Jionalibrarian's Blog

School Librarian blogging about schools, libraries, education and anything else I find interesting (Tweeting at @jionalib and photography at

2015 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,000 times in 2015. If it were a cable car, it would take about 17 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.


Did I mention I like taking photos in my “spare” time?

If you are interested in seeing some of my work, then you can take a look at

Have a great Christmas.

Book Review: My Brother Simple

Book review from one of my sixth formers, from our Literature Society.

Source: Book Review: My Brother Simple

KS4 Breakfast & Books Club

My KS4 Breakfast and Books Club is going strong.  Although small, we have added a new member from year 10, as a result of my attending the evening for parents and their sons/daughters who are on the Academy’s “more able” register.

Megan recently read Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four which you can read on our ‘Book Reviews’ page of the OAE Media Blog at  It is a great read, and she has shown a real deep understanding of the novel and the themes Orwell tackles.

Our next book is one that we are all going to read, and that is Patrick Ness’s The Rest of us Just Live Here.  They were all really excited about getting their copy of the book today, having watched the video of Ness reading from the novel last week.  They have all read A Monster Calls and I am really looking forward to meeting with them next week to see what they think of his latest book.  Look out for blog posts reviewing the book very soon.

I’m hoping to convince Vikita to write a review about Everybody knows this is nowhere by Alice Furse, which she recently finished too.  Watch this space.

Owen Jones’ ‘The Establishment’

A must read for everyone on the journey to a greater understanding of society… and the shadow behind it.

Source: Owen Jones’ ‘The Establishment’

Window Writing

So, having had a read of Teacher Geek, by Rachel Jones (@RLJ1981) over the Summer, I took away her idea of using chalk pens for writing on windows.  As I don’t have very many prominent display boards in my Library, I thought that using the windows, of which I have loads, would be a great way to utilise them to share information and ideas.

So, having bought a set from ebay, I have been gradually filling up some of the windows with literary and inspirational quotes.  The best bit has been getting the pupils involved, and I have had plenty of them wanting to have a go.  Below are photos of some of their work:

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Additionally, I have used these to share information, like adding our opening times, book and homework club times, and advertise e-resources.

This has, at the very least, been an additional way of using display with an eye-catching and alternative method.  A little further to this, it has encouraged pupil-lead engagement with the Library, and an extension to creative tasks for my book clubs and regular Library-goers.

Book Club Introduction

I have written a guest-blog post about our year 10 book club on the OAE Media blog, where you can read all about what we have been up to in 2014-15. Please have a read to find out more.

OAE Media Blog

I have been running a small book club for pupils in year 10 in 2014-15.  It takes place every Wednesday morning before school, from 8.15-8.40am, in the Library.  Each week we get together for a breakfast snack and a chat about whatever we have been reading that week.

The thinking behind the club is primarily to get together to have an informal chat about books, share the books we love, recommend great books to one another and find new fantastic books to read.  Sometimes we all will have chosen to read the same book, other times different books by the same author, sometimes along a similar theme or genre, and yet other times completely different books altogether.  Each week we will have a chat about what we want to read next, and make a choice for what we are going to read next.  There is never any pressure to finish…

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Surprise Summer Reads 2015

We have done Surprise Summer Reads for a few years now. This involves offering all staff and students the chance to have a book chosen for them, then wrapped an delivered to them on the last day of the Summer term. This means that they will get a book that they wouldn’t normally pick up for themselves, but that whoever has chosen the book thinks that they will enjoy it.  They key outcome is that they will read a book from the Academy Library that they will then hopefully be able to recommend to students in the following year, as we all know how powerful it is when teachers/role-models can talk with enthusiasm about books.

In previous years, staff have signed up and then a group of volunteer students have then picked a member of staff from the list and then chosen a book for that member of staff (see a previous post).

