Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Revisiting the approaches to learning skills


Over the past few months I have had the opportunity to lead an 3 day Approaches to Learning  skills workshop and to revisit the ATL skills not long after during an IB librarians continuum workshop.

One thing that strikes me is how schools are still latched onto the 140 examples of ATL skills found in the Appendix of the MYP principles in Practice. They have created lists, scope and sequences, ticking the boxes in Managebac or Rubicon and used these 140 EXAMPLES as the ATL skills which must be covered (forced into the curriculum) rather than focusing on the conceptual categories and clusters. 

Those 140 skills listed in the appendix are examples of what the cluster could look like in practice, they are not the be and end all of the ATL skills. Schools must separate ticking the boxes from good practice. Use the examples as a guide - there are far more specific ATL skills that can be taught that  are being developed through the assessments you are setting for the students.

  • "Appendix 1 contains a framework for the ATL skills that students may develop in the MYP." p.65 of PiP 2014 

Each of the MYP subject criteria have the ATL skills embedded in the criteria strands, which can then be used to create a scope and sequence for your subject based on what you teach and assess across the year levels.


The image below from Aloha Lavina demonstrates this quite clearly. (Click to enlarge). Read her post on the ATL skills for even more insight.



The ATL skills are not limited to or even need to include those 140 examples in Principles in Practice Appendix 1. They can be used as a guide as to what could be included under each category and cluster. 

"Schools can use this list to build their own frameworks for developing students who are empowered as self-directed learners, and teachers in all subject groups can draw from these skills to identify approaches to learning that students will develop in MYP units."  p.64 of PiP 2014

There are no rules to state these 140 need to be used, the only requirement regarding teaching the ATL skills being explicitly taught is that the students are exposed and taught from each category and cluster through each year level, across all subjects, across all 5 years. There is a requirement to map what is taught and by whom and to to articulate the progression of what is taught through the 5 year programme, but the standards and practices do not specify what specific skills need to be taught, just that the categories and clusters are covered across the 5 years of the programme.

This flexibility allows for schools to identify what their students need to learn and when they need to learn them based on the required assessment tasks. If an assessment task requires that students give a 5 minute presentation to show their learning, then the teacher needs to explicitly teach presentation skills (communication skills) and build upon what the students can already do from their prior learning. If the assessment task requires an essay, then the teacher of that specific subject needs to explicitly teach aspects of writing an essay that will be assessed in that task.

If you set an assessment task, you need to teach the students how to achieve in that assessment task. That is the formula for deciding what ATL skills need to be explicitly taught in your units. 

What I see and hear happening in schools is that the 140 skills are made into a scope and sequence and then taught (or not taught at all)  without making authentic connections to learning in the unit. This is working by the letter and not by the spirit in which the ATL skills were designed.

The flexibility of focussing on the categories and clusters also allows schools who have specific national or regional capabilities they need to address to do so without adding anything extra to the documentation. For example, the Australian Curriculum has within it the ACARA general capabilities. These are quite broad but fit quite well into the ATL categories and clusters, even adding extra capabilities of cultural and ethical understandings. In an attempt to illustrate how well these do integrate, I have taken the broadest statements from ACARA and placed them under the ATL categories and clusters. You can see the attempt here.  The beauty of using these capabilities in the unit planning and overviews is that the national bodies have already designed a scope and sequence, and the wheel does not have to be reinvented by each individual school.

This same strategy can be applied to any national standards or capabilities, the ATL skills are a conceptual framework, they are not an extra thing that is forced into the curriculum or teaching time. 


If the students are explicitly taught the skills they will need to show their learning in a specific way, the capacity of the students will improve and you will find they will achieve much better because you have given them the skills to achieve. 
The ATL skills are the foundation to what is presented in an assessment task. The high achievers in your class are not much smarter than the other students, they just have a better grasp of the skills they need to achieve better results in assessments.



I have written about this before about 12 months ago ... The Approaches to learning Skills and before that over 2 years ago in Repackaging skills.

I have also developed a website that outlines what types of skills can come under each of the clusters that may be helpful to determine what can be taught under each of the categories and clusters. Practical Approaches to Learning.






