Never judge a book by its cover, they say… Never write off books because of the way the world is changing, we say…
Who are “we”? Educators who believe so wholeheartedly that books will never be phased out of the picture. It is not that we are out of touch with reality. Yes, we live in the digital era. No, we are not trying to oppose that. Screen time has gone even further up for most, patience levels have dropped. What’s more, teaching through the Covid pandemic the challenges facing us have multiplied. A good book and all the wonderful reactions it triggers in so many of us adults who grew up taking books as a given is no longer an appealing prospect to the youngsters we teach. Far preferable is the opportunity to sit down in front of a screen for whatever purpose one wants to use it. We sat down and started brainstorming how we can reignite the magic of reading in today’s young people.
“Books on Wheels”
And so, enter “Books on Wheels”. At the Moraitis School in Athens, Greece, we have given life to a program aimed at giving children a framework in which books become the instigators of creativity. We wanted books to provide an opportunity for students to speak up in front of others. They allow students to become part of the storytelling process and so, come to see it as something of significance that is relevant to them. The core principles have stood the test of time. Freedom of choice, freedom to create, freedom to express oneself. When allowed the freedom to become involved in a way that suits their personalities, students have shown us that they can produce work far beyond what anyone expects.
How it works
A mobile library in the form of a big box on wheels that visits their classrooms. In it are books of all sorts. Classics, information books, more modern novels. The children choose what they like. They take it home and read it. They then do a project for which they are given loose guidelines. Depending on the age group, different aspects of a book may form the basis of the project. Once completed, they bring it back to school and present it. It sounds so simple and it is.
And yet for many students, it is one of the highlights of the school year. It is proof, beyond any doubt, of the importance of allowing them the freedom already mentioned and it also goes to show how having a live audience and facing it gives them a motivation to connect and share in a way that the screen cannot. For young children, the classroom still holds a significance which we as educators can use to help them come out of their shell.
Do the students welcome this change?
There will always be those who are reluctant. The program has shown us that the majority of them warm up once all the presentations begin and they are, more often than not, inspired by the work of their peers. They exchange comments and ideas. They become interested in what others have done and begin to think about what book to borrow “next time”. Instead of discussing online games they have this opportunity to discuss books and stories. Reading is not dead. Even with these children, the children of the digital age, reading and storytelling continue to evoke a magical sensation and to open up the mind. As educators, providing them with moments where this can happen still continues and will always continue to matter.
Making a Quarantine Comeback
In Greece, school children were in quarantine and doing online lessons for the greater part of the 2020-2021 academic year. Books on Wheels was dormant during that time. When they returned to school in autumn 2021 it took some time for them to reconnect, not only to their peers, but to the school learning process as a whole. We seized the opportunity with our sixth graders, using their pre-quarantine book projects and brought them back to life in a new way. We made an event out of remembering what they had been doing before the outbreak of the pandemic. We dug up work that Covid had abruptly put a halt to. We, the educators, and they, the students, had a blast! Happy faces everywhere. A thirst to create. And, most rewarding of all was the question asked by so many of them. “Miss, what is our project going to be on this year?” They want more!