A new chapter for school libraries

Since the dawn of education, scribes have been creating educational resources by means of the written word, which have transformed into the creation of printed paperback and hardback books as time has progressed. Teachers and students have always used books for learning and as resources in class. However, they are becoming increasingly underused and underappreciated in education, with a survey by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) revealing that over a fifth of school staff said their school library budget has been cut by at least 40 per cent since 2010. Furthermore, 21 per cent stated that the budget does not allow their library to encourage pupils to read for enjoyment.

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Here, Jessica Clifton from LEGO Education discusses why school libraries are an important part of the curriculum, and how modern resources and books can work in collaboration to provide learners with an engaging education that stimulates a love of literature and inspires the imagination.

Libraries have been an integral part of school life for years and contribute greatly to educational attainment. Books help shape children’s ideas and cultivate the imagination in ways that may not even be immediately apparent. They also nurture intellectual and emotional development, and improve vocabulary, knowledge and comprehension. Fluency in the English language is essential for success in all other subjects, as it is the foundation of communication.

Learning to read is about listening and understanding, as well as working out what’s printed on the page. When reading or listening to literature, children actively engage their imagination as they proceed to interpret and visualise the story. Imagination and creativity should be encouraged in education, as they not only engage the learner but,according to the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER), also produce far greater learning outcomes; the school library is one of the greatest resources for promoting this. 

The national curriculum places a strong emphasis on the importance of reading, stating that the overarching aim of English “is to promote high standards of language and literacy by equipping pupils with a strong command of the spoken and written word, and to develop their love of literature through widespread reading for enjoyment.” The Department for Education (DfE) recognises that literature plays a key role in cultural, emotional, intellectual, social and spiritual development, and enables pupils to acquire knowledge and build on what they already know. For this reason, the DfE suggests that all schools should provide library facilities.

According to the National Literacy Trust, one in six people in the UK are illiterate and this is placing them at a serious disadvantage when it comes to achieving their academic and personal potential. While books are a solution, we need to consider alternative ways of introducing learners to literature.

At present, the concept of a library being devoid of technology is simply unfathomable to generation Z, meaning they won’t necessarily understand the benefits of engaging with this environment. Libraries and literacy lessons need to follow in the footsteps of STEM classrooms, where educational resources have been implemented to motivate and enthuse pupils using hands-on activities, and encourage creativity and imagination. 

First and foremost, we need to engage pupils. If you ask any teacher, they will tell you that it is often when a child is genuinely enjoying an experience or task in the classroom that their retention and engagement is at its highest. 

Why not create an activity that involves pupils reading their favourite book and then drawing pictures that symbolise the narrative’s most important events? They can then share their storyboards with the entire class, which encourages them to use their vocabulary to narrate the story. You could also have them write down, or talk about, the reasons why they enjoy the book; perhaps they have a favourite character or like the story’s theme?

Pupils could also bring a well-loved story to life. Ask them to create a scene from the story using props, and then act it out to the rest of the class. Activities like this will help develop reading, storytelling and comprehension skills, and will also improve their confidence. Taking this one step further, rather than recreating or interpreting published literature, ask pupils to create their own prose, such as a poem or story. 

The national curriculum also requires pupils to “learn to justify ideas with reasons; develop vocabulary and build knowledge; negotiate; evaluate and build on the ideas of others; and select the appropriate register for effective communication.” Setting group activities enables children to develop their speaking, listening and social skills, as they must convey their ideas to the group, and explain why their concept is suitable, whilst also listening and responding to their peers’ ideas. Ask pupils to write and narrate their own story as a group. Pupils will create longer narratives and develop their characters in more depth, thus improving their comprehension and writing skills.

Some children will develop a natural interest in literacy, whereas others may find reading a challenge. In both cases, it is about developing an interest in books. For pupils that find reading a challenge, or struggle to grasp the concepts of literacy, the subject can become a source of anxiety, as they may be unable to express their thoughts verbally or through writing. 

One such pupil was Mollie, a 7-year-old from a primary school in Surrey. She foundliteracy challenging and struggled with simple writing and reading activities. As a result,she did not find reading or literacy lessons enjoyable; it caused anxiety and she struggled to make progress in the subject. 

After being introduced to LEGO® Education StoryStarter, Mollie found alternative ways of expressing her imagination which helped turn her literacy lessons into enjoyable and productive classes. The freedom and creativity empowered her to recreate narrativesand become the author of her own stories. Finding different ways of presenting literacy will not only spark imaginations, but will also cater to all abilities, allowing pupils to achieve the same outcome, just in a different way. 

Incorporating practical activities into literacy lessons will act like a catalyst, enabling pupils to access their imagination and convey their ideas, and in turn, foster a love of reading and books.

In literacy, there is no wrong answer. With creative educational resources, every child is given the freedom to come up with their own ideas, so they’ll never feel like a task is beyond their abilities. There is no fear of failure; only a determination to see their creation come to life. Give pupils the opportunity to explore their imagination and discover a love of literature, and they might just become the next Oscar Wilde, Roald Dahl, or J. K. Rowling!

As pupils begin to engage their imagination and creativity, an initial interest in the power of storytelling and literature is ignited, which, in turn, piques their curiosity and makes them want to explore more prose. Libraries and literacy lessons that embrace new resources and technologies excite pupils and encourage them to read, both for educational development and personal enjoyment. With research from the National Literacy Trust finding that pupils who regularly use the school library read at or above the expected level for their age, now is the time for schools to make a change and recognise the importance of library provisions. The book era hasn’t reached its conclusion, rather educational resources are helping to write the next chapter by rejuvenating and reintroducing the library and literature as enjoyable, appealing, and engaging resources.

For more information about LEGO® Education and its education resources, including StoryStarter, visit: www.legoeducation.co.uk