Thursday, February 26, 2015

Making the invisible visible

Image from Pixabay

Inspired by Katie Day, Barb Reid and Nadine Bailey's presentation at the School Librarian Connection last November, our library team put our thinking hats on to make our invisible ebook collection more visible to the students to boost awareness and reading of these resources.

One idea was to have a face out display on the physical shelf, but we didn't have enough shelf space to do this. So we thought about a physical book like object that would be integrated into the collection. Initially we thought that a discarded book wrapped and recovered with the cover of the ebook would suffice, but then we didn't have enough old books to do that with and we faced the problem of having different sized books which would mean the covers would need to be reworked each time.

We found some DVD cases in a storage cupboard and felt these would do nicely. A template was created using illustrator and a mock up book was designed using the cover illustrations of the ebooks. A QR code was included front and back which linked directly to the book on the Wheelers ePlatform page, where the blurb could be read. If the student wanted to read the book they would just need to log into Wheelers to download the book and start reading it within seconds. We also added a tiny url for those who wish to access the book on their laptop, a 'spine label' so it would be shelved according to where it would go if it was a physical book and instructions on how to access the book.

We may even keep a permanent display of the ebook covers with the QR codes available somewhere for even more "in your face" access.

The display of ebooks ready for the shelf.

What the printed insert looks like.
Shelving the 'book' in amongst the other physical books to
improve browsing options. (The Dollhouse Asylum)

The ebook has also been catalogued in the collection it would be in if it were a physical book, along with the direct link to the Wheeler's page.



Today I introduced this concept to three classes. They were impressed with the magic and some even borrowed an ebook to read. Mission accomplished!

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

A blast from the past



About 7 years ago I was employed at Discovery College. One of the tasks was to set up the library from an empty shell to operational in 27 days. As part of the process I recorded the journey on another blog - Fresh Baked Library. (The link will take you to the very first post.) This blog is now dormant, but I still keep it as a reminder of the process we went through.  The library I am currently working in is undergoing a renovation and I have been able to go back to the blog and find suppliers and what we did, how we did things and what happened.

I found blogging through the process quite cathartic and through it I was able to justify decisions and how I was spending my days in the process. Looking back over it, no wonder I was exhausted!

I also created the following slideshare presentation for an online conference in 2009 as a form of reflection and consolidation about the project and to share what we did so others could learn.




If you are going through renovations or big changes, or even starting from scratch, I would highly recommend you keep a blog of the process to help keep track of your progress, identify what still needs to be done and also in a few years time you can look back and reflect and others can learn from you.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Scaffolded thinking



The opportunity

I was approached by an English teacher last week to create and facilitate a lesson on Romeo and Juliet. The main objective was for the students to create questions to prompt inquiry about the play, Shakespeare, Narrative, Language etc. We had a 3 minute conversation setting it up while I was busy doing something else, then when I had time I went over what he said and formulated some questions of my own ... 

Questions : round 1

  • Have they read the text?
  • What is the purpose of the questions they need to create? What do they need to be thinking about (context ... relationships? perspective? misunderstandings? etc)
  • What is the specific part of identities & relationships that you are focusing on ? 

When he replied with his answers (and the unit plan) I started to plan what might be possible ... then I read Buffy Hamilton's post on  Igniting Inquiry with think puzzle explore and thought how I could incorporate this style of a lesson into what we wanted to achieve.

Questions : round 2

  • Do the questions the students are creating need to be focussed on narrative? ie what makes a narrative? what is the effect? What are the elements etc? Rather than on Romeo & Juliet and the history of the story/ context/ characters / Shakespeare? or both??
  • Why I am asking is .. I want to give them some short stimulus to prompt them to ask questions, but I want the prompts to be appropriate to the unit and where you are heading with it...
The reply ...
"The questions created should initially focus on narrative, but I am hoping the students will learn to appreciate storytelling and how important it is and has been to all societies since the beginning of time. I also want them to gain an appreciation of Shakespeare and why his narratives are so highly regarded and what we can learn from what is seen now as high brow literature, but was written for the masses."
The planning 
We had one hour for the students to be inspired and stimulated enough to want to know more to then ask questions, which would be used at a later date in their unit to direct their own learning.
Something I have noticed in school settings is that students are not given much time to think, ponder and delve into a topic before they are required to formulate 'good' questions. How can one formulate questions if one has limited knowledge of the subject? This was driving how the activity was going to pan out.
Once I understood what the purpose and the context of the questions I started to look for stimulus resources that would support the 6 main themes of  
  • "Shakespeare speak" (the language of Shakespeare)
  • "What is it about Shakespeare?" (why are we still studying him 500+ years later?)
  • "Time and place of Romeo and Juliet"  (what is the context of the story)
  • "How the story was told" (narration devices used by Shakespeare)
  • "Themes of Romeo and Juliet" (self explanatory)
  • "Modernising Shakespeare" (Why modernise Shakepeare?)
(I chose 6 themes as we have about 28-30 in each class - 6 would mean  groups of about 4-5 and they tied into with what the teacher wanted to focus on)



