Friday, November 21, 2014

Developing a dream library

This weeks post is a guest post from Philip Williams, an Australian living and working in Laos at an international school in Vientiane. I first met @flipoz through #mypchat on twitter, then we were able to meet in person at an IB workshop I was facilitating. As part of the workshop we had a sharing time where a few of the participants shared some of their best practise, and Philip shared what he did to transform a library from a boring space into a dynamic and exciting learning space. I was so impressed with his presentation and method of transformation I asked if he would write a post for Library Grits.  He has also started his own blog, The Library Element, so there is another great practitioner to follow through your favourite reader. Now onto Philip and his library transformation.....

Photographs and further information about the transformation can be found on VIS Library development page.

Imagine creating the library you have always dreamt of. My dreams of the ultimate library are quite lofty so I still have a long way to go however I have been thrilled by the process of redesigning and redefining our library at Vientiane International School (VIS), Laos. The VIS Library has just been through a dramatic renovation which involved packing up our entire collection, stripping the building down to it's shell and redesigning every detail.

The first step in this process began with my very first step into the VIS Library back in 2011. A huge amount of work had already gone into building the library from a very small collection into a fully functioning library providing resources for students across K-12 but more work needed to be done. While the library was well used at that time there was very little about the physical environment that reflected the values, pedagogical approaches and philosophies of VIS. The next stage in the development of the VIS Library was to address this mismatch. 

So what took up that 3 years between arriving at VIS to the renovation taking place in July 2014? Preparation involved a careful consideration of the unique needs of the VIS community..... 

  • Collectively we challenged our assumptions about the role of the library and what strategic design features would contribute to our community. 
  • We observed library traffic and student usage of the spaces, we gathered formal and informal comments. 
  • We consulted with parents, students, teachers and carefully observed student usage patterns which informed us about what they needed. 
  • We also consulted with other librarians & library interior designer Kevin Hennah in 2013 to gain an outside expert perspective on our library spaces and have adapted and implemented those suggestions with wonderful results. 
  • We culled heavily and invested in reinvigorating our collection with the aim of providing a rewarding experience for students enticed to explore the spaces.

We have defined our space with student centred strategies & built a flexible future proof environment. A key focus was to create a unique experience for visitors so a visit to the library has become an event in itself. We have decluttered making the literature the star of the show, we have minimised the administrative features and maximised student agency through design features that invite and encourage student independence. Students can now experience the quiet pleasure of solitary reading as well as a more boisterous collaborative experience.

While it is still too early to use circulation data to investigate changes in library usage, the volume and variety of library visitors has changed dramatically. But most importantly, the variety of independent student led inquiry in the library has confirmed the theories and philosophies behind the changes we made. I can now see the emergent nature of student learning happening before my eyes through access that is student led, inquiry focussed and above all, fun. When I walk around the library at break times I see students engaged in a wide variety of learning engagements entirely initiated and led by the students as they naturally respond to their context. There are what we would describe as literacy circles, mother tongue buddy reading, solitary reading for pleasure, collaborative studies and investigations (sharks, castles and dragons are common areas for exploration), access to all text types and genre and parallel reading (parallel play but with books). 

One key indicator that we have achieved our goal is the occurrence of emergent student behaviour that I did not predict. The students rearrange furniture to configure their environment to suit their needs. Maker spaces come and go as student inspiration impels them into action. This emergent nature of student response to their new library environment has been the most satisfying experience to be a part of. 

These images were taken during a random 60 second walk-through during a recent break time but captures some of those deep moments of emergent learning. 

So while my dreams of an even more adventurous library remain, the VIS Library is now a space I (and many others) thoroughly enjoy. Please visit next time you are in Vientiane, Laos, or contact me if you would like to know more. 

How do you imagine the library you have always dreamt of?

Saturday, November 15, 2014

The Genius of the DDC.

I may be a bit slow on this, but in the past two weeks I have come to realise what a genius Melvil Dewey was in his development of the Dewey Decimal System for library organisation. 

Let me explain ....

The use of our non fiction section is woefully low. It is essentially 4 long shelf bays taking up space in what is already a small space. There are many reasons for this, not the least is that the students actually don't know how to make sense of the non fiction - the code that Dewey created is brilliant once you know and understand it and unfortunately our middle years students didn't.

I created a lesson on how the non fiction is organised.

The students were greeted with 10 piles of books on tables with a number on top.

