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Sunday, February 26, 2017

For the love of words

Due to the volume of students wanting to borrow dictionaries from the Learning Commons, during every exam period, we have been discussing the validity of why we include a paper dictionary on the booklist for all our Year 7 students. There is an assumption that if something is put on the booklist then it is used and valued by both teachers and students to enhance learning. But the students wanting to borrow these dictionaries have gone months, if not years without using them. How useful are dictionaries in a 21st Century classroom?

Most of our secondary students use computing devices all the way through their high school years with access to online dictionaries, grammar checkers and thesaurus, and yet we force them to purchase a dictionary in Year 7 that often ends up in the bin or lost. What is the educational value in a physical copy of this resource? Is the paper dictionary dying? Do students still use dictionaries or has Grammarly replaced the role of the dictionary?

The argument for keeping the dictionary on the booklist was made by one teacher, justifying that "we teach students how to read paper maps, therefore we should teach them how to use paper dictionaries". But further investigation with the Geography teachers reveals that paper map reading skills are slowly slipping away and being replaced by GPS coordinates and Google Maps. Online dictionaries are instantaneous, we can hear the words and there are many avenues for exploration once we have finished reading the word that we have looked up. But is this multi-focus environment beneficial when we are trying to increase our vocabulary or understanding? Barbara Ann Kipfer gives us 9 reasons why print dictionaries are better than the electronic ones in the classroom.

Using dictionaries as a regular tool in the classroom as part of a structured learning activity has the capacity to increase vocabulary range, build word acquisition skills by providing guidelines on pronunciation and use, engage students in linguistic understanding by showing the origin of the word and synonyms. But are these skills valued by teachers and what skills do we implicitly teach vocabulary and grammar into our classes to increase the range and understanding of our student's understanding?

Here are five ideas on how to build a love of vocabulary and understanding of words into your classes, regardless of whether it is a paper or electronic dictionary.
  1. Test your vocabulary
    Merriam-Webster has some great online games to increase your knowledge of words and expose you to new words. Of course, students can be exposed to new vocabulary by regularly engaging in recreational reading.
  2. Word of the day
    Lots of "word of the day" websites on the internet, this one shows you citations using the word of the day so that you can build contextual understanding.
  3. Grammar Girl
    Podcasts and other tools to improve your grammar.
  4. Lexipedia
    Shows synonyms in a visual brainstorm to increase your vocabulary.
  5. Doing it differently: Tips for teaching Vocabulary.
    A discussion about new ways to teach vocabulary. Look for online tools such as Vocabgrabber.

Further Reading:

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Taming the 3D Printer in your #learningcommons

In an ideal world, students would be able to get access to whatever resources they needed within the Learning Commons or School Library and they would leave the equipment as they would found it ready for the next student to use.

But even with staplers and guillotines, students will generally not tidy up after themselves. So processes are put in place to ensure that the equipment is ready for the next student.

Things are a bit different when you incorporate a 3D printer into the mix. It isn't as easy to get the equipment ready for the next student and often when someone us using it, it might be hours before the next student can use it.

So here are some thoughts on managing a 3D printer in our Learning Commons from the operations point-of-view.

Monday, October 17, 2016

5 Literary Halloween Bookmarks

What do you think of my Halloween bookmarks?

I love to promote literature and when I talk to students about the Horror Genre, they are surprised to hear that there is more than Twilight that they can read.

So I knocked up some literary bookmarks using my favourite program, Canva

If you don't have time to read the books, why not listen to the audiobooks? They are in the public domain, along with the books which are out of copyright.

If you love audiobooks, here is a list of a few hundred that you might like. Or you might like to subscribe to a podcast that pushes out classic books in audiobook format to your device.


Sunday, September 4, 2016

4 ways you can build your school reading culture

Every year Scholastic Books release a report on the state of reading; Australian Kids and Family Reading Report. Pairing this up with the Professional Learning event that I went to earlier this term, I am currently reflecting on how to build a strong school reading culture.

