Reading in a Participatory Culture by Henry Jenkins and Wyn Kelley

Reading in a Participatory Culture: Remixing Moby-Dick in the English Classroom

Jenkins and Kelley offer an optimistic alternative to Carr’s The Shallows: What the Internet is doing to our Brains which is filled, as Jenkins claims, with “contemporary anxieties” (p. 10).  The book offers instead this explanation: “As a society, we are still sorting through the long-term implications of these [media] changes.  But one thing is clear: These shifts point us toward a more participatory culture, one in which everyday citizens have an expanded capacity to communicate and circulate their ideas, one in which networked communities can help shake our collective agendas.” (p. 7) I would like my library learning commons to reflect this ideal where there are always activities happening for staff and students and each of our school community members feel that they have a voice. The Canadian Library Association’s Leading Learning: Standards of Practice for School Library Learning Commons (2014) insists that one of the key steps for implementation is to “foster a collaborative school culture of inquiry and participatory learning in both physical and virtual environments” (p. 23).   That’s a tall order in a secondary school where departments act as silos preventing cross-curricular collaboration from happening.


My favourite English department assignment at my school is a novel study where students explore contexts of the author, protagonist, setting and date of release.  In building in student choice, each one is able to research a context (or two) that relates both to themselves and to their chosen novel. The notion of exploring contexts in literature is similar to the chapter by Kolos and Nierenberg on negotiating cultural spaces (pp. 153-157) where Aurora high school students learned how to effectively protest to their local government.  This cultural negotiation, fitting into spaces where you haven’t fit in before, seems to be a requisite to developing a participatory culture and is highlighted in the Flows of Reading digital accompaniment to the book.  It particularly stands out in the video clip oded/http/ s/ebreilly/clips/rockabillies-in-tokyo/v ideo_file/mp4-high/rockabillies-in-tokyo -mp4-mp4.mp4

where Japanese rockabilly fans are dancing in Yoyogi park in Tokyo.  Having lived and worked in Japan for 3 years, I was often hit with cultural negotiation experiences where I had to fit in to the dominant culture and after a while I was allowed to sit cross-legged during tea ceremonies and the sushi would stop arriving at the table still breathing for the sake of my comfort.  Having to work through the awkward feelings of feeling out of place is a life lesson that everyone should experience.

One of my biggest epiphanies from this book is the idea that students are learning to negotiate cultural spaces between home and school in their discourse.  “While the Discourse of formal schooling is fairly well aligned with the home discourses of middle-and upper-class kids who want to achieve academic success will need to learn to “code switch”, to cross communities and alter speech, behavior, style of dress, and so on” (p. 161).  Of course, I understood the complexities of how public education’s expectations don’t match those at home, but I’ve never read the dilemma put so eloquently before.  It speaks to the same surprise I had when during the “Reading and Negotiation” chapter when a cosmetology class read two different novels. That would never happen in my school!  In my school, novels are for English classes and for pleasure reading.  Perhaps I need to negotiate reading into these foreign places.

A few years ago Dufferin County, where I grew up and where I teach, was threatened by a Megaquarry taking away some prized farmland.  A few teachers and I organized a debate where the stakeholders were allowed to come and talk to our students for 30 minutes each on their perspective.  We had five speakers in total including representatives from First Nations, Gravel Watch, a professor of Environmental Science, the North Dufferin Agricultural and Community Task Force, and of course, the company that had purchased the land for mining.  We had to prep our students on the issues and how to ask succinct questions that used appropriate language for the presenters and audience as did the students in Aurora High School (p. 163).  The debate outside our school went on for months and after an environmental impact report was released, the company withdrew their mining application and the megaquarry was defeated.  I can’t say that our school’s debate had a direct effect on this decision, but the youth participation in this issue was extraordinary. In a twisted way, I wish I could recreate this excitement over a local issue every year in order to see the students become so invested in a topic that affects environment, economy, food, politics and culture.  The true learning was that these students mattered, and this small rural community mattered on a provincial, if not national, scale.  Truthfully, other than for communication and public relations, we didn’t need technology to reach our goal.  We needed a forum for negotiation and that was in my library learning commons.

There are moments in this book that remind me why I became a teacher…pre-library, pre-technology, I wanted to be a teacher so that I could have enlightening conversations with students. Jenkins and Kelley are asking educators to simply harness the teachable moments that come with honouring student voice, give it an authentic forum for expression,  and give students choices that reflect their own expression, and that in doing so any common text can be relevant to current generations of students.


Canadian Library Association. (2014). Leading learning: Standards of practice for school library learning commons.

Jenkins, H., & Kelley, W. (Eds.). (2013). Reading in a participatory culture: Remixing Moby-Dick in the English classroom. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Reilly, E., Mehta, R., & Jenkins, H. (2013, February 19). Thinking about subcultures. Retrieved from


View all my reviews

It’s Complicated: the social lives of networked teens by danah boyd

It's Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked TeensIt’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens by Danah Boyd

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Throughout danah boyd’s “It’s Complicated: the social lives of networked teens”, I’m very satisfied with the level of sophistication of boyd’s research and unbiased point of view in her writing.  Her tone is academic, professional and at the same time, approachable.  The three areas that most concerned me during my reading are boyd’s research on the digital divide, online teen behaviour of sexual exploration and her plea for the redefinition of crimes associated with online bullying.

