Animals of the rainforest (and beyond)

Our school’s Stage 3 students are about to commence a Guided Inquiry HSIE/S&T unit on endangered animals that goes beyond their in-class work on rainforests, and I’ve been searching for WebQuests that we can adapt to suit our first attempt at Guided Inquiry. Yesterday, I set up a new Edublogs site, in which the five classes will share their findings.

So far, in my quest to find a suitable WebQuest, I’m more impressed with the one at, although I need to get some additional “deep thinking” potential into it. However, the site has already led me to some interesting and probably very useful Youtube video clips:

Rainforest animals

Wildlife of the Amazon rainforest (

Rainforest animals and plant life in the rainforest

This one, “The *original* rainforest rap“, does not permit embedding.

These clips should also be useful:

The rain forest song

Save the rainforests

Destination 2011: Guided inquiry

I’m off tomorrow to a teacher-librarians’ seminar on “Guided Inquiry”, presented by Dr Ross J Todd!

Teacher-librarian Lee FitzGerald, a former editor of “Scan”, is also presenting and last time I heard of her experiences trialling “Guided Inquiry” under Ross’s guidance, I went back to my school and made a point of recording more often student pre-test and post-test results and tracking the emotional side of my students’ self-evaluations, thus gaining very solid statements of the students’ analyses of their learning, in their own words.

Powerful stuff! The Kinder students who were part of a wiki project in 2007 still talk about those experiences to this day, and the Stage 3 students who did a bushrangers WebQuest in 2008, and recorded their learning on a blog, are being represented in a text book very soon!

Both of those successes occurred without the benefit of now seemingly-indispensable elements such as IWBs and the Connected Classroom. Looking forward to tackling the next stage!


Ross Todd
Ross J Todd presents the election speeches of
Obama and Cheney… as Wordles

Advocacy: part of our role?

From 1991 to 2002 I was an active committee member of the Australian Library & Information Association (ALIA) – and gladly gave up many hours of personal time to attend School Libraries Section (NSW Group) meetings, ALIA NSW Branch meetings and national ALIA Renewal meetings – only leaving when I returned to classroom teaching in 2003. (Sadly for the local School Libraries Section, it did not survive the “renewal” program of ALIA, or the retirements of many of its committee. Try as we did, we couldn’t tempt too many new/young TLs to commit to advocacy from a professional association stance.)

What other strategies can TLs can use now, to make sure that we do have the ongoing/evolving support of “politicians, unions, and professional associations”? Yes, of course every student in Australia deserves equity, but has recent Australian research demonstrated that it really is the “services of a professional qualified teacher librarian” in NSW that increases student achievement of outcomes? What else can NSW TLs and their professional associations do to convince other states’ powers-that-be that they need trained teacher-librarians in every interstate school?

As I said a previous post, NSW TLs can (and do) at least send messages via our actions in schools to the people making the decisions about NSW schools. Furthermore, we can make presentations at annual NSW DET and ASLA NSW conferences, (as I have been doing these past three years since returning to teacher-librarianship – so far no interstate invitations, but I’m willing to travel). The whole point of evidence-based practice is so we can actually prove that TLs make value-added contributions to our students’ educations. Then, hopefully, we find ways to bring those successes to the attention of the other states’ stakeholders, demonstrating that they are missing out on a crucial human resource: a trained TL.

Something very dramatic does need to happen to alter the current state of play. If the advocacy load should not be on the already-overburdened NSW TL, how will the politicians and unions suddenly be convinced to take up advocacy on our behalf, especially if we decide we are simply too over-burdened to do it ourselves?

We can blow a lot of hot air their way, sure, and write lots of letters and blog entries – and the other states can gnash their teeth in jealous misery – but it is solid action research that is going to provide the evidence for change. We have a prime minister bequeathing grants for new BER school libraries – all over NSW – over the next two years. Isn’t that a strong sign of someone noticing the work of NSW TLs? (Why wasn’t the money shunted into other types of buildings?)

