The continuing curse of plagiarism


It’s usually quite easy to recognise plagiarised work. Scansion, vocabulary, grammar; they all point to a more mature person, even if you’re not familiar with the pupil in question’s work. And then of course, they have to rewrite and there’s a whole lot of time wasted.

So how do we encourage pupils to avoid plagiarism in the first place?

Make sure they actually do the work?
The pupil took a long time to select a topic and failed to find any information once he had. Instead he was happily being distracted by, and distracting, those sitting around him. So we moved his seat, made sure he had a suitable book and confirmed that he knew exactly what to do. Sadly by now he was far behind.

When his first two paragraphs were handed in, they were obviously plagiarised. In fact they were identical with the book, with the sole nod to originality swapping two paragraphs around (which did make me laugh actually – cheek!)

In one sense, plagiarism was an obvious choice. The pupil had not used the time given and when asked to type up a first draft, he quickly bunged together the only stuff he had. He admitted later that he had risked it in the hope that it wouldn’t be spotted rather then not handing in anything.

So how do we encourage pupils like him to avoid plagiarism?

Make sure they understand EXACTLY what plagiarism is?
Different class, and we explain in minute detail what plagiarism is and demonstrate how to avoid it. We have warned the pupils to within an inch of their retractable pencils that plagiarism will not be tolerated, and will in fact mean redoing their project from scratch. And still, three pupils hand in final work that is clearly not their own.

Before the teacher talks to the pupils, I identify the sources of the originals, and provide copies. One pupil has taken a table of information from one website and added in an additional column of information from a second website. She claims that this makes it ‘all her own work’ (although later admits it was actually all her dad’s own work. Maybe we spoke to the wrong class).

We have since adapted the plagiarism talk to include the mix-and-match method. Obviously our ‘minute detail’ wasn’t quite precise enough.

So how do we encourage pupils like them to avoid plagiarism?

Also make sure the staff get the story right first?
A 3rd year pupil was typing up her final draft. Reading over her shoulder, specific phrases jumped out at me, totally out of place. In fact the whole piece felt halting and hesitant. When the issue was raised, she got irritated; she had actually used the thesaurus to choose ‘better words’ and was mightily offended that I had believed her work plagiarised after she had ‘worked so hard’.

I saw the original later, and it was clearly superior. The language wasn’t as highfalutin, but it was hers and it flowed better. Unfortunately, not everyone accepts that plain language is preferable to multisyllabic nonsense. Sadly she wasn’t for listening any further and handed her work in as it was; partly because I had insulted her work, and partly because she had genuinely worked hard to improve it in the way she knew best, and here was someone else telling her it still wasn’t good enough.

So how do we encourage pupils to avoid plagiarism?

Teaching pupils how to take notes is difficult but not impossible, with practice.

Teaching pupils how to read something and rephrase it so that only the sense remains is more difficult, but not impossible, with practice.

Teaching pupils how to do this repeatedly until they have enough to arrange all of their notes into a whole new creation, within a strictly limited time frame, with little chance for practice, is frankly, impossible. They need to practice, and get it wrong, and make mistakes and learn from them. Just like any other skill.


3-18 Literacy and English Review


“Education Scotland has also published the 3-18 Literacy and English Review, the latest in a series of Curriculum Reviews. This includes the following passage in a case study which looks at the role Liberton High School Library (Edinburgh) plays in promoting a reading culture:

“Where secondary schools have a librarian, s/he often plays a key role in the promotion of a reading culture and many run information literacy courses and support the development of research skills. Secondary schools could do more to develop an ethos where reading is valued beyond S3”.

The full report can be read here:

Standing Literacy Commission (SLC)


The Standing Literacy Commission (SLC) have published a new report that looks at the implementation of the Scottish Government’s Literacy Action Plan. It includes the following quote:

“…schools with school libraries and librarians achieved higher exam scores, leading to higher academic attainment; higher quality project work; successful curriculum and learning outcomes; more positive attitudes towards learning and increased motivation and self-esteem among pupils.”

The full report can be read here:

Literacy in weather reporting



This was fun. At the beginning of January I was working with Social Subjects to develop ideas for an S1 weather investigation. Fortunately, the news organisations had recently found a couple of new terms to play with: the ‘weather bomb and the ‘displaced polar vortex’.

Run for your lives!

