Wednesday, 24 August 2016

How professional networks can help us

When I came across the term "professional network" years ago, I didn't pay too much attention to it. In my previous life as a journalist, I had taken for granted the contacts that I had built up - in fact, they sort of built up themselves. Starting a new career in the media centre, however, I quickly realised that I needed a new network of professionals. Fortunately, I was able to join Infolink, which meant in an instance, I had a connection to many librarians around the country. And closer to home, our Midlands group of librarians meets once a term at different school each time, so we get to visit each other's libraries and share knowledge, support and advice. At our meeting this term, we:

  • discussed next year's library conference, 
  • shared our schools' professional development structures, 
  • watched a video on an Australian school's new learning hub, 
  • swapped books,
  • vented about our library computer systems, and 
  • and shared our strategies on how to get students to return books!
Often working on our own or not being part of a larger department, being a librarian can be a lonely job. Some of us like it like that! But still, it's good to know we have people to turn to, even if it is just to moan about computer systems...

Friday, 12 August 2016

Challenge Accepted! Presenting at the EdTech conference

Last month I pitched a presentation idea to EdTech for their Global Summit - and I was super excited when it was well received! My topic is: Challenge Accepted! How to use Google Search Challenges in your classroom. It's not a fancy, bells-and-whistles presentation - just some simply steps on how you can use Google's Advanced Search Challenges to help learners cope with digital reading and searching, and this can be used in any subject.

You can still register for the summit, which will be held at Dainfern College from September 2-3.

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Skill 1: How politics can change your library

No, I'm not talking about our country's politics! Here is the Library Journal's first tip on the top skills needed for tomorrow's librarians:

For school librarians, this means dealing with organisational politics: ensuring budgets are appropriate and are met; keeping the pressure on management to ensure library services are continually seen as vital, and not as a nice-to-have; and flying the library flag high so that all stakeholders know what these services are.

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

11 skills today's librarians need for tomorrow

I came across this interesting article (click on the image above) from the American Library Journal listing 11 new skills that librarians need. After reading them, I agree with the last sentence in the blurb above: "Not complete departures, rather they build on trends already in evidence."

Over the next few months, I will  be looking at each of these 11 skills individually, to see how far we have come and how much further we need to go. I've listed them below and I'll start tackling them next week...

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

When good resolutions go bad

One of my resolutions this year was to set myself a professional development plan, and stick to it.
In an earlier post on Where do we find professional development for librarians?, I wrote that I had joined the International Librarians Network that runs a programme pairing you up with a fellow librarian in another country.

In due course, I was given the contact details for a librarian in Australia, and, a little nervously - felt like I was writing up a bio for an online dating service! - I sent an email introducing myself. Perhaps I shouldn't have made the first move. Perhaps I was too forward. Perhaps I wasn't what she was looking for. Because I never heard back from her...

Now, we were urged to contact the ILN if we didn't hear from our designated partner so we could be re-assigned - which I didn't do in time because, well, I went away on holiday! And there are many more awesome success stories of librarians hooking up all over the world through this programme and I still believe it to be a wonderful idea. But that doesn't help me and my resolution to stick to my professional development plan.

I needed something else to take its place, and I found it. The Geneva Learning Foundation was offering an open-access course on Digital Learning, it was being run online smack-bang in the middle of the July holidays, and my application was successful.

What could go wrong?

Absolutely nothing, except the couple of hours I was expected to set aside each day for the course got eaten by novel reading, novel writing, novel editing, gardening (something I seldom do) and baking (something I never do).

In a nutshell, I didn't do one iota of work for the course. Another failure.

But onwards! It's the Google in Education conference at the beginning of September and the RASA conference at the end of September, and, touch wood, hopefully my professional development plan will be back on track...

Thursday, 30 June 2016

The biggest misconception about social media law

Last month I attended a social media course at UCT run by the UCT Law@Work project. After two super-intense days with an energetic group of lawyers, I emerged more cautious than ever about social media use, but also armed with more knowledge than ever about its potential dangers. I say potential, because like many things, social media is only dangerous when used incorrectly. 

