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Building collaborative units – MYP

Posted by sarahelliott on March 14, 2010

Finally, after the Christmas holidays I returned to work from maternity leave on a 60% TL position. One of my priorities at this time was to start to get involved with some units that were being studied in both the Primary and Middle schools, as I consider this an essential element of the role of the TL. As I still had (and still have now) numerous clerical jobs to do (we are a new library), I decided to start with 1 Middle Years unit and 1 Primary years unit.

As I am a trained PY class teacher, I figured that it would be easiest to start with the PY unit – so I decided to challenge myself and actually begin with the MY one! ūüôā

The MYP encourages cross-curricular units of work between separate subject groups. As I was already involved with the Events Committee, I thought that it would make more sense to try to collaborate with some subject teachers on building a unit of work that would be linked to our plan to have a whole school Chinese New Year celebration. The reasoning behind this was to make the celebration not just a food and flags festival, but rather a research-based unit that would help develop better understanding of global peers and develop the idea of internationalism in our school.

The subjects that I asked to work with me were Technology and P.E. I managed to convince those subject teachers that we could collaborate on building a unit of work about Chinese New Year. It was built on the Approaches to Learning and Communities and Service areas of interaction and was designed for Grade 7 (ages 12 Р13). In P.E., the dance curriculum was used for students to design and create (as a whole class) a dance and in Technology, the students were to be charged with designing (individually) and then creating (as a whole class) a costume that they would wear for the dance at the whole school evening celebration. Initially, Grade 7 researched Chinese New Year in general, in terms of what the history and traditions are. Based on this, they determined that they would create a dragon and dragon dance. All the research elements for the unit were carried out with me and were based around a wikispace. Please visit the Chinese New Year Celebration wikispace!

The wiki initially included information on James Herring’s PLUS search model that I used with the student, task definitions – including the subject specific assessment criteria from the technology and P.E. teachers, pathfinder-like pages with annotations about direct links to possible resources and a live chat function so that the students could contact me outside of school hours with any concerns or questions.

Collaborative pages were added to the wikispace as the weeks progressed. We used Wallwisher a lot as a brain-storming and note-taking tool. I created blank walls in advance and embedded them on pages on the wikispace. The students divided up into teams (chosen themselves) and focused on finding information on particular aspects of Chinese New Year. They then added their thoughts and findings to the walls that I had created and the changes were then immediately accessible from the wikispace. They were able to use Wallwisher to organise the information that they found – by dragging their notes around into groups, or into an order for their presentations. They collected information from online resources about their Chinese New Year topics. which they then used to create a Photostory presentation. They found images (using Creative Commons) to include and tried to cite all the sources that they had used in the presentations too. The individual presentations were then combined to create a video presentation about Chinese New Year.

This presentation was shared with the rest of the Middle Years in an assembly in order to increase their understanding of the celebration that was to take place. They then built upon it, each year group assuming responsibility for a different role for the night of the celebration. It was also presented to everyone who attended the evening celebration.

In addition to that presentation, the students used video clips and images to research how to design and create the dragon and dance itself. Another wikispace page was created where they could upload their findings about what should be included in the dance and the technology teacher also created a page where the designs for the dragon were pasted.

You can see a clip of their dragon dance performance here:

I initially created a self-evaluation page on the wiki, with the intention that the students would be able to use it to share their reflections at various points of the unit. However, this didn’t work very well, as they weren’t able to edit it at the same time as anyone else from their class. Therefore, we decided to use the discussion tab at the top of any page for reflections. This was far more practical, as firstly they didn’t overwrite anyone else’s work and secondly, I was able to respond more easily and directly to their comments.

In order to allow enough time for this unit to work, other subject teachers (humanities, English and Norwegian) were flexible enough to allow me to take some of their timetabled lessons with Grade 7 on a weekly basis for about 5 weeks.

This unit was incredibly successful. The students hit a low point after the first week or 2 when they started to panic about the amount of work they had to do. I was able to identify it as a crisis in confidence that really fitted in with Carol Kulthau’s research on the affective domain of the information search process. Together with their homeroom teacher, I coached them through that negative time and tried to employ some intervention strategies that centred on conversation, collaboration and choice. We worked together with the students to make the tasks seem more manageable and they quickly picked up in confidence and enthusiasm again.

