Professional learning with Kevin Hennah

Teacher-librarians and associates in the Penrith, Mount Druitt, Blacktown, Windsor and Parramatta areas attended today’s stimulating conference at the Rooty Hill RSL Club’s function centre. Guest speaker was Kevin Hennah, who presented fascinating sessions on Library Design and Space Management, and Transforming Your Library on a Shoestring Budget.

What was most exciting to me was that Kevin took care to relate the visual improvements to the physical library space to improved outcomes for student learning. He encouraged us to consider how renewed and improved design and furniture layout could increase the appeal of the library’s holdings, and hence borrowering stats can provide measurable proof that the design changes work.

And since a lot of public school libraries are lucky to get he budget they want/need to keep the library running, we were all grateful to the section of Kevin’s presentation dedicated to “Transforming Your Library on a Shoestring Budget”.

I certainly can’t wait to get back into the library on Monday, to start ripping down all those ugly, useless bits of multi-coloured paper that are affixed with sticky tape and Blu-tac to the furniture, walls and windows… (How did Kevin know they were there?)

To be noted, be noteworthy

In January 2007, I attended a small gathering of semi-professional and professional bloggers and, without a doubt, the tip of the evening came from Steven Noble, then of Hill & Knowlton, who used to write a blog for them called Elbow Grease: Getting Results in PR & Digital Communication.

Steve told us, “If you want to be noted by a particular audience, the first step is to ask how you, in their eyes, can be noteworthy.”

Of late, that quote has become a very useful, personal touchstone for me in the realms of both blogging and teacher-librarianship.

My main links for my talks at ISLA on Thursday are:

Primary educators

* Kindergarten weaves a wiki

* Book raps and event raps – Beijing Olympics & Book Week 2008 (Stage 2)

* The Shaggy Penrith Times – supporting the Rap

* Blogs – eg. Goldquest (Stage 3)

* Professionals blogging.

Secondary educators

* Identity rap

* Goldquest blog – two schools interacting

* Wikis – for shared projects

* Professionals blogging.

K-12 Online Conference 2008

This looks interesting/unmissable:

“The K-12 Online Conference invites participation from educators around the world interested in innovative ways Web 2.0 tools and technologies can be used to improve learning.

“This FREE conference is run by volunteers and open to everyone. The 2008 conference theme is Amplifying Possibilities. This year’s conference begins with a pre-conference keynote the week of October 13, 2008. The following two weeks, October 20-24 and October 27-31, forty presentations will be posted online to the conference blog for participants to download and view. Live Events in the form of three Fireside Chats and a culminating When Night Falls event will be announced.

“Everyone is encouraged to participate in both live events during the conference as well as asynchronous conversations.

“More information about podcast channels and conference web feeds is available here.”

Ian @ Illawarra School Libraries Association Day

I’ve been invited to speak at the October meeting of the Illawarra School Libraries Association, which is being held Shellharbour Public School, Mary St, Shellharbour on Thursday 30th. I understand I’ll be doing two presentations, for primary and secondary teacher-librarians.

I’m really looking forward to it – a scenic train journey, the stimulating company of teacher-librarian colleagues and two other exciting guests:

Paul Macdonald of the Children’s Bookshop, Beecroft, who specialises in reading for gifted students, boys’ literacy and books for adolescents, and

Julie Vivas, one of Australia’s foremost illustrators of children’s picture books, such as Possum magic, Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge (both of which have featured in recent NSW DET book raps), The Nativity, Let the celebrations begin, Let’s eat and Hello baby.

For more information about the day, and to download the registration form, please click here and scroll to the end of the post.

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…

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!

Simultaneously split loyalties

Sometimes you just can’t be in several places at the same time! (Even when uploading posts; it should have still been 21st May when I posted this!)
Arthur
For our very successful Simultaneous Reading of the picture book Arthur, the teachers had voted to do the readings in three sections and three locations, but I wasn’t able to stretch myself sufficiently to get to all three places. As agreed, Early Stage 1 and Stage 1 students and teachers (and lots of parents) gathered in the assembly hall with a big book version of Arthur, an official Arthur finger puppet, and a large, fluffy dog hand puppet, which had a striking resemblance to the title star. Stage 2 came to the library and had orgainsed selected students to reading passage. Stage 3 went to the old upstairs hall, and used an online version of the book, enlarged onto a big screen via the data projector. (That was the group I couldn’t get to, but the students seemed to enjoy their experience.)