Friday, May 12, 2017

Time for a conference!



I have just moved to Australia to return to the motherland in the last few months. I have been living overseas for over 22 years and I really do not know too many people here now except family, so it was a great opportunity to attend a conference to meet new people and find out what the Teacher Librarianship scene is like in my new region.



The conference was MANTLE 2017, an annual conference for Teacher Librarians in the Hunter Valley region in NSW. The attendees came from many miles away further than the Hunter Valley, and were from Public, Private and Catholic schools and all with stories of different degrees of support for the school library.


The day started off with a short talk from Jenny Moody the Director of NSW Public Schools, Newcastle. I don't think I listened very well to her talk as I cannot remember what she said!


Next up was the Australian Children's Laureate - Leigh Hobbs. He is such a down to earth, authentic, relaxed speaker, with a very entertaining style of presenting - limited technology, just him talking about why he writes, draws and what happens when he does so.  Some of the points I gleaned from his talk: 


Not everything needs to be explained, with the combination of words and pictures, children just get it.


When he writes he knows he has only 2 pages where a child will decide if they will accept the world he creates, which means he needs to make it work fast.



He is concerned with what a child sees and feels after reading his books. He wants children to feel safe, that the voice is sincere and they are willing to go along for the ride, meaning he responsibility not to let them down or frighten them.



The way he writes - the text is in the adult voice, the illustrations are in the child's voice and tell more about what is going on. These elements join together to develop visual literacy. 

His books are very much his story - his mother recognised the furniture he draws!


His stories and characters are about relationships.


He loves architecture and including it in his books he hopes to inspire children to explore the world to find and experience what he has drawn.

It was lovely to hear how he places the child at the centre of what he does in his writing. That it is not just about writing for his sake, but to enrich children's lives. At the end of his session he took us through a little activity on drawing Old Tom ... with his message that each one of our drawings will be different, because we are different people.  My attempt is below, on the right.


 

___________

Next up on my agenda was Discovery : Senior English with Lara O'Donaghue, a Teacher Librarian who works with senior students. This session was how she supports the NSW English Curriculum theme of 'Discovery' through the library.  She outlined the changes to the HSC curriculum (slight differences to a few things), and then showed us some of the ways she collects, curates and promotes the literature required for reading in this syllabus. 

She curates using Pinterest, and has developed a number of boards. It is really a comprehensive collection of 'Discovery' on many levels. As her presentation progressed my to be read list grew much longer ...  Jasper Jones, Five bells, In between days, All I ever wanted , A long way home, My family and other animals, Genesis, The hen who dreamed she could fly, The Pearl, Winter, The Hate Race, and to watch a short film - The light and the little girl. I think that list will keep me going for a while.

Lara also introduced us to the Pinstamatic App (linked with other similar apps) which can make quotes look really professional. Postermaker was another one she used to make bookmarks, with Canva getting a mention as well. 


____________

I also attended Liz Annelli's session on Mapping through Illustration. Liz is an illustrator who works on many projects, including illustrating children's books. Her passion is including maps into her work wherever she can. She feels a very good story can be told through maps, they help to set a scene whether it is fiction or non fiction (I do love a book with a map in it somewhere) and covers history, geography and social aspects of life. Her view is that maps are illustrations of relationships between elements, that could be anything, real or imagined. We then had a short activity where as a group we developed a map of a new world we created - with moats, castles, gallows and all things grim.

Liz has only lived in her new town for 5 years, and to get to know her new home better, she set about creating a map, which has since been embraced by the local community, made into a mural and is given out to tourists to help them explore this city. Check out some other maps she has created of different places.

Liz Annelli's map of Newcastle, NSW

Liz was engaging, her work is fabulous and she would make for an excellent illustrator visit to your school.
__________

Makerspaces was next with Michelle Jensen, who is a TL in Sydney with a passion for ensuring young and old apply technological innovation to and in education. This was a completely hands on workshop. We were given instructions and some materials to make an LED light name tag to experience 'making'. 