I’ve been increasingly uncomfortable with Marc Prensky’s phrase “digital natives” (2005/06) and I am reassured by boyd’s acknowledgement of her own awareness and skepticism of this blanket term.  boyd (2014) talks of social networking as a type of literacy and warns that “It is dangerous to assume that youth are automatically informed.  It is also naive to assume that so-called digital immigrants have nothing to offer.” (p. 177).  boyd also goes on to say that since teens are in many cases left to fend for themselves in networked environments, that their exposure to becoming fully literate depends on many factors.  She references Henry Jenkins and his thoughts on the subject:

Yet, talk of “digital natives” may also mask the different degrees access to and comfort with emerging technologies experienced by different youth. Talk of digital natives may make it harder for us to pay attention to the digital divide in terms of who has access to different technical platforms and the participation gap in terms of who has access to certain skills and competencies or for that matter, certain cultural experiences and social identities” (2007).

This paragraph amplifies my own worries that this simple term has excused the education system’s lack of action in lessening the digital divide.  I’m certain that we still promote the use of technology in the classroom as a tool of engagement, rather than seeing becoming proficient with technology as a fundamental requirement for graduation.

In the Ontario curriculum, at least, there is no single mandatory place where students are given a number of digital strategies for studying success, although we know there are consistent issues in any student’s level of preparedness.  Again, in Ontario, technology is not a mandatory part of the elementary curriculum and so students come to secondary with an almost insurmountable range of disparities in their digital backgrounds based on the interest and abilities of their elementary teachers and their home environments with varying degrees of hardware support and exposure.  Along the same lines of boyd’s concerns, Jenkins (2007) goes on to say:

Talking about digital natives also tends to make these changes all about digital media rather than encouraging us to think about the full range of media platforms which shape the world around us or for that matter, the complex set of relationships between old and new media that characterize convergence culture.

This sentence has been the basis of my learning in the TLDL program at the U of A, where I now understand that the crux of my position is to raise the bar for transliteracy for both staff and students. (King, 2014)

A large part of the digital divide that I know teachers are having trouble improving is the use of networked communities to help students.  In many ways administration fears of privacy and legalities have closed the networks for their possible misuses, meanwhile eliminating all possible positive ones.  Although I have concerns for all of our students, I have a particular worry about the LGBTQ population that are getting their information from unreliable sources when they desperately need support as they renegotiate social spaces.  The anecdotes from boyd’s research reassured me that LGBTQ teens are finding each other online and developing supportive communities.  However, boyd warns that “They are grappling with battles that adults face, but they are doing so while under constant surveillance and without a firm grasp of who they are.  In short, they’re navigating one heck of a cultural labyrinth” (p. 53).  I wish that the education system could find or create places, possibly in tandem with social support structures, where teens could create networks to reliable information.  I wish there was a way we could better support this.  I’m not sure what the answer is.

One of boyd’s research topics that particularly affected me is cyberbullying and the complexities in these cases.  Within boyd’s Chapter 5 on Bullying, she references the journalistic research work of Emily Bazelon who covered the case of Phoebe Prince, a teen victim of suicide and reportedly, cyber-bullying.  After linking to Bazelon’s extensive reporting on this case, I found that the law is responding with a variety of consequences to cyber-bullying and that because of the after-school, non-geographic locale of this bullying, that school boards have very little to offer to victims and bullies.  One of her final reports on the case revealed that in the case of Phoebe Prince, none of her aggressors were met with serious consequences.  Bazelon (2011) says:

After more than a year of covering this case, it’s hard for me to square that duty with the way these cases unfolded. “If you bully someone to death, that’s murder,” explained Joseph Kennedy, a criminal law professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, when I called him earlier this week. “But if you bully someone, and then they kill themselves, and that’s not something you anticipated, that’s not a crime.”

The digital divide is not just between economic classes and about developing transliteracy skills.  Boyd has revealed that the digital divide also includes how living and working as educators in this era of social networking we are not prepared for the consequences of these networks; and we are currently unable to model how to use social networks effectively.


Bazelon, E. (2011, May 25). It’s Over: None of the six teens charged in connection with the suicide of Phoebe Prince will go to jail. Slate. Retrieved from

boyd, D. (2014). It’s Complicated: The social lives of networked teens. New Haven, MA: Yale University Press.

Jenkins, H. (2007, December 5). Reconsidering digital immigrants… [Blog post]. Retrieved from Confessions of an Aca-Fan website:

King, A. (2014, April 13). Transliteracy and the teacher-librarian [Blog post]. Retrieved from Threadbare Beauty website:

Prensky, M. (2005/2006). Listen to the natives. Educational Leadership, 63(4).

View all my reviews

Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World by Jane McGonigal

Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World

I don’t think of myself as a gamer.  I have been known to play lots of those Flash-based Facebook games with my Candy Crush Saga friends, and occasionally a great puzzle-based novella will come along like Gabriel Knight 2,  Syberia or Ripper that I devour, but generally I didn’t think they were a big part of my life.  After reading just part 1, Why Games Make Us Happy, of McGonigal’s book, I started feeling that I could admit that I play Plants vs. Zombies and Game of Thrones Ascent almost every day!  Now that I’ve read McGonigal’s book completely, I know that it’s cool to be a gamer and I really want to believe that a game designer will win a Nobel Prize someday.


