Ethnography Project

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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 

Surprise Summer Read

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End of Term Initiative

Yesterday was the last day of term at Oasis Academy Enfield and, to continue the ‘reading for pleasure’ bug, I felt that I needed an initiative for staff because, let’s face it, it is the Summer holidays which represent the most likely time any of us get to read for pleasure!

Books as Presents

Last week I invited all staff across the Academy to take part in the Surprise Summer Read, in which they could volunteer to take a book home for the Summer picked by me, especially for them.  The book could be a complete surprise, or they could give me a hint as to the sort of books they normally enjoy reading, and I would choose something based on their tip.  The point would be, however, that they would get a great, teen/young adult novel to read over the Summer holiday and, in return, each person would write a short review of a couple of lines on a postcard on what they thought of the book.  This postcard would then help to form a display in the new academic year (more on that in a minute).

So, yesterday I wrapped and delivered 25 books to staff across the Academy, some of which are pictured below.  The books were a mix of Carnegie and other short-listed and award-winning books, along with a selection of other fantastic books that I thought would give readers an insight into some of the fantastic fiction being written for, and read by, our young people.

I envisaged that some staff would see what was happening and want a book too, and so I took along with me some pre-wrapped books with a word on the front to sum-up the book, such as Once  by Morris Gleitzman, with sad written on the front.  These seven books also got handed out too along the way, taking our grand total of books given out to 32!


Surprise Summer Reads wrapped and ready to be delivered

Happy Smiley People

The response was fantastic, with everyone reacting with delight at having a wrapped-up book for them to take home, along with excitement and anticipation at what the book would be.  The fact that I was able to deliver the books when many staff were with their Learning Families (form groups) meant that lots of students were there to witness their teachers’ reactions, therefore providing a great model to them and hopefully inspiring them a little too.

Mr Groarke's tweet about his Surprise Summer Read

Mr Groarke’s tweet about his Surprise Summer Read

Role Models

The next step is, in September, to reverse it and invite students to volunteer to take part.  The same books as staff have read will be used, and all students who volunteer will get one of the books read over the Summer by an adult from the school as a surprise read.  Once these books are handed out, I will create a display in the Library, as well as electronically via plasmas across the Academy, of the postcards written by staff, along with a picture of each of them with their book so that pupils can see who has read the book they have begun to read, and talk with them about it.  Once they read the book, their review will be displayed alongside the staff-member’s review too and we will have a great example of teachers and pupil both modelling, and sharing reading.

This will set us up for the new academic year with momentum from the Summer, ensuring the message is loud and clear  that reading for pleasure is fun, something to share and that it can bring people together.

EPQ Lesson One: Reflection

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The first lesson for my EPQ students was to be a brief introduction to what the course was, why they were doing it and what it would involve.  Once this information had been passed on, I felt that it would be a good idea for them to spend some time completing a task that would model a little of what the course might offer them.

I decided that I would use the August riots as a starting point for them to investigate and research sources of opinions, reportage and evidence for the various causes of the riots.  This would be a current topic of interest, that they would all have an opinion on and would generate some debate and enthusiasm for the task and the course in general.  After considering as a class the perspective that the riots were caused by young criminals in gangs , they were then split into groups and asked to find further possible causes, most of which were brainstormed as a class, and quoted evidence to support each cause.  This would get them to research and present different perspectives on an issue, many of which they might not necessarily agree with.

The lesson presentation

EPQ Lesson 1 riots

Below is the lesson plan:

The document below is the task sheet to support pupils:

So What?
From reading about others’ experience of running EPQ, I did not want to front-load the teaching of the various skills using a “theoretical” practice project in the first six weeks, and had decided that I would teach the necessary skills through the year, as required by pupils for the stage of the project that they were.  However, this was the first lesson with the group and I was keen to generate a level of interest from the pupils for the sort of work they would be doing for the EPQ course so I felt that I needed to present them with a task that they could engage with straight away.
Using the riots as a hook, and the basis for a short introductory task, was successful, I feel.  All pupils had an opinion, and contributed in some way both at the class discussion stage, and within their groups and group presentations.  They had the opportunity to use some recommended websites to read different opinions and reports on the riots, and the groups made some progress in presenting these in a powerpoint and interpreting their evidence by commenting on their evidence/quotes.
If I were to deliver this again, I would give a lot more time for the research stage, and probably extend the lesson to cover a second triple lesson.  Some pupils struggled with reading the sources and interpreting the evidence to present to the class.  I would allow time for a group activity in which we consider a source together, analysing and picking out key quotations, then discussing how we would interpret the author’s opinion against the evidence they have used to support this.  A task like this would then model the process of close reading so that, when they came to look for evidence as a group, they had all practiced the skill.
I would also allow for more time at the group research stage, possibly structuring the task by giving each person in a group a particular source to start with.  This would then help to ensure all pupils in each group were contributing to the research and presentation work, giving me time to support groups one-by-one in putting evidence together in the form of a powerpoint.
What Now?
The main lesson I learned from the opening lesson that pupils need activities structured broken down into very small steps in order to support their learning.  While some pupils were able to tap into their independent learning skills and throw themselves into the task, others struggled with the task and the time-scale given.  This has fed into my subsequent planning, and I take as much care as possible to address skills and tasks slowly, providing as many mini-steps to build up to bigger, more independent tasks.



I have been asked to lead an Extended Project Qualification (EPQ) group at level 2 (GCSE). The group is made up of 10 y11 pupils who have taken a GCSE early and are considered “safe” for five A-C with English and maths. I have a triple lesson, 150 minutes, with the group on a weekly basis and the qualification will lead to half a GCSE if they pass the course. Pupils will produce a sort of mini-dissertation (2,500 words approximately) on a topic of their own choosing, with skills being taught by myself and pupils taking responsibility for their learning.

So What?
This represents a significant challenge for me in a number of ways. It is, firstly, a fantastic opportunity for me, and therefore the Library, to contribute to the Academy’s GCSE results. The course itself also reflects the importance of the Library and Librarian to independent learning skills, and it will hopefully lead to the development of these skills for the pupils involved in preparation for A-level study.

There are a number of challenges of running the EPQ course, and these are

– managing a 1/2 GCSE course
– planning a course that runs for the majority of an academic year
– planning a weekly triple lesson (150mins) for the group
– balancing the taught element of the course with the necessary independent learning that needs to take place
– developing sessions that address the necessary information literacy skills, for a group of pupils who will be researching a range of different topics
– marking and moderating the work of pupils

While I have some experience, of some of these items, having to put this all together represents quite a challenge on my part.

In order to tackle this, I planned the timescale required for each of the stages of the project that the pupils would need to complete. Once I had these timescales, I outlined the range of tasks that would need to be carried out by pupils at each stage, and the activities and skills that they would need in order to complete these tasks.

Up to now, I have taught sessions that have introduced pupils to the qualification and given them a tasters of the course with tasks around the August riots; looked at how to develop good questions for EPQ; reflection activities on pupil interests and strengths and brainstorming ideas for areas of research; and reflective learning journal writing.

What next?

The challenge will be to begin to plan lessons for the next stage of the course. After completing the planning stage, pupils will then move on to begin their research, which will take place up until Christmas. This will then be followed by the essay-writing stage between January and February, and then presenting their projects to the group at the end of March.

During the next stage then, I will be looking to deliver lessons that support pupils’ information literacy and research skills. I will be including activities on using particular databases subscribed to by the Library; keyword and searching techniques; assessing sources; close reading, note-taking and analysing; recording bibliographic information.

These sessions will need to be general enough to apply to all pupils on the course, which will then be followed up with more detailed discussions with pupils on an individual basis to advise and support.

Delivering this course will be building on skills and knowledge that I have to varying degrees, but applying it on a larger, more ‘formal’ scale. I hope that, if carried out success, it will hopefully lead to pupils gaining an insight into the process of independent learning and research, and what will be expected of them at A- and undergraduate-level study.