NSW TLs do need to commit ourselves to proving that these promising, current efforts are going to be worthwhile. Unfortunately, that’s more advocacy work for us. A lot more.

Identifying strategies, initiatives and support

I’ve just placed a new response over on the School Libraries 21C site.

This is the section I’ve put off answering because, really, I find it quite daunting. We, as educational practitioners in school libraries, can spout off about how we should be listened to until we are blue in the face, but helping to provide the necessary statistics as evidence for change – in an organised way, that can be trusted and accurately interpreted – is so difficult.

When governments do attempt to initiate national testing of students, to gather that hard evidence of the value being added to learning, we look at their motives with great suspicion – and rightly so, when we all know how statistics can become such a powerful weapon for cost-cutting and false advertising. After all, teacher-librarians spend a lot of time teaching students how to analyse data and texts to detect their authority, validity and reliability.

Ross mentioned that “one of the critical challenges in terms of continuous improvement and personal capacity building is keeping up to date with the vast body of research”.

Having just attended the two-day NSW DET Connected Learning 2009 conference (and presenting in a session last Wednesday), I’m internalising a lot more than just “research and carefully looking at how this can be interpreted and translated into daily professional practice”. This year’s conference was subtitled “Transforming Learning and Teaching” (even the order of “learning” and “teaching” in the title was examined!) and it made me think back to this blog site on more than several occasions.

Some of the points raised by the keynote speakers were so important, thought-provoking and challenging. The presentations by Mark Treadwell and Peter Blassina, particularly, were quite mind-blowing. If you haven’t seen the TED talk on “The Sixth Sense” by Pattie Maes (MIT Media Lab), as discussed by Peter Blassina at the conference, it’s a must-see:

After that video, we were all feeling more than a little inadequate, and yet incredibly excited by the possibilities. As I mentioned in one of my earlier posts, here I was thinking my iPhone was pretty clever, and a harbinger of how students of the future would still be needing the help of teacher-librarians to plough through our information world. If “The Sixth Sense” becomes a commercial reality, the learning curve starts anew before the current one is even finished. Are any of us ready for the next paradigm shift?

Ross also mentions how “often teacher librarians claim that much research is so remote and disconnected from their professional practice. This is an important challenge. In order for research and practice to be more intricately connected, how can this be done? What would you like to see?”

Colleen Foley and I were pleased we had plenty of school principals at our session! But there was so much information to convey in a 50 minute session of a two-day conference – at which all attendees were giving up two days of their vacation. Thus “strategies / initiatives / support at the practitioner level” depend upon practitioners giving up their own leisure time to keep pace. Which is hardly ideal. How else can we ensure that principals are empowered to act in the most effective ways? And will every teacher-librarian be comfortable and capable of providing the local research data being asked of them, and then interpreting it, and internalising the research from further afield, and making it relevant to their day-to-day educational encounters?

At my school, I’m probably very fortunate that we are part of the Priority Schools Program (PSP). In order to keep getting our funding, compiling statistics of our evidence-based practice is embedded. As teacher-librarian, I made sure I was part of the PSP committee, but I can see that setting up something similar – regular, planned pre-testing, post-testing and evaluating – is not easy in non PSP schools.

The time (and funding) needed to analyse results, particularly, and prepare reports that convince all stakeholders that certain changed practices are achieving, or not achieving, outcomes is substantial.

Essential “Strategies / initiatives / support”: Hasn’t it always been about this, and don’t we always complain there’s never enough planning, reflection, money, time and training?

How do current school libraries impact on student learning?

Dr Ross J Todd observes, over at School Libraries 21C that, in many schools, outcomes and impacts are often “assumed some how to be lurking in there”. When a new syllabus comes in, educators often try to bend existing units of work to fit the new document, rather than to use the new outcomes to plan new, statistically-valid, pre- and post- tests that will enable staff to prove that learning has occurred. I’m guilty of that myself, trying to stretch old print-based resources to fit new units when library budgets are too tight.

