Water cooler moments with Dr Matt Finch

Last Tuesday, 23 October 2012, I had the privilege of participating in three inspiring and entertaining workshops run by Dr Matt Finch.

Dr Matt FinchThe workshops dealt specifically with:

  • Teen blogging
  • Comic book education
  • Television and literacy

I won’t go into details about each, because:

a) my notetaking couldn’t keep up with Dr Finch’s enthusiasm, and

b) these sessions shared the one and same underlying crucial message.

So what is this message?

Reading and writing are not natural.
Literacy is not a birthright, but a political act.

Literacy, according to Dr Finch, is a battleground. Schools have become too concerned with box-ticking at the expense of literacy itself and the curriculum usually reflects the cultural norms of the white middle class community.  (If you’d like to read more about Dr Finch’s educational philosophy, his article ‘Finnish Lessons for Kiwi Schools?’ appeared in the September 2012 print curriculum supplement to the New Zealand Education Gazette.)

In contrast to this, Dr Finch sees public librarianship as profoundly subversive, in that it is

  • egalitarian
  • creative
  • experimental.

Libraries can provide vital “water cooler moments” where real learning, rather than just box-ticking, can take place.

To engender these “water cooler moments”, Dr Finch recommends the following approach:

  1. Steal an idea (from pop culture is best)
  2. Tell  a story
  3. Include a practical/sensory element
  4. Lead in to a rich, independent language activity (talking is as important as writing)
  5. Come back together to share
  6. Always make them join the library!
  7. Always make them borrow!

For best results, the activities should be

  • creative
  • subversive
  • and, of course, cheap!

Play then, is the answer. Children are “marinated” from birth in pop culture – all we can do is play the hand we’re dealt with. So, if we agree with Dr Finch’s belief that the “mission of librarians is to improve society through facilitating knowledge creation”, let’s lure the kids in with pop culture, then get them to talk about it or create new stuff.

Did you attend any of these workshops? What message did you take away from them? Have you tried or are you planning to try to engender “water cooler moments” of the type Dr Finch recommends?

P.S. You can follow Dr Finch on his blog Books and Adventures.

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