The Travelling Fearless Project

Fearless at the gate

My fifth day each week (timetabled in chunks across the rest of my four TL days) is to work with students on PSP (Priority Schools Program) literacy and numeracy projects. This term, it’s Kindergarten’s turn, and we’ve been part of the “Travelling Fearless Project”, in which Fearless, the misnamed, cowardly, British bulldog puppy from the Colin Thompson & Sarah Davis picture book, is visiting various schools, coordinated by Cath Keane at School Libraries & Information Literacy.

My Kindergarten literacy students (five representatives from three classes, working as a small group, four times per week) brainstormed this slideshow (content, poses for photos and captions) on Fearless’s visit to our school, making good use of our IWB and exploring every nook and cranny of the new library. Photo Peach is so easy, it’s almost foolproof:

View the students’ slideshow HERE! (Update: A sequel is now online HERE!)

I hope to provide annotations, and the results of our pre- and post-tests, on a parallel page to our wiki work soon: Select the third option on the menu. Enjoy!

Fairy tales without fairies

The ugly caterpillar

Stage 1 students are working in small groups this term, with the teacher-librarian, designing storyboards for digital stories, based on famous fairy tales. Here are some of the completed PowerPoint presentations:

* Mr E and the Three Bears, a digital fairy tale by Class 1/2H, loosely based on “Goldilocks”

* The ugly caterpillar, a digital fairy tale by Class 1K, loosely based on “The ugly duckling”.

I’ve been asked to elaborate, so here goes:

This term we are addressing Fairy Tales with Early Stage 1 and Stage 1 students and, yes, the Stage 1 students (mentioned above) are familiar with actual fairy tales before writing (or parodying) their own. I have an article on storyboarding digital stories in this term’s info@aliansw newsletter (May, #2, 2010). That article covers our 2009 “Bear & Chook” book rap digital stories with Stage 2, but the same principles are being applied here.

As part of our school’s PSP Literacy program, I’m working with a different half-class each week, across three or four days per PowerPoint (ie. 3 or 4 x 30-minute afternoon sessions depending on timetable interruptions). For example, in Weeks 2 & 3, all classes were learning about “Goldilocks and the three bears” in class (and library lessons) and then, on the first Monday afternoon, I took half of one class outside and we “retold” the story, person by person, as a “Circle Time” activity. We discussed how the story could be parodied, reversed, extended with a sequel, or whatever. Then they split off into three groups and quickly designed one storyboard per group. The next day, the three groups voted for one of the storyboards to “write”. We did that as a brainstorm, with me scribing under each panel. They, essentially, all end up with joint ownership of the one completed storyline. The next day is dedicated to a strategy meeting for taking the photos (what costumes, props, locations?) and some prop making. The final day is filming, and then I spend a session of off-class time preparing the PowerPoint. The first group ended up with a story called “The three bats”, about some cardboard fruit bats and a farmer. That digital story isn’t uploaded yet because we need a parent permission slip for the young student who played the role of the apple farmer in my playground duty hat.

The next week, “Goldilocks and the three bears” was repeated with the other half of that class and we ended up with a prequel to the famous fairy tale, called “Mr E and the Three Bears“, starring our own PE teacher and three toy teddies gather from classrooms. That digital story wasn’t uploaded straight away because I need to check if Mr E was okay with being an Internet celebrity. (We’d taken his photo and made a mask out of it, but he had no idea what we were up to until the PowerPoint was finished!)

This week, I took half of the next class outside to our COLA (Covered Outdoor Learning Area) and we “retold” the new fairy story of the fortnight, “The Ugly Duckling”, again person by person, as a “Circle Time” activity. We once again discussed how the story could be parodied, reversed, extended with a sequel, or whatever. Then they split into three groups and designed one storyboard per group. And so on. This time, we ended up with a story called “The ugly caterpillar” (as linked). That digital story was immediately uploaded because we didn’t need any parent permission slips this time.

The completed PowerPoints seem to work really well. The students read them over and over and over, and the look great on an IWB! Young students have such an economy of words when brainstorming stories – just what you need for this kind of storytelling – and you can see them channeling aspects of other narratives and texts they’ve been exposed to. “The ugly caterpillar” certainly owes a lot to Eric Carle’s “The very hungry caterpillar” picture book, and the Aesop’s fable of “The ants and the grasshopper”.

Powerful PowerPointing!

This term, groups of Stage 2 students at my school have worked with me, during our PSP literacy sessions, to create and upload Powerpoint presentations of the “Bear & Chook” adventures, explanations and procedures they wrote up as storyboards.

For example:

Looking in rock pools

Skipping stones

How to make a hanky hat

Rowing a boat.

We hope that other schools enjoy their work as much as we enjoyed creating them.

Using the many clever functions of PowerPoint this term has been my own steep learning curve! Today, with only five minutes left of the lesson, and as a Stage 3 class descended upon us from across the playground (library bags at the ready), one group of eager Year 3 students was guessing how to add a series of pale, white, special-effect curved lines to one of their sequences of photos. And we did it! Exhilarating!

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?

Meeting a Challenge

We’ve deliberately made the annual Premier’s Reading Challenge (PRC) simpler to administer each year, as more and more students and teachers take up the Challenge.

Our first year, 2006, the teacher-librarian spent a lot of time providing booklets of titles for all students and teachers, parent information notes (very few came back), and little slips that parents also signed-off on for every book read, and we used them to record those titles as they were returned during borrowing sessions. Class teachers maintained paper records for each student, and the T-L did all the data entry. The K-2 (Red) books were placed on a special stand. All PRC levels were labelled with Syba Signs spine stickers. A huge amount of work, but 209 students out of about 400 completed the Challenge. We did note that, for many students, the PRC gave them a buzz about reading, so we considered it all worth the trouble.