In Part II Reinventing Reality, McGonigal really opens up on the topic of how games can change our education system for the better.  I’m really intrigued with the idea of the game-based education being offered by Quest to Learn (p. 128). A very real challenge of my current position is to develop my staff’s comfort and skills with 21st century learning which largely focuses on digital fluency.  However, there are constantly battles between our current system and the growing desire from staff to collaborate and teach creatively.  The idea of redesigning the system from the ground up, the way that Quest to Learn has, is very appealing.  In hindsight, I know that the mindset of the administration and the staff has often been what held back change for the better design of our school and I wonder what kind of experiential learning the staff needs to help them grow in this direction.  We have a local company called Eagles Flight which worked with our department heads for one morning last January during exams, and essentially we played a quest game where we needed to get from one side of a desert to the other maximizing our resources, within a time limit and never having all the information we needed to play.  It was really fun!  Was it transformational?  No but it helped us to bond and gave us lots of fuel for good discussion for the rest of the day.


Having spent 5 years as a teacher-librarian now, one of the aspects of my job that I like best is how it gives me space to see the school as a whole system, and I can see the problem of the department silos.  At the risk of overglorifying the situation, I’m omniscient in a way that even the administration isn’t.  I’ve always enjoyed this role in my gaming experience as well, and was a big fan of many of the games McGonigal mentions in Part III, Chapter 14: Saving the Real World Together.  Besides Will Wright’s Sim City and The Sims, I was fascinated with the idea of Peter Molyneux’s game Black & White in which you need to make decisions for villagers based on moral quandaries. After reading McGonigal’s praise of the game, I dug out our old copy of Will Wright’s Spore and played through 4 levels with new appreciation for its design and trying to imagine what it would be really like to drop into the Ukraine, for example, and try to sort things out a bit. Maybe that’s the reason why I still like reality tv shows.  There’s a new one coming out this week called The Audience where 50 people make a life-changing decision for someone.  This experimentation in McGonigal’s “Saving the Real World Together” of taking a long view, practicing ecosystems thinking, and pilot experimentation (p. 297-98) are exactly the tools that I think we need our graduates to have exposure to.  One of the first computer games I remember loving is Lemonade Stand, where I simulated making a lemonade stand profitable based on fluctuating weather predictions and costs of lemon and sugar.  If I could remake school today, I’d start by making every single assignment follow McGonigal’s Saving the Real World criteria.  I might not be able to reconstruct my school into a Quest to Learn environment, but I can advocate for these 3 aspects in teaching design and that gives me hope that my influence will help save the world.  I suppose I need to see this through for the epic win.

Overall, Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World is a game-changer (excuse the pun).  I’ve started a Twitter List called Epic Winners that includes all sorts of people who are using games for positive change and deeper meaning inside schools and beyond.  It even lead me to find a library game that I’d like to try out called (what else?) Librarygame.   This isn’t the first time I’ve thought “I wish I could give a little surprise to a student who signs out the same book twice, or has signed out 10 books this year, or returns everything on time”.  Even if it was just a virtual badge to add to their student e-portfolio, I think they would appreciate it.  I know I would.


McGonigal, J. (2011). Reality is broken: Why games make us better and how they can change the world. New York, NY: Penguin Books.


View all my reviews

The Shallows by Nicholas Carr

The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains

When Nicholas Carr wrote the infamous article “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” (2008), he made waves in the education community who had bought into the Marc Prensky vision of today’s students as “digital natives” (2005).  While making impetuous decisions about technology integration in schools, Carr halted everyone into thinking maybe we should be a bit more skeptical about technology’s long term effects on the brain.  Essentially, Carr asks if our depth of thinking has been doomed to ‘the shallows’ with the advancement of digital technology.  He cautions that society has lots of breadth in the sources we have available to us to skim and scan, but that we are losing our ability to read deeply.  Using himself as a research subject, he argues that his behaviour in reading digital material appeals to his need for instant gratification, but has caused to become more easily distracted and more susceptible to the control of information corporations.

I really appreciate how Carr maps out in history how the very nature of reading has changed with advances in technology.  Carr (2011) says: “it is our intellectual technologies that have the greatest and most lasting power over what and how we think. They are our most intimate tools, the ones we use for self-expression, for shaping personal and public identity, and for cultivating relationship with others” (p. 45). The argument of the publication’s power has existed since the invention of the printing press … what are we going to publish and with whose voice?  Who is being left out of publishing and at what cost to society?  It’s possible to question this same problem of equity if we admit that “reading and writing are unnatural acts” (Carr, 2011, p. 51) and are shaped by parents, environments and school.  My concern is that in public education in a G8 country, that we need to try to level that playing field so that every student has an equal opportunity to learn.

I read a lot of news and magazine articles from my iPad which I control the flow of information using an app called Zite.  It allows me to turn on or turn off subjects of my interest and filters in my favourite writers, and filters out writers who I deem unworthy of my attention.  I love that every time I connect that there is a magazine filled with articles just for me.  Yet I’m turning into one of those people at parties who can’t talk about anything other than books, school libraries, chiweenies and the humble kitchen garden.  I read a lot but what I read doesn’t represent my renaissance upbringing.  It represents what Amazon has recommended for me based on my past choices, or what my filters have chosen for me in Zite.  However I don’t think that I’m reading any less deeply. I’m able to make big leaps in my intellectual logic, because I’m able to make room in my brain for bigger ideas than the quick facts that I can Google.

