Interesting reading this week:


Interesting Reading by Gyula Kardos,shared on Wikimedia Commons as a public domain work of art

We Are Terrible At Data Literacy. And this is now having a terrifying impact on world politics! Once again, education is touted as being the answer to this problem. But this is a slow way to deal with something that is happening now. I don’t know what a more direct solution is (but surely journalism should hold some accountability too) so I’m going to hide my head in the sand. (Shared by Sally Pewhairangi on Twitter.)

New report on family engagement in public libraries. A project that investigated the ways in which public libraries engage with libraries. Some interesting implications for school libraries and the ways in which we engage with our communities. (Shared by Sally Pewhairangi on Twitter.)

Reading in 2016 – digital vs print, the ultimate smackdown! Yes! To all this, yes! Please let’s not have the either / or debate anymore. It should always be “and”; as Kay rightly says, with purpose, pedagogy and learning objectives driving choices. Thanks, Kay, for articulating so well what many of us in Libraryland think! (Shared by Helen Stower on Twitter.)

Research: Yes, Being Helpful Is Tiring. Possibly explains why I finished Term 3 so exhausted! I like that it has tips for those that ask for help, as well as those who are helpers. Now, I’m off for a restorative nap. (Shared by Tim Kong on Twitter.)


Interesting reading this week:


Interesting Reading by Gyula Kardos, shared on Wikimedia Commons as a public domain work of art

Screw digital natives: Behaviour not age, is what matters. As an educator, I hate the term “digital natives” and this post pretty much sums up why. Lots of our students think they are really awesome online, but actually their skills are pretty limited or limiting. And maybe so are some of the tasks we set. (Shared by Sally Pewhairangi on Twitter.)

Millenials as digital natives: Myths and realities. Another interesting read on the “digital native” myth that appeared on my timeline. I particularly love the last two paragraphs in the section titled “How Being a Digital Native Does Influence Behavior” – which is certainly the behaviour that I observe at school! (Shared by Trish Webster, I can’t remember where!)

Literary fiction helps us ‘read’ others. Just in case you know someone who needs convincing that reading is good for us. Or who perhaps needs encouragement to read a “literary” novel in between all the crime fiction. It’s not being a book snob, it’s encouraging being a better human! (Shared by Rachel van Riel on Twitter.)

5 tips for helping a student find the right book. Some good reminders here about how we can help our students find “the” book. Time to find a book is one of my favourite strategies – and something I need to remind our busy teachers about! (Shared by Rebeca Zuniga on Twitter.)

Write That Essay: professional development day


Image: “Power of Words” by Antonio Litterio, shared on Wikimedia Commons with a Creative Commons licence

Today was a teacher only day at my school. Dr Ian Hunter was running a school-wide essay writing workshop, held in the library. Given that “teacher only” actually means “all staff” and the workshop was held in my work space and it was literacy-focused I thought I should attend. Because, duh, I couldn’t do anything noisy (like covering books), the library is all about student literacy and, well, some people actually like learning.

Here are some of the notes I took.

We need to model better writing.

Five types of sentences:

  1. Very short sentences (five words or less)
    • use in the middle of paragraphs – gets attention, OR
    • use at the end of a paragraph – emphatic
    • don’t overuse it!
  2. W-start: with, while, when / where as / where, who, what (progression of Ws)
    • they are the foundation sentence of analytical writing
    • holds attention to tell more significant thing
  3. Adverb (-ly words)
    • importantly, significantly etc
    • however, yet, now, often, moreover
    • adverb, comma, rest of sentence
    • introduces interest and intrigue
  4. Em-dash (long hyphen)
    • drop in phrase completely separate from the rest of the sentence for impact
  5. Explore the subject of sentence

Teach sentences in RHYTHM and STYLE – not parts of speech



Who’s the most important person on the page? The reader.


  • clarity means the reader follows every word and gets it.
  • author examples: Fitzgerald, Steinbeck, C S Lewis, Hemingway
  • see The Screwtape Letters by C S Lewis (available at Napier Libraries)

Barriers to exam essay writing:

  • writing speed / output (successful Level 3 and scholarship students are writing 160 words every 10 minutes – students need to know this, and they need to practise writing fast)
    • Level 2 = 140 words / 10 minutes
    • Level 1 = 100-120 words / 10 minutes
  • essay planning
    • mind maps are great for generative thinking – not for creating logical judgement and structure
    • list ideas in one or two words
    • choose your best three ideas
    • decide a logical order to present your ideas – start with your best idea ⇒ what logically comes next?
  • how students are taught to manage time
    • 10 minutes planning / 45 minutes writing / 10 minutes reading – this is not enough time writing!
    • instead: 2 minutes planning / 55 minutes writing / 2 minutes rest
  • legibility
    • while this may not be such as issue at NCEA level, at tertiary level if your handwriting cannot be read it will not be marked
    • help students now to write fast and legibly – practise, practise, practise


(Boys like rules, it is a structure imposed upon them, removes not knowing and increases confidence)

  • no essay longer than 1000 words. Ever.
  • no report longer than 1500 words
  • make six paragraph essays mandatory (where the fifth paragraph is a discussion paragraph → most important idea and why)
  • no conclusions shorter than 100 words


(not to repeat what you’ve already said!)