Success! The light illuminated!
 





The next task was to connect the wires (tubes) to create a kit robot that could be controlled by an app on an android phone. There were four in our group with only one robot to make, so one person built it, second person checked it and assisted, third and fourth persons watched and gave input when required. 3 and 4 also went to other tables to find out information/ take photos to learn from. 

The robot was built, the appropriate lights flashed and we were excited! The app was downloaded by third person and it was then a time for trial and error, ensuring we bluetooth paired with the correct robot. All of sudden the robot was moving and raced right off the table - before video evidence could be collected!

Due to the sudden leap off the table it had been caught and tubes (wired) had been loosened, it then took a few more minutes to trouble shoot by the whole group to get it going - but perseverance paid off! 



You can see our success in the video below.



___________

After lunch we broke into primary & secondary groups, with a panel for each that were going to discuss different questions. I was in the secondary group and the following questions and topics were discussed. I was not able to record much of the discussion as I was listening too hard. 

The panel for the Secondary discussion

The panel for the Primary discussion.


How to get students to move from their comfort zone and progress in their reading?

E-Books - what is happening in schools? 

Genrification - does it really make a difference and is it worth the extra work?

How are people effectively using Oliver as their library management system? (This LMS is new to many public schools in NSW). 
_________


I met author James Phelan - who I had never heard of before, but now his books join my 'to be read list'. 




It was also lovely to unexpectantly re-meet a TL friend from HK who is now working in the region. 



From the goody bag, I now have a pair of VR goggles ...


Overall it was a very stimulating day, with loads of learning and networking. Congratulations to the conference committee for pulling it all together so everything seemed seamless. A tough job to do well. 

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Becoming a researcher



This post is part 2 of two parts focused on the 2012 PEW report on teens and research.
Part 1 is Teens and Research

How good are teen's research skills?

The 2012 PEW report on Teens and research found that teachers rated students as either good or fair when it comes to specific research skills. The specific skills are listed and rated in the graphic below. Click on it to enlarge it.
  1. Ability to use appropriate and effective search terms and queries
  2. Understand how online results are generated
  3. Ability to use multiple sources to effectively support an argument
  4. Ability to assess the quality and accuracy of information they find online
  5. Patience and determination in looking for information that is hard to find
  6. Ability to recognise bias in online content
The report then states that :
  • 71% of the surveyed teachers spend class time discussing how to conduct online research (1) (that means that 29% of the surveyed teachers do not teach these skills)
  • 57% spend class time improving student research skills  (1) (43% do not explicitly teach these skills)
  • 35% spend class time teaching how search results are generated (2)  (65% do not teach these skills)
  • 80% of the surveyed teachers say they spend class time teaching students about assessing reliability of online information, (4) (20% do not teach these skills)
I would also hope that the students are taught about bias, and how multiple sources are required to support an argument. 

My comment and question is ... if students do not learn these research skills in class time when they actually need to know and when the learning is most relevant to their learning needs, when will they learn the skills? It seems that teachers seem reluctant to use up 'class time' to teach these skills, when at the end of the student's schooling, the skills are what they will take with them more than the content.

In the book "Making Thinking Visible" by Ron Ritchhart et al, they talk about types of thinking and suggest a few types of thinking that aid in understanding or learning....
  1. Observing closely and describing what’s there
  2. Building explanation and interpretations
  3. Reasoning with evidence
  4. Making connections
  5. Considering different viewpoints and perspectives
  6. Capturing the heart of the information and forming conclusions
  7. Wondering and asking questions
  8. Uncovering complexity and going below the surface of things
  9. Identifying patterns and making generalisations
  10. Generating possibilities and alternatives
  11. Evaluating evidence, arguments and actions
  12. Formulating plans and monitoring actions
  13. Identifying claims assumptions and bias
  14. Clarifying priorities, conditions, & what is known
(Ritchhart, R., Church, M., & Morrison, K. (2011). Making Thinking Visible: How to Promote Engagement, Understanding, and Independence for All Learners. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. p.11, 13,14) 

The highlighted sentences are types of thinking that directly correlates with the 6 types of research skills the students are rated on in the PEW report. 