In contrast to Carr’s premise, Jim Collins (2013), Department Chair at the University of Iowa, argues that in order to get past “the debate between the defenders of traditional literary experience and the celebrants of digital culture…we need to distinguish between a delivery system and a medium.”  I’m still choosing to read a breadth of material on deep topics, but my reading has definitely changed in that I’m able to now metatag and share my reading with others in a way that I never have before. Collins (2013) also argues that “Reading literary fiction on an e-reader is not a gateway drug that leads to the hard stuff of digital culture — become psychologically dependent on that e-reader, and you’ll find yourself in an alley somewhere with a cell-phone novel written by promiscuous Japanese teenagers sticking out of your arm.”  Although I may be juggling a lot of new information (Carr, 2011, p. 139), I’m also making connections in new and interesting ways. Instead of tapping into a culture of fear about the internet’s potential for corruption, we should be using it to further our culture of reading into something more participatory.

Although Carr wrote The Shallows in 2011, his vision of libraries (p. 98) doesn’t represent my reality in 2014.  In 1994, the main floor of my library was converted to an open computer lab that could accommodate two classes at once and the books were relegated to a new lower level.  We’ve just made a major overhaul in moving the desktops out, the books back upstairs and doubling our computers by using cheaper, lighter mobile devices.  The emphasis isn’t on computers or books…it’s on learning.  Which makes me question once again Carr’s opinions on how schools should scaffold the use of technology?  I am more concerned that students in my community are missing out on technological advances, than if they’re indulging in technology for self-gratification.  Where is Carr’s research on the digital divide?  Does Carr believe as the United Nations does that access to the internet is now a fundamental human right? (Jackson, 2011).

While Carr has some valid arguments, especially those steeped in the rich history of language that he outlines in detail, I don’t want to believe him.  I want to believe that we are in a cultural infancy and that while we may be sacrificing some skills, that new ones will emerge.  Someday I believe that society will use the power of the global internet to solve the world’s problems rather than spending it playing Candy Crush Saga…unless each candy crushed will somehow eliminate poverty and hunger.



Carr, N. (2008, July 1). Is Google making us stupid?: What the internet is doing to our brains. The Atlantic. Retrieved from

Carr, N. (2013, April 20). The death of deep reading [Blog post]. Retrieved from big think website:

Carr, N. G. (2010). The shallows: What the internet is doing to our brains. New York, NY: W.W. Norton.

Collins, J. (2013). Reading, in a digital archive of one’s own. Publications of the Modern Language Association, 128(1).

Jackson, N. (2011, June 3). United Nations declares internet access a basic human right. The Atlantic. Retrieved from

Prensky, M. (2005/2006). Listen to the natives. Educational Leadership, 63(4).

View all my reviews

Research methods and methodologies in education by Larry V. Hedges

Research Methods and Methodologies in EducationResearch Methods and Methodologies in Education by Larry V. Hedges

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A qualitatively comprehensive guide to research methods in education. I guess education by nature is a social science so my only disappointment with this book is that it didn’t make me any better at math. I was hoping to really walk away with a better understanding of statistics…but that was one of my first big learnings about educational research….that it’s highly subjective.

View all my reviews

IGNITE presentation: Arts-based research

For those of you who haven’t found out about the Pecha Kucha style of presentation, there’s already another kid on the block.  It’s even faster than Pecha Kucha with 20 slides at 15 seconds each. I found it really difficult to do asynchronously but that’s what my professor wanted so I tried.

First she had us do a warm-up a week ahead, putting just a few slides together to show that we had mastered the technology.  Here’s that attempt:

Then we put the whole thing together:

What I really liked about the method of making this IGNITE presentation was how scaffolded the difficulty was. Here are the steps again:

  1. Make a mini-presentation with just a few slides and a clear topic for each slide.
  2. Make a full IGNITE presentation on your upcoming essay topic.
  3. Write a 3000 word essay.

I’m still working on the essay but I knew a week ago how I would organize it based on the work I needed to do for the IGNITE presentation.  I can think of a whole bunch of ways that I can adapt the same scaffolded strategies to levelling up in digital literacy, building content knowledge and writing/research skills.

Change Agent rant

WARNING: the following response could be seen as a rant.  It probably is.

I read the Cochran-Smith & Lytle article with some trepidation.  One of the hard things about being a teacher-librarian in 2013 is that I expect any day now that some policymaker is going to make me redundant.  Ouch.  So when I read this quote about the latest developments in Core Curriculum making and standardized testing, I actually felt reassured:

Part of what these developments have in common is a set of underlying assumptions about school change that de-emphasizes differences in local contexts, de-emphasizes the construction of local knowledge in and by school communities, and de-emphasizes the role of the teacher as decision maker and change agent. (Cochran-Smith and Lytle, 1999, p.  22).

