Preparing for “Sorry”

It certainly snuck up on us… Former Prime Minister, John Howard, stubbornly resisted any attempt – for many, many years – for the nation to say “Sorry” to Australia’s Aboriginal population for the Stolen Generations. Actor John Howard (currrently appearing in television’s All Saints), did once say “Sorry” in the very funny TV mockumentary, The Games, but that one doesn’t count! However… in just a few more hours, our new Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, will say “Sorry” – and a nation (and much of the world, thanks to the immediacy of the Internet) will down tools and listen. Then the next stages of Reconciliation might be able to proceed.

Australian schools have been encouraged to organise for students to witness the event live, which will no doubt cause a bit of a scramble in some schools. We do have Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags on hand – and use them often – but my school doesn’t have a working TV antennae on the roof. Traditional broadcast options (at least, those in use since the first Moon Landing in 1969, I reckon) will be impossible for us. Taping the speech at a teacher’s home, then watching it all together the next day, just won’t cut it. (That might work for the average episode of BTN, but not this event.)

Therefore, the Principal, my library clerical and I did a tech dress rehearsal today, with: a laptop computer, recommended software, data projector, standard projector screen and the spare Internet hub (located in a sports storeroom within in the assembly hall). I’m glad we didn’t leave it until the morning of the apology; if the tech fails us, it will be a disaster perhaps equivalent to the communications breakdown that threatened Apollo 11‘s historic moonwalk in the Aussie motion picture, The Dish.

This significant day in Australia’s history will undoubtedly become one of those “Where you you when that happened?” events, and we’ve all crossed our fingers that the fickle finger of fate won’t bring down a tech disaster of epic proportions. (Although we’d been informed that schools could gain access to tomorrow’s live streaming, from Parliament House in Canberra, via the Internet, the Department’s intranet and TaLe, we couldn’t find a hyperlink which seemed to be awaiting The Big Day.)

I ended up doing a simple Google search (essentially, my total contribution to the rehearsal), to find the website for Parliament House (haven’t been there in ages!), and I was pleased to see a very obvious link, along the top of the frame, for Live Broadcasting. We bookmarked the site, and did our trial run on this afternoon’s Opening of Parliament 2008, and were able to identify exactly what needed to be done to maximise sound and picture quality. The “test pattern” gave us a moment of panic, but when the session finally started our trial run seemed to indicate that “doing our homework” would ensure success. The extended “test pattern” gave us a moment of panic but, when the session finally started, our trial run seemed to indicate that “doing our homework” would ensure success.

I hope the speech brings everyone the hope and acknowledgment that many have pinned to this long-awaited, historic gesture.

At point of need…

Dragon and lion dancers

They say that teachers are most effective when we convey strategies for accomplishing tasks in explicit ways, and preferably just prior to the point of the learner(s)’ need – which is when they are most likely to be open, motivated and goal-oriented. A looming deadline probably helps as well. I don’t have any pithy, fancy quotes at hand, but it’s the style of teaching that I’ve honed through many years at PSP (Priority Schools Program), formerly DSP (Disadvantaged Schools Program) working environments, plus via my training and practical experience as a teacher-librarian.When these findings match up during my own learning, and my own readiness to learn (not to mention motivations and goals), I only cements my confidence that I’m on the right track. I wasn’t ready to learn about wikis until I was ready to teach about them. I wasn’t ready to learn about abseiling until I was ready to help students learn how to do it. I wasn’t ready to learn to ride a bicycle until – well, no need to go into that anecdote. The ducks in Centennial Park haven’t forgiven me yet.

On Sunday, knowing that Early Stage One and Stage One were to be studying Chinese New Year this week, and Stage 2 was to be studying Buildings and bridges, I went into the city with a borrowed digital camera and took lots of photographs of the Chinese New Year Festival Parade, plus assorted Sydney bridges. My intention is that we will use these images to create some wiki pages, and some group-negotiated, well-researched, descriptive captions (using SCUMPS, but more on that later). How to get the Photoshopped images available – and guarantee having access to them at school – for Monday morning’s classes, especially since I use an iMac at home and several, variable quality PCs at school, none of which seem to like my Mac-altered images or memory sticks?

The obvious answer was to upload the photographs to my Flickr account – to show them as a slideshow – and to finally learn how to shunt thematic images into special folders. It was all so much easier than I expected – so why was I so hesitant all these months/years? (We don’t have an interactive whiteboard at school yet – but I can already imagine some of the ways I will be able to use the board with students and teachers.)