The IB framework and curriculum have introduced the Approaches to Learning across all four programmes, with Research Skills being one of the 5 main categories, along with communication, self management, thinking and social skills. 

The 6 research skills in the PEW report, and the 6 highlighted types of thinking above, would be a good start to begin a plan for teaching what research skills are across the year groups.

We need to be going beyond teaching 'how to research' and move to 'being a researcher' and adopting the traits of a researcher.

What are the traits of a researcher?

A good researcher:
  • manifests thirst for new information.
  • has an open mind, by looking for different perspectives
  • has a keen sense of awareness about the world, community & themselves. 
  • likes to reflect or think about the things he encounters and asks questions.
  • is able to express their ideas & arguments based on their findings and thinking. 
  • applies a systematic approach in assessing situations.

(from Simply Educate for more practical information on research see the Practical Approaches to ATL Skills web page)

Someone 'doing research' is usually doing it for a specific purpose with an end in mind such as finding enough information to complete an assignment task.

How can we help students to develop the traits and types of thinking to become a researcher?

Researchers tend to evolve through investigating and researching something they are deeply interested in, something they are so bothered to learn about, they want to know everything. For anyone who has had contact with young boys, you will be aware they are fascinated by dinosaurs and will want to know everything about them. They are deeply passionate about this topic, and will go to extensive lengths to know more, to be able to pronounce the names correctly, know what they ate, why they became extinct, and will be able to dazzle any adult with any  information about dinosaurs. These children are researchers - they are not just doing research.

We need to plan the units and assessment tasks in a way that the students want to know more just because they are interested, not just because it leads to a good mark. Authentic Inquiry unit planning allows this to happen. When students become researchers, they will learn how to do research effectively as their limited skills will hinder their learning and they will thirst for more efficient ways to learn more.

Being a researcher is a mindset with a wide skill set to support it.


Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Teens and research

Image form Pixabay-  Gerd Altman
In 2012 the Pew Research Center published a report on "How Teens do research in the digital world" where PEW surveyed over 2000 middle school teachers from the U.S., Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Taking a quote directly from the summary of findings "The study was designed to explore teachers views of the ways today's digital environment is shaping research and writing habits of of middle and high school students". The research was conducted through surveys and focus groups. 

The key findings of the study were that access to digital resources has had positive effects of student research and some areas of major concern :

Positive effects
  • The best students access greater depth and breadth of information 
  • Students are able to take advantage of information in multiple formats - video, audio, interactive, text, images. etc.
  • Many students become self reliant researchers
Concerns
  • Students have an over dependence on search engines to find their information
  • The difficulty of students had to judge the quality of online information
  • Literacy levels of some students was lower than expected
  • The distractions of the online environment
  • Poor time management skills on the part of the students
  • Students diminished critical thinking capacity
  • Ease of borrowing work from others
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
The teachers in the study also identified the resources students were most likely to use when undertaking research. A visual of their responses is below. (Click to enlarge)




What do these results mean for school librarians?
Although this report is from 2012, I wonder if 4 years hence has made any difference to where students retrieve their information? I don't think it has so much. 

I have observed that students are still over reliant on search engines to source their information. Taking a wild speculation, I believe this is because they are easily accessible  - minimal effort for maximum results. One click and I can find something that might be worthwhile and over 2 million results to search through if the first 3 don't help me. Certainly value for time.

Youtube and other video channels were found to be used over 50% of the time. This is a strong indication that students want multimedia as a source of information rather than just text. How are school librarians harnessing this? What are schools doing to support this in the form of  "digital asset management".

A significant amount of the library budget is spent on databases, yet from this report, only 17% of the time they are used to find information, surely that is not the best use of money? Why aren't they used more? Again a not so wild speculation would be they require much more effort to locate the information, are largely invisible, the content can sometimes be difficult to find if you are not familiar with the way databases are set up, each database has a its own functions and format - different to others, and usually the information is at a much higher reading level than is accessible for the students.

