Ever keen to pick up new skills, I was really excited to receive advice via one of our online library associations that an innovative program called 12 Apps of Christmas would be run commencing December 1st this year.

12appsofChristmasmas logoAimed to personalize learning, both students or educators are able to pick up tips on how to become more fulfilled independent, self directed learners by exploring apps on either smartphones or tablet devices.  Over 12 week days starting on December 1st this year, 12 helfpul app gifts will be available to unwrap and explore.

To get involved just download the App: 12AppsDIT from the App Store and view it on either your smartphone or smart tablet or log onto the webiste: 12 Apps of Christmas to more fully explore.  By registering, both students and educators will be able to explore all that can be gained from this innovative learning program.    A bonus for educators will be a page detailing how students can utilize these apps to enhance their learning.

Check out this video to learn more about this innovative learning program.

Last week I focused on my own foray with online reading and reflected on the massive changes that have unconsciously and slowly crept into my online reading routines.  My reflection on this prompted the realization that we really need to tease out skills involved in online reading so that we can be sure we are helping our students master these necessary skills.

Debunking the assumption that students in our schools instinctively know how to successfully engage with online reading is essential at the outset.

Being tech savvy, which many of our students are, does not mean they know how to successfully extract information from the wide diversity of websites they are likely to encounter in our increasingly online world.  Like all aspects of education, skills need to be taught and learned.  Remember those left right eye coordination activities given to young pre-school aged children?  Perhaps it’s time to develop similar activities that incorporate skills pertinent to online reading and establish for this young age group a set of foundation skills which will see them better engage with our online world.

As students progress through our schools though, cross curricula kinds of activities should become part and parcel of various classroom experiences:

  • Exposure: Constant and regular exposure to a wide range of online reading sources is important to enable students to develop familiarity.  If online reading activities focus more on one kind at the expense of another, they will not develop necessary skills.  Expose students to online reading for pleasure, interest and information which can be found in short stories, newspaper articles and Wikipedia posts.  Ensure that online reading incorporates a range of media such as text, graphics, pictures, video and audio such as that found in blogs, magazines, encyclopaedias and newspapers.
  • Format: Rather than assuming students have an innate understanding of how to ‘read’ various online sources, discuss and highlight techniques which can be applied to different kinds of pages as well as aspects included wtihin them:
    • learn to see the gestalt of a webpage so as to instinctively know how to tackle reading it
    • explore what is incorporated in header and footers of webpages
    • size up a webpage so as to determine skills needed: one column requires top down scanning; many columns requires side to side scanning while moving from top to bottom;
    • scan web page headings and the first sentence of paragraphs to give an indication of content
    • focus on the entire website content before succumbing to the urge to check out embedded links
  • Expectation: Increased familiarity with a range of different online websites will enable students to predict what they may expect to find.  This expectation will, in turn, give them cues on how to approach reading the website.  In other words, the more we talk about what is being read, or having students discuss it with each other, the more ‘approach’ skills they will develop. By exploring embedded links in a structured way, students can develop a sense of when it may be of value to wander away from the reading at hand and what they can gain from this diversion.
  • Notetaking: Learning how to use various apps and programs to take notes while reading will enrich the online reading experience.  Along the way, valuable lessons can be learned in how to gather information, record sources and compile bibliographic information which may be needed if the information is to be shared.
  • Focus: Much as we encourage students to pick up a novel or magazine and read for an extended period of time, so too should we require them to read online for an extended period of time.   Those wonderful programs such as DEAR (Drop Everything and Read) can easily be moved to online reading.
  • Writing:  Today there are a plethora of online tools which allow the novice to write and create websites of their own.  Learning the ‘back end’ of how a website is created or a blog written is a very effective way of learning to read online!   The mantra I constantly tell my students rings very true:  “The more you read, the more you write.”  Flipping this mantra to say “The more you write, the more you read” also holds true!

Increased expectation and improved navigation will ensure improved engagement with text.  Enabling students to successfully engage with online reading is a path to increasing the amount of online reading they choose to do rather than being required to do.

Somewhere in this amazing process, a spark may well be lit that will encourage independent online learning that may inspire a voracious hunger and thirst to learn!

Coming across a blog post a couple of weeks ago which said we’re not reading much online today, threw me a bit.  Why?