The two lessons worked extremely well. I set up a Flickr slideshow on adjacent computers (Bridges – Stage Two or Chinese New Year K-2), and selected student volunteers to manipulate the mouse that would kept the slideshows progressing. I explained to the students and their teachers that we would be setting up a SCUMPS matrix (stay tuned!) on wiki pages so that groups of students could collaborate on descriptive factual writing into each of the matrix cells, which we’d then upload to the Internet at the touch of a mouse. That’s the plan, anyway. Who knows where this may lead once the students and teachers have their input?

I’d just finished patting myself on the back for accomplishing my goals, and started to head off for lunch, when a new staff member asked about looking for particular resources in the Teacher Reference section of the library. I almost set him off to the correct shelf, with a mere finger point, when I realized that, since he was suddenly at that “point of need” (and, under normal circumstances, I’d be at lunch), I’d do a quick bit of explicit teaching – and demonstrate OASIS Web enquiry for him. It was very successful, brief session, and we located better resources than if I’d relied on my memory, or the luck of random shelf-browsing. The teacher was excited about testing out remote access to from home, using the My library hyperlink on his Portal page.

Also, coincidentally, I happened to see a reference to the second annual ALIA (Australian Library and Information Association) Library Lovers promotion on the upcoming Valentine’s Day (thanks Victor over at the nswtl listserv) on the 14th February. Somehow, I managed to overlook this quirky event last year and, at first, I thought it a rather dubious connection, attempting to cash in on Valentine’s Day. But then, thinking back to my impromptu demo lesson on OASIS Web enquiry but I suddenly realised that holding a Library Lovers morning tea for the staff on Thursday will finally secure me the perfect opportunity to demonstrate the new web tool to the whole staff at once. Up until now, I’ve only been able to do a few 1:1 orientations (at point of need), but without a firm deadline – ie. my own point of need – I guess I’ve been procrastinating, and all staff members do need to know about Web enquiry.

I quickly cleared the event with the Principal, and made up the invitations on pink paper, using the graphics supplied on the ALIA website. One of the staff chuckled over her invitation, “Cool! It’ll be the only action I get on Valentine’s Day. My husband’s in Victoria this week.”

Oh – and I should point out that, yesterday, I didn’t have hyperlinks to reply upon to use my slideshows and I was trying to prevent the students scrolling into my other (very off-topic) Flickr photos. It was only in the wee hours of this morning that I realised that Flickr would permit me to quote separate URLs for themed sets! Another exciting discovery that will greatly improve today’s activities (ie. the next two batches of guinea pigs, er, students).

School libraries leading learning

I’ve been invited to speak at two sessions of the State Conference of ASLA (Australian School Library Association) NSW Inc, which is being coordinated in partnership with the School Libraries and Information Literacy Unit (NSW Department of Education & Training).

This is quite an honour, especially as I cast my eyes down the list of guests – what the ASLA website is calling an “exciting line up of challenging speakers”.

When one is deep into daily life at the so-called coalface of primary education, the many deadlines of every day go whizzing past at typical breakneck speed. It’s often a shock to pop one’s head up above ground, ever now and then, and realise one might actually know enough to start imparting some of that knowledge to one’s colleagues in other places of learning. You know, I didn’t know I knew about wikis and blogs until I started doing my own, and I certainly didn’t think I’d know enough to be using them with students in teaching and learning situations (so soon) – until those first few attempts bore sufficient fruit to make me want to gloat about it (just a little). It was almost: “Look, everyone, look what I did – and on purpose…!”

During the week, our school newsletter came out, reprinting one of the Kindergarten students’ jointly-constructed fables from last year, along with the URL for the School Library’s wiki. One of the Stage 1 teachers reported that her whole class were engaged as she read the fable to them aloud. As several of the Early Stage 1 graduates are in her new class, it was quite amusing when they proudly claimed ownership – in February 2008 – of certain phrases, words and punctuation devised last November.

‘Irritated’!”, says one student confidently (every time he hears someone reading the fable aloud). “That was my word in that sentence.”

A parent noted that her child is able to read back to her all four wiki fables, even though the texts are a higher lever, jointly-constructed, language that is of a more difficult standard.

These little anecdotes, so often forgotten a few minutes after they are told, are invaluable for spurring me on to bigger and more challenging projects. And note that I really don’t mean those infamous “projects on cardboard” that some of us know way too well.