But the key takeaway from this course is that social media's biggest danger possibly is that there actually ISN'T any such thing as social media law. Lawyers and courts are having to draw from existing laws, and looking to other countries to see how they are dealing with individual cases, where perhaps an employee has brought their company into disrepute, or someone has infringed on the rights of another. 

Now, I am not a lawyer, but to me, this makes social media dangerous because no one quite knows what the outcome of a particular case will be. I'm running a workshop with our staff at school, giving them feedback from this course, and we'll be including it in our social media lessons with our students.

Of course, legal dangers are easy to avoid. If you follow the good old T.H.I.N.K. rule, you'll be fine. In fact, I always tell my students if they can't remember what all the letters stand for, just remember the advice from the last letter in the acronym...can't go wrong with that.

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

The cheater's guide to in-text referencing

I start the next term off with my Grade 11 classes, and first up is teaching in-text referencing. 

In-text referencing. Yawn.

Except, being the geek that I am, I'm actually quite excited this time around, because it's the first time I'll be teaching them how to do in-text citation electronically. In the same way I feel it's more important that the younger grades acquire the skills to be able to interrogate sources, these senior students need to become better writers, and I'd rather spend more time on this, than getting them to parrot-learn how to write up a citation.

Now, I'm not saying they shouldn't use these and they still have to gather all the information for their references; just that, if there's a quicker way of doing citations, then I've got more lesson time to teach them writing skills. Some of our students already use digital referencing, but are unsure when and where they should be doing this, and often pop them into their text willy nilly. They know WHY they should reference; only, they're unsure HOW this should be used within their text.

Most of our students use Microsoft Word or Google Docs for their assignments, so I'll be covering these. But before I even start with that, I'll be teaching them how to use quotes, indirect quotes and paraphrases correctly within their essays and research projects. And when they've got the hang of that, then I'll show them how easy it is - click, click! - to insert their citations.

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Why reading a classic is cool

This week's library display promoted classics so along with stands filled with Austen and Bronte and Hardy and Dickens, I blew up this article from The Guardian: Teenage opinion: why you should read classic books.

The blurb goes like this: "What could possibly be interesting in a long, tedious text full of difficult language and a repetitive plot? Well, surprisingly, quite a lot...So get over your pride and prejudice about reading them!"

Because some of the students are fearful of classics, I still had to do some encouraging to get the books off the stands and into their hands, but they all enjoyed reading the article and hopefully some walked away knowing what we always knew: that reading a classic is cool!

Do you struggle to get your students to read classics? Please comment below or send a mail to - I'd love to hear from you!

Thursday, 9 June 2016

When a battle is not a bad thing

The launch of the Battle of the Bookworms, our Grade 8 reading programme, has seen our junior selection of books flying out of the library! Here is how it works:

  • The students challenge themselves as to how many books they can read over a three-month period - so the "battle" is with themselves...
  • They can choose any book on our Bookworm list - these are books that we already have in our library that we have selected for this programme and there are about 300.
  • The book list divides the books into different genres.
  • When a student has read eight books (and done a book report and oral on each), she receives a certificate from the head in assembly, and for every eight thereafter. (Last year, one girl read 32 books!)
  • They have to read from 8 different genres and 8 different authors for a certificate, so it’s a wonderful way to them to explore different genres.
  • We hold a prizegiving at the end of the period where we award the top readers in each class as well as readers who have benefitted most from the programme.
  • If we get new books in that are suitable for the programme, then we add these to the list.
  • I put up a display for them for the whole three months that they can help themselves to, usually focusing on a different genre every couple of weeks.  

Do you run a reading programme for your junior students in high school?  

Please comment below or send a mail to - I'd love to hear from you!

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

I flipped out - and there's no going back...

