22 July 2020 Share
In this Development and Discussion blog, Sarah Northwood from Denbigh High School explains how digital platforms have allowed her to continue her role as School Librarian supporting pupils’ reading development during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The last few months have been challenging for all schools and as a librarian, I’ve really missed being able to engage with students face to face daily. It’s those interactions which, as librarians, we can use to encourage and motivate students with their reading and support them to reach their reading targets. The pandemic and school closures have meant my role has changed completely and now the teaching staff have to rely entirely on technology and online resources to enhance the students’ learning experience.
Students have not been able to visit and borrow books in the conventional way during school closures, and so one of the biggest challenges has been keeping them engaged with the learning experience. Previously the library environment allowed them to be inspired by picking up books, reading the blurb, seeing displays and talking with teachers and peers. Now at Denbigh High we have utilised digital technology so students can continue learning from home.
As a school we’re lucky to be well equipped with digital education platforms such as Google Classroom which can be accessed by pupils in school and at home. The students can update their reading logs and targets, access the library catalogue, e-books and wider digital resources by using it. Crucially, it means I am also still able to deliver those all-important interactions remotely which encourage, motivate and inspire students with their reading and continue to support them in achieving their reading aims. The activity is of course heavily supported by all English teachers and the Literacy Leader and it means the majority of students at Key Stage 3 have been able to engage and achieve the school’s high expectations.
Adjusting to a new role
Since school closures my role has also expanded within the school and I now have the additional responsibility of being a Digital Practitioner. The purpose of the role is to provide peer-to-peer Continuous Personal Development (CPD). I am available to provide advice, guidance, and training to schools throughout the country, on how they can utilise Google Apps For Education (GAFE). The guidance includes webinars, training videos, and peer-to-peer support, as well as supporting other school library staff across the country. I’m looking forward to refining and improving my own digital practice through this role as well. We have seen the positive benefit this technology can have at the school, and I’m keen to ensure we really make the most of all the opportunities on offer.
At Denbigh we’ve actually been using GAFE and Google Classroom for a couple of years with remarkable success so I wanted to incorporate this platform within the Library. It allows a new method of communication with my students, providing a place for the whole class to have beneficial discussions between students and teachers. This created an online reading environment that is collaborative and social as well as improving student learning.
The platform has provided me with a way to continuously communicate with my students by making comments and recommendations on their reading logs, and posting key information on our online portal. We have also been using Accelerated Reader, an edtech tool produced by Renaissance Learning that provides online books and quizzes to help students develop their reading skills. I can post interesting links to news articles and popular books being read by famous actors. Students are sent notifications to let them know I have made a new post and it’s also Tweeted allowing parents access.
The benefits of Google Classroom
Google Classroom links directly to our e-book providers and library resources which enables students to continue to read during this challenging time. Before the use of Google Classroom, paper-reading logs were the norm, which would often be lost or left at home. This platform provided me with a way for me to create their reading logs online using Google Sheets. This made the reading logs accessible and available at school, as well as from home, and across different devices thereby allowing students to take their studies with them.
The digital reading logs also allow students and teachers to instantly track their progress against their target. This works well, as when the students finish a book and add the information and their score into the log they can instantly see a RAG (Red/Amber/Green) colour code. This is set up through formulas in Google Sheets and we can further make comments and recommendations for each student.
Reading through the summer holidays
All research on reading emphasises the importance of reading in the development of students' learning, understanding, sense of self, self-esteem, well-being and the development of curiosity and imagination. It helps growth mentally, emotionally and psychologically and its benefits stretch beyond English Literacy into other subjects.
The access and continual promotion of Google Classroom enables the students to progress with their reading and development which helps prevent the knowledge and learning ‘dip’ over the summer holidays. Although parents have been working hard to ensure pupils keep up their studies, reading is a really important activity that we are encouraging them to continue throughout the break.
At Denbigh we strive to create a culture of reading throughout the whole school, not just within the library by implementing many reading strategies across each subject creating a whole school awareness of reading across the curriculum. The Library supports the whole school whilst encouraging a ‘reading for pleasure’ ethos. We develop themed displays in the Library, create book trailers, competitions, arrange visiting authors and book events including World Book Day. Reading is an ongoing priority for the school and this involves every member of staff.
As librarians we are always looking for ways to improve our Libraries to enable students to thrive. Therefore, utilising the government's free support to set up a digital education platform is highly beneficial, as these platforms help to promote wider reading through the use of technology to supplement traditional methods, motivate students at home and in the classroom.
I started to use the new systems and put them into action at the beginning of the academic year just before school closures. However, the school closures have acted as a catalyst in developing this as the new normal. When the schools open full time, I will continue to use and explore new ways of using Google Classroom to support my Library lessons and all subjects. I would encourage all schools to take advantage of the free support from DfE, and help your pupils now and in the future. To find out more, visit: covid19.thekeysupport.com