Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Repackaging skills



There is a new frantic buzz going around IB schools "The Approaches to Learning". These have been around for a while in the IB documents, but they have been reorganised, repackaged and remarketed in the Primary and Middle years program, and introduced into the Diploma Program. 

To make their mark, the ATL skills have also been made a required specific teaching aspect of the IB curriculum. The ATL skills are not new skills, they are integral skills for students to master so they can actually do the tasks teachers ask them and expect them to do. 

Below are a few lines from the IB information on the Approaches to Learning 


  •  ATL are deliberate strategies, skills and attitudes that permeate the IB teaching and learning environment.
  • ATL supports the IB belief that a large influence on a student’s education is not only what you learn but also how you learn.
  • Teaching students how to learn has always been a part of IB teaching, but now the IB is providing more explicit support for teaching these skills, aligning the Diploma Programme (DP) with the Primary Years Programme (PYP), the Middle Years Programme (MYP) and the IB Career-related Programme (CP). 
  • Focus on ATL will improve the quality of teaching and learning across the programmes and may result in more engaged teachers and students.

Most of the Approaches to learning are repackaged and remarketed what used to be and are still known as information literacy  or fluency skills (along with 21st century skills).

The first image below is a summary / overview of the 10 page Approaches to Learning document which really simplifies the skills and the purpose of what it is all about.

Image from The Relevant Educator, Caring for students.

The image below is a simplification of the information literacy skills, as you can see, there are many similarities between the two - just different words used.


Image from Infolit.org

Now school and teacher librarians have been banging on about these skills for years ... and have been relatively unheard and ignored. Now it is an required part of the IB teaching and learning skills and many teachers are struggling with integrating these skills into their everyday teaching.

Why is this such a problem for some teachers? Why is it adding stress and causing confusion? These are skills that students need to complete their work to a standard, they are also skills needed for students to learn at a higher level of thinking. These ATL skills are about pedagogy and making sure that students are just not learning content, but learning skills that will help them to access content, make sense of the content, and then create something from the content across subjects, university and life. Why is it such a hard thing? Is it because it has never been a priority? Is it because content has been king, with good pedagogy and skills coming in as the poor cousin?

The Relevant Educator blogger wrote a lovely post about the ATL skills and how by integrating them into our lessons is showing that we care for the students and how they learn.

"To care for our students means that we, as educators, should make intentional efforts to teach and embed within our students the skills they need when they move on from our educational institutions. ...... To me the ATL skills are all life-skills that will be applied during a variety of stages of  a student development — not only academically but also socially and professional. " The Relevent Educator
As a librarian whose expertise is the Approaches to Learning (or information literacy / fluency) I welcome this emphasis, this mandate to work with teachers to help them through the struggle to make sense, integrate and to prioritise these skills in their teaching. For too long teachers have assumed students have these skills, or they are being taught in another class. Now it is everyone's responsibility to teach the ATL skills that are relevant to their subject, and even those that cross over. Teachers now need to upskill themselves in these skills so they are able to teach them. They need to plan for their instruction and inclusion in the curriculum and they need to ensure they explicitly teach the skills. They also need to document the teaching and create scope and sequences. The ATL skills are not to be assessed, but they are an integral part of the assessment, as without the proficiency level of these skills, the students cannot achieve the higher grades. 

The ATL skills have been categorised and clustered as below to help teachers look at what the students need to be able to do to achieve. 
Image from IB Document MYP Principles in Practise 
Beyond the 10 clusters are ATL statements on what it may look like.

For example : 
communication -> 
        collaboration -> 
             working effectively with others -> 
                        "Manage and resolve conflict and work collaboratively in teams"

I do think the final ATL skill statement in bold is still too broad as it really doesn't give the skill set that needs to be taught to manage conflict or work collaboratively. There are quite a lot of skills embedded in this one sentence.

What does it look like to manage and resolve conflict and work with others collaboratively? 
What skills are required to manage and resolve conflict?

What skills are required to work with others collaboratively? Taking this one part of the 'skill' I have broken it down into further skills which are teachable and measurable.


  •   Demonstrates tolerance for different opinions. 
  •   Understands the concept of freedom of expression and the role that it plays in group work.
  •   Helps to organize and integrate contribu��ons of all group members into projects.
  •   Recognises the contribution of each individual in a group.
  •   Respects the ideas and opinions of others.
  •   Speaks and shares own ideas clearly with humility and openness, without patronising.
  •   Is willing to share ideas.
  •   Considers culturally divergent and opposing viewpoints on topics.
  •   Recognises the right to express own opinion in an appropriate manner.


The ATL skills that are given in the IB documents are broad suggestions and guides. The actual skill statements need to be broken down further so the individual skills that need to be taught can be identified. As teachers we need to be looking deeper than the broad sentences - what does the sentence mean? How can this be broken down so I can actually teach it. What skills are involved for this to be achieved at a high level. 

More work????   Don't fret... look at the New York Information Fluency Guide, ask your school librarian, the work has already been done. Do not go and reinvent the wheel.   Approaches to Learning are information literacy and fluency skills. They have just been rebranded and reorganised. Using this information and keywords you will see there is a wide variety of resources already available for you to use.

