Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Never Did Finish the Second Round of 28daysofwriting

And no, I never did!  However, I am about to start my trip across the states and I will easily be writing most days.  There may be time between blogs but that will only be because I am on the road and where there is no wifi.

I have talked about the itinerary before but here it is again!  I fly to Toronto and spend two nights, I then take a train to Windsor, cross the border to Detroit, and take Amtrak to Ann Arbor where I am going to stay with a former colleague for a few days.  After that, it's back on the train to Chicago and then down to Kansas City.  I'm there for 3 days and then off again on Amtrak to Reno, Nevada.  I'll be there for nearly 2 weeks and then I do the final leg on Amtrak to San Francisco before flying back to Canada.

Along the way, I'll visit friends and former colleagues, read books set in the cities and towns I'm visiting, listen to my music and study a bit of Latin.  I am really looking forward to this!

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Back Again!

(I hadn't meant to take this much of a break from writing during the better part of April.  It just seemed to happen that way.  First I was in Taipei, then I was coping with jet lag (which didn't make me sleepy tired by destroyed my cognitive abilities), and finally we arrive at this week! )

So, #28daysofwriting round 2 post 16!  My, my March has gone on a long time!

I hadn't meant to talk about Taipei in my #28daysofwriting posts but my slow debrief (if that is the right word) after my visit, has led me to some observations.  One in particular jumps out at me since we are in the lead up to a general election.  In 2012, the voter turn out in Taiwan was over 76%.  For presidential election in 2000, it was 82%.  In the UK, it was 65%.  In 2001, it was 59%.

I've been pondering what conclusions to draw from this.  I did notice that Taiwan's voter turnout has generally been on the increase, especially since the death of Chiang Kai-shek.  The voter turnout in western countries such as the UK, the United States, Canada and France, have gone from high turn out in the 50s and 60s to ever increasing lows.

When I was in Taipei, a lady I met talked about life under the nationalist Chinese and Chiang Kai-shek and compared it to the North Korea of today.  Since people have been able to vote freely and had options other than the one party, they have taken to democracy whole heartedly!  Do we need a few years of a dictatorship to shake off our lethargy and indifference, (and I do talk here of the west as a whole and not the UK in particular), and make us realise the value and importance of our democratic freedoms.

Oh dear, I do sound as if I am beating a drum here.  I don't mean to.  Furthermore, I do understand how this could have happened.  Slowly the major parties have been merging and at one point during the labour government under Tony Blair, Labour seemed more conservative than the conservatives.

Scotland seemed this fall to have rediscovered enthusiasm for the democratic process and I do envy them the excitement that seems to have been generated.

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Post 15 part 2 of #28daysofwriting: Taiwan and First Impressions!

I did wonder at one point if I would ever take off from Heathrow and then later, whether or not I would ever get off the plane.  Having said that, I did take off and I did land, first at Bangkok, and then finally at Taiwan, oh so many hours later.  I had decided before leaving that I would have a device-less flight and instead read a book or do some writing.  Well, that plan fell apart before we ever got off the ground and after a two hour delay, all I wanted to do was sleep once I got on board.  I packed 3 books in my backpack...well I was on a 17 hour flight!  I will take a lesson from this and not take so many books when I go to North America.  Why didn't you take a mobile device, I hear you say.  Well, as I said, I wanted to go without my I-pad and truth be told, I much prefer physical books!  I learned another lesson from this flight as well.  The next time I fly a long distance, I am going to spend the money for a more comfortable seat.

Enough of the flight!  Despite the delay in London, we arrived only an hour or so late in Taiwan. As we drove from the airport to Taipei, I couldn't help comparing the city with many I have seen in the US, except of course, for the Chinese-English signs.    There were wide highways and sweeping overpasses.  The traffic sped along and then emptied into the wide treed, city boulevards. At intersections, the stoplights counted down, often as much as 90 seconds, giving pedestrians plenty of time to cross. Western shops lined the streets, many of them high end designer labels, interspersed with local ones and on every corner, or so it seemed, a 7 Eleven. I was later to discover that 7 Elevens are so much more in Taiwan than their counter parts in the US but that for a later post.

And then my taxi started to climb, up through the ever narrowing streets.  I had no idea till this point that Taipei is surrounded by mountains and that my daughter lived part way up one of them.  The taxi took a sharp turn, dipped down a narrow road and crossing a bridge, we arrived at the entrance to the complex of appartment buildings where I was to stay.  Even though it was dark, the street lights revealed a mass of white bricked buildings with red tiled rooves and over hangs.  It wasn't beautiful but it was impressive. And standing outside one of them was Emma.

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Farewell 28daysofwriting!

I have not been very good in my second round of 28daysofwriting at keeping up with things.  Now that I am on the Easter half term break and heading off to Taipei, there is even less likelihood that I will.  However, when I come back I will have plenty of tales to tell of my travels!  Best wishes to all for a good and restful break.

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Post 15 Round 2 of #28daysofwriting: Note taking and summarising: The Continuing Saga!

I don't know if this post really counts in 28 days of writing since I have been working on it for days, it seems.  Certainly I will have spent more than 28 minutes on it once I have finished!

Note taking and summarising: The Continuing Saga!

Having come to the conclusion that we must somehow (somewhere, sometime) start to teach summary skills, the obvious place to start would be in the English classroom.  However, we would also have opportunities to hone these skills in various other curriculum areas where students are required to read non-fiction texts and take notes for research.  At my school, I would suggest that humanities and science would be ideal subject areas in which to start.  Students do a lot of research projects in both these subjects.  The trick now is to come up with activities which teachers will not find too time consuming (i.e. which take time away from their subject matter)  and which appear beneficial, in a timely fashion.  If it takes a school year before students are showing progress, I think that would discourage teachers.

The first article I looked at is a pdf entitled, Summarizing Strategies, and is well work downloading. In 24 pages, it offers background information, strategies, teaching activities and a good bibliography. I haven't 'digested' it all yet but will and hope to comment further at a later date.

