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!

The Commonplace Book Idea

Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation by Steven Johnson

This is one of my top reads from 2012 …. In fact it would probably rank as one of my top reads ever!  It certainly qualifies as one of the most inspirational books I’ve read.

On the back cover of my copy (loved it so much I bought a copy for my school staff professional library and purchased a copy for myself.  And I intend to gift it to my 22 year old son as well.) it says:

“If you want to create a space for innovation, you won’t get far by cloistering yourself away from the world and waiting for inspiration to hit you.  Chance favours the connected mind”.  

I had light-bulbs going off all over the place when I read this book.  There was so much to think about! So I’ve restricted myself in this blog posting  to highlighting just one of the key ideas for me.  This came from chapter III, The Slow Hunch, and the key idea was The Commonplace Book. I cannot believe I hadn’t come across this concept before.  Thank you Steven Johnson for being the person to enlighten me.


[Commonplace book], [mid. 17th c.]

Commonplace books were used extensively during the 17th & 18th centuries by scholars, scientists and anyone with intellectual ambition as a way of recording information, facts, ideas and thoughts that were particularly important or relevant to them.  Here is how Wikipedia describes them:

Such books were essentially scrapbooks filled with items of every kind: medical recipes, quotes, letters, poems, tables of weights and measures, proverbs, prayers, legal formulas and each commonplace book was unique to its creator’s particular interests.


Grandma's Commonplace Book

Personal Context

This concept really resonated for me as I’m continually thinking about all sorts of things related to my work in libraries and the intersection of this with information and education, and I am regularly excited by how seemingly disparate ideas from various places all come together for me to create an idea or activity.  I’m also convinced, by the number of times I have that “I know I read something about that somewhere and now I don’t know where I read it,  when I read or even who wrote it” moment, that I really needed to be more deliberate in noting down these things along with my reflections of them. The commonplace concept was my perfect solution!

It’s like when I attend a conference or a workshop or some other type of professional learning opportunity.  It’s not so much the guts of the presentation that I take notes on, most presenters give you access to that anyway, it’s my thoughts and reflections on the ideas that stand out for me that I make my notes about.  Of course you need to spend time soon afterwards, preferably within the next day or two, expanding and explaining the notes to yourself for future reference.  After all, who has had the experience of going back to notes you’ve taken at a conference after a few months or even a year and not had any clue about what it was you thought was important in the first place!  Having your own commonplace book could be the answer to that.


Pages from my Commonplace Book

I have a friend who, about a decade ago, spent a year religiously writing in her diary every day about what was happening on the farm, what her children were doing, what the family was involved in.  She said it was a huge commitment of her time but now they have this wonderful snapshot of a year in their lives to look back on.  What an amazing gift to leave your children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.  An insight into your thoughts and ideas as they developed.

Of course nowadays, a commonplace book doesn’t have to just be a physical journal or a scrapbook you note things down in.  In the current electronic age this could be an online journal or blog that you can very easily add to and refer back to whenever you want or need.

Educational Context

I got to thinking about how we could use this commonplace book idea with students.  Here’s some of the possible applications that I see:

  • Use it as a tool right from Year 9 to get students to reflect on their own learning, challenges, successes, strategies, accomplishments and then have them do something with it as a senior student each year they are still at school
  • A particular curriculum area could incorporate it into their senior programme and build it through from Year 11 to Year 13
  • A  class could use it as a version of a time capsule where students make regular entries though the year after setting goals at the beginning and reflecting on their success or otherwise at the end of the year, including reflection of what led to the result they attained

I see the commonplace book concept as potentially being a very powerful tool for learning planning skills,  self-management and intentional thinking.  The multi-year approach could be managed relatively simply by having students create their own blogs which won’t potentially  get lost or destroyed in the transition between years.  I know there are pitfalls to this idea, but I do believe there are huge benefits to be gained for students if the fish-hooks are ironed out.

There are bound to be a number of other great ways of incorporating this into the school or library programme that I haven’t thought of yet.  I’d love to hear any other practical applications you might come up with.

So have I sold you on the commonplace book?  Do you want to know more about Steven Johnson’s fantastic book?  Here’s the very creative book trailer for it

Want to know even more?  Here’s Steven at a Ted Talks event talking about the history of innovation

Inspired to read his book now?  Can I suggest you run (and I mean literally, run!) to your local library or bookshop and invest in this treasure trove of ideas for yourself.  Happy innovating!