Unless a school has cause to collect measurable data of the students’ achieved outcomes – eg. schools defending expeditures in Priority Schools Programs; teacher librarians undertaking post-graduate study (and requiring valid results for their assignments); etc – that all-important post-test, and results analysis, often get lost in the shuffle in the end-of-term mayhem, and that often happens four times a year, of course.

In a previous school, long before outcomes appeared in every KLA syllabus, we had our first taste of the power of collaboratively-planning valid, measurable, pre- and post- tests, when we re-examined our school-based science and technology units, spent a considerable amount of money on relevant resources that truly supported what we were hoping to achieve, and ensured that every S&T unit maximised the capacity for Talking & Listening (in English).

Schools need to plan for constant revisiting of syllabuses and evaluation strategies. I was going to say especially in schools with a high turnover of staff but, no, every school needs to do this in a structured, cyclic way.

Certainly, I’ve noticed renewed opportunities for the teacher-librarian to be more involved in collaboratively-planning valid, measurable, pre- and post- tests as a result of my voluntary role as an editor of several teaching colleagues’ half-yearly student reports. When educators have to clearly articulate just where on the learning continuum each student is, and for each key learning area, the traditional, waffly comments of yesteryear just don’t wash. I can see where certain gaps are exposed, and then I try my best to lend assistance.

Statements about students’ achievement, at our school, now have to be written in terms of outcomes. The new online reports, as daunting as they are, do seem to be assisting with providing a strong focus on value-added results. Of course, the new reports have brought in an additional problem: many outcomes sound too much like eduspeak, and that can really make some parents feel even more out of the loop.

And, of course, sometimes the best ideas for how something could have been evaluated come too late. (Hurray for cyclic programs, which can be improved each time the units are revisited.)

Similarly, a few years ago, I volunteered my services as an editor of the Annual School Report, and we noticed that the library had, previously, not really rated a mention in the ASR. The last few years have seen added paragraphs about the interrelationship of this school library with other important, high-profile school programs and events: Holiday Reading Is Rad, reading picnics, visiting storytellers, participation in annual community artshows, book reviews in the local newspaper, Circle Time, Premier’s Reading challenge, book raps, and a wiki.

This year, I hope to add OASIS Library borrowing statistics, too, and this is another easily-obtained set of data.

How to ensure that higher order thinking, and pre- and post-tests, are vital elements of the teaching program?

Well, I’m a great advocate of the online book raps and event raps run by the School Libraries and Information Literacy Unit (NSW DET). Programming and planning (including evaluation strategies) are provided. At the conclusion of each rap, we have solid data of learning progress, and the students’ jointly-constructed responses to the rap points remain online, for parents to visit via home or local library computers.

While the maximum benefit from book raps would, ideally, include teachers and the teacher librarian working collaboratively on the rap points, we have also used a highly effective “withdrawal of rappers” strategy, that requires the students reporting back to their classmates. We timetable what is achievable, and that can vary. Because book rapping takes place in the school library – and the new interactive whiteboard arrived this term, and is also in the library – the profile of the library is constantly being flagged (and raised).

Our school wiki (which I instigated, and made a point of branding as the Penrith PS Library Wiki (see “Scan” vol 28 no 1, 2009, pp 30-37) has several pages dedicated to outcomes-based annotations of the students’ progress, much of it in the students’ own words – pre-, during and post- tests, as gathered through whole-school Talking & Listening programs, such as Circle Time (see “Scan” vol 26 no 4, 2007, pp 4-7).

Research in print

Announcing a new professional article by Ian McLean:

‘Research columns 1, 2009: Kindergarten weaves a wiki: the learners tell their stories’ in Scan 28(1) February 2009. (Forthcoming)

Early Stage 1 students at Penrith Public School used a wiki to create jointly-constructed fables, and share the final products (and the annotated learning journey) with their extended school community – and beyond. This research paper is introduced, and peer reviewed, by Dr Ross J Todd.