On the first page, the article mentions a site for teachers of history (any humanities subject really) to assist them in helping students with reading comprehension in such a content and reading heavy subject.  The information appears to be secondary school related though I am sure that some of it could be adapted.  I will definitely be suggesting this site to my humanities department.  Again, a further analysis of the site will come at a later date.

And finally (for today anyway), though written in 1988, Teaching Students to Summarize offers a good explanation of summary skills, the importance of developing these skills, how they develop, what teachers can do, and the importance of starting early.

The more I read, the more I am convinced that summary skills are overlooked in the curriculum of my school and that they are vitally important to help students understand the texts they are reading and take notes from them.

Friday, 20 March 2015

Post 14 of Round 2 of #28daysofwriting: Magazines, journals and newspapers

I have spent part of this evening exploring the International Literacy Association's website to which I now have access to as part of my membership.  I have been changing priorities in my periodical collections and am starting to spend less of my budget on recreational reading and more on professional magazines and journals for teachers.  I used to have an avid readership of my magazines and newspapers but I am finding that students are less and less inclined to read them.  I got rid of a few this year and I will do the same when subscriptions run out over the next few months.  It saddens me but even the teachers aren't reading magazines such as National Geographic, New Scientist, the Economist and even Wired and Focus.  All this is to say, that I decided to buy a membership in the ILA and have access for teachers to their journals on reading and reading research.  What better place for me to look for articles on summarising and précis writing, a topic I have been boring you with over the last few posts!

I have just started to research the back issues of the journal Reading Teacher and hope to find some useful articles but there it will have to remain for tonight since I have become far too tired to carry on with reading the articles once I have found them.  They do require that you are alert!  I shall keep yu posted on my reading in future blogs.  Good Night!

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Post 13 (Notice I'm behind!) of Round 2 of #28daysofwriting Importance of summarising skills

So sick, so a holiday must be coming soon!  Here's hoping I get over this cold before it starts!  I really don't want to spend my holiday in Taipei sick.

Red Nose Day events followed by my cold have slowed me down considerably.  I've reverted to doing admin work, in particular getting caught up on cataloguing and processing books.  I've just placed a large order which should start to come in next week so I will have a lot to catalogue after the break.  I also have 18 books to read for the Battle of the Books.  I may try and take a few of those with me to Taiwan.

Back to Exploring the Question of Note Taking and Research

It is so frustrating when something is blindingly obvious but you keep missing it.  Thank heavens, I finally realised that the problem of students not taking notes when they researched was not because they lacked a format but because they probably didn't know how to summarise or précis.  I'm not sure when it was last week that I realised this but I'm so glad that I did.

As far as I can see at this point, there is nowhere in our curriculum where we teach students how to summarise.  I'm not even sure how you go about teaching it though I could hazard a guess.  Luckily, the Internet is there with all sorts of resources to explore on the subject.

My first stop was Reading Rockets .  Below is taken directly from the site and explains the reason for teaching summarizing:

Why use summarizing?

  • It helps students learn to determine essential ideas and consolidate important details that support them.
  • It enables students to focus on key words and phrases of an assigned text that are worth noting and remembering.
  • It teaches students how to take a large selection of text and reduce it to the main points for more concise understanding.
Next there is a simple lesson plan that could be used in subject area:

How to use summarizing

  1. Begin by reading OR have students listen to the text selection.
  2. Ask students the following framework questions:
    1. What are the main ideas?
    2. What are the crucial details necessary for supporting the ideas?
    3. What information is irrelevant or unnecessary?
  3. Have them use key words or phrases to identify the main points from the text.

Though step one suggest that the teacher read or have the students listen to a text selection, I wonder if you could simply have the students read it themselves.  I wonder what the advantage is to reading it to them.

There are several good handouts which could be used as they are or edited for use with students.  I will ponder this question of teacher reading the passage versus students reading to themselves and return to this another day.

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Post 12 Round 2 Reading my way across the states!

Red Nose behind me, I have been overtaken by the lurgi again!  This really is unfair since I was hoping to have a relaxing and enjoyable weekend.  Instead, I am trapped by aches and pains in my bed.  At the moment I want to lie down but I've been in bed for 12 hours and ache so much I can't so here I am writing.  What will come of this writing lark, I have no idea!

I shall return to my summer trip rather than writing about education.  It takes far less thought.  This is a warning then, if you only want to read about educational matters, move on to another blog!

I have finally booked nearly all the sections of my train trip across the states.  I have the train booked from Detroit to Reno, via Ann Arbor, Chicago, Kansas City and Reno and the air flight from the UK to Canada return and a flight from San Francisco back to Toronto.  Now it's just the little bits and I will do those shortly because I can see myself just forgetting about them otherwise.

Being a librarian, I have decided to read books which are set in the areas I am passing through, books which have a strong sense of place.  I mentioned this on Facebook and have already had some suggestions.  I must admit that I'm not sure which states I will be travelling through so I suppose I had better get that sorted out first.  I imagine that this will be one of those few occasions where I will be reading on a mobile device since I don't want to take too much luggage!  I really haven't enjoyed the experience of reading on a Kindle or my i-Pad but who knows, it may grow on me.

One of my favorite writers about books is Nancy Pearl, and I've had a look at her book Book Lust on the Go.  Unfortunately for this trip, she hasn't written much about places I am visiting in the US. YALSA puts out something on YA books taking place in various states but I would rather avoid young adult books for my summer reading.

So, I will start with something set in Detroit, either one of Loren Estleman's mysteries or The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides.  This was his debut novel and apparently, his second Middlesex, won the Pulitzer Prize.  Perhaps that's the one I should start with!  There is also a book called The Art Student's War, which comes highly recommended.  We shall see!

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Post 11 Round 2 of #28daysofwriting: A bit more multitaking

This was the first day of our Red Nose Day activities.  We had a baking competition and I was surprised at the number of cakes, cup cakes and cookies, which came in.  The judging was based on the theme Make Em Laugh and not on how they taste.  Good thing really since one grade 2's entry had quite obviously had the burnt bits taken off  the outside but still smelt of burnt cake as we took off the wrapper.  A little investigation suggests that we will have a hard time getting a knife through it tomorrow when the cakes are sold off in our bake sale.

