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.

Friday, 13 February 2015

Post 13: And so the holidays begin!

Sitting in my living room with a glass of wine and the remains of a really nice dinner, I am looking forward to a week off school.  Of course, it's not really a week off work since how often does an educator really take the week off.  I'm going to try and do a lot of reading, especially 2 to 3 of the titles in my Battle of the Books.  I also have a book on skills students need to have before entering university and two murder mysteries, just for fun!

I have a library workshop to do the first Wednesday back after the break for extended essay students and 3 sessions with grade 9 students who are about to start a research project on the First World War. I need to prepare the resources for each of these.  Then there's Red Nose Day coming up 3 weeks after that and I'm the one getting it all organised.  I have to make posters and make sure that all the paperwork for the various activities is ready to go.  So, not much rest for the wicked!

After my rant yesterday, I decided that I should start putting together resources to share at some point with teachers.  Over this break I am going to try and come up with an outline.

And that's it for tonight's blog, as I turn on the TV for a marathon of murder mysteries.

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Post 12: The One Where I rant about Teachers!

I work very hard to teacher information literacy to students when in fact I ought to concentrate my efforts on my colleagues!  For 5 years I have been working with students to develop the skills they need for research, both on the Internet and with print material, and the skills necessary for citing sources.  It takes a very long time for these skills to develop.  Just as you don't emerge from year one a fully formed reader, a researcher grows in experience and skills through the years of their schooling.  As with readers, some become better than others.

However, many of my colleagues appear to believe that 11 year olds come to them fully formed and able to research and cite their sources with no further input.  Do you know how to cite, they ask their class, who believe that they do, and reply 'yes'.  Well that's fine then, no further work needed!  What child would say that they didn't know how to read, if asked the question.  Yes, would be the reply, even from the 5 year old who is just beginning.  However, we all know that at each stage we mature in our knowledge and skills.  An 11 year old does not have the research skills of an 18 year old or a 30 year old.  The question then is why do we believe that they do.

I have a few possible answers to that question.  Many teachers came to teaching at the beginning or even before the advent of the Internet as a major source of information.  They learned to research when the majority of sources consisted of books, periodicals and a number of other sources available in print or on microfiche or microfilm.  They found their information by using reference materials and the card catalogue of a library (either in drawers or on a database).  If they did go through school using the Internet, their teachers did not.  Thus, they did not acquire the skills needed to be able to effectively use the Internet for anything other than basic research.

Our students appear to be so at home on the Internet!  Some of my colleagues have said that they feel somewhat intimidated by the ease at which young people move from one site to another.  Therein lies the rub! We assume that because someone has dubbed them 'digital natives' that they are equally able in all aspects of Internet use, including being able to research for their projects.  When they start out, they aren't, and we are doing them a disservice if we think they are and do nothing to help them develop those skills.

When I went to school (oh, so many years ago), we were given the information we needed to know and to use for our work, either through textbooks or handouts.  We did some research of our own but it was usually limited to what we could find in the school library, the local public library or the set of encyclopaedia our parents had bought.  Now that we have done away with many of our textbooks, or expect that students will find supplementary information for their projects outside the classroom, students naturally go to the Internet as their source.

We often give assignments with little guidance on where to look for the information or how.  Studies of how students conduct Internet research indicate that they lack the ability to use effective search terms, generally never look beyond the first page of results and go for the first site that looks 'alright'. They are used to results coming instantaneously and want their research to be completed as instantly as Google can display it.

If we want our students to become better at doing this, we have to develop our own skills.  It's difficult to teach something that you don't feel confident about.  I have spent years developing research techniques and am still doing so.

(I have gone well beyond 28 minutes and will continue this tomorrow.  Please give me feedback if you have any.)

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Post 11: How to Get Them Reading

I have put behind me, my reflections on Aleppo and other things and will now get back to my main concern: reading!  This is the worry of librarians the world over and I'm sure others as well.  Oh stop being so concerned, I hear you say.  They are all reading on their mobile devices now!  I wish that I could believe that but from anecdotal evidence at my school, that isn't the case.

