already had. After that, any surplus fiction that I didn’t want I would pass to the English department for their classroom libraries although rather than dump piles of books on them, I’d catch staff when in the library and ask them to look through them.

  • Likewise, if there were any books that I felt would be useful to the SEN department (fiction and non-fiction) then I would pass on these too.

  • Non-fiction books would be distributed to relevant departments – again, I would remove anything that was horrendously out-of-date or in poor condition. Departmental libraries are different from the school library. Teachers are able to direct students towards particular chapters where the information is still relevant, for example, the section on gravity in a science encyclopaedia is unlikely to date whereas information about space travel would need to be checked.

  • Some books, whilst not suitable for any of the above, could still be used – for papercrafts in the library, as backing paper for quotes, I’ve even used falling-apart graphic novels to create bookmarks (the Simpson’s ones were very popular!). 

  • The (hopefully) diminishing pile left would be taken to a charity shop – I know my local one collects books not suitable for sale and sells them for pulp so I feel that not only am I helping the charity but also the environment. However, there were always some books which wouldn’t even be suitable for this so those would be put directly into the recycle bin.

School libraries have limited space and each book needs to “earn its keep” on the shelves; keeping old and tatty books in case somebody might want to borrow them means no space for the new books. I’ve weeded sections before and been asked by students and staff whether I’ve bought more books – the old stuff hides the new! School libraries also rarely have store rooms so books that are removed usually have to be disposed of and we can’t stock a book on every single possible thing we may be asked for. Do continue to think about your school library when donating books but please don’t expect them to keep everything and maybe have a sort out of them first to save the librarian that trip to the charity shop?

* A stock selection policy should give the rationale for why stock is selected or rejected. A statement such as: “Resources are selected to ensure stock is of a high quality, current and appropriate. They form part of a balanced collection, providing cultural diversity, differing perspectives and viewpoints, without bias and stereotyping. Resources include a range of formats to support each subject as well as individual learning styles. Any donations will be considered in the same way.”

Thursday, 21 December 2017

HOW I CHALLENGE MY READING GROUPS - STARTING WITH THE BOOK


One of the (many) things I love about being a school librarian is working with small groups of students on a variety of projects - it’s a real chance to get to know them better. This often took the format of reading groups and I would run several of these throughout the year, and I also set up and managed an HPQ project with Year 9 students, so when the teacher with responsibility for the more-able programme asked me if I could “do something” with a group of twelve year 7s (11 year olds) to run on a longer timescale, I jumped at the chance. But the question was … what? I didn’t want to run a basic reading group and knew that if I was going to do this over the whole year I would have to come up with an interesting and challenging programme for them.

I then discovered that the book “Varjak Paw” by S F Said was being performed as an opera at a local theatre and this became my starting point. Although the book was, perhaps, slightly young for the students, it had a lot of themes I could explore and, as I started creating lessons around it, I realised I could extend the activities to make this a cross-curricular project bringing in lots of skills and learning experiences.

This is what I did:

  • All students had a copy of the book to read, we then discussed it using the Carnegie Award criteria looking at the style, plot and characterisation.
  • Visit to the opera (I should add here that I’m qualified to drive a minibus so taking students out on trips was never a problem for me). I was offered a pre-show talk by the artistic team and was the only school to take this up; the students were also asked to provide feedback to the director as this was the first performance. I asked the Head of Drama for input so we could analyse the performance and used similar criteria to that of GCSE students when looking at lighting, sounds, movement, costumes and props.
  • We then compared the book and the production, discussing what had been changed or left out and why.
  • I provided the students with a selection of books that had animals as characters to extend their reading. They all chose something different and discussed their choice with the rest of the group.
  • Each student was given an animal to research using range of books – and I ran a session on research skills. The aim was for students to investigate their animal, find out how they lived, what they ate, etc. I chose slightly unusual animals and ensured I had appropriate resources in the library. Students were also able to research online.
  • Students produced an information poster about their animal using IT skills.
  • The posters together with the books were used for display in the library.
  • Next was a creative writing exercise – students had to write a story (aimed at 9 - 10 year olds) with their animal as the main character using the information they had gathered in their research. There is a lot of information available online about how to write a story plus I had some books in the library on this topic so we had a look at these and discussed our findings. We also looked at different starts to ascertain what makes you want to carry on reading a book.
  • The ensuing session involved a visit by the year 5 class from our feeder school (this was part of a regular programme of visits to the “big” library) – the year 7 students read their stories about animals to them and they made animal masks together. This was also an opportunity for the younger students to explore the library with a year 7 “guide”.
  • We discussed the illustrations by Dave McKean – how they fitted into the story and what they added – using the Greenaway criteria.
  • The illustrations are quite graphic and almost silhouette in style so we undertook an investigation of silhouettes and how they were first used in photography. The next activity was creating posters using a silhouette of their animal against an appropriate landscape-related background using mixed media. Students could also create a silhouette of themselves if they wanted to!
  • Photography is a hobby of mine (I also have an A level in it) so I delivered a workshop on photography, concentrating on architectural structures.
  • We then used this passage from the book - “Stretched out under the open sky, shining like silver in the pre-dawn light, the city was a huge, mad jumble of shapes and sizes. It had tall towers, gleaming steel and glass – but also squat brick houses, dark with chimney smoke. Wide open gardens jostled with narrow alleys; sharp pointy spires topped soft, curved domes; concrete blocks loomed over bright painted billboards. They were all in there together, side by side, each one part of the whole …” – and I got the students to create a personal response to this by taking photos of buildings and making montage to represent this scene.
  • Another library display … using the passage and the resulting montages. It created a lot of interest and comments.
  • We looked at other Dave McKean books and discussed them – and I used them for a library display alongside the students’ comments.
  • I wanted to introduce poetry to the programme so we had a lesson where the students looked in the poetry section of the library for animal poems. They had to choose one that appealed to them – which they read out – and explain why they had chosen it.
  • The cats in “Varjak Paw” are Mesopotamian Blues (a made-up breed) but Mesopotamia was a real place so we investigated where this was and how the history of the area had changed over time … more research skills – this time linking with history!
  • The opera had used a range of original instruments from Mesopotamia and this was our next investigation. What sort of instruments were used, how were they played, what did they sound like? It’s surprising what you can find on YouTube
  • Finally, at the end of the year, we watched Mirrormask – and discussed the film in relation to the plot, themes, audience, lighting, set, etc.