  1. RESTATE the argument.
  2. Tell how you PROVED it.
    • most significant point and why
    • new insight (not new evidence)
    • personal reflection
    • two things we learn from this
    • two things to bear in mind for the future
  4. POWER sentence – 12 words or less.


  • avoid three things approach (ie, Firstly, secondly, thirdly etc)
  • avoid detective approach (ie, suggests a big reveal, doesn’t reveal position)
  • if you ask a question in your introduction – answer it straight away

An introduction in four sentences:

  1. A neutral sentence.
  2. Write a context sentence.
  3. State your argument.
  4. Sum up.

ESSAY = the defense of a thesis statement (ie, what you say in your introduction!)

In order for students to demonstrate UNDERSTANDING and ANALYSIS, the questions you ask must FORCE A CHOICE.

Dr Hunter was a charismatic presenter. He kept 70+ staff (of varying degrees of receptiveness) engaged throughout most of the day. He came across as confident and knowledgeable, and was able to answer any questions that challenged what he said. However, he did say a couple of controversial things. And that’s all good if they’re true. But I don’t know whether they are or not as they were not offered with any evidence. Dr Hunter may have data that we are unaware of, this was not shared with us. Instead what was offered was anecdotal evidence and that just didn’t sit right with me. So I will investigate the controversial things.

Overall, this was an interesting and informative day. And I learned some stuff I wish I knew in high school!

Teens reading less…or are they?


Image shared on Public Domain Pictures with a Creative Commons public domain licence

Given the interest in my recent post about school libraries supporting literacy, I thought it might be timely to republish my thoughts on school libraries and teen reading.  This is an article that I originally wrote for SLANZA’s Collected magazine which was published in August 2015 (Issue 16).

When we browse the internet, we are not really ‘surfing’ at all.  We are reading.

Lili Wilkinson

In July, following a Radio New Zealand news report titled “Teens reading less, say school librarians” (Gerritsen, 2015), there developed an interesting discussion on the New Zealand School Libraries email list (schoollib listserv).  A lot of the comments contributed to the discussion about young people’s reading habits were based on anecdotal evidence, library borrowing statistics, and gut feelings.  As information professionals perhaps a deeper look into the matter is required, in order to ascertain whether teenagers are in fact reading less, whether this is a problem and, if it is, what can be done to remedy it.

Are teenagers reading less?

There has been little research done on young people’s reading habits and preferences within New Zealand, with most local studies focusing on reading achievement.  However, recent research carried out in the United States and Australia seem to confirm the gut feeling of educators – that teenagers are reading less.  A 2014 report by Common Sense Media (Rideout, 2014) that reviewed a number of studies and databases found there was a sharp decline between the percentage of 9-year-olds and 17-year-olds that “read for fun” every day.  They also reported a sharp increase in the number of 17-year-olds between 1984 and today who say they “never” or “hardly ever” read (Rideout, 2014).

A closer look at the methodology of most of these studies, however, reveals a very narrow definition of the term “reading”.  “Reading” in these circumstances seemed to be identified as reading self-selected books in one’s own time.  Aronson (2014) contends that a young person’s complete reading life needs to be understood; it should encompass all forms of reading, include in-school reading, and be “platform agnostic”.  Reading in this wider context includes that done on social media sites, such as Facebook and Reddit; fan-fiction; online news and magazine articles; TradeMe auctions; or gaming cheat sites.

In these studies, “pleasure reading” is also a troublesome concept.  Aronson (2014) argues that ‘for most adult professionals it’s often impossible to draw a clear line between work and leisure reading’ (para. 6).  The same could be said for young people.  They may chose to follow up in their own time on interesting content covered in the classroom, or research done for class assignments may take meandering side roads as new facts or characters are discovered.  Common Sense Media’s Seeta Pai (2014a) agrees with Aronson on this and suggests ‘engagement is perhaps a better yardstick than pleasure’ (para. 6).  This distinction also removes the value judgment placed on “work” or “fun” reading.

