Friday, 17 April 2015

Ninja Readers and Storyteller's Club

Earlier this year I posted about my plans to improve my Ninja Readers Book Club and to also start a storytelling club.  However, since then I've been thinking about how I got some of our quieter book club students to come along to the comic club last year and step out of their shells a bit in order to tell stories.  I was also thinking about how I missed the opportunity to promote reading to some of the comic club students, the ones who weren't confident readers.

So I decided to combine the two clubs and form the Ninja Readers and Storyteller's Club.  This hasn't come without its problems.  Last year's clubs took place at morning tea but to combine the two and get a little more time I wanted to run over lunchtime.  I encountered unexpected opposition, with our older students deemed too busy with other things.  I could only take them at morning tea.

I went away and thought about it, and then decided to see if I could take the Year 4's at lunchtime instead.  The book/storytelling combo needs the extra time and I think I can make it work with younger children.

I got the students to sign up - 40 of them!  Gulp!  Still, I was pleased that it showed the concept was a popular one and I'm sure there will be some drop off as we go along.  I decided to meet with them before the term ended so I could tell them a bit about how the club would run, and issue a couple of voluntary challenges for the holidays.

The first challenge was an image scavenger hunt.  I got the idea from a book I had just read - 'Half a Chance' by Cynthia Lord. The main character is a girl who does a photography scavenger hunt.  I wanted to make sure all the students could join in if they wanted to, so I made it an image scavenger hunt, and gave them the option of drawing images if they didn't have a camera to use.  I read out the list of images and we discussed what we could draw or take photos of.  Here is what I gave them:


Only one of these words and phrases was taken from the book.  The rest I made up, keeping in mind that after we share the images I thought we might use them to inspire short stories.  Over the holidays I have been doing the scavenger hunt with my younger son and we have both been enjoying it, so hopefully some of the students have too.

The second challenge was to draw a Nina reader or storyteller so we could make a poster for the club.  As an example I showed them the one we made last year for the Moustache Potatoes Comic Club.

I have spent some of the holidays reading about writing, with my favourite book so far being 'Once Upon a Slime' by Andy Griffiths.  There are so many awesome ideas to inspire writing in there.  As usual I have spent too much time researching and now I need to pull it all together for next week.  I am aiming to use books/genres as the basis for the storytelling projects, while also showcasing the various storytelling apps on the school's iPads.  I will let you know how we get on.




Saturday, 11 April 2015

Library Skills Session - Year 1's

My final library skills sessions for Term 1 were for our Year 1's.  My aim for the session was to introduce the students to some basic library rules and talk about how to look after books.  I wanted to make the session as interesting as possible for the students so this is what I came up with:
  • I introduced myself and Esther, our library assistant.
  • I asked the students if they were good at pretending, and then asked them to pretend that I was a student coming in to the library at lunchtime.  To help them pretend I then put on a school jumper that I borrowed from our uniform samples.
  • I acted out a number of scenarios where I was doing things wrong:
    • Running flat out into the library and hiding behind a set of shelves
    • Bringing my books in and putting them straight onto the shelves without returning them first
    • Taking books off the shelf, pretending to flick through them and them throwing them on the floor
    • Taking a book off the shelf and heading straight out the door with it
    • Asking if I can 'buy' a book
    • Sitting down and talking really loudly about how great a book was
    • Taking a giant pile of books to the counter
  • I talked about what happens when books are overdue
  • I explained that throwing out damaged books makes me sad and showed examples of the books:
    • Pages with small rips in the bottom.  We talked about how to turn pages carefully from the top right-hand corner.
    • Torn pages. We talked about being very gentle turning pages.
    • Books where the pages had become separated from the binding.  I explained that sometimes books did come apart because they had been well-loved and we discussed what to do when that happened.
    • Pages taped together with sellotape.  I was hoping to avoid the actions of well-intentioned parents with this one!
    • Water-damaged books.  I asked for guesses as to what had happened to these books.  We talked about keeping books away from water and food, and protecting them from rain by using their book bag.
    • Books that had been drawn in. After making sure that no-one in their class would ever do such a horrendous thing we discussed how to keep books away from younger siblings armed with crayons.
    • Books that had bite marks out of them.  After guessing what had happened to these books we talked about keeping books safe from pets.
    • My favourite - book vs washing machine (a strange clump in a plastic bag).  After guesses as to the fate of this book we discussed keeping books in safe places and not on floor where they could be scooped up with the washing!
  • We finished by reading 'A perfectly messed-up story' by Patrick McDonnell.  The book has two messages - that life can be OK even with a few 'messes', and the one I used it for, which is to treat books with respect.  I cleared up the whole 'Americans call jam jelly' issue before I started reading.


Here's what I took from the Year 1 sessions:
  • They were lots of fun!  I thought I might be embarrassed pretending to be a student but it was easy and a good way to go through library policies and rules without being too boring.
  • The school jumpers are very fleecy and hot!
  • I had been worried I might frighten some students when I was loud but fortunately they all coped well with that.
  • We had some lovely suggestions about where the bite marks on the books came from, including people, tigers, sharks and bookworms!
  • As soon as they knew it was dogs that had bitten the books I got lots of dog stories.  Children love to talk about their pets!

