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.