These headings were each placed on three large pieces of paper. Under each heading was placed the focus for that paper ...  Think, Puzzle, Explore

The resources were created to support each theme and copied for each member of the group. (It would be a screen free lesson). (If you would like to see the resources, please contact me as they used sources from different places and I am not sure it would be good to share on a public forum without permission even though they have all been accredited appropriately)






The lesson 

I introduced the lesson and how it was going to work through a short keynote presentation below ...





The students were keen to get going. The first time we went through the activity I prompted them to move to the next stage of the activity by changing between slides. We gave them about 2 minutes for Thinking about and recording their prior knowledge. The Puzzle section was allocated about 15 minutes to read and talk about the stimulus material and to create questions, then about 3 minutes for exploring and reflecting on any new learning from the stimulus material. Once they had completed one topic, the sheets and resources were moved to the next table via a rotation cycle we had set up. The second and third time the students were able to move through the activities at their own pace.


The students had not done an activity like this for a while, so it took at least one rotation to figure out what needed to be done, by the third rotation they had it sorted and were experts at it.

I had two classes on the same day and unfortunately I had run out of time to make the professional looking pages, so i had to resort to handwritten. Not what I wanted to do, but what was required.

The result
Having the three area allowed for us to see what their prior knowledge was, and then in the explore section we could see their new learning or thinking about the theme or concept. The Puzzle section was the actual focus of the activity, and the questions the students created ranged from simple factual questions right through to conceptual. See below.

The created questions ...

How is it that Shakespeare’s invented words are still in use today?
Can you translate old english?
Why did shakespeare choose to make up words and how does he explain them to people?
Was there rivalry between other writers and him?
When, how and why is the new language adapted by people?
How do they learn unknown words without the dictionary?
Is our understanding of Shakespeares language equivalent to what he wanted to express?

Why did Shakespeare write Romeo & Juliet at that time and place?
Did everyone in the time period understand Shakespearean language?
What has changed over time in different versions of the story?
[What were] Romeo’s tastes [in women?]

How can they express & feel passionate about someone they don’t fully know?
Is shakespeare’s true intention to have different characters so individual audiences can choose who is the main character in their heart?

Which literary device does he use the most?
How does he get the inspiration for Romeo & Juliet
How did people respond to Romeo and Juliet first came out? was it very popular?
Why does Shakespeare want the audience to know the ending of the play before they have even read it or seen it?

Why does he make his characters wear tights?
Why did he create Romeo and Juliet play?
Has there always been tension between parents and teenagers?

How can Shakespeare change the grammar of english - Wouldn't that be bad english?
How does Shakespeare always seem to make all of his plays seem magical and dream like?

Who is Baz Luhrman?
Why did Disney base the Lion king on Hamlet?

Will people still be learning about Shakespeare 100 years into the future?
Is Shakespeare timeless enough to be modernised?
Are people going to modernise the modern version later?

This was just a sample of the questions the students created, some of them are so good and will allow quite a bit exploration and thinking.

The prior knowledge and new understanding comments were also interesting and highlighted some misunderstandings and confusing, which will be good to straighten out.

Feedback from the students :


  • Liked working in the small groups on different topics
  • Were able to learn a little bit about a number of things
  • Didn’t need to stick to one topic for too long.
  • Liked the critical thinking and making the questions together
  • The length of the stimulus articles was suitable for most.
  • Would have liked more time for the question creation and to discuss their learning from the sources.
  • One student said the activity was tedious doing the same thing over and over again.
  • The length of some of the stimulus may have been a struggle for some
  • the second class commented that the paper needed to have more guidance - this class didn’t have the same instructions on the paper as the others.



