Graphical lies and semi truths

I’ve been geeking out a little with some data in the last 24 hours, looking at the circulation stats of my blokes for the last 2 years plus the last month.  Glancing through the table leads to the conclusion that they are in fact borrowing more books – I know that doesn’t necessarily lead to more reading, but I also know that just having books around is a good thing.  One of the issues is that inherent in international schools is the fact that students come and go. Most of our students have been here for the last 2 years, and a few entered mid-way – so I averaged the monthly book borrowing by assuming 8 months of school (yup, we’re off for 16 weeks of the year), and then apportioned appropriately. (Note 2016/7 data needs to be updated at end of September to give the full 1.5 months).bar

But no-one likes looking at a table of data, so how to get this into a graph?  Now even a 3rd grader would (hopefully) be able to tell you that discrete data = bar chart.  So that leads to this:

That kind of shows you the picture – that the green bars are generally the highest (although maybe I need to invert the colours).


Now, let me show you another picture. This time I am quite incorrectly showing you a line graph.  Why is it wrong – well because a line graph is to show the relationship between two sets of values, with one set being dependent on another. Well, as each point is a different child’s reading,  and one child’s data has nothing to do with another child’s data, so obviously a line graph is nonsense. Except for the fact that it much more clearly shows that students have increased their borrowing since they’ve joined BWB. Quite wrong, but more graphically. I’ve been even linemore deceptive by ordering the data by number of books by date (mainly because the first 6 boys were not at the school in 2014/5 and the next 3 not last year so it made things look more confusing if I didn’t order it.

The next graph is even more pretty but it’s wrong wrong wrong and very deceptive – because I used a “stacked line” it’s no longer showing the boys who they read less than the previous year (s) as I’m adding up their reading over time.

No wonder they say “lie, damned lies and statistic” – maybe they need to add “graphs” to that one.

stacked-lineMore problems with this type of data – it tells you about the quantity, but nothing about the quality of what’s being borrowed. If I drill into various circulation histories I see a lot of “churn” of graphic novels. I’m assuming the lads who’ve read 15 or 20 books in the past month are reading nearly one book a day. That’s assuming they’re reading them. In fact one of the boys who seems to be borrowing and reading less is the boy who is tackling much more sophisticated literature and longer books.

Which shows just how individualised one’s approach needs to be to students, and data, and even goals and aims.  I like to think I’m employing a “bait and switch” tactic in the long term – I wonder if that can be quantified? Thinking aloud – if my books were lexiled and I could for each child see a lexile trail that gets stronger over time … unfortunately wishful thinking at this point as our books aren’t lexiled. I’m wondering if any longitudinal research has been done in this respect? I was watching a demo of Scholastic’s Literacy Pro yesterday and maybe that’s influencing my thinking. Because once you’re in that kind of program the program in itself corrupts the data by only feeding the student books in their lexile range, so you have animals in captivity rather than in the wild, if you see what I mean.

Now to see what the reading data tells me, and to see if there is any way to tie it all together in a pretty picture.  I need a spare mathematician to guide me through this – first year university stats is just not going to cut it I fear!


Blokes with Books Club

This post is about a year overdue, but here goes.

Early into my new job as a newly minted Teacher Librarian I started noticing the “lost boys”  of the library.  Those souls who would wander around and between the stacks with a dazed look on their faces. Or they’d be flicking through books without actually registering the contents. Or they’d just park themselves on a chair with the (too popular to let them be borrowed) Guinness Books of records and sit and talk through with “oohs and aahs” with their like-minded mates.  Obviously something.needed.to.be.done.

But equally obvious to my middle aged, white, female mind, I was not the one to do it. Or at least, not to appear to be the one to do it. But should it be a teacher? If so, which teacher? My criteria was young and male, but I didn’t know my new colleagues all that well… I settled on our EdTech coach, Tim.  An extremely busy and popular educator, with experience in the classroom and, since moving into the new role with all the classrooms, he was enthusiastic when I suggested it. (Phew).

We collaborated on lesson plan ideas, and books that may “hook” the students. And we were open for business. We emailed teachers from Grades 3-6 and asked if they had any students who they thought may benefit from this group. Most teachers had 1 or 2 students.  The first session started with about 8 students. And quickly word spread that this was a really fun thing to be involved with.  Group members had their own membership badges and a special “learning agreement” for their time in the library. Teachers reported back that the students were more motivated to borrow books and were super enthusiastic about going to the sessions which were held once a week on a Wednesday during the last period (a 40 minute period reserved for literacy leadership). A couple of ELL students were identified who would also benefit from being “one of the blokes” even though their language level wasn’t that high and they joined in as well.

