Sunday, November 25, 2012

Effective presentations

I've been working hard on developing a strong presentation for my Vision Project for a school library. My first step was thinking deeply about how I shape and share my vision. But the next step is about how I present those ideas. I want to make my presentation dynamic and impactful. I know I want to avoid a lengthy Power Point presentation, but what are some key points for an effective presentation?

Gwyneth Jones, aka The Daring Librarian, has a great presentation called "How to be a Presentation Ninja".  I'd like to share the slides here, so I can continue to come back to them.

How to be a Presentation Ninja from gwyneth jones

I also have taken a lot of inspiration from Joyce Valenza, both in terms of the content she shares and the way she puts together effective, clear slides. Here is a recent presentation she shared on SlideShare called "Five Forward."

Fiveforward from joycevalenza

Here's another presentation I love from Joyce Valenza, called New Rules.

Newrules from joycevalenza

Some of my takeaways from these presentations:

  • Use strong visuals. Capture people's attention with pictures.
  • Use Creative Commons images from Flickr and cite your sources.
  • Consider purchasing a dynamic image from iStock Photo.
  • Use words sparingly to focus attention.
  • Use dynamic, bold fonts.
  • Add clear, streamlined text to images.
  • Share your presentations. Spread the word beyond the initial audience.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Choosing an eBook Platform

We have just begun experimenting with eBooks in our district. It is truly overwhelming, figuring out which platform to try. But the initial response from students and teachers has been enthusiastic. So I was very interested to find Buffy Hamilton's slides from her presentation "Choosing an eBook Platform for your K-12 School Library".

I must say, I'm still flummoxed by all the choices. My biggest takeaway from this presentation is the list of questions that Buffy suggests schools ask before they head down this road.

  • Are you thinking of making ebooks available for pleasure reading, or for nonfiction content reading? 
  • Do you want students to be able to do research and take notes? 
  • Do they need to be able to save those notes after they finish reading?

It's also crucial to think about the value messages we are sending about the purchasing and access decisions we make.

Passion and vision

As I am working on my vision for school libraries, I wanted to share two videos about passion, teaching and learning. I read these on Joyce Valenza's blog, NeverEndingSearch, in her post "What Librarians Make".

Taylor Mali is a slam poet who first wrote this poem, "What Teachers Make", in response to a question posed at a dinner party.

Joyce Valenza was prompted to write "What Librarians Make" in response to a proposal by Dr. Mark Bernstein to make schools more efficient by eliminating teacher librarians. The implication is that school libraries are antiquated and unnecessary in the world of Google-provided information at our fingertips.

Across California, school libraries have been underfunded, understaffed and eliminated completely. Joyce's poem inspires me every time I am feeling stymied by the system. Her vision is dynamic, driving and uplifting.

Head over to her post to see her full vision in writing. You might also enjoy reading her Manifesto for 21st Century School Librarians

Monday, November 19, 2012

Thinking about reading and writing - shifts under the Common Core

I've been very interested in learning more about the Common Core and how it will affect teaching and learning. As I learn, I keep thinking about how school librarians can be effective teaching partners as educators try to shift their instructional strategies to meet these new standards.

Tonight I listened to a webinar presented by Robert Rosenfeld and Liz Jameyson called "An Introduction to Reading and Writing, Common Core Style!" presented through WestEd's Schools Moving Up program.

I found this slide very interesting, because it helps me summarize how I am trying to shift my teaching in day to day sharing of resources with teachers and children. For more of the slides and presentations, I highly recommend watching the whole webinar.

As an elementary school librarian, I am consciously bringing nonfiction reading to the forefront, sharing engaging nonfiction that students might be interested in reading for their pleasure reading. I feel we need to both teach specific strategies for reading nonfiction AND encourage pleasure reading of nonfiction for our elementary students. They need more experience reading a wide range of nonfiction before they are thrust into the "read to learn" environment of middle school history/science academic (textbook) reading.

I also strongly believe that elementary school librarians have a vital role in helping students discover reading materials that help them advance up this "staircase of complexity." We need to give students wide range to choose materials that are interesting to them, but we also need to help them discover materials that are just that little bit harder for themselves. It's a tricky balance - you want to encourage kids to read lots of books that are at their comfort level, but you also want to challenge them to grow and develop. Should a library be "leveled"? Absolutely not, in my opinion. But I do think we have a role in supporting our teachers and students in discovering books at different levels.