To Shush or not to Shush – the Results

A big thanks to all of you who responded to my recent blog post and survey on whether school libraries should be a quiet place for study during exam times.  It was reassuring to read your many comments and discover that I’m not alone in being conflicted about which way to go on this issue and how to achieve the results I want once the decision is made.

If you haven’t done so already, can I suggest you take a look at some of the responses on the original post.  They sum things up nicely.  Generally some of the main points to come through were: that balance was difficult to achieve and then maintain; if possible have a separate area for those studying; need to make accommodations for group study where some chat and discussion is necessary.  My favourite response was the librarian who responded: “Well, it depends on the time, on the day, and on how much sleep I’ve had the night before!” Classic!

I know some of you expressed an interest in the poll results so here they are:

As you can see, of the 141 responses, 61% of you thought that yes, school libraries should be a quiet place for study during exam times, which is a solid majority but not an overwhelming, resounding yes.  There was certainly a lot of grey area, with many of you as conflicted as me when considering not only what’s best and juggling that with what the students want, but also how to achieve this goal without coming across like the wicked witch of the west on a bad day!

After my musing on this issue I opted for giving posters another try.  This is what we have plastered all over the walls and doors of our library

Has it worked?  Too soon to call I think, but I’m not sure it’s made any tangible difference.  However, neither have we had anyone complain or comment on the noise levels (which to my mind, or should I say ears, has been bordering on excessive at times!).  I’ve been deliberately taking a much more relaxed approach to this issue this year and my sub-conscious is obviously stressing about it as I’ve been experiencing some bizarre dreams around classes and control in the library in the past week!  Believe me, this is not common.  I don’t usually dream about my library so the two sides to Senga are continuing their warfare where they can.

But what about next year?  I have decided to take a much more proactive and evidence-based approach to what will no doubt still be an issue at the beginning of term four 2013.  Here are my three steps to hopeful success:

  1. Run a survey for the Year 12’s and 13’s early in Term 1 to gauge how their experience of using the library was for this exam season.  I’ll then see how this matches up with our anecdotal evidence and what we saw happening during this time to develop a tentative plan
  2. Immediately after school exams in Term 3 we will conduct a second survey of all senior students about their intended use of the library during NCEA exams and what their expectations for using this space would be
  3. Early in Term 4 we will publicise and market how students can use the library during exams to the whole school through assemblies, newsletters, roll call notices and posters.  Our intention would be to repeat the survey from Term 1 2013 in Term 1 2014 to measure any difference in responses based on our attempts to satisfy our customers (i.e. our students AND our staff who still use the space for teaching junior classes)

Fingers crossed this will help us to achieve the right mix for our school community here at Hargest and leave me feeling as sane and serene as possible come November 2013!

Steps to Becoming and Educator-Curator

When I recently presented a workshop on Digital Tools for Content Curation I spent very little time discussing how to go about actually becoming a curator. Being a hands-on, roll your sleeves up and get stuck in kinda session we went straight for the toys.

However, I would highly recommend this excellent presentation on Educators as Curators from Corinne Weisgerber and Shannan Butler, St Edwards University in the US.  It is worth taking a look at in terms of clarifying the purpose for curation and things to think about before you get into curation boots and all.

These professors of communication clearly describe the “journey of a resource: from birth to bookmark”, the process from finding and selecting material through to sharing and tracking it.  Most importantly from my perspective they share about how to editorialise the content.
It’s all very well saving a whole range of resources but you need to be able to identify why you saved it in the first place, reflect on it’s importance to your own practice or how you might implement it into your library programme.  Document your thoughts on it at the time you discover it to make it meaningful to you and the others you might share it with.

Reflections on the Hargest Book Club and why I need to find a new wheel

wheel, tyre and parts

I’ve been running a student Book Club here for the past 8 years …. and this year the wheels fell off …. so I’ve put it into a wee hiatus while I ponder and reflect on what has worked in the past, why it has become somewhat unwieldy and how I want it to “rise from the ashes” in 2013.

The Hargest Book Club started in May 2005  and had 17 students come along to that first meeting.  By the end of 2005 we had grown to 24 students, with 12 of them being regular weekly attenders.  I was a happy librarian.  We were feeling our way and finding our feet.