Sunday, 29 March 2015

Library Skills Session - Year 5-6's

In my first library skills session with our Year 5-6's I started by talking about Sophisticated Picture Books.  This is a section of the library that doesn't get as much use as I'd like so I took the opportunity to promote it, pointing out the scary books, the funny ones and the ones with messages and themes aimed at older children.

For the rest of the session I chose to focus on book selection.  I wanted to make sure everyone had a range of techniques to help them find good books to read.  I began by showing the students three books that I confessed I had hated reading.  I explained that if all I ever read was those books then I would think reading sucked - that is why choosing books that interest them is really important.

I used the library lessons that came with this book (as a separate supplement):



The lessons talk about book selection by using the acronym "A just right book".  Working through each of the letters gave us plenty of opportunity to discuss different ways to find a good book to read.  I made the mistake with the first class in working through all the letters by myself and telling the class what they meant.  Although we discussed some of the letters together, at the end of the session I felt like I had done most of the talking and wasn't completely happy with how it went.  For the rest of the classes I had them guess what most of the letters meant, and that got them talking more.  

Here are some of the things we discussed:
  • Favourite authors.  I mentioned Roald Dahl, who they are all familiar with, and then they shared some of their favourites.  Some weren't sure of the authors' names so I got a lot of responses like 'the guy who writes the Captain Underpants books', which I then translated into the actual author.
  • That authors of chapter books aren't usually the people who illustrate the covers of their books.  Therefore it is not their fault if the cover of their book is boring, and we shouldn't 'judge a book by its cover'.  I used the example of our library's copy of 'Gregor the Overlander' by Suzanne Collins.  I love this book, with it's underground world of giant rats, spiders and cockroaches.  Inexplicably the edition we have has a picture of a building on the cover.  A building!  The students were impressed that the author had written 'The Hunger Games', even though we don't have a copy in our library due to its violence.
  • The five finger rule for working out if a book is too hard.
  • Barrington Stoke, the publisher who prints books on off-white paper and with a font that is easier to read.  I deliberately didn't mention dyslexia, although these books are particularly good for children who have it.  Instead I talked about some students finding it harder to read books with white paper, and that for some the words might seem to jump around a bit.  In one class in particular I had a lot of students nodding in agreement with this.
  • I read the blurb from the back of 'Artemis Fowl' by Eoin Colfer and then talked about whether they would be interested in reading about a fairy with weapons.  I also read the first few paragraphs of 'The Golden Door' by Emily Rodda and asked if they would like to read about winged creatures with pointy teeth who like to eat humans.
After we had gone through all the acronyms I announced that I was setting them a genre challenge.  I explained that sometimes we can get stuck reading one particular genre and that it can be a good idea to explore them all.  I said that some people who like reading adventure might also find that the fantasy section has good adventures in it, and that the historical fiction section has some good war adventures in it.  So my challenge, which I had cleared with the team leaders beforehand, was for the students to read one book from each of our genres (ten) plus a graphic novel and a sophisticated picture book.  This would carry on through to the end of Term 2, or later if they were still going and wanted to finish it off.  

I have a special sign that will go up with the names of the students who complete the challenge, and I will also have that online.  There are some little prizes of posters and stickers and they can get their name in the draw each time they finish one of the books.  That way I thought even those students that wouldn't be able to complete the challenge still have the opportunity to win a prize.  I had one student ask 'what is the monetary value of the prize box?'.  I was not expecting that question!  But I freely told him that it was worth nothing, (the prizes weren't supposed to be the main motivation, I was hoping they would be intrinsicly motivated).  One of the teachers offered her students an ice cream sundae if they completed the challenge (I'm not sure what will happen when the students from the other seven classes hear about that!).

I'm happy with how the sessions went.  The students were keen to discuss the book selection techniques and talk about different books and authors, and the genre challenge has already been completed by a couple of our prolific readers.

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Library Skills Session - Year 3-4's

This week I taught library skills to some of our Year 3-4 classes.  I had many things I wanted to cover but when I tried to fit them all in it was very rushed.  Here is what I ended up doing:
  • Introduced myself and talked about Esther, our library assistant
  • Pointed out our request book and explained that I want to buy books for our library that students like, and if they have a book they like that isn't in the library they can request it
  • Cleared up the misconception that our books are on loan for one week.  Our classes come every week so most of the students thought that that's how long they could have a book for.  Given some are moving on to longer books I wanted them to know that they could have them for two weeks.  We also talked about being able to renew books if they are still reading them after two weeks.
  • Asked 'How do we decide what letters to put on the spine of fiction books?"
  • Discussed the difference between fiction and non-fiction
  • Explained that we would be having a quiz and the winning team would be able to get one extra book out on their next class library visit.  I was about to share the information they needed for the quiz so they needed to pay attention.
  • Talked about our Fiction section and how students would be moving from our Quick Picks (early chapter books) to that section when they were ready.  Explained that our fiction section is arranged by genre, and used books from our Quick Picks section to describe what each genre was.
  • Got the teacher to put their students into five groups and then ran my quiz.  I picked a book from each of the different genres, summarised the key details and asked them to guess what genre it came from (while keeping my hand covering the genre sticker!).  They had time for a quick chat to reach a consensus and then I counted "3,2,1" and they had to hold up the correct answer from a set of laminated answer cards I had given them.
  • A couple of classes needed tie breakers - I asked them to guess how many books were in the library.