Reflection for improvement:

Take 80 minutes to do 3 rotations

Include discussion time about the stimulus with driving questions to help thinking
Have the students place their own questions etc into the google form (save teacher time)
Give the time to give better instructions at the beginning
Have the printed slides on the large paper for all groups and classes
EXPLORE - is not the right term for this activity as we really wanted to focus on the questions, maybe reflect, ponder with a question - "What are your new understandings?"

Overall I think it was a successful lesson and collaboration and, with some tweaking, will be better next time! Thanks Buffy Hamilton for the inspiration!

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Fixing a flexible schedule



There has been a raging battle with school librarians over the fixed vs flexible issue for their schedule. It has mainly been a battle for the elementary school because the library time is often used as a relief from face to face time, and secondary schools have have had a different battle of just getting access to classes. The whole debate is a difficult one as each school is different and each school librarian has different talents.

Something that we tried this year in the secondary school is for each English class years 7 -11 to be scheduled into library time once a fortnight. In the first term, I used this time to upskill the students on the library resources and services through a quick 15 minute activity as they really had had no formal exposure to the library before this after elementary school. They then had time to browse and borrow books and read. The teacher would always accompany their classes.

For the first few months, I scheduled other appointments around this schedule so I would also be able to be with the classes to help with finding resources, talk to the teachers, and to promote the library services. After a few months the English teachers started asking me to integrate some of the things they are doing in class into these library sessions - Introduce George Orwell and Animal Farm, run a literature circle group, and help to collect supporting texts (Star Crossed Lovers to support Romeo & Juliet).

Although the scheduled time with the secondary classes has been quite low level stuff on my part I have realised it has led to a number of long term benefits :
  • Building relationships with the students, I can see what they are reading, doing, and ask them about their lives. They are now more willing to approach me to be helped in any way they need to be helped
  • Building relationships with the teachers. This has led to being invited to be part of the planning process, and to co teaching in the English department. It has also led to being invited into other curriculum areas as word gets around.
  • Better collection development as I now know what the student interests are, and the context in which subjects are being taught.
  • Students who know how to use the library more independently remotely, and better use of our services and resources.
  • More use of the physical space during recess and lunch times and after school.
  • More meaningful access to the students by the school librarian.
  • Increased reading by the secondary students.
  • More students wanting to be involved in the Library Service programme, which has led to more positive student initiatives happening in the library.
It has all resulted due to the increased exposure of the students and teachers to the library and teacher librarian.

As  my schedule fills up, the flexible part of the scheduling comes into play. It is now 2nd term and  the english teachers are aware that I may not be with their classes during their scheduled library visit as I will be working somewhere else at that time - in a planning meeting or teaching a class in the classroom. I will tell them in advance and they have the choice if they wish to bring the students in for their scheduled time or not. Most choose to still come along as the students demand it!

My point of this post is that even though regularly scheduled classes may not be the best use of the School Librarians time all the time, if it is negotiated beforehand and used with purpose, it can lead to much, much more. 

Friday, January 16, 2015

The Wattpad Phenomenon


What is Wattpad

Wattpad is a crowd sourced site for self published writing. The writing is voted on, it is changed and updated as the author feels the need, it is free to access as a writer and a reader, and, the middle school students at our school love it. This blog post from David Gaughran explains it in more detail with some statistics (one of which is that Wattpad users spend about an hour a day on the site). Read the Wattpad story.

The official blurb goes like this ... 

"Wattpad is the world's largest community of readers and writers. It's the free and fun way to read on the web and across all mobile devices. Everyday millions of people use Wattpad to read unique new fiction or share their own creative writing. For both avid readers and aspiring writers, Wattpad is the best place to discover and share unlimited stories. It's the only community that offers a mobile, social, eReading experience.
Wattpad was founded by Allen Lau and Ivan Yuen and is based in Toronto, Ontario.
Wattpad’s vision is to revolutionize the way people read, write and share stories. All the content on Wattpad is created by its community of users. So far, over 5 million stories have been uploaded to Wattpad spanning all genres of creative writing - from mystery, to romance, sci fi, poetry and fan fiction.
And it's fun for adults and kids"  from Crunchbase
I sort of stumbled across this phenomena last academic year when we did the Reading Trends survey, and discovered many of the students were accessing their reading through the Wattpad App, and, these were readers of all ages and levels.
Intrigued, I asked them why they access their reading here and not through the mainstream methods. It essentially came down to similar reasons as expressed by Caution District ....

