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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.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Celebrating Library Lovers Day #morethanalibrary #blinddate

I love the idea of ALIA's Library Lovers Day, but if you are a Learning Commons, ie. #morethanalibrary, what can you do??

In our Learning Commons his year we did the blind date reading campaign, but this time a bit differently to what we did a few years back.

We wrapped the books up and copied the barcode number onto the front of them.

Organisationally, we borrowed all these books out to a "blind date" borrowing account on the system as we were wrapping them up. So that if someone was looking for a novel and it had been borrowed out to blind date, we could easily identify and locate it quite quickly.

At the end of the campaign we could also measure how successful the campaign was by how many of the books remained on the blind date account.

The teachers loved it and the Year 7's thought that it was a great idea!

"It is kinda exciting taking the book home, not knowing what is inside"

If you want to do your own blind date campaign, here are the files that we used to create the display.


Monday, January 18, 2016

Don't confuse your google search with my degree

This mug appeared on my facebook feed about a week back. Since then all my teacher librarian friends have been clicking like and sharing.

The funniest thing about this is that it isn't a new design or phrase. A bit of searching (aided by my library degree) revealed many different companies selling a similar genre of mug, there is even one on Amazon (lets talk about copyright here!).

But for me the message of the phrase is indicative of the discrimination that I once felt when I first started working in a school library as a Teacher Librarian.

When I had maternity leave with my second child, I decided to start my Master of Education (Teacher Librarianship) journey.  I had tried to start it a number of times but there were unforeseen circumstances that had prevented me from completing the applications. But after Nicholas was born, I knew that I needed to do something, I wasn't happy with "just teaching" anymore. I was teaching Information Technology and Humanities, yet still yearning for the opportunity to be creative like when I was a Head of Learning Technologies (or equivalent).

A former Teacher Librarian at my school had commented that she thought I would be good working in the library, I had the knack. So when Nicholas was 6 months I applied to study and got in. With a few RPL's under my belt I returned to school with a year of the degree under my belt and the timetabler at the time was very supportive in giving me a 0.2 and then 0.4 in the school library as a teacher librarian.

But everyones attitudes were not so positive about my career move; one of the teachers that I shared my office with commented that "all you do is read books and drink coffee". This teacher also believed that the library databases were a "waste of money because the kids had google to do their research with" .... Of course I had just completed the first few units of the degree filled with all the positive aspects of what a teacher librarian was meant to do. I was armed and ready to argue the case for a proactive Teacher Librarian within in the school.

Another colleague asked me whether I was "moving into retirement", because "that is what teachers do when they don't want to teach anymore". The school Principal told me that there was no future in Teacher Librarianship and that I should study Knowledge Management and go into consulting. The Director of Curriculum, didn't quite understand what we did in the Library and was therefore quite reluctant to support any new initiatives or funding.

In my first few years as a Teacher Librarian, I felt that I was continually fighting against the establishment when all I wanted to do was raise the academic standards of that school. Needless to say, I moved schools when I got my degree.

What I have learnt from my first school experience is that Teacher Librarians have to be visible and build social capital with the teaching staff.

I love being a Teacher Librarian because I get to solve problems on a daily basis and improve the teaching and learning environment for both teachers and students. My job is hands-on and hard bloody work at times. Sometimes I have to work like a demon in order to meet the needs of my teaching staff. Teachers come to us because they see us as part of their collaborative team, we help them with preparation, authenticating tasks, workshops; there isn't much sitting around and reading occurring! My reading occurs on weekends in a mad rush to finish a book to support a teacher or student.

We say yes to anything and everything within reason to support the learning environment.

So please don't confuse your google search with my Library Degree!

Thursday, December 3, 2015

With all this technology, what do we need [teacher] librarians for?

Many years ago, when I first started my M. Ed (Teacher Librarianship) at CSU, a colleague that I was sharing an office with asked me "What do you actually do in the School Library?".

His perception of the school's library was that it was "old fashioned", "where teachers go to retire", a place to drink coffee and read books and that students didn't need to use the library because they had access to the "University of Google".  We know that this mindset is narrow minded and fails to recognise the different learning styles that students have and also the specialised training and value that Teacher Librarians can offer to a learning community. This theory is clearly articulated in the article by the Bulletin by Abby Spegman called "With all this technology, what do we need librarians for?"

There is an article in the newspaper today which talks about how Bendigo South East College are closing their School Library and distributing their books throughout the school. This is not a new thing as there have been many schools who have gone down this road including, Coburg Senior High. My daughters school has also decentralised their library resources, but not their Teacher Librarians.

For me the true crime is that Bendigo South East College has not recognised the value of having a fully trained curriculum specialist such as a teacher librarian on staff.

The job title of "teacher librarian" doesn't do our profession any justice. 

Teachers and parents seem to understand and value the role of "curriculum specialist" a bit more and this title clearly communicates our role as an educator to support and improve teaching and learning programs.

If the school community does not value the role of the teacher librarian and school library, who is at fault? I know that this is a closed question for an open ended topic ... but work with me for the moment!