We know that our kids do more reading than children 50 year ago, but most of that reading is fragmented and tends not to directly benefit them from a cognitive point of view. Reading a novel introduces students to concepts, expressions, words and challenges that they might not get in real life. The idea of a plot and story works their brain when they are not reading, playing through scenarios.

Students who are regular recreational readers are much stronger when it comes to comprehension and writing tasks.

If you are a teacher, consider the following changes through your practice:
  • Encouraging students to pick up a book if they finish their academic work.
    As a classroom teacher we are all guilty of rewarding students with more work or finishing homework if they finish early. But what if we encouraged students to pick up a book? Perhaps continuing to read their English Novel or perhaps something that interests them. Imagine a class test where all students had something to read if they finished early.
  • Teachers actively talking about what they are reading.
    Students need to see that all teachers read, not just English teachers. Opportunities to share what you are reading might present itself during pastoral care sessions. Recommending books to students (I think you would like this book because …). One of the most powerful things that a teacher or parent can do is recommend a book to a student. “I recommend this because I think you could identify with the main character”. Make your recommendation genuine. It could be a fiction or non-fiction book. Making links between the curriculum that you teach and fiction that might inspire students. We don’t often think of Science or Maths when we think of recreational reading. But there are lots of genre’s that stretch across the curriculum.
  • Adding a fiction reading list to your subject synopsis can add an extra level of engagement in the classroom.
    Teacher Librarian’s are happy to assist with resource gathering and can even create small “chapter samples” to be used as part of your tool kit. They are experts in engaging with students about what they read. Every teacher in your school can get their hands on the Year level booklists, and should be encouraged to read some of the novels that their students are studying. Asking students about the novels that they are studying in English places an emphasis on the importance of studying texts and encourages students to vocalise their opinion about these books to someone other than their English Teacher. If you don’t have time to read these novels your Teacher Librarians will gladly point you in the direction of the spark notes for them!
  • Making reading visible throughout the school.
    When was the last time a student saw you reading? If you are too busy to read, perhaps that is the reason why they often see themselves as “too busy to read”. Share with students the books that excite you, “hey, have your read this book?” or relate it back to a movie that you have seen. Have you read the book version of the movie? 
What do you think of these ideas?

Would you be prepared to do one of them to build your school reading culture?

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

5 things Teacher Librarians can do to make themselves valued

A great article by Audrey Church about "Ten things that your school administrators need to know for the start of the (American) school year" sparked some discussion amongst colleagues about how do you make yourself and your role within your school visible, transparent and valued; even if the educational administration of your school doesn't support you.

It is hard to believe, but there are some schools out there that can't see the worth of a school library or employing teacher librarians. And then there are some colleagues in leadership positions in schools who would much rather see teacher librarians trained as baristas.

I am sure that this instagram post was only meant as a joke, but it emotes a much wider view by some educational leaders that teacher librarians are a waste of time ....

So how do you make yourself visible, and hopefully intern, valued?
  1. We can build social capital within our school.
  2. We can redefine what it means to be a Teacher Librarian.
  3. We can encourage and build on the reading culture within our school.
  4. We can shatter the idea that Teacher Librarians are all about books by focusing on service rather than product.
  5. We can show that we are continually improving (Kaizen) upon what it is we are doing by evaluating and reflecting on our role within the school.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Free Bookmarks for your School Library

We love Canva in our Learning Commons. We use it for most of our advertising and poster needs. It is easy to use and we can share publications amongst the library staff when working on larger projects.

We had run dry in terms of bookmarks, so I whipped up a few designs using free images in Canva. Students grab a bookmark when they are borrowing fiction, or we use them to write things on the back for students. We try and turn the bookmarks over to suit the "season" in the Learning Commons.

You should be able to save these images and print it as an A4 landscape document using thick card (180gsm).

I set up the document using Canva Frames effect, so that I could manipulate each image individually, zooming in on a point of interest.