This year I decided to vary my approach, and have given all twenty-one staff (except for a few special exceptions who had read it already) who signed up a copy of A Monster Calls, by Patrick Ness.  Firstly, this is one of my absolute favourite books and one that I recommend to anyone and everyone anyway. Secondly, I have a class set that I use in Library lessons, and so many pupils in the school will have read this book too. This means that this year, come September, the conversations that staff will be having with pupils will be about a book that both have read and enjoyed.  I think that this will be equally powerful and will hopefully then facilitate further discussion about other books each have enjoyed and, through the common/shared starting point of A Monster Calls, they will then be able to go on to recommend other books to one another too.

surprise summer reads - staff

Pupils this year also signed up and their books were chosen by my Assistant Librarian and I.  For the nineteen pupils from a mixture of years 7-10, we picked out a range of great fiction to challenge and push these keen readers.  These pupils will hopefully come back after the summer having read something that they wouldn’t have chosen for themselves that they will then recommend to other pupils, as well as talk about with the teacher who also took part this year too.

surprise summer reads - students

I’m very much looking forward to getting the completed postcards from staff and students with their thoughts about the books that have had for the Summer.  These will then be displayed in the library, as well as shared via other channels such as the Academy newsletter, plasmas and any other mediums I can get my message out there with.

Ethnography Project

Since January, a small group of students have been taking part in a special ethnography project, with a visiting ethnographer/storyteller (Richard Neville) who ran the weekly workshop and guided them through the process.  The purpose of the project was for the students to use any creative forms of their choice, such as prose, poetry, dialogue, photography etc. to capture what life was like as a student at our school.  Each week Richard and I would meet with the students, a regular group of 8-10  from across the year groups, and we would talk with them, read their work, read our work to each other, and take part activities as a group.  The activities included creating poems, on the spot, taking turns to add a line each to continue the poem; Richard recording pupils’ speaking, or discussing, an issue or event; and creating random poetic phrases such as those below:




Over the weeks, Richard and I collected the students’ work and, last week, Richard put their work together (along with my and two other teachers’ contributions) and Richard had  a proof copy printed of their work.  The students were able to review the proof and choose the font that they wanted their work to be printed in, as well as any layout changes that they wanted and the name that they wanted their work attributed to.  The final printed book looked fantastic and was presented to the students at Enfield Island Village Library on 26 March.  At this event representatives from Enfield Libraries attended to present certificates, copies of the book were given to each pupil, and one of our pupils gave a brilliant reading of one of her poems.



The pupils involved all enjoyed taking part and each took something from the process. The key thing seemed to be the breaking down of barriers to creative writing, and poetry in particular, and finding creative ways of talking about experience and collaborating to create new forms and art.  While the project has officially come to an end, the artist is keen to work together again in th future, and will continue this with a creative writing group using the momentum from pupils who took part in this project and open it up for further pupils to get involved. We also plan to create a display in one of the English classrooms to further showcase the work.

Once I have the electronic file of the book, I will post it here too but, in the meantime, here is the poem I wrote as part of the project:




Librarians are restricting reading?

I have recently read a number of headlines and articles about pupils’ reading in secondary schools, including the headline: Pupils ‘shunning tough books at secondary school’ (National Literacy Trust,, and Tough books left on shelf by secondary school children (TES, which have riled me a little.  Don’t get me wrong, I love the TES and the NLT, and they are not the only reporters of this “story”, but the articles are misleading, short-sighted and based on limited information, selling students, their teachers and Librarians short, and here is why.

The articles arise from a report by Professor Keith Topping titles ‘What Kids Are Reading: The Book-Reading Habits of Students in British Schools 2014′, based on data collected by Renaissance Learning from the Accelerated Reader scheme.  The data that is being analysed is generated from the number of times quizzes are taken on books included in the scheme, and this data is then interpreted ‘to provide detailed information on the books school children are actually reading’ (p.iv).

I take issue with the findings of this report, and the ways in which these have been reported in (and to?) the media, which I would like to highlight here.