Adding Genres to a Fiction Collection

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Some pupils had been suggesting for some time that they would find it easier to find fiction if it was arranged by genre. I consulted past threads on the School Librarians’ Network group, and read with interest the positive reports from school Librarians who had taken this approach. I also spoke with a local school Librarian whose Library also adopts this method of categorising and shelving their fiction and she reported the big impact she felt it had on her Library, and pupils’ ease with which they could find their next book to read.

I considered how I might best implement this, and after doing my research, found the following methods:
– adding genres labels to spines, but keep the genres mixed
– adding just some genres for the most popular (e.g., vampire/Twilight, funny, adventure), maintaining a section of general fiction that doesn’t conform to a discreet genre
– adding genres to the whole collection

I decided that if I were to add genres, I should try to do it to the whole collection, and so identified a number of categories that would hopefully encompass all fiction. These were:

– For the girls
– Love bites
– Horror/scary
– Crime/mystery
– Adventure
– Sci-Fi and future worlds
– Fantasy and other worlds
– Hard-knock life

I took the chance over a half-term to sort the books and re-shelve according to the genres I had defined, and then once pupils were back from their holiday, my library assistants set about adding genre labels to the back-cover of the books.

So what?

This has been in place for a couple of months now, and I am beginning to be able to reflect on the relative merits and disadvantages of this approach.

It has been very helpful to many pupils, particularly those who like to read books of a similar kind. For example, with the popularity of the Twilight series, this has spurned a whole host of books of a similar style. With all these books together, pupils are able to choose from a range of books in the Love Bites section which helps them to make decisions easily about their next book and find similar authors to those they already like. This is great in the short-term, but one thing to consider is the potential for readers to become entrenched within a genre and not read widely. I would hope to see, however, that as readers mature so will their reading habits and that with some guidance, they will want to broaden their choice of material.

One of the key difficulties in this exercise has been assigning genres to particular books. While many books do fit nicely into particular categories very many others, particularly those written for older teenagers or more competent readers, do not lend themselves to this system well. The approach of adding genres to all fiction books has meant that some books are rather “shoe-horned” into a genre, even if they actually fit into a number of different categories.

What now?

After a term of this method of arranging the fiction, I feel that the drawbacks outweigh the benefits and that a different approach may be more successful. I have found that trying to give books a particular genre becomes reductive, doesn’t encourage broader reading, and adds further tasks to the processing of new stock.

After visiting a school Library recently, I saw an approach that I feel seems much more effective. This particular Librarian does not have her fiction divided into genres, but has displays of fiction in various parts of the Library with books of particular type or genre, with the books faced-out on slat-walls, dump-bins or on desks. This allows a more visual, high-impact approach to book promotion, and facilitates a targeted display of books which is easily and quickly updated.

I now plan to revert back to a fiction stock arranged by author only over the Summer holiday, and find ways of grouping books through more visual, genre-specific displays.

READ posters

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My book bloggers group have been creating READ posters in our lessons for the last two lessons.  The idea was taken from Georgia Library Media Association’s blog post ‘READ posters are cool?’ (  Pupils were put into groups and asked to think of ideas for the kind of poster they wanted to create.  We discussed what made a good poster, using the examples on the GLMA blog.  They brainstormed together, and after sharing our ideas as a class, groups were given a camera to shoot their images.

Once they had the photos they wanted, they were show how to use Picnik to edit their image to create a READ poster.

So what?

This was an interesting, practical activity to do with a group of book lovers.  It was an opportunity to try something a little different with the group, using technology and media to create something new.  From my own perspective, it was an opportunity to plan a lesson/activity that was out of my comfort zone, giving the pupils the chance to take a lead, be creative and independent.

Below are the posters that the groups created:

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What now?

This will be something I will certainly try again with other groups in the future.  I will use the experience to tweak the lesson, bringing in more time and structure to looking at what makes a strong image for a poster, and the planning of the images they want to capture.  This will ensure pupils have a more thoughtful approach to creating their images, and hopefully better final products.

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