The quiz created a real buzz amongst the students.  They were all really engaged with it and got excited when they got questions right.  I spent quite a bit of time trying to work out an interesting way to teach the concepts.  I have a book which has a lot of library skills worksheets in it, but personally I don't find that at all appealing.  I remember seeing something once, along the lines of "would you like to be attending a class you teach?".  I try to keep that in mind because if I've only got 30 minutes with a class I think the way I teach is as important as what I teach.  I want students to have positive feelings about the library after having spent some time with me.

I think that as an introduction to the genres the quiz worked really well.  I covered a lot of information and the students didn't suddenly become experts, but it got them, and their teachers, thinking more about genre and that is something I'm happy with.  I wonder if I introduced this too early though.  The Year 4's were ready but perhaps next year I will do this later in the year when more of the Year 3's would be more likely to be considering moving from our Quick Picks to our Fiction section.

Other things I noted:
  • Our students at this age were still unsure about the fiction spine labels being the first three letters of the author's surname and many still got fiction and non-fiction mixed up.
  • Most classes got excited about getting an extra book out as a prize.  Yay for books! 
  • Showing the students Quick Pick books and talking about what genre they were in was a good way to show students what Fiction section they might like to try based on what Quick Pick books they were reading.  For example, I explained that the "Boy vs Beast" series is from the Fantasy genre and that when they were ready to read from the Fiction area they could try that genre.
  • It was really important to pick books from each genre that weren't ambiguous.  Initially I choose a book about the America's Cup from the historical fiction section and some choose sport as the genre (I gave them points for that and we talked about how some books could fit in more than one genre).
  • I had to emphasise that it was one answer per group and they needed to decide together what their answer would be.  In a few cases I would get a couple of answers being held up for the same group.
  • Some of the teachers were really interested in watching the group dynamics.  A strong personality could sometimes override the rest of the group's thoughts.
  • I found it interesting to see the differences in feel of the classes, some were definitely quieter, others particularly boisterous.  I wonder how much the teacher influences this, or whether it is just the personalities of the kids in that class?






Friday, 27 February 2015

Twitter PD in Action

I am a huge Twitter fan.  I have blogged about it before but when I am put on the spot I always struggle to show just how often it helps me with my work.  So I thought I would look back through my tweets this month and choose the information I found that inspired conversations with teachers at my school or with other librarians.  I have had a busy month, so I haven't been on Twitter that much, but I still found the following gems:


This retweet from Annemarie, a DP in Rotorua, was very timely as only the day before I had been discussing how the library could support one of our Year 6 teachers trying out genius hour.  She was pleased when I flicked this plan through for her to have a look at.



Earlier this week Joyce Valenza, an American teacher-librarian, tweeted a link to the above article.  Given the National Library in New Zealand is making cuts to its curriculum loan service, seeking to replace it with online resources, I shared this link with the NZ librarians' listserv.  It provoked a lot of discussion about what librarians were noticing about their students' preferences for print.  Some decided to send the article on to their English departments and others decided to create their own surveys of their students.




This conversation illustrates the friendliness and helpfulness of the Twitter community.  I was having a flick through Twitter last night and there was an #edchatnz conversation going on about "developing students as actively involved members of our communities".  I noticed Bridget's tweet and because our Year 5/6 team leaders are starting their own leadership programme thought it would be worth asking if she had information she could share with me.  I was delighted with the information that has been shared on her class blog and I'm sure our team leaders will be too.  

I've followed Bridget on Twitter for a while but she is a teacher in Christchurch and I live in Hamilton.  The beauty of Twitter is that I can learn from the experiences of people like Bridget and Joyce and Annemarie, who aren't geographically close and who aren't doing exactly the same job as me.  It broadens my knowledge and exposes me to ideas that excite me.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Library Skills Sessions - Year 2's

One of my new projects for 2015 is running library skills sessions for our classes.  I started with five of the Year 2 classes this week.  I was a bit nervous about this foray into teaching but then my youngest son reminded me that "they're only Year 2's Mum", complete with eye roll.

The sessions were the first of two I will have with this age group.  I'd love to have more but we are such a big school I can't fit it into our library timetable.  My biggest concerns were how much material I could cover in 30 minutes and whether I would get the level right.

Here's what I did:
  • Introduced myself and talked about Esther, our library assistant
  • Mentioned the public library and how it is another great place to find good books to read
  • Asked the students to point out where certain books are, and then took them round to show them other parts of the library e.g. puzzle books, reading room
  • Talked  about what happens when you have an overdue book, and how to get an iPad at lunchtime
  • Went through some basic book terminology - cover, title, author and illustrator, spine, spine label
  • Asked students "If you wrote a book, what letter would be on the spine label?".
  • Showed the students how to put a book back on the shelf properly (right way up etc)
  • Had the students act as librarians and put a picture book away in the proper place
  • Described the difference between fiction and non-fiction
    • Gave the students laminated cards with "fiction" written on an orange background on one side and "non-fiction" in blue on the other*
    • Used some statements about their teacher as examples - Mrs ___ decided not to take her car to school and jumped on her pet dragon, Sparky instead.  Mrs ___ works at Te Totara Primary School.  Student held up their cards to show me whether they thought the statements were fiction or non-fiction.
    • Had students show me whether certain library books were fiction or non-fiction
  • Talked about what sort of things can damage books
  • Talked about what bookmarks are used for and gave one, with book care statements on it, to each of the students*

The sessions were well-received with several teachers telling me how much they appreciated me doing them.  It's hard  for them to find time for library skills when their normal class library times are only 30 minutes long.  

