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 penrithpslibrary.pbwiki.com, 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!

Enter the dragon!

Ah wonderful serendipity!

Yesterday, my last group of Olympic Games rappers had to miss their scheduled rapping session in the library and I had to play catch-up with them today. They were supposed to name the last of our animal mascot “reporters”: a large, cardboard, papier mache, crepe paper and fabric Chinese dragon, who has been a decorative fixture in the library since early 2007, and a frequent participant in our school’s annual Chinese New Year Parade.

This morning, one of the teachers of another Stage 2 class – having no idea of my plans to use the dragon during the rap – asked if she could borrow my dragon for her class item at Assembly next Friday. I told her that, by the end of the day, he’d even have a name (choosing a name was to have been a Circle Time activity for the rappers) but she said that the story being told in their item involved a Chinese dragon called Nian.

So Nian it is! Now one class is ecstatic that Nian is performing in another group’s item, and the budding actors are impressed that Nian will also be reporting on Olympic events for the rappers… between play rehearsals, of course. Anticipation for the rap events (and the Games) is at fever pitch!

I wish I could say I’d planned it that way. A typical week in the library.

More learning, growing and achieving

Unlike the last conference I was asked to speak at, I went into today’s events without that heavy weight of responsibility and impending disaster. I mean, if I could fill an hour on my own last time, how much easier would it be this time? We knew our material back-to-front, if necessary. The most difficult aspect would surely be, what bits do I leave out?

My co-presenter, Cath Keane, had prepared eleven of our PowerPoint pages, I’d added my own hyperlinks to the twelfth and last slide, and we only had 50 minutes or so to fill anyway. We also had plenty of time before our session, “Young rappers”, to play on the interactive whiteboard (IWB), test our hyperlinks and cache all our web pages that we were planning to visit. We also knew in advance that we had about twenty people signed up to hear our talk. Everything worked in the rehearsal and off we went to the first keynote event of Day 2 of this Early Years Conference.

Clinical psychologist, Lyn Worsley, presented her fascinating session on “The resilience doughnut: the secret of strong kids” and, while she probably didn’t say anything terribly new, especially to a ballroom filled with teachers who already had solid backgrounds in early childhood education, the strength of her approach was the clear answer of “where to know?” that one could glean after having used her clever, simple analytical tool for gauging the resilience of a particular student. Wonderful!

Before we knew it, Cath and I were deep into our presentation on book raps, blogs, wikis and Circle Time. Our only hitch was that our computer connection, which had worked so perfectly in rehearsal, had been lost for the presentation. A tech person came in and got us back online most efficiently, but our live connection to the Wilfrid rap blog (on Edublogs) was no longer working. Luckily, our PowerPoint had lots of frame grabs from the site, and the links to the Departmental website and my school’s wiki pages were still viable, so we carried on regardless. We finished off with a reading of my Kinder students’ “Zebra with spots” fable of 2007, and a walk-through of selected pages from my school’s wiki pages. I hope our presentation has encouraged more schools to start dabbling in wikis and blogs.

It all seemed to go very well, but a highlight for me was that two attendees hung back at the end to (re)introduce themselves. It was none other than Warren and Kathy, two of my colleagues from my teachers college days! They’d noticed each other in the audience of my workshop session – I’m not sure at what point they realised that I was also from the same year – but morning tea turned out to be a mini-reunion of the Class of ’79 of the Guild Teachers College. We swapped anecdotes about the good ol’ days and pocket histories of our lives. It was the first time we’d seen each other since Graduation Day in 1980 – very exciting, and great to know that they are doing so well in their own teaching careers. (I can see a bigger reunion coming up in the next few months! I hope.)

Next up was Peter Gould, Manager, Mathematics at NSW DET – and one of the people I worked with on numerous occasions back in my Scan editor days. Peter’s keynote was “From ABC to 123: what counts in early numeracy” and – despite some frustrating glitches with the movie clip elements of his presentation – it was an invaluable reminder of the essential differences in the ways young children learn to be numerate as opposed to literate.