Their interest was piqued. 
They started looking through the books on the table asking questions ...
What is this number, why is it on this pile of books?
What are these books? Can I borrow this book?

I then told the story of Melville Dewey having the problem of having to organise the books in his library over 150 years ago. How would they organise a library full of books? Some suggestions were thrown around, with a bit of thinking also going on.  We talked about what decimal means, and how it is a metric system then led into how Dewey organised all the worlds information into lots of 10 by dividing the number 1000. And we ended up with the numbers on top of the piles of books. We were then going to "reverse engineer" the dewey system.

Their task was to look at each of the piles of books and figure out what the connection was in how they were organised under that number together. 
They did have a paper to record their thinking for each of the numbers. I created this based on the Dewey as a caveman that can be found here.

I observed them and interacted with them when they seemed to be heading into the "make a quick decision but not really think about it trap". The 100's, 200's, 400's, 800's, 900's,  and seemed to be the ones they grasped easily, the 300's, 500's, 600's, 700's and 000's proved to be the most difficult as they had the greatest range. It was quite difficult for the students to pull back from the 'topics' and see the concepts behind the organisation. This was a high level thinking activity where connections needed to be made across various levels of pre knowledge and understanding of themes and topics, and connecting with what they already knew from the other piles.

We started to look at the big picture of the ones they 'got' first. What was the theme behind the organisation? They managed to identify the 100's thinking, 200's beliefs, 400's communication, 800's literature or the telling of stories, 900's history and geography.

They then revisited the other categories and tried to figure out the connections. Many were quick to label everything as culture, but were urged to think more specifically than that. Attempts were made, some were correct. I revealed the answers, working through them as concepts rather than topics and this is where Dewey's brilliance was revealed to me in a number of ways.... explained later.

The students seemed to 'get it' at the end, and said the organisation made more sense.  I think this was due to the focus being on the concepts rather than the "Dewey topics". After the lesson students went into the non fiction area to see what else they could find under their new favourite number, and some even borrowed the books in the piles. Many were interested in looking at the DDC volume and seeing how it all came together after the big numbers.

I can see a development of this lesson where each group is given an object or theme and they are to create the perspective or contextual and conceptual framework where it could be placed into each dewey category....

Take for for example a pen: ...
100's  - Posing a philosophical question - "The pen is mightier than the sword"
200's - The ethics of using a pen to vandalise
300's - examining the effect the pen has had on the world - socially, economically and environmentally
400's - The word PEN in various languages
500's - The natural materials used to create the pen
600's - How the pen works
700's - Pen twirling as a sport
800's - Poetry and Jokes about pens
900's - the history of the pen

I will just see about that. The main objective of the first lesson was to expose the students to the non fiction and to help them understand the system better. 

So where did I figure Dewey's brilliance came in???

Firstly - the system is totally concept based.
100 - How man thinks 
200 - What man believes and values
300 - How man interacts with each other and the environment
400 - How man communicates with each other
500 - The natural world that man lives in 
600 - How man uses his thinking to manipulate the natural world (100's + 500's??)
700 - How man uses his thinking and the natural world to enjoy himself
800 - Man recording his culture, language and expression
900 - Where man is in place and time
000 - General recorded information and what comes next?

Secondly - the system starts with man and moves away from himself into the world finishing with history and the past - what has been left behind is furthest from man thinking of himself. (this could actually be seen with a sense of humour - man not learning from history ...)

Third - each category builds on the one before. Ever expanding mans circle of self.

Fourth - Dewey's use of the decimal system where the rest of the world was still imperial in so many ways. 

And lastly - Dewey left so many "unspecified spaces" in the DDC that we still haven't allocated them all. Dewey was certainly a man with a vision that information was going to grow beyond his comprehension.

And for those in the IB programmes - linking the Dewey concepts to the Global concepts is also possible ....

The 000's would fit across all the contexts.

So that was my epiphany - nothing earth shattering, but just a better appreciation of something that has lasted the test of time and a better understanding of the reasons for its longevity.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Scooter vs Ferrari

I worked with a Year 10 Individuals & Societies last week, they had to work in a group to research and create an information poster on a political ideology.  They were reminded about using Easybib to create their bibliography, of which they all have an account through a school subscription. They mentioned that 'it was soooooooo painful to use Miss' (they hadn't installed the extension for their browser) and that it would take too long to work together along with Easybib. 