A teacher said this to me this morning and I asked this question based on a case at school.  If a student took out and read (I am assured by the Lower School librarian and her teacher, she did) 53 books in grade 5 and only checked out 1 in grade 6, is it likely that her parents bought her 52 books for her kindle or iPad?

The problem of the transition from grade 5 (primary) to grade 6 (secondary) at our school is more complex than the fact that students now have their own iPad and can take it home at night.  The work load is higher, there are no weekly library classes and the English teachers in the secondary are no longer coming to the library with their classes to check out recreational reading. What is more, they are no longer having DEAR (Drop Everything and Read) with their classes, nor are the teachers asking students to set goals for their reading each month.

I would like to think that there was something that I could do to by-pass the English class teachers and get the students back on track.  This has been my plan so far:

1. I put spinners with paperbacks of interest to middle and high school students in prominent places around the upper school.  I made sure that they were all new or nearly new and of high interest. These books were not put in the library collection and I don't worry about them not coming back.  Instead I have been deleting duplicate copies of books in my collection and putting them on the spinners as well as new books I have bought or had donated.  I don't care if I never see them again, just that they are read!

2. I have been encouraging tutor groups (we call them advisories) to come to the library when they don't have something particularly planned for that time period.  I also encourage the teachers to go away and have some time to do whatever they want to while I give a short book talk and encourage students to read.

3. I have launched Battle of the Books (the English head wasn't interested in my doing it but I have decided to ignore him) with 20 titles, fiction and non-fiction in English and two other languages.  The big push takes place when we start back after half term.

That's it for now but I have kernels of ideas for March and World Book Day.

That's all for now!

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Post 10:

I have wandered off piste a little in these blog posts.  I had expected that I would writing mostly about education topics but found myself reminiscing about my time in Syria.  It started with some pictures on Facebook of Aleppo, where we spent three wonderful and challenging years.  Tonight I had to write a letter to a Parkinson's nurse who had done a survey on the care of Parkinson's patients at our local hospital.  My husband was one of those patients until his death last October.  I find myself unable to write much more so I am going to put here the body of the letter I sent her and tomorrow I will get back to the education world!

"I regret to inform you that my husband, Clifford Crofts, a member of your Parkinson's survey group, died at St. Peter's hospital, on October 10th of last year.  Unfortunately, the care he received as a Parkinson's patient was in part responsible for his death.  He went in to hospital in early August, having aspirated.  He was in relatively good health at this point and it had been decided that he would be given a PEG in case this should happen again.  

His condition deteriorated quickly due to a number of mistakes made with his medication.  It was either forgotten, given at the wrong time or the pharmacy ran out of it completely.  After one of the incidents, Cliff became unable to swallow again and was unable to eat, drink or take his medication.  He was left like this for more than a day at which point, after much prodding on our part,  it was finally decided to insert a tube through his nose and down to his stomach.  It took multiple tries to insert it, all the while he was without medication, food and water.  After each try, he had to be x-rayed as they were unsure whether or not it had been successfully inserted.

This was just the beginning of a litany of mistakes, which eventually led to him improving enough to have the procedure, developing peritonitis due to faulty equipment or human error, and dying.

To make matters worse for me, I subsequently discovered that the information we were given about the risks of the PEG procedure highly underestimated the likelihood of Cliff dying within the first 30 days afterwards.  

Though I realise that Cliff would likely have died within a year, I feel that he was subjected to unnecessary pain and suffering brought about by the lack of knowledge and understanding of Parkinson's disease of the nursing and the medical staff.

There is very little I can say to commend the care he received at the hospital.  There has been an investigation by St. Peter's, the results of which I will be privy to in March, though the coroner has yet to close the case.  The cause of death has been given as natural causes but the coroner is still endeavouring to answer certain questions.

I would be happy to discuss this further with you, should you wish.

I am sure that Clifford would be happy to know that the survey may lead to other patients receiving better treatment."

Monday, 9 February 2015

Day 9: I'd never thought of highways as amusement parks

I'd never thought of highways as amusement parks until I went to live in Syria.  On that first evening we left the airport for the drive into Damascus and found ourselves on a highway turned into a picnic ground.  Barbecues had been set up on either side of the road, various vendors were selling their wares to the partying crowds and children were playing football from one side to the other.  I think that I remember someone offering camel rides but that might have been another time and other city. The journey was slow.   I was later to learn that the president's son had died on that road when he hit one of the round-a-bouts at high speed.  It obviously didn't happen on a Friday or Saturday night.