A quick hunt online produced a variety of headlines on the topic:

Cold Weather for UK

Arctic blast to leave UK shivering this weekend

and hysterical
Britain on RED alert: ‘Displaced polar vortex’ to unleash crippling snowstorms next week

The process I suggested was to ask pupils to find an article which mentioned ‘weather bombs’ or ‘displaced polar vortices’. They were to read it, figure out what the report was actually forecasting, and then find out what the weather had genuinely been like that day. We would then discuss the different reports, and discuss how and why different media organisations report weather to their readers, thus creating a neat little Social Subjects literacy session practising source evaluation and search skills.

I still think it’s a good idea, but there were just a few issues which meant the class didn’t quite go as planned.

Firstly, the teacher was absent through illness. We had planned the teaching between myself (research information) and the class teacher (weather forecasting information). Without the geographical expert, life promised to be a little complicated, but we decided to try out the research part anyway.

Then the pupils were totally bemused when asked to name organisations that would report news or weather. With some coaxing and clues, they came up with a variety of television channels, but no newspapers whatsoever. This surprised me; it simply never occured that they wouldn’t know at least a couple of titles, and it meant that they couldn’t tell where reports had come from.

Finally, on this occasion the pupils were being asked to find their own reports so I hadn’t provided a list of sources. This caused a few problems when pupils were identifying weather reports then total mayhem when they tried to find out what had actually occured, because they hadn’t yet been taught how to structure their searches. Most investigations can be resolved to simple searches of the ‘tell me about topic x’ type which provides a collection of websites for just a word or two. Finding out what the weather had been in the UK on a given date was a different problem: quite straightforward when you think about it, but of course, pupils are not renowned for being ‘quite straightforward’.

All in all, the pupils and myself learned a great deal that period, but it didn’t necessarily concern weather.



So I’ve been away for a week at the Learning Festival and then the September weekend holiday. Life goes on back at school, which meant negotiating with everyone who wanted access to the Library.

Before I left, I spent approximately an hour e-mailing various people to make sure the Library would be available for everyone that needed it. Each person had to ensure the keys were either returned to their original place or pass them onto the next person.

Except I got an e-mail telling me that the keys aren’t where they’re supposed to be. Oh dear, here we go.

Turned out that the original person (A) who was supposed to collect the keys didn’t think they were the right ones, and opened the Library via the back door. Meanwhile another person (B) recognised the keys, and brought them to the Library, where they lay on the desk until A spotted them, realised what they were and kindly left them in my pigeon hole.

Unfortunately, that meant persons C, D, E and F couldn’t find the keys. Shame they didn’t try the doors which were left unlocked, because of course, A was only using the back door, and didn’t know the front doors had been unlocked at all!


How to hold a special event and still have a quiet day


This year’s Roald Dahl Day wasn’t ideal. I chose to run a competition, but what with one thing and another, it didn’t really go as planned. So while my colleagues are basking in their successful events, I thought I’d share what I learned.

(And no, it wasn’t on purpose, it was just trying to squish another event into an already bursting agenda).

  1. Whatever day you’re participating in, decide on your activity at the last minute. That way, so matter how well organised it seems, there’s likely to be some unforeseen problem. Better still: have a half-baked plan for your event. The more considered your planning, the more likely that it will run without a hitch.
  2. Forget to share your plan with any other staff. You don’t want them mentioning it to any of their pupils and encouraging an audience.
  3. Neglect to advertise: posters, messages in bulletins and reminders will only set the idea in pupils’ heads.
  4. Have an accident or be sick on the day itself, thus ensuring that even if pupils have heard any other news about the day’s events, they won’t be able to enquire if you’re participating.
  5. Hold the event on a different day altogether once you’re feeling better and back at work – but don’t forget rules 2, 3 and 4 still apply! With any luck, pupils that might normally participate will choose to catch up with homework instead.

Not again!


Oh good grief!

Another visit to Hairmyres today after slipping on a piece of apple lying in the corridor yesterday, and banging my right hand off the brick wall as I fell. My right wrist is still recovering from two fractures, so it’s not good. Suspected ligament damage for a change.

Looks like it’ll be a bit longer before I catch up with the blog again.


Diana Wynne Jones



Copyright Google

Copyright Google

I’m occasionally bemused by Google’s choice of doodles – the 23rd anniversary of this event, the 374th birthday of that person, but this doodle dedicated to Diana Wynne Jones is welcome. Hopefully some who don’t understand the reference to Howl’s Moving Castle will be intrigued sufficiently by the doodle to want to know more.