Not wanting to force them to go where they were showing resistance, but knowing they needed to keep track of the resources they were using through the group project I tried something new.  They were using a shared Google doc in each of their groups, and I persuaded one group to try the Google Add on of Easybib, which then led onto the other groups wanting to learn about this, so it spread through the room and by the end of the lesson, all students were using it.
(Google doc -> Add ons -> Get add ons -> Easybib -> install)

This add on is the bare bones, stripped down free version of Easybib. It does the job of creating a bibliography simply and quickly within Google docs. It was particularly good with the group work to enable the students to keep track of where they were accessing their information. It only has three citing functions - book, journal article and website, so we still had to refer to the full version of Easybib to remind them of how to cite a digital image and an article from a database.  Overall it did the job required and will hopefully encourage the students to move onto the full version. I did explain that it was just like riding a motor scooter in that it is the "get the job done" version of Easybib,  and for full power they needed to consider the Ferrari model for which the school pays. They will then find full enlightenment and enjoyment of research.

This quick and timely instruction was also testimony to me to of the power of being in the classroom at the right time when the students were ready to learn about a new skill and tool and were ready to apply it. One off lessons on a skill or tool or resource just do not stay with the students.  They need to see a personal and immediate connection for their use.

This was also good for me as I also have been exposed to more possible tool integration in the Google suite which look very interesting - these include lucidchart, texthelp study skills, bibliography annotator by Diigo, plus a host of others. Do check out the Add ons if you are in a Google suite school.

Using this page 
Anyone may link to this Library Grits without asking prior permission, I’d be honored and happy that you have found it useful. However, I would appreciate if you cited it correctly if you use any part of it wholly or separately.

This page can be cited as follows :
McKenzie, D. (2014, 7 November)  Scooter vs Ferrari. Retrieved from

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Maze Running

In English, our Year 9 students had a choice of a few books to read : Kitchen, the Curious Incident of the dog in the night time, Jane Eyre and the Maze Runner. Most of the students chose to read the Maze Runner. I was invited to participate in the culminating literature circle activity where the students would look at setting, characterisation and relationships. I had up to, and probably over 45 students to work with over 80 minutes.

Whatever I planned had to be engaging, related to the book, engage them to interact with each other and be heavy on the group work low teacher input for class management.

Each group of 5 students was given a large piece of paper and they were to discuss and draw the layout of the glade (and the Maze if they so desired, but the Glade was the main activity), placing the items of the Glade in places they thought they would be.

This was interesting to watch as the students argued over where they believed different buildings and objects were in the glade, there was much cross referencing with the book with them trying to find evidence to support their arguments. Interestingly, not every drawing was identical. It also took at least 40 minutes to complete this task.

The second task was to list / mind map the characters on another large sheet of paper and allocate adjectives to them (we started with the IB learner profiles and worked out from there). For each characteristic they gave to a character, they had to supply a supporting piece of evidence such as an action or speech the character did that could found in the book. Then as an extension of this, the students had to draw links to the characters who had relationships in the book, and identify what type of relationship it was. For example "Minho and Thomas have a relationship that includes trust, respect, mentor, equal friendship shown through the problem solving they go through and the first test they had to beat the  grievers. "

This took another 40 minutes of discussion (and arguments) and consistent referral to the book to complete, however the feedback from the students was that it was a great activity where they could talk about a book they all loved, fulfill the english criteria and they felt more prepared about being able to discuss the characterisation and relationships that were in the book for their assessment on relationships. They also appreciated the group interaction and not having to write a whole lot. The students who relied on only seeing the movie were unable to contribute as much to the discussion, and that was very apparent to all the students when it came down to details and understandings.

For myself and the teaching,  it was a testament to the use of the humble paper and marker pen tools to help draw out knowledge and make the learning truly visible. No computers or devices or permitted to be used in this activity. This was repeated with 2 different classes, and all students in both classes were equally engaged and always on task with very little teacher input required. This to me is a sign of a robust and repeatable activity!

Saturday, October 11, 2014

The learning wall

Last weekend I had the pleasure to co-facilitate an IB workshop "Inquiry and the librarian across the three programmes with Gary Green (@ggreen7) who has been working at PLC in Perth, Australia for the past 12 years as the Head of Library among many other roles he has undertaken at the school. This was the second workshop we facilitated together.

Gary is all about the learning, and is an inspirational educator to learn from and work with. He is always thinking of new ways to teach better and ensuring the learner is actively engaged in their own learning. 