  • Is it the School Executive's or Leadership Team fault for not supporting and promoting the school library?
  • Is it the Faculty or Domain Leaders that don't understand how teacher librarians can be used to raise their academic standards?
  • Is it the parents, who are not exposed to what a teacher librarian can do to help their students?
  • Or, is it the Teacher Librarian's fault for not promoting themselves enough or making themselves indispensable?

Teacher Librarians need to be proactive in building social capital and make themselves indispensable by supporting the needs of their school and learning community.

Do you agree?

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Are our ICT skills really failing?

There has been lots of conversations around the water cooler this week about the results of the ICT survey that NAP conducted.

As someone who has taught in schools for over 20 years, this does not surprise me. You would think that with the dollars that parents have put into technology programs over the years, ICT proficiency should be through the roof. Operating systems are getting easier to use and applications are so much more intuitive than before WYSIWYG operating systems (can you remember WordStar). So the decline in results is a bit worrying from every perspective.

When laptop programs first came into schools, there was an emphasis placed on induction or technology orientation. Acceptable use, formats, conventions, tips and hints and typing skills were all explicitly taught. Schools also actively trained their staff in applications that they could use with their teaching. At one stage, many schools had Professional Learning points to encourage teachers to do and deliver regular ICT professional development. There would also be an assumption that new teachers have these ICT skills already -  of which they don't.

Over the years, this part of the technology program implementation was overlooked, dropped and taken for granted. As the perceived technology proficiency of students increased, the perceived need for explicit teaching declined. The students were so confident with the technology they didn't need to be taught anything as they were all "digital natives" of course! Teachers who wanted these skills taught were told that they were old fashioned and that the school needed to move with the times.

Was this perceived confidence a reflection of the evolution of operating systems rather than skill level? It amazes me how my son can navigate the iPad and get his TV shows or games to work. My daughter the other day made a movie on her iPod about her trip to the Zoo. The pervasiveness of the technology has increased and so has the opportunities. But has our technology teaching kept up with the innovations. Once upon a time, I taught Year 7 Information Technology. I had the students for one period a week and my job was to teach and reinforce the skills that were not being taught in class. Formats, conventions, typing, layout, problem solving.

For years I have observed students in the senior years being unable to organise their files properly or update their computers. The teachers just expected the students to do it. Of course once in a while there is a whiz bang student who comes along with a skill level that just amazes everyone, but overall are we doing our students a disservice if we don't explicitly teach and reinforce these skills?

Are the skills that the National Assessment Program survey evaluated appropriate? I noticed that the Year 10's were tested on changing font formats and conventions. How does this align with Information Literacy and Digital Fluency skills?

Is there a correlation with good ICT proficiency results and an effective School Library? Many teacher librarians teach information literacy skills and conduct technology orientation sessions. We deal with students every day who are trying to print, save and convert files and yet this part of our role isn't acknowledged.

There is certainly food for thought in the National Assessment Program report, but the scope of the research needs to be widened to include more factors that might impact on skill development. I am sure that there is a PhD in there somewhere ;-)

Monday, November 16, 2015

Three things that Teacher Librarians can do to encourage recreational reading.

Fond memories of seeing Stephen Krashen at a professional development event run by Learning Team Australia at the Library at Docklands.

This video does go for close to an hour, but so enjoyable to hear someone talk about a realities of free voluntary reading or sustained silent reading in schools.

As a Teacher Librarian, what hit home was the importance of the role of the Teacher Librarian in promoting voluntary free reading at school. We know that students will increase their understanding of their reading if they talk about the books that they are reading. A neutral encouraging Teacher Librarian is wonderfully positioned to assist with that.

Three things that Teacher Librarians can do to encourage "Free Voluntary Reading"
  1. suggest similar or appropriate books and authors to match students interests.
    If you liked "Fault in our stars" by John Green you might like "If I stay" by Gayle Foreman. There are web sites and tools that you can use to connect students to similar books that you know they enjoy. When students discover a genre or author that rocks their world they magically start to perceive themselves as "a reader".
  2. discuss books with students to increase understanding.
    What did you think of the ending? What about the main character, do you feel that they got what they deserve? What about that plot twist. I have found myself several times quickly reading a Young Adult book over the weekend so that I can talk through a book with a student the following week.
  3. encourage students to develop frequent reading habits.
    Keeping tabs on how long students take to read a book.  Reading 10 pages of a book every two weeks isn't very satisfying. I compare this reading habit to pressing pause on a TV program and getting back to it a week or two later.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Library at the Dock Makerspace

A few weeks back we headed off to a professional learning session at the Library at the Dock run by Learning Team Australia.

The workshop focused on how the School Library or learning commons can build influence and become an agent of change within the school community.

It featured presentations and workshops that identified ways teacher librarians can establish influential relationships within their school. James Henri spoke a lot about understanding your circles of influence and making sure that you are building and maintaining them. Influence and Social Capital are two closely aligned terms, check out Joyce Valenza's talk.

