Listen Up and Speak Up with VoiceThread!

February 29, 2012 (0 Comments)

Posted by: ASLC

VoiceThread was another tool that I had heard about, signed up for and then forgot about until recently. I finally decided to explore the idea of using VoiceThread with my grade 1/2 class to see how it might work for my kindergartens to connect with other kindergartens across the district. Creating the Voicethread was simple and engaging for both me and my students. I decided to focus on the 7 Habits, which is a school wide focus. I had already signed up for an educators account, so I logged in and clicked on create. Like Animoto, they make the steps clear and simple. The first step was to upload images from your computer, other media sources: Flickr, Facebook, The New York Public Library, or VoiceThread itself, from a URL, or from a webcam. I uploaded an image for each of the 7 Habits from Google Images. I was then able to add a title, and a link if I chose. Once all of my images were uploaded, I clicked on step 2: Comment. I had already been provided with an icon that represented me (a little house), however, it used my first name. As I was planning to use this with my students, I uploaded an image and titled it Mrs. Davies. Using the ‘Identities’ feature, I gave my students all their own icons. There is a limited selection of icons, so I had three of each. With older students, I probably would have let them upload their own images to use as icons. The next step was to let the students comment on the 7 Habit images. My grade one/two class sits in 6 groups. I gave each group one habit and asked them to think about how they used that habit at school. After some brainstorming and group discussion, each student had an idea about their habit and was ready to add a comment. Comments can be added through telephone, webcam, microphone, typing text, or uploading an audio file. I had a microphone on my teacher computer and groups came up one at a time, and each student recorded their comments. The comment is played back, and students loved hearing the sound of their own voice. If they were satisfied, I saved it, or I was able to cancel it. At any time, comments can be deleted and redone. Once we were finished, I clicked on the third button, Share. This gives you the opportunity to get a link or to invite people by email. Voicethreads can be private, and only viewable by people we have given the link to or invite, or you can choose to make them public. Even when you make it public, VoiceThread offers options: for people to view, or to view and have moderated comments, or to view and comment openly. Our class has decided to invite our buddy class to comment. My students are excited to see what their buddy class says about the 7 Habits and about their comments! I am ready to try it with my kindergarten and a class across the city. However, VoiceThread is not limited by distance or time zones. I wonder if I can find a kindergarten somewhere across the world who would like to connect with us? As a Leader in Me School, I think I could find another school who would like to comment on the 7 Habits. Maybe one in Singapore…. 

Like Lissa, when I first discovered Voicethread, I was excited and then got busy and forgot all about the ideas I had for using the tool.  Recently I have come back to it and am I ever glad I did.  I am currently using VoiceThread in the library with my students for booktalks.  I take the images of the books, upload them and after the students read the book they add their opinions and questions on the novel. It is interesting to see students listening to what other students say about the book and then come and ask for a copy of the book.  I was forced to go out and purchase three more copies of this month's book, John Green's Fault in Our Stars and, even though it is a great book, the push was the students hearing other student's voices around the book.  This may replace our library book blog.  As well, I recently introduced it to a few of my staff members and already one of our social teachers is uploading political cartoons to a Voicethread and having his students comment on the message behind the cartoons.  And this is a teacher who considers himself a luddite!!  As well, on of my English 10-2 teachers has started to use them as prompts for stories. She finds an image and the students, who generally speaking have a difficult time putting words on paper, tell the story with their voice. And other students are enjoying listening to the stories!!  There are so many ways that this tool can be used to engage students in creation, conversation and collaboration.  Now that I found the tool, I am definately keeping it in my recommended to staff toolbox!  

Professional Use of the Tool

The power of VoiceThread is the ability to create conversations around images. I have already described one way I have used it in my classroom, and there are many more. As a professional learning tool, you could upload images relating to a problem or an idea for your school, and invite staff to comment on it. It could be a virtual staff meeting, with anytime, anywhere (with internet) access, and a record of the conversation. Joyce Valenza posted an article about a Voicethread book study on ‘Readicide’. Trying to get staff together to talk about professional literature is difficult. A Voicethread offers staff a quality book study experience on their time, as opposed to trying to set up a meeting. The possibilities with students are endless.  Check out this wiki for VoiceThread ideas, samples and tutorials. I love how they have pages for using VoiceThread as a PLN, in the library, for Special Ed, and more!

Recently, while doing a workshop with my high school staff we used Voicethread to collaborate on ideas for using the tool. Listen to some of the voices of high school teachers here. 


Go to, create a free account and see how user friendly this tool is. Lissa and I hope that you will take the time to explore more about this tool and share your ideas on how this tool can be used to engage your students and staff in creating, collaborating and connecting! Please join us in the conversation this week!