I remember the heat, the neon lights, the traffic, both animal and otherwise, the truck horns and flashes of women clothed in black at the edge of roads.  And then we were in the peace and sanity of the ICARDA guest house where we were to spend the night before the drive up to Aleppo.  Our introduction to Syria was a series of sensory bombardments, which continued till the day we left.  So exciting, so life affirming!  How I miss it!

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Day 8: We arrive in Syria

I don't think that I had ever heard of Aleppo before the head of the ICARDA International School  put a note in my pigeon hole at the ECIS job fair in 1995.  We had been living in Cyprus for 5 years and we all had island fever, which is like cabin fever but doesn't involve being snowed in!   It was time to move on.  I was offered a job in Zambia and one in Aleppo, and at the time, Aleppo seemed the safer bet.

Larnaca to Damascus is a half our flight.  After the ride up to Aleppo from Damascus, I might have wished that we had also taken the half hour flight from Damascus up but for some reason we didn't. In retrospect, we would have missed out on a rather uncomfortable adventure if we had.

We left Cyprus in the early evening and flew into Damascus with no idea what to expect.  We didn't have entry visas but were assured by the school that someone would meet us and sort everything out. When the man in front of us was taken from the queue and sent back to Cyprus for not having one, we did start to get worried.  I hoped that being a family of four might make us seem less threatening or suspicious.  We shuffled nervously toward the front.  I think that it was about then that one of us, or perhaps one of the airport guards, noticed that someone was waving at us from the other side of the room.  The guard motioned for me to go over and it was then that I met Mr. Jabri, our future banker, travel agent and sponsor in Syria.  He introduced himself briefly, and handed me the paperwork. What a relief!

We passed through immigration after answering the questions which soon became a standing joke with us and other Europeans we worked with:  mother's name? father's name?  I never knew why their names were so important.  My father was dead but it was easier to give his name than try to explain that, when I didn't speak Arabic and the immigration officer didn't speak English.

We came out of customs hot and bewildered into the warm embrace of Alem and Asma from the school.  And so it began!

Saturday, 7 February 2015

Day 7 Aleppo

It's the weekend and I'd like to stray from writing about education for one day at least.

I used to live in Aleppo in northern Syria.  Today someone posted a picture of the souk in Aleppo and the memories came flooding back.  We used to go to there often, not every weekend but probably twice a month.  A friend introduced us to Aladdin shortly after we arrived and we would always make sure to visit him whenever we went.  What an amazing young man!  He could converse with almost every nationality that came to his shop.  If he didn't have what we wanted, one of his many brothers would and would be sent for, while we sat and drank sweet, mint tea, surrounded by scarves, blankets, table cloths, soap and so much more.  

The pictures below gives you a sense of what it was like but it's missing the donkeys!  You could sit and watch the world go by in Aladdin's shop and that would include a number of donkeys carrying loads of goods to their owners' stalls.

The souk has sections for different products.  Near the entrance we used to go in, there were a number of sellers of women's under garments, the most interesting being the knickers with flashing lights.  My daughters called them 'landing lights'.  I wish I had a photograph or two of those.  The wedding dresses were also located in the same area. Quite spectacular!

I miss Aleppo.  I always planned to go back but never got round to it and now I never will.   I mourn the loss of such a beautiful city, so many wonderful people, and a their way of life.

Friday, 6 February 2015

Day 6 Nearly Past Me By

Here we are at Day 6 and I am still ill and writing from my bed.  Not fair!  I was hoping to go up to London tomorrow to visit the Sherlock Holmes exhibit at the London Museum.  Ah well, half term is coming up in one week and I can go then.  I had better do this blog entry now or my lurgi may claim me back and I will have let down the side!