After discussions and trialling a few ideas it became clear that the main benefits of coming along to Book-club as perceived by the students were

  • Unlimited issues – as long as they had no overdue books
  • The chance to help us select new books for the library
  • The opportunity to read the latest acquisitions before they made it to the library shelves

During the ensuing years I’ve experimented with a range of activities and approaches.  We instigated a shared lunch at the end of each term, which the students loved and when numbers got too large to do this, we instigated our Hargest Library Xmas Party, which we held after school had finished for the year and stock-taking had been completed.  We sent out lovely invitations and after the first year we also included our team of 30-strong student librarians.

These parties proved very popular, and were a lovely way to end the school year. (even though Lisa and I were often exhausted and questioned our state of mind at the time of planning it!)  We just ordered pizza, provided Xmas nibbles and played Xmas carols.  We played games such as First Lines, where students had to match the title of a book to the first line from the book; Literary Hats, where they were given a party hat on arrival which had the name of an author on it and they had to ask the other students questions to work out who they were; we gave them the opportunity to select  summer holiday reading and one year we saved up books we’d weeded from our fiction collection and let them take what they wanted. The last two years, students asked to bring some games along to play and Twister  became an hilarious but firm favourite.

It is very difficult to get them all to go home!  One year my then eight year old (he’s now about to turn 11) who of course had to attend the Xmas Party (after all, I was technically on holiday!!) had a lovely time as the stayers sat round in our reading room taking turns to read a picture book out loud to him, complete with voices and gestures to fit the story.  They the proceeded to sing him happy birthday (even though his birthday isn’t until January.)  It was a sight that did this librarian mother’s heart proud.

I had a core group of Book-clubbers who had stumbled into book club after one of their gang suggested it when they were newly Year 11 students.  They referred to themselves as the “Nerd Herd” and were a bunch of bright, eclectic teenagers who were articulate and well-read.  This lot moved onto university  after finishing at Hargest last year and with virtually no Year 12 students, it left a big hole … with me too, though I’m pleased to report that they come in to visit whenever they’re home on holidays, usually with a Starbucks coffee in hand for me and we’re planning on a “Nerd Herd” reunion luncheon at the conclusion of their end of year exams when they’re all home for the summer.

Some of our book-club lovelies from 2007 in their Library OWL T-Shirts with Owly, our library mascot.

We had occasional visitors join us for Book-club.  Some talked to us about the books they have written, some came and read to us, but mostly we remained a social group where we chatted about the books we love to read, recommended our favourites to each other and enjoyed the feeling of belonging in our little group. However, our “little group” didn’t stay little for long.  Numbers continued to grow each year, until finally it reached a reasonably unmanageable 55 members in 2011 (we can only comfortably fit about half that number in our library classroom and we would regularly have 35+ attending each week).  Something had to give!  And I preferred it wasn’t my sanity!

I’d tried a couple of different approaches to combating the size issue.  Three years ago I even tried having a separate junior and senior book-club, but it changed the dynamics of the group so much that there was rebellion in the ranks, and we reverted to the status quo.

My perceived Book-club benefits included:

  • giving students a safe place to come and share about reading
  • students from Y9 to Y13  could mix together and get to know each other
  • raising the profile of the library
  • giving students who came along a greater sense of belonging to the library

Some of my challenges have resulted from those benefits. The level of ease and camaraderie within the group, coupled with the large numbers attending eventually tipped it over into chaos. They became so chatty and casual that even after gentle and finally not-so-gentle reminders of respecting everyone in the group and listening politely while someone else was speaking or giving a book review, their behaviour didn’t improve. Also our school day changed about four years ago to only one period after lunch. This also meant a longer interval and a shorter lunch break which resulted in not enough time to do anything meaningful with the group.  These challenges, coupled with busyness-syndrome and Book-club fatigue resulted in me calling a halt to our regular weekly meetings at the end of last term.

The dust has begun to settle somewhat and I’ve appreciated a little distance from the issue (and to be honest, the students!).  Enough to have been starting to think “Where to from here?”

So some of my musings around what the new and improved Hargest Book Club might look like?

First things first …. I plan to be more organised! I am a huge fan of Suzette Boyd and I’m totally in awe of what she has created in terms of library services at Scotch College.  At Scotch they have a Literature Club for their boys and they have posters made to promote what’s happening at their gatherings each term. Check out what they’ve got happening for the boys this term. They have some very cool ideas.

I’m considering meeting less frequently.  I’m thinking once a fortnight might work better.  Alternatively, I might be able to find a reliable 2013 Year 13 student from my library team to help organise and run Book-club next year.