Speaking of split loyalties, I had realised a few days ago that we had so much on today (the above-mentioned reading; our first Stage 3 sessions of a new book rap; the Greatest Morning Tea charity fundraiser; a mufti day for a belated Loud Shirt Day; and a canned drink collection to prepare for our upcoming, annual Pedlars’ Fair), I didn’t have the heart to abandon it all for the local district teacher-librarians’ professional development day. Drat. (I wonder if the T-Ls, too, ended up reading Arthur at 11 am?)

Every day is different; I wouldn’t have it any other way. And somehow I must find time with each class, over the next week, to squeeze in a great little wiki activity, to further follow-up Arthur. Although our school doesn’t have an interactive whiteboard (yet), I do find myself reconfiguring lessons so they’ll work well with the IWB (next time) when it does arrive.

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!

Jamie McKenzie: questions of import, authentic learning, quality teaching

Today, the staffs of seven schools in our learning community gathered in my school’s assembly hall to hear Jamie McKenzie speaking on the importance of authentic learning in today’s schools.

I first became aware of USA-based Jamie McKenzie (and his online writings in From Now On) when commissioning one of my first articles as editor of the teacher-librarians’ professional journal, Scan. It’s amazing to look at the date on that article and recall that it was in 1998 when Lyn Hay, of Charles Sturt University, provided “An interview with Jamie McKenzie” (for Scan, vol 17, no 2, pp 5-7). Jamie had become a guru among teacher-librarians around the world for his then-current investigations into power learning and imagining the “post modem” school. The printed interview ended up being a prelude to his visit to Sydney, later that year, for a professional development day attended by many teacher-librarians and a few intrigued school principals. Teacher-librarians following Jamie McKenzie’s work found much to bolster their efforts in collaborative teaching, and Jamie has continued to be a great advocate for the work being done by Australia’s teacher-librarians. But how far did his message reach?

A full decade on, some of his emphases have certainly evolved but it was rewarding for me to be back in the teacher-librarian role, and seeing Jamie’s latest messages about questions of import, authentic learning and assessment, the “smart use” of information communication technologies (ICT), quality teaching and learning, and the embracing of complexity, being shared with a room full of attentive teachers, executive staff, teachers’ aides, not just the seven teacher-librarians. It was also pleasing that he, again, complimented Australia’s teacher-librarians for their ongoing proactive role in supporting teachers and students grappling with authentic learning and the smart use of technologies (and he included print books as one “technology”).

More commentary will follow as I continue to synthesise today’s learning…!

To Twitter or not to Twitter

As yet I’m not convinced about Twitter – although I’m also assuming the NSW DET firewall would block it as another form of social networking?

At home I often have MSN Messenger and Yahoo Messenger on, and dash off messages to friends when I notice them come online but, from samples I’ve seen of Twitter – short snappy mini blog post-like entries – it doesn’t seem all that different. I fear the temptation for me to keep Twittering every few minutes would mean I’d never get any other work done. I procrastinate enough as it is. Would I just be a Twit? 😉

I’m sure if I had time to “play” on Twitter, some educational purposes would begin to be suggested by the tech. Judy O’Connell had mentioned at the recent ASLA NSW conference about “no live blogging of the workshops”. Personally, I think we are all waiting for etiquette to catch up with the (revised rules?) of Netiquette – in that Twittering means doing more than two things at once but still pretending to give full attention to the speaker. 😉 I, for one, had made a point of turning off my mobile phone at the start of each talk at the conference, lest I be distracted or curious (as usual) about any incoming messages. And yet there Judy was asking the audience why no one was mobile blogging!

I could have been there with my (borrowed) laptop or my mobile phone and live blogging, but I made do with nightly summaries to my blog – which meant that I was able to have at least some synthesis in my posts. Raw Twittered reactions to speakers during the speech might not be as useful. Depends on what you think people might want out of a blogged conference update, I guess.