Drawing the conclusion that teens are reading less because of declining borrowing statistics in the school library is equally problematic.  There are a variety of reasons that may lead to lower borrowing numbers that do not mean the students are no longer reading.  These include: students accessing reading material from other places; reading library material that is not allowed to be issued; reading library material but not borrowing it; and reading e-books that are privately owned, borrowed from elsewhere, or have been illegally downloaded.  Using borrowing statistics as a measure of reading also returns “reading” to that narrowly defined activity that can only be done with traditional print materials or with materials that can be checked in and out.

Until more research has been done into the complete reading life of young people it is difficult to say whether or not teens are reading less.  However, it is probably safe to say that teenagers are reading less traditional print materials and do not identify the activities they participate in online as related to “reading”.

Is this a problem?

There are numerous studies that present evidence of the correlation between pleasure reading and a wide range of benefits.  Manuel and Carter (2015), in their research into Australian teenagers’ reading practices and preferences, collated studies that show reading for pleasure matters for a number of reasons.  It matters because it supports broader literacy development and learning; enables young people to develop their own, better-informed perspective on life; is a safe, inexpensive, pleasurable way to spend time; allows young readers to understand and empathise with the lives of those in different situations, times and cultures; and improves educational outcomes and employment prospects (Manuel & Carter, 2015).  Reading for pleasure also matters because it has been shown to be more important to children’s cognitive development and educational success than their parents’ level of education or socio-economic status (Manuel & Carter, 2015).

However, Manuel and Carter (2015) could not find any Australian research comparing children’s leisure reading across different formats or media.  This leads one to the conclusion that the “reading for pleasure” referred to in their article refers back to that narrow definition discussed earlier.  If this is the case, then the fact that teenagers are reading less traditional print materials is a problem.  If the benefits found to be evident in these studies are only related to this type of reading our young people are not getting them.

Further to this, it is a big problem, as Miriam Tuohy (2015) pointed out during the listserv discussion, if young people do not think of themselves as readers.  If teenagers view reading as an activity solely done with traditional print materials, and that is not an activity they participate in or enjoy, they are potentially closing themselves off to the benefits associated with being a reader.  As Aronson (2014) states,

we need to…not just honor all reading…but to keep offering new doors, new opportunities, and new options to teenagers…The idea is to keep opening doors, so occasional readers recognize that there is something of interest – something appealing, stimulating, or unexpected – waiting for them when they do take time to read. (para. 10)

What can we do about it?

For young people there are a variety of barriers to leisure time reading.  Reader reluctance can generally be categorised in to five main reasons (Merga, 2014):

  • Time availability: for example, crowded curriculum, lack of focus on “pleasure reading” at high school, sporting and other extra-curricular commitments, sibling care, homework, after school employment;
  • Preference: for example, low appeal, other pursuits have a higher priority;
  • Skill deficit: for example, not a competent reader, low confidence, second language learner, slow reader, low parental literacy, limited exposure to reading;
  • Access and choice: for example, difficulty in locating engaging books, paucity of books or dearth in quality, inability to employ choosing strategies, need access to books that are relevant and of interest;
  • Physical and cognitive factors: for example, concentration issues, visual language processing difficulties, optical issues, tired or hungry, cognitive impediments, inability to sit still.

It should be noted that while students may offer one barrier for their reluctance to read (‘I don’t like reading’), this attitude will often involve a number of reasons (‘I’m not very good at it and I can’t find a book I like and I’d rather be doing something else’).

School librarians will be able to look at this list of barriers and see which ones they can have an impact on.  However, they will not be able to mitigate all the factors and will need help from the wider school community to affect real change.  Parents have perhaps the greatest impact on their teens and it is never too late for them to encourage reading habits.  Parents can help by:

  • modelling reading themselves;
  • providing access to reading material at home;
  • setting aside time for teens to read each day;
  • acknowledging the many and varied forms of reading (Pai, 2014b).

Manuel and Carter (2015) offer classroom teachers a range of actions to engage teenage readers, some suggested by students themselves.  Strategies teachers can adopt include:

  • providing time for students to discuss books with each other and become part of a reading community;
  • allowing more student choice in book selection;
  • more judicious selection of compulsory texts;
  • teachers reading aloud;
  • allowing time for silent reading of self-selected material.

School librarians need to lead the charge in engaging young people in reading – in all its forms.  They should advocate for a wider definition of the term “reading” and what is considered acceptable reading material in their schools.  They need to reassess the cultures of their libraries and how they fit with their 21st century learners (Bichan, 2015).  They should ‘look at themselves and their services through the eyes of young people who have a preconceived idea of what a library is’ (Blake, Hale & Sherriff, 2011, p.210).  They need to enjoy working with young people and be passionate about libraries.  And perhaps most importantly of all, rather than shake their heads and question why teenagers are not reading, school librarians need to question themselves.  A good place to start is with asking what barriers am I, my attitudes or my library policies creating that disengage young readers?