Each of these pages are spliced on the guillotine, 5 sheets at a time.

Did you use these bookmarks? Let us know!

Monday, June 6, 2016

Divergent Thinking with a Paper Clip

I had never heard of the paper clip test before, "How many ways can you use a paperclip?".

This is an animation of a well known Sir Ken Robinson talk. It emphasises how we beat the curiosity out of our students as they move through school.

While chatting over the dinner table, my hubby recounted a similar joke/myth about an interview question at Microsoft dealing with a giraffe and a refrigerator.

It is all about thinking outside the box.

Want more?

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Thoughts on Self Check out in Learning Commons

Discussions have surfaced yet again about self checkouts in school library or learning commons environments. Being a technology nut, I love the idea of using technology such as this and giving students autonomy in their interactions and learning. However, over the last few years my views have changed.

In our school we do not have self checkout or check in. Students need to approach the circulation desk if they wish to borrow and we have the traditional returns chutes, although many like to hand books back to us and talk about whether they liked or disliked them.

When a student checks a book out of our collection we can:
  • Affirm their choices "This is a great book", "Once you finish this one, read that one"
  • Converse with them about books they have read "What did you think of this book?"
  • If they return their books to the circulation desk we can ask them what they thought of it and if they liked it or would recommend another book.
There is so much perceived anonymity in what our students do online, is it in their best interests to allow them to be anonymous when borrowing from a school collection?

Public Libraries love self check out because at the end of the day, they are not investing in the learning of their clients. But as a Learning Commons, our goal is to encourage recreational reading and make it a positive and fulfilling experience.

I recently read an article which supports my views about encouraging student reading. Willingham (2015) talks about the importance of engagement in the reading process and the role of the teacher in this skill development.


Willingham, Daniel T. "For the Love of Reading Engaging Students in a Lifelong Pursuit." American Educator 6.2015 (2015): 7.

Monday, May 30, 2016

The Dumbest Generation

An interesting TED talk by Mark Bauerlein about the effect that social media is having on our children.

Our students are doing more reading, writing and texting than any other generation.  The proliferation of smart devices has meant that students are using and dealing with language acquisition more than ever. But has that resulted in better academic and workplace skills? Mark Bauerlein would argue that the increase of remedial writing and research classes at the tertiary level is just one bit of evidence to support the decline of intellectual rigour in teenagers. 

Have a listen to his talk. Do you agree?


Bauerlein, M. (2013). Language, age segregation and digital teens. Presentation, TEDxWakeForestU. Viewed at

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Meddler in the Middle: Erica McWilliam

I was fortunate to hear Erica McWilliam present last night at Methodist Ladies' College as part of the IB Schools Visiting Speaker Series. A lot of what she spoke about resonated with me, not only as a teacher librarian, but as a classroom teacher.

Being a problem solver, I started to think about what hurdles teachers have to overcome in order for their classrooms to change and evolve. What support do they need? What support can I provide as a Teacher Librarian?

One item that was spoken about last night was how the start of a lesson is so important for the student. I recently observed some classes in a flexible learning space and the teacher took 20 minutes to do the roll and get the class started. Half the kids fell asleep!  Dr. Adam Fraser would say that it is important to transition the student into your classroom space, but then you need to get the kids on task and engaged.  How can we encourage independent and learning and thinking without getting bogged down in administration?

Attention spans are short in the students who are coming through and their learning needs are different to what they might have been 50 years ago.

Erica spoke of an example of a teacher using a tennis ball to start every language lesson with french. If the kids are working on a project, perhaps they pick up their project folder. If students have to hand in homework, you can tick off their work and do the roll at the same time.

There are strategies that you can use to identify who is or isn't in the class without stealing time from the curriculum.

I am still unpacking lots of ideas that I gathered from this talk, but I wanted to start with the simplest idea that I took away from Erica. 

Some further reading on starting your lesson.
Here is another great lecture from Erica.