Keeping Kids Reading in a Pandemic – Practical Tips from a Primary School Librarian
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With infection rates on the rise, we are all trying our best to keep each other safe but also ensure children still have access to books. We know reading is key to children’s success both academically and emotionally and primary schools are absolutely crucial in teaching literacy and encouraging reading for pleasure.
We spoke to one primary school librarian, Jane Hitchin, who works in West Kirby Primary School in Merseyside about the role she played in the school’s reading activities before COVID and what she is doing now to ensure children continue to have a chance to develop a passion for reading.
Jane – can you tell us briefly your role before lockdown?
I am employed as the School Librarian, working with all key stages to promote reading for pleasure in the school, and provide a library service. Before COVID, the children came out to the library class by class every week and chose up to 3 library books – one of which had to be their school reading book and the others anything they would be interested in (non-fiction, graphic novels, annuals, picture books etc.).
We also ran a Library Club at lunchtime for each key stage where we would either do an activity around a certain book, or just have time to chill and read on a cushion. Junior Librarians were selected from Year 6 to help catalogue the books and re-shelve returns, as well as help to run the clubs.
I ran a Reading Champions group with Year 6 children who had the potential to read at greater depth who would be encouraged to read and promote the new books in the library to their peers via power point presentations.
I would also work with all the can’t reads/won’t reads, either for one-to-one reading or to participate in small reading groups – the aim of which was to teach reading, but most importantly, develop a love for reading.
How are you giving children access to books now?
The library is technically ‘closed’ but we are determined that each child in the school will have books to read at home. Consequently, we are providing a trolley service to each class/bubble. The trolley is loaded with books from the library appropriate for the age range and tastes. We have purchased a lightweight laptop to access our computerized library system and use our existing scanner to issue the books in the class which we take round on the trolley. We have devised a system of book bag return/library book issue/reading scheme issue, ensuring that each child always has a book at home to read, and also that the books are quarantined for the CILIP guideline of 72 hours.
How do you ensure children have a choice of appropriate books?
We are lucky to have a librarian who knows the children and what their tastes and abilities are (made a bit easier as we are a small school of 276 pupils. I constantly monitor what and how children are reading and this knowledge has been invaluable. We also produce a Reading Record for each child throughout the academic year, noting all their reading books, and this too has been very useful in deciding what to put on the trolley for each class. I can identify the reading abilities and tastes for just about every child, particularly in Key Stage 2.
Are they taking reading scheme books home?
Yes. Again a system has been devised where the books are returned and issued with the CILIP 72 hour quarantine guideline.
Have you moved to digital resources for reading at all?
No. We use real books both in school and for home reading.
Are you cleaning or quarantining books? How?
All returned items are quarantined for 72 hours following CILIP guidelines. We feel, this has eliminated the need for cleaning.
Are children using books in the classroom? Doing Guided Reading or Whole School Guided reading? Using topic books to support teaching for example?
Each class/bubble have their own classroom books for silent reading that they can choose themselves.
Each teacher reads to the class at the end of the day. This reading is for pleasure and the children are not required to do anything other than listen and enjoy the story. Each teacher /Key stage also has a class text that they use for whole class guided reading that is linked to a current topic (eg. WW2 – Goodnight Mr Tom)
What guidance have you consulted/are you consulting to ensure you are doing the right thing?
CILIP/SLA guidelines and recommendations. I also follow Primary School Librarians and Reading for Pleasure on social media.
Are there any tips you’d like to share? Any pitfalls to avoid?
Get to know your children and what they enjoy. Mix it up – put comics, annuals, Horrible Histories and picture books for older children on the trolley. Talk to them about what they are enjoying, have an honest dialogue. This system does take longer, so be prepared, but it does mean that we keep up our reading for pleasure programme in the school.
What has the reaction been like from parents and teachers?
After lockdown when schools and libraries were shut, parents are delighted that their children have new books to read and a more consistent return of books and book bags to school.
Teachers have been very flexible organizing lessons that can be easily interrupted when the trolley service arrives.
How are the children responding to having a library service again?
It has been so lovely to see the excitement of the children choosing new books. Before we managed to get the trolley service up and running we had many complaints about the library being shut, complaints we didn’t mind as it showed they were desperate to get reading again!
Government Guidance as of 1st October 2020
Equipment and resources are integral to education in schools. During the summer term, their use was minimised, many were moved out of classrooms, and there was significant extra cleaning. That position has now changed for the autumn term, because the prevalence of coronavirus (COVID-19) has decreased and because they are so important for the delivery of education. For individual and very frequently used equipment, such as pencils and pens, it is recommended that staff and pupils have their own items that are not shared. Classroom based resources, such as books and games, can be used and shared within the bubble; these should be cleaned regularly, along with all frequently touched surfaces. Resources that are shared between classes or bubbles, such as sports, art and science equipment should be cleaned frequently and meticulously and always between bubbles, or rotated to allow them to be left unused and out of reach for a period of 48 hours (72 hours for plastics) between use by different bubbles.
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