Because I’m a convert!

I knew that my habits had changed the day I searched for the online copy of an article from a hard copy magazine to which I subscribe.   I had the hard copy magazine article open on the side of my desk.  After locating the online copy, I realized just a few minutes later I was totally engrossed – online!  I actually recollect that moment, because I stopped reading and took notice of the shift that had overcome me.  That was over two years ago.

While I have no recollection of consciously or unconsciously acting on my preference for online reading, it is clear that I have indeed made the shift.  Somehow or other I have taken control of what was a shocking case of ‘wandering eyes syndrome’ in which I could feel my eyes darting around a web page having no structured approach and seeing no logical path to apply to my frequent foray into the world of online reading!

I recollect becoming exhausted and slightly frustrated trying to engage with online reading. So, what happened?  What changed?

I wish I’d taken more notice along the way, because now, when confronted with articles such as this one: How much are people reading online? which states quite emphatically that not many of us are reading online, I feel at a loss to proffer an alternate view.

What I do know though, is that now, I can, given the time, spend quite a few hours a day reading online and I do most certainly prefer reading magazines, which in their standard print version, can be several pages long.

But …..

….. my infatuation with online reading still does not encompass reading novels.   Nup.  I haven’t as yet given up on hard copy books.   While I have read a few eBooks – from proverbial cover to cover – my preference remains, as evidenced by the huge pile of books on numerous bookshelves and tables at both home and work, for the good old hard copy novel.

So what is it that has seen the transformation to my preference for online reading of magazine and newspaper articles along with various interest based articles?

  • Increased familiarity: As the years have tumbled by, I guess it is clear that my familiarity with the layout of online reading materials has increased.  While blogs differ dramatically from each other, the format of them are all quite similar.  The same goes for online magazines and newspapers where the format of many are quite similar.  The header and footer of most blogs, online magazines and newspapers seem to conform to similar ‘layout rules’.  Either that, or I have become conditioned to what they have to offer and how to search within for information.  The same applies to websites.  While there are huge differences between websites, I’ve learned, or become increasingly familiar, with their layout.
  • Ease of use: With familiarity, I’ve developed a set of expectations on how to use various formats that present themselves to me.  I’ve come to expect and appreciate the embedded definitions and explanations that regularly appear on websites. No longer do I feel that I’ve lost my train of concentration as I wander off on the random paths of discovery on which these embedded links lead me.  In fact, I’m often conscious of how incredibly engrossed I become as I traverse my journey of discovery – especially when I glance at the clock and realize that an hour or more has zipped past.
  • Interaction: Navigating online articles and posts provides a way of engaging with text which is unparalleled when reading hard copy text.  As one of those diehard ‘pencil in hand while reading’ people, I must say that online reading has liberated me quite dramatically!  Over the last ten plus years, I’ve become a paperless reader, who regularly notetakes digitally.  Online reading totally lends itself to this routine.
  • Engagement: Part of my increased familiarity and ease with online reading must be due to my increased habit of online writing.  As a blogger, I regularly engage with the kind of material I write.  Without realizing it, I’ve become living proof of the mantra I constantly share with my students:  “The more you read, the more you write”.
  • Purpose: Reading for interest or reading for information are two very different purposes of online reading.  Reading for interest implies an increased engagement with the text, whereas reading for information implies that a rigorous search in underway.  While I’m conscious that my eye movements for an information search differ to my regulated controlled reading of text, skimming is an integral part of the reading process.  Learning to skim in a methodical way when engaging with online material is as important as learning to skim hard copy material.   I’ve found that my skimming of online material has improved over time.  Rather than being aware of my eyes darting all over the website, nowadays I’m conscious of skimming from top to bottom over headings, first sentences of paragraphs, bolded words and links which break up the website as well as skimming in a more controlled way across columns and other varied, unordered features which present in many websites.

So ….. should we be teaching our students strategies to increase their ability to engage better with online reading?


I’ll save my thoughts and suggestions for next week though!

By the time I finished reading an article in last week’s Age which reported on students’ completion of their English exam, their first formal exam in the annual final school year VCE Examinations, I felt sick and totally grief stricken!