Finally, I have paid special attention to prompting text-based discussion during library time. As I read picture books, I point out ways children are noticing specific details in the text or illustrations to draw conclusions, make inferences and make connections. Kids love sharing about their own lives and this is important. But I think we need to give them practice in making specific text-based answers to prepare them for the more analytical reading and writing they will be asked to do in middle school.

Rosenfeld and Jameyson specifically focus on Shift 4 and Shift 5, focusing on this challenge to have students focus on using evidence to draw conclusions from their reading and develop their writing. They apply this technique to start diving into the details of the standards.

Rosenfeld, R. and Jameyson, L. (2012). PDF of presentation, "An Introduction to Reading and Writing, Common Core Style!" Retrieved from

Using digital tools while reading - some research findings

Digital books provide many tools for readers, such as note-taking, pronunciation guides, online dictionaries and highlighting. Several researchers have examined students’ use of digital reading tools in traditional ebooks. These digital books are not multimedia books, but rather flat text such as that accessed through a Kindle, computer or other basic e-reader. Larson (2009) explored how a small group of 5th graders responded to literature using a variety of annotation tools available through using computer-based e-books. All of the students used a variety of e-book tools to respond to the text, such as the highlighter and note tools. Their responses ranged from tracking characters names to noting passages to discuss with the class to asking questions about a character’s motivations. All of the students reported preferring reading e-books over traditional books by the end of the study. These results are consistent with other studies, such as Massey, Weeks and Druin (2005), that have found that children use digital tools to respond to text when asked by a teacher or researcher. Larson (2010) confirmed these results with a small-scale qualitative study of two second graders reading on Kindles. Both students regularly used the note-taking features available on the Kindle, adjusted the font size, accessed the built-in dictionary, and activated the built-in text-to-speech feature to listen to challenging words or passages.

It is clear that students are interested in reading digital texts and can use many of the features included. An essential question for educators must be whether these digital texts help students understand what they read. More specifically, how does the inclusion of multimedia elements impact reading comprehension?

Here's a brief video presentation from Lotta Larson about digital reading and the electronic reading workshop. It is very nice to hear the author talking about this research in person. This is part of the Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacies (JAAL), and I'm assuming it's posted for a conference session held by the International Reading Association's 54th Annual Convention.

Lotta Larson: JAAL Digital Literacies Chat from Cyndi Danner-Kuhn on Vimeo.

Larson, L.C. (2009). e-Reading and e-responding: New tools for the next generation of readers. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 53(3), 255-258.

Larson, L.C. (2010). Digital readers: The next chapter in e-book reading and response. The Reading Teacher, 64(1), 15-22.

Considering the essential differences of print vs. digital reading

I've been fascinated watching the development of digital reading habits among adults and children. Anecdotally I've noticed that adults have been much more likely to switch their regular pleasure reading of print books to pleasure reading of digital books. Children, on the other hand, seem to be less likely to make this switch. I believe there are many factors at play with this. But one aspect I'd like to consider a little more closely is the essential differences of reading print vs. reading digitally. I was fascinated to read Anne Mangen's theoretical reflections on this very topic.

The essential experience of reading digital texts differs from reading print texts, but it is often hard to describe. For many digital texts, the content is the same and yet the format and device do affect the reading experience. For other digital texts, especially those such as the multimedia book apps, the additional multimedia content itself can change the reading experience. Mangen (2008) developed an intensive theoretical examination of the difference between reading digital texts and print texts, considering the impact of the physical aspect of reading electronic books.

Unlike print texts, digital texts are physically intangible as we read them; the digital text itself is detached from the physical device. As the reader holds the physical device in his or her hands, the electronic text changes but the device remains physically the same. This detachment has implications for the reading experience. Another way to consider the impact of the physicality of our text is the memory cues the physical layout of a print book can support. Readers can often recall the physical position of a favorite passage in a book, whether it was on the top right of the page or bottom left. They can envision its physical location. This is much more difficult to do with a digital book because the text is detached from the physical device. As Mangen (2008) writes,
The digital text has no material substance ... By definition, the digital erases all traces of tangibility, and, hence, invisibility. The constancy, the temporal and spatial permanence, of a tactile object – say, a print text – has distinctively different sensory–motor affordances, then, than something intangible. (p. 408)
These theoretical aspects are important to consider when investigating the impact of digital reading on students’ actual reading comprehension. Do these differences in tangibility affect reading comprehension for the majority of readers, or perhaps especially certain visually or physically attuned individuals?

