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The magic threshold: step into new worlds: report from the SLA weekend course 2010.

While outlining the main points made by the keynote speakers at our annual weekend course, this summary makes no attempt at providing an overview of the weekend as a whole. A number of presentations made by speakers and workshop leaders may be found on the SLA website: www.sla.org.uk

The beautiful campus of Nottingham University was the setting for the 2010 weekend course, with the glorious weather outside hardly noticed by delegates in the air-conditioned comforts of the East Midlands Conference Centre. As well as a wonderful array of speakers to hear and practical workshops to attend, the weekend was the occasion for the launch of the SLA Library Design Awards, sponsored by Demco Interiors. This exciting annual award is for innovation, creativity and vibrancy in new or refurbished school libraries, and you can read more about it on the SLA website.

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Anthony Browne, Children's Laureate, began proceedings with a flipchart and pen, a willing volunteer and an amorphous shape on the paper--the Shape Game. Any shape can be made into a picture, as he deftly demonstrated, describing his own books as homages to the Shape Game. He skilfully reminded us of what we instinctively know but sometimes need to have explained, that young children are seeing the world for the first time, that this is hugely exciting to them, and that good picture books pick up this point, which is why they can be so powerful and influential. We tend to drag children away from picture books too soon, a tendency that may have a correlation with 'reluctant' readers, a factor in which librarians are well placed to intervene. Many of Anthony's own picture books, of course, are certainly not for young children, and in illustrating the origins and development of many of them--playing the Shape Game with them--he captivated the audience.

Stephen Heppell is Professor of New Media Environments at Bournemouth University. He travels the world advising to organisations about new ways forward for learning and learning environments, and giving inspirational talks like this one. At the heart of learning will always be libraries, but not necessarily as we know them today. He invited us to question our instincts and assumptions about libraries, and to believe that libraries are the prototype of 21st century, out-of-the-box and out-of-the-classroom learning styles. He urged us to trust children 'without their stabilisers, to let them go, and with examples of educational initiatives that are doing just that, such as 'superclasses' of 100+ students on crash courses learning subjects up to GCSE level in one month, he was able to show how they can astonish us with their levels of achievement. The 'met before' curriculum does not prepare students for the unexpected and is no preparation for the real world. Libraries, on the other hand, are full of the unexpected, and as such are vital for the development of critical reasoning, ingenuity, and scholarship. Professor Heppeli's address left this listener feeling breathless with the number and range of thought-provoking ideas that were floated. None more so than the modest claim that 'we can mend the world with learning'. Let's get cracking then.

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After a much-needed lie down to recover from all that, and a delicious evening meal, Henry Winkler--The Fonz of fond memory, from 1970s and 80s American TV sitcom Happy Days--amused, delighted and moved us with his personal story of an unhappy childhood, growing up with severe reading difficulties, devising schemes to avoid being found out at school, and with low self-esteem stalking him into adulthood. Not until the age of 31 was he diagnosed as dyslexic. Now he writes funny books in which the main character, Hank Zipzer, is modelled on himself, in the hope that his own experience might help others with dyslexia. His campaigning work on behalf of children with dyslexia, as well as his best-selling Hank Zipzer books, may turn out to be a longer-lasting legacy than The Fonz.

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Saturday is always the meaty part of the weekend course, I the day when delegates go their different ways into their chosen optional workshops and seminars. But before scattering, they had the opportunity this year to hear the funny and irrepressible comic strip cartoonist Kevin Sutherland, and to see him create a comic strip before our very eyes, interacting with his audience to create the scary 'Fabio Meets a Worm' (well, it was the middle of the World Cup and England were still in it). Kevin works in schools of all ages, reaching otherwise unresponsive children by getting them to draw and write comic strips. 'A great reading form, and an additional learning tool', he claimed--undeniably so, when in the hands of a skilled practitioner like him.

After the SLA AGM on Sunday, our president, Miranda McKearney, Director of The Reading Agency, presented a summary of recent research into children's reading. The Arts Council has been looking into the value people attach to reading and barriers to it, while the National Literacy Trust has investigated the importance of self-perception in readers. Both these areas lead to the consideration of how to encourage children to recognise themselves as readers, the importance of role models, and the realisation of the link between reading and success. On writing, The NLT has shown that while on a simple reckoning, levels have not improved since 2006, nevertheless 75% of children write regularly, 56% have a social network profile, and 24% have their own blog--'outside the box' again. The Power of Reading Project by the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education confirms the importance of motivation and enjoyment, and of teachers' confidence, creativity and knowledge of literature, while the UKLA Teachers as Readers Project demonstrates the importance of a good relationship between practitioners (including librarians) and readers--which could be useful ammunition for school librarians in the difficult days ahead. Miranda's own organisation, the Reading Agency, has done much work with local authorities to build links between school and public libraries, and through projects such as the Headspace programme has worked to involve young people in the development and running of library facilities. Children's book issues in public libraries have risen for the last five years, in contrast to adult borrowing--this trend must be tapped and levels of interest maintained. Partnerships between school and public libraries can achieve much--the Summer Reading Challenge is an obvious and well-established model, with research now showing the high regard in which schools hold the scheme for the way it helps to maintain reading enthusiasm and proficiency through the holiday period--while curriculum support, joint author events, CPD, joint services to the community are among other areas for development.

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And so the end came and delegates departed, enthused and reinvigorated, having crossed the 'magic threshold' and 'stepped into new worlds'. Which is more than can be said for the England football team, who crashed out of the World Cup the very same day.

The next SLA Weekend Course runs on 24-25 June 2011 at Wyboston Lakes Conference Centre, Bedfordshire. Make a note in your diary now!

Nominations for the inaugural SLA Library Design Award sponsored by Demco Interiors are now open, with the Award to be presented in 2011 alongside the SLA's prestigious School Librarian of the Year Award. See enclosed Nomination Form or go to http://www.sla.org.uk/library-design-awards

* Steve Hird is Features Editor of TSL.
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Title Annotation:School Library Association
Author:Hird, Steve
Publication:School Librarian
Article Type:Conference news
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Sep 22, 2010
Words:1231
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