Using Scotch College Library’s concept, maybe have certain things happening on certain weeks to encourage more non-traditional membership.  Some of the things I’m considering are

  • Running a quiz once a term
  • Having one meeting a month as a “choose your new books” session
  • Having one meeting a month where students create book reviews in whatever format they want to, be it written, videoed, maybe in book-trailer form
  • Arranging a special guest once term.  Authors are few and far between down South, but we have some cool people locally who might be prepared to come and read a short story or part of a book to them. (one year I had our Drama guru, Jonathan Tucker, who has been teaching here for 47 years this year, read his favourite horror story to the group.  (He was well-known for this delicious activity when I was a student here!)  Well, I could’ve sworn some of the younger student’s eyes were going to pop right out of their head!!)

I’m very conscious of not creating more work for myself as the time factor is a biggie, but on reflection, Book-club has become an institution here at Hargest and it’s up to me to find the right wheel to fit this buggy!

PS: Meet our Book-club mascot:

And a well-travelled mascot he is too!  Owly went with Lisa, my wonderful team-mate here in the Hargest Library, on her overseas trip to the UK last year.  We will make sure he travels to other places too during this year so we can run a competition at the beginning of next year where students have to guess where Owly went on his holidays.

What’s Obvious to You, Is Amazing to Me!

One of the educators I respect immensely is Richard Byrne.  His website FreeTechnologyForTeachers is a virtual treasure trove of fantastic resources and great observations.  If you don’t follow him, then you really should! On Twitter he is: @rmbyrne

One such observation of Richard’s recently has really resonated with me.  That is “What’s Obvious to You, is Amazing to Me!”  Those of you who know me, will know that one of the things I’m most passionate and vocal about in my professional life is collaboration –  this could take the form of a casual conversation in the staffroom over coffee which leads to the meeting of minds, possibly extending to meaningful brainstorming right through to formal planning and delivery of lessons with teaching colleagues and everything that comes in between and beyond!  You gain so much from this approach, but the thing I’ve only recently become more intentional about is the sharing of some of my thoughts and actions through this blog.

Initially I began blogging as a way of reflecting on my own practice, commenting on the things that impacted me and as a record of my own professional journey.  Making the decision to share this publically with “the world” feels a little scary as you don’t know who might be reading it, whether others will agree with you, or indeed think you have anything valid to say at all! It’s scary to think of others reading it, but it’s also scary to think that actually no one wants to read it!  Or maybe what you have to share is so obvious to everyone that what’s the point in even saying it.

But what Richard says in his posting is that what has become obvious to us as part of our everyday practice may in fact be the first time someone else has heard it, seen it, read it in quite this way.  Or maybe it’s something someone else has thought about but wasn’t sure what to do with it.  Or maybe it will be the “right place, right time” scenario, where it’s validation of something you’ve wanted to say or do but just needed a catalyst to make it a reality.

I know in my own journey that this has often been my experience (Richard’s posting as a case in point!) and so, please feel free to ignore anything I blather on about that isn’t relevant to you or is already in your “obvious” basket, but I hope you’ll agree that this shouldn’t negate the opportunities for the sharing of ideas in collaboration with others.  It might just be the right amazing thing at the right amazing time for just one person.  It’s the willingness to share our journey that’s important.

Taking to blogging like duck to water

After initial hesitance around the idea of setting up a blog, I’ve taken to it like the proverbial duck to water! 

One unexpected but welcome outcome is that the art of blogging forces me to be more circumspect, more reflective in my thinking, being clear that I really understand the why behind what I think. I am compelled to stop and analyse my thoughts behind whatever has been buzzing around in my brain that compells me to get my fingers typing.

This is good practice! Whatever it is that we come across in our working days we should be responding to it.  Sometimes we need to celebrate, sometimes we need to retreat and lick our wounds before embarking on the assault again.  But becoming reflective practioners allows us to replicate the good results and minimise our frustrations when things don’t go quite the way we want them to. It’s not just what we read, it’s what we do with it that affects our day to day practice.

Blogging, I have come to realise, is also a good discipline.  It helps create good habits and so, not content with only this blog, I’ve now created a blog about the books I’m reading.  You’ll find it at  Those of you reading this who are librarians will I’m sure, be constantly asked for good book recommendations, most likely not just by your students, but by teaching colleagues, family and friends.  And if you’re anything like me, it can sometimes be difficult to recall just the titles and authors you think someone might enjoy.  My hope for this new blog is that I can now direct people to my own favourites as well as  just revisit it myself to jog the memory.