It is no surprise then than printed books are less utilised than the online resources - the effort is just too much to go to the library, find & retrieve what you want, open the book and read all the information without having the 'find' function to assist. And of course, there is no copy / paste function. Text books are used more than regular non fiction print, both in digital and print format, is this because the content is already neatly packaged for the course? Again it comes down to he  time spent : number of results ratio.

Google has made finding out stuff very easy, has this meant that student expectations of what research entails has changed or has it always been take the easiest route? Good research is messy, and if an assessment task has been well planned, it will require thinking on many levels, formulation of good questions, and a requirement to locate information from different sources with different points of view to support ones position. As a middle school student I needed to use books to find my information, I proceeded to find what I needed, hand wrote the required information straight onto the poster I was required to make, and hand it in. No bibliography was required, and I usually copied verbatim. I am not sure much learning was done as the assessment task was usually to find facts.

In 2016, middle & high school students have many more expectations from their teachers, and teachers need to be up to the task of creating interesting and value added assessment tasks that require critical, creative and reflective thinking to ensure that students have a desire to go beyond Google. However, if we want middle and high schools students to use more reliable sources, we need to make them more accessible and easier to use, or, change the mindset of teens.  I know which is the easier option.

It would be an interesting research project to replicate this study in your own school to find out what resources students are accessing and even ask them why. A study like this could include the teachers and students and compare what the perception is from the teachers of students resourcing information and the reality from the students. Surveys and analysis of bibliographies could be the tools.


This post is part 1 of 2 parts on the PEW report.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Facebook groups supporting professional learning



Social media has been around for a little while now, I remember when Facebook first appeared for the general public in 2006. I joined up and I was getting poked along with other ridiculous online actions, I really couldn't work out what it was all about, then in 2007 a few of my real life friends joined and it became part of my way of keeping in touch with friends and family and staying aware of what was going on in their lives.

Twitter arrived and I was introduced to it in October 2007 by Stephen Heppell at a conference in Hong Kong. Again I had no idea how it worked, then about 18 months later it all exploded and I could see the value for professional learning when hashtags and lists are used. 

Google plus arrived at bit later, and I joined, but I didn't really get into it, but I saw others made use of the longer text and groups and it worked for them.

Sometime later I started a number of Facebook Pages for local professional groups I was part of - ALESS, Golden Dragon Awards, and became a moderator for the Digital Citizenship in Schools Page with a number of others. International Librarians Network is a page that I follow, along with Book Riot and the Australian Teacher Librarians network . Facebook Pages need regular maintenance with constant posting by the moderators, it comes down to a few people doing the work however there is more control over what is posted and can be quite successful for organisations if managed well. I started one for my consultancy company School Librarian Connection, however, I find I am drawn more to Facebook groups. Many school libraries have their own Facebook Pages to advertise their services and resources.

After attending the ALA conference in San Fransisco in Summer of 2015, I learned there was a giant Facebook group called the ALA Think Tank, there were over 15,000 members at that time, and they were mostly posting about library related matters - all types of libraries and all types of topics. It got me thinking about how the Asia region of school librarians could be connected through a Facebook group and I started the Asia School Library Connection Facebook group. I initially connected with a few people who I knew and who would help me get this off the ground.  Nine months later, the group had become so diverse in locations that the name was changed to Int'l School Library Connection where we now have over 600 people as members.

Since joining the ALA Think Tank I was made a aware of a number of other library professional sub groups and joined a few.


If you do a quick search for Library under groups, you will see there are literally hundreds of groups specific to libraries that you can join.

Facebook groups work for me as I am already on Facebook, and the group feeds come into my feed, which means I do not need to go anywhere else to access them. I prefer groups to pages as they are more interactive and I can have a proper conversation, and anyone can post, which means much more diversity and less work for the moderators in what is posted and, I need to take the good with the bad. Some groups are closed, and some are open and depending on how you feel about your posts being accessible on the wider web, you need to consider which group is right for you.