Today was really multi tasking nightmare part two but I think I was in a better state to cope with it. When I arrived in the library, I realised that I hadn't set the tables up yet for the competition and did that.  As school started the baked goodies started to flow in to the library, along with the tutor group that meets there and various students from various grades trying to print before classes.  I photographed each cake/cookies and the entry form, reorganised my library budget for next year, submitted it to my line manager, received late entries to the competition, fended off grade 8 boys who wanted to eat the cakes, taught a grade 8 science class, judged the competition, did a book order, sold Red Noses to lower school students and their parents, covered the cakes for the night and went home!

I took this photograph of my desk just before I left:

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Post 10 Round 2: The night off!

On my way home tonight I was planning what I was going to write about tonight.  I was going to continue discussing note taking.  However, two things happened between then and now.  The pain killers I was taking after an hour long visit to the dentist began to wear off, and I received an email from the hospital saying that yet again, they were unable to share with me the report that has been written about the treatment of my husband leading up to his death 5 months ago.  In fact it was exactly 5 months yesterday.  So what with the physical pain and the emotional pain, note taking seems a little inconsequential.  :)

Instead I think I'll just wallow in self pity. Well, no, not really!  But I will take this as my second 'get out of jail free' card and take the night off writing!

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Post 9 Round 2 of #28daysofwriting: Note Taking part 2 (or is that 3)

Note Taking, part 2

Yesterday I started to re-examine our teaching of note taking in middle and high school.  I looked at the tool on Noodletools and then later I worked on developing a template on Google Docs.  I copied some of the aspects of the Noodletools note cards and so here is an example below.  It seems to me that you would be able to use Google Docs for note taking but I don't see the advantage over Noodletools.  With Noodletools, students are able to link their notes to the source.  They are also able to create an outline of their essay (or project) using the notecards.

What would be the advantage of using google docs?  Students seem predisposed to use Google docs and so if we gave them a template with the necessary elements for assisting in their note taking, they might be more likely to use it than Noodletools.

I'm struggling to find another reason why google docs might work better!

Can anyone offer other suggestions?

Title of Note: Arsenic


Direct Quote from Internet:

Exposure to arsenic in drinking water represents a significant health problem for people around the world. In 1997, the World Health Organization recommended that arsenic in drinking water be recognized as a major public health issue that should be addressed on an emergency basis. For humans, exposure to arsenic has been linked to increased risk of lung disease, heart disease, diabetes, cancer and reproductive disorders. However, most studies linking arsenic with human disease have involved people exposed to very high levels - in the workplace, for example, or in parts of Taiwan, Pakistan and other areas of the world where levels of arsenic in drinking water are unusually elevated. In Bangladesh and India, an estimated 200 million people have been exposed to well water tainted by arsenic from natural sources deep within the ground.


Notes to Self:

Monday, 9 March 2015

Post 8 Round 2 of ¢28daysofwriting: More on Note Taking

More on Note Taking

I thought I would try to tackle online note taking first.

We have a subscription to Noodletools and they have an excellent online note taking tool.  I have tried to encourage teachers to use it with their students to little effect.  Not sure why but I think that perhaps it's just another thing and they can't cope with something else.  Then again there could be some innate problem with the set up of the note cards so I decided to take a closer look.

And here it is:

The top section of the note cards, allows the user to name or give a title to the card.  The source is automatically added by Noodletools and the user can add the URL so that the source can be easily located again (if the source is from the Internet). There is also the facility for tagging.  

There are two boxes for text.  In the left hand box, entitled Direct Quote, the user can copy and paste the text that they want to use.  Various editing tools allow the user to change the text.  For example, you could highlight all the important points in the passage in one colour.  In another, you could highlight words you were unsure of so that you could check them in an online dictionary at a later date.  

The box on the right is for the user to paraphrase the direct quote.  As I often say to students, this is one way to ensure that they are accused of plagiarising someone else's words.  Of course that doesn't mean that they don't have to cite it as well!  

The final box is for the user to add any notes.  For example, you could add questions thrown up by the passage you have just summarised, or you might list information you still needed to find on the subject you are researching.

I think that it's a good tool for teaching students the skill of paraphrasing or summarising but as I said, it hasn't caught on at our school yet!  I wonder if there is just too much work to do in this note taking tool.  This is what students should be doing but as we know, people like to take the easiest route.

Tonight as an experiment I'm going to see if I can come up with a template on google docs which might do the same thing.  

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Post 7 Round 2 of #28daysofwriting: How to Sort out Research Skills

I continue to ponder the question of research skills, what they are and how they should be nurtured in our students.

Below are some thoughts on what skills are necessary by the time our students reach the end of their secondary schooling.  This is to be a list with no particular order of significance.

1. Note taking skills:  In grades 4 and 5 our LS librarian starts teaching students various ways of taking notes.  In particular the students enjoy sketch noting and get quite good at it.  It's a shame that they aren't able to develop it further but our grade 6 teachers know nothing about it.  Fact of the matter is, I don't think that students are given any further activities on note taking in middle school. Thus when they get to grades 9 and 10 we need to have a study skills course which includes note taking. What an irony!

So, what should we be doing?  Well students need to be able to take notes from both print and screens.  Each media requires different skills in respect to note taking.  We need to recognise how they are different and then find ways to help students acquire them.

More tomorrow.

Saturday, 7 March 2015

Post 6 Round 2 of #28daysofwriting

Only time will tell whether this will be another wild card post, or whether I will actually be able to write a blog post today.

Two days ago I was talking about the problem we were facing with students who were unable to understand the information they found on the internet for their research projects.  I suggested that at some point in the future I would make some suggestions of how to start to deal with this problem.  So here goes!

Overall Changes Needed:

1. We need to work with the primary teachers so that students have developed good research habits when they move into secondary.

2, We need to establish what good research habits are!

3. We need to ensure that teachers know how to research so that they are better able to develop those skills in their students.

3. We need to develop an information literacy continuum from kindergarden up.  Though we have one already, I am beginning to wonder if it is fit for purpose.  It may be that it is and it's just a matter of teachers not incorporating it.  However I do think that we need to revisit it.