That paragraph could have been written yesterday and still had as much impact!  Here we are 14 years later still battling to be treated as professionals or at least to be taken seriously…losing the battle to locally develop solutions for our students.  I know I’m atypical, but people ask me all the time why I’m doing my M.Ed. now….there’s no financial advantage, I don’t dream of being a principal or superintendent…I love learning.  I research because I want to know more about how to solve systemic problems that are preventing students from achieving better results.  I read this paragraph out loud to my husband this morning saying that I feel sometimes that being a teacher-librarian and an agent of change is like painting a big target on my back and I do sometimes feel like retreating back into an autonomous classroom.  But now that the veil has been lifted, and I can see clearly the larger perspective of how many compromises we’re making in public education at the expense of our students, I can’t go back.  I can’t stop trying to be heard.  I only hope that through research and my own discovery that my voice will somehow become more valid in the eyes of policymakers.


Cochran-Smith, M., & Lytle, S. L. (1999). The teacher research movement: A decade later. Educational researcher28(7), 15-25.

My right brain play fighting with my left brain

Even after just one week of studying educational research, I find myself reaching for the vocabulary of research as I read to identify patterns in the research papers that match my emerging understanding.  In examining Gallop’s ideas about ethical reading, I am reminded of Derrida’s theories of deconstructing texts and McLuhan’s ideas about the medium being the message.  Both of these men wrote ideas that were ahead of their time.  I did my B.A. in drama and lived in the world of MLA for many years until starting with the University of Alberta.  So much of this M.Ed. program has felt like being able to see behind the wizard’s curtain, and entering into an entirely different world as I moved into APA.  The most difficult reading I’ve done in this course thus far was Chapter 4 of the textbook.  I desperately want to understand what I’m reading but I kept reading the same phrases 2 and 3 times in order to break them down, grasping the vocabulary and then building them back together to find meaning in the entire phrase.  Maybe some of my classmates felt the same way about reading Gallop’s writing…but her style of expressing with adjectives and adverbs, using metaphors and analogies….this is where I live.  This is where I feel most comfortable.

If I have a preconceived notion about the reading we’re doing in this course, it’s that I assume my reading will be dry, scientific, and generally over my head.  What is surprising me is how fascinating I’m finding the minutiae of educational research.  There is magic in the construction of problems, developing expectations that data will highlight areas of need and the unexpected.  I can feel my right brain play fighting with my left brain.  I tend to read most things with a wide-eyed awe towards the the courage of written expression, the audacity of the author to suppose that what he/she had to say was worth saying.  Friends have often commented that all of my Goodreads reviews have 4 and 5 stars…that I must be easy to please.  I suppose I am…reading is what I do, so I’m getting pretty good at separating the worthy from the trash.

I’m not confident that I’m gaining the momentum I need to say “I’m a confident reader of educational research”.  I’m emerging.  I’m surprised that the research is so messy and unpredictable.  I’m kinda loving that.  I wonder if the very nature of educational research, studying people of usually a young age, is always chaotic and challenging or if it’s possible to anticipate results.  I look forward to finding out.


Gallop, J. (2000). The ethics of reading: Close encounters. Journal of 
Curriculum Theorizing16(3), 7-17.



I’m an amateur researcher

I have been a teacher since 1994, spending 3 years teaching English in Japan, and the rest in Ontario teaching drama, English, and media arts in the classroom and online.  I became a teacher-librarian full-time in 2009.  Currently working ⅚ a teacher-librarian in a large secondary school.  My other ⅙ has me back in the classroom (by choice!) and I’m loving it.  This past semester I taught grade 12 media arts face-to-face and next semester I’ll be teaching grade 12 English online. I’ve really missed having my own students and dealing with the day-to-day tasks of teaching keeps me grounded as a school leader.  I am also part of my school’s Directions Team and we are constantly analyzing our school’s data.  2 favourite methods are: 1) the survey of staff and students and 2) looking at trends in student achievement.  I’m frustrated by how narrow these methods are and how little impact I see them having on how we move forward in our team.

Educational research has never meant more to me than it does now in my position in the library. As a classroom teacher I used to rely on the findings of the experts.  This July I’m taking my 7th course with the U of A TLDL M.Ed. program and I find now that I have more questions than answers.  My exposure to the rich resources available in the University of Alberta library have been a great influence on the integrity I seek in finding educational data.  I have spent the entire school year working on three projects which are strongly rooted in educational research.

1)  Inquiry question: What will the role of school libraries be in 20 years and how should I modify my physical library to embrace these changes?

Research description: based on theoretical research I am now applying interventions

I’ve been working towards improving the physical library and suddenly found out that the work orders to fix my unsafe shelving, ancient carpet and water damaged ceiling were going to be combined with money to build an accessible elevator and entrance and a big project ensued.  Then my principal became ill, replaced with an acting principal, and I’ve had to justify every idea in the last 8 weeks in order to make the renovations happen.

2) Inquiry question:  How can I better determine the needs in reading of my students?  Is there a cause and effect relationship between reading ability and success in grade 9?

Research description: gathering empirical data to better describe our student needs; began by correlating data on each student

We have developed a significant special education focus at our school in the last 4 years.  Our Transitions classes (students with developmental delays) have increased to 5 full classes and in total we have 450 identified students in the building.  I question our ability to accommodate these students without more research being done.  With money from our board’s Student Success department, I put in about 60 hours of work studying students’ reading abilities in grade 9 in order to find a consistent tool for identifying reading level.  The Student Success group wanted to relate the reading research to success in grade 9.  I ‘hired’ (i.e. coerced, cajoled and got release time for) one of our special education specialists to use the literacy portions of the Woodcock-Johnson test to test 31 grade 9 students.