Zakir Hossain is a school librarian in Vietnam and a man on a mission, he does much research in the field of school libraries - you can see his research and published works on this websiteHe is currently working on how school librarians use Facebook groups for professional development. The survey is short, and will be a rich source of information on what and how school librarians are using these groups to be empowered to enhance their professional practice. He needs more people to participate in the survey to make the research viable and meaningful. If you do participate in a Facebook group, please complete the very short survey.



Thursday, November 3, 2016

More than a book person




From Wikihow Stop saying I don't know 

Just recently I facilitated a short 2 hour  workshop on the role of the School Librarian in the MYP for a group of schools that will be moving to the curriculum framework. Most of the participants were school Librarians, however one of the participants was a teacher of Individuals and Societies who was already working in an MYP school and who wanted to know more about our role and how it could benefit him as a teacher.


One of the first activities was to sort the roles identified on page 32 and 33 from the MYP Principles into Practice into the four identified areas of :

  • Unit planning and resourcing
  • Help teachers to plan for the resources students will use in their learning experiences   
  • Have a knowledge of resources and of students’ skill development
  • Assist teachers with the planning for assessment tasks.
  • Provide space, support and a collaborative climate for interdisciplinary teaching.
  • collaborative curriculum development and implementation.
  • Role in teaching
    • The role is one that goes beyond the library or media centre
    • Team or shared teaching.
    • As a result of collaborative planning, librarians can be involved in co-teaching lessons where students are learning information literacy skills in the context of their units.
    • An emphasis on how students use information (for example, through critical thinking, synthesis and forming opinions) is vital and is central to inquiry.
    • Teaching need not be restricted to the library but can take place in any learning spaces within the school.
    • Promoting academic integrity.
    • Promote reading for pleasure.
  • Approaches To Learning skills development
    • Have expertise in ATL skills and plan for integration of these skills into the curriculum.
    • Work with teachers to ensure the vertical and horizontal planning for the use of ATL skills in all subjects.
    • Help teachers to develop inquiry skills across the curriculum. 
    • Understanding that Inquiry goes beyond research skills and delves deeper into critical thinking, creativity and collaborative skills. 
    • Have a strong understanding of inquiry; this can strengthen unit planning as well as horizontal and vertical planning. 
    • Librarians’ expertise in research makes them a vital asset in planning for the integration of ATL skills into the curriculum. 
  • Resourcing the curriculum
    • The librarian plays a vital role in working with teachers to ensure that the curriculum is supported with a variety of current, relevant resources that meet subject aims and objectives. 
    • Librarians should also ensure that the school is supplied with resources that reflect the variety of student learning styles and interests, as well as the language profiles of the student body. 
    • Be involved in the initial planning stages of units and lessons, and following discussions with teachers about students’ needs, help to select resources that support student learning and allow students to move quickly through the locating phase into working with information and gaining deeper understanding. 
    • Prepare resource lists that include print materials, websites, videos and other relevant resources to be placed on class wiki or blog pages. 
    • be knowledgeable on all key MYP curriculum documents.
    • Ensure the resources in the library reflect the inclusive nature of the school. 
    • Identify and plan for access to resources that support the variety of student learning styles and interests, as well as language profiles of the student body.  

At the end of this activity the teacher mentioned that he was not aware of the full range of skills and roles the Teacher Librarian could do, particularly in the areas of unit planning and resourcing, teaching and ATL skill development.  His perception was that the librarians role was to resource the curriculum, promote reading and make the space nice, and that is where it stopped - even though there was an active library programme at his school with TL's reaching out and wanting to work with the teachers in all aspects of the curriculum. He had previously come from a school system where the school librarian was not seen as an integral part of the learning in the school.



After the short workshop he was excited about the benefits of working with the Teacher Librarian in saving him time, helping to engage the students and help with the overall learning. The two of them left in deep discussion of the possibilities. (hoorah!)



With no judgement anywhere, this got me to wondering ... 


  • How well do the people we work with actually know what our capabilities are and how these capabilities can benefit them and the students? 
  • Do they read the documents about the librarians role? (I doubt it) 
  • How can we outreach to faculty to show how we can be used in productive ways that will help them as professionals? 
  • How can we change the perception of the librarian to a leader of learning rather than just the book person? 
  • Where and why are the holes of understanding and how can we plug them?
  • What do people need to connect to our services in a practical manner?