The title of the hard copy newspaper, set the mood of the article:  Relief and thoughts of book burning follow the exam. (The Age. October 29, 2015, p12) While reporting on students’ response to the English exam was the article’s major emphasis, tucked into the article was the students’ response to seeing the English exam over and done with:

Anger boiled over at some schools, with one student burning his Death of a Salesman book, and posting the image on Facebook.


The online version of this report garnered an altered title: Whether ’tis nobler to recycle or burn one’s books – the big post-VCE English question, but still bred the same feelings within me. Reporting on the same incident, the text was softened and somewhat less specific:

Anger boiled over at other schools, where students posted images of burning VCE papers and books.

Both the hard copy and online articles started with the same lead line stating that the school captain of a Melbourne school was “tossing up whether she should recycle her VCE English books or burn them.”

The question: ‘Would you ever read it (the studied texts) again?’ was posed to a few students (see 2.03 minutes into the video at the top of the online article). While one student commented that it was good to examine books in depth and gain a better perspective of what the author was aiming to say, the common response from other students  was no – they’d never pick up the book again with one student adding:

I’ll probably never touch them ever again,” he said. “I’m pretty sick of them, to be honest. I’m pretty glad to be done.”

My response:


Burning books?  Never wanting to touch books studied again?  Discouraging the exploration of underlying messages and meanings shared by authors? Turning students off reading for life?  Is this the end goal of our English and Library classes?

I can see some head shaking in response to the veracity of my words though.  Some of you may well be commenting that these are the actions and response of only a few students or that the quoted words of students in these articles are merely their light-hearted response to the joy of finishing their much dreaded final English exam. 

But hang on …. is this really the case?

It was a few years ago when I had a Year 11 class in the school library for a Wider Reading session that I experienced one of those jaw dropping moments that stay with you for life.

With my characteristic enthusiasm to inspire and motivate a love of reading among this testy bunch of teenagers, I held up the first of the pile of books I’d assembled on the desk in front of me, sure as anything that this one would ‘hook’ them in!  To my horror, a collective groan emanated from the class as they saw the cover of Brian Caswell’s “Only the Heart”.  Unable to restrain myself, I proclaimed the brilliance of this novel.   No, they collectively responded.  That was our class text last year.  Engaging with them to suss out why they really disliked it, the answer was plain and simple.   The book had been ‘hashed to death’ with requirements to analyze, discuss and respond to exam questions.  Quite simply, this bunch of teenagers told me quite honestly that they never wanted to see or hear about this book or author ever again.   I was devastated and saddened to think that they had been so cruelly turned off not just one great book, but an accomplished and talented author.

Over the years, I’ve had lots of ‘heart-to-heart’ chats with senior students about books and reading habits.  Many have expressed their dislike of class texts and the inherent requirement to analyze texts to death.  Many of my chats have been with reluctant readers, who openly confide that they just don’t like reading.  Teasing out the reasons for their disinterest has almost always come down to their experience of being required to read specific books that they have found boring and then having to spend copious amounts of time – often a full term – analyzing, discussing and handing in written reports.

These conversations always leave me feeling bereft.

I’ve spoken with English teachers often about this issue, but always have the same facts thrown at me: students need to study class texts over an extended period of time so as to hone their analytical skills, their critical thinking skills and their appreciation of the classics. This ‘full stop kind’ of response invariably allows no openings to my pleas to  incorporate additional or alternate opportunities aimed at inspiring students to read, read and read some more – just for the joy of it!

Yes, I’ve also faced the argument that I’m not an English teacher who has an allocated number of periods a week within which to teach a curriculum and ensure that students complete inherent required assessments.  I’ve also been reminded that I’m a Teacher Librarian who has lots of time to spend dreaming up, creating and staging a range of enticing literary activities.

Well, yes, I guess that’s correct.  A big part of my job as a Teacher Librarian is indeed to inspire a love of reading.  And that’s just what I do and will continue to do for as long as I work as a Teacher Librarian!  I make no apologies for this!

I’m passionate in my belief that reading is a core skill which underlines all educational achievement.  We need to ensure that we inspire students to read, to read anything and everything they possibly can.  We need to ensure that students leave our classes and schools with an embedded love, desire and appreciation of just how much reading can bring to their lives – forever.  Reading does not just fit into English or Library periods, but is a skill which extends across all aspects and subjects of the curriculum.