4.  We need to ensure that skills acquired in primary are developed and nurtured.

Well, there's a start and it may all be rubbish but at least I've started!

Friday, 6 March 2015

No post today!

There are 31 days in March and so if I am continuing #28daysofwriting I take two days off.  Today is going to be one of my wild cards!  See you tomorrow!

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Post 5 Round 2 of #28daysofwriting: Problems with Student Research

Last night I made 2 mistakes.  Firstly, I checked my school email at 10:00 pm, then I opened one from a parent!  Fool!

The grade 7s are doing a research project in science on a chemical element. Part of the assignment requires that they look for a problem that their element solves and discuss the science of the solution. Unfortunately, much of the information found on the internet is too difficult for them to understand.

We have asked them to consult with the teacher or with me if they are going to use a source other than the ones we have provided on the libguide or that they found in the library. The parent email addressed this problem.  A parent asked if two sources she had found for her daughter's project could be used.   Of course there are two problems here.  The parent had done the research and as I was to discover, the sources were unreliable and written at a level that was too difficult for her 7th grader to understand.

Our school uses a test of mathematics and English skills called MAP.  Part of the test results gives us the lexile levels of our students, in other words, their reading level.  As an international school we have many students who have English as a second or third language.  Therefore, it's no surprise that in a number of our grades (year groups) 50% of the students are reading below the grade level expectations.  If you add this to the fact that much of the information our students find is also written at a level beyond their ability, this could be a recipe for disaster, including parent involvement in completing the work, or plagiarism as students copy and paste from internet articles because they are unable to write the information in their own words.

What is the solution?  I shall ponder this tonight and see if I can't offer some ideas tomorrow.

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Post 4 of Round 2 #28daysofwriting The one not about education

Just to warn you now, if you are looking for something on education, you may not get it.  This is one of the posts where I go off piste.  Though not really since this blog was never meant just for writing about my professional life.

Today I finally took the plunge and booked my flight to Canada for this summer and so my trip across the USA can start to be planned.  I'm still a bit nervous about crossing the Canadian border at Windsor and on to Detroit in the US.  I discovered that someone I teach with used to live in Detroit.  I asked her how dangerous it would be to go by bus from the border to the Amtrak station and she said, it would be fine as long as I did it in daylight.  I don't know if that makes me feel better or not!

So, I arrive June 27th in Toronto and leave on Monday the 29th.  I'll take the train to Windsor, the tunnel bus across the border, and another bus to the station.  Unless of course, I don't and decide to get a taxi.  Time will tell so watch this space!  Once back on a train in Detroit, it's just a short trip to Ann Arbor, Michigan to visit a former colleague, who now works for the University of Michigan.  I don't know how long I'll stay but I want to visit a friend in Chicago before I travel on to Kansas City, where I hope to be by July 4th.  I love being in the States for July 4th.  It's great.

At some point after that I'll travel on to Reno but whether I go the long way across to the west coast, up to San Francisco and back across the mountain to Reno, or the shorter way, back tracking and picking up the California Zephyr, which goes through Denver and Salt Lake City to Reno, I have no idea.  This is so much fun!  I love planning!

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Post 3, Round 2 of #28daysofwriting: Multitasking, yes or no?

Today I decided what should be put on my tombstone (if I ever have one):  She multi-tasked herself to death!  It was one of those days.

I walked into the library thinking that I had the first two periods to play catch up and I was met immediately by people who had problems to solve and classes to book on short notice.  It's evening and I still have to figure out how to share the library laptop booking calendar on google with one of the teachers. No one else seems to have problems with it!  As soon as I had realised that the solution would take a while I promised to try and sort it out later.  Then it was off to the middle school to hand out forms for a joke writing competition.

Back at the library, there was the email from the IB coordinator saying that I had 20 minutes with the grade 11s during period 1 to yell at them about their missed extended essay deadlines!  That meant that as soon as the class who have advisory (homeroom) in the library at 8:30 left, I had to fold up all the tables in the library classroom area and set out 40 chairs for a large group presentation.  Of course the expected 20 minutes turned into 12, which meant that I could only go over a few things in the end and in a way it was a waste of time.

While I was setting up, another teacher came in, thinking that she had booked a class in for that period.  She hadn't but for a moment I hesitated and almost tried to fit her in.  Luckily self preservation took over.  I had intended to spend period 1 cataloguing books in the art department so that went out the window and I'll have to to try and do it tomorrow.  Once the grade 11s had left, I piled up the chairs, put back the tables and put the chairs around them in time for the 1st break influx of students working on projects.

Period 2, I had one of the grade 9 classes in working on a project on World War One.  So, there were questions on citation, how to find sources on particular aspects of the project not covered by the Libguide.  While this class was going on, I sorted out a number of problems which came in by email, and set up Noodletools accounts for students sent in by their teachers.

The middle school librarian at a sister school, emailed and needed help with teaching research skills to a grade 8 class, starting a project on the American Civil War.  She also needed me to create a Libguide for the class tomorrow.  So, after a few emails back and forth, I created the libguide after lunch.

The rest of the day continued in the same vein.  I am organising the Red Nose Day activities so I had a number of printing jobs to do, involved with that, and create a bulletin board outside the library to advertise our Bake-Off!

Why am I giving such a detailed account of part of my day.  Well, it's just to say that I spent the whole day multitasking and I really don't think it was good for me and I wonder how well I did anything.  There is a lot of evidence to indicate that multitasking isn't good for you but I don't need studies to tell me that.  However, how do you get by today, and especially in a busy library where you are the only member of staff, without multitasking?  Answers anyone?

Monday, 2 March 2015

Post 2 of Round 2 of #28daysofwriting: MYP, where do I go from here?

I teach at an IB World School.  By that I mean that we have taken on board the three IB programmes: the Primary Years Programme (PYP), the Middle Years Programme (MYP) and the Diploma Programme (DP).  Both the PYP and DP seem to work well for our students and teachers but the MYP is an awkward fit.