Things I noted:
  • It was good to have the teacher present because:
    • some said they learned things themselves (about what books we had)
    • they were able to identify which students would need help with the activities
    • they could see what I was teaching and follow it up in their classes.
  • There were students in each class who didn't know who I was, so it was a good chance to introduce myself.  On a later trip through the school at lunchtime I had several Year 2 students say hello.
  • I saw almost 100 children and not one knew that the letter on the spine label of a picture book is the first letter of the author's surname.  A lot knew that the letter helped you know where to shelve the book, but not why that particular letter was on the spine.
  • The students jumped at the chance to put books away.  Future librarians in the making!
  • Having the coloured cards to show fiction or non-fiction made it very quick for me to see what students thought
  • There is already a problem with some students thinking non-fiction means not true.  Perhaps a legacy from parents who have got it wrong?
  • Having the care of books part at the end of the session worked out well because it meant that when we were pushed for time I was the only one who talked about how books can get damaged; when I had a bit more time I asked the students for their suggestions (a lot of throwing and stepping on books, but one scenario involved a shark!).


* Based on activities taken from "Stretchy Library Lessons: Library Skills" by Pat Miller.  A great book if you can find it.

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Ten Library/ICT Projects for 2015

I have some really exciting projects lined up for this year; the key will be finding time for all of them!  Around about this time last year I posted about what was on the agenda for 2014.  Each of the four things I discussed then will need more work this year, so let's start with those:
  1. Genre-fication.  This went really well but I still have lots of posters I want to make as a result of it: lists of what genres our Quick Picks readers could move on to, based on what Quick Picks series they are reading; lists of what new genres would be good to try based on what students already like; top 10 lists for each of the genres to help with selection; signs linking genres to non-fiction...that sort of thing.  But I have also been inspired to reinvent our non-fiction area and make the signage there much more bold and attractive.  
  2. Ninja Readers Book Club.  While a big improvement over 2013 I still think I can make this better.  So I'll be trying new ideas, some based on a fantastic session on Book Clubs by Carrie Bouffard at the SLANZA Otago Weekend School last year.
  3. e-Books.  I just squeaked in getting this up and running at the end of last year so I will need to work on promoting this with teachers, parents and students.
  4. Library Expansion.  Well, this is a bit of an ongoing saga.  First we had issues with the courtyard area we were going to expand into.  Apparently the concrete there is pavement concrete and cannot be built on without the great expense of digging it up and starting again.  Now the funding is up-in-the-air because of unexpected changes to other parts of the school budget.  So I have to be patient, although I am still getting our builder in to quote for expanding into our resource room :)
As it happens I had three more big projects that came along last year that I'll also be working on in 2015:
  1. Te Totara Times.  I started this blog last year in order to have student-created content for our school website.  I worked in conjunction with one of our teachers and it went well, but this year I need to find a new teacher to help me and I also have more ideas about what we can do.
  2. Storytelling Club.  Building on from my Moustache Potatoes Comic Club and our foray into stop motion animation, I'm keen to combine the two, plus some other forms of digital storytelling, and make a storytelling club.  But with a cooler name.
  3. BYOD.  We decided to centrally manage our school iPads (for reasons I set out here).  Wiping 140 iPads and adding them to Meraki was a big job for me at the end of last year.  Now we're hoping to have BYOD iPads in place by the end of Term 1, with each child being able to purchase a discounted set of apps from the school.  This is uncharted territory so I'm keeping my fingers crossed that it goes smoothly.
And now, because I just don't know when to stop, here are my new projects for 2015:
  1. Library Skills Sessions.  We finally have enough hours allocated to our library staff that I can run some library skills sessions for our classes.  I'm sure this will be an item on my list for 2016 as I have much to learn about what I should cover and how quickly.
  2. Pinterest Boards.  I do already have a few Pinterest boards but I am keen to build these up, especially around picture books that have themes that would be useful for teachers, like confidence, sharing, bullying, being creative etc.
  3. Book Fridge.  At the end of last year I noticed that the school was throwing out a fridge that no longer worked.  So I snapped it up and a teacher aide did some wonderful artwork on it (with permission from Scholastic).  Now I need to launch the idea and explain how a Book Fridge works (basically it's a place for students to swap their own books among themselves).


So, a busy, exciting year ahead for me.  I'm also looking forward to attending the SLANZA conference in Christchurch in September.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Moustache Potatoes - Part Two


Back in October I blogged about our new comic club, the Moustache Potatoes.  I said I would post about what I was doing every couple of weeks or so... (note to self, don't make promises!).  Here is what we got up to for the rest of the term:

Week Three
  • We watched Bruce Blitz's "Make your Own Comic Book" tutorial and talked about his basic steps (Story Idea, Design Characters, Write Script, Rough Layout, Pencil, Ink).  Bruce has a book called "The Big Book of Cartooning" which is good value.