Our Information and Digital Literacy department - of which I'm a member - decided this year that we were going to award marks to a variety of projects and exercises - usually open-book - over the year that would appear on the students' reports. (I have another blog post to write on this process...)

So I set an exercise for my Grade 8s on how to check the reliability of a website by selecting a page on a particular topic, and on how to write a reference for that site. I revised the work in class, and set the exercise for their homework. It was done on a digital worksheet that had to be saved in a particular folder - which they have to do for most subjects.

Well, it took me two weeks to track down all these worksheets, which managed to find themselves in all sorts of weird places on our system! As a result, I wasn't able to go over the exercise with the class, as my lessons with them had come to an end (I only have three), and there were several poor results that needed attention. (I ended up running a workshop after school to deal with these.)

So my two issues were:

  • Difficulties in getting the students to hand their work in electronically.
  • Not enough time to go over the exercise once it had been marked.

Then I read an article on flipping in the library - you can read it here - and even though it was talking about a much younger grade where all the work still had to be completed in the library, it gave me an idea. My next three classes were with my Grade 9s and their exercise was similar to the Grade 8s. This time, I was ready:

  • For lesson one, I introduced the work and we did some fun exercises together, like Google search challenges and looking at hoax websites. 
  • Instead of using my slides in class, I reworked them so the end of each section had an online Google quiz that would help the girls review the work. 
  • They had to go through the slides and complete the quizzes for homework. 
  • I used Flubaroo to mark the quizzes so that they were emailed their results before the next class. 
  • At the beginning of lesson two, they had to look at their results, I answered any questions, and then they had to compete their written revision exercise - in class. This meant I was on hand to guide them (and help two students who had been absent previously), and could ensure that all the exercises were saved in the correct place before the bell rang!
  • For our final lesson, I had time to go through the results with them, focus on areas of concern, and get them all to do a last practice on writing a bibliography. 
While I did the groundwork for this course during the classes, I basically handed over one of the lessons to them to do for homework, so they would be prepared for their revision exercise in class. The quick online quizzes meant that I knew they had completed the work. And after their revision exercise,I had a whole lesson to go over their marked work. 

As a result, I'm reviewing all my lesson plans for all the grades, and seeing when there are opportunities to flip out!

Have you tried flipping your lessons? Please comment below or send a mail to - I'd love to hear from you!

Monday, 16 May 2016

Is Wikipedia still a Wicked-pedia?

Finishing off a research lesson with my Grade 8s, we were chatting about under what circumstances they are allowed to use Wikipedia when I found myself stumbling over my words. We had just been looking at a number of sites about Shakespeare - we tie in with their Shakespeare project in English - and examining which ones would be reliable, and not one of the ten sites we opened had any sort of bibliography or referencing. Many of them had no author or post date either. And yet here I was about to tell the students that the Shakespeare page on Wikipedia was unreliable because of the uncertainty of who had written it - even though the list of references was impressive!

I carried on with my usual spiel of how they can use Wikipedia as a jumping off point - retracing a reference and seeing if that site is reliable, or using some of the information from the wiki to do another search for a more reliable site, but my mind was elsewhere:

Now I know that Wikipedia is not a good tool for deep research - it is, after all, an encyclopaedia and isn't made up of original research - but for a Grade 8 project on Shakespeare, when many of the other sites they are choosing to use don't tick all the boxes either? We do expect our students to use more than once source and to compare the information - so why can't one of the sites be Wikipedia?

(Interestingly, we did a search of one paragraph from the Shakespeare wiki and found it had been simply copied into two of the sites we had looked at - word for word, and no reference to Wikipedia!)

There have been several articles on this topic in the last couple of years, from Craig Blewett's Why It's Time The World Embraced Wikipedia and Sean Hampton-Cole's Yes, Wikipedia is a Reliable Source. Stop Saying It Isn't, and as Wikipedia closes off some of its pages to outside editors (such as the Shakespeare page), I think a change in attitude is needed. We should teach our young students how to use Wikipedia - what it means if a page is semi-protected, for example - and how to check a wiki by comparing it to other resources, including books. And, of course, as the students move into higher grades, continue to help them interrogate sites in order to locate reliable sources - instead of simply pushing them into the deep end of the Web - that they need for deeper research.