After lunch, I attended two more workshops, both of which (again) ably demonstrated the amazing array of teaching and learning strategies that interactive whiteboards are bringing to classrooms in the 21st century. I guess that’s the main thing I’m taking from this conference: that most of today’s students are already citizens of the digital world of Web 2.0. The sooner their teachers and parents play catch-up the better. Every presentation I went to was using IWBs as part of their presentation – even my presentation, and today was the first time I’d actually been able to use one! Knowing that a little knowledge is dangerous, I can’t wait to get my hands on an IWB as part of my school library’s facilities and let my imagination run wild. Or wilder.

This conference left its delegates with so much food for thought (and delicious food for the body – the Novotel, Brighton-le-Lands always does well in that regard), great ideas we can start using on Monday (first day back of Term Three), and some wonderful memories of networking with colleagues, old and new. Synthesising all the learning into our daily lives will take time, but I’m glad I gave up two days of my vacation to absorb it all. I’m also grateful for the very handsome, gold-embossed “Presenter” pens, which Cath and I received for doing our workshop.

Roll on Term Three…

Out of the mouths of babes

Yesterday, a group of Stage 3 (Year 6) students met with me in three small groups, in the school library, to compile a Rap Response to the first Rap Point in the Identity Rap. We read some articles by some local Aboriginal educators and then the students had to discuss when they had returned to the house they’d lived in when they were younger, and to recall some well-worn phrases from parents and grandparents that continue to shape their identities, and that have become “messages for a good life”.

I can highly recommend Circle Time as a successful strategy for scribing the students’ fresh, unassuming responses to the stimulus material. They were delivering their grandparents’ sayings with such seriousness. (I was inwardly in hysterics by the spontaneity and honesty of their oral replies, and it was all I could do to hold the pencil steady as I scribed their warmly humorous answers.)

They said:

We will always remember these wise words:

“When cooking pikelets, don’t get too close to the pan.”

“Don’t jump on the couch.”

“Chew like a lady.”

“Never draw on people when they are asleep.”

“These things you should remember because I did it the hard way.”

“Always start the day with a good breakfast.”

“Study hard!”

“Never pick your nose in public.”

“Respect people, even if you dislike them.”

Wonderful stuff, eh?

I have an article about Circle Time in a recent issue of Scan. If you’re interested in following it up, the details are:
‘Circle time: maximising opportunities for talking and listening at Penrith Public School’in Scan 26(4) November 2007, pp 4-7.

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).

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.”

Writing from an outline

Literally. 😉

This week, my book rapping students in Stage 1 were writing their responses to a rap point which required them to create an elderly character for the retirement home, which next to the house of young main character, Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge (see the Mem Fox & Julie Vivas picture book of the same name). The students must collaborate on a jointly-constructed text, drawing upon Mem’s writing style, to introduce a brand new resident of the retirement home.

Last year, the Early Stage 1 students really got the hang of character generation for our wiki fables, which we developed during Circle time and then visual arts activities. Wanting to replicate that success, I suddenly had a vision of the students sitting around a long sheet of coloured Brennex paper, with a young volunteer stretched out upon it, while I traced their outline with a Texta. Perhaps the students would be already sparking ideas off each other as I drew?

And it worked! While I made the life-size silhouette (x 3 – which we will decorate later), I quizzed the three groups about what their resident likes to do best, former careers, physical appearance, etc. Keeping in mind the need for these students to use current experiences, I used orange Brennex paper for the first silhouette (it was our school’s International Harmony Day celebration the next day) and suddenly – so obviously, much to the students’ and my delight – Mrs Harmony Day was born! We ended up with a whole A3 page of brainstormed suggestions and, at our next meeting, the students helped me reassemble them into a descriptive narrative which answered the Rap Point:

“One day a new lady came to live in the old people’s home. Her name was Mrs Harmony Day. Her favourite colour was orange. She wore orange clothes and her hair was orange and styled in a bob.