Mangen (2008) develops her theories further by considering the impact of visual links and hidden hotspots in digital texts on the reading experience, features that are absent in print books. We have psychobiologically hardwired dispositions to seek external visual stimuli, and we need continued input from this stimuli or we will become bored. Print books encourage deeper, more reflective thinking because they focus our input to one controlled text; on the other hand, many digital books offer hyperlinks and hotspots that offer the “thrill of the unknown” (Mangen, 2008, p. 412) while reading. This might heighten interest in reading, but it can also lead to increased distraction as the reader searches impatiently for these hotspots.
As Mangen writes, “The mere possibility of the click bringing about some degree and kind of visual change impacts our phenomenological immersion in a narrative fiction in a way that is simply not possible when reading print narratives.” (p. 412) 
As educators and researchers consider multimedia iPad book apps, it is essential that they consider not only the overall nature of reading digital texts, but the specific impact that interactive features have on the way readers can build meaning from the texts. Do the multimedia features help provide richer context and visual support, or do they distract readers? Are some design features more helpful to children in building their reading comprehension, while other features may delight readers but essentially entertain them without adding to their understanding of the story?

For more, take a look at this interview with Dr. Anne Mangen about reading on paper and reading on screens

Mangen, A. (2008). Hypertext fiction reading: haptics and immersion. Journal of Research in Reading, 31(4), 404-419. Abstract available at:

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Exploring multimodal learning

I have long been interested in the way educators can use a variety of learning styles to augment their teaching and promote students' learning. In particular, I have advocated using audiobooks since my early teaching days. Recently, I have started exploring using iPad book apps as an integrated multimedia reading experience. So I was particularly interested in reading a research report published by Cisco, done by the Metiri Group:
Metiri Group (2008). Multimodal learning through media: What the research says. Retrieved from
As cognitive neuroscientists and education researchers have come to understand the way that the human brain processes information, it has become clear that we process visual information using different channels in the brain than linguistic information. In their review of the research on multimodal learning, the Metiri Group (2008) notes,
Recent technological advances through functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) scans confirm a dual coding system through which visuals and text/auditory input are processed in separate channels, presenting the potential for simultaneous augmentation of learning. The bottom line is that students using well-designed combinations of visuals and text learn more than students who only use text. (p. 3)
This combination of inputs through multimodal learning can be achieved in many ways. A lecture augmented by clear visuals and printed notes helps students see and hear the information. Likewise, a well-designed book app or CD-ROM storybook makes clear use of this type of multimodal input. Multimedia books like book apps can combine bright illustrations and appealing animation, narration both of the text and of the character’s dialog, written text for this narrative and dialog, and interactive features that bring the reader to touching the screen to activate dialog and movement.

Several principles of multimedia learning and design can be applied to the understanding of effective book apps. The Metiri Group (2008) summarizes several principles of multimedia design that affect learning. Students learn better when words and pictures are combined near each other and simultaneously - not several pages later. They learn better when content is focused and concise; input from different channels should be related but not redundant or duplicated. Individuals will benefit from design effects in different ways, with particular effect being noticed by low-knowledge or high-spatial learners. And finally, narration combined with animation supports understanding better than animation and text only, without narration.

It is of particular interest that much of the research examined by the Metiri Group (2008) focused on older students and higher order thinking, but it applies equally well to multimedia digital books for beginning readers. These readers need multiple inputs to support their efforts at making meaning from books. As Grimshaw, Dungworth and McKnight (2007) note, multimodal features such as narration, word pronunciation, sound effects and animation can help remove the effort from decoding individual words and help children focus on making meaning from texts. The question at hand is whether these these multimedia elements can really enhance understanding of stories or nonfiction, or whether they are essentially entertainment. How does reading these multimedia texts differ at its essence from reading traditional print books?