 "I recommend this app for anyone who loves to read and people who don’t like to read either because there is something for everyone. Wattpad is not just for the people who love to read it is also just for people who love to write because Wattpad is where anyone can publish a book, fan-fiction ,and anything that a everyday person can think to write."  

Reasons from our students included : Lots of books written by teens, for teens, interesting books, short books and books that keep changing depending on what people ask for. A wide variety of storylines and interesting characters. Searchable, easy to find books of interest, lots of fanfiction. You can vote on the books, and suggest changes which the authors may or may not do. I can talk to the authors and ask them questions and they talk back. There are so many titles to choose from. There are so many topics.
I needed to check this app/platform out - particularly because the students were asking me to add their Wattpad reading to Goodreads for them and I needed to figure out how to navigate the site, and I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. Well, it is huge, it is easily accessible, and it has diversity and for writers, it has an authentic and responsive audience. I can see its appeal immediately.
There are awards, challenges to encourage writing, (The 30 Day writing challenge) , it is connected to all social media sites - twitter, facebook, instagram, youtube and tumblr and it has a community consisting of club discussions, crowd sourced awards and a blog.
So, what are the social, business and educational implications for Wattpad?
Social : Young people have easy access to reading, and lots of it, they have conversations about what they are reading with each other and with the author. The authors want to improve their writing so people will read it to garner more votes.  Authors have a platform to publish their writing and get immediate feedback, it is crowdsourced so the best writing will always get the most votes.
Authors : Aspiring authors have a platform to test their writing, they don't need a publisher to tell them "it is not what we are looking for." They are evaluated by their peers along with everyone else. They are encouraged to keep writing by immediate feedback. It can be used as a platform to be noticed by publishers or even film studios to have their work published. Established authors could use the platform to pique interest from a new readership, they may even have the opportunity to republish their out of print books to give them a new life. There is a short non fiction book on Wattpad - "How publish on Wattpad" to give tips on making your written work work on Wattpad.
Publishers : This is a serious challenge to their current business model. I really don't think they need to be too concerned about ebooks - Wattpad and similar sites are a challenge. Publishers have always decided what will be printed according to their perception of the next big thing, however, Wattpad shows that readers want diversity in their reading, they do not want all the books to be vampire fiction, or dystopian love stories. They want to be able to read a variety of themes and genres.  They want easy access and they want free. 
On the other hand, Wattpad might be just a perfect place for publishers to find the next big trend, or even pluck an obscure author from the masses just based on the votes they have received and published, it may reduce the amount of manuscript reading and unsolicited "I want to publish a book please publish mine" scenarios.
Education : We need to embrace this phenomena, as I don't think it is going away soon. It has grown from strength to strength. So how could it be embraced?
Library : 
  • We could promote it as another access point for reading (and writing). 
  • Could some of the popular books be catalogued in our OPACs? 
  • Could we highlight our own students who are publishing on Wattpad? 
  • If you use Goodreads, we could all become Goodreads librarians and add our students Wattpad reading to the Goodreads database to give this reading validation as being 'real' reading.
  • There is writing in every language - this platform could easily be promoted and used for mother tongue support.
  • Throughout the site, there are comments about copyright, creative commons, public domain.
General School life: 
  • Could Wattpad be used as a platform for publishing in class creative writing?
  • Could the teachers use examples from Wattpad to look at different writing styles and devices?
  • A class could follow a story as it is published chapter by chapter and comment to the author.
  • A language class could use the writing in the language of instruction to enhance the reading and language skills of their students.
  • The art and design curriculum could be harnessed to connect with authors to create covers and promotion for their books.
  • The platform can be used as a place to start or read about campaigns against undesirable behaviours 
  • Students undertaking Personal Projects and Extended essays could use this platform as research or as a publishing platform.
  • Wattpad is outstanding for those students who have access, learning and reading difficulties - text size and font can be changed, audio can be used to read the books and the writing comes in lengths from 1 page to 1000's of pages - and you can search the database based on length of the work.
  • The short Wattpad writing tips videos (recorded by established Wattpad authors) could be used as a self checker against their own work, or even as a tutorial on how to write, or if you like - flipped classroom pedagogy.
  • Staff could be encouraged to write and publish on Wattpad on their area of expertise whether it be fiction based on their subject, or commentary of their own interest. There is a story in all of us.