2) inquiry question: How can I better emphasize the creative process to my students?  How can I use a digital portfolio to help them make their process thinking visible?

Research description: action research applying interventions and then gathering feedback

Together with 5 other secondary teachers from our board, we were able to get 4 release days to try to answer these questions above.  We each used various online tools to encourage and monitor our students as they learned to make their thinking visible.  We presented our findings to teachers across the province.

As an aside, I’m also the mom of an 8 year old, Max, who was diagnosed on the Autism spectrum in 2012.  We’ve volunteered to be part of two studies so far.  The first was to see how children transition from the daycare setting to the public education system.  The second is to track the genome of autism through families on a global scale.  Both studies, through the Offord Centre for Child Studies, are fascinating in their complexity and educational profiles were done of Max to an extent that is very insightful as a parent.

In trying to define my research position, I’m trying to think of it as a Myers-Briggs personality test or a Kinsey quadrant.  I’m strongly constructivist leaning towards interpretivism.  I tend to butt heads with my administration when they ask me for hard calculable data so I’m pretty sure that I’m an Internal-idealist, although I can see both sides to the epistemological assumptions.  Although my goals are to show definitive conclusions in my research thus far, I tend to find deeper meaning through interpretation.

In this course I hope that I’ll move away from being an “amateur researcher” (Rolfe et al., 2010, p.6) because I am guilty of “quasi-scientific conclusions” (p. 7).  I’d like to make my research  more valid in order to:

a) advocate for library resources

b) advocate for further research support including release time

c) maintain and increase the importance of the role of a teacher-librarian at our school and in our board


Rolfe, S.  & Naughton, G.  (2010).  Research as a tool.  In G. Naughton, S. Rolfe, & I. Siraj-Blatchford (Eds.), Doing early childhood research: International perspectives on theory and practice (pp. 3 – 12).  Bershire, UK: McGraw-Hill.

Tuned out: Engaging the 21st century learner by Karen Hume

Karen Hume Tuned OutTuned Out: Engaging The 21st Century Learner by Karen Hume

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

If you want a quick snapshot of all that’s happening in educational theory, this is the book for you. At the risk of sounding over-confident, this is exactly why this book was not for me. It’s a basic primer on how to engage students. While there are a few gems along the way, these come not from Hume herself, but from those she is quoting. I was encouraged that there might be deeper material online, and a way to interact with Hume herself in her blog or social media, but the online portion is static, not dynamic, and hasn’t been active since the book’s release. As such, the whole thing smells of a marketing ploy and I’m deeply suspicious. Some of my favourite people are quoted on the cover as responding favourably to this book, but I will try to forgive them for this. I’m going to quickly move on to something more exciting in professional development, in hopes that the bad taste of Hume’s work will leave my mouth.

View all my reviews

Becoming a Great High School by Tim Westerberg

Becoming a Great High School: 6 Strategies and 1 Attitude That Make a DifferenceBecoming a Great High School: 6 Strategies and 1 Attitude That Make a Difference by Tim Westerberg

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Westerberg manages to combine a whole whack of educational theorists work in this short book. We read it as a conversation starter for our department heads/administration/directions’ team day away which falls between semesters. What I appreciated is how he manages to reference so many of these theorists and mash them all together. He even references Carol Dweck’s Mindset, which is a game-changing book for many workplaces including education. However, it’s not a book that has time to go into depth on any one theory. This book would be great for new teachers as it might lead them to greater works on educational theory. It’s also a nice snapshot to get the conversation flowing.  It would be a great choice for staff that are non-readers themselves.

View all my reviews

Starting a path of inquiry

Intrinsically, I have emphasized information and literacy in my work for the brief time that I have been a secondary school teacher-librarian.  I have witnessed staff frustrations when students can’t seem to go more deeply into topics and I too have been frustrated when students seem to get stuck.  I hoped that in taking this course on inquiry-based instruction that I would learn techniques that would help me to guide us all through to successful completion of inquiry projects.  What I did not expect is that I would learn and embrace a new philosophy of teaching through evidence-based instruction, action research and inquiry.  To this point, I have struggled to be both an agent of change for education reform and to be a stable collaborator in my school.  Yet I feel now that there is a clear path I can follow for success in my personal and professional development.

Scaffolding inquiry

I was first introduced to the inquiry-based model by reading work of Barbara Stripling (2007) when she emphasized the necessity of explicitly teaching metacognition and active questioning to deepen understanding.  At that time I wondered aloud: Can metacognition be applied to reading fluency? Can literacy be taught through inquiry?  Is inquiry-based learning (IBL) a constructivist approach to digital fluency?  I see now that IBL provides repeated opportunities for practice of metacognition, literacy and digital fluency. As librarians, Stripling says we can provide a supporting role to teachers and students as their “cycle of reflection is bolstered by an attitude of empathy and collaboration and a cognitive stance that is both critical and open-minded” (p. 53).  In August 2011, I attended a lecture by Mike Schmoker after we had read his latest book as a school leadership team.  In his lecture he said that we needed to return to basics in education and do away with using tools like the narrative structure. I knew then that he was fundamentally wrong, but I couldn’t describe how.  Stripling says that the construct phase of inquiry is very difficult as teachers “struggle to teach students how to construct their own understandings” (p. 48).   Using the narrative framework is a way of helping provide a basic structure that can help students see history as a series of stories about choices that people make as they face challenges (Stripling, p. 49).  Looking at inquiry as the vehicle for narrative exploration lends itself to more reading and writing, through self-reflection and analysis.   