This article is scheduled for publication in the next issue of Scan, the NSW DET professional journal.

What they’re saying about…

… ummm, me. 😉

This week, I did a quick Google search on what other schools around the world are doing regarding Kindergarten students using wikis. (Answer: still not much?) It’s now been a full twelve months since the unit of work, documented at, was done at this school, and I’ve just launched a similar project for a group of (possibly) gifted and talented Early Stage 1 students, hoping to repeat and improve upon the 2007 successes.

What surprised and delighted me was that numerous sites recently have earmarked/bookmarked our wiki pages, as an exemplar from which others can draw inspiration:

For example, on the University of North Texas School of Library Science wiki pages, Janienne Brown says, about our site, “This example of a Wiki from Australia shows exactly what a Wiki can accomplish and in this case [Stage 3 book review page] one of the students had their review printed in the newspaper and another student won a voucher for their participation, this is above and beyond the immediate benefits of the Wiki. Also shown are the stages the Wiki went through to illustrate that this is a process [Kindergarten fables] and the process is part of the journey. The setup of this Wiki is from their home page and names the book and author of the book and ‘A book review by first name, last initial, and grade’. This Wiki shows beautifully what we hope to accomplish, students reading, writing, getting other students excited about reading and writing too.”


And, in an excellent and enthusiastic PowerPoint presentation (“Web 2.0 – Join the journey”) , for a Summer Institute for School Librarians by Lori Franklin, our Core Values Fables pages were recommended in her section called “Why in the world wiki?”

Even cooler!

I’m making sure I take lots of notes (ie. “evidence-based practice”) again as I run the program this term. I’m already realising that some things I did last year, as a bit of a fluke, were very effective. We still don’t have an interactive whiteboard in the school, so last year, when I had the wiki page set up on a bank of three computers, the students were able to see, quite dramatically, that changes to one wiki page on one computer, were instantaneously altered on the other two computer screens, after a simple page refresh. I only had one screen on for the first lesson this year and I suddenly realised a missed opportunity.

The twelve students, from three different classes, are highly motivated and are excited about working together on some “special”. I was impressed that they seem to be more Internet savvy than the 2007 group. It will be an interesting term!

Learning, Growing, Achieving in the Early Years, Day 1

I knew there was a reason I didn’t book my overseas vacation for this break, but I wasn’t sure exactly why… until I realised that it would have been because I’d already committed to speak at a workshop at the 2008 Early Years Conference: Learning, Growing, Achieving, presented by NSW DET. Day 1 was held today, but my talk session – co-presented with current Scan editor, Cath Keane, isn’t until tomorrow.

Cath has put together a PowerPoint presentation about our recent ventures into the world of Web 2.0 – online book raps for Stage 1, and related blogs and wikis, and I’ll also be talking about my school wiki pages, using some of the material I prepared (on fable writing for Early Stage 1) for the School libraries leading learning conference I did earlier this year. My conference notes are still online, revamped a little to incorporate some recent reflections. Since that last conference, I’ve also worked on some other relevent projects: a wiki page for the Arthur Simultaneous Reading event and some great Nursery Rhyme matrices, which I used in Term One this year with Early Stage 1 and Stage 1 classes.

Today there were some excellent and thought-provoking keynote speeches from Professor Scott Paris, of University of Michigan, (“Teaching and assessing comprehension right from the start”) and Tracey Simpson (“Honest talk, shared language: connectedness for success in the early years”). Both keynotes emphasised the importance of teachers making full use of evidence-based practice, both reading the results of others’ research, and using one’s own to inform future teaching. I enjoyed these sessions, took lots of notes – which I promise to synthesis and report back about.

And sorry, Judy – of HeyJude blog – I still take my notes on paper. With a pen. The old-fashioned way. Again. 😉 (Although the money I saved not going to the USA could go towards an Apple laptop? Maaaybe.) At another recent conference, Judy had challenged attendees at that conference why no one in the audience was using their mobile (to send off live still images of the speakers direct to their blogs), or Twittering as the speeches were unfurling, or sending a live feed of the conference to overseas locations.