At the end of the unit I asked the students for general feedback and they were all very positive about using the wiki to guide them through the entire process. Once they could see the bigger picture, they enjoyed the tasks. They benefitted from using web 2.0 tools and were able to improve their information literacy skills.

For our little school, the celebration that came out of this unit was a real move forward in developing a whole school community.


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Posted by sarahelliott on March 9, 2010

I have just read Doug Johnson’s Libraries For a Post-Literate Society and Mal Lee’s A Library Without Books?. Both of these artilces offer interesting perspectives on the purpose of libraries in today’s society.

I agree for the most part with Doug Johnson’s opinion of what is a post-literate society, and although I still believe that print has a powerful role in our world, I think that it is the digital and the networked resources that are most relevant to students today. They are such effective users and successful collaborators with online tools, their world is for the most part a digital one and we therefore need to ensure that we are adapting to meet their changing needs.

When thinking about the idea of collection management, we think about providing access to resources that meet the needs of our students. When I read about various school libraries that are stocked with tens of thousands of books, I am actually not that impressed.  This is basically because I wonder Рwhat are they actually doing with all of those books? Are the even being used? Is the collection in such a school relevant enough for the students? Is it engaging enough? Does it inspire them to be natural inquirers?

I don’t believe that students today are becoming illiterate because of a dependency on digital means. I think that new methods allow them to think more for themselves, encourage them to be more evaluative of resources that they are using and certainly enable them to be even more creative in the presentation of their findings. I¬†support Johnson’s argument of post-literacy encompassing more¬†forms of communication and think that those digital methods are ones that every teacher should try to incorporate in their classroom on a daily basis.

I think that digital tools such as the Kindle and Ipad are methods for maintaining the emphasis on reading in a digital tool. The Ipad looks like such an exciting tool, one that not only encourages reading, but connects reading to all the other interests that students like to pursue online.

Lee’s article also discusses the purpose of today’s library and whether it should be called a library at all. This is topic that I have discussed with our Principal. I believe that a library can be whatever you want it to be – in theory… but in practice the perceptions that other people hold of what constitutes a library can prevent its true functions from ever being understood. To the majority of people, a library is a collection of print resources.¬† A librarian is the person who manages those resources. And those people just don’t find it easy to change that mental concept. I believe that in some ways local community libraries continue to fit such a stereotype. They are quiet places where people go to borrow books or to sit and research quietly and more often than not – independently.

Therefore, even if a teacher-librarian has worked hard to change the understanding of what is a library within the school community, so long as those members of the school community are used to another concept they will continue to view the school library in the same way.

For these reasons, I think that it’s important to change the name of the library to something else. I have seen various examples such as information commons, learning commons, learning resource centre… but the one that I support the most is Learning Hub. I believe that such a title takes away the emphasis from what you find within the library and shifts it to what do you do with that information and how it plays a larger part in your learning. Hub signifies a busy centre, one from which other activity extends outwards. The library is no longer an isolated room, a resource centre, but becomes a pivotal focus for the school. In this case, the teacher-librarian¬†is also¬†less of a stereotyped librarian and becomes more of a facilitator of learning, a learning expert.

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Events Committee

Posted by sarahelliott on March 9, 2010

Before Christmas, I was involved in setting up an events’ committee with a couple of other members of staff. It was felt that our school was lacking in good organisation of big events and something needed to be done about this.

The committee worked together and decided that we should aim to have about 3 large whole school celebrations a year. 2 of those celebrations will happen every year – celebrating International Day and also May 17th, Norwegian National Day. As a Norwegian international school, it’s important not only to recognise the roots of the country that we are in, but also to celebrate our differences and similarities. The 3rd event is to change on a yearly basis, focusing on a major festival from differents cultures.

This year, we decided that we would celebrate Chinese New Year in February. With every large celebration of this kind, it was decided that 1 PY and 1 MY class should be responsible for carrying out some research behind the festival and presenting it to their respective department before the actual celebration in order to better prepare the rest of the school for it.