For the first time I clearly see the continuum in inquiry. Since I began teaching in the library, I have relied on the model of instruction outlined by the Toronto District School Board (2010) to develop a continuum of research skills in my school.  It outlines phases of research and steps to take in the diagnostic, formative and reflective phases to deepen and develop research skills. After reading Harvey and Daniels (2009) book, I realize that there is so much more to the inquiry process than research skills and information literacy:

In true inquiry, kids have to take responsibility for things that real learners do. They have to identify worthy problems and questions. They have to use the proper disciplinary tools (microscopes, timelines) and procedures (surveys, formulas), just like real practitioners. They have to work with others, build knowledge, and ultimately, submit their findings to a peer or public audience (p. 57).

Since our electronic pathfinder assignment was an inquiry, I enjoyed experiencing the phases firsthand, reminding myself of the pitfalls.  At first I wanted to begin exploring diversity in libraries but I found that it was too broad of a topic.  After narrowing my topic to autism and libraries was both personal and professional, I found myself wandering to related topics within databases or other sources of information.  I particularly enjoy the retrieving phase of hunting down resources.  I was also reminded how much bias plays a role in publishing and found that many sources were from advocacy groups that didn’t have research backgrounds.  

Through firsthand experience I came to more deeply understand that inquiry is based on prior knowledge and is, therefore, individual.  This means that we must allow for personal choice in inquiry-based learning. If I chose to focus just on the advocating for the element of personal choice at my school, I would really be taking on a challenge.  Subjects that can be chosen as electives in my secondary school generally see more success as students, from the outset, can exercise their right to choose.  Inquiry empowers the learner through choice at every phase.  Similarly, teachers will be empowered to provide this ongoing stimulation in their courses.  Sometimes teachers forget how challenging each phase is and beginning with experiencing an inquiry of their own may be a strategy I employ to opening productive discussion with colleagues.

Implementing inquiry

One of the discussions in this course that I found stimulating was about developing a whole school vision through inquiry-based learning.  My group discussed how inquiry peaks the curiosity of students and we wondered if implementing an inquiry-based program could help to lower the dropout rate in secondary school.  I pushed the boundary further and suggested that no courses should be mandatory after grade 10 in order to truly empower our students through choice.  This led to a discussion of how inquiry is a kind of literacy and should be an embedded part of every course.  Megan Jakse argued:

Literacy and inquiry skills definitely need to be embedded across the curriculum.  If the English department is teaching these skills, other departments should be building on them.  That would require a lot of collaboration among staff members but could be really worthwhile!  English should (in theory) be the least irrelevant course for students as the skills in the curriculum could be met by students in very different ways.  In the discussion, English teachers could easily model “personalized,” inquiry-based learning as students engage in self-directed (and possibly cross-curricular) projects, build literacy skills, and plan for their futures (M. Jakse, personal communication, July 6, 2012).

I see more clearly now how research skills, digital literacy and information literacy can all be better emphasized through the inquiry-based learning model that is collaborated upon by staff.

As with this discussion, Harvey and Daniels (2009) agree that implementing and modelling collaboration during inquiry is an essential component to deepen the process.  In their small-group inquiry model (2009, pp. 61-62), collaboration of teachers with students and students with students, is immersed in each inquiry phase. This collaboration model helps the students to monitor their own timelines and understanding putting the onus of learning, where it belongs, onto the students themselves.  I wonder now how I can continue to collaborate openly in front of the students in order to model the benefits and challenges of collaboration.

I also never understood before how project-based learning (PBL) differs from inquiry-based learning (IBL) until Kuhlthau clarified.  She says “[PBL] falls short in two respects.  First, it overemphasizes product and underemphasizes the learning process.  Second, students are frequently left to their own devices, and when parents step in, many end up doing the actual research.”  (2007, p. 3).  One of the issues with inquiry is how to implement it when there are so many other curriculum strategies being enforced right now.  My school has been working on the curriculum development theory of backwards design as outlined by Wiggins and McTighe (2005).  We have had the same goal for three years to backwards design every department, every course, every unit, and every lesson.  We began by developing the big ideas of each course, which look something like the overall expectations developed by the Ontario Ministry of Education for each secondary school course.  I`m wondering if we can tweak these big ideas by phrasing them into questions to stimulate inquiry.  For example, my media arts course has the big idea of Anonymity and Identity in its final unit.  If I change it to: How do identity and anonymity interact in media arts? I hope the students would feel that this is more of an invitation to explore the concepts rather than memorize them.  I plan to continue my exploring this transition into inquiry-based learning by examining each course for the possibilities in inquiry and map my school’s curriculum in this way.