Many of us chose to teach MYP because, in part, we preferred a curriculum that did not require our students to take externally set exams at age 16.  MYP was flexible in that it allowed us to design our own units.  We have interim assessment criteria for various stages of the 5 year programme and end of programme assessment criteria.  We send student work off for moderation in year 5 and so our marking is externally moderated.  And finally all final year students in MYP complete a personal project on a topic of their choice.

All is changing now and there are murmurings of discontent!  Exams are on the horizon.  What's more, they are to be electronic.  At a school where we have nothing but problems with IT, one can't help but see catastrophe ahead.  Now the MYP changes are affecting what and how we teach.

The first impact I have seen is on a research assignment our grade 9s are undertaking at the moment. The last time we taught this unit on World War 1, students were able to work in groups, and complete a bulletin board display to convey to others in the school what they had learned by pursuing a particular research question.  We also had the opportunity to visit the Imperial War Museum exhibit on WW1. Unfortunately, this time round there will be no group presentation and no visit to the museum.  Let's just get through the research, write the essay and move on!  We have lost the luxury of time because now we are not just going to teach history and geography but also add economics and all in a trimester one year course.

I am being a bit cynical and perhaps I should just wait and see how this all works out before making a judgement.  However, I just feel, drawing close to the end of my career in teaching, that I would like to work somewhere... well, I'm not sure what I'm looking for though I do have a vague idea. I will have to consider that in future blogs.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Post 1 Round 2: The Trip

I don't know why I like train travel so much but I do.  It doesn't matter if it's uncomfortable, I still enjoy it.  We once travelled from Adana in Turkey to Istanbul by train.  It took 23 hours and the conditions were somewhat primitive.  I think I've described somewhere on this blog, the trials of using a squat toilet on a moving train.  You can only imagine.  The countryside was wonderful, the people on the train friendly.  I'm sure we were the first non-Turks they had encountered on the milk run to Istanbul!

This is all the lead in to my declaration that I am planning on flying to Canada this summer and then traveling by train to various points in the United States.  I haven't quite come up with the itinerary yet. The Canadian side of this trip is proving a problem since VIA Rail has cancelled the train which used to go across the border at Detroit and travel on to Chicago.  I am reluctant to go by bus from Windsor to Detroit but perhaps that is just my prejudice.

I have friends in Ann Arbor, Chicago, Kansas City and Reno and so I am trying to plan a trip which will include all of them.  I also want to visit friends on Manitoulin Island in Canada.  That part of the trip is almost impossible to do by train.  I had thought of trying to take a train to a city near to Manitoulin but the closest seems to be Sudbury.  Ah well, I'm sure it will all work out some how, in the end!

I do need to make up my mind fairly soon.  I do have dates, well, almost.  Around June 25th till August 8th.  The return journey date is at least decided.  I need to set a date to be in Chicago and I would like to be in the US on July 4th.  Probably in Ann Arbor.  Well, slowly it comes together.

I decided to do this trip the day after my husband died.  I made a number of decisions that day.  They do say that you shouldn't make any big decisions for the first 6 months after a loved one's death.  I don't think this is a big decision so perhaps it doesn't count.

Post 28: An end or a Beginning

I'm sure that many of those who participated in #28daysofwriting will be reflecting on this our last day.  Yes, it was a good experience overall for me.  Yes, some days it was very difficult to write at the end of a long day.  Yes, I sometimes struggled to find a topic to write about.  And most definitely, I sometimes wished I hadn't started.

One of the things I most benefited from over these 28 days was the writings of the other participants. I've read posts by people from all over the world.  I've been inspired by their ideas and put some of them into effect in my own teaching.

The question is what's next?  I have a agreed to go on and write next month as well.  Is this really what I want to do?  This blog was never intended as one where I would write about the education side of my life.  I started it just after I was diagnosed with 3rd stage cancer and my intention was to use it to keep in touch with friends and family so that I didn't have to write individual messages to each of them.  I was also interested in seeing how a blog might work with my French students.  At some later point, I started another blog about the library side of my life but I have never written much in it.

I did want to get back to writing but it was more to the fiction side of my writing.  This has been a good experience on so many levels and I do think that I will continue for the next 28 days but I also think that I will expend most of my energy on my fiction writing but then whoever knows where the muse will take us.

Friday, 27 February 2015

Post 27: Absolutely Exhausted with Almost Nothing to Say!

It's been a hard week.  I think that the first week after a break usually is for some reason.  You should be rested, you probably are but somehow either the shock of being back at it or all the things you left to do till after your break come back to haunt you.  So, here I am on Friday evening so tired that I can barely keep my laptop from sliding off my lap.

I haven't missed a day of writing since February started so I couldn't not write tonight but I must admit that till a few minutes ago I had nothing to write about other than to say I'm tired.  Then I read a tweet which suggested that there should be an academy awards for teachers.  It seems to me that there already is something like that in England or was as some point in the recent past.  I won't say that teachers shouldn't be recognised and appreciated for what they do but that should,  in no way, manifest itself as an awards ceremony.

The academy awards are about stars and star wannabes trying to improve their standings and their fame in order to make more money.  It's also about big business making money. (I know I'm being a bit cynical here!)  That isn't what teachers and teaching is about.  Is it fame I'm after?  The answer is obvious.  No!  I learned early on, as a grad student teaching an intro French class for science students at university that I loved teaching, that a got a real buzz from it!  I intended to be an academic but at each turn I came back to teaching teen-agers.  I've never wanted 'fortune and glory', I've only ever wanted successful learners, including myself.  I don't think I'm very different from most of my colleagues.

Yes, I do like being acknowledged for successes but I hope that my successes are the success of others.  None of this needs to be celebrated by an award or a ceremony.  Am I alone in this?  What do you think?

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Post 26: WW1 and Key Words

I have talked before about activities to assist students in learning how to generate search terms. Today I had two classes in to start their research on the theatres of war in World War One and this is what we did.

1. I started by asking them what they used when on a search engine or in a databases to find information on a particular subject.  Surprisingly it took a moment to come up with with the term, key words.