The Library @ the Dock is all new and shiny and as you would expect they have a 3D Printing section where they have a number of 3D printers that are available for the public to use. Consumables are charged per gram of the finished product and of course there are samples sitting around including a Tardis!

I liked the way that they had the filament rolls above the unit on a stand made by the 3D printer of course!

The Library at the dock have plenty of Makerspace workshops that you can attend and they are all FREE!

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Reflections on Makerspace, Science Week and Shrinky Dinks

Every Thursday Lunchtime we set up a Makerspace area in the Learning Commons where students can tinker with makeable objects, be it technology or crafty gadgets.

In an ideal world we would have a breakout space where we could allow students to get access to this equipment all the time, but for the moment, our Learning Commons is a shared space and space is at a premium. So at the end of lunch the space needs to be packed up as it is used for teaching and learning during Period 4.

For Science week, the Learning Commons staff collaborated with the Science Domain to set up a shrink dink workshop where students could create their own science jewellery, brooches or key-rings.

It was a great session, we had over 20 students and 4 staff members jostling for access to tools and equipment. Lots of conversation about what "science" emblem, element or diagram they were making and why. The Learning Commons at lunchtime is normally full of students and teachers, this added to the atmosphere of the maker space.

As we wiped down the tables at the end of the session, there were a few thoughts and reflections on how it went and what we could do better next time.

1. Be clear on procedures for Bump in and Bump out

In an ideal world students would assist with this, but realistically there needs to be support staff to ensure that these stages go smoothly. Labelled containers, plastic pockets and tools all need to have a place to live and return to. What is the expectation of the students at the end of the session? Do they have to help pack up?

We held our workshop at lunchtime, so we had everything set up the period before so that students could just sit down and play with the technology and tools.
  • Craft Placemats x 16
  • Hole punches x 5
  • Coloured Pencils x 3 packets
  • Permanent fine tip markers x 2 packets
  • Sandpaper
  • Pre-cut shrinkable plastic
  • Instruction sheets x 6
  • Scissors x 8
  • caution tape (for drama)
  • witches hats (for drama)
  • Variety of jewellery piers and hardware to make earrings, pendants and brooches.
We found that the stools around tables worked better than chairs.

2. Instructions

Even if you don't think that students will need it, instruction sheets ensure that the teachers know what is going on! I like the idea of having a simple side and and a complex side to instructions so that students can choose which side they like to use.

We made a simple 6 step instruction sheet for the students to follow and the rest of the details of how to use Shrinky Dinks is on the Learning Commons Libguide space.

3. Safety - OHS considerations

Do you need to manage tools? Do the tables need protecting? I would like to get some padded table protectors so that we don't have to worry about accidents when working in this shared space.

For the shrinking, one of the science teachers took groups of students to the staffroom to use the oven. A toaster oven would be a great idea, but then you would need to maintain it and get it tested regularly.

4. Time Expectations

How long does it take to do the whole process?

If it took you 10 minutes, it will take a student 20 minutes (not because they don't know, but because they need to decide on their picture, talk to their friends and work out which colours to use).

Have ideas or images pre-laminated to trace over. Most of our students actually traced off their iPad's or phones the images they wanted to "shrink".

5.  Follow-through

Makerspace initiative isn't just about tinkering in the school library. It is about igniting that curiosity within so that students go home and continue to tinker and learn.

Make sure that the students have something to go home with. Instruction sheets, equipment lists and a hashtag to share their creations with.


Have you found this article worthwhile?

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Makerspace Bookbinding Adventures

As with most schools, our Learning Commons (Library) budget is stretched. So any Makerspace activities are done on a shoestring.

Today at lunch we tried book binding as an activity using recycled and bought materials.

I am not sure if it was the hammers, but we were swamped with students wanting to try their hand at bookbinding. We didn't have waxed thread or japanese tissuepaper, but we did have kitchen twine, some leather hole punches and also hammers ....

There was a lot of noise and a lot of interest and the senior students were great at encouraging the younger ones with the equipment.

Next time we do book binding we will have more equipment ready to go, as this tends to be a lunchtime activity. I'm working on form to use when planning Makerspace activities, so hopefully that will assist me in the planning for these events.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Celebrating Science Week #natsciweek

Science week comes to an end and the Learning Commons has been busy with running events this week. We have had puzzles, quizzes, kaleidoscope workshop and today we did a shrinky dinks workshop as part of our Makerspace.

As a knowledge space, we set up a science book display with some of our more visually interesting books and a collection of home made kaleidoscope's as part of National Science Week celebrations.

We made a bunting using Periodic elements using MyFunSTudio and we set up one of the Tetris Lamps to engage curiosity in conductivity and Rubrik's Cube. Lots of conversations about how to solve the cube and the algorithms needed to manipulate the cube.

Today students had great time designing scientific shrinky dinks that could be used as earrings, cufflinks and brooches. The activity was a huge success and there was much learnt by both the Science and Learning Commons staff members in regards to running a workshop like this.

More reflections about our experiences later though!