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Thursday, 31 October 2013

SLAMIT 6: School Libraries as Learning Centres

Part One

Last week I  participated in the School Libraries as Learning Centres course in Porto, Portugal. This wonderful opportunity was funded by the British Council as part of its in-service training programme - Comenius.

The week was rich in both academic and cultural education. I was one of two British participants on the course and we both learnt much from our European partners. Other participants in attendance were from Denmark, Croatia, Iceland, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Poland, Romania and of course Portugal. 

It was interesting to discover that in Portugal school libraries are statutory. Which does not mean to say that every school has a library, but every school has access to one. For example, a small primary school may share the library of a large secondary school. In Denmark school librarians must be qualified as both librarians and teachers. I know many school librarians in the UK would love to be qualified teachers too.

One of the most valuable experiences of the week was a visit to a local Portuguese Primary school. We toured the school and my first impression was of how much space they had in the corridors. This is so different from my experience at school. It was so light, airy and spacious.

I was also rather taken with their Dining Hall. I like the splash of colour in the chairs.

We saw pupils in their lessons. The school was very quiet as pupils were focused and working hard. It had lovely atmosphere and pupils were keen to find out where we had travelled from to be there.

These young pupils were finger painting pumpkins. Halloween is as popular with children in Portugal as it is with children in the UK. In the earliest years of education in Portugal, pupils have freedom to choose their activities. They often learn through play. Teachers at this school wore a white lab coat over their own clothes. I asked why and there were two reasons. Firstly, its a uniform. People visiting or around school know they are a member of staff. The second was a more practical reason. All that finger paint can ruin their clothes. It was really interesting to see how each teacher had customised their white coat. Some had sewn colourful trimmings and others had transfered numbers on to the fabric. I got the sense that this was a very creative environment. Just look at their displays below:

These displays are inspired by the books of a Portuguese author Álvaro Magalhães. Across Portugal schools are exploring his books as a celebration of a special anniversary of his work. He is a very famous author in Portugal. On my cultural visit into Old Porto I purchased one of his books to take back and show my pupils.
The work that pupils are doing is led by the school library coordinator in the municipality. There is even a school librarian working with the Ministry of Education. What a wonderful way to showcase our work!

After visiting the classrooms, our guides took us to the library. A fantastic space for many reasons. Firstly, it's divided into two parts. A room with shelves of books, tables and computers. A then a second room which is a truly flexible space. Have a look at the first room:

And now at the second room:

This is a big space. The wall behind the children is white and is used to show presentations, short films or images. Here the librarian sits with the pupils. They are all looking at the same book by the author above and they are discussing their fears (this was at the heart of the story). 

I love that the beanbags and mats can be reorganised in minutes. You could use the room for many purposes - drama, author visits, storytelling. I also love that the librarian is sitting with the pupils guiding their discussions.

After the class had finished the librarian was able to speak with us through a translator. She told us she worked across three primary schools and that she spent a day in each. When she's not there, the teachers use the library with their classes. I asked if the pupils could use the library independently at lunchtime. She explained that they couldn't because there wasn't enough staff. But at the other two schools they could because parent helpers manned it at lunchtime. It was great to hear that Portuguese parents are keen to be part of the school community.

From this visit, I've been inspired to:

  • Share a Portuguese picture book with my pupils
  • Find out if we have many Portuguese picture books translated into English and if so, purchase these for the school library
  • Create displays from pupil responses to a story - share their enjoyment of a story and relate it to their own experiences

Two display examples from the Portuguese school library:

An enchanted garden...

And what makes pupils happy...

This visit has inspired me. I'm sharing it with all of you.