I had intended to keep pursuing the issues I've been having with my library but two other topics are pressing me more closely and so I will leave the library for the moment.  A friend and former colleague, Nina O'Connor, retired from international teaching 6 or 7 years ago and went back to live in Michigan.  She is working for the university and has also started a series of cooking programmes on YouTube in French.  The idea is to help people improve their French while learning how to make simple French recipes.  Her first recipe was for a vinaigrette.

This reminded me of the time I did a salad and a vinaigrette with a class when I was being observed.  It was the best vinaigrette I have ever made and I have never again been able to make one as good.  Funny how that happens.  I'm not sure whether you could use this series with beginners but I'm sure you could with students who have a few years of French under their belts.  Kids love cooking in class and it doesn't have to cost much.  Nina's next recipe is for a salade niçoise.  I think you could do that one in class as well.  Nothing to really cook. It's just a matter of putting everything together.  A baguette would go well with it.

Years ago when I started teaching French in Canada, I brought in a set of cooking cards I collected from Marie Claire for my grade 11 French class.  Students chose a recipe, made it at home and brought in the results and talked about making it.  We then had a wonderful time tasting everything.  I can see a way of including the use of the I-pad by having students work in pairs and film the preparation and then present in class.

Joe Dale tweeted yesterday asking for ideas about using the I-pad for primary literacy.  I spent some time thinking about his today and also did a little research.  I've found an article in a journal called The Reading Teacher  (Exploring the Use of the I-pad for Literacy Learning), and later this weekend, I will have a look at it and then report back.

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Day 5: How to decide what is most important

I having been worrying over the fact that my circulation of books has dropped dramatically in the last few years.  When I took over in my library, the previous librarian had put very little of her budget into the acquisition of fiction, and especially paperbacks.  In fact I don't think there was a paperback in the entire library, though perhaps that is an exaggeration.  I set about increasing our fiction, only buying paperbacks and housing them on spinners so that students could see the covers of as many as possible.  I also got comfy sofas and set up areas where students could sit and read, play chess or quietly talk.  (As a side note, I hadn't realised that chess is actually a contact sport with middle schoolers and high school students.  Not at all quiet!)

I studied book stores and got ideas on how to display my collection to the best advantage.  I also took my advertising campaign out of the library and around the school.  My circulation started to climb.  I encouraged teachers to bring students in for books talks and though it was mainly middle school classes which came, there was a real buzz about books going on.

Once I had a good collection established and a protocol set for adding new books to the fiction collection, I moved on to my non-fiction collection.  Yes, we are in the age of the internet and internet research.  So, as I have asked myself often in the past, are print books still necessary for students to use for research.? That is a whole other question and I have answered it for myself and won't go back over it here.  Needless to say, I am still buying books, both print and 'e' and students are still using them.  My non-fiction collection is a bit more problematic than the fiction.  It was easy to weed my fiction collection but not so easy to weed non-fiction.

I was discussing this with a man who came over from another school to help me come to terms with certain aspects of our VLE.  He was disappointed that I would consider weeding books on topics that were not part of the curriculum.  I made the argument that if they were never going to be taken off the shelves what was the point of having them there.  Then he reminded me of 'serendipity'.  How would someone come across a book in my library by chance, on a subject they might never have considered, if I got rid of them.

Do you remember that happening to you?  I do.  It has led me to an interest in subjects I might never have considered.  I have become less aggressive in my culling after that conversation.  However, I know that one day another librarian will look at some of the books I've added and wonder, as I do about my predecessor:  why in heavens name did she buy that?

I've wandered away from the title of this post.  I started with the idea of discussing which should be of most importance to me as a librarian - literacy and encouraging it and assisting students in developing information literacy skills.  They are interrelated, I hear you say.  Yes, they are but I am the only person in my library and focussing on both of these equally has become difficult.  By answering this question, I am hoping to find a way forward.

(More musings on this tomorrow!)

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Day 4: Am I partly to blame?

Well, hours spent in bed last night left me feeling slightly better and like all good teachers, because it is easier than making sub plans, I staggered in to work.  Mistake!  By the afternoon, I needed my bed but I couldn't leave till 3:30!  I won't be in tomorrow.

However, I did say that I would write every day and so, while the paracetamol is working, here I go.

