Who is Smik?

Friday, 29 April 2011

The end of an era

Today I am retiring. I reached that magic 65 a couple of months ago but today has arrived faster than I thought it would.

Retirement for me means the end of formal employment, but I'll still be blogging here and there. Perhaps a little more there than here, because that really is my passion.

I've been in teaching/education now for 43 years and that is a long time in anybody's language but when you add the years when I was a teaching scholar/pre-service teacher it comes to nearly 50.

I have been lucky that I have always enjoyed what I have been paid to do, and particularly, in the last 10 or so years when I have worked with Education.au/Education Services Australia, there has been considerable overlap with the work I have done and my private learning curve. Working here I have represented a great ministerial company and travelled all over Australia and represented the company twice overseas. I have worked with great people, both face2face and virtually, and been given great latitude.

So, no regrets. Don't shed any tears for me. I'm not. I'm looking forward to the future. A rosy one, with some travel coming up next week - off to Abu Dhabi to meet the new grandson, then to a crime fiction convention in Bristol, and then back to AD for my daughter's 30th birthday. And then back to OZ to deliver about 6 presentations on e-books.

So I'll be back here on this blog. Hang around.

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Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Productive in the classroom with e-books

One of the topics I'd like to explore in the coming months is classroom productivity using e-books. As I've commented before, if all you are doing in your classroom with your e-reader or e-reading App is reading the book just as it if were made of paper, and ignoring all the productivity tools you have on your device, then you are not doing enough.

So what I'd really like to do is to collect some short descriptions of what teachers are doing in the classroom with e-books.

I suspect some northern hemisphere people, in the US in particular, have more tools attached to their e-book readers than we down under do, so I'd like to hear from you in particular.

One of the things I do on a regular basis is review books that I've read on my Kindle. You can see the resulatnt reviews on my crime fiction blog MYSTERIES IN PARADISE. So I'm including some of my tips for writing the reviews below.

Writing Book Reviews using the Kindle

  • I highlight/bookmark memorable bits as I'm reading
  • I write comments about passages or ideas that strike me as I'm reading - just highlight some text and then press the space bar to begin making your annotation.
  • Your book marks and annotations are stored in a file called MyClippings. When you attach your Kindle to your computer, it shows up as an extra drive. Look for a file called MyClippings. This is a text file and the annotations etc for the book you are currently reading will be at the end of the file.
  • I copy and paste the relevant parts of the MyClippings file into a new text file and then save it on my computer by the name of the book.
  • Once you've saved the text file you can disconnect the Kindle from your computer and then on the Kindle use MENU>View my notes and highlights to check the passages in the e-book that the notes and highlights are connected to.
  • From the text file you've saved, you can use highlighted passages in your review as quotes, and hopefully the notes you've made will jog your memory about things you wanted to discuss in your review.
  • Sometimes the e-book also includes information about the author and other titles they have written. I often highlight that information and then use it in an "about author" section at the end of my review.
  • You'll notice from my reviews on MYSTERIES IN PARADISE that I often use the image from the Amazon site, the product description, and the publisher's blurb in my review, but I always have a section where I talk about my impressions of the book.

So what can you tell me about or point me to?

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Thursday, 21 April 2011

Amazon launching Kindle Library Lending

You've probably already caught up with the announcements by Overdrive and Amazon that they are collaborating on a Kindle ebook lending service.

The details are not very clear at the moment but it seems to me that it is simply an extension of Amazon's existing Kindle ebook lending service which allows those in the US who've bought Kindle e-books to lend them once. While the book is lent (for two weeks) the purchaser can't access it on their Kindle. The book can only be lent once, and it doesn't necessarily apply to all purchases - publishers need to give permission.

Crunch Gear has basically republished the media release word for word.

Not much joy here for non-US Kindle users though. Of course Amazon's Kindle e-book lending does not extend outside the US at the moment, so perhaps in the future...


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Monday, 18 April 2011

How to help teachers do it better

The Australian newspaper today points to a new report:

The Grattan Institute's report Better Teacher Appraisal and Feedback: Improving Performance, released today, shows that a system of meaningful appraisal and feedback for teachers will increase their effectiveness by 20 to 30 per cent. It will address teachers' concerns about the current systems of evaluation: 63 per cent of teachers report that appraisals of their work are done purely to meet administrative requirements; 91 per cent say the best teachers do not receive the greatest recognition.

When I was much younger, there was a system of annual assessment, where an "inspector" visited, sat in on a few lessons and then wrote a report. I don't remember any remedial action being taken with me or colleagues as a result of the comments on the report. Perhaps it was done discreetly. I know there were people who used to get panic-stricken about their impending inspection though, and you really did try to put your best foot forward on that day.

These days there is a real tendency to judge teachers on things like student exam results or national test results. A more 360-degree assessment seems a lot fairer, but really only if the resultant report can lead to better remediation rather than punitive steps.

This can be achieved by schools choosing four of eight methods to assess teachers and provide feedback. These are: student performance and assessments; peer observation; observation of classroom teaching and learning; student surveys; parent surveys; 360-degree assessment; self-assessment and external observation.


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Wednesday, 13 April 2011

A book you should read: A THOUSAND CUTS by Simon Lelic

I'm re-publishing here a review for a book that I think at least every teacher should read.

This edition, an ARC from VIKING, published as A THOUSAND CUTS in 2010


ISBN 978-0-670-02150-5

294 pages

Publisher's blurb

In the depths of a sweltering summer, teacher Samuel Szajkowski walks into his school assembly and opens fire. He kills three pupils and a colleague before turning the gun on himself.