The conference is themed: School Libraries Leading Learning, and will run from Friday 28th to Saturday 29th March, 2008. The three main strands will be Quality teaching, School libraries in a Web 2.0 world, and Literacies. On the Friday, I’m joining Dr Ross J Todd and Lyn Hay on the panel, “How do you see Library 2.0 working in Australian schools?” On the Saturday, I’m running a workshop, “Web 2.0: Working with wikis for K-6”.

I’m very glad I spent some of January getting my thoughts in order, and that I made many notes and recorded my observations last term. Just as I experimented with including elements of diverse, “new” strategies (such as Circle Time and Guided Inquiry), it is exciting to think that people may soon be utilising my ideas and experiences re wikis with Kindergarten, and creating something else quite unique with their students.

Re-orientation week

It’s been over a week since my last post, but I’ve probably been censoring myself a bit, since there hasn’t been too much new Web 2.0 or techie angles in the school library yet, it only being Week 2 of Term 1. I’ve had a few ideas of things to post, but were they worthy of even mentioning? I mean, do you really care that each class had a stimulating discussion about plastic vs recyclable library bags?

It’s been a week of promotion: especially as to how the teacher-librarian can be a direct influence on the teachers’ class programs – I’ve avoided the “service” word there, remembering numerous discussions with Ross J Todd over the years on his stance about teacher-librarians’ roles.

As each class has arrived for their first library lesson for the year, accompanied by their teachers, I’ve also used the opportunities, wherever possible, to: mention the upcoming Book Rap (Stage 1 and the intensive language class); demonstrate this blog (and our hopes for future school and statewide uses for students preparing blog and wiki entries); direct everyone’s attention to the presence of OASIS Web enquiry; talk about environmentally friendly library bags; title pages in workbooks – and whether we’ll even need workbooks when the interactive whiteboard arrives (eventually); and our/my aim for 100% participation in the NSW Premier’s Reading Challenge… The list goes on.

A fun week, but rather uneventful. And next week, borrowing starts. (I hope I can work out the new system for printing out borrower barcodes in Thin Client.)

What’s a blog?

After a few days of post-stocktake clean-up, timetable finalisation, School Magazine redistribution, OASIS Library calendar generation, and numerous other urgent tasks, my first class for 2008 arrived this morning. It was out of housekeeping mode and back to being teacher-librarian and facilitator of learning.

This is a small group of six students in a Stage 1 (Years 1 and 2) intensive language support class: four of them were “guest artists” from last term’s core values fables wiki project with Kindergarten. There were two new faces (plus – yet to join us – two Kindergarteners who were off at orientation activities this week). These students are wide-eyed, enthusiastic learners – great examples of students who will continue to leap higher when you move the goal posts of high expectations – despite limited language skills – and they continue to amaze me with their little successes.

To prepare them for the upcoming book rap on the picture book, Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge by Mem Fox and Julie Vivas, I prepared a worksheet I called “Ready to rap” – a set of tick boxes next to some (hopefully) familiar terms. (They participated in last year’s Possum magic book rap, but this year it is intended that Wilfrid will utilise blogs and wikis instead of email.)

Today’s activity was to give me a benchmark of their current understandings, and to give them a context for what our Friday sessions will be like in Term One. First, the students raised their hands to indicate if they recognised each of the the terms on the chart. Only the two newcomers claimed to know what a blog was, which was to be expected, as it wasn’t a term the class had need to use last year. However, I wanted to introduce it today. We then discussed the terms on the worksheet – as sentence starters – during a session of Circle Time – ie. the wand was passed around, to signify their turns, and the students attempted to complete the statements.

I wanted to share a few of their answers with you. Remember, these students are aged five and six, have a range of language difficulties – and they probably haven’t talked much about book raps and wikis since last year!

“The Internet is… something on Daddy’s computer.”

“The Internet is… book raps.”

“The Internet is… to play games.”

“A book rap is… magic. Possum magic!”

“A book rap is… on the computers.”

“A wiki… has pictures and stories.”

“A wiki is… something you can find on a computer in the library.”

“A wiki is… something you can find on a computer at my house.”

And now came the previously-unknown term:

“A blog is… in the water.”

“A blog is… in the pond.”

“A blog is… (much thinking, then a huge smile…) something you can find on a computer in the library!”

Yes! These students are ready to rap. And soon, they’ll be beginning to blog. And weaving another wiki.