As part of our learning journey together I have introduced him to some online tools and ways of learning, and he has introduced me to some great paper thinking tools he has created. We are a great team as we are able to work with each others strengths and we are both flexible and reflective. This last workshop Gary introduced me to the "Learning Wall' which he had just developed for his students based on his learning in the Harvard "Making thinking Visible" course. He had enough copies for all the participants and he persuaded me that this was a good idea before we started, so we went with it rather than an online document either as a downloadable or google doc that we had used before as it allowed for a 'jot style' of notetaking.


We introduced it to the participants and explained how we envisioned its use. It was a type of placemat where they could just place short notes into each box or brick. The wall is a metaphor for their learning, building upon previous knowledge.

Over the three days of learning, the participants walls filled up, some even overflowed onto a new wall. At the end of each day we asked them to place their learning walls on the real wall for others (and us) to see what learning was happening in the room.  In the very last session we asked them to circle the following on their wall :- 

Something they will initiate in the next week
Something that will be a short term goal (by end of year)
Something that will be a long term goal (1-3 years)

They then had to talk to a partner about their learning over the 3 days and the goals they were making. 

The learning wall is a very visual way of knowing what is being learned by the class participants, and a great reflective tool for after the workshop. The participants can now take this page and show to their line managers, co-ordinators and pin it on their notice board to remind them of the learning they had a the workshop.

I have thought about how else the learning wall could be used.  A student could carry it with him or herself over a day and uses it to jot down the learning as it happens then reflect on it in the evening (but not every day - this could get a bit painful). Or when students and teachers are engaged in one day seminars they can keep track of their learning in small bite sized chunks. The beauty of the learning wall is that it does not allow for copious notes, so the learner needs to really transform their understandings into small chunk sized pieces. 

What do you think? How might you see this tool being used?

If you do create a modified version of the learning wall please ensure you attribute Gary in this, his creative genius does need to be acknowledged.

Using this page 
Anyone may link to this Library Grits without asking prior permission, I’d be honored and happy that you have found it useful. However, I would appreciate if you cited it correctly if you use any part of it wholly or separately.

This page can be cited as follows :
McKenzie, D. (2014, 11 October)  The learning wall. [Blog] Retrieved from

Friday, October 3, 2014

Helping one of our own

This post is a off my normal track and I hope you will bear with me and take action.

A Teacher Librarian in Hong Kong, Debbie Alverez (aka the Stylin'  Librarian) is needing support from the wider education community. Over the past 14 months Debbie has been dealing with and treating multiple cancers, and, the health insurance is drying up. She does not need this type of stress right now.

I knew Debbie through her blog and was very excited when she was moving to Hong Kong from Oregan, USA so that I could get to know her personally. Over the past 2 years we have become friends and have worked together on a number of projects.  Deb has been an inspiration for myself in what she shares, her professionalism and her depth of knowledge of children's books, authors and school librarianship. Her family have been actively adventurous over the past 2 years exploring Asia on a shoestring and finding new treasures that are off the beaten track. With this new challenge (or plot twist) in her life, she has faced it bravely and head on. She has been researching and making changes in her life to reduce the impact of the cancer and treatments on her body and sharing it so others may learn and grow from it.

If you can please support Debbie by visiting this Give Forward page to donate what you can to an amazing woman so she can continue her fight against cancer and continue to inspire so many of us with her work. This has been set up by a friend of hers as Debbie is way too humble to ask for money or help.  If you have learned anything from Debbie, or been inspired by her over the years, now is the time to give back. If you haven't heard of her before, visit her blog and if you learn one thing or are inspired by something you read, then donate. Or, just help a stranger and see how it feels.

Postscript 11/10/2014 : The Give forward page has raised over $10,000 for Debbie. Thank you to everyone for your generosity. You can keep giving even though the goal has been reached.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Integrated referencing

View through a 4x rifle scope. Public Domain.

As part of the journey we have set upon to lift the profile of academic honesty at our school, and in response to the ATL audit we did I created a draft scope and sequence for referencing which starts in the first year of secondary school. There are plans to extend it into the primary school, but that is not the immediate priority right now.

This draft was given to all Heads of Department as a guide as to the minimum requirements that would be expected for full marks in the criteria on referencing for each year group and gives specific skills and benchmarks for teachers to teach to regarding referencing. It also is a marking guide for expectations that will be standardised across the school, to reduce confusion for the students and teachers. The Heads of Department took it to their team for comment and trial and we have had some interesting conversations and feedback.