As I await my school’s first interactive whiteboard (IWB), it was interesting to note that many (most?) workshop presenters are now using them as standard equipment. I attended excellent and flashy sessions on “Student learning in a digital age” and “COGs: raising the bar in the early years”. In the main room, there was also a “Regional showcase” of the Best Start assessment tools project from the Sydney Region.

In summing up the regional showcase, Rob Randall reminded us of an excellent earlier quote and many people jotted this down as one of their last comments on their notepads. The new emphasis for the schools involved in Best Start has become “… shorter teaching episodes with fluid groups of students”.

Not an entirely new thought for me, coming from plenty of experience in PSP (Priority Schools Program) schools, but no doubt quite a new concept for others.

Tomorrow – Day 2! Wish me luck!

Synthesising about synthesis

I promised to get back to Monday’s professional development day with Jamie McKenzie. I’m finding it quite tricky to “report back” on an event, which offered so many seeds for further (and deeper) thought, without it sounding like I’m doing a cursory summary of the guest speaker’s main points – which are covered so much better in the “virtual handouts” Jamie has supplied on his official website(s). And it’s ironic that I’m now attempting to synthesise synthesis, think deeply about deep questions, authentically evaluate authentic evaluation and deconstruct the valuable elements of deconstruction!

It was certainly reassuring to be reminded that numerous aspects of the above elements have already become embedded into my teaching style over recent decades; the day certainly highlighted the need for all educators to be explicit about why we do certain things, to remind ourselves why these strategies work, and not to get too dismayed when it (often) appears that there are never enough opportunities to use them. It doesn’t matter how many of these days I go to, there are always be new ideas to try, ideas to scoff at (that I sometimes end up trying anyway, somewhere further along the track), and ideas I already use and now have additional confirmation that, yes, they really are worthwhile, and noteworthy.

My main purpose of starting up this blog was to reassure myself that it was the little, but purposeful, strategies we use in our teaching that can promote good – often excellent – results. The degree of planning and collaboration can vary, and when we are deep into a unit of work, it’s easy to forget that we are using them. So often, we launch into a unit with no pre-testing, or the end of term rushes up and blurs opportunities for authentic evaluation and formative assessment (Jamie mentioned that such assessment is “to enlighten, not frighten”), but when we do make the time to ensure it happens, the results can be very rewarding.. for the educators, their students and the school community.

Even more ironic, though, is that – among the brief notes (I didn’t have to take, because Jamie had given us all the URLs we needed) in front of me right now – I see that I have scrawled, under the “Strategies” heading, the point “4. Avoid heroics”. Now I’m writing this blog entry under a banner headline that promotes this site as “heroic adventures in teacher-librarianship”.

As I think I recall saying in my first few blog entries, on a day to day basis, we often overlook the amazing things we, as educators, do every day. Often, when I’m mentioning various parts of my day to others, it’s only then that it starts to crystalise how, or why, or when, certain elements were particularly effective/successful/innovative or worth repeating, testing, gathering evidence, or simply sharing.

Say these things around the PSP (Priorities Schools Programs) committee and one ends up chairing a sharing session for parents. Say these things around the editor of Scan and one ends up writing an article, sharing the ideas and findings with a much wider audience than the usual local group of teaching colleagues. Say these things too often around certain people and one can end up presenting panels at seminars!

I guess the important thing here is the sharing. Educators become educators for good reasons, and it was interesting that Jamie mentioned several times that – for quite a while – the so-called “digital literacy” and “computer literacy” buzzwords of one revolutionary information delivery service derailed us (temporarily) from the things that effective educators have always done well (ie. the titles of Jamie’s sessions on the day):

* “questions of import: wondering, pondering and comprehending

* authentic learning and assessment

* smart use of ICT

* quality teaching and learning: moves, tactics and strategies that inspire, challenge and engage

* embracing complexity: making sense of a confounding world.”