I ran out of time before I ran out of ideas … I could have explored the geography, religion and customs of Mesopotamia; looked at the more mystical side of the book where Varjak was learning about “The Way” and investigated various martial arts and meditation techniques; examined other gothic forms of art; there are also lots of themes in the book around family, friendship and acceptance that we touched on but could have developed further.

All-in-all we had a great time on this project. Students were able to pick up lots of useful skills and enjoyed having something different to explore outside the curriculum. It also made me think about expanding other reading activities – most books lend themselves to something similar, for example, “Mister Creecher” by Chris Priestley is great for exploring medical history and then moving into the science and ethics of organ transplants, and “Fallen Grace” by Mary Hooper allows you to explore Victorian death customs!

You just need to start thinking outside the box.

Thursday, 2 November 2017

NON-FICTION: THE UNSUNG HERO OF THE SCHOOL LIBRARY

As a librarian, I consider “reading” to cover anything that involves the printed word and in any format; I also think “visual literacy” is quite important, especially in the world we live in, so picture books (with or without words) count too. But I talk to quite a lot of students about reading and it’s interesting how many of them assume I’m just referring to fiction books.

There also hasn’t been a single Open Evening where I’ve not had a parent come into the library with their child and announce “he’s not a reader” (sadly it tends to be boys) – what the parent usually means is that they don't read fiction. And I've worked with teachers who hold this viewpoint. Yet when I think about my own reading it definitely includes non-fiction, books that I will pick up and browse, either because they tie in with my interests, intrigue me or I’m drawn to the illustrations.
The importance of reading for pleasure has been well documented with academic, social and health benefits, and reading non-fiction feeds into all of these.
·        It helps you learn about the world, history, other cultures; reading non-fiction will give you an insight into how the world works and increase your general knowledge. Children leap from one interest to another and we never know which is going to be influential in steering their future, impacting on their career and life choices. It is imperative that we enable this exploration to happen. Children need to be able to explore and investigate the random topics that pique their curiosity.  

·        Non-fiction exposes you to new words and information. So many stories are embedded in facts, especially historical novels, with references to people and events. Without this background knowledge, you can lose the context and essence of the story. Imagine reading “The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas” by John Boyne without any awareness of the Holocaust? I recently read “The Miniaturist” by Jessie Burton in my book group, and investigated the period and place in which it was set (1680s Amsterdam). I knew absolutely nothing about this time in history and the knowledge enriched the book for me, adding depth to the characters.

·        Non-fiction helps develop the information literacy skills of locating, evaluating and using information, supporting comprehension and offering increased engagement with texts through personal interests. If you understand how information is organised and presented, it will help you to find and organise information yourself.

·        Non-fiction exposes you to different styles of writing – text, captions, annotations, explanations. Reading non-fiction sets you up for the more complex texts you are likely to meet, not only in further and higher education, but also in many workplaces. Writing non-fiction also requires recognition of the building blocks of language – how to introduce and conclude, argue and compare – exposure to these techniques will inform your non-fiction writing the way exposure to fiction informs creative work.
 
·        Non-fiction is often more appealing to visual learners as well as EAL and SEN students. It is also important in helping to lure boys into books. Research indicates that boys read non-fiction, autobiographies and newspapers; we need to send the message that reading these texts is just as valued as reading fiction.  

·        Non-fiction engages the mind and allows you to become “lost” in the text the same way that fiction does – I have seen this many times in school libraries with students totally absorbed in information books.

So, make sure you promote non-fiction in your libraries. Some easy ways of doing this include:
·         Having lots of choice – magazines, newspapers, atlases, information books on popular topics, etc.

·         Value all sorts of reading – different books require different reading skills and they are all needed.

·         Mix fiction and non-fiction in displays.

·         Link fiction with relevant non-fiction. For example, “The Bubble Wrap Boy” by Phil Earle with books on skateboarding and graffiti art.

·         Add the relevant Dewey numbers to genre book lists so students can find appropriate non-fiction titles that link with the stories.

·         Use titles and covers to hook them in – toilet humour works well, such as “Why Eating Bogeys is Good for You” by Mitchell Symons.

·         Promote books about things they can relate to, something that is happening in the world or that ties in with recent events, or utilise a local interest – one of my schools had a large contingent of ice-hockey fans due to the local team.

·         Have a non-fiction book of the week – displayed and promoted.
Later this month, on 22nd November, the School Library Association Information Book Award winners will be announced. Have a look at the shortlists (and those of previous years) for some great non-fiction suggestions for all ages.

I know the Holy Grail is to have every child reading fiction for pleasure and we should not abandon this ideal or stop encouraging students to read stories but it is important that we do not diminish or downgrade non-fiction whilst aiming for this. One of my pleasures is to spend an afternoon browsing the shelves of my local library – as well as fiction, I always come home with a very esoteric pile of non-fiction books too!