Mon, Jun 8th, 2015
Joe Kelly is the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP) Librarian at Trinity Comprehensive School in Ballymun. In 2013 he participated in a Study Visit on how to integrate arts and cultural activities into lifelong learning. Here he explains how the connections made then have evolved, and contributed to the development of both the JCSP Libraries and other literacy projects.
“JCSP Librarians are based in thirty second level schools across the country. As well as providing access to an exciting collection of books and other resources, the libraries are creative active learning spaces designed to improve literacy levels and enhance the learning experience of students. With this in mind, in 2013 I applied for a Study Visit in Vimmerby in south-east Sweden to learn about the integration of arts into education. Vimmerby is most famous for being the home of Astrid Lindgren, the popular children’s author who created Pippi Longstocking. Fortunately my application was successful and I spent four wonderful days in Vimmerby, learning how a wide range of artistic experiences are guaranteed to children and young adults throughout their schooling. This encounter provided the inspiration behind the JCSP Library Charter, which guarantees students in our schools a range of cultural, artistic and literary experiences.
During the Study Visit I met and shared ideas with fellow professionals from across Europe. I maintained links with some of them, and last year I received an e-mail from Thomas Svarén who had organised the visit in Vimmerby. Thomas informed me that his organisation was applying for an Erasmus+ Mobility project, and asked if I would be interested in hosting two of his colleagues for a week to learn about different strategies and initiatives we implement to promote reading and improve literacy levels. Our guests would be Jacob Kant, a teacher, and Jonas Forselius, a school librarian. Both the JCSP Library project and our school were more than happy to welcome guests from abroad, as it would allow us to showcase some of the work that goes on here. In conjunction with colleagues in the school and my fellow librarians, I set about organising the week so that our guests would gain an insight into the day-to-day workings of a JCSP Library.
Unsure of what exactly our guests were expecting, I was put at ease by our very first meeting in April 2015. I was immediately struck by Jacob and Jonas’s excitement and enthusiasm, and knew from that moment that this would be a very rewarding and interesting professional experience. On the first day of their visit I wanted them to experience typical library activities. In our school, first year students are given priority in terms of access to timetabled library classes. During these classes students are divided into groups and complete a number of activities at different stations during the double period. Activities include independent reading, reading aloud and comprehension. All of these strategies are aimed at improving the literacy skills of students so that they can better tackle the challenging secondary school curriculum. A lot of co-ordination and manpower is required to make these classes successful, and Jacob and Jonas proved a real asset. Instead of simply observing, they were eager to get involved and assist both teachers and students. This enthusiasm to take part, help and learn was a common theme throughout the week.
Other activities during their time in the school included a performance poetry class with Elayne Harrington, storytelling with Aideen McBride, and a writing workshop with our school Reading Patron, Sheena Wilkinson. These kinds of activities take place throughout the school year and aim to create a reading culture within our school. During the week, Jacob and Jonas also had the opportunity to meet with teachers and exchange ideas. They accompanied a history class on a trip to Glasnevin Cemetery and learned more about Irish history. A maths dice tournament took place on the Wednesday with visiting students from four other schools, which illustrated how the library promotes numeracy as well as literacy. Events such as these are all about creating a positive attitude towards learning through fun and interesting activities. Once again, our guests really got involved and added to the positive atmosphere of the occasion with their willingness to take part. It was this enthusiasm which ensured the week was so enjoyable and rewarding.
I felt that it was important our guests also visit some other JCSP Libraries as each library–just like each school–has its own particular strengths. In Plunket College a rap workshop by Garry McCarthy took place, and in CBS James’s Street we were treated to a number of events including a school based ‘Dragon’s Den’ session and a programming class. Friday did not signal the end of the visit as Jacob and Jonas attended the inaugural PDST post-primary literacy conference that Saturday in St Patrick’s College, Drumcondra. This was a chance to attend workshops on a diverse range of topics such as visual literacy and cross-curricular literacy, as well as pick up ideas and tips from other conference delegates.
One of the most interesting projects to have taken place in our library is the ‘In Pieces’ project which saw a group of students work with author Kevin McDermott to produce a short novel. A class set of the book was presented to our guests and will be used to aid the teaching of English in Vimmerby. Who knows, there may even be scope to develop a project which translates the book into Swedish. That would be a fitting way to mark the exchange of practices and ideas between Ballymun and Vimmerby, which we hope will continue into the future.
Overall, I found the experience to be a very rewarding one and hope that links will be maintained. The success of the week was founded on both hosts and guests being willing to share ideas, and being open to learning new practices and skills. I would like to thank my colleagues in Trinity Comprehensive School, the JCSP Library Project and PDST for being so welcoming and generous in terms of sharing their time, ideas and resources with our guests.”
All images courtesy of Joe Kelly. We welcome contributions and ideas for ‘Insights’ at email@example.com.