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Six Questions with Karan Kaur

06 August 2020 Share

Karan, author of 'Improving Literacy: Tracking Efficiency and Impact in the School Library', spoke to Cathal Coyle before lockdown.

 This timely publication is an outline of Karan’s personal experience as a school librarian, in particular the programmes and strategies that she has implemented that have resulted in borrowing figures increasing substantially.  She also looks at how this impacts greatly on school literacy levels- leading to the assertion that the school library is crucial to the successful delivery of literacy within the school. 

 1) What is your current role? 

 I am currently librarian at Cockshut Hill School which is part of the Summit Trust where I advise on the establishment and running of libraries. I am also on the board of trustees for the SLA and serve on the committee for the Great School Libraries campaign. 

 2) Explain how your previous experience in the business sector assisted with your research in Cockshut Hill School?

Business, especially small and medium enterprises, is strategy driven with a lean financial model. You have to deliver impact, focus on your consumer needs and wants. There is no room for anything that does not create success. To create traction, you need to: observe, measure, deliver and then observe, measure, improve, deliver, observe. This is a constant cycle of improvement that never ends. 

 3) How do you separate ‘Reading for Purpose’ and ‘Reading for Pleasure’ in your school? 

 Purpose is framed around ‘need’; curriculum and careers. Pleasure is everything else. We ask the student what they want, and then we endeavour to help as best we can. 

 4) Explain how the ‘5 book insight’ - that you allude to in your publication - works? 

 When I looked at the data, I looked for any trends. These might have included the number of books, types of books, the age of pupils, the gender - even their behaviour records went in there. Then I tried to establish what happens to the students who improve; and what is in their ‘story’ that is not in the students who stagnate, and also those who see a reverse in reading comprehension ability. I found that 5 books read in a 6-month period was an improvement/ maintenance trend across all years and genders. So I started there and layered on improvements.  I also found students tended to ‘book hug’: i.e. stuck to what they were familiar with. When I worked with them and took them out of their comfort zone, they responded positively. 

 5) What approaches do you recommend for ‘selling’ books to pupils? 

 Students really appreciate honesty. If they know what they are getting, then they will engage and give it a go. Give them the ‘skinny’ on the book: the main character is weak; the plot is solid etc. Also, take a look in retail stores. How do they display? Not just the aesthetic but where do they place things? It all has a purpose. It is not design for design sake. It is there to manipulate us into changing our natural behaviour and you can learn from it and adapt it for your setting. I have books near our issue desk. This is to entice returners as they wait and those taking out a book for reservations. Currently, I have new non-fiction titles placed near the issue desk as I want to increase student interest – and ultimately – their borrowing of these books.  

6) What examples of library software does your library use for pupil literacy improvement? 

 At the moment, I recommend Seneca and to high ability readers I ask them to take a look at the Khan Academy SPAG exercises. The school has recently taken on Accelerated Reader due to their relationship with BEP. For students who struggle with time and attention who want to improve from a reading age of 14 and above, I recommend Read Theory. I also ask them to stay aware of the different spellings on American sites for some words. 

 Thank you Karan!

Karan was interviewed by Cathal Coyle, the Publications Co-ordinator of the School Library Association.