Scaffolding Research and Guided Inquiry

Yesterday was a big day for me!  About a month ago I had been invited to speak to student teachers studying at Otago University in Dunedin about the process of scaffolding research and guided inquiry as part of their Literacy Across the Curriculum paper. I was a little nostalgic and it felt even more surreal walking into a lecture theatre I had sat in during my year at teachers college back in the early 1980’s, only this time I was the one standing at the front talking to students, some of whom had already completed degrees and were now training to go into classrooms as teachers.

The time allocated just wasn’t long enough! There was so much to tell them, share with them and discuss with them.  I easily had enough content to spread across two sessions, but we were constrained to one and so I made the best of it.  My hope is that our short 50 minutes has only just opened up potential discussions as they all contemplate graduation and beginning in their own classes next year.  To that end I have invited them to join me in the new Scaffolding Research and Guided Inquiry Group on the Virtual Learning Network.  I hope we can continue to discuss what guided research and inquiry can look like in classrooms, as these skills are relevant to all subject disciplines in all schools across every year level.

Action and Reflection: Aligning and Mapping the Work of a Library to Its Community of Learning

As part of my workshop at the SLANZA 2013 conference on engaging with your school community I talked about the importance of articulating your school vision. Here is a concept from Buffy Hamilton which will enable you to take that vision for your school library and puts meat on the bones of it so that everyone can see. I love not only the visual aspect to this idea of mapping the work you are doing in your library but also the connection to the work being done in collaboration with the rest of the school. It makes those links very clear and understandable for anyone who is involved or has an interest. I also think the idea of having this both physically in the library as well as online is important for the sharing of these ideas and projects as well as the promotion of further discussion and brainstorming. Mapping this work will also provide intersections for further collaboration and allows you to identify and follow through on areas for potential evidence based practice. Thanks so much to Buffy for sharing this. Great idea, and I look forward to seeing how this progresses.

Evidence Based Library and Information Practice

AASL Fall Forum

EBLIP, The Evidence Based Library and Information Practice Journal is a rich source of articles and research findings, the purpose of which is to contribute to the decision making of information professionals and their professional practice.

The latest edition has just been released and as explained by editor Alison Brettle in her editorial, while the journal is hosted by the University of Alberta in Canada, it has a global perspective and influence with contributors and editorial members in the US and the UK as well as Canada.

I have found it to be a important source of quality articles related to research in the field of librarianship, which I have tapped into regularly in the four years since I discovered it.

I have downloaded two articles from Vol. 8 No. 3 to read: Developing and Applying an Information Literacy Rubric to Student Annotated Bibliographies and What Five Minutes in the Classroom Can Do to Uncover the Basic Information Literacy Skills of Your College Students: A Multiyear Assessment Study.

The first one will be particularly useful as I have been focussing on using senior students’ bibliographies as a way of collecting evidence on range and depth of resources chosen for assignments and have been investigating the use of annotated bibliographies at either Year 12 or 13.  The second one will be useful in the continuing work I’m doing in the field of transitioning students from secondary to tertiary study.

I also downloaded an evidence summary of the seven distinct roles children display when searching online at home and a brief commentary on the librarian as a practitioner/researcher.

As well as being a very useful source of relevant articles for your professional practice, some could also serve as entries for your revalidation journal if you are a RLIANZA, professionally registered librarian.

Why not consider using an article that you have found particularly pertinent or relevant as a way of promoting discussion with other library professionals. If you share it with colleagues in your local area, why not suggest either a coffee or dinner meeting where you can get together and discuss it or brainstorm ways of implementing ideas shared into our schools or our daily practice.

Why I need to be in the library and not the office!

So yesterday I had to take up a position at the circulation desk instead of the library office.

SBHS Circulation Desk

Today I’m still there, and here’s why:

In the course of an hour this morning I had three separate conversations with three different teachers that I wouldn’t have had if I’d been in my office.

  • Conversation No. 1:  A Science teacher who was booking in her Year 10 class to use computers to research common contemporary myths, such “red sky at night, shepherd’s delight”, for scientific accuracy and proof of validity.  As we discussed what her expected outcomes are and a possible approach to guiding her students in a meaningful way, I shared with her the Quality Information Checklist website to illustrate for students the types of questions they need to ask themselves to validate information for research.  As a consequence, I taught the first part of this lesson …. today! …. for her class and she is going to share this website with other science faculty who are also teaching this unit.
  • Conversation No. 2:  A Health and Wellbeing teacher who had booked in at the last minute with his Year 10 boys to use computers.  After chatting with him about what they were doing I found out they were researching sexually transmitted diseases, a fun and challenging assignment to research with a class of red-blooded 14 & 15 year old males! I asked him how that was working and showed him the EPIC database, Health and Wellness Resource Centre which is tailor-made for this type of research and presents no problems with filter systems.  One of the features I love about this resource is the comprehensive table of contents which helps guide the students to the information required for them to answer their questions.
  • Conversation No. 3: Teacher number 3 had brought a couple of her Year 12 Media Studies students into the library to look at newspaper headlines as she was getting them to create their own.  I asked “Have you seen the Newspaper Clipping Generator? It might be just what you need.”  Half an hour later the same boys came in to show me what they’d created.