Aronson, M. (2014, May 22). Are Teenagers Reading Less? | Consider the Source. Retrieved 8 August 2015, from

Bichan, G. (2015, July 28). Re: Teens reading less – lets attack this radically and positively [Electronic mailing list message]. Retrieved from

Blake, A., Hale, J., & Sherriff, E. (2011). The hard-to-reach reader in the 21st century. In J. Court (Ed.), Read to Succeed: Strategies to Engage Children and Young People in Reading for Pleasure (pp. 201–224). London: Amer Library Assn.

Gerritsen, J. (2015, July 28). Teens reading less, say school librarians [Website]. (Radio New Zealand). Retrieved from,-say-school-librarians

Manuel, J., & Carter, D. (2015). Current and historical perspectives on Australian teenagers’ reading practices and preferences. Australian Journal of Language and Literacy, 38(2), 115–128.

Merga, M. K. (2014). Western Australian adolescents’ reasons for infrequent engagement in recreational book reading. Literacy Learning: The Middle Years, 22(2), 60–66.

Pai, S. (2014a, June 5). Where, What, How, and Why Teens Do and Don’t Read | Consider the Source. Retrieved 8 August 2015, from

Pai, S. (2014b, July 11). 4 Surprising Findings About Kids’ and Teens’ Reading, Plus What You Can Do to Help Kids Read More. Retrieved 8 August 2015, from

Rideout, V. (2014). Children, Teens, and Reading: A Common Sense Media research brief. San Francisco: Common Sense Media. Retrieved from

Tuohy, M. (2015, July 28). Re: Teens reading less – lets attack this radically and positively [Electronic mailing list message]. Retrieved from

Wilkinson, L. (2011). Creative reading and In J. Court (Ed.), Read to Succeed: Strategies to Engage Children and Young People in Reading for Pleasure (pp. 201–224). London: Amer Library Assn.

School libraries supporting literacy

Boy reading

Image shared on Pixabay with a Creative Commons public domain licence

In these times of rapidly changing technology, with increasing amounts of information (which can vary drastically in quality), and trying to keep up with new trends in school librarianship, it is sometimes handy to be reminded that the core business of a school library is literacy. This is exactly what happened at the National Library of New Zealand facilitated School Library Network meeting held in Hawke’s Bay this March.

Participants at the network meeting were asked to share an activity or strategy they have used in their schools to promote literacy. This exercise enabled us to be exposed to a number of new ideas, with the challenge to implement at least one of them before we meet again next term.

Here are some of the strategies that were discussed:

  • Book of the week – highlighting a favourite book can be done using the library management system (particularly if using the search facilities is a learning focus), or can make a quick and easy-to-change display. (Gail)
  • Creating a reading environment – this could be as simple as changing shelving to create more face-out display or more eye-catching arrangements; or this could involve making an investment in more suitable furniture to create fun reading spaces for students. (Kareanne)
  • Booktalks – talk to classes about new books, favourite books, books on a theme; 5-6 books per session probably works best, and these books are almost always issued. (Sandi)
  • Know your book stock and know your students – it is much easier to match students to appropriate or appealing books if you have a good understanding of both; this is not a quick fix strategy – but it is one of the most rewarding! (Bev)
  • Use that giant TV for book trailers – or even better create videos of teachers or students talking about good books they’ve read, this will help create a reading community in your school and students will understand that teachers are readers too. (Debbie)
  • Summer reading programmes – many school libraries insist all books are returned at the end of the year and then they lock them up for the six week summer break. Why? Let the students borrow books over the holidays. They’ll love you for it. (Sandi)
  • Buy what students recommend – and ask them to make recommendations, especially reluctant readers. This helps give students ownership of the library and makes you feel good too! (Raewyn)
  • Themed library nights – the example we heard was a school had a “boys’ night” and a “girls’ night” when students brought their parents along and participated in activities in the library. Everyone else seemed to think this was a wonderful idea, but I felt a bit uncomfortable with the gender stereotyping involved (the boys got to enter the library by crawling under a cargo net – cool!; the girls got to eat cupcakes – meh.) so I would probably use genre themes, like Action and Fantasy, to avoid that. (Debbie)
  • Shelf reviews – bookshops have some great ideas to promote titles and we should definitely adopt some more of their strategies.  Shelf reviews is one of these, they don’t have to be long and they’re put right beside the book so it’s easy to find. (Tamsin)
  • Reading tree – one primary school commissioned a Year 13 student from a local high school to design and build them a wooden tree, paper leaves are then hung from the tree when students have finished a book. Not only has this been a great display and a way to promote reading and books, the students also like to sit under it and read – just like a real tree! (Steph L)
  • Face out book displays – another bookshop strategy that is so simple and works wonders. If you don’t have enough space for face out displays – WEED! Nothing is more daunting (or boring!) to reluctant readers than rows and rows of spines. (Steph L)
  • Book quizzes – but call it something cool, like BATTLE OF THE BOOKS. Lots of kids love competition, so why not make reading a competitive sport? (Sue)
  • Books in windows – one school has whole-school read aloud time after interval every day. Teachers put the book they are going to read that day in their classroom window, students are then able to “shop” around for which book they would like to hear. This would be a great idea for book week if you want to sample it on a smaller scale. Students get to hear different teachers read, and teachers will soon get a gauge on whether they are picking the “right” books or whether their read aloud skills are up to scratch! (Debbie R)
  • Reading wall – this is an idea I adapted from The Book Whisperer, Donalyn Miller.
    Reading Wall