Jamie suggested many more strategies on Monday for us to try out, to test, and to incorporate. By osmosis, and also by design, some more of these shall no doubt permeate into my daily teaching, and those I’m already doing shall hopefully be strengthened – sometimes simply by highlighting them, and/or making them more explicit.

Well, I starting typing this on a Wednesday, and now it’s Thursday already. There are other gems I could share but, as I said, Jamie’s website talks about them far more effectively. Finding the time to focus on all, or even some, of the above, is sometimes difficult. Not focusing on them is worse. The collaboration opportunities for teachers to work with their teacher-librarians and other support staff become more vital than ever. In Australia, we are fortunate that the profession of teacher-librarianship continues to be valued (by many stakeholders), and it’s a profession that is ever-evolving; I hope we don’t ever have to go into battle mode to save it. (Again.)

Between the end of school yesterday, and arriving home, a colleague and I attending a meeting of Penrith Reading Project: Books from Birth, sharing our ideas and experiences about whole-school reading picnics, and how the numerous schools in our group might approach the upcoming ALIA National Simultaneous Reading Day, featuring the picture book Arthur by Amanda Graham and Donna Gynell. Using several points from Jamie’s sessions earlier in the week, we have come up with some fantastic, highly practical activities – which have quality teaching and learning embedded in them.

Just wait till you see the new wiki page we have planned for all the participating schools to dabble with in the next few weeks! (You just knew I was going to mention the word “wiki” eventually, didn’t you?) Roll on 21st May!

School libraries leading learning: Day 2

The alarm clock was again set to go off at 6:00 am and, of course, I was awake – wide awake – at 4:20 am. Nothing to do except turn on my computer, dig through all my hand-scrawled notes from Circle Time evaluations of last year’s Kindergarten wiki fables project, and add them to the new wiki page I intended to use in my presentation today.

Yesterday, Dr Ross J Todd had challenged the conference presenters – and all the teacher-librarian attendees – to embrace evidence-based practice when presenting educational research results. Although I had the students’ opening comments (scribed quotes from oral statements) on a page of my school library wiki site – ready for my tutorial session today – I had not yet planned to divulge all of the the evaluation comments (scroll down the page of the same URL) from the culmination of the unit (lest I decided to use the information elsewhere).

Oh well. I’m glad I decided to appease Ross, and fill in my time until breakfast, compiling the students’ final responses onto the wiki page, and uploading it ready for today’s talk. I’d quite forgotten how informative the students’ final comments were. (“Why did we use a wiki to write and publish our core value fables?” One answer: “Pencils run out of lead”.) Comparing these closing comments against the syllabus outcomes, over the next few months, is going to be very interesting.

By 11:00 am, my session was over for the conference – I was a free man! – and had a great and more relaxed time – especially by attending: author Paul Stafford‘s fascinating talk about his Dead Bones Society (targeting reluctant young male readers) and how he has taught creative writing to hardened criminals; and an equally stimulating session, chaired by Kathy Rushton, on the Indij series of books, written by groups of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

A highlight of Day 2 was the closing panel, hosted by bookseller/teacher Paul MacDonald, and featuring several popular Australian children’s authors, including Libby Gleeson, James Roy, Kate Forsythe and Deb Abela. They were all contributing to a discussion on “Multiliteracies in a digital world”, including postulating whether “the book” was as dead as the dead trees of which books are made. (While text books and hardcopy encyclopedias may well be on their way out, none of the guests seemed to feel that children’s picture books or other fiction in book form were in too much danger – yet. Well, except for the rising cost of paper.)

Interestingly, the Kindergarten students’ work I was showcasing today backed up the professional authors’ feelings about books. One student’s response to my question of “What should we do next (ie. now that our wiki project is over)?” was:

“More drawings! Make lots more fables. Make a book with page numbers.”