View into Library OfficeLibrary Office Desk

As you can see from the photos above, my office is tucked behind a wall, out of the way and while I have plenty of glass (still a barrier) that only gives me a view of half the library.  I can’t see people arriving, and more importantly, they can’t see me!

As a consequence of being “front and centre”, I’ve had more spontaneous conversations with the boys as they move through the library in the past two days than I have in the past two months!

Now …. to devise a plan to have us all working in the library and not the office!

Memory Game – a Step in the Programme

I just love those days when a colleague shares something and it sparks off an idea that makes your brain fizz and pop!


Yesterday was one of those days for me. It all started when the wonderful Desna Wallace shared a link to the Stylist list of 100 Best Opening Lines from Children’s Books

I just love the way it looks and works, with the pictures of the books and then hover over the picture to read the first line of it.  So it got me thinking …..


I am currently working on creating a set of resources to support a new Y7 & 8 library and research skills programme that I’m developing at my new school.  I have an absolutely fantastic group of teachers to work with here and the junior school staff are so willing to collaborate with me, welcoming me into their classrooms.

So when I saw this post I was immediately struck by how cool it would be to design a memory card game, using the covers of the books on one set and the corresponding first line from each book on another set.  The students could then play the game by either matching the pairs correctly, or have them working in groups to decide which bo0k went with which first line.

In a slightly simpler version, I will use the same concept with book covers and authors names.  Both of these ideas still require some fine-tuning and tweaking, but it’s simple, relatively easy to make and fun for the students, with the potential to incorporate a competitive element into it that all boys love.

So, a big thanks Desna and I would encourage everyone to keep sharing.  It’s gold!

A Day in the Life of a School Librarian

Creating the Future for Libraries blank book

I had the utmost pleasure today to join with a group of 50-strong librarians at the LIANZA Otago/Southland Library Assistants Day held at the Invercargill Public Library and share with them about what it means to be a school librarian.

Where to start!! No two days are ever the same and what you start out planning to do at the beginning of the day may look totally different by the end of the day, so the challenge was how to go about showing the variety and breadth of work that we do in a school library setting.

This presentation is what I eventually came up with.

It turned into a bit of a time and motion study of one day of work for me in the James Hargest Library.  I then finished with some thoughts and ideas about how public and school libraries can begin to think about working together.

If you have any great examples of working with a library that is in another sector, I’d love to hear about it!  Please share them here so others can benefit from your fantastic ideas.

Have you knitted your library? Be inspired by someone who has!

Emma loves her present! Photo by Mackenzie Brunson
Emma loves her present! Photo by Mackenzie Brunson

Every now and then, if you’re fortunate, you’ll receive an unexpected gift.  Not because you’ve done anything to deserve it but by way of an unsolicited encouragement and a genuine inspiration.

I had one of those rare experiences on Saturday during morning tea at the Wellington SLANZA event.

I met Hue Ng.  Hue is the very quiet, unassuming Library Assistant at Churton Park School.  In fact, if it wasn’t for Linda Forbes from National Library making a point of introducing us I probably wouldn’t have had the very real pleasure of hearing Hue’s story.

Hue might be quiet and unassuming but she has a real fire in her belly and is one of the most passionate, child-centred librarians I’ve been lucky enough to meet. And the gift she gave me? Response and action.  How often do we interact with others in a variety of ways and never know what our influence or impact has been?  Some of you may remember a blog posting I wrote about six months ago,  Are You Knitting a Library? It was an idea I was quite taken with, but for me it has never gotten past being just that – an idea.

Hue on the other hand took that idea and has run with it!  And what an amazing story she had to tell me.

Her initial idea was to have some of the children at her school each knit a small square which could then all be joined together to make a blanket for the library reading corner or to mount on the wall as a mural.  However, most of the children had never knitted before so she changed her plan to have students trying French knitting or making pom-poms which seemed a little more achievable for those total beginners.

To her surprise and delight the students absolutely love their knitting sessions in the library. It has been an unmitigated success due to Hue’s enthusiasm and the total support of her school community.

And the best things to have resulted from these creative, collaborative lunchtimes?


Everyone involved, both the young and the NOT so young, have experienced so much fun, enjoyment and satisfaction through making connections with each other, learning and sharing knowledge and skills.