If you are a school librarian in an IB school, you need to be at the coalface at meetings, working in classes, collaborating on planning lessons and units. You need to share your expertise, and be helping others learn what it all means. 

If you work in an IB school as a teacher or an administrator are you including your teacher or school librarian in the process of upskilling your staff? This is the stuff that gets school librarians excited.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Symptoms of Plagiarism


I have been working quite a lot with academic honesty over the past months with the across school audit, reworking the schools academic honesty policy and preparing for a workshop for this approaching weekend.

Part of the solution in combating academic dishonesty is identifying what the causes and symptoms are.  It ok to say - "everyone just needs to follow the proper protocol and we will achieve complete academic honesty in the school". It won't work unless you look at the reasons why academic misconduct is occurring.  Once a reason or symptom is identified, we can start working on remediation.

I created this poster using examples of reasons that have been given for academic misconduct.
The image can be used in the following ways :

  • As a reminder of how one can avoid plagiarism, 
  • As a tool for teachers to recognise there are multiple reasons for academic dishonesty 
  • To assist teachers in the areas where academic honesty can be combated on their watch through specific teaching of skills - if you are in an IB school, some of these symptoms can be related directly to the Approaches to Learning. 
  • As a diagnostic tool to identify reasons for students breaching academic honesty
The poster is licensed under creative commons BY-NC-SA. The A3 full size PDF is linked here for your convenience.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Puzzling skill development


Book week was approaching and I was scrambling for easy to implement but engaging activities for the secondary school. Inspired by the above tweet from @sarakiplinger aka the Library Princess I thought I would give the idea of a community jigsaw a go. I had tried doing a community puzzle it at a previous school in the primary school, but it was a bit of a disaster due to little hands stealing pieces and messing up the puzzles as they were nearing completion.

I looked up how to order the puzzle in the above tweet, but found it a little uninspiring with older titles so continued in my research and found Create Jigsaw Puzzles, an online company that will create and send you your custom designed puzzles very quickly and worldwide.

I quickly created a design based on the most popular, newly and just released titles, with interesting and detailed covers that would make the puzzle challenging in parts. I loaded it up and paid my money for a 500 piece puzzle. 10 days later the order arrived all the way from the USA. Just in time for book week.

Book week arrived and the puzzle was placed on a round table in the middle of a major thoroughfare with a couple of stools and chairs placed beside it. There was no promotion about the puzzle. We just let it talk for itself. Within seconds of students walking into the library a group started on the puzzle. They chatted about many things while completing the puzzle including the books they were piecing together - had they read them? They hadn't heard of this book - do you know what it is about? Did you like it etc... Many even sought to read the books they had pieced together on the table.

Through the week the puzzle has been completed about twice a day, sometimes a group completes it one sitting, sometimes individuals come along and finish one book and leave it, and sometimes individuals just sit and do the puzzle by themselves, but accepting casual help from passers by.
At first those who completed the puzzle were upset that we destroyed it 10 mins after completion, but as we explained puzzles are for doing, not looking at. They were accepting and looked forward to helping and watching another group finish the puzzle.
Due to its popularity we have left the puzzle out for an extra week, and it continues to be as popular with different groups as in the first week. We are now looking at extending our range of puzzles - double sided, classics, series etc. 

There have been many studies on the benfits of jigsaw puzzles on the brain essentially it comes down to the following from The Infinite mind blog

  • enhances visual perception
  • hones coordination
  • improves memory
  • develops critical thinking
  • increases dopamine production in the brain
  • heightens creativity
  • stimulates the whole brain
After observations doing group jigsaw puzzles also enhances collaboration, co-operation, altruism, conversation and inquiry.

I did not ask permission to use the book covers in this way, but feel it is fair use in the promotion of the books and it is for educational purposes, and I will not be using them for a commercial purpose.

Do you have community jigsaw puzzles in your library? If you don't, I would highly recommend it.






Saturday, March 21, 2015

Author visits - the good, the bad, and the ugly


Author visits are big business. There are companies that make money organising them, there are festivals arranged around them and schools pay quite a bit of money to host them, and of course the authors themselves are paid to do them. It seems that almost everyone who writes a childrens book is on the circuit, and just like the rock bands, much income comes from live performances rather than sales of their creations. There are a few reasons to go on tour: to increase readers of their books as it has been documented that author visits increase the short term sales and reading of books of the visiting author which may or may not spill over into further wider reading. (that site is from the Society of Authors, so may be a bit biased). If the visitor is a well known author, it is to keep young people reading their books and to fulfill the desire of their readers to personally connect with their favourite author. I did a very small action research on the effects of author visits in 2007, you can see the report here on this Prezi.

A very quick and informal survey of middle schools students want to meet John Green, A.S. King, Louise Rennison among others. Why? What is the appeal of meeting these authors? The students want to ask questions about the characters and reasons for creating the story the way it was created, they want that personal connection which makes the authors work come alive.

