A creative approach to learning

Great Ouse Primary Academy

Great Ouse Primary School, a brand new school in Bedford, due to open its doors in September 2017, approached BookSpace looking for more than just a library. They wanted to create a whole-school learning environment, packed with inspiration and buzzing with experiences which could stimulate their pupils’ minds.

The Library

Designed to be the central feature of the learning street, the library offers pupils plenty of opportunities to browse the collection of books, curl up and read for a while or even explore the in-built Writing House, one of 7 ‘curiosity shops’ packed with original artefacts carefully chosen to delight young minds and prompt further exploration.

Designing the library around one of the ‘curiosity shop’ style houses was intentional. The houses inspire children, feed their imaginations and raise questions and the library, with its mix of fiction and non-fiction books, answers questions, provides further information and delivers a rich environment which children can tap into.

The school embraces a creative approach to the curriculum and their objectives for their new school library are testimony to this.

Writing House

The Writing Shop with genuine objects for pupils to discover such as an old typewriter, writing bureau, quill pens and other items carefully chosen to get children looking, touching, experimenting and asking questions.

Book swap Cart

Book Swaps are everywhere it seems, springing up in disused telephone boxes, on street corners and in restaurants so it seems only natural that a thriving primary school should have one. There’s nothing better than peer-to-peer recommendations when it comes to getting children to pick up a book so we think this is going to be well used and loved by the pupils at Great Ouse.

The Environmental House

The Environmental Shop allows teachers to explore this subject from any of the core foundation subjects; literacy with maps and weather charts, maths with a thermostat and clock or for younger years simply exploring shapes and volumes using recycled packaging and of course science with plenty of opportunities to get hands on planting seeds, creating a weather station or experimenting with windmills.

Science House

Even pupils who normally find science dull or boring will be inspired here. A life-size skeleton, telescope, microscope and many other objects are there for pupils to dive in and investigate.

History House

History can be a hard subject to teach to young pupils who naturally find it difficult to comprehend how life was years ago. Packed with genuine old artefacts from across the years, the History House is a wonderful resource for teachers to draw up. The items from World War II, the Victorian era and even through to ancient Egypt can be used to discuss history and really bring it to life for pupils.

MakerSpace Carts

Makerspaces are the next ‘big thing’. They’re already a big hit in the States and are starting to make their mark here in the UK. These MakerSpace Cart allows pupils to explore their creativity with a lego version and a craft version providing all that pupils need to design, create and explore!

Market Cart

Pupils at Great Ouse School come from a variety of cultural backgrounds. This Market Cart provides the perfect platform for pupils to ‘show and tell’ entities from home which might reflect their cultural or religion. The objects can be used to stimulate round-carpet style discussions as a precursor to a particular topic or can even be used to support core curriculum work – counting, measuring, weighing etc.. for maths for example. It is pre-set with a variety of wares already but can easily be added to and is a wonderful celebration of multi-cultural UK life.

To theme or not to theme

To theme or not to theme

How exciting. A new library or the chance to revamp your existing library. But it can be a daunting task too. Where exactly do you start. You have a feeling you’ll know it’s right for you when you see it but there’s so many things to consider and so many choices to make including whether to theme or not to theme!

Firstly, if you choose BookSpace to design and install your new library you don’t need to worry about anything. We have years of experience creating bespoke libraries for primary schools and have seen most things, so whatever your space is like we’ll be able to confidently create a reading space you’ll be proud of. We work with you throughout the process, listening to what you want, what you like and what you don’t like. At your consultation meeting, we’ll spend time with you talking about what your ideas are and how you plan to use the library. Once you’ve received our initial designs we will work with you to finalise them and make sure you’re completely happy. And even on installation day, our experienced fitters will take the time to consult with you and ensure you are happy with the progress.

So, should you have a themed library nor not? At BookSpace we offer 3 themed library packages as standard but if you have an idea for a theme we can work with you to create a bespoke theme for your school. We offer a Woodland theme, a Jungle theme and a Space theme. At Teagues Bridge School in Staffordshire, Head Teacher Mrs Abdulla was keen to create ‘a sense of awe and wonder’ with their new library. “We were all very drawn to the woodland theme” says Mrs Abdulla. “The children in particular loved it and for us it was important that the pupils had a say”. A themed library can certainly add the ‘wow factor’ to a space. It creates a space that children want to visit, for the sheer novelty value if nothing else and hopefully it sends a clear message that the library is a fun place to be.