The library is a buzzing and popular place to visit during the cold lunch breaks.  Hue comments it’s lovely to see clusters of kids chatting, laughing, teaching each other and creating around the library.  These lunchtimes showcase how the whole school community work happily together.  School staff, senior students, grandmothers, parents, friends and even a retired teacher all work together in comfortable companionship.


The children have been talking so much in class and to their families about their knitting sessions.

The parents are coming in to see Hue in the library and telling her their children have come home and said “It’s one of the best things at school.”  and “Tuesdays and Thursdays are the best days at school (because of the knitting)!”

The teachers have said “It’s awesome! The kids are loving it!”

And the children don’t want it to come to an end when term finishes.

“We’re having so much fun!”

“Knitting is fun, I like it.”

“Can we have it again next year?”


Hue has an abundance of stories.  My favourite is the story of the nine year old boy who French-knitted his mum a necklace to give to her for her birthday.  She said it was the best present she’d ever had!

Hue tells of a six year old girl who impressed her the most with her determination, trying her hardest and never giving up.  She made a pom-pom, did some French-knitting but what she really wanted to do was knit a blanket using two knitting needles.  They got her started and over the weeks she managed to double her number of stitches without being taught how to.  She got help in picking up lost stitches, undoing knots and instead of ending up with a blanket square she has transformed her knitting into an art work which would make a nice dress for her dolly.  The other children loved it so much they want to make their own! And just this week she told Hue she’ll knit a blanket at home once the knitting classes come to an end.

It’s those stories and the spirit of that little six year old that keeps everyone going even when there are so many children who need help and support.

On Tuesday this week, Hue shared a story from last week’s Wellingtonian with the children called Really Big Yarn.

via: The Wellingtonian on Stuff

Wellington artist Mia Hamilton took a childhood hobby to a new extreme when she used industrial cable reels and plastic to create a French-knitted artwork which is now on show at the Museum of Wellington City and Sea.  Hue wanted the children to dream, to see how what they are learning and creating now can come to something bigger than they realise later in life.  What an awesome message to give them, Hue!

So now that you’re all inspired by Hue, you’re probably thinking, how did she do this?!

Well, here’s what she did:

  • Casually chatted to school staff during tea breaks, parent helpers, in fact whoever she met that would listen about the idea of knitting in the library.  She told them she really liked the idea,  that she wanted to give it a go in their library and asked for their thoughts.
  • She used the school newsletter to recruit helpers who were prepared to volunteer their time and come to the library two lunchtimes a week to teach the children to knit.  She also put out a call for donations of needles and wool.  She didn’t just stop there, she also asked her friends and neighbours who also donated needles and wool.
  • She went out and bought some wool in nice colours and some French-knitting dolls. This may have come out of a school budget, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn that she used her own money to do this!

And this is how it works:

  • Each session Hue, along with her “angel” Carol, the retired teacher and parents and grandmothers and senior students, spend Tuesday and Thursday lunchtimes working with between 30 and 40 mostly junior and middle school children teaching them to knit.  And of course, these are not the only children using the library!  There are some playing board games, some on computers, others using the listening posts and of course there are those there to read.  A very busy library indeed!

And on a personal note, I was even more thrilled to hear all about Hue’s effort as my two nieces attend Churton Park school and get the benefit of such a dedicated, passionate librarian who loves her library full of children!

So what’s the message for us all?

message of hope
message of hopeDream dreams and don’t be afraid to act on them.

Share your ideas with others. You may never know who will pick them up and run with it

And tell everyone about your passion. They might just share it.

A big thank you to Hue for sharing her story with me – and now you all. I hope it inspires you as much as it has me.

TL Collaboration Goodies from Twitter

#tlchat ….. One of the best hash-tags to follow and interact with on Twitter.

Want to know why? Mid-afternoon today our time, a large number of teacher-librarians had a Twitter discussion on the topic of collaboration.  And then within about an hour and a half, Joyce Valenza had posted a message on Twitter about a spreadsheet in Google Docs with all the Tweets from that discussion (close to 1,000 of them!) for everyone to share.

This spreadsheet is a good one to take a look at for some gems of ideas for collaboration.  And while I couldn’t take part as I was teaching a class at the time, thanks to Joyce I’m now participating in the collaboration by sharing it here.

Valuable resource, great idea.  Thanks Joyce!

From little conversations …..

I am always banging on about collaboration. Anyone who knows me, knows this.  And one of my favourite things is when a small conversation turns into an opportunity for me to get myself in front of a class, talking about research.  This happened again last week, and all it took was for me to ask a simple question:  “How is your class getting on with their research?”

An English teacher was working with her Year 10 class in the library.  Each student is researching an individual topic that they then have to write a persuasive, point-of-view essay about.  When I asked her how they were getting on, she commented that they were struggling to come up with three suitable research questions for their topic and then finding quality information to help them justify their point of view.