In a previous post, I noted that I got involved with looking at assessment data because I was concerned about the lexile levels of students at my school.  It's  my theory that students' lexile levels are not increasing year on year at a rate that would allow them to read the text they will encounter at the diploma level (grades 11 and 12) and at university.   I have certainly noticed a drop in circulation. This is particularly noticeable between grade 5 (upper primary) and grade 6.

I have theories on why this has happened over the past 5 years but I have been working toward the thought that perhaps I should also be looking closer to home as well.  Is it possible that
the library and I may have played a role in this.  I don't think that we have but I can't not take the possibility into consideration.

Over the last 4 years, I have concentrated much of my thinking time on developing strategies for teaching information literacy.  I have continued to develop my fiction and non-fiction collections but I haven't had as much time to advertise or to encourage recreational reading.  Having said that, I think I'm being a little hard on myself.  During the last school year,  I had many classes in for book talks and developed new types, such as speed dating a book.

(To be continued...)

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

The Lurgi has me but I've written nonetheless!

Here I am on day 3 as sick as a dog!  Not fair and it’s definitely going to cramp my style.  I ache in every part of my body and as I type, my fingers hurt.  My brain is definitely not up to writing anything of great value but I did say that I would write regardless of the circumstances!  However, I didn’t factor in illness.  

So I shall attempt to continue on with the question of using assessment data to improve student learning.  Bored yet?  I think I’m beginning to be! I was going to talk about training teachers to analyse data but really that makes me want to go to sleep even more than my lurgi. ( A book prize for anyone who guesses - not googles - the origin of that word and knows the original cure!)

I got onto the assessment committee because I was and am still concerned about the lexile levels of our students.  From my reading of the data it appears that around 50% of our students in each grade level are not where they need to be so that when they get to grade 12 they will be able to read college level books.  We do have a percentage of EAL students but I don’t think that alone accounts for this.  

I have my theories!  We introduced I-pads across the board last year and the library circulation numbers began to drop.  This coincided with a new English department head who, though he pays lip service to having English classes come to the library for book talks or just book borrowing, he in no way encourages his teachers to do so.  This added to very content heavy English courses and et voila, a fall in circulation.  Yes, you are right, students are likely reading on their mobile devices but it is unlikely that their parents are buying the number of books that students used to take out in print format.  

Have you guessed that’s I’m a teacher-librarian, a rare breed, (originally I wrote 'bread' - see I told you I was sick) it seems, in most secondary schools.  My school is fortunate that the administration believes in the value of libraries.  Now all I need to do is learn how to analyse the lexile scores, and also look for other factors and then find away to turn things around.  I am trying not to make assumptions but of course, what I have just written is full of them.  

Enough!  My bed calls.  Well, actually I’m in it already!  But sleep calls!  Bonne nuit!

Monday, 2 February 2015

Day 2: Post 2B

My second inspiration for writing today came from an email I received while riding the bus home from work.  Almost 4 months ago my husband died after a long and debilitating illness, from peritonitis which developed after the insertion of a PEG.  He received varying treatment in the hospital ranging from good to terribly bad.  Today, the head nurse contacted me to say that the investigation into his death had finally finished and that at a meeting last Friday the report had been shared with her.  Now, she needed to share it with me.

I have found it difficult to reconcile myself to the fact that the hospital was probably to blame, for the most part, for Cliff's death.  You always want to think the best of an institution which is there to help make people better and not to kill them.  I don't actually think that the hospital will admit to having made a mistake.  I say 'the hospital' when what I really mean is the people involved with my husband's care. And how likely are their colleagues who investigated the death, to lay the blame on other staff members?

Do I really believe that Cliff's death was anything more than a series of unfortunate events, which might have gone either way?

I am worried too that I might let myself become consumed by anger about what has happened.  Or, am I working so hard not to be angry that I am trying to forget the whole thing?  My goodness this is all so ... I can't even thing of the word!

So, four months after my husband's death, I now have to face what happened, listen to what the hospital has to say and try and make some sense of it and find a way to move forward. Unfortunately, talking with the hospital won't be the end of it.  The Coroner has yet to decide on whatever they decide.  I have an interim death certificate, the autopsy has shown that he died of natural causes but I think that the coroner has yet to decide whether or not things were done as they should have been.