  • I talked about where speech bubbles should be placed, and in what order.
  • We then practised making our own comics using this blank six panel page.

Week Four
  • We shared some stop motion videos that the students had made (this was an opportunity offered by Hamilton City Libraries, I'll post about it later).
  • We talked about some basic questions and ideas for creating a comic:
    • What happens?  Plan beginning, middle and end.
    • Describe the best or worst day in your life.  Embellish to make a story.
    • Decide – are your characters human, or animals that act human?
    • Use fairytales for story ideas – make changes to the story e.g. add new characters, change details, change ending, think about what might have happened to the hero before or after the events described in the story.
    • Use interesting events/situations from your own life for story ideas – school, family, friends.

Week Five
  • I showed some different pages copied from Tintin, Babymouse, Hardy Boys etc.  These were examples of different speech bubbles, thought bubbles, exclamation and question marks (classic Tintin!), sounds and music.
  • I also showed them a page called "Calling the Shots" from Drawing Comics Lab.  This describes how you can use different perspectives in a comic - from close-ups to an establishing shot.
  • In response to students saying that they couldn't think of anything to make their comics about I handed out an example comic, with general suggestions for each panel and a bit of dialogue. There was a lot of leeway for them to include their own ideas, but it wasn't successful. I really thought they might produce a variety of stories based on my simple idea, but perhaps it was still too prescriptive.  I guess they preferred no ideas to someone else's!

Week Six
  • A bit of fun this week with Dav Pilkey's Flip-O-Rama tutorial.


  • I didn't show my students this but I was really impressed with Dav's ice bucket challenge:



Week Seven
  • We did more flip-o-rama because as expected one session was not enough!
  • Students also had the option to try out the Comic Life and Make Beliefs apps on the library's iPads.

Week Eight
  • This was our last week because, despite protests, I had to accept that things were getting very busy as the end of the term approached.
  • I was very happy with the Random Comic Generator that I created, inspired by the drawing exercise suggested in Drawing Comics Lab (pg.25).  This was popular with the Moustache Potatoes, who came up with some very creative comic strips.  


Week Nine

  • Had I done another week I would have done a session on superheroes.  I have a book on how to draw Marvel superheroes and another one on heroes, both are out of print but there are others out there.
  • I ask the students what they think their superhero will look like, their name, their powers, their secret identity, their sidekick, their weakness, their weapons, their enemy, their mission.  Then I ask them to make a comic about their adventures.
  • For inspiration they can also create their own superhero with The Hero Factory and Marvel's Create your own Superhero (these websites don't work on an iPad).

Each week we would look at any drawings that the Moustache Potatoes had done at home. I would make sure that books on comics and how to draw were sitting on the tables and I often pointed out graphic novels to inspire the students and encourage them to read.  The Stickman Odyssey books were great to show that even a simple picture can tell a story.  The Flanimals series by Ricky Gervais are not graphic novels but the pictures and descriptions are also fun to try and imitate at home.  

I hope these posts are useful if you are looking at doing something like this yourself.  Don't let any lack of artistic ability hold you back - I didn't!  The students said they liked trying out new things, and they enjoyed being with peers who liked to draw.  They were very enthusiastic and fun to work with, and a few of them were struggling academically so it was nice to see them having fun in the library.

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Wasteful Decisions from the National Library




Late last year the National Library announced some decisions that will affect teachers, students and librarians from nearly every school in the country.

The National Library are going to enhance their online curriculum service but "from term three 2015 print loans will be reading engagement-focused rather than curriculum topic focused as they are currently. These quality fiction and high interest non-fiction loans will also go to the whole school rather than individual teachers and librarians."

The attached flier states "The emphasis of the new service will be on supporting students to read for pleasure, as a foundation for learning achievement".  

What annoys me intensely about these changes is the fact that they are likely to have a negative impact on support for every curriculum topic covered by schools across New Zealand AND on reading for pleasure.  As librarians we are also aware that reading for pleasure is immensely important for our students.  In fact, most of us have already been focussing our collections on fiction and high interest non-fiction.  However, this has been possible because the National Library has been providing the books we need to support teachers with their curriculum topics.  If the National Library stops doing this then:

  • school libraries will have to use our budgets to buy more books to support the curriculum.  
  • books are going to clog up our shelves because curriculum topics aren't always taught every year and are not as popular with students.
  • we will have less money to spend on quality fiction and high interest non-fiction because buying non-fiction books to support the curriculum is expensive.
  • most schools will be unable to supply a decent amount of curriculum books when multiple classes/the whole school do the same topic (as is often the case).

When asked where schools can get print resources to support the curriculum the National Library replied "The school library has an important role in supporting local curriculum delivery, working across the school to supplement resources. The Ministry of Education also provides print resources, and where appropriate schools can access their local public library."

It makes no sense to me that every school will have expensive non-fiction books sitting around on their shelves when the same books could be used by another school.  This is where the National Library's Curriculum Service has been so important.  Duplicating their service at a local level is a hugely wasteful and inefficient way to spend taxpayers' money.  The changes may save the National Library a lot of money but that will be offset by the additional costs to every school in the country.  Ratepayers may also be impacted if public libraries have to step in to provide resources.  Surely a service run by the Government should have the bigger picture in mind?