Future path as teacher-librarian

I feel that this course has really focused my role as teacher-librarian in a secondary school.  I’ve often wondered how to structure my time and how much emphasis I should put on each need in the school .  Everywhere I look there is a need for organization, for resources, for direction in technology use, for projects, for literacy and in my last two years I’ve felt very stretched.  After taking this course, I feel that if I focus every moment of my day in helping staff and students to improve their inquiry experiences, that all of the other needs will fall in line.  As I plan to renovate my library, I must keep this vision of inquiry in mind.  I will deny the use of library resources for simple things like word-processing unless it is part of inquiry.  I will prioritize library resources for inquiry.  I will harness my time for endeavours in inquiry and action research.

Before the physical library changes, I can begin with adjusting the culture of the library.  The school library paradigm shift (Harada and Yoshina, 2010) and the corollaries outlined by Gordon (2010) developed the idea for creating a wikispace of evidence-based templates for each phase of inquiry.  After these readings, I realize that the student independence in the library must be the focus of our library materials as well.  I plan to change all the handouts in the library to represent the learner first, rather than the transmission of learning.  I see these as the graphic organizers for each inquiry phase that we collated for our wikispace.  Although I can’t truly measure the effectiveness of our wikispace, I can testify to the rewarding experience of collaborating with colleagues to create it.  Each element was created, challenged, revised and tweaked to maintain a clarity in our message and quality in our work.  The end result is very satisfying.  I wish that we could come together in a year to report back to each other on its success.  As we completed the wikispace, I tweeted out a link to it to garner some immediate feedback and was welcomed by Lisa Neale, an Ontario elementary principal, and Sheila Morrissette, a British Columbia secondary principal, who both informed me that they are investigating inquiry-based learning for their schools (Neale, Morrissette and King, 2012).  Now that we have created the wikispace, I wonder if I can further enhance it with reflection as we implement each phase of evidence-based inquiry.  As Neale and Morrissette indicated, evidence-based practice to support inquiry-based learning is a timely issue and I’m sure any reflection of process in its implementation would be welcome to the education community.

The professional is the personal

Thanks to Harada and Yoshina (2010), I understand how the paradigm within the library itself needs to shift.  Their chart which outlines moving from a focus on resources to a focus on student learning (p. 16) will direct my role.  In it the emphasis becomes less about teaching skills of location and retrieval and more on the evaluation and interpretation of information; less about product and more about process; less about grades and more about learning.  I know that I must build qualitative evidence that the library has an essential role to play in student and staff development.

Evidence-based practice was the crux of my learning in this course.  Carol Gordon (2010) was very influential in the development of my understanding as she describes the need for paradigm shifting and corollaries for the implementation of evidence-based inquiry instruction.  Gordon says: “Paradigm points to reform, setting the purpose for the research and indicating solutions to practical problems” (p. 76).  The current education system is inhibiting greater success in secondary learning and teaching.  My aim is to reform the system from within.  As Gordon suggests, I see now that I can strengthen my advocacy for reform by researching each problem, developing suggestions and creating action research to test solutions.

This knowledge is powerful and it gives me hope that reform is possible.  Gordon continues saying “The evidence-based paradigm constitutes a shift in the culture of teaching and learning in schools that has the potential to reform education.  If research in school library instruction has a mission, this is it” (p. 75).  For the last few years I have struggled with how to focus a balance between work and home.   The career change from classroom teacher to full-time teacher-librarian has consumed me.   What I’ve realized is that I can’t separate these two places because for the first time in my career, my job reflects who I am.  As a result of this inquiry course, I see even greater horizons beyond my school and I think advocating for inquiry may take the rest of my career.  The task of creating an education system that is student-centred, inquiry-based and proven effective by self and social-oriented action research (Gordon, 2010) may seem monumental, but it is a goal worth fighting for.


Alberta Learning. (2003). Focus on inquiry: A teacher’s guide to implementing inquiry-­based learning [Pamphlet]. Retrieved from‌media/‌313361/‌focusoninquiry.pdf

Gordon, C. A. (2010). The culture of inquiry in school libraries. School Libraries Worldwide, 16(1).

Harada, V. H. (2010). Librarians as learning leaders: Cultivating cultures of inquiry. In S. Coatney (Ed.), The many faces of school library leadership (pp. 13-28). Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited.

Harada, V. H., & Yoshina, J. M. (2010). Assessment for learning. In Assessing for learning: Librarians and teachers as partners (2nd ed., pp. 9-18). Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited.

Harvey, S., & Daniels, H. (2009). Comprehension and collaboration: Inquiry circles in action. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

King, A., Lunny, J., & Hobbs, T. (n.d.). Evidence-based planning tools. Retrieved July, 2012, from Inquiryandevidence website:

Neale, L., Morissette, S., & King, A. (2012, July 20). Using evidence to support inquiry [Tweet].

Schmoker, M. (Presenter). (2011, August). Results now: How we can achieve unprecedented results in teaching and learning. Speech presented at Upper Grand Learning Fair, Orangeville, Ontario, Canada.

Stripling, B. K. (2007). Teaching for Understanding. In S. Hughes-Hassell & V. H. Harada (Authors), School reform and the school library media specialist (pp. 37-55). Westport, CN: Libraries Unlimited.

TDSB Library and Learning Resources Department. (2010). Research success @ your library [Pamphlet]. Retrieved from‌libraries/‌files/‌research_guides.htm

Wiggins, G., & McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by design. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.