Lucia May, the young policewoman who is assigned the case, is expected to wrap up things quickly and without fuss. The incident is a tragedy that could not have been predicted and Szajkowski, it seems clear, was a psychopath beyond help. Soon, however, Lucia becomes preoccupied with the question no one else seems to want to ask: what drove a mild-mannered, diffident school teacher to commit such a despicable crime?

Piecing together the testimonies of the teachers and children at the school, Lucia discovers an uglier, more complex picture of the months leading up to the shooting. She realises too that she has more in common with Szajkowski than she could have imagined. As the pressure to bury the case builds, she becomes determined to tell the truth about what happened, whatever the consequences . . .

My take:

I came to this with my teacher's hat on, but it could just as easily have been my  parent's hat. For either of those hats this is a horrifying tale. What turns a mild mannered history teacher turn into a lethal killer?

The blurb on the back of the edition I read begins:

    It should be an open-and-shut case. Samuel Szajkowski, a recently hired history teacher, walked into a school assembly with a gun and murdered three students and a colleague before turning the weapon on himelf. It was a tragedy that could not have been predicted. Szajowski, it seems clear, was a psychopath beyond help.

From a police point of view, it looks like a case that you can wrap up quickly. Samuel Szajkowski walked into the assembly and opened fire. He is to blame for the deaths of 5 people including himself.  Detective Inspector Lucia May is given the job of interviewing the witnesses and writing up the final report.

But then Lucia begins to ask why? What pushed Samuel Szajowski over the edge? Who is really to blame? And just who is pushing her boss to get the case wrapped up?

Events like this one have happened in "real life" world wide in recent years, and A THOUSAND CUTS leads us to ask whether the investigators really ever get to the point of understanding the "why".

We know right from the beginning that there is something wrong with the culture of this school. The basic structure of the novel is transcripts of interviews by the investigators with witnesses, and the very first one is with a student who should have been at the assembly but was "down by the ponds, pissing about.."

The interview transcripts are really one-sided conversations. The reader is left to deduce the questions being asked from the actual answers. It is a very arresting narrative technique.

Detective Inspector Lucia May unearths a culture of bullying that extends throughout the entire school: student to student, student to teacher, teacher to student, and teacher to teacher. The worst part is that those who should be preventing the existence of this culture, the principal for example, don't see that as their responsibility. But even the parents don't recognise the bullying happening.

Another aspect of the whole investigation is that Lucia May is herself the victim of bullying, in her personal life, and, in particular, her workplace. It makes us ask whether this is an endemic part of the Western society, regardless of the profession.

A very thought-provoking read.

My rating: 5.0

Shortlisted for the CWA John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger 2010.

Shortlisted for the Galaxy National Book Awards 2010.

Longlisted for the Desmond Elliot Prize 2010.

Selected for Financial Times Books of the Year 2010.

Selected for New York Times notable crime books 2010.

Selected as one of Amazon’s Rising Stars 2010.

Top 20 Books of 2010 – Lovereading.co.uk.

Blog posts to check:

Simon Lelic's website

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Monday, 11 April 2011

Most of us don't re-sell our books

One of the problems schools have struck in implementing e-textbooks relates to the re-sale model.

While in the "real", entertainment world, most of us don't want to re-sell the books that we buy, we often do hand them on. In schools though the textbook scenario often operates on one of two premises.

  • individual students buy the text book, new or used, and then sell it on to the next year's cohort.
  • the school purchases the books and then hands copies in various stages of "batterment" to students until they either fall apart or the school decides to invest in the latest version.

So a textbook that originally is quite expensive, say as much as $80 or even more, may be used over a period of 5 years bringing the actual cost per year down to $16.  There is no problem in handing the book on as you know, you just hand it over.


The problem with e-text books is that they are not designed to be handed on. Stringent DRM (Digital Rights Management) often prevents an e-book from being shifted from one device to another.

Even when there is no DRM in place, the format of the file (whether it is Kindle-compatible or epub) will often be an effective preventive measure.

However I have discerned what I think is another problem. It seems to me that many publishers of e-textbooks are seeing this format as a bit of a cash cow. The most "generous" offers that I have heard from Australian publishers is where a student will have the right to use the e-text book for 2 years, but that the price will be the same as for a paper version of the book. This flies in the face of what is happening in the entertainment market where e-books are very much lower than the paper euqivalents.

A call by the Washington Post for publishers to make e-books DRM free won't solve the transferability problem, but it is certainly a step in the right direction.

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Monday, 4 April 2011

On the lookout for e-book trials

That Australian educators and educational administrators are very interested in how e-books and e-readers might be incorporated into the implementation of the curriculum is being demonstrated by the number of invitations I am receiving to conferences and workshops to talk about e-book scenarios.

As a consequence I am constantly on the lookout for information about trials and projects in schools, in Australia in particular, with e-books, e-readers,  and e-text books. As 2011 progresses schools will be making decisions about budgets for 2012 and will be wanting to consider the experiences of others. I am interested in both formal reports and anecdotal ones, so if you are able to point me to anything I can get to on the web, leave a comment.

If you would like to email me about what is happening in your school (or leave a more public comment on this post), I do need a bit of "depth" in the description: what seems to be working, what isn't. What hurdles have you come across, what seems insurmountable, what are you planning for 2012?

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