A themed library can certainly create a ‘wow’ factor but each of our themes offer more than that. Each theme has been designed to add to the learning experience and offer additional writing and reading opportunities. The Woodland theme for example includes a Storytelling Table which features a forest design. It’s a perfect starting point for oral storytelling or creative writing. Looking at the table, children will be taken on an exciting narrative journey – through trees, across rivers, on a boat – encountering animals, poisonous mushrooms and a mysterious tepee in the heart of the forest.

However, a themed library is not for everyone. Some schools prefer to look at a more classic range of shelving and perhaps feel a theme would constrain or reduce the possibilities for the space. If you’re thinking that themed libraries only work in larger spaces, think again. Waterside Primary School in Stoke-on-Trent had two spaces which they have transformed into KS1 and KS2 reading areas. For both spaces they chose to have a themed library; a Space theme for KS1 and a Jungle theme for KS2. The Key Stage 1 area was a very small space – a recess in the lower corridor which housed a sink and a few cupboards. Head Teacher, Joanne Knowles says “what was a small, under-used space at the end of the corridor is now the most exciting part of the school for our children”. As well as space-themed furniture and seating the library includes replica planets hanging from the ceiling, which gives children a fun way to experience the wonders of the Solar System.

Norwood Primary School is an urban school, in the middle of Eastleigh in Hampshire and though there is a playground, there is no green space at the school. A big part of the brief for the new library was to bring an element of green inside the school. We used the Woodland Theme to design the space, incorporating tree-shaped PC desking and little toadstool seats as well as wall stickers in the form of trees, leaves and birds. Children can write on the leaves and wipe off again and they can be stuck on the wall and removed time and again. It’s a great way of engaging reluctant writers.

Creating a themed library taps into children’s imaginations. We adapt our range of furniture to include themed hidey-holes and secret reading spaces, end panels that tie in with the theme and desks shaped or designed in the style of the theme. We add in soft seating which is themed and use wall stickers to extend the theme beyond the furniture. These small details mean that the library comes alive. It is no longer a library but a place of dreams and adventure. It will lay down memories for pupils of their first school library that will stay with them into adulthood.

Why a Spring clean can benefit your pupils

Why a Spring clean can benefit your pupils

Spring is around the corner. And traditionally it’s the season to have a clear out.

In a busy school, finding time to sort out doesn’t come very high up our list of priorities, well at least not until the end of the academic year. However, maybe that end-of- term, ‘de-cluttered’ look is the way forward? Only last year a report from the Psychological Science journal in the States reported that a recent study looked at how classroom environment affected 24 primary aged children. They conducted three lessons in a heavily decorated classroom and three in a ‘sparse’ classroom and the results made interesting reading. The children educated in the ‘sparse’ classroom spent more time “on-task” and gained higher test scores. You can read more here. Interestingly, a school we worked with recently, Trumpington Meadows in Cambridge, has a display policy, primarily to help SEN pupils but the Head Teacher firmly believes the lack of distractions has helped all pupils achieve better results. Read their story here.

But it’s not just classrooms and corridors that deserve a spring clean. The school library is often a dumping ground for everything from old PCs to teacher’s paperwork or PE & music equipment. And we all know why. There just isn’t the space in most schools for everything we need. Pupil numbers are rising and the space to accommodate pupils isn’t. Something has to give. Yet all too often it’s the library. But doesn’t the school library deserve better? Surely we should be valuing our school libraries more. Let’s face it many schools aren’t even lucky enough to have any space they can call the library. Ofsted’s guidelines state ‘Around the school, an attractive and well-stocked library is often an indicator of effective support for pupils’ wider reading and information retrieval skills’ so surely we should be raising the status of the library and sending a strong clear message to pupils that reading is important. How can we say reading is fun and books open up a world of possible adventures when they have to scramble past boxes of school play outfits before they can even get to the books?

If you’re really serious about de-cluttering your library though, don’t forget to consider the books. So often new books are brought in but old books remain. A good weed breathes new life into a library by providing books that are left with more space. If you were ever in any doubt that turning a book face-out instead of spine-out could make any difference to children’s reading habits, try this experiment: dig out some old books (ones that haven’t been issued in a while) and display them in a prominent position face-forward. Guaranteed your pupils will make a bee-line for them. Proof that good book display does work, so give your book stock a bit of TLC, make some time for a clear out and raise the status of reading in your school this year.