“Mrs Day liked reading. She used to be a skipping champion, and she was also a racing car driver. She still has her old racing car and she uses it to go shopping to buy rings and necklaces. She has a treadmill to keep fit. She loves tearing out recipes in old magazines.

“Wilfrid asked her, ‘What’s a memory?’

“Mrs Day said, ‘Something that’s orange, my dear, something that’s orange.’

“Wilfrid took an orange from the fruit bowl to show Miss Nancy. The orange reminded her of happy memories with her family, squeezing orange juice on an old fashioned orange squeezer.”

I make a point of jotting down the students’ banter for use in writing up our rap responses. When I write fiction texts myself, they are always much too wordy and complex. I just love the natural language of young students, and I find that their scribed sentences have an economy of words and a unique spontaneity that sounds just like a picture book.

The second group came for their lesson to find I’d rolled out green Brennex paper – I’d just grabbed a colour that seemed plentiful – and the procedure was repeated. This time, a boy was the tallest (to make the silhouette), and suddenly the green colour had them discussing St Patrick’s Day, which had obviously been mentioned in their home classes during the week.

The vacation for Good Friday and Easter Monday has prevented us from constructing our final draft but so far, the students have decided that their resident is Mr Patrick St Green. The list of Mr St Green’s likes, dislikes, hobbies and his old job has been compiled – they are great, but you’ll have to wait! (A few students thought he might be a friend of still-faceless Mrs Harmony Day, whom they saw pinned to a noticeboard in the school library.)

Then the Language Support class came to the library, with friends from the hearing support class. Three time’s the charm, so the tallest boy rolled himself onto some purple Brennex paper and I drew his outline to make a new resident of the old people’s home. This group is much harder to draw ideas from, but they still managed some great one-liners!

“One day, Wilfrid Gordon’s other grandfather, Mr Peter Laurie Bilby Partridge, came to live at the nursing home. He has four names just like Wilfrid. Grandpa Peter is a happy fellow who loves wearing purple. He likes eating ice cream, red apples and Tiny Teddy biscuits. Maybe that is why he is a bit too fat.

“Grandpa Peter used to be an author who wrote children’s books. When he wasn’t writing books, he drove an ice cream truck. Grandpa Peter goes to bed a lot, and he sometimes likes to swim in the pool.

“Wilfrid asked Grandpa Peter, ‘What’s a memory?’

“Peter Laurie Bilby Partridge said, ‘Something as cold as ice cream, Wilfrid, something as cold as ice cream!’

“Wilfrid showed Miss Nancy a photo of Grandpa Peter’s blue and white ice cream truck and she remembered hearing music playing as an ice cream van came by on very hot days.”

Next week, I’m hoping to photocopy some large elderly faces so the students can select an appropriate face for their new resident. We’ll probably add some wool hair, as well.

This book rap has been exhilarating!

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.

The savvy searchers

Last year, when the Stage 2 (Year 1 and 2) students were participating in the READiscover Book Rap, instead of simply bookmarking the site, I decided to model finding the site each time on Google, to see if the students would build confidence and find the site at home on their own computers.

Each lesson, a selected student typed in the phrase “Raps and Book Raps” – within the inverted commas – into the Google search engine. (I already knew this to be the exact title of the desired web page that would lead us to the correct Rap; it can now be found at the link Raps archive.)

Previous tests of this search, before the students arrived for their lesson, had confirmed that the web page did always come up as the first choice. However, I also wanted to demonstrate to the students what happens without the inverted commas being in place when searching: we received back a list of 3,100,000 possible hits! Putting the inverted commas back into place, we reduced that possible hit count to just 5,550. The students were very surprised.

The modelling worked. Students came in at lunchtimes to demonstrate to friends how they performed the search with inverted commas in place, and numerous students reported that they’d located the web page for their parents at home.

During their Rap Wrap Up message – brainstormed during a Circle Time activity – Stage 2 students asked to add to their post to the other schools:

“Our skills and insights:
* Inverted commas can help you search better on Google.”

I’m still smiling. And more convinced than ever by the power of modelled behaviour.