Lissa & Kelly

What is a Learning Commons, Anyway?

February 23, 2012 (6 Comments)

Posted by:

by Kelly Reierson and Lissa Davies

As we work to build twenty-first learning skills...collaboration, creation and communication we need to look at how we can support this by creating an environment that meets that need.  The Learning Commons concept takes libraries that one step further to support digital students and learning. 

What is a Learning Commons?

“Keechlin, Rosenfeld and Loerttscher define it as “a learning “space” that is both physical and virtual – a place to experiment, practice, celebrate, learn, work and play. Gino Bondi, in his blog post Our Learning Commons: One “How To” for 21st Century Learning says that “It is a transformation that calls for physical, virtual and, pedagogical changes as well as a shift in mindset for all players.”

How is it different from the traditional school library?

Traditional school libraries are seen as quiet places full of printed books, people reading and librarians ‘shushing’. A Learning Commons takes school libraries into the 21st century. Yes, we still have printed text, and there are still people reading, and there is still a librarian, however the Learning Commons has so much more! There is a hum of activity with students talking, learning, searching for information on a variety of devices, focusing on content creation and synthesizing of information. The Learning Commons becomes the hub and the heart of the school; a place for teachers and teacher-librarians to collaborate to build inquiry learning and critical thinking skills in students; a place for technology integration and experimentation; a place that is ‘owned’ by students and staff alike. 

Watch this Slideshare to see how one high-school librarian moved her library into a Learning Commons space:

From Library To Learning Commons.Ny.Slideshare
View more PowerPoint from valeriediggs
The Sounds and Looks of the Learning Commons

Lissa and I hope that you will join us in a discussion on the learning commons. Tell us what you think! 

Is it necessary to change the physical space to create a Learning Commons? 
How does the role of the Teacher Librarian change in the Learning Commons model? Where does one start when making the transition?  

Beyond the Bells and Whistles

February 13, 2012 (2 Comments)

Posted by: ASLC


by Diane GallowaySolowan

Where to start! In a publication world that travels at the speed of light, keeping track of digital and print resources could be a full time job for teachers/teacher-librarians. I hope this blog will shed some light on current and emerging K-12 electronic resources that will help keep your finger on this pulsating universe.

But first, here are 4 critical points I hope you will carefully consider when making digital purchasing decisions:

  • Audience
  • Balance
  • Policy
  • Technology

Audience: Simply put, audience/patrons/users whatever term you use are a diverse lot and your bottom line. Although we all seem digitally crazed these days, there remain many students and teachers who prefer print resources. Word is, elementary kids seem more interested in reading digital fiction books but older teens show some resistance. It is important to carefully consider how important this factor may be to your particular situation and how you might prepare to make a budget case for either/or.


Balance: 30 years ago I walked into a college library that had no books. Its collection consisted of hundreds of magazines, newspapers and peer reviewed journals. Databases were only a glimmer in the eyes of school libraries then. Things have changed. Radical thinking about resource collections is more commonplace these days as we look to the e-revolution in publishing. Questions arise such as “Do we really need class sets of print atlases anymore?” Sweeping statements about being able to save space in a school library by only purchasing electronic resources is something I hear quite a bit and I wonder at the wisdom of that simplicity. I think a cautionary note when budgeting for electronic resources is in order: be careful about throwing the baby out with the bathwater even in 2012.

Policy: Ask yourself if you are purchasing school library resources by the seat of your pants or do you actually have a collection/acquisition policy to guide your decisions? My guess is you might have to dig around in a dusty drawer for that, or you likely may not have one at all. When a ship sets sail, there have to be some strategies in place just in case you encounter stormy weather. Elizabeth Prevost’s article, Collaborative Development of Online Collections in Elementary School Libraries in the ASLC’s journal, Learning, Literacies and Libraries provides a thorough discussion of this idea with an emphasis on electronic resources. You can find an example to guide you in the process of developing such a policy at this link : COLLECTION DEVELOPMENT POLICY GUIDELINES FOR SCHOOL LIBRARY MEDIA PROGRAMS. The bells and whistles of digital resources are tempting. It is wise to be thinking ahead of the game.

Technology: Alberta schools are lucky! Generally, we have bandwidth and it makes a big difference to the way digital resources perform. But there are vagaries to that too and we had best be aware that our networks, browsers, etc. can handle the delivery of digital content seamlessly. Can your students and staff access the full range of functionality of amazing new electronic resources, for example interactivity with Web 2.0 applications? When you know your system well, you can be more confident in pushing the envelope.