In many cases schools book an author visit unseen and go on the trust of other librarian and teacher recommendations. This can be problematic as we all have different expectations from an author visit. Sometimes author visits are a waste of money and time as they leave nothing behind and do not inspire anyone to do anything except be wary of author visits. In 2009 I tried to create a google doc to centralise information about authors and their strengths, contact information, but at that time there were limited options for sharing this information socially and widely. Maybe this will be something worth pursuing again on a better platform.

So what do I expect from an author visit? I have come up with a few ideas which you may agree with or not and may have further comment on ...

1. I  expect an author to plan for and cater for their audience. I do not like it when they deliver the exact same scripted presentation to all age groups whether it is primary or secondary. Authors need to be aware of how to deliver to different age groups. If they don't know, it is important for them to learn. It is OK to go off the memorised script, it makes it real. I do not expect a slick show, I want some learning to happen.

2. If a school asks an author to focus on a particular curriculum element that is being learned then they need to include it. The author has been asked to the school for a reason, if they cannot fulfill this request it, they need to say so, or learn how to include it.

3. Be aware of and know your audience. A group of international school students is very different to a school in the middle of London or rural Australia. You cannot deliver the same presentation to all.

4. The students want to connect with the authors work so talk about it. I have found recently that authors seem to be going on a self promotion tour of all the fabulous things they have done in their life with a "take a look at me I am so good attitude". Leave plenty of time or include time for questions from the students, they want to connect with you.

5. Authors need to be flexible and not precious. Schools are busy places, you will be fed and watered, but sometimes you may not get it exactly when you want it, and stuff happens that will require change of plans. Go with the flow.

6. I do not expect the author to humiliate the students in any way. Authors are short term guests in our school, teachers work hard at building self and personal confidence over the years, and the authors do not know anything about these students. If there is a problem with a student, the teachers need to deal with it, not the author.

7. The presentations need to be engaging and involve the students. Sitting and quietly listening to someone talk for an hour is tough for adults, let alone children. Authors need to include engaging and meaningful activities that relate to the work of the author or to teach the process of creation in an active participatory way.

8. Reading their work the whole time is not acceptable. They can use excerpts and include a few readings, but they also need to include something of themselves in between.

9. Authors should not use profanity when delivering their presentation. No excuses. (Yes it has happened numerous times).

10. I would like to have an opportunity for feedback, real feedback, not polite feedback. We have paid much money for your time and delivery, we need to tell you what we think and the visit could have been better. You can use this to improve, or even as a promotional tool.

I have organised or been part of over 25 author visits in various schools, and the best authors I have had the privilege to introduce to students are below with what made them so good.... do you have others? Please leave a comment on best author visits and why.

Jack Gantos (USA the visit to HK was in 2012) - Jack had different presentations for different age groups (yrs 4 - 12), he focused on the writing process, brought with him his diary to show and left resources for the school to use. He was dynamic and focused on teaching the students.

Deborah Ellis (Canada the visit to HK was in 2010) -  Deborah left a legacy of service. She is quiet, reserved but talks with passion about the locations, situations and the people she meets while researching her novels.

Mem Fox (Australia, the visit to HK was in 2001)- Dynamic, hilarious, personal and really connected with every child.

Darren Shan (Ireland  the visit to HK was in 2007) - Pure genious where he had over 300 students eating out of his hand while he had a small group re-enact the firsat chapter of Circque du freak. He was funny and was very personable.

Elizabeth Honey (Australia the visit to HK was in 2002) - Elizabeth drew pictures and helped the students create stories similar to hers. Her presentations were high energy and very engaging and active.

Alan Gibbons (UK the visit to HK was in 2013)  - high energy with engaging short writing/ creativity activities throughout his presentation time.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Small conferences, big learning.



The International School of Macau is hosting the 2015  Hands on Tech Conference which will be held on April 18. There will be a number of speakers and workshops which cover a wide range of topics all to do with using digital tools to enhance learning.

I am a little excited as I have been invited by Louise Phinney and her team to be one of the keynote speakers at the conference along with Kerri-Lee Beasley and  Kelly Grogan. This excitement stems from my following of these educators for a while and have benefitted from their insights and expertise on many occassions so it will be nice to work alongside them on this day of learning.

I am also excited on another level - did you notice anything about these presenters? I think it must be the first digital conference where all the keynote presenters are women and this has got to be a good thing.

I am also excited as smaller conferences lead to bigger learning. These smaller school based conferences allow for bigger conversations, more aha moments and more personal connections as participants are not lost in the masses and feel more at ease with asking questions of each other, approaching the presenters and having conversations over lunch with new friends.

These smaller conferences also allow people to take a chance at presenting without too much risk and to build confidence in sharing their expertise. For me it will be my first 'keynote' after many years of hands on workshops, so this will be a new challenge for me. I am reflecting on the keynotes that have stood out for me and have identified 5 key elements which make them memorable. These elements are personal insights which are thought provoking, practical, engaging and entertaining. So that is what I am working on...

If you are close by to Macau and have a free Saturday on the 18 April, register and come along for some big learning. Hands on Tech Conference Macau Int'l School.


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.