2. Then I asked them to take 30 seconds to write a few key words which would generate results on WW1 as a broad topic.

3. They already had World War 1 (one) and after a whole class discussion, we came up with:

World War 1
First World War
The Great War
Then we added 1914-18 as a modifier to the first two, after discovering that sometimes you also       got results on World War 2 (the Second World War) and by adding the dates, that probably wouldn't happen.

I also explained that The Great War would probably be sufficient since no other war was known         as that.  We looked at the results for The Great War and discovered that some of the results were the same as they got when using the other two terms.  However, there were also results that hadn't shown up with the other terms.

4.  Students were asked next to come up with more keywords, this time based on what they already knew about about the theatre of war they were going to research.  This netted some more search terms, which they shared with the class.

5. The next step was to take the assignment sheet and look at the topics suggested in each theatre of war.  Students were able to add more key words from there.

6. Finally, I had placed a selection of books on each of the 4 tables relating to the theatres of war.  Students were asked to go through the index or tables of contents to compile more key words.

7. At the end of the session, students had a list of key words to start their research.  I have encouraged them to continue to refine their lists by adding new words and eliminating words which give them no real results.

It will be interesting to see if their research results are better than they have been in the past.

Tomorrow both classes are back to work on a topic in science and I am hoping that they can go through the same process we did today but by themselves.  We shall see!

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Post 25: Know the Battles You Can Win, and the Ones You Can't!

I have spent far too much time and energy in the past, fighting battles I can't possibly win.  I realise that I have been ranting about a certain department at my school and their attitude towards recreational reading, when there was really little I can do through a direct, confrontational approach. When all is said and done, I suppose that I haven't been confrontational but I can be very direct.  That doesn't necessarily endear you to people, does it!  I've also expended far too much emotional energy on this.  Yesterday at the department meeting, I had already come to the realisation that I had to just sit back and not say what I really thought about the summer reading lists, and that is what I did.

So, now I have come to the conclusion that I have two choices:

1. To try and find a way to demonstrate that students who rarely read, need books which will excite them if they are going to take time over the summer to read.

2. Give up till next year and leave the kids to the mercy of the summer reading lists as they are.

The second option is the easiest and would be the least frustrating for me.  Or would it?  It is very difficult for someone who loves to read and whose job is to encourage people to read, to sit by and do nothing.  I see disaster ahead but at the same time, I don't actually think anyone will notice.  The students will come back to school in August, do whatever they have to do based on their book (whether they read it or not), their work will be acknowledged in some way by the teachers and then all will be forgotten till this time next year.


Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Post 24: This is the one where I rant about summer reading lists

I love getting those emails from a department head which say that since their list of agenda items is so short perhaps I would like to contribute something on summer reading lists at their meeting after!

I see two problems here.  The first is the fact that I am obviously an afterthought and if the department had a few more things to discuss I wouldn't be invited.  How valued I feel!  Next, they want me to talk about summer reading.  If you have read any of my blog posts about the issue we have at school with recreational reading, you would see the irony of this.  I sit in the staff meeting wanting to yell out, "if they aren't reading during the school year, what makes you think they'll read this summer!"  And then there are the lists they have come up with.  Before I had even opened the files, I knew what sort of books would be on them.  I had even come up with some of the titles.  Below is the list for students going from grade 8 (year 9) into grade 9:

Things Fall Apart
Citizen Soldiers
Wuthering Heights
The Spy Who Came in From the Cold The Red Badge of Courage

An American Tragedy
The Mill on the Floss
The Sound and the Fury
The Reluctant Fundamentalist Catch 22

A Farewell to Arms
On the Road
One Hundred Years of Solitude All the Pretty Horses

Animal Farm
The Bell Jar
The Crying of Lot 49
All Quiet on the Western Front Call It Sleep
The Catcher in the Rye
Marmon Ceremony Slaughterhouse-Five
The Autobiography of Malcom X 

Not a single book written by a children's author.  I am loosing the will to live!  Can you imagine how the grade 8s will feel this summer!

Monday, 23 February 2015

Post 23: Back to School

Back to school today and its amazing how a week can erase so much!  If I hadn't written a list of notes to myself, I would have forgotten all the things I needed to do as soon as I got back.  It's good that I know myself so well that I prepare in advance for forgetting.

My biggest problem this morning was the smell that hit me when I walked through the front door of the library.  It was strongly reminiscent of something animal, decomposing.  There were the usual jokes about 'the body in the library' from  every second person who came in.  Unfortunately, the body was never found and I expect to open the door again tomorrow morning and be met by the same, overwhelming stench!

So, today was spent doing all those little jobs that pile up over a holiday and all those jobs that come in at the last minute because teachers forgot before the holiday and need them done right away. Luckily, that part of it wasn't too bad.  I had a request for a libguide on Renaissance people (artists, composers, mathematicians, writers, explorers, etc.)  I have a template for creating a generic libguide and add and subtract those items needed or not.  It took me ages to realise that that was to the way to do it rather than to create a new one from scratch each time.  Have a look at the latest libguide if you are interested.  The password will be 'magnolia' and you can access it for the next few days.

Sunday, 22 February 2015

The Real Post 22

Today is the last day of my holidays and the moment has come when I face up to all things left undone!  I don't remember at what point I started to think that certain things could be done on Monday and Tuesday because I had a very light time table those days.  However, the number of things I have relegated to Monday and Tuesday are rising!  I do realise now that I probably won't be able to do everything next week so today I will have to get down it and do some work.  Once I do, I will feel so much better and it always goes so much more quickly than I expect.  It's sad but despite the fact that this has happened before, I still keep doing it!

So the work for today is:

1. Red Nose Bake off entry forms
2. Red Nose Joke competition entry forms
3. Grade 11 workshop outline

Well, not as much as I thought and that give credence to my belief that what I have left to do is never as much as I think it is!

To other matters!  Tomorrow, I will start my campaign to get students in grades 6 and 7 (11-13 year olds) involved in Battle of the Books.  I have chosen 20 titles, both fiction and non-fiction, and including graphic novels and novels written in languages other than English.