But won't the online service be able to replace curriculum non-fiction? 


No!  Don't get me wrong, I'm a big fan of their online service (I'm the ICT Coordinator at my school so it's not as if I hate technology).  But the fact is that for online resources to replace print ones every school needs to have adequate technology in every class.  And that is just not the case, not yet.  So we need to use digital content AND print resources.  

What's more the National library's response to the question of limited access to technology is  "We acknowledge the challenge for some schools regarding access to connectivity and digital devices. The initial purpose of the enhanced curriculum online service is to support teachers and librarians by providing links to relevant quality online resources including those from the National Library."  So they're saying their online service is not aimed at students anyway, and is therefore not to be seen as a replacement for the loss of their curriculum non-fiction (see more questions and answers here).

Aren't print loans focussing on reading engagement a good idea?


Yes, if the books come from the school library.  If they're coming the National Library then we have the issue of trying to track them across the whole school and make sure we get them back at the end of the year.  We would have to manage this without the use of our Library Management System (LMS) and this wastes our time.  It would also interfere with our ability to track what books are popular, how many issues we have and other high quality information our LMS can provide us with.

I'm doubtful that the National Library could provide the amount of high quality fiction that schools would require.  If a book is really good all schools would want it, so would the National Library buy thousands of copies?  If they're loaned for a year then would some schools have to wait that long for their chance to borrow a popular book?  Would you want your students taking home National Library books or would you have to leave them in the classrooms?

There are far more questions this raises but I think you get the gist of it.  I know we need to focus on reading engagement - I just don't think it makes any sense for that to happen at a national level.  It wastes time and resources.

What does the Government have to say about this?


Although the announcement did have an email address for enquiries I am cynical about the chances of convincing the National Library to change their mind through an email to the people who made the decision in the first place.  So I went straight to Labour MP Jacinda Adern on Twitter and she sent the Peter Dunne, the Minister of Internal Affairs, some questions:

Question: What are the expected costs, if any, of implementing the changes to the National Library curriculum topic loan service?

Portfolio: Internal Affairs

Minister: Hon Peter Dunne

Date Lodged:10/12/2014

Answer Text: Implementation costs have not been finalised, but will be met from within Department of Internal Affairs’ baselines.


Question: Will school libraries face increased loan costs due to the the changes to the National Library curriculum topic loan service ; if so what are those cost increases?

Answer Text: There will be no change to the cost model. The National Library will continue to pay the cost of delivering loans to schools and schools will continue to pay the return freight cost for loans. The return freight cost may change depending on a school’s use of the loan service, but is likely to be between $50 and $150 per year. Moving to an annual loan service may reduce costs for schools that previously had to return books at the end of every school term.


Question: What are the expected operation cost savings, if any, from the changes to the National Library curriculum topic loan service?

Answer Text: Operational cost savings specific to the curriculum topic loan service have not been finalised. However, the Department of Internal Affairs’ 2014 Four-Year Plan signalled an overall savings from the new National Library Services to Schools strategy of $0.392 million per annum.


Question: Who was consulted about changes to the National Library curriculum topic loan service?

Answer Text: Please see my response to Question for Written Answer 10019 (2014).


Question: What will be the standardised system, if any, for school libraries to track fiction lent to the whole school by the National Library under the changes to the National Library curriculum topic loan service, allowing students to take the books home to read?

Answer Text: It will be up to individual schools to decide whether they allow students to take National Library books home. The National Library will provide schools with support and guidance as to how this can be managed should an individual school decide to do so.


Question: When was the decision made to publicise the changes to the National Library curriculum topic loan service?

Answer Text: The decision to communicate the changes to schools was made directly following the endorsement of the new National Library Services to Schools strategy in November 2014. The intention is to help provide certainty for teachers and librarians during their planning for the 2015 school year and provide adequate notice of the changes to be introduced from July 2015.


Question: When was the decision made to introduce changes to the National Library curriculum topic loan service?

Answer Text: The new National Library Services to Schools strategy forms the basis for the shift from print-based curriculum topic loans for individual teachers to an enhanced online curriculum service. This strategy was endorsed by the Department of Internal Affairs on 11 November 2014.


Question: What is the rationale behind the National Library lending fiction and high interest non-fiction to schools?

Answer Text: The National Library’s fiction and high interest non-fiction loan service is supported by a growing body of international research that shows the ability to read for pleasure has a significant and positive impact for the learning, literacy and life outcomes of young people. The change focuses on how children are encouraged to read more and to read for pleasure. The National Library has a large specialised collection of children’s and young adult’s fiction and non-fiction available for all New Zealand schools to access. This collection will now focus on print loans to support the development of reading for pleasure in young people, while enhanced curriculum topic content will be available through the Services to Schools website.


Question: Were teachers and librarians consulted about changes to the National Library curriculum topic loan service; if not why not?

Answer Text: One hundred and seven education sector and government experts, including 59 teachers and school librarians, engaged in a series of external focus groups and interviews undertaken as part of the review of National Library Services to Schools initiated in 2012. The outcome of the review was the development of a new National Library Services to Schools strategy to lead system wide improvement of library services for young people. The shift from print based curriculum topic loans for individual teachers to an enhanced online curriculum service is part of this broader strategy. It is one of the most significant changes in the 70 years of Services to Schools delivery. This is also my response to Question for Written Answer 10066 (2014).