The year ended with a bang when I chanced on reading of a book review of “Adventures of a Kid Magician” in February or March. Then of course it was a case of getting Tim’s mother to buy 5 copies of the book from Walmart – the only stockist at the time and shipping it to Singapore. It was as if we’d set off fireworks in the library. Basically each chapter leads to clues which unlocks a code to a youtube video showing how to do a magical trick. So the rest of the year involved multiple read-alouds of the chapters and hunting the clues down and desperate attempts by our blokes to be the next in line to read the book! Talk about a magic formula to combine the physical and digital (my review here),

dating lineWe started school on the 15th August and unfortunately the first few weeks our literacy period has been occupied by assemblies and other “housekeeping” matters like fire-drills. But the requests and the demands from our blokes were so incessant that we did a “soft launch” of the club during DEAR/SSR time. When I say “we” – I’m definitely the ghost in the machine and very much in the background and 99% of the credit for the magic that is happening is due to Tim.  When I handed out the permission forms for the surveys, nearly every boy (it’s grown to 25 boys!) returned the signed form the next day! Any teacher trying to get back permission forms can attest to how unusual that is.

Today was our first official day, starting with going over the essential agreements, one boy who insisted on doing a book talk on a book he was loving (Things Explainer – I’ve ordered a copy for the library now ) an ice-breaker of Zip Zap Zop followed by “Book Speed Dating” – 3 rounds of 5 minutes of “dating” a book after which the favourite was chosen (or not) for checkout.

Initial Lesson plans (2015/6):

Lesson # Ice Breaker Activities
1 Staring Contest

-Choose a Book Any Funny Book/read

-Read in the Dark/ Tent

-Find a girly book competition/read  

-Find a manly book competition/ read

2 Spot The Difference -Ben Cooperman Read Aloud his book “Gabriel and Five Joshuas”
3 Charades (written on note cards)

-Discuss adventures/ what kind of adventures there are

-Read choose your own adventure book

4 Crocodile Tooth Game Graphic Novels
5 Zip Zap Zop -Judge A Book By It’s Cover
6 Toilet Paper Mummy -Monster Books
7 Drawing Charades -Joke Books
8 Draw Yourself As Cartoon

-Dewey Grams

-write down the number of book and to hand to someone else

-Use scholastic.com to make a Christmas book wishlist

9 Minefield

-Introduce Legends and Myths with Sinbad Video

-Legends and Myths books

10 Zip Zap Zop

-Introduce old comics

-Read through old comics

11 Tennis Table Soccer

-Magazine Reading

Explain all the neat features of the different magazines

 12-end of year Various icebreakers Reading of “Adventures of a kid magician” and unlocking the videos 



(Boys) Reading as a social activity

As I wander around my library during recess and lunchtime, before and after school, I realise more and more than reading is not the solitary quiet activity that it’s usually purported to be. I’ve taken to trying to capture this by photographing the communal reading that is going on – which takes me to an article that I’ve been reading that I think is quite important when thinking about boys’ literacy pursuits – “Morphing literacy: Boys reshaping their school-based literacy practices” (Blair & Sanford, 2004).




boys2 boys1









Who can relate to this in their school libraries?

  • A cluster of boys sitting around a boy with the Guinness Book of Records – pointing and chatting and oohing and aahing about some record or another, followed by a debate about if it has been surpassed, and grabbing the next years book?
  • Two or 3 boys sitting with a Minecraft or lego book trying to find out how to do something?
  • A couple of younger boys reading the same graphic novel (usually squish or lunch lady) and turning the pages at the same time or waiting to turn the page so they can read the same thing at the same time?
  • Requests for books that tell them how to progress in computer / online games
  • Needing books about the 2nd world war because their grandfather or great-grandfather fought in it?

Blair and Sanford (2004) relate boys’ reading to their need to acquire social-cultural capital – i.e. they read as long as it enhances their peers and their own view of themselves as “acceptable masculine beings” and creates connection, collaboration and camaraderie between themselves and their friends. The authors refer to “team-like literacy” involving participation and interaction that is purposeful.

In terms of the kinds of texts that engage and fulfil these needs, the “rules” are simple

  • action > relationships
  • excitement > unfolding characters
  • need to suit personal interests / fact finding / purpose / sharing information
  • humour and fun ++++ important

I would suggest that the literary market / publishing is NOT catering for these needs adequately or at all in fact. Let’s take “Jets” for example.  The current obsession of the Grade 1 / 2 students in my school at the moment. The available books we have are dumb. They’re not information rich enough and the publishers cater to their reading level rather than their interest level. They’re dated before they even hit the shelves. They want elaborate up to date images with lots of numbers and facts – never mind the silly narrative “here is a pilot” “this is the instrument console”.  Ditto Lego – I’ve said this a million times and I’ll say it again. There is nothing inbetween the little books “castles, towns, 101 things to make” and “Lego StarWars” that is so big and bulky and hard to take home.  Make each chapter into a book FFS. How much time do publishers even spend walking around school libraries and talking to boys? (or even librarians? or teachers? or parents?).

This type of article also explains why our “Blokes with Books” and “Readers’ Cup” clubs work so well at school. Connection, affinity, literacies growing out of relationships.

Now to make sure we leverage that in the classrooms and at home.


Blair, H. A., & Sanford, K. (2004). Morphing literacy: Boys reshaping their school-based literacy practices. Language Arts, 81(6), 452.