Hints and tips for planning a new school library

Hints and tips for planning a new school library

When I look back over the many libraries that we’ve created for primary schools I am aware that the best results are achieved when we’ve been able to successfully combine the school’s vision for their library with BookSpace’s understanding of how library spaces work and how reading is physically presented.

It’s a fine balance, if we think we know best and try and impose our ideas on the school we are in danger of designing a library that doesn’t meet your specific needs. However, if the school has very fixed ideas about what should go into the library and where it should be sited there is a risk that the potential of the space is not maximised.

So how we can strike the ideal balance? In my experience the best approach is for the school to think through how they plan to use the library, which year groups will be using it and when, what type and how many books are going to be displayed in the library and what type of furniture is required to achieve all of this. Hand this information over to BookSpace and our designers are well placed to plot your requirements onto your library plan. Our design team are in touch with library trends, they have a knack of being able to not only visualise what will fit where but also what looks good – take a look at our Design Gallery for some examples of their work. What’s more, they ensure all the health and safety considerations are taken care of.

Here’s a simple checklist, with a few pointers, of things to consider when creating your vision for the library.

1. How do you plan to use the library

Whole class visits, intervention groups, storytime, one-to-one reading, children using the library independently at lunchtime, group study, homework?

Think through what type of furniture and space you might need to meet these various requirements, for example if you plan to use the library for intervention groups, do you need tables and chairs, if so how many tables seating how many children at each. What is the impact of this on the look and feel of the space – in our experience if a school tries to include too many tables and chairs the library starts to look and feel like a classroom and the books and reading become secondary. Whilst we understand that in many schools space is at a premium if you try and get the library to accommodate too many functions it ends up doing nothing well and the positive library experience is lost.

2. Which year groups will be using the library

Will the whole school use the library, do you need a separate area for KS1 which is at a lower height and feels more accessible to younger children or is it just going to be used by KS2 and if so do you want a more grown up feel.

3. What type and how many books will be kept in the library

Will the library have fiction, non-fiction, chapter books, picturebooks, magazines, graphic novels, CDs/DVDs, audiobooks, guided/banded books and if so roughly how many of each?

A couple of things to consider – we work with some schools who believe the more books they can fit in the library the better however research shows that fewer books well displayed will work harder and get read more frequently read than hundreds of spine-out books with no covers visible. The key is to be realistic – at BookSpace we let you know how many books your design can accommodate and our most successful libraries are where we have been able to get the right balance of face-out display and spine-out capacity. Read their stories here

I would also urge you to consider if you want/need to keep banded/guided reading in your library, sometimes space means that you don’t have an option but if you want the library to be a child-centred, independent reading hub it’s not a good idea to take up too much space with books that are either only accessed by teachers or where the children’s choice is restricted to a particular range and/or colour.

4. IT requirements

Do you have a library management system? Will there be computers in the library and if so how many?

It’s worth bearing in mind that the type of technology used in schools is changing and the need for rows and rows of computers is diminishing as the hardware becomes more mobile. If you want to include computer workstations in your library it’s worth trying to think ahead, will you still need this facility in a year or two’s time?

Hopefully these pointers will help you to plan your new reading space and get the best results for your school.

If you need any more help, you can always give us a call or drop us an email sales@bookspaceforschools.co.uk.

Is it time to apply the ‘less is more’ theory to classroom displays?

Is it time to apply the ‘less is more’ theory to classroom displays?

When I get the opportunity to meet teachers and visit schools as part of our Library design service, on the vast majority of occasions, as I enter reception and walk down corridors my initial impression is not formed by the warm staff or busy atmosphere but what clings to the walls and occasionally ceilings. I find my eye naturally drawn to sprawling displays of bold colours and a jumble of work or images whilst rarely taking in what is actually being exhibited.

It could be argued that communal spaces, like reception areas, within a school offer a good chance to show students work to other pupils, teachers and visitors but how many of us really remember a wall display apart from the customary wavy borders and layers of coloured paper. Despite this, obviously these areas are used in a very different way to classrooms where these wall displays are just as common. Modern classrooms, more than ever before, are geared to achieve perfect environments for learning as we flood them with natural light and encourage children to drink water to remain hydrated. With this in mind as I am shown around schools I am puzzled as to why teachers seemingly go out of their way to distract pupils. When a student tries to distract a friend in class they are usually reprimanded!