What is your policy on Wikipedia? Do you allow your students to use it for research? To what degree?

Please comment below or send a mail to - I'd love to hear from you!

Monday, 9 May 2016

20 book - 16 weeks - how many are you going to read?

That's the catch phrase I came up with for this year's Grade 10 reading progammme, the annual Young Critics' Awards (YCA). We select 20 fairly new books, along with one or two classics, from a range of genres, and the girls challenge themselves as to how many they can read in 16 weeks. They have to read at least eight, and there are always several who manage all 20. Every two weeks, we hold book discussions in groups with the students, and they have to complete book reviews and book talks as they make their way through the list.

Have a look at the presentation I put together to get the students excited about the programme. I tried to convert the Prezi to a video...and failed. So if you want the full affect of  the presentation, follow these instructions:
  • Click on Start Prezi in the centre of the screen.
  • Once this loads up, you need to click on the the wrench tool at the bottom left corner and then from the list that appears, click on 4 sec. 
  • Hope it works! Otherwise, use the arrows to click through...

Below is our selection of 20 books - what do you think?
Please comment below or send a mail to - I'd love to hear from you!

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Go on - judge these books by their covers...

I pulled out ten or so older books that were once popular years ago but whose covers were dated or weren't that good even back then. I then printed out photos of current young actors and poses that were appropriate for these books, and re-covered them, telling our students to go ahead and judge them!

There were a few disappointed girls who thought these books were being made into movies... but otherwise, they were all snapped up - mission accomplished!

Next step will be to see if any of these books have newer editions with more accessible covers.

How do you get your students to take out books with unappealing covers?

Monday, 2 May 2016

The art of killing two birds with one stone

Four years ago, I started sending out a weekly electronic newsletter to all the students and all our staff members to promote new books in the library. Since then, I have extended it to including anything new that is happening in the media centre, any upgrades or changes we're making, what resources have been pulled out for a class project, book reviews by the students, what's on display - from books and artworks to dolls made by the students - and anything else I think will be useful to students and staff. 

What I didn't realise when I first began this was that by promoting the media centre, I was also promoting my own work. So many staff members at a school are unseen - teachers in their classrooms and admin staff in their offices...and librarians behind their desks.

As a result of my newsletter, I have colleagues stopping me in the staff room or in the corridors to chat about a new book, or to comment on the girls' artwork on display or to ask if I could pull out some books for a project they were working on. Students dash into the library at break times because they have just read in the newsletter that the next book in their favourite series is out, or to offer to review a book (they're always keen to see their names in print!)

Suddenly my work was visible to everyone. Sometimes this has its disadvantages when there's criticism over something I've done, but for the most part, feedback has been nothing but encouraging. It's also been a great way of keeping a running tab on what I've been doing in the library when I put together my end-of-year review. And because I often use visuals of the library in my newsletter, our marketing director has taken to posting these photos on our school Facebook page, so now my work is really out there!

What do you do to promote your work (and yourself!)?

(Below is one of my email newsletters sent out earlier this year. Note how I put the new DVDs at the bottom of the page - this means the students have to scroll through the books to get to them!)

Saturday, 23 April 2016

How to throw out an insult like a (Shakespearean) boss

To celebrate the birth (and death) of Shakespeare on April 23, every year I look at a different aspect of the thespian's life. This time, I selected some choice insults that Shakespeare came up with, and the students got to vote for their favourite.

And the overwhelmingly most popular insult was from Henry V - "Thine face is not worth sunburning."

Oh, burn! (as one student said...)

(Although I think the actual quote is "whose face is not worth sunburning".)

Did you do something to celebrate Shakespeare this year?