There will be much more to say about this!

Day Two (Surely I can come up with a better title!)

I started today unsure of what I might write about today but as luck would have it two subjects presented themselves, one at the beginning of the day and one at the end.

I have been reading an study called Achieving with Data: How High-performing School Systems Use Data to Improve Instruction for Elementary Students for the Assessment Group I belong to. I have set myself the task of writing notes for the rest of the group. I got chatting with our academic dean this morning about the notes to date and this post comes out of that.  

The study identifies 6 key strategies for success as noted in 4 school districts: 1. Building a foundation for data driven decision making; 2. Establishing a culture of data use and continuous improvement; 3. Investing in an information management system; 4. Selecting the right data; 5. Building school capacity for data-driven decision making; and finally, 6. Analysing and acting on data to improve performance .

From my reading I had come to the conclusion over the weekend that we were setting ourselves up for failure, or even more worrying yet, we were being set up for failure by our board. To be successful, we would need to have an information management system (which we don't at the moment and won't due to financial constraints) to assist us in analysing our data. Furthermore, we would need to be using the 'right' data. Unfortunately we have been required to take on board, as one of our assessment tools, MAP, which does not coincide with parts of our IB curriculum. This leads to two problems. Firstly, some teachers disregard the entire test because part of it is not relevant to our curriculum. If teachers don't believe in the validity of the test, they will never take the results seriously. Secondly, we lay ourselves open for the suggestion that we change our curriculum to align with the test. (It has also been suggested that we spend time teaching students to write the tests. We all know where that is going to lead!) Finally, we need to find the time to train teachers in analysing the data available to them about their students and then, teachers would need to find time in their schedules to work with the data. I don't know about other schools but at ours, teachers are already stretched to the limit. Furthermore, we have so many new initiatives each year that training time is at a premium.

The most worrying aspect of all, is that next year there is a plan afoot to judge teachers by student results. If our students are taking a test for which they are not prepared (due to the differences in curriculum), then it will appear that the teacher is failing to deliver the curriculum. Now, our administration knows the problems with the test but the other two schools in our group are using a curriculum which aligns more closely to MAP. When the board looks at the results across the three schools, they may perceive our school to be failing.

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Another Beginning

So here I am back again having written very little about the grieving process and I wonder if I ever will.  Instead I have committed myself to getting back to writing again on a consistent basis and so  over the next 28 days I will be writing something and adding it to this blog.  Hopefully, I will have established the habit by the end of the month and will continue on.  Once upon a time, I would write a 1000 or more words a day but alas, no more.  Well, not to this point!  When I had a break before and wanted to get back to writing, around the start of this blog, I decided that I would simply write, about anything that came to mind.  If it were fiction, I wouldn’t plot, though it wasn’t entirely stream of consciousness.  My non-fiction was mostly ramblings about whatever came to mind or was of interest at that moment.  I think I might go the same route again.  We’ll see.

At the moment I am working on summarising the research I’ve been doing for a committee I’m on at work…the Assessment Committee, for want of a better name.  Though I taught in the classroom for many year as a French and drama teacher, I am now back to my first love, the library and so have had very little need to grapple with ins and outs of assessment and assessment data and how to use it.  Much of what is spoken about at our meetings has left me wondering if I am out of my depth and what I could possible add of relevance to our discussions.  In the end I came to the conclusion that I should do what librarians do, and research the topic.  I hope to learn more about the question of using data to improve teaching and learning, find out what is happening elsewhere, and perhaps be able to pass on something of what I have learned to my colleagues.  I hope this doesn’t turn out to be too ambitious a project.

At the same time, I have a number of fiction projects on the go.  It would be good to take the plunge into at least on of them and explore the characters on the page instead of in my head.  I would also like to start pulling together the ‘blog novel’ I started in 2006, back when I was having cancer treatment.  Strangely, chemotherapy led to a very creative period in my life and that year I must have written 100,000 words or more on various projects.  My problem is finishing my fiction projects!

I will eventually have to focus on one of these but I’m not sure which and so I hope that a month of pursuing different threads may help me to decide.  Perhaps, I will go in a totally different direction!  Who knows?  This could be exciting!