Viewpoint: No more Ssshhh!

Libraries are quiet places. I can understand the sentiment to some degree as quiet places are hard to find and the space is for everyone and must be respected. However I struggle with the idea that a school library should be a quiet place. Seems to me like a contradiction in terms.

Photo: Elspeth RandelinReading aloud and talking about your reading is as important as the reading itself. Futhermore the reading environment within a school and the school library should encourage this.

The way the library space is used, the type of furniture, colours and so on are all important. It affects also the mood, the atmosphere and thereby the amount of time students wish to spend in the library space. I want my students to love being in their library. I want students to say automatically “we’ll go to bibban”.

With this in mind the Nobel committee have made an inspired choice for children. Reading, speaking and listening are inextricably linked and understanding what we read is limited by poor speaking and listenting skills. Bob Dylan is a poet but not a poet that is often read – he is a poet that people all over the world listen to. How very appropriate. I applaud.

The most noble of literature awards goes to a singing poet rather than an author just at the time that we who work with children’s litterature re-discover the fact that listening to texts, speaking and reading aloud are all skills which need to be learnt and practiced. Something that previous teacher generations have always known. It is wonderful.

There are no such things as hard words!

To have a reading partner that is on or around about the same level as you and to read the same book together is inspiring and it is fun. This is not a new idea but is becoming increasingly popular again. Admitting “I don’t know how to say this word” is suddenly unavoidable and it can either result in “you say it like this…” from your partner in which case the storyreading can contiunue or “neither do I”, in which case it is necessary to use a few strategies together.

If all else fails and the word’s meaning is still unclear you can ask an adult. After all there are no such things as hard words there are only new words and once you’ve learnt them you can use them, they are just good words. Most silent readers skip words they don’t know how to say or aren’t really sure what they mean. I do it myself.

The moment you create the kind of learning environment that encourages delight at finding a new word that you don’t know how to say or and excitement to find out what it means , you are well on the way to creating a much better reader and almost certainly a writer. Listening becomes an active roll and not a passive role and the distinction is vital.

Make reading more social

Reading in pairs is one way of encouraging literary conversation with the younger children and creating areas and sitting places that are designed for two rather than one as they have managed in Biblo Tøyen in Oslo is a great way of doing this. The other great thing about encouraging reading with a friend is that it raises reading’s status.

Traditionally, reading is something you do by yourself as opposed to computer games for example that you play with a friend or a group of friends and computer games have a higher status amongst young people. Online you are connected and have common ground to discuss and you understand where everyone is.

Encouraging reading circles, reading pairs, reading groups are ways of making reading more social, it gives readers common ground and becomes more something you do together with friends than a solitary activity. It can and needs to be both.

Reading nights are social events!

Each year for the past 12 years our Parent-Teacher association hosts what we call a Reading Night when we invite all our students, teachers and parents along to read all night at school. It is a long awaited event and the hightlight of the year!

You enrol yourself and your dad (or another adult) and come back to school at 6pm – and it pays to be early to get the best spot under the stairs – with a sleeping mat, sleeping bag, a torch or head torch and a pile of books.

The idea being that after a bit of supper and often a guest author or storyteller we turn off the lights at 10pm and everyone – adults and children alike – read as long as they like. No one can tell anyone else that it is late and time to go to sleep. Not this night. On this night you are able to read as long as you can and it can be pure magic!

While the majority (especially the parents) fall asleep reasonably quickly there is always lots of quiet reading and reading aloud going on everywhere and always a few who read longer than they even have before. In the same way that you leave behind floating aids as you learn to swim and training wheels when you learn to ride a bike – you read – with many other readers around you – until you finish a book. A whole book for possibly the first time ever.

As everyone else turns off their lights around you it is possible to feel so strong and such an incredible reader… I am a reader! A HUGE step to make and one that you need to hold on to in order to be a reader for life. These reading nights make reading a social event. A bit like a lanparty only better! Children go to sleep as readers.

At their very best

These nights are about making reading a noisy, fun and social activity where younger readers are offered the support of adult readers by the adults simply being there and being seen to be readers. I must admit it is finally very, very quiet in our school library – unusually so as the clock ticks towards midnight on a Friday night, but even now you can hear whispered comments as one reader, tucked up in pyjamas in his sleeping bag, shares something with another. School libraries at their very best.

School librarian Ytternäs school Mariehamn, Finland.