Question: How does the shift from print based curriculum topic loans for individual teachers to an enhanced curriculum online service help schools if they do not operate the Bring Your Own Device system, have over-booked computer rooms or insufficient ICT resources? 

Answer Text: The purpose of the enhanced online curriculum service is to support teachers and librarians by providing links to relevant quality and trusted online resources, including those from the National Library. Individual schools decide how they will use digital technology to support teaching and learning based on what they determine is best for their students and school community. Teachers and librarians can access the enhanced online curriculum service from any connected digital device. Due to the increasing availability of high quality, government-funded internet in schools and digital resources to support learning, I am advised the Ministry of Education is also investigating how to further support schools to ensure equitable access to digital devices for all students. 


If anyone reading this was a part of the external focus group mentioned by the Minister then I would love to hear from you.  The outcry to this decision, from both teachers and librarians, has made me curious about whether this scenario, reducing print curriculum resources supplied by the National Library, was specifically discussed.

For the record, I know some rather awesome National Library Advisors!  My issue is with this decision, not with them.

What should we do now?

  • Leave a comment and tell me how you'll be affected by these decisions and what you feel about them.
  • Make sure your principal knows that these decisions affect every teacher, student and librarian in the school and ask them to get involved.
  • If you are a librarian contact a member of your local SLANZA committee and tell them that you want our National Executive to become actively involved in fighting these decisions.
  • Unions, MPs (@PeterDunneMP and @jacindaardern), Associations, the Ministry - if you think someone can help then contact them.  We need lots of voices, lots of visibility and lots of pressure to be put on the National Library


Update as at 11 April 2015

A number of things have happened since I first published this post.  Some of these have been mentioned in the comments but I thought I would put all the links in one place.  
Here is more information about the Services to Schools Transformation Programme.  Of particular interest is the introduction of an inquiry learning loan in 2016, which appears to be an alternative to the curriculum topic loan administered over two terms instead of one.  It is wonderful that the National Library have listened to the many voices who were opposed to their changes.  In particular, Jacinda Ardern continued to ask the appropriate questions in Parliament and SLANZA are to be commended for all the hard work they have done on behalf of their members.

Sunday, 4 January 2015

My 5 Star Reads from 2014: Children's Fiction and Non-Fiction

Children's Fiction

Earlier this week I blogged about my top picture books for 2014.  Today I'll add my five top fiction books:



Out of my Mind by Sharon Draper
"Melody is not like most people. She cannot walk or talk, but she has a photographic memory; she can remember every detail of everything she has ever experienced. She is smarter than most of the adults who try to diagnose her and smarter than her classmates in her integrated classroom; the very same classmates who dismiss her as mentally challenged, because she cannot tell them otherwise. But Melody refuses to be defined by cerebral palsy. And she's determined to let everyone know it; somehow".  

I love the way this book takes you inside the head of someone with a severe physical disability.  A great one to promote empathy (much like Wonder).




Spy School by Stuart Gibbs
"Can a normal, average kid become a superstar secret agent? Maybe not, but it’ll be fun to watch him try!  Ben Ripley may only be in middle school, but he’s already pegged his dream job: C.I.A. or bust. Unfortunately for him, his personality doesn’t exactly scream “secret agent.” In fact, Ben is so awkward, he can barely get to school and back without a mishap. Because of his innate math skills, Ben isn't surprised when he is recruited for a magnet school with a focus on science—but he’s entirely shocked to discover that the school is actually a front for a junior C.I.A. academy. Could the C.I.A. really want him?

Actually, no. There’s been a case of mistaken identity—but that doesn’t stop Ben from trying to morph into a supercool undercover agent, the kind that always gets the girl. And through a series of hilarious misadventures, Ben realizes he might actually be a halfway decent spy…if he can survive all the attempts being made on his life!".

A great spy book for students who enjoy a bit of humour with their mysteries.



Mockingbird by Katherine Erskine
"Caitlin has Asperger's. The world according to her is black and white; anything in between is confusing. Before, when things got confusing, Caitlin went to her older brother, Devon, for help. But Devon was killed in a school shooting, and Caitlin's dad is so distraught that he is just not helpful. Caitlin wants everything to go back to the way things were, but she doesn't know how to do that. Then she comes across the word closure--and she realizes this is what she needs. And in her search for it, Caitlin discovers that the world may not be so black and white after all".

Another book on my list with a main character with special needs.  I have friends with sons who have autism and I know that they appreciate any kind of book like this that helps students understand the unique ways a person with asperger's/autism may see the world.


Absolutely Almost by Lisa Graff
"Albie has never been the smartest kid in his class. He has never been the tallest. Or the best at gym. Or the greatest artist. Or the most musical. In fact, Albie has a long list of the things he's not very good at. But then Albie gets a new babysitter, Calista, who helps him figure out all of the things he is good at and how he can take pride in himself".

This is rather lovely book about a boy figuring out where he fits in the world and gaining self confidence along the way.  I'm going to bully a Year 5/6 teacher into reading it this year.