I immediately thought of the Gale Cengage Opposing Viewpoints in Context database which is an excellent source of reference material with the added bonus of point of view essays from both sides of a contentious issue.  After looking at this database together with the outcome for students in mind, she asked me if I could go through this resource with her class, which I gladly did this morning.


  • Students were exposed to another quality source of information for research
  • Students were able to find good resources they couldn’t find just by using Google
  • Students who were struggling with their chosen topic were able to find something they felt more confident researching by using the browse issues facility
  • Happy teacher who now has another tool in her bag of tricks to pull out and use with other classes

So the message is simple, really ……. Just

  • Show interest
  • Ask questions
  • And wherever possible, offer solutions

Teacher/Librarian Collaboration – From a Teacher’s Perspective

I have recently written an article for the SLANZA Collected magazine on the topic of Teacher/Librarian Collaboration from a teacher perspective.  As part of that process, I asked my teaching colleagues for some feedback on their experience of our collaborative efforts and this essay was part of that feedback.  Needless to say, I was blown away with her efforts.  A big thank you to my wonderful “partner in crime” English teacher Kerri Sullivan for her permission to share it with you in full here.

The library is one of most the perfect places for “beyond the classroom learning.”  It is the place where students are, or should be encouraged to explore other worlds, to develop their imagination, to think about the impossible.  This process of inquiry is what makes learning a beautiful thing and this crucial step, “the jewel,” is something commonly missed when teachers plan a new unit of work.  Sometimes we fail to go back to the basics. We replace simple words such as “finding out” and “enjoyment” with “success” and “assessment.”  Often teachers can forget about the process and cast their eyes only to the outcome.

Successful learning is all about individual inquiry and the library is the ideal environment for this to take place.  It is through books that children and adolescents can learn about the necessary skills and ideologies that enhance their adult perception of life without being exposed to anything that will scar them.  It is a place where students can derive knowledge and cultivate ideas without being judged or assessed on their academic merit.  It is the place where finding out and thinking are more powerful than assessment, and that in turn redefines what we mean by “successful learning.”

Our school library is a very important organ to the way in which the body of our school operates.  Students and their older counter-parts are encouraged to research and explore new ideas.  Most importantly, teachers of all subjects are encouraged to use the library and the librarians,  particularly during the planning of their units.  Aside from having subject-specific knowledge about a unit of work or text, our librarians have up-to-date knowledge about what is happening in all facets of school life.  Therefore, working collaboratively with the librarians contributes to our ability to teach cross-curricular units of work.  Librarians are also very useful for providing tips on ways in which to avoid doubling up on teaching skills or texts that have previously been developed in other subject areas.  Libraries and their librarians provide opportunities for constant inquiry- based teaching and learning.

Working with a librarian to create a year nine research-literacy based unit for junior students enabled me to ensure the resources selected were the most up to date, the most relevant to the curriculum, and the most engaging for students.  Whilst engaging in a discussion-based and reflective work environment, we were able to work to produce a unit of work that used the teacher’s understanding of the students’ ability together with the librarian’s knowledge of texts and their content to provide the most beneficial learning environment for students.  We ended up having a student-centred unit of work which focused on understanding contextual information, selecting information, note-taking and refining analytical reading of texts.  The librarian’s knowledge of the reading levels of the texts we used, combined with my knowledge of student ability allowed for us to provide texts that were differentiated according to the students in the class, therefore maximising the potential for student engagement and in turn, success.

According to surveys completed by students in my class after working through this unit, most students felt confident in their ability to successfully source relevant information and to process it.  In their surveys many of the students described the method they used to acquire information for their project.  It was evident through these surveys that the process of learning was as important to them as the outcome.

Aside from being able to create units of work with the librarians at school, there have been multiple opportunities for me, as the teacher, to work collaboratively with them on a day-to-day basis.  This often happens via email or by way of a passing discussion.  This form of ‘quick collaboration’ often provides me with richer, more specific knowledge about texts, new research on literature, research mythologies, text selection for teenagers, links to contextual information on a text and research- based teaching pedagogies.  The collaboration methods we use throughout the year often only take a matter of minutes but are incredibly beneficial to the careful development of our units of work.

When I was asked whether librarians should be acknowledged for their collaborative efforts, it was within a heartbeat that I thought “of course!” However, the small bites of help and often very brief conversations we have with our librarians are very likely to go unnoticed.  I suppose like the books in the libraries, we as professionals in a teaching environment are considered “resources” in ourselves.  I suppose true acknowledgement comes with the learning outcome that each student experiences.  The careful structuring, differentiating and thoughtfulness of unit planning provides the foundation for students to feel a sense of achievement in schools.  It is important that we do acknowledge the thoughtful and very specific advice that our librarians offer us.  After all, that feeling a student gets when he or she learns how to learn could not be done without our school libraries or the librarians who put so much of their time into them.