What I do know is that there are plenty DWJ novels on my library shelves and they just don’t get borrowed. They’ve got lovely covers, make great displays, they’ve been recommended, they’ve been added to cunningly to piles of new or returned books that catch the eye and just beg to be rifled through, they’re on suggested reading lists and yet they sit there as pristine as when they were bought 😦

Sadly, they’re not the only books to suffer this way. Getting pupils to lift books off the shelf is becoming more and more difficult, never mind getting them to read the flippin’ things.

No matter, Diana Wynne Jones is worth the effort (especially the Dalemark Quartet, a series with a difference).

ABCs of Information Literacy


Nice poster on the ABCs of Information Literacy available for free download when you add your name to the EasyBib mailing list.

At the moment it goes up to J so I’m wondering about the possibilities for continuing up to Z. Like a lot of alphabetical lists there’s a bit of pochling going on e.g. E for Educator, or having software titles rather than ‘terms’ e.g. Google. Think I’d prefer E for Enyclopaedia and perhaps something more precise like G for Google Advanced Search?

Having said that, it’s a lovely idea and rather eye-catching.

Open letter on School Libraries



Alan Gibbons is launching an authors’ letter calling on the Department of Education to act urgently on the recommendations of the All Parliamentary Group on School Libraries.

Anyone interested in the promotion of libraries or education can sign, including librarians, teachers, artists, software engineers, lollipop personnel, parents, and absolutely anyone else!

The letter will be published in The Guardian on Thursday 17th July, and the greater the number of signatories the better.

If you would like to read the letter with a view to signing, email Alan at mygibbo @ (removing the spaces) or check out his Facebook page.

Over the summer…



I returned to work, with wrist still aching, just in time for the last week of term. It was lovely to say hello to everyone again, just before they all said cheerio for the holidays.

The summer is normally my busiest admin and prep time, and by the last week of term, I’m in full summer mode; the library tables are covered with boxes of books in various stages of readiness, jackets of all sizes, piles of stationery, and stacks of paper waiting for shelving or recycling.

This year, the tables remain empty, which means I’m far, far behind where I should be. On the other hand, the library is normally inundated with pupils offering assistance – sent by teaching staff trying to be helpful to me and simultaneously keeping the pupils occupied. Now, I love having the pupils around, but anyone could tell you that having to explain something several times over and then re-doing it yourself properly, does not, in fact, save time. So there is a small chance that the lack of ‘help’ may have saved a little time this year 🙂

If it has, that can only be good as I have a lot of catching up to do, except that I’m very aware of a still healing wrist. No point in undoing all the good rest it’s had – lack of blogging here for example – by jumping straight in to box haulage or recalcitrant book jacket tussling. I never noticed until it was unavailable, but I’m now very conscious of how much my job depends on full movement of my wrist.

And so, I’m being very careful with everything: time spent typing, time spent mouse clicking, lifting the right way, holding the wrong way, seating position, holding the telephone with the other hand, taking regular breaks, stopping work at the end of the day…

… in fact, it would appear that this summer’s new secret power is taking things as they come and not pushing myself beyond what is actually possible. A strange power for a school librarian, but one that we should all have, and not just for the benefit of hard-working joints.

An excessive way to recognise your value


1. Break wrist
2. Identify outstanding tasks that need taken care of immediately.
3. Identify which tasks can be done by other people without additional training.
4. Contact people to ask if they can take on one or more of your outstanding tasks.
5. Contact other people to apologise for other tasks not being done at present.
6. Try to relax.
7. Point out to yourself that, given the wrist, there really isn’t anything else that you can do.
8. Repeat until you return to work.

Coding the highways II


Click here for Coding the Highways I

The Highway Code is the rules, the law, for all road users. Knowledge of the Highway Code is essential for gaining a Driving Licence, but previous Library copies had never been looked at. To be fair, most learner drivers would buy their own copy because it’s cheap, and there are plenty of ‘learning to drive’ books on the market. Even so, I pondered whether it just needed a better home.

I wanted a location where it would be seen by pupils browsing through related materials. Previous editions lived in Public safety – transportation hazards (363.12) which is close to the popular survival books, but obviously not close enough. Well, as the law of the road, it seems obvious that it should be classified alongside Transport and Commerce (380s), except that I moved everything from this class number years ago because it wasn’t being seen. Similarly if it was shelved under Law, I could guarantee no-one would see it. 😦

Fortunately many libraries have their catalogues online – very useful if you’ve a working knowledge of and access to your own copy of DDC for comparison. The majority suggested the same number: 629.2830941 which placed it with Transport engineering (specifically cars, motorbikes and other road vehicles). Makes sense as a general location, but the number was far too long. The 0941 specifies the UK and could be abandoned, but the rest of the number was unfamiliar.