As a Teacher Librarian I constantly grapple with the issue of engaging students with literature.  Over the years, I’ve devised many an alternate approach to put books into the hands of students in my school.   Many of these alternate approaches were incorporated into Literary Festivals I organized at one school.  I have also blogged, written and presented about some of the many activities, programs and events I have organized over the years in my library sessions.  If interested, have a read of this post: Engaging readers: Tried and tested ideas that work!

Perhaps it’s time for all of us – secondary school English teachers and Teacher Librarians alike – to step back and take a look at the nature of our program content and question whether what we are doing is encouraging or discouraging our students to become lifelong readers.

The power of reading!

The joy of learning and the joy of reading are two topics I am deeply passionate about.

So when I heard that Professor Stephen Krashen, a world leader on the topic of literacy, was touring Australia last week, I was very keen to attend one of his presentations.   With some disappointment though  I realized that I wouldn’t be able to attend either of his two Melbourne presentations.   Buoyed though by the enthusiasm of a work colleague who did attend saying that he was brilliant, I resolved to do the next best thing and explore the beliefs, research and teachings of this inspiring professor for myself by researching all that is available online.

Ah the joy of online learning!!

To my delight, I found lots by and about this eminent educator and proceeded to devote a number of hours to a self styled ‘online’ learning program and as a result, now feel I’ve got a good handle on how Krashen believes we should be pursuing the ‘teaching’ of reading in our schools.  Most inspiring of all is that Krashen’s approach fits in perfectly with my own beliefs!

Like Krashen, I believe that the best way to teach reading and extend our students’ skills is, quite simply, by having them read!  Exposure to good quality reading material which is readily available, providing positive role models and ensuring that students have as many opportunities to knuckle down and read are essential ingredients to nurture reading.  Reading is not something that can be compartmentalized into English classes and taught.  Indeed reading is a skill and a focus of every school subject and is the reason why in past schools I have created school wide Literary Festivals in which literature across the curriculum was celebrated.  In addition to authors and illustrators,  a wide range of artists, all of whom are united in their passionate desire to engage, stimulate and challenge students with their love of the written and spoken word were included in the Literary Festivals held.  I’ve written extensively about Staging a Successful Literary Festival.

I was very pleased to come across a presentation by Stephen Krashen where he spoke at The University of Georgia College of Education in 2012 on the very same topic as his Melbourne presentation: The Power of Reading.  It was great to listen along and realize that his words illuminated the handout given to me by a work colleague from Krashen’s Melbourne presentation.  As I listened, I found myself jotting down some of the key points he made:

Opening his talk, Krashen aims to debunk the myth that millions are illiterate and that teachers are to blame.  Very few, he says, presumably in relation to US children, are completely and totally illiterate.  The problem he maintains is that demands for literacy have been increasing faster than we cope.  Officially he explains, the lowest 25% (referred to in statistics as the lowest quartile) have low literacy. It is obvious, he says, that there will always be 25% who are at the lowest percentile which does not equate with them being illiterate!

After stating emphatically that he knows how to develop literacy, Krashen gives the simple one word solution:


One kind of reading which works better than anything else, he claims, is the kind of reading we do obsessively and it is called free voluntary reading in which there is no requirement for any kind of formal response.  Krashen has adopted these three words as a slogan, elevating them to a process called Free Voluntary Reading (FVR).  In his online talk, he explains:

There is one kind of reading that works better than any other and it was the kind of reading you did last night before you fell asleep”….. The kind of reading that really counts is the reading you and I do all the time that we do obsessively. We call it Free Voluntary Reading (FVR) … reading because you want to. No book reports. No questions at the end of the chapter. You don’t like the book you put it down and pick up another one. Free Voluntary Reading is the source in my opinion of our reading ability; it’s the source of most of our vocabulary, all of our educated vocabulary just about comes from reading, in most cases, our ability to handle complex grammatical constructions, … most of our ability to spell well…. our ability to write with a good style, much of our knowledge of the world, comes from reading.

Acknowledging that no discussion about reading can be complete without reference to a book by Daniel Faber called Hooked on Reading, published around 1965, in which the notion of Sustained Silent Reading (SSR) is raised as a tool to promote reading, Krashen then spends considerable time detailing the results of research studies which support the value of both FVR and SSR.  The results are profound.