The entire school should aim to be involved in the celebration in some way. For Chinese New Year, this worked really well. Grade 7 took on the responsibility in MY and Grades 5 and 6 in PY. Grades 5 & 6 were able to interview one of our school volunteers from China and discover some key information – it tied in well to their Unit of Inquiry on Time, as they were able to look into the differences between the Chinese calendar and the Gregorian calendar, lunar cycles and so on. Grade 7 worked together with me to research into the history and traditions of Chinese New Year – both classes then filtered the information down through assembly presentations to the rest of the school.

The music teacher worked with PY on a Chinese New Year song, Grade 7s performed a dance at the celebration (more on that in my next post), Grade 8 made the decorations for the evening and Grades 9 and 10 prepared and ran evening activities such as tiger face painting, tangram craft, Chinese New Year card making, paper-cutting, Pin the tail on the tiger, a chopstick team game, paper dragon making and Chinese caligraphy for the rest of the school. Parents were responsible for bringing some food, our head even ran an introduction to Qigong for the parents and the whole evening finished with a floating lantern lift-off.

It was the first time that our school has had a celebration on that scales, with so many activities going on and it was a total success. It was an excellent occasion for developing a feeling of a whole school community spirit. It was so much more than just flags and food, it was about developing a real understanding for another culture. I spent so many hours organising everything and was very relieved when it was over. I feel that all that effort was really worth it, as the parents were very appreciative and it was evident that everyone enjoyed the evening.

Here is an article about the event from the AgderPosten:

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Web 2.0 Staff Development

Posted by sarahelliott on March 9, 2010

Following our Professional Development day on Student Centred Learning in the 21st century, our staff decided to take up the issue of web2.0 tools for learning. Every fortnight for a couple of months, a different staff member took responsibility for presenting a web 2.0 tool that they had used in the classroom with a group of students. They explained the purpose behind using the tool and also gave a reflective evaluation on its success.

The idea was that other members of staff would follow this up and try some of these tools out and then feedback some time later to demonstrate how they had learned from the first presentation and how this had positively impacted their own teaching practices whilst offering further examples of what can be done with web 2.0 tools.

This project started well, but has fizzled out a little. Writing on this blog about it now, reminds me that we need to get this going again. However, I am very aware that although we may not have been sharing success stories as a whole team, teachers are definitely making a real effort to put these learning technologies into practice.

For example, our Spanish teacher followed up on the Voki presentation and used it with one of her classes. They were able to create avatars that spoke in Spanish. The teacher reported that the class really enjoyed the activity and were highly motivated by the use of Web 2.0 on this occasion.

One Primary class teacher decided to use Wordle¬†to get her students thinking about the IB Learner Profile. Each member of the class created a list of the attributes that they thought best described every other member of the class. Then, for every student, a tally for each attribute was taken and fed into wordle, the result was a wordle that represented ever student’s character in terms of the Learner Profile, as voted for by their peers.

Whilst great progress is being made in this area, it has not been an altogether positive and successful experience. There are certainly those who are very resistant to these changes in teaching and learning. And, it is not necessarily those who are the oldest members of staff. In Norway, there is a general attitude that everyone should be the same and be equal. Therefore, in some Norwegian schools this idea has resulted in the lack of differentiation and student-centred, personalised learning. Whilst our school is very different to the average Norwegian state school, some members of staff still seem to hold onto this dated perspective. They are hesitant to make changes – perhaps they are simply scared of doing something that they are unsure of or afraid to try something new. But, in the spirit of the IB, we have to be risk-takers. We have to challenge ourselves, if not, how are we going to challenge our students?

I am planning to propose that our Principal determines a deadline in a couple of months time and by that time every member of staff should have tried to put into place at least 1 web 2.0 tool with at least 1 class. Then, we can spend a few staff sessions following this up and getting every single member of staff to present what they have done to the rest of the staff body. Maybe this is demanding too much, maybe it’s exerting too much pressure. But, I think it is positive pressure, pressure to bring about changes, bring about something good that will improve teaching and learning – which should be at the very heart of what we do as professionals.