I believe the overall crux of the matter lies in framing a guiding question to inform our purchase decisions. As we move closer to guided inquiry and project based learning in our daily practice I encourage you to try this one suggested by Jamie McKenzie: “Will this (digital/print resource) genuinely enhance my ability (and that of my students) to live at the upper end of Bloom’s Taxonomy?” 


Your comments/suggestions are welcome in this discussion. Perhaps you already have a guiding question of your own that is driving your purchase decisions. If you do, then please share. I look forward to hearing about what you are doing in your school.

Point 2…What’s a TL to Do?

February 06, 2012 (6 Comments)

Posted by: ASLC

By Lissa Davies

Ahhh, developing an effective library program in .2 time. Sounds like an administrator’s dream, doesn’t it? (Ooops, better do a disclaimer: “The views here are my views only and not related to my administrator, my district, my family, my friends or my dog.”)

Gentle Readers, Let’s start with my history (I’m sure you are all dying to know...). I began my library career three years ago. Before I turned into Super Librarian (really!), I was an elementary Learning Strategies teacher. Our .6 part-time teacher librarian was retiring (and she really was a Super TL!) and I was asked by my administrator if I would like the position. I leaped at the chance. After all, I loved inquiry learning, and reading, and reading, and books, and kids. What more was needed? There was a small, teensy-weensy catch. I would be .5 and in order to make it a full-time position, I would be teaching a new grade: Kindergarten. (You should all be hearing the duh-duh-duh- DUHN! sound of doom in your heads by now!)

Come September, Gentle Readers, I was supremely lost and bewildered. Fortunately I had my retired Super TL (aka Maureen) and our district’s Fearless Library Consultant (aka Betty-Lou) to support me in my hours of need. Soon I had a plan to work with all classes on inquiry projects, did booktalks and bookfairs, managed the technology in the school and our live broadcast morning news, was on the Best of the Best committee to review books, and was registered in the Teacher Librarian Distance Learning (aka TLDL) program at the University of Alberta, taking one course per term and one in the summer. I still felt lost, but I was too busy to think about it. Much.

The next year, our enrollment dropped, and so, perforce, did our budget. I was retained as TL at .23, with .5 Kindergarten and .17 grade 1/2 (another new assignment). That year, I worked with two classes on inquiry learning projects, did booktalks and bookfairs, managed our live broadcast morning news, took TLDL classes, and (now that the TLDL program has taught me so much about what at teacher-librarian COULD be) I dreamt about the things I ‘should’ be doing.

This year, anther drop in the budget, so I am now .2 TL and .8 grade 5/6. While my courses in the TLDL program were expanding my ideas of libraries and librarians, my TL time in reality was shrinking. However, this is the reality for many of our elementary a matter of fact, it is better than the reality of most. Few schools have a TL, and some schools don’t even have a library tech. While we all know the value that a great library program brings to student achievement (Keith Curry Lance, 2001), others require convincing. Ross Todd (yes, those of you who have taken courses with me know that Ross Todd is my library idol, and I don’t apologize for that. Much.) talks about the need for us to use evidence-based practices to track and show the value of our libraries, still many people feel that when push comes to shove, administrators will choose to have a teacher who has a class of students sitting in front of them rather than a teacher librarian.

So, let’s consider our options in .2 time. What does a strong library program contain? What should a strong TL be doing in her/his school? Harada and Zmuda (2008) have a few suggestions about what TLs should be (Gentle Readers, you may disagree with me, but you can’t disagree with Harada and Zmuda, can you?):

Leaders in providing PD to schools
Experts in curriculum development and resources
Experts in instruction and collaboration with teachers

Joyce Valenza (I call her ‘She Who Does Not Sleep. Ever.) goes even farther. She says we should be:

a leader in using technology for teaching and learning
a leader in inquiry teaching and learning
a leader in reading and developing readers
a leader in understanding and teaching information fluency
a leader in developing your collection

So what CAN we do in .2?

Given my time this year, the needs of the students in my school, and our district focus on literacy, I decided that I needed to have one focus. I chose developing readers and focusing on booktalks and the collection. Yet what about technology? What about inquiry learning? What about....? Was it the right decision? Am I now in danger of turning into....

 An old-fashioned GOL? (Grumpy Old Librarian)

I certainly hope not! Students are engaged and excited during booktalks, which I do for each grade group twice a month. (I should mention that I am on a flexible schedule, so I do not provide preps). When I am not in front of kids, I am organizing and weeding the collection, helping teachers with technology, or book suggestions, or pulling books for units, adding websites to our Diigo account, preparing booktalks and grants, and answering emails like crazy. Often I think I live in the Twilight Zone, as time seems to morph and shorten when I am in the library.

So, Gentle Readers, this is my story. This is what I have chosen to do in my .2. What are YOU doing in your library? Share your stories in the comments or email me at, and let us know!  


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