The statistics for Wattpad in 2014 are astounding, Wattpad is here to stay. I encourage you to check it out, learn how to access it and promote it as an authentic reading and writing platform across your school.

Can you think of some other ideas of how Wattpad could be used?
Do you harness the power of Wattpad in your library and school? Please share.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Something fun for the New Year!

Reference Question from the NYPL 


Happy New calendar Year everyone!

I just read about this fun thing the New York Public Library is doing until their supplies run out (which may be a long long time). I found this information from the Gothamist blog, which I follow via Google +.

The NYPL has always been a place for people to find information, and in the days before Google, they would record the reference questions that people would ask on what looks like catalogue cards. Well, they are now posting pictures of these reference questions on their instagram account with a new one each Monday. The hashtag they are using #letmelibrarianthatforyou.

Some of the questions are ....
  • Is it possible to keep an octopus in a private home?
  • I just saw a mouse in the kitchen. Is DDT OK to use? (1946)
  • Does NYPL have a computer for us of the public? Answer: No sir! (1966)
  • What did women use for shopping backs before paper bags?
  • Are black widow spiders more harmful dead or alive?
  • Is it proper to go to Reno alone to get a divorce? (1945)
  • Are Plato, Aristotle, and Socrates the same person?
  • Can NYPL recommend a good forger?
  • Where can I rent a beagle for hunting (1963). 
  • Has the gun with which Oswald shot President Kennedy been returned to the family?
  • What is the life span of an eyelash? Answer: Based on the book Your hair and its care, it's 150 days.


As I am writing this I am thinking of some ways to use this resource in school and some of the ideas  I have come up with are: 


  • Repost the question on our library instagram or facebook page and see if someone can find the answer to the question. 
  • Use the photos as a lesson on questioning - good and bad questions, strange and unanswerable  questions, what are they really trying to find out?
  • Use the cards as a history lesson on life before Google ... where would you find the answers to this question? Can it be googled?
  • Use the cards and questions as a stimulus for a social insight into the era of the question.
I may think of more, but thanks NYPL - this is a fun little project and I will look forward to checking my instagram feed on Mondays!

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

End of year pressure


I am a big fan of Goodreads, and I particularly like the reading challenge you can set yourself a reading goal at the beginning of each year. Last year I set a goal to read 50 books through the year, I achieved that goal in October, and then extended the challenge to 70 books. I tend to read mostly young adult fiction and a few books for grown up and some non fiction.

I am now sitting here on the last day of the year in a quandary - I have two books to read to reach my goal before midnight tonight. I am halfway through one, so do I count the half read one and move onto a short read (ie picture book) to read my goal? - or do I just relinquish the opportunity to reach the goal and move on to the next year knowing I was so close .... but not quite there?

There was this blog post from book riot at the beginning of december on "Why I won't be participating in the Goodreads Challenge"  where the author Jessica Pryde found that she became consumed by the reading challenge, and continual increased her goal each year, but then found it difficult to enjoy her reading with the pressure of the high number she had set herself.

Then there is another blog post about why AliGeorge will be taking the Goodreads challenge, and I am tending to lean more toward agreeing with the points in this post. I like to be able to see my reading over the past 12 months, and as I look back over the year, I am surprised the books I read were only from this calendar year and not before. This was the first year I participated in the reading challenge and although I didn't keep a record from previous years, I know it was the year that I read most books since leaving high school, and I will put this down to the Goodreads reading challenge.

So after reading a bit more than 19339  pages and 68.5 books over 12 months, I will probably finish the one book I am halfway through and call it a year of reading, the purpose of the challenge was to motivate me to read more and it has achieved that, and I went way beyond my original goal of one book a week.

So what did I read this year? Have a look at this link .. My Goodreads 2014 reading log for the full list.