Monday, November 12, 2012

Leveling books in the library

Last week a librarian at another elementary school sent the following message to the list serve for the Bay Area Independent School Librarians (BAISL):
Hi all,
I am new to Baisl. What a great resource!
Was wondering if anyone has leveled their library using Fountas and Pinnell? If so, is there an efficient way to level our library?
Looking for strategies other librarians have used - purchased a program to help put the information into our catalog system? Parent volunteers to relabel the books? An ideas would be helpful.
Debbie Hughes
This is an area that I've spent a lot of time thinking about, and so I wanted to make sure to reply. Here's what I sent to the BAISL list serve:
Hi Debbie,
Our school also uses Fountas and Pinnell leveling, and we added this to Destiny. The F&P level shows up on the first search results screen, which teachers and students appreciate - otherwise, the information is buried quite deep in the individual title record. (come visit our library site)
In terms of arranging the physical layout of the library, I have used the F&P levels to create more clearly defined groups or sections in my fiction collection. The beginning readers now covers the band I - L. The chapter book section covers books M - Q. Fiction covers R and above. This means that if a student or teacher is looking for a level, I can direct them to the appropriate section, but they have a larger band to look in.

I believe quite strongly that books should not carry the level on their spine in the library. The levels are not precise and not available for many books. More importantly, students need the practice of judging for themselves if a book is "just right" for their reading level. In the library, we want to support students' right to choose books, but we also need to balance this with our educational mandate supporting classroom instruction. By focusing on a band (a group of F&P levels), we can support the students by narrowing their choices. This really helps a student who's supposed to be choosing an "O" book (mid-3rd grade, for us), but who always chooses books much too hard (R, S from the fiction section). I can ask them to choose one of their books from the chapter book section.

I still find that I need to make individual adjustments, based on watching students. The levels are not precise. For example, Dragonbreath by Ursula Vernon is leveled at R, so I originally put it in my fiction section. But I noticed that many 3rd graders and lower 4th graders were checking it out - kids who also read the Time Warp Trio. So I moved this collection to the chapter book section. I've also noticed that this rearranging helps lost books get noticed. Bunnicula and Spiderwick Chronicles weren't circulating in the fiction section - these small books get overlooked. When I moved them to the chapter book section, they started getting noticed by kids who wanted shorter, easier books and their circulation jumped.

Best of luck,
Mary Ann Scheuer
Librarian, Emerson School
I feel very strongly that libraries should not place a book's level on the spine. While this is common practice in classroom libraries, I firmly believe that students need guided practice on choosing "just right" books for themselves.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

How Teens Research in the Digital Age - results from recent Pew research study

The Pew Research Center supports a strand of research investigating the impact that the Internet has on American families, communities, work and home, daily life, education, health care, and civic and political life. Their most recent study investigated high school teachers’ views on the impact that Internet and digital devices have had on teens’ research skills. My biggest takeaway from this is the critical importance of continuing to teach digital and information literacy skills to all children.
“Three-quarters of Advanced Placement (AP) and National Writing Project (NWP) teachers say that the internet and digital search tools have had a "mostly positive" impact on their students' research habits, but 87% say these technologies are creating an ‘easily distracted generation with short attention spans’ and 64% say today's digital technologies ‘do more to distract students than to help them academically.’” (Purcell, et al., 2012)
The survey of 2,000 middle and high school teachers found that while the Internet has made information readily accessible to students, most students have come to expect easy, quick answers and are not prepared to dig deeply and think about information critically. Teachers recognize that the amount of information available to students is overwhelming to most students. There is strong support amongst teacher for including content focusing on digital literacy in every school’s curriculum.

It is interesting to dig into the meat of the study itself, beyond the front page headlines. Most notably, the study found that the Internet has changed the very nature of research itself and what it means for students to “do research.”
 “Teachers and students alike report that for today’s students, ‘research’ means ‘Googling.’  As a result, some teachers report that for their students ‘doing research’ has shifted from a relatively slow process of intellectual curiosity and discovery to a fast-paced, short-term exercise aimed at locating just enough information to complete an assignment.” (Purcell, et al., 2012) 
 It would be very interesting to take some of the survey questions that Purcell and her colleagues developed and administer a local survey of teachers’ opinions of students research skills. It seems that this would bolster the role for the library and the virtual learning center in being an integral part of students’ information seeking practices.

Purcell, K., Rainie, L., Heaps, A., Buchanan, J., Friedrich, L., Jacklin, A., ... Zickuhr, K. (2012). How Teens Do Research in a Digital World. Pew Research Center. Retrieved from