The case for Free Voluntary Reading, discussed at length in his Melbourne presentation, is explained quite fully in The Power of Reading – skip to 15.33 minutes into the video continuing for about four minutes. This explanation is also published in a 1983 article in The Reading Research Quarterly.

Also of interest is his reference to Silent Sustained Reading (SSR) in a study by Elly & Mangubhai in Singapore, which is written up in Language Learning, (at 19.45 minutes into the video) in which he sates:

Students who did reading did better on grammar tests than those who had grammar classes!

Why should this happen?  ….

If you read a lot your knowledge of the conventions of writing , your knowledge of vocabulary and grammar it’s acquired not learned; its subconsciously absorbed, it’s stored deep in your central nervous system, it becomes part of you.   They have no choice but to write well.”

Krashen goes on to give a number of case studies some of which are people reflecting on their reading experience.  The conclusion, he says, he is coming to (at 24.46 minutes) is that:

Children who grow up with poverty, with access to books, are the ones who make it. Those who don’t,  don’t make it.

As someone who has worked in the field of Teacher Librarianship for more than 20 years, Krashen’s endorsement of the value of libraries is profound!  Others writing about the value of libraries, Teacher Librarians and reading field such as SHOUT for Literacy and Libraries also make reference to Krashen’s research, writings and presentations.

As a profession, our role is to promote the value of libraries and the wealth of reading choice they offer students.  It is our professional responsibility to continually remind teachers in our schools the undeniable value that students can gain from engaging with literature for no other reason than the joy of it.  I believe that the continual over-emphasis placed on students by required text study, most often kills the joy of reading.

If an interest in this topics is high on your ‘knowledge’ agenda, I would highly recommend you take an hour and have a listen.

Apart from this video I found a number of other valuable onine references, including Krashen’s website and blog, as well as An Introduction to the work of Stephen Krashen where drop down menus give more information on topics of interest.

So, it seems, I have been able to enjoy a professional learning experience virtually.   Wonderful!!

It was some years ago, after undergoing a fairly major operation that I found myself, doped to the gills with pain killers, totally unable to pick up any of the enticing books I’d brought with me to the hospital.  None of them caught my interest and in any case I was sleepy and completely unable to concentrate.

Then it happened!  One book somehow slipped into my hands.  It spoke to me, inspired me and made me realize that my despondent state was not as bad as the experiences of the character I was reading about.  I finally felt connected and inspired and yes ….. the book, I discovered with some joy, brought me hope and a great deal of pleasure.  This book was a key to my return to the ‘land of the living’ and re-established within me the joy of reading.   The book was given to me by my work colleague, another Teacher Librarian.

It is this experience I often reflect upon when faced with those occasions of feeling “out of it”, hit by a bad run, or totally preoccupied with “stuff”, so-much-so that my ability to concentrate on reading is dead, buried and gone.  How easy it is for each of us who work with books, to suss out the kind of book that is ‘just right’ for our library patrons.

So when I read an article a couple of months ago in The Age: Bibliotherapy a novel approach to helping readers treat literary indecision I was intrigued.  Before I’d gotten too far into the article though, skepticism started creeping into my mind.  By the time I got to the end of the article though, I was soon saying out loud to myself ‘You’ve gotta be kidding me!’ ‘Is this for real?!’

To put it mildly, I was blown away by the idea that a new profession had evolved from the tools of the trade normally associated with those working in libraries and book shops.  I was also bowled over by the idea that these kinds of services, normally provided at no cost by those working in libraries, were being charged for and that consumers were ready to part with money for the kind of information being offered.

Thanks perhaps to a recent article in The New Yorker: Can reading make you happier?, which has most probably fanned interest in yet another ‘alternate therapy’, two Melbourne Bibliotherapists have expanded their trade by taking on overseas clients via Skype.  With interest piqued, three sessions presented by this pair at the recent Melbourne Writers Festival were sold out.  It is interesting to note that one of the Melbourne Bibliotherapists, a former genetic counsellor, trained at the British School of Life with Bibliotherapist Ella Berthoud, the person quoted extensively in The New Yorker article.