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Professional Development Day

Posted by sarahelliott on March 9, 2010

Last October, I organised¬† Professional Development day for 3 IB schools (candidate or authorised) in the South of Norway. Staff from local Norwegian schools were also invited to attend, as were the teachers of the IB Diploma at the town’s high school. Overall, we were about 50 professionals, responsible for teaching students from age 6¬†– 19. The focus for the day was student-centred learning in the 21st century.

I invited 2 guest speakers over. Ingrid Skirrow gave a workshop in the morning on the main theme of the day and in the afternoon Jamie Williams presented an overview of Web2.0 tools for learning. Group sessions run by various contributors looked at a variety of web2.0 tools in further detail.

It was an extremely successful day and was a real opportunitiy for me to promote the role of the TL in school. It helped raise my profile and also improved our staff’s understanding of what I can do for the school. Part of my thinking behind this day was the idea that in order to bring about change, you need to start with the school faculty. Some participants seemed to be confused initially as to why we chose to take up this theme for the day… they would have preferred to keep the traditional format for our collaborative PD day whereby teachers meet in subject groups and address assessment, unit planners etc etc. However, by the end of the day, they seemed to have been won round. Everyone appeared more engaged in learning, certainly more so than at past shared PD days.

More information about this day and resources from the day can be viewed on this PD wiki that I created.

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Posted by sarahelliott on March 9, 2010

Well, it has been basically 6 months since my last post on this blog and I could list various reasons or excuses for why I have failed to edit this blog recently, but I won’t¬† –¬† I’ll keep it at – I’ve been very busy!

Before, I get this site up and running again, I will just give an overview of some of the school-based activities I have been involved in over the past few months. The next few posts will address those activities.

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Building a library from scratch

Posted by sarahelliott on September 21, 2009

Our school has moved to a ‘new’ location. New to us, but actually very old! The positive is that our new location means that we now have more space for a school library and in reality it’s as if the library is in its first year of existence. Last school year we catalogued the majority of our resources, but now we’re hoping that we can really promote them and the purpose of the library.

The negative is that the room is actually a bomb shelter… so we have no windows and the air circulation is not the freshest that you might hope for. Oh yeah and then there’s the issue of us ‘temporarily’ sharing the room with music! But, I’m looking at the positive sides of things because I am positive that we can make this work.

One image that struck me from Ross Todd’s workshop (see previous post) was that of a school library with inspiring words such as “triumph, invent, dare…” were painted in large letters, arranged as a word cloud, on one of the library walls. What a fantastic idea! So, in my new library, I am dedicating one of our enormous notice boards to that idea and will try to recreate something similar. I hope it works! I’m not sure yet, but I’m also going to put up some questions based on the PYP 10 key concepts, as they are thought-provoking and will hopefully inspire the students to think more deeply the different resources that they use.

I am only working 1 day a week for the moment, so the process of creating the library is a slow one. Last week I finally managed to move the furniture into place (this was previously impossible as the library was being used a) as a teachers’ workroom and b) as a classroom and c) it had to be painted and the floor was polished)! This week they will apparently start work on the internet connection in the room and so next week I will start to sort out the resources – with some volunteers.

I am enjoying this challenge!

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Professional Development

Posted by sarahelliott on September 21, 2009

A couple of weeks ago, I was lucky enough to attend the International Association of School Librarianship (IASL) annual conference in Padova, Italy.  This was an amazing experience for me, and I felt that it gave a much needed boost to my TL-spirit. Not that I have been doubting my desire or ability to be a TL, rather, I guess I had started to feel the pressures of being the only TL in my school and the only TL that I knew in Norway!

Before the conference started I took part in a workshop on Guided Inquiry with Carol Kuhlthau and also Guided Inquiry and Web 2.0 with Ross Todd. Wow! It was just fantastic. Ross Todd was particularly inspiring and I loved some of the web 2.0 tools that he demonstrated to us. I shared many of those ideas with my husband as soon as I could get onto the phone to him and he in turn is preparing to share some of the great ideas about the use of wordle with the rest of the staff in a meeting this week.

