Taking a 'book break' at Mahurangi College

Mahurangi College
Mahurangi College's summer reading initiative involved the whole school and families, and had particular success with branding the initiative.

Introducing Mahurangi College

Mahurangi College in Warkworth (north of Auckland) is a co-educational year 7–15 school, serving the wider Warkworth area from Puhoi to Dome Valley. It is a decile 8 school, with 1,260 students, 80% NZ European.

Promoting summer reading

Term 3 2012

The library team — Teacher with Library Responsibility (TLR) and 2 Librarians — attended the Sail into Summer Reading workshop in Wellsford in term 3 and together planned some strategies to raise the issue of 'the summer slide' back in their school.

Term 4 2012

The library team created a brand for their programme, 'book break', which they introduced through library displays, promotion to classes as they visited, and to teachers.

Information for teachers

The TLR put together a short PowerPoint and presented the information at a staff meeting, outlining the summer slide, the research, and using the Tom Nicholson quote about "use it or lose it". There was discussion around strategies for student and staff summer reading at Mahurangi College. Many staff were surprised by the research about summer reading loss and organised holiday reading for themselves, their own children, and their students.

The TLR put a big emphasis on the research, which says that at intermediate/secondary level reading just 6 books is all it takes for students to avoid summer reading loss.

Research on the summer slide and summer reading 

'Book break' was advertised in morning staff meetings in the last weeks of term to raise the programme’s profile with staff, using short statements following the initial reminder that "it’s book break time again”.

Information for students

When classes visited the library, the librarian spoke about summer reading — why it is enjoyable and why it is important. She described how we all lose ground, students and adults, if we don’t practice doing something, and gave the example of using a password daily and knowing it well, but having to work hard to remember it again after returning from the long summer break — falling out of practice.

Although all students were eligible to borrow books over the summer, the library team initially focussed on promoting Book Break/read 6 books in particular to the Year 7 and 8 students. The librarian was on leave for some of Term 4, which meant some constraints on promotion opportunities such as coinciding with Year 9 and 10 camps at the end of the year, but in 2013 the programme is being actively promoted to all students.

In the daily notices towards the end of the term, there were regular messages such as these:

  • "Have a break, have a book break, you deserve it."
  • "Book break books: Take out up to 6 for the holidays."
  • "Book break: Get your 6 books today."
  • "Holiday special: 6 books for you."

There are up to 30 notices to be read out to whānau every day, so the notices were short and in capitals so they would stand out and be read out. The TLR says 'short and sweet' seems to work with students for advertising book break or library events. A special 'book break borrowing day' was held after all books were recalled and the stocktake done. This doesn’t work for seniors as they leave early for NCEA exams, but the library is working on a strategy for those students in years 11 and 12 to borrow their books beforehand.

Information for parents / school community

The TLR wrote short articles for the school newsletter and for the local papers Mahurangi Times and Rodney News, such as Shock reading evidence!

Students took home a 'Parent Permission Slip' to be signed — a strategy which aimed to draw the issue to parents’ attention as much as it was about getting permission.

Parent/student/teacher interviews happened at the end of term 4, and some parents and students were steered towards the library as a result of the conversations that had taken place during the interviews. This meant both the student and the parent were involved in the book break, and the librarian was on hand to match students with books.

Issues and returns

  • Students normally take out 3 books at a time, so 6 meant a double ration, and also made a connection with '6 books to avoid the summer slump'.
  • Students who wanted were able to borrow more than 6 books. Some avid readers had their eyes on particular authors or series, which were all in and on the shelf after stocktake — they were able to borrow the lot and read their way through them without having to wait for reserves.
  • All students were strongly encouraged to take out 6 books, including those who said they never read in the holidays. This meant they had a collection of possible books to read and “if one wasn't right they could try another and another until they did find one that suited,” which took the pressure off the reluctant readers/borrowers — take 6 and read what you can…
  • Only 1% of the books issued in term 4 were overdue in term 1 the following year. Most were returned with no problems.

Gathering feedback

The librarian created a simple questionnaire to collect feedback from students. This gave her some great positive responses and quotes to include in her report, such as:

  • “It was good because I don’t have books at home so it gave me a chance to read something and I did.”
  • "It was a good idea as I don't get to the public library very often."

In the suggestions for next year, the overwhelming response was “keep it!”

Positive feedback from staff too was really rewarding. A PE teacher who came to the library said “I can’t remember the last time I read a book” was given a selection including Wolf of the plains by Conn Iggulden (first of a trilogy about Genghis Kahn) and came back a few days later saying: “That was fantastic, I couldn’t put it down. Can I have the next one?”

Discoveries

  • Fantastic enthusiasm from the students and plenty of positive feedback afterwards.
  • Increased borrowing from the teachers for the holidays.
  • Lots of opportunities for book chats and recommendations (both ways) with students and staff.
  • Figures for the end of term 1 2013 show the library doubled its issues to staff and students compared to the same time period the previous year.

Book break 2013–2014

The 'book break' brand is now 'business as usual' at Mahurangi College, in place every school holiday, across the school, and will continue to be extended, refined and promoted as an important part of the College’s reading culture.

Article in local paper

Shock reading evidence!

Students who don’t read over the holidays can be learning up to 25% less than those who do! International research shows that students who don’t read over the holidays can lose up to 3 months of knowledge gained the year before. As a result, those students spend the beginning of the year catching up on what they have lost, before moving ahead again.

Meanwhile, the students who have read are able to pick up quickly and move on with the new learning.

This is the time to start planning for reading over the summer holidays. Reading should not be seen as a task. Emphasis should be on reading for pleasure. Parents often say they wish their children would read more. Something they can do for their children is to read themselves — if children see their parents read, then they know that the parents mean it when they say it is worth doing.

Public library membership is free, just take along evidence that you live locally, e.g. a bill addressed to you. For summer reading, students can also talk to our school library staff — they have a wide knowledge of our collection and are great at matching students with books they will like reading. Parents are welcome to come to the Mahurangi College library with their children. The school library is open until 4pm each day.