Students will try to read as many as they can between now and mid June when we will have a team competition with questions on the books (rather like a pub quiz).  The winning team members will each get a book prize and the whole team will be treated to a pizza lunch.  I don't know if this is enough of an incentive but we have very competitive students so that alone should do it!

The titles of the books I have chosen are:

The Savage Fortress Sarwat Chadda
Titanic: Voices from the Disaster  Deborah Hopkinson, 
Spy School Stuart Gibbs, 
Moon Over Manifest Clare Vanderpool
Ungifted Gordon Korman
The Thief (Thief of Eddis) Megan Whalen Turner
Rooftoppers  Katherine Rundell, 
Three Times Lucky Sheila Turnage

There is also a graphic novel based on the First World War and two or three translations of above books for our students who have a language other than English as their native language.  I may also have missed a title or two but the above books are basically it.

I bought 5 copies of each so that I would have close to a hundred.  That way there should be one book for every students in grades 6 and 7.  To advertise, I will have every class in to the library for a short book talk and check out session and I will do a poster campaign around the school.  I will also come up with various event to unfold over the next few months to keep the momentum going.

Wish me luck!

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Not post number 22!

(I started to write a murder mystery as a blog about 9 years ago.  Recently, I've been thinking of developing it into a novel instead and am trying to get started on it.  So here is a beginning but who knows where I will go with it.)  

Death Writes a Blog

None of this would probably have happened if I hadn’t gone to that conference in Helsinki on the use of technology in the teaching of languages.  Someone said, have you thought about using blogs with your students?  I hadn’t.  I didn’t really even know what a blog was.  Well, yes, I knew what they were but I didn’t know how you would go about starting one and what you would even write about.  At first i thought I would just throw it out there to my seniors.  I’m always looking for something to inspire them.  They probably knew what blogs were and could easily set one up and start writing.  Then I thought that perhaps I should start one myself.   That way I would know what they were talking about.  I am the teacher, when all is said and done, and I should be the one leading the way.  My department head would expect it too.  The school had just spent all that money to send me to a conference.  The least I could do, is apply what I learned.  

So, that’s how it started, that conference and of course my philandering, good for nothing boyfriend, the scumbag!  Now, I’m being held in protective custody with a murderer gunning for me and I can’t help but wonder how one thing led to another.  Good question!  And when I try to work it out, it just leads me back to dumb luck, or in this case, bad luck.  I decided to write a blog, my boyfriend cheated on me and I stumbled into a murder.

Post 21: A wonderful day at Wisley

Dear All,
     Nothing about education will leave these finger tips today so if that is what you are looking for, go no further.  You will need to read someone else's blog!  I spent this morning at RHS Wisley in Surrey, running after a three year old and a six years old as they discovered the joys of the park for the first time. We had tickets for the butterflies in their glass house at 10 and so ran hither and yon until moments before our entry.

There were butterflies everywhere from the moment we walked in.  It kept the boys fully occupied for...yes, 20 minutes and then they were ready to be off again.

I have to say that if you have the opportunity to go to Wisley before the exhibit closes (and you like butterflies), you should do so.  It is wonderful.  And if it isn't quite what you expected, you could, as we did, explore the rest of the garden.  It provides lots of scope for both children and adults.

So that's it for today.  No education but lots of butterflies!

Friday, 20 February 2015

Post 20: The one where I don't think I have anything to say!

I've spent the last four days up in Norfolk visiting with my mother.  It hasn't been easy writing about education since I finished school for the half term on February 13th.  I have been reading a number of other people's blogs so that has helped to inspire me on occasion.  Today I read a blog by a New Zealand teacher talking about inspiring students to read.  I have ordered the two books she mentioned and am looking forward to reading them: Book Love: Developing Depth, Stamina, and Passion in Adolescent Readers by Penny Kittle and Reading in the Wild: The Book Whisperer's Keys to Cultivating Lifelong Reading Habits by Donalyn Miller.

The author of the blog talked about how important it was for teachers who wanted to encourage their students to read to read themselves.  I also think that it's important for them to read books written for their students.  Not a lot of them but teachers of English should have a reasonable knowledge of books their students are reading and books that their students would enjoy but might not find themselves.

End of post but tomorrow I'll talk about Battle of the Books and how I'm hoping it will help increase the number of students reading in our middle school.

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Post 19: Somewhat related to the one where I sort of ranted about teachers (but not really)

Because having said that I ranted about teachers actually means that I ranted about myself since, as I am going to point out later, I am a teacher.  Confused?  Read on!

This morning I was reading other blogs and someone (from New Zealand, I think) was talking about befriending non-teaching staff and included the librarian in the list of who they are.  I am a school librarian and work in a school where the librarian must be a qualified teacher as well.  Therefore, I call myself a teacher-librarian.  I have qualifications in both.  For the most part, my colleagues treat me as a teacher and I often team or co-teach with them as well as working on the design of units.  I prepare curriculum materials for units involving research to assist students with finding the most appropriate resources.  One of the most useful tools I use is Libguides (click and have a look at one I prepared for a humanities topic.)  (If you are asked for a password, it is 'online' and will work for the next week.)

If I hadn't taught for years, I would be handicapped in my job as a school librarian.  I would lack the knowledge and skills for teaching classes, for knowing what resources were most appropriate for each grade level and subject, and be at a loss when it came to developing information literacy curriculum.

I said that most of my colleague treat me as a teacher but there are some who don't.  They mainly come from the British system where the librarian is often not part of the teaching staff.  They rarely consider asking me to work with them unless someone else in their department suggests it or if I am already working as a team on a particular unit.  The first time they do work with me, they start to see the value of working with their librarian.  My administrators are also British and at times they also fail to see me as a teacher.  I am often excluded from planning meetings after school because my administrator wants me to oversee the library.  It is a sore point!

What am I trying to say here?  I think I would like teachers and administrators to see the librarian as a partner.  Use your librarian to help you.  More than likely they will able to assist you with resources, both on and off the internet, suggest strategies for integrating information literacy skills and give your students book talks to encourage them to read!

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Post 18: Holidays our taking hold of me!