Accelerated Reader (AR) is not a reflection of what all children are reading

AR is a reading scheme which operates using a fairly closed system of reading choice.  Pupils taking part in AR will be restricted in book choice by both; their AR ZPD levels, which determine the books they will be allowed to choose from, and is based on the result of a Renaissance Learning reading test sat by the student; and the books that are part of the AR scheme which have had AR quizzes written for them by their team of staff (i.e. not all books written for young people are included on the scheme). In this sense, pupils are not freely choosing books that they want to read because they will be “encouraged” by staff to choose books from a narrower selection than is available in their school Library, which is further restricted by the book-levels suggested by the reading test that they sit. To report that pupils are avoiding more challenging books would seem rather unfair here.

My experience of AR is that pupils, particularly those with low-literacy levels, will be encouraged to read books at the lower end of their range in particular in order to increase their general engagement in the programme and their pass rates in the quizzes.  In this sense, it is a useful scheme because when low-ability students are reading shorter books, which are generally matched to their reading-ability, they are able to finish these books quickly and experience success when taking AR quizzes.  This can help to boost their confidence, and experience “success” in relation to reading that they might not normally be used to.  The danger is that pupils of all abilities will play it safe, and only read books that are at their level that they think they will find easy, in order to pass the quizzes and appease the school staff involved in running the programme.  Further to this, I would suggest that in general, choices outside of pupils’ AR book-level range will be actively discouraged due to fear of failure.  In this sense, it does not encourage risk-taking in relation to reading choice both on the part of the staff involved in running the programme, and the kids themselves.

The author of the report finds that teachers and Librarians at secondary schools are “not encouraging students to attack more difficult books to a sufficient degree” ( with the report itself stating that “Secondary teachers and librarians need to get better at encouraging children appropriately” (  I find these assertions to be founded on very shaky grounds, verging on the disingenuous.  To accuse Librarians and teachers in secondary schools of not challenging pupils, based on the data from AR, is offensive.  I would suggest that it is AR that is the force that is not challenging pupils and that, in spite of AR, Librarians in particular will be encouraging all pupils to read regularly and widely, above and beyond what their AR levels dictate.

As well as this, there is no consideration or mention (of course) of the huge amount of work that Librarians do to encourage pupils to read more widely, for example, through shadowing book awards such as CILIP’s Carnegie and Greenaway shadowing scheme.  I could go on and on here about the work that we do, as school Librarians, but suffice to say that to accuse Librarians in particular of not encouraging children appropriately, based on a set of highly restrictive and selective data, is both counter-intuitive and downright offensive.

Further to this, to determine that secondary school students do not read widely based on this narrow set of data is absurd.  What aboutthose students involved in the scheme who will not take quizzes on every book they read, as they are potentially reading books outside of school and the AR scheme and they are not included in the scheme, or are outside of their AR reading levels?  What about the books that are being borrowed from their school and public libraries?  Think about all that data regarding borrowing statistics in library management systems that might give an insight into pupils’ borrowing (and reading) habits.  What about the books that they are reading in class, or at book clubs, or intervention groups or at home with parents or friends?  There is, it is safe to say, a lot of reading going on outside of AR.

Rant over?

I could spend some more time offering some further solutions for how to determine what children in secondary schools are reading; or other ways in which we address the reading habits of children both in schools and school libraries; or some of the other findings of the report by Professor Topping,  but that is a blog post for another day.  So time to wind this up.

After reading this, you might think I am totally opposed to AR and all it stands for. I’m not… no, really! I think it is one of the useful tools in a school’s and Librarian’s armoury, when used in the right way, to encourage pupils to read books and get recognition for their reading.  Senior leadership teams in schools love it because it provides them with lots of data, which can be used as evidence of what they school is doing to improve the literacy of its’ students through engagement in reading.  Literacy is a problem in many schools, and with reading for pleasure on top of literacy becoming a focus for Ofsted, it is no wonder AR can be seen as part of a potential solution, and I am hoping it can.

However, this report seems to denigrate, or at the very least question, the very people in schools that will be running AR who themselves will want to challenge, push, develop and broaden the reading habits of the young people with which they work… by doing this the author, and Renaissance Learning by proxy, are treading a very fine line,  in my opinion 

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