Of course, I see that these displays have a purpose in offering reward to children whose work is chosen to adorn the walls, while sparing a thought for those left disheartened and disappointed by not making the cut. On top of this, and when well-orchestrated, there can be no doubting their ability to stoke interest in the topics on show but where does interest stop and distraction begin? Granted over time it is unlikely to attract as much attention but when the piece stops being so interesting has it passed its sell by date and become redundant? This highlights another potential drawback in that these temporary wall displays frequently look dated quickly meaning they can either be left to appear neglected or more precious time is spent creating its replacement.

Perhaps though this is a matter of taste and I simply prefer less clutter especially in a working situation, something which my tidy desk supports. Either way I would not suggest losing the idea of presenting topics and work in schools all together, in fact quite the opposite. I think we need a small shift in attitude. I believe the whole school environment will benefit if the numerous loud and confusing compositions which tend to run throughout are replaced by one or two more considered arrangements which have a wider appeal and involve the entire school. Displays provide are rare opportunity for year groups and classes to collaborate and produce meaningful work which everyone can be proud of. Instead of becoming tired and forgotten they should serve as tasteful reminders of good work on captivating subjects.

As a designer at BookSpace we work hard on making libraries inviting areas in which children can develop a relationship with reading. To do this we believe a balance has to be stuck between exciting furniture which entices children into the space but also provides a relaxed setting to get lost in a book, the Hideyhole is a good example of this. Obviously, achieving this on a wall or board is a different proposition but I think the message about reducing things which distract or confuse is the same. Displayboards offer part of the solution as effective way of reducing wall clutter and displaying work or books while encouraging children to interact with what’s on show. Our simple furniture done well represents our uncluttered approach, one which I believe should be employed throughout the school.

How can we help children to choose books independently?

How can we help children to choose books independently?

Guided Reading, Home Readers, Banded Books, Reading Schemes…I have lost count of the number of times I have visited primary schools where the library is dominated by books that are organised into reading levels. You know the look I mean – rows and rows of books, all with coloured stickers, stored in boxes, magazine filing boxes or adapted cereal packets.

Whilst I can see that it’s important to help children to find books which match their reading ability I sometimes worry that this works against our ambition to get children to read for pleasure. If we believe that the first step of getting children to read for pleasure is to help them find a book they enjoy, surely we need to understand the individual’s reading motivation, tastes and preferences to do this effectively. I accept that steering a child in the direction of the books that might match their reading ability is part of the mix but I would also argue that there’s far more to it. Does the child prefer funny or serious books; a gentle read or something that’s fast and furious; something that’s safe or something that’s scary? Aren’t we better helping a child find a book that gives them the reading experiences they enjoy rather getting them to read something purely because it has a yellow sticker on the spine? If a child takes great pleasure from reading a particular book, does it really matter if, for that individual, it’s a bit challenging or if they can read it very easily?

My other concern about a school that is dominated by banded reading is the impact it has on less confident readers. My youngest child has always struggled with reading and I remember her disappointment at primary school when she was stuck at blue reader level but all her peers had moved on to green and beyond. She longed to read the books that her friends were talking about but she felt that they weren’t for her and she was destined to read the ‘baby’ books forever. I am sure that there’s an argument to say that reading a book which you find difficult is also demotivating but surely we should be able to find a way to help less able readers to share and enjoy a wider range of more age appropriate reading experiences.

My final thought on banded reading is based on the impact it has on how we physically present books. At BookSpace we have lots if evidence which shows that books displayed face-out will get better used, borrowed and read than books which are displayed spine-out. Going back to the boxes full of banded books all of which just allow the spine (and of course the coloured sticker) to be seen, does this really make browsing a pleasure, does it encourage us to look, touch and take?

I am sure that getting rid of banded, level reading altogether in primary schools is not realistic as I can see that it has a place in helping teachers and children to understand and track their reading progress. However I just hope that schools can find a balance and this directed style of choosing is not the only reading offer we make available in schools. At BookSpace we have a number of resources which support your work in getting children to read for pleasure. For example our CPD course ‘Helping children chose independently’ is designed to build children’s confidence to choose across a wide range of books. And of course we have a wide range of furniture that is designed to showcase books and reading positively to children, regardless of reading ability.