    Image created by me using Comic Life

    Instead of using a classroom door to show what I’ve read, what I’m reading, and what I’m going to read, I use the back of the issues computer. The idea is that it promotes discussion with students and they get to see that I’m a reader too. I’ve particularly noticed that our students like to tell me what book I should read next!

  • Reading challenges – every year I set myself a reading challenge. I don’t like to set myself a number target so instead try to be a bit more creative. I then display my challenge in the foyer so it is the first thing our community sees when they enter the library. Again this starts lots of conversations (with teachers joining in suggestions on this one) and reminds students that even “good” readers can be challenged. So far I only have a 50% success rate with my challenges, but I think it’s good for students to see that adults can fail at things too.

The strategy that I’m going to work on for the next term is our environment. I’ve got some new seating ordered and I’m really looking forward to seeing how that will work in creating some reading corners. I’d also like to give some more bookshop-like promotion a try.

What happens in your school library to help promote literacy? I’d love to hear some more ideas!

Interesting reading this week:


Interesting Reading by Gyula Kardos, shared on Wikimedia Commons as a public domain work of art

7 books for a new kind of library school. – By their very nature formal education programmes are playing catch up with the latest research and trends.  Sally suggests that instead of learning about “the job” library school should teach about learning, leading, and problem solving.  A great suggestion with some recommended reading for this new curriculum. (Shared by School of Information Studies at CSU’s facebook page.)

Yes, you can still teach kids to love books. – I often despair of how we put young people off reading by they way we teach English and literacy in schools.  Sometimes I need to feel a little bit of hope.  This article did that.  I need to share it with our English department. (Shared by NPR on Tumblr.)

Why do our best ideas come to us in the shower.  – In the weekend Alison, Michelle, and I had a conversation on Twitter about the best blog posts we never wrote and where we were when inspiration struck.  Michelle then shared the science behind these inspirational moments.  I love random Twitter conversations! (Shared by Michelle on Twitter.)


Website: Literacy Online

Literacy Online

TKI has developed an amazing one-stop-shop with its Literacy Online webpages.

It is somewhat ironic that I have discovered this useful resource as a librarian, that I did not have the time to discover as a teacher.

And isn’t the tagline great?  I beat Mem Fox would approve!

Ministry of Education. (n.d.). Literacy Online. Retrieved November 10, 2014, from

Category: interesting and useful

Overview: Literacy Online is a website designed to help develop teaching and learning programmes to meet the literacy needs of primary and secondary students.  As well as providing access to MoE documents and lesson plans, it also has links to professional readings and relevant research.

Mem Fox: Ten read-aloud commandments

Mem Fox

Mem Fox is a well-known Australian author and advocate for children’s literacy.  I admire her because she talks a lot of sense about reading – and in plain English too!

Here is a link to Mem Fox’s Ten Read-aloud Commandments that were included in our course work.  If every adult undertook to keep these commandments, we would have a much smarter and more equal New Zealand in no time.  And the best thing is none of the commandments are hard.

Rediscovering these commandments reminded me of my favourite Mem Fox quote:

I’m advocating people read aloud for 10 minutes a day. Because that’s one per cent of the day. If you can’t read aloud to your kid for 10 minutes, why have you got a child? Wouldn’t it have been better for you to have goldfish?

She is full of so much awesome!

Right, I’m off to keep some commandments.  You should too.  Go on, off you go.