At the conference I listened to many talks and attended seminars given by leaders in the world of teacher librarianship. Notably, James Henri, James Herring, Carol Kuhlthau, Jennifer Branch and so the list goes one! Hearing those people speak passionately about student learning and the role of the school library and librarian was inspiring.

I learned a lot from my experience in Italy, but not only from the lectures, seminars and workshops but also by meeting many other international teacher librarians. That was one of the best parts about being there, meeting lovely people with similar interests to mine and equally passionate about their job as I am! Being able to talk over frustrations and ideas together was very beneficial. Feeling part of a group was very special and important. Connecting with the teacher-librarian community can help us in building our information literate school communities. Knowledge sharing certainly leads to knowledge building. Conversing is definitely one method for developing and refining ideas.

An incredibly worthwhile experience, now I am dreaming of IASL 2010 in Australia! – if only! ūüôā

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I’m back and … email!

Posted by sarahelliott on August 21, 2009

Hi, I know it’s been a long, long time. The summer (here in Norway) has flown by and suddenly I find myself a month into my new module on my Masters. Well, actually, that’s not strictly true, the module has existed for about a month, but I only got back from my travels less 11 days ago, so I’m rather behind…

However, I was reading chapter 2 from Herring’s The Internet and Information Skills, a guide for teachers and school librarians when I was hit by the quotation by Ictadvice (2003) on p. 23 about the advantages of e-mail. I am a massive fan of e-mail, it is such a quick and easy way to connect and communicate with people on both a personal and professional basis. More often than not it is easier than phoning certain people, as you don’t have to organise a mutually available time and of course you can send so much more information than in a text, plus when the information is in a written format, people can refer back to exactly what it was that you were discussing and not forget to follow things up…

Well, that’s how I see e-mail anyhow. But, I am one of those people that Herring refers to who finds it frustrating when other members of staff don’t use e-mail as effectively… To be honest, I find it incredibly, almost¬†painfully¬†frustrating. I just don’t understand how teachers today, educationalists in the 21st Century, are unable to use e-mail efficiently. I would add that teachers should not only be expected to check their e-mail at least once a day, but that they should also be expected to respond to e-mails!

I would love to suggest the use of listservs to my colleagues as a means for them to connect to the greater world of teaching, but I’m not sure that they would ever read listserv e-mails…

Anyhow, as you can tell, this is something that I feel quite strongly about. We all need to move with the times, we all have the skills to e-mail, so let’s put that into action and use those skills to benefit our teaching and our students’ learning!

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Posted by sarahelliott on June 5, 2009

One aspect of the role of the teacher librarian that I missed from my original brainstorm was that of collaboration. The fact that I omitted it is not indicative of its importance – it is in fact essential!
Whilst reading about collaboration, I came across a lot of¬†examples of success stories of collaborative partnerships between teacher librarians and class/ subject teachers – such as in the case study Does Collaboration Boost Student Learning? Research clearly supports the idea that collaboration is a key element¬†in enhancing students’ learning outcomes and essential in helping them to develop information literacy skills that will prepare them for life in the 21st century society.
The module readings state that “the role of the TL is maximised in an atmosphere that encourages team work and experimentation where learning is highly sought after”. This quotation highlights two major importances for me; firstly the need for collaboration and secondly the need to step out, break with traditions and try something new. I am excited about discussing the idea of introducing team teaching with class teachers, flexible timetabling with the principal and working with teachers to ensure student-centred, integrated learning.
Collaboration is not always easy, and in our efforts to put it into practice we are going to come up against some resistance. But, if we are going to make a difference, then we have to persevere. I agree that it’s important not to be overamibitious, achievable targets are a must! By initially establishing collaborative partnerships for integrated instruction with just 1 or 2 teachers, other members of staff will witness the benefits and become more confident and enthusiastic about working with us and eventually we can work towards offering a fully integrated curriculum. The support of the principal is imperative, as they will be able to set out expectations for collaboration and encourage teachers to participate.

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