Referencing is just one element of a number of others in each criteria, so the emphasis should not be just on referencing and citation.

For example MYP Science Criteria D ... (For MYP year 1)

Objective D

Reflecting on the impacts of science
At the end of year 1, students should be able to:
i. describe the ways in which science is applied and used to address a specific problem or issues
ii. discuss and analyse the various implications of using science and its application in solving a specific problem or issue iii. apply communication modes effectively
iv. document the work of others and sources of information used.

And for Individuals and Societies (Previously Humanities) Criteria C communicating.
(MYP Yr1)

Criterion C

At the end of year 1, students should be able to:i. communicate information and ideas with clarityii. organise information and ideas effectively for the taksiii. list sources of information in a way that follows task instructions*.

Referencing and citing is just one of 3-4 points the students are marked on. 

Going a little bit further, a break down of the criteria to assist in creating a standard marking rubric across the year level team is the next step. This is not finished and requires more thinking and discussion and is being developed across all year levels for each subject. The example below is just to give an example of where we are heading for all criteria. Sometimes teachers have different standards of expectations for students, (particularly with criteria marked like this * above) this type of guide helps to reduce the gap so marking can be consistent across all students.

Year 1 Individuals and Societies Criteria C - Communicating.

Level descriptor
The student does not reach a standard described by any of the descriptors below.
The student has not:-
completed the work to any standard
or may not have handed in the work
The student
i. communicates information and ideas in a style that is not always clear.
ii. organises information and ideas in a limited way
iii. inconsistently lists sources, not following the taks instructions
The student
i. (written)  The arguments and thoughts are not organised in a logical manner and not grouped together. Sentence and paragraph structure is difficult to read. Grammar and spelling errors are frequent.

The student:
i. communicates information and ideas in a style that is somewhat clear.
ii. somewhat organises information and ideas
iii. lists sources in a way that sometimes follows the task instructions.
The student has
The student :

i. communicates information and ideas in a style that is mostly clear.
ii. mostly organises information and ideas
iii. lists sources in a way that often follows the task instructions.
The student has demonstrated
i. (written) mostly grammatically correct sentence structure. Paragraphs are used, information is mostly organised using headings and subheadings. The attempted use of labelled and relevent  graphs and images where appropriate.
(oral/ presentation/ visual) Thoughts and arguments are organised in a mostly logical order, with relevant visual prompts.

ii. Ideas and themes are in a reasonable logical order, similar ideas and themes are mostly grouped together and discussed in context with relevant evidence. Formatting is mostly  consistent.

iii.  Bibliography is in Alphabetical order Author or Corp is included
Correct capitalisation
Date of access if no date for the resources for all resources.
Attempts to cite all in text pictures and graphs.
The student :
i. communicates information and ideas in a style that is somewhat clear.

ii. completely organises information and ideas effectively

iii. lists sources in a way that always follows the task instructions.
The student has demonstrated
i. (written) consistent and grammatically correct sentence structure. Paragraphs are used, information is organised clearly using headings and subheadings. The use of labelled and relevent  graphs and images where appropriate.
(oral/ presentation/ visual) Thoughts and arguments are organised in a logical order, with relevant visual prompts.

ii. Ideas and themes are in a logical order, similar ideas and themes are grouped together and discussed in context with relevant evidence.

iii.  Bibliography is in Alphabetical order Author or Corp is included
Correct capitalisation
Date of access if no date for the resources for all resources.

The referencing scope and sequence is the tool we are using to help to develop these standard marking criteria. The scope and sequence cannot be a stand alone document without any relevance to anything the teachers are doing. It must be part of the big picture of curriculum and assessment.

The referencing scope and sequence I developed is a google document which can be found here. Feel free to make a copy of it and change where it will work with your school. I ask that you keep my name on it as the original drafter as it is quite a number of hours of work and thinking. it has been made specifically to tie in with the IB and Middle Years and Diploma Programmes with supporting references. It also refers to Easybib as our tool of choice. You will also notice that the higher the grade the more emphasis on formatting is required beyond the basics. 

Editing of this original document has been turned off (make a copy), but commenting is allowed and encouraged. I would appreciate any comments you may have about the process or document.

Using this page 
Anyone may link to this Library Grits without asking prior permission, I’d be honored and happy that you have found it useful. However, I would appreciate if you cited it correctly if you use any part of it wholly or separately.

This page can be cited as follows :
McKenzie, D. (2014, 28 September)  Integrated referencing. Retrieved from