In defense of messiness

Children are messy. Their work is messy. Their handwriting is messy. Their thinking is messy.

But their enthusiasm, their joyfulness, their energy is wonderful, and so I am ok with a little messiness if it is produced in a rush of eager creativity.

For instance, I have been reading Yours Sincerely, Giraffe by Megumi Iwasa to one of my Y3 classes, and we finished it this morning. It is utterly charming, and worlds away from anything else we have read recently – the simple language and imaginative story remind me a bit of The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, while being totally different in setting and characters!

Anyway, we finished reading it this morning, and everyone enjoyed it, so when I discovered that my other planned activity wouldn’t work I threw in something else I’d been thinking about – writing letters like Giraffe and Penguin! I wrote an example on the board, and invited everyone to write a simple letter, using their own name and giving a clue as to what animal (currently proven to be living on the Earth, so no dinosaurs, Bigfoot or dragons) they were. Letters were hastily written, folded up in a variety of ways, then randomly distributed around the room, to be opened upon the count of three. The most fun part happened next, as students read out the clues and made their guesses, some perfectly accurate and others hilariously off the mark. We ran out of time to read out every single letter, but the boys had so much fun, and so loved the little puzzle and the connection to the book, that I have to say it was one of the best things I’ve done with them this year.

Thinking about reading…

I came across this post a few weeks ago, and it has been sitting open in a tab of my browser ever since, while I’ve wondered what I wanted to say about it.

The author, Paige Jaeger, is advocating the rights of children to choose their own reading materials, rather than educators getting hung up on giving children texts that support particular curricular outcomes. Whilst Ms Jaeger is looking at the US context and their Common Core Standards, her points are equally applicable here.

In the classroom, the teacher’s job is to help children make sense of the rules of language, digging deep into grammar, text types, writing styles, vocabulary, and all the other elements that going into developing the knowledge and skills necessary to be literate.

When those children step into the Library, what the Teacher Librarian really wants is to see those children dive joyfully into a wide variety of books and come back up grinning with delight at the treasures they found inside.

Picture taken from the poster of Rights of the Reader

Perhaps this week the theme is to challenge themselves to explore two new genres – the TL will remind the students how to search the catalogue by subject, and suggest more titles that might intrigue them.

Other students are looking for information on their favourite animal, or tv show, or arguing about the status of Pluto – the TL will steer them towards the tools they need to find what they want.

Sometimes though it is a bit trickier – what about the child who at 9 years is still reading like a 6 year old? He needs simple but interesting books that don’t look babyish, because he’s ashamed of how far behind he is and is worried about being teased. Or the child who at 10 years can decode just about any book you put in front of him – he isn’t old enough for the themes in most YA fiction, but the majority of books written for his age group are too easy to engage his attention.

This is where TLs and classroom teachers work together, talking about the needs of their students and looking for books that will help both the struggling and the exceptional students become confident, eager readers who see books as a source of entertainment and delight.

Finally, I think it is fitting to include The Rights of the Reader, a beautiful book by Daniel Pennac, with an equally delightful poster illustrated by Quentin Blake.

The right of the individual to decide how to be a reader – that’s the whole point, really.

Actual reading of books

For my holiday reading I brought home The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, and Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón. Although I haven’t touched the second, this week I have been reading The Book Thief, and really enjoying it. Tyring to explain it to my curious son, I said that this book is set in Nazi Germany, is narrated by Death, and is about a fairly ordinary little girl who is fostered out to a poor family and who steals books from time to time, and that despite all these points, it is not depressing.

Reading this book has reminded me of how satisfying it is to be absorbed by a tale, to live inside the words. So much of my reading now is snatches of info on computer screens, or flicking through the newspaper, or a chapter of a novel at (the children’s) bedtime. This reminds me that there was an article I read last year about how the internet is changing our reading habits. When I googled it (as you do) I discovered a Wikipeida article that turned out to be even more interesting than my recollection of the original article. Apparently the article sparked a furious debate across the blogosphere and intellectual fora, wherein journalists, writers, critics, educators and neuroscientists posited theories and some evidence (mostly anecdotal, due to the newness of the alleged phenomenon) on whether or not spending more time online in a hypertextual reading environment rewires our reading circuits so that sitting down to concentrate on a single piece of prose becomes harder and harder to do. I’m not quite ready to put forth my own opinion yet; I think that perhaps we haven’t quite identified all of the factors, because changes in the way that we timetable our lives, for instance, have an impact on how much uninterrupted time we have to devote to sustained reading, which is a social and cultural influence rather than exclusively technological.

hmm. I’ll have to think about this one. Once I’ve read my emails.


Nearest Book meme

Master Jack smiled his reassuring-customers grin, the one that showed his four remaining teeth.

Tom Appleby, convict boy by Jackie French 2004.

* Get the book nearest to you. Right now.
* Go to page 56.
* Find the 5th sentence.
* Write this sentence – either here or on your blog.
* Copy these instructions as commentary of your sentence.
* Don’t look for your favorite book or your coolest but really the nearest.

from Stephen’s Lighthouse

I really must blog more often

I have many many different things to say about being a Teacher Librarian, but squeezing the time into my day to compose the prose can be a mite difficult, to say the least! For want of some other organisational technique, why don’t I talk about two very different projects I have undertaken this year – the link between them being different sessions I attended at the joint CBCA-Tas and ASLA-Tas conference here in Hobart earlier this year.

Let’s start with a fabulous activity I tried with two Year 8 English classes.

Book Trailers

We had Dr Susan La Marca as a keynote speaker, and also as a speaker on the second day, talking about integrating technology to enhance learning and teaching. The activity which really caught my imagination was a way of making movie-trailer-style reviews of books – Book Trailers. Dr La Marca said that she had had this idea when she a new book being promoted on a publisher’s website, and so she had tried it with her students with great success.

I took this idea to some of the teachers who bring their classes to the library for Silent Reading during English lessons, and offered to set up and run the technology side of it. One of the Yr 8 teachers was interested, so we ran it with his two classes. I set up a wiki on the school library website, with different pages outlining the task, the tools, and the assessment criteria. The aims for this activity were to:

  • Provide a mulitmedia alternative to a written or oral book report
  • Encourage students to plan, draft and edit a project
  • Introduce students to issues of copyright on images and sound files available on the internet
  • Introduce students to alternative search engines such as flickrCC
  • Reinforce the referencing message
  • Emphasise the role of the library in providing information literacy skills as well as leisure reading materials

I created a sample book trailer to demonstrate what we were after, and led the students through the assessment checklist rating my example. When we were sure that the students had understood the task, we let the students get on with it.

Over the next two to three weeks, the students were really focussed and motivated – they worked hard on their projects, frequently previewing and editing their work; they asked lots of questions, and sought help to identify copyrighted and copyright-free images. Toward the end it was clear that some students needed more help with time-management; they hadn’t quite completed their book trailers, or hadn’t added sound, but that is one of those minor tweaks that will be used to improve the activity next time.

When the students had to hand in and share their work, it was great to see the effort that had gone into matching images to events/plots/characters, to see the connections that students had made between the ‘feel’ of a story and what kind of music/soundtrack could evoke that feel. I missed the sharing session of the second class, and afterwards a couple of the boys came to see me to say that they had really enjoyed the task, and that it was interesting to see what other boys had made for different books.

I have two of the students’ final book trailers, and will be collecting some more to share on the school intranet (once the boys have inserted a copyright notice on the last screen). I am thrilled with the students’ enthusiasm and engagement, and am very keen to run it again next year, with a few minor adjustments to achieve an even higher rate of completion.




1 2