Are you a book hoarder?

Are you a book hoarder?

If you’re a booklover, you will sooner or later end up at that point where you just can’t squeeze any more into your house. Shelves are overflowing, there are piles next to the bed, even the loo has a stack of books on the floor. (If you’ve got them on your stairs then you really do have a problem and should probably apply to go on one of those programmes like Britain’s Biggest Hoarders or The Hoarder Next Door!)

It seems wrong to heartlessly get rid of things which have contributed so much to your life – there’s that thriller that got you through the worst bout of flu, the travel book for the holiday you still intend to take but probably never will, that battered old favourite which you still dip into. The books you didn’t care about aren’t such a problem, it’s easy to recycle or pass them on to a charity shop. (Did you know, by the way, that Oxfam is now the UK’s biggest second-hand bookseller?)

Of course, that’s why libraries are brilliant – they are the original form of recycling, a book gets passed from one person to another and you don’t have to store it at all, you can extract the experience and give back the physical object. E-books on Kindles and iPads are also invisible in the space they take up – I wonder how this will change our feelings, I haven’t yet re-read an ebook on any device, have you?

Each of us makes our own personal decisions at home about which books to keep and which to get rid of. But who makes the decisions in your school library? Sometimes nobody wants to take on the responsibility – it can be a bit scary taking on the role of chucker-out. But just like with plants that get leggy or unbalanced, pruning is actually good for your collection and everything will look happier and healthier as a result. A library collection isn’t one of personal reminiscences, it’s a shared resource which needs to keep changing to reflect the needs of each generation of children using it.

Which books you keep will also be affected by what’s available online in your school. If you still have a full set of old encyclopaedias, this isn’t just irrelevant, it could be inaccurate. Teaching children to use online resources is much more relevant here. But books with brilliant illustrations or strong narratives will keep their place.

Weeding a school library collection is not just a matter of space, it’s also the impression an untended collection gives to your children. If your books look out-of-date and old-fashioned, many children will think there’s nothing exciting there to discover. They won’t be able to see the gems hidden among the boring rows. We’re sometimes tempted to keep a book beyond its useful life – we don’t yet have a replacement, it’s the last on that topic, for example, so we put up with the fact that it’s dated or damaged. I’m going to make a big plea not to do this. If in doubt, be ruthless. Get rid of the dead wood and the rest of the collection springs into relief, it will look so much better.

Less is more

Less is more

Portfolio and tape measure in hand, I spend my working days visiting schools and meeting staff to discuss their vision for their school library design. One thing I’ve learnt in this role – every school is different. Some schools have a very clear vision and know exactly what they want while others look to us for our expertise and advice. Either way it’s a really interesting process and I enjoy working with staff to help them clarify how they want their library to look, how the children use the library and what physical features are to be incorporated into the designs – tables, computers, soft-seating, rugs etc.

One area that can sometimes be difficult to resolve is the number of books that are going to be kept in the library. There seems to be a commonly held view that the more books the better the library but from my experience, this isn’t always the case. Whilst working up school library designs, I’m occasionally asked to include shelving capacity for far more books than the space can comfortably accommodate. The result being shelving units that are so high that many of the books are out of children’s reach, rows and rows of spines with not a book cover in sight and a very dense shelving layout limiting space to comfortably browse, sit or read. I have seen many libraries that look more like a storage facility rather than an inviting, child-centred and interactive space that the whole school can enjoy.

Here are a few things to consider when planning how many books you want to keep in your library:

Out with the old

Do you want to keep all of your current stock in the new library? Are there any books that are out-dated or in poor condition? Having a library with up-to-date and fresh looking books will look so much better than a library crammed with out-dated, dog-eared books. Which one would you choose to take off the shelf?

Our database says…

Library management software can be a fantastic tool but often I find that the number of books the system tells you that you have in school is not always an accurate reflection of the number that you want to eventually keep in the library? You’ll probably find that some of the books are in classrooms, on loan or have never been returned (and indeed never likely to be returned). Avoid a library with empty shelves by thinking about how many books you actually have, or ultimately want to keep in the library, which is not necessarily the same as thing as the number your computer system tells you.