The holidays are definitely taking hold and tonight I have had a great deal of difficulty getting down to this.  Probably it's because I haven't been able to think in great earnest about teaching today, though I have spent part of the day preparing information on search engines and internet search techniques for my grade 11s.  I have a workshop with them next Wednesday and need to be set to go before I go back to school next Monday.

Yesterday, I briefly mapped out a lesson for introducing how to generate search terms with younger students.  I included a picture of a fruit and vegetable market that I would use in this class.  I went through hundreds to find that one but I'm still not convinced it's the right one.  Today I went in to Bury St. Edmond for lunch and discovered that the market was on and took some time to go round and take some photographs.  If you can't find what you want in a photograph database, go out and take your own!

So that's it for today!

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Post 17: Activity to generate search terms

How to teach students to generate search terms or keywords for their research projects

1. For younger children: (The purpose of this activity is to have students come up with synonyms and more and less specific terms.  You can then go on and have them try to generate search terms for an assignment they are working on.  My colleague in primary has used similar activities with students as young as 5.  I can see this also being used as a warm up activity with older students.)

  • using a photograph of a fruit and vegetable market stall on your IWB, ask children to name items,  places and people they see in photograph
  • make a list of them as you go along
  • have students come up with synonyms for the words they have generated
  • have them find more and less specific terms (i.e. man, woman, people, person, pedestrians, shoppers)
  • discuss
Kensington Market. Photograph. Encyclopædia Britannica ImageQuest. Web. 17 Feb 2015. 
Though there is only one person in this picture, on a IWB, students should be able to see the people reflected in the mirror below the sign.

Monday, 16 February 2015

Post 16: What I know that they don't

So what do I know that my extended essay students don't?

I know that the majority of them only ever use Google for their research and that few if any of them go as far as doing an advanced search or using Google Scholar.  They also rarely stray to the second page of results.

I know that many of them give up after only a short time of researching a topic.  When I tell them that I have spent up to 2 hours looking for one source, I know they are thinking that they would never be able to do that.

I know that most of them only use one or two search terms; that girls use more search terms than boys.

I know that most of them don't know how to generate a variety of search terms (keywords) from their topic or research question and therefore, miss many useful results

I know that many of them have difficulty recognising whether or not a source found on the Internet is a reliable one.

I know that many of them are unable to recognise what kind of source they are looking at on the internet.  (For example, they find a journal article and cite it as a website.)

I know that many of them don't understand that incorrectly citing a source can lead to an accusation of plagiarism.

There is more and I will add to this list over the next few days!

My students have had library classes integrated with their subject classes to assist them with research and research techniques since grade 6.  However, the majority (and I believe that the same is true of their teachers) believe that they know better and that all they need is google.  The school provides them with a wide range of databases to use for their research but here the saying "you can lead a horse to water" fits perfectly.  It is only when my students get to grade 11 and the stakes are suddenly so much higher, that some of them start to pay attention.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Post 15: Thank you Notosh!

Yesterday, I talked about finding the post that got me thinking about how to improve my workshop with the grade 11s on their extended essays.  Last night I tried to come up with some titles which might get them thinking and perhaps even wanting to listen to what I had to say.  Somewhere I read a suggestion that I look at the Ted Talk titles and did so.  Here are some of the ones I came up with:

What I know that you should know!

What I know that you don't know, but should!

What I know that you don't know, but should in order to pass your EE!

Want to get a higher EE grade?  Find out what I know that you don't.

None of them are exactly what I want but at least it's a start and I'm sure that I'll come up one by next week.

I've also been going through the first part of my workshop in which I show them what they don't know and then why they need to know it and how knowing it will mean that they will get a better EE result.

Sorry that I haven't more to say at this moment but I will add more later this evening if I manage to work my way through it.  For now, an episode of the The Librarians.  It's really a corny programme but just what I need on a Sunday afternoon at the beginning of the holidays.

Saturday, 14 February 2015

Post 14: Thanks for All the Great Ideas

It was luck that had me look at Twitter 14 days ago.  If I hadn't, I would never have joined #28daysofwriting.  I would never have started to write on this blog again and I would never have read so many interesting posts by other writers.

Last night a tweet by Ewan McIntosh led me to notosh and that post and the site has had me thinking all day.  I am giving a workshop on citation and research techniques and sources after my half term break to our diploma students who will be starting their extended essays.  I am not happy with the effectiveness of past workshops.   Students need this information and yet don't seem all that interested in taking it on board.

Then I read the following:

  • "KFC:What do you want your reader / student / parent / teacher / peer to know, how do you want them to feel about it, and what do you want them to commit to?
  • Don't use the 'F' word - use the 'B' wordDon't list off the features of your latest product / school / initiative / programme of work / technology roll-out. Tell us the benefits in our lives. This works in the same way as I suggest people should pitch new ideas to their peers: start with a 'pain', turn the thumbscrews until we're begging for an answer, and then tell us all about how your idea is going to make our lives so much better.
  • FAB: Grab me by the ... benefitsFeatures first, then tell me the general advantages of working in this way might be, and then tell me the benefits to me personally.
  • Don't assume I'm paying attentionToo many governmental policies, school strategies and "research-based" approaches to learning simply assume that the audience should be receptive to the new idea. This is a fatal flaw, and undermines even the best ideas. Assume that your audience has plenty of other far more interesting things to be doing, and write your strategy or pitch to wrestle their attention back towards you. Try starting the strategy with the words "How" or "Now" and see how people want to take part in making it happen."
From it I realised that I did need to pitch 'the pain' to these students by showing what would happen if they didn't cite their work correctly, how using inappropriate or unreliable sources would lead to a lower mark. Then I would go on to pitch the benefits of taking on board what I had to say in the workshop and subsequent subject specific workshops.  I do make the mistake of assuming that students want to to know what I have to tell them, despite the fact that in my heart of hearts I know that only some of them believe that I know more than they do and that what I have to tell them will help.

This has given me much food for thought as I prepare for the week after next.

As for the website, Notosh, I went on to look at that and found riches galore!  I will definitely be working my way through this week.  I particularly like this PDF to be used when developing the resources for a topic.