A Novel Way to Take Part in Book Awards

A few months into my job-share librarian post at Taylor High School, I noticed that although we had clubs for the S1s and S2s, the upper school didn’t seem to spend any quality time in the library.

Our main purpose for taking part in the Carnegie Medal Shadowing Scheme was to encourage reading for pleasure and to promote the library throughout the school.

I had worked in Public Libraries for a long time and I knew that the Carnegie Medal Shadowing Scheme was very popular with teenagers, so I decided to sign our school up to take part. The main purpose for taking part in the scheme was to encourage reading for pleasure and to promote the library throughout the school. I thought that it would be a fun way to encourage senior pupils to read a variety of books, engage in discussion, review and post online.

The experience of running the reading group and taking part in a book awards scheme was fantastic! Here are a few insights, based on my experience and the group’s feedback:

Work together with the English Department and management

I discussed the reading group proposal with the English Department and the Senior Management Team and they were very keen for the school to get involved. Due to unforeseen circumstances we could not get the project started until March 2015, just before the shortlisted books were announced.

We were late setting up a group, so the Head of English selected seven S3 pupils who were already avid readers.

Embrace technology if it’s right for your group

Through discussion with the English Department, Head Technician and one of the Deputy Heads we linked in with the school’s iPad initiative.

The books were downloaded onto the iPads, providing the opportunity not only to read the books but electronically highlight certain paragraphs and passages. They also had the chance to discuss books with each other before posting their reviews on to their dedicated Shadowing Group Page.

They loved having responsibility for the iPad and the downloaded books, but most of the students still preferred the hard copy to the e-book.

Work with students to find a time that works for everyone

Our meetings took place in the library twice weekly, and our discussions were very lively as the group’s reading preferences varied immensely. Initially this was during English periods, but this later caused some tension when some of the group felt that they were missing important coursework. We discussed alternative times and came to an acceptable compromise.

Divide up the reading if it’s too much

At our first meeting I explained that we would read the eight books, discuss, analyse and write reviews and blogs. As avid readers all the pupils agreed that they would be able to read the books within the allocated timescale. They all indicated that they could read books very quickly and that they would have no trouble finishing a few during the Easter break. We had a meeting shortly after term resumed. I had only managed to read one book, The Fastest Boy in the World by Elizabeth Laird, and I had struggled to finish the Geraldine McCaughrean book The Middle of Nowhere.

Then I discovered that due to the different genres (some of which the students would not normally have chosen to read) and the subject matter within some of the books being quite upsetting, it hadn’t been possible for the pupils to read all the books. Everyone thoroughly enjoyed The Fastest Boy in the World but a couple of them struggled with the subject matter within Buffalo Soldier by Tanya Landman. 

This was a pilot scheme, so group feedback was very important and we welcomed their constructive criticism. This would enable us to improve the way we recruit our next group of readers.

They recommended that future reading groups divide the books and concentrate on one or two books per person, adding that more time be set aside to achieve the aims of the reading group – to discuss, debate, analyse and interpret content; read all shortlisted books; decide the best three books in their opinion and then compare their winners with the judges’ winners announced in June. Taylor Reading Icons overwhelmingly voted Cuckoo Song by Frances Hardinge as their number one choice, but Buffalo Soldier was ultimately awarded the medal.

Group feedback was very important and we welcomed their constructive criticism

They also recommended that next year we widen the group to include boys and girls of mixed reading ability.

Our group was set up in March and disbanded in May due to the group going out on Work Experience. This has been an invaluable learning experience for me as the Group Leader and we will take on board all of the group recommendations.

When the new term begins in August I will begin to prepare setting up the new reading group. There are so many book awards to choose from, and this time we could start with the Scottish Children’s Book Awards in September through to March, then go on to the Carnegie Medal Shadowing Scheme from March through to June. Whatever we decide to do the Taylor High Reading Group will continue to flourish over the next year.

Taylor High School's library has played host to a lot of wonderful reading and writing schemes in the past few years. Check out this blog from Cathy's colleague Anna Leslie to find out more about the school's Reading Confessions project!

The shortlist for this year's Scottish Children's Book Awards is announced on the 2 September. It's easy to register to take part - find out more here.

Image credit: Sara Cimino on Flickr under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0


Cathy MacIntyre

Cathy MacIntyre is a school librarian at Taylor High School.