Is there such a thing as too much choice?

Is there such a thing as too much choice?

We’ve all been there. By ‘there’, I mean fixated, rooted to the spot and unable to make a decision. Whether it’s which chocolate to choose in the Quality Street tin, which financial package is best for the family or which book to choose to read next. But it’s not through lack of choice. Even worse, it’s when we have too much choice!

Children can struggle in much the same way. When it comes to reading, too much choice can hamper even the keenest reader. I’ve seen it with my children. My son, who at 5 is only just learning to read, needs a fair bit of coaxing to choose a book. Yet when he has a book in his hands he’s keen to open it and explore the pages. Sometimes, the overwhelming array of books presented to him in the library or the bookshop means he doesn’t know where to start so perhaps he won’t start at all.

Children who feel overwhelmed by the amount of choice on offer and therefore reluctant to start exploring the selection of books, can go undetected in school particularly if the school has a library which needs a good old weed. If books are displayed spine on and crammed together onto a shelf, I can see for a young child it can be too much. I know with my children if I can do the first sift and present a smaller selection of books for them to choose from they’re delighted. They still feel empowered in making a choice from the smaller selection but they don’t feel fazed.

As a mum of young children I do spend a lot of time in my local library and bookshop, sometimes browsing, sometimes buying and borrowing. I don’t spend all my time dwelling on their displays but I have to say when I see a small group of books displayed away from the main collection and presented face-out at the right height for my little ones, I notice how their hands are in there, reaching out to pick up the books. I tend to see these displays at key times of the year, World Book Day, Halloween, Easter for instance and I’m sure this is something schools could emulate.

By picking out unusual places in school to display a smaller, carefully chosen, selection of books I think we could help children become confident in choosing for themselves. I’m talking 10 or 20 books turned face-out so that children can see the covers. Our inexpensive range of Table-top display units make it easy pull together a quick and ad-hoc display. And how about displaying them outside in the playground every so often or in the dinner hall whilst they’re queuing up, in the ICT suite or on a teacher’s desk? Using an event like Roald Dahl day or National Poetry Day can help to focus a small selection of books and also be more meaningful to children, particularly if the event is being celebrated in the school.

But I also think we can help young readers simply by talking to them, particularly at the point when we’re asking them to choose. Discussing what an individual child likes to read, what excites them, what makes them happy, sad, or scared enables them to understand who they are as readers and what makes them tick. If you haven’t already, have a quick peak at BookFlavour (designed by whichbook). It’s a fun and interactive way of helping children to choose books. Discussing books with children gives them confidence to define themselves and recognise what they want from a book and this is fundamental. Our online CPD course, ‘Getting children talking about books’ is definitely worth a look. It’s difficult with limited time and resources in schools but I really believe chatting to a child, particularly one isn’t so confident about choosing for themselves can turn a child who feels overwhelmed into a very confident reader for life.

Supporting boy-friendly practice in your school library

Supporting boy-friendly practice in your school library

It’s tough being a boy in a world dominated by women and girls who love books – classmates (achieving higher reading scores) teachers (lots more woman than men in primary schools) mums and grandmas (still the primary carer for most boys aged 10 or younger).

So here are six quick fixes to support boy-friendly practice in your school library:

  1. Celebrate reading in all its formats. Avoid sending out a message, however subliminal, which says print fiction is better than electronic media or comics.
  2. Give priority to displaying an exciting, unusual selection of picture books targeted at readers age 7 and above.
  3. Maintain attractive, quirky and accessible book displays with strong male appeal so that the keen readers can make independent choices without attracting unwanted attention.
  4. Rescue small books – especially narrative non-fiction and collections of jokes and poetry – often hidden between the bigger books on the non-fiction shelves. Display them in a prominent position where boys will see them.
  5. Allow boys to make ‘real’ reading choices when reading for pleasure rather than what you would like them to choose. Validate these choices with positive reinforcement and genuine interest.
  6. Make sure your relaxed reading spaces have boy appeal – an area where they have some privacy, an input into the design of the surroundings and the type of seating – even if this means cushions or beanbags on the floor.

Take a look at out 5 outstanding CPD courses for teachers which are packed full of tried and tested ideas from experts in promoting reading for pleasure.

Fiona Edwards
BookSpace CPD
August 2014