The process, I gleaned from both articles, seems fairly straightforward.   Clients complete a questionnaire prior to meeting the Bibliotherapist.  Questions asked, hinge around a person’s reading habits:

  • What kinds of books do you like?
  • What books did you read as a child?
  • What are your interests/passions?
  • What would you like to try? (Presumably life pursuits)
  • When do you read? Daily? Weekends? Holidays?
  • Do you buy or borrow books?
  • What is preoccupying you at the moment?

On her personal website, Ella Berthoud, gives greater specifics of the questionnaire:

When you book a bibliotherapy session, you will be sent a questionnaire asking you about your reading habits, loves and dislikes. We ask why you read, what you read, when and where you read – who with, or whether you always read alone. Do you ever read aloud, or listen to audiobooks? All your reading habits are explored. We also ask what is going on in your life at the moment – are any major issues coming up? Are you in the middle of a career-change, about to have a baby, moving home, experiencing a break-up, or beginning a new relationship? Are you perhaps retiring, or living alone for the first time? All life situations, whether serious or frivolous, can be illuminated by a good book. We believe that reading the right book at the right time can change your life. Our job is to help you find that book.”

Her business website, The School of Life, expands on the process:

In a consultation with one of our bibliotherapists, you’ll explore your relationship with books so far and be asked to explore new literary directions. Perhaps you’re looking for an author whose style you love so much you will want to devour every word they’ve ever written. Perhaps you’re about to trek across China and need to find ideal travel companions to download onto your kindle. Maybe you’re feeling disconnected from the world and want to listen to the classics of your childhood during your daily commute. Or you’re seeking a change in your life and want to hold the hand of people who’ve been there and done that already.”

If your visit with a Bibliotherapist is in England, you will, after parting with £80.00, have a forty minute consultation face-to face, via phone or on Skype which will further illuminate responses to the questionnaire, and then be prescribed a list of the 8 best books to be read over the next few weeks or months.  The list is accompanied with an explanation as to why these books are considered to be the best.  A few weeks later, the client is contacted to ask if they would like to come back for another consultation. 

The questions asked by Bibliotherapists are eerily similar to those asked by Teacher Librarians working in School Libraries, Librarians working in Public Libraries, and those working in book shops, all of whom have an excellent grasp of literature and regularly make sound book recommendations to their patrons.  Indeed, the raison d’être of our profession aims to put the right book into the right hands at the right time.  There is of course, no charge for this service.  It is a role that we joyfully take on; revelling each and every time we establish that connection between patrons and books.

On sending the link to The Age article to family and friends, as well as current and past work colleagues, the comments and replies received back were interesting.  One emphatically stated:

You should write to the author of the article and remind them that librarians are there for more than putting books away on the shelves.”

Another response reminded me that there is many a website today which can aid and assist the needy in their search for the right book.  No costs apply of course.  I’ve blogged about this previously: What’s a good book to read Miss? and Any more good books Miss? 

I’m passionate in my belief of the immeasurable value to be gained from reading.  I agree totally with many of the statements made in The New Yorker article:

For all avid readers who have been self-medicating with great books their entire lives, it comes as no surprise that reading books can be good for your mental health and your relationships with others, but exactly why and how is now becoming clearer, thanks to new research on reading’s effects on the brain.”

as well as this:

So even if you don’t agree that reading fiction makes us treat others better, it is a way of treating ourselves better. Reading has been shown to put our brains into a pleasurable trance-like state, similar to meditation, and it brings the same health benefits of deep relaxation and inner calm. Regular readers sleep better, have lower stress levels, higher self-esteem, and lower rates of depression than non-readers.”

I also applaud the engaging video which appears on The School of Life website which I have taken from YouTube:

Who knows, perhaps in our next career some of us will become Bibliotherapists!

Right now though, I get a real thrill out of encouraging others to read, getting them to discover the joy of reading and yes ….. helping them find the perfect book to meet their mood, interest, need or take them to the next point of discovery in their life.


Spread the word …..

Every child should be able to go to school!”

That’s what Malala Yousafzai believes.  With quiet determination she set out to achieve her dream well before she even got to the 18 years of age she presently is in this recent clip.

He Named Me Malala is the recently released documentary about Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai’s life, story and personal journey as an education activist.  Check out the trailer:




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