629.283 = Engineering – Motor land vehicles – Tests, driving, maintenance, repair – Driving (Operations)

It’s not a number that jumped out at me, but it seems to be a good home for The Highway Code. It stands a good chance of being spotted amongst all the car books (very popular), and even if the younger children who usually haunt this section didn’t borrow it, they might remember the Library had copies when they were working towards their driving licences. Of course, as a result of changing this number, there’s an inevitable cascade reaction and other class numbers will also have to be reconsidered. But not right now.

Seems like a long, boring, complicated process, I know, but it happens a lot more quickly than it sounds, and it’s actually a rather interesting intellectual puzzle – but maybe that’s just me 🙂

Coding the highways I


Health warning: this post deals with the arcane art of classification – a boring chore to some, a fascination to others, but an invaluable tool in making sure your stock is well used. Personally I enjoy it, but it is easy to get enmired in details that don’t matter too much in a school library. Coding the Highways I discusses classification in general and what to consider, while Part II looks at more specific particulars.  Read on, but you have been warned 🙂

Classifying and cataloguing is usually taken care of centrally, or even externally, by larger library organisations, but it’s an integral part of a school librarian’s job. Most of my cat’n’class gets accomplished when the rest of the school are on holiday, otherwise it’s too busy.

Classification numbers, most often using the Dewey Decimal System (DDC), can be overlong and complicated, but a decent school librarian will adapt those numbers for the benefit of their users. So for example, a ‘correct’ classification of a book on cooking in the Caribbean could be 641.59729; not many 12 year olds going to remember that. Most of us stop at three numbers after the decimal point and less if we can get away with it.

DDC also considers which part of the subject is dealt with. Take for example, the Roman Empire. That broad historical topic can be classified at 937, but there are subdivisions for different time periods, and completely different numbers will apply for religion (220s), architecture (720s), art (709), literature (870s), army (350s), slavery (326), technologies (600s), Latin (470s) and science (500s) etc etc. You could also choose to build your own number, but we’ll leave that aside for the moment. The school librarian’s decision to classify everything connected with ancient Rome at one number, or use the full flexibility of Dewey, will depend entirely on how the school will use those particular resources. Material on Roman gods and goddesses might be part of the History syllabus, or Religious Education, or English, or Art, or Drama, or part of an interdisciplinary event, or all of them, not forgetting general reading for interest. It’s vital that all pupils that want related resources can find them, no matter why they are required.

Most pupils just ask for the resources they want, but browsing is incredibly important, especially once young people recognise particular Library shelves contain their preferred types of reading. So it’s vital that related topics sit as close together as possible. At the same time, Librarians recognise that pupils will look at whatever number is provided without understanding the meaning of that number in the classification system.

Pupils also tend to forget that Dewey collects every book of the same subject at the same number (no matter how often they are reminded) and often get frustrated trying to find the information they need: just because one volume on the Roman Empire includes details about the Roman pantheon, it doesn’t mean that they all do.

All of this will pass rapidly through librarians’ minds as they classify, and most resources will fit comfortably into a particular class, but there’s always one or two that make you ponder. And one of those for me was The Highway Code.

Now continue to Coding the Highways II

A little presentation is a dangerous thing



Recently a colleague and I were discussing attempts to improve presentations. Most schoolkind can share tales of endless screeds of plagiarised text read straight from the screen without any reference to the audience, enlivened only with stretched, pixelated images taken without thought from Google images. This defines too many presentations using Powerpoint or Keynote or similar software. She expressed her frustration:

I’m fed up with pupils using Powerpoint to write reports.

I thought that was an interesting way of phrasing it:

  • Are pupils using Powerpoint to write reports?
  • If they are, is it wrong to use Powerpoint in this way?
  • Does it matter what software is being used?
  • Why do so many pupils use Powerpoint all the time, for everything?

So I asked them : what do you use Powerpoint for?

The pupils all looked at me with that familiar, she’s-lost-it-again expression, and told me

It’s for making powerpoints.

And that I think is precisely the problem. Pupils are not considering whether they’re writing a report or a presentation or making notes – they’re making ‘a powerpoint’. It’s a stand alone piece of work which they often don’t connect to any particular purpose, because it’s a purpose in itself.

And to be honest, staff (including me) are equally guilty of telling pupils that they’re going to ‘do a powerpoint‘ as shorthand for ‘present your learning in an interesting way with the assistance of presentation software‘.

No surprise that pupils’ focus is on the slides, rather than their talk: they’re doing what we ask them to do.