In 2007, I returned to a T-L position and we made the parental note an “opt out by signing” form (we already knew that one existing family would be taking that option). The students filled in their own paper records. (No need for the weekly parent slips; either the student is honest about reading the books or they’re not. If anything, the students are going to be more honest than some gung-ho parents.) As T-L, I did all the data entry. 313 students out of about 400 completed the Challenge.

In 2008, the parental note was an “opt out by signing” message in the school newsletter, and the students still filled in their own paper records. I did some of the data entry, but my new clerical is much faster at it, so she helped me whizz through them in no time. I did show students that “soon” they’d be able to access their own records online. Since most of the time they’re reading they are nowhere near a computer, the paper records are still very useful. One of my parent helpers misunderstook my instruction and pulled every PRC book off the regular shelves. I decided, rather than reshelve them in secret, that I’d create a “Green” and “Purple” PRC section of the library. This worked surprisingly well, and will work even better when OASIS locations match properly in OASIS Enquiry. 329 students out of 410 completed the Challenge, and three students, who’d started PRC at previous schools, received their Gold Certificate from our State Government representative!

In 2009, the “Green and purple” PRC section of the library now has a comfy purple couch against a green wall, as part of our ongoing library makeover. I’ve still made hardcopy student booklets of titles; the paper for doing this is part of our Priority Schools Program (PSP) funding, with the Challenge an intrinsic part of the school’s literacy programs. I’m hoping the students will enter their own books online this year, and I’ll only have to do the K-2 classes (copied records from each teacher’s master list) and acknowledge the 3-6 entries online. We have many students aiming for their gold certificate in our fourth year of running the Challenge here. Again, the PRC still gives most of the students a buzz about reading, so we consider it all worth the trouble. We are aiming at 100% participation this year.

Planning for simultaneous “Arthur”


I have organised a wiki activity page based on the picture book, Arthur by Amanda Graham and Donna Gynell, which is the book being used for the upcoming ALIA National Simultaneous Storytime on Wednesday 21st May at 11.00 am (Term Two, Week 5). A group of nearby Priority Schools Programs (PSP) schools have recently formed a professional network, to prepare for our forthcoming interactive whiteboards. The Penrith Reading Project: Books from Birth (another local PSP initiative, containing different local schools), has also been invited to join us for the reading.

My colleague, Kerrie Mead, and I have been brainstorming possible activities to support Simultaneous Reading Day. Here’s what a draft of what we plan to present to the staff of our own school on Monday, and we’ll be making the material available online – as a blog and wiki – for the other schools. (An email today tells me that the ALIA site offers even more activities, many downloadable.)

On Wednesday 21st May 2008, at 11.00 am, children all over Australia will be reading, listening to and commenting on the same story at the same time. The featured book is Arthur by Amanda Graham and Donna Gynell.

At 11:00 am we could:

* Gather in the hall and listen to the story en masse: one reader, readers from a single group (class, Student Representative Council members, captains and prefects, teachers, parents or __________________ ).

* Gather in three groups (Early Stage 1 and Stage 1; Stage 2; Stage 3) in the hall, upstairs area and library and read the story as above.

Before the day: (in class, at Stage meeting, at assemblies)

* Let the students know about it – the purpose of the exercise, the significance of this kind of literary activity, how it might be the same/different in each school. (Great Circle Time material!)

* Familiarise your students with the text. (See ideas below.)

* Outline how the event will be held – ask for ideas which the students think might improve the plan and let us know before the day!

* Promote the event in the school newsletter.

* Signage around the school for parents and students.

* Check out the official ALIA page, and links to free blackline activity sheets.

* Supplement our resources with official posters and the link to Era Publications.

After the event:

* Ask your students for feedback – eg. The best thing was… ; I didn’t expect that to happen; next time… , etc.

* Tell the PSP committee what you really think.

Some ideas to familarise your students in all the wonderful ways you know how to capture their imagination! (Our school has rounded up several copies of the Arthur picture book, a big book version, two sequels and an Arthur hand puppet.)

Early Stage 1/Stage 1:

Who is in the story? Where does it take place? (eg. Paint Arthur or your pet, write a list, make a shop diagram, role play, add a pet image to the wiki.)

What is Arthur’s problem? How does he try to solve it? (eg. Feelings barometer, descriptive writing, pet ownership graph, alliterative pet adjectives for the wiki – perfect pup, quaint quarrion, timid tabby.)

Pets need… – but what might pets want?

If I was a pet I’d like to be a ………………………. because …………………………

Interactive learning objects from TaLe (click on Primary and use search engine).

Stage 2:

Any or all of the above, plus

Descriptor matrix (eg. “Purple, spotty, three-headed wombat”) – and then create it.

Research – eg. Which animals are the most difficult to keep as pets and why? What is the best dog breed for (type of person/situation)? Who is the most famous pet and why?

Extend-a-story – eg. What other pets could Arthur have imitated and what would he have done? Write a new version of the story. Compare this book with the similarly-themed Edward the emu by Sheena Knowles and Rod Clement.

The perfect pet for ………………….. would be a …………………… because.

Stage 3:

As above, plus

“Unpack” the form of the story (repetition, chorusing, types of words used).

What are the conventions of picture books? Examine favourites from home and the school library to discover similarities/differences. Write and illustrate your own picture book.

Read the story with your buddy (Buddy Classes – pairs of students from different stages) and ask them some prepared questions about it.

What is the moral of the story? What is a moral? what is the point of stories with morals? What other moral stories (and traditional fables) do you know? Which ones make good sense… or not?

Check out the interactive Stage 3 learning objects from TaLe (click on Primary and use search engine).

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!