This teacher had been working in an MYP school for 3 years, with an active, vibrant and well supported library programme, and yet he still didn't know. 


I have had people in workshops who have been 'allocated' to be the school librarian without any training and gone away absolutely perplexed and overwhelmed at the role - one even resigned on his return as he felt he was not up to the task. They had no clue what the role entailed and how big it was.

We cannot be making assumptions that people know what we do - even when we think they do, they may not be clear about all the roles and skills you have.

I don't know what the answers are, maybe we need to be running short active workshops on the role of the librarian with our staff at the beginning of the year - rather than going over the rules and procedures of the library. Maybe incorporate the role of the library into all subject specific IB workshops?

Any other ideas??

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Prague : the city of reading


Attendee's of InSPIRing Conversations conference, Prague.


I had the pleasure and good fortune to visit Prague in The Czech Republic to facilitate the School Librarian Connection InSPIRing Conversations mini conference in September.

Prague / Praha is a most beautiful city which was mostly spared from the ravages of war through various invasions and overthrowings, world war one and two and the communist regime. After a period of neglect through the communist time due to lack of money and priority, the baroque buildings have been restored to their glory days, and to walk around the city is an exercise in time travel with each street in the city revealing something breathtaking around each corner. History of The Czech Republic.


Random street / river scenes of Prague. Photo by Dianne McKenzie

What I noticed about Prague was that the Czech culture was still evident through the people and the city, even after all of the turmoil of the 20th Century. The culture of reading that permeates the city and the whole country impressed me the most. It is apparently the country with the densest library network in the world, along with having some of the most beautiful libraries within its borders. The New York times has even written an article about this phenomena. "Why libraries are everywhere in the Czech republic" explaining that in 1919 a law was passed where every town had to have a library to boost literacy and the Czech language after the German occupation.


The book tower in Prague Public Library entrance. (Photo by Dianne McKenzie)
We had the opportunity to visit the Klementium Library Hall  along with the astronomical tower and just be present in history for a little while. The entire library is being digitised as part of the Manuscriptorium digitising project so that everyone has access to these historic works.


Klementinium Library Hall. Photo by Dianne McKenzie



Apart from the historic aspect of the city, there were multitudes of bookstores all over the city catering for the new book lover and second hand treasure seeker. 

Shakespeare bookshop. Old Town Prague. (Photo by Dianne McKenzie)



I also saw many people reading physical books on public transport, and, as well as having advertisements for food, clothing, events in the subway along the escalators, there were promotional posters for books.


Book advertisments in the subway. (Photo by Dianne McKenzie)


Some data and statistics on the Czech reading habits can be found in this article "Czech's cling to literary traditions in spite of new technologies.IndexMundi reports that the Czech republic has a 99% literacy rate for both males and females over the age of 15. 


I wonder if there has been a study conducted on the Czech population to see if they have all the qualities as a population that voracious readers are supposed to develop individually as readers? These qualities would include empathy, reflective thinking, knowledgable, internationally minded, culturally aware, reduced stress levels, critical & creative thinkers, large vocabulary, better memories and better writers among other things. They have certainly produced a number of accomplished composers, architects, musicians, artists and writers for such a small country. This could be a good study for someone.  


It seems that it is the adults that are benefitting from the strong history of reading with the contemporary children falling behind as found in the study " The Reading Matters: Children Readership in the Czech Republic." The abstract states "There is something unusual going on with reading and literacy among the Czech children. International assessment of reading literacy shows that the results of Czech children are poor as compared with other countries."  Could this be a result of the laws changing where it is no longer required to have a library in every town or is it a result of newer technologies taking the place of reading?
Is this a modern trend throughout the world even when a culture has developed a strong reading culture? 

If such a strong reading nation as the Czech Republic is seeing a decline in reading in its young people this is even the more reason to keep up the good fight.  We have an important job to do to promote reading.



Dianne & Marion overlooking Prague from the Observatory tower