I firmly believe that one of the main role’s of a school librarian is to make teachers’ lives just that little bit easier. And if we can do this while fostering a love and enthusiasm for reading in students – well that’s a double win. Over the last few years I’ve written about the things that make the biggest impact on students’ favourite book, and teachers’ reading aloud to them is right up there above author visits, peer recommendations, book clubs and parent read-aloud.
Last year was the first time I experimented with the Global Read Aloud. Since I was just getting my feet wet, and only see classes once a week, I did the picture-book series with the books of Lauren Castillo. I tried, but failed to read the middle grade book (Pax), since we ran out of time and students were over-committed and couldn’t join during recess time. A couple of teachers tried Pax (and one or two even finished it), but they found it way too USA-context specific and unfamiliar setting to our students, needing an excess of background information and explanation – a view I concur with.
This year, with the books including some of my favourites – A Long Walk to Water, Wild Robot and Mem Fox as a picture book (and Fenway and Hattie – a book I didn’t enjoy but knew would strike a chord with my dog loving students) – I pushed a little harder with my G3-6 teachers. It helped that all had some pretty excellent Hyperdocs. I made an extensive library guide that could act as a one-stop-shop for teachers so they didn’t need to search around for dates, documents, links etc. Ordered copies of the books and made sure students didn’t access them prior to the read-aloud, signed up for post-card exchanges and classroom partnerships. Then I subtly and not so subtly pushed teachers into agreeing to try it out. My pitch was basically that it was a great way to kick off literacy right at the start of the year without having to do any preparation besides deciding which parts (if any) of the brilliant Hyperdocs (e.g. Wild Robot) to use. In addition they’d get brownie points for making global connections!
I did the G2 classes myself, and had a great exchange through padlet with Tanja, the librarian at Hong Kong Academy. Luckily we had more or less the same holiday schedule, and in fact since she was in Singapore on holiday when we still had school, she was our mystery reader for one of the weeks! Our G2 students loved the Mem Fox books and really enjoyed sharing their lives and experiences with their buddies in Hong Kong.
The G3-6 classes who participated all reported that it had been successful. The main “complaint” being that they felt a little bit pressured to keep up with the schedule, amongst all else that was going on at school, but when they let go of that it was fine. Our G6 classes found substantial links between Long walk to water, to their curriculum unit of inquiry (WWAPT) of development and natural resources, particularly around the question of water, and also requested more text-to-text resources.
I was recently reading an article on the “Peter Effect” which basically posits that teachers’ cannot give what they don’t have – related to lack of reading engagement. This is one (painless) way of compensating for this effect by making it a very low barrier activity.
While the Global Read Aloud is a fantastic institution and I plan to continue to support it, I do however have to make a few points of what I hope is constructive criticism in the hope of making it even better.
At the moment “Global” is a bit of a misnomer, as it’s more of a “North American” plus some other internationals (albeit more than last year). For example in our postcard exchange, of the 60 cards we sent, 50 were to schools in the 50 states of the USA, plus 3 to Canadian schools and only 7 to schools in the rest of the world. Hopefully posts like this will increase recognition and participation.
I think a few things prevent it from truly being global. One of them is the timing – we agreed with our partners to shift the dates to take account for the fact that we had a two week autumn break in Asia right in the middle of the schedule. The other, I’m afraid to say is the choice of books. As followers of this blog know, I’m a vociferous proponent of diversity and inclusion in literature and I must admit to some disappointment in the choice of authors / illustrators. There was some improvement this year with “Long walk to Water” (albeit the author still from the USA), and Mem Fox – but while Mem Fox may be somewhat exotic to the North American audience, she is anything but to the rest of us. As someone who has been on the Red Dot Book Awards committee for the last few years, I know just how difficult it is to find the right mix of books for a book bundle. I also know how quickly and easily others criticise the choice once it is made and how difficult it is to solicit suggestions from just those people who later make the comments! So everyone, take some time to make suggestions on some truly global, international, diverse books and authors. And if you’ve not yet dipped your toes into the fun that is GRA – perhaps try one of this year’s books with the associated teaching guides.