The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher by Dana Alison Levy
"Meet the Fletchers. Their year will be filled with new schools, old friends, a grouchy neighbor, hungry skunks, leaking ice rinks, school plays, wet cats, and scary tales told in the dark!

There’s Sam, age twelve, who’s mostly interested in soccer, food, and his phone; Jax, age ten, who’s psyched for fourth grade and thinks the new neighbor stinks, and not just because of the skunk; Eli, age ten (but younger than Jax), who’s thrilled to be starting this year at the Pinnacle School, where everyone’s the smart kid; and Frog (not his real name), age six, who wants everyone in kindergarten to save a seat for his invisible cheetah. Also Dad and Papa.

WARNING: This book contains cat barf, turtle pee, and some really annoying homework assignments".

I love the Fletchers.  I want them to be real so I can go and meet them.  This book is warm and funny and delightful and I highly recommend it.



Children's Non-Fiction

Here are my top four non-fiction books for 2014:



Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla by Katherine Applegate
"In a spare, powerful text and evocative illustrations, the Newbery medalist Katherine Applegate and the artist G. Brian Karas present the extraordinary real story of a special gorilla.

Captured as a baby, Ivan was brought to a Tacoma, Washington, mall to attract shoppers. Gradually, public pressure built until a better way of life for Ivan was found at Zoo Atlanta. From the Congo to America, and from a local business attraction to a national symbol of animal welfare, Ivan the Shopping Mall Gorilla traveled an astonishing distance in miles and in impact.

This is his true story and includes photographs of Ivan in the back matter".

This picture book tells the true story of the gorilla in Applegate's Newbery Award-winning book, The One and Only Ivan.  As such it is a great book to share with students who have read that book.  It is also a very powerful book in its own right and would be a good book to read to start discussions about animal welfare and habitats.



How do you Burp in Space?: And Other Tips Every Space Tourist Needs to Know by Susan E. Goodman
"Want to blast into orbit? Walk on the moon? Snag a personal photo of a shooting star? Well your time is coming! And when it does, you're going to need How Do You Burp in Space?

This guide is filled with the kind of information you'd need to plan any vacation including what to pack (hint: no bubble bath or juggling balls!); what to expect from your accomodations (a sleeping bag attached to the wall), and what to do for fun (leapfrog on the moon!). Grounded in the history of space travel and the planned future of space tourism, this guide book will leave young adventurers daydreaming about future intergalactic space vacations. Get ready to rock your rocketship!"
This is a highly engaging, easy-to-read book with fun facts that will capture the interest of space fans.



On a Beam of Light: A Story of Albert Einstein by Jennifer Berne
"A boy rides a bicycle down a dusty road. But in his mind, he envisions himself traveling at a speed beyond imagining, on a beam of light. This brilliant mind will one day offer up some of the most revolutionary ideas ever conceived. From a boy endlessly fascinated by the wonders around him, Albert Einstein ultimately grows into a man of genius recognized the world over for profoundly illuminating our understanding of the universe. Jennifer Berne and Vladimir Radunsky invite the reader to travel along with Einstein on a journey full of curiosity, laughter, and scientific discovery. Parents and children alike will appreciate this moving story of the powerful difference imagination can make in any life".

I was surprised that I enjoyed this book so much, it's not normally what I would be interested in.  This picture book biography of Einstein gives details about his life but also emphasises how Einstein was always questioning things, observing and wondering and being curious about the world around him.


Jumping Penguins and Laughing Hyenas by Marije Tolman; Jesse Goosens
"If a camel gets angry, he will throw up green gastric juice over you.
A sloth moves so slowly that green algae grows in his fur.
Even a blind chameleon takes the color of its surroundings.

Bologna Ragazzi Award winner Marije Tolman, creator of The Tree House and The Island, illustrates in her distinctive style curious, funny, bizarre, unbelievable, disgusting and weird facts about fifty different animals. The animal facts are straightforward nonfiction, Marije Tolman's illustrations are pure fantasy, creating a combination that is sure to engage readers."


I've always loved books with strange and quirky facts and this book has some truly bizarre ones.  The illustrations are unique too, making it a book that I love introducing to our students.

Professional Reading

And I can't resist including the one professional book I read last year that I think every teacher and librarian should read:


Reading in the Wild: The Book Whisperer's Keys to Cultivating Lifelong Reading Habits by Donalyn Miller
"Teaching students to become lifelong readers A companion to the bestselling The Book Whisperer, Reading in the Wild explores whether or not we are truly instilling lifelong reading habits in our students and provides practical strategies for teaching "wild" reading. Based on survey responses from over 900 adult readers and classroom feedback, Reading in the Wild offers solid advice and strategies on how to develop, encourage and assess key lifelong reading habits, including dedicating time for reading, planning for future reading, and defining oneself as a reader.Includes advice for supporting the love of reading by explicitly teaching lifelong reading habits. Contains accessible strategies, ideas, tips, lesson plans and management tools along with lists of recommended books co-published with Editorial Projects in Education, publisher of "Education Week" and "Teacher Magazine"

Packed with ideas for helping students choose their own reading material, respond to text, and build capacity for lifelong reading".

You should also read The Book Whisperer, if you haven't already.  I can't recommend both these books highly enough.