Venn Librarian

Reflections about the intersection of schools, libraries and technology.

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Archive for the ‘Student stuff’ Category

Student Choice

Posted by lpearle on 15 September 2014

In independent schools we talk about students and education, about how our mission (overall, not just the specific school mission) is all student-centered.  We also talk about being college preparatory, trying to ensure our students will succeed (not just succeed, but excel) in their next academic experience.

So when I see schools issue technology mandates (iPad, laptop, whatever) I wonder about how student-centered that is.  For some students – heck, for me! – reading on a device is not the best choice.  I do my best, deepest reading in print, not to mention being able to find my notes easier, get back to an interesting passage quicker and flip between charts/maps/lists and text with more fluidity.  When taking notes, it’s always better for me to scrawl paper/pen and then to type them up – the meaning really sinks in that way (and let’s not forget my Cornell notes obsession). Why should either be different for students?

But this isn’t just about a mandate, it’s about choice. When we tell students that a school is going 1:1 (laptops or tablets) are we allowing them to choose the technology tool that works best for them, or are we saying “we expect you to bring [vendor/specifications]“?  And in our role as a college preparatory institution, have we surveyed the places our students will go next to see what they will be expected to use there?  My hope is that we would do that before making any decisions, using College X’s entry-level curriculum, research expectations and technology tools as a baseline goal for all of our graduates.  My fear is that few schools do that.

And then there’s the curriculum itself.  Over the years I’ve spoken with many, many students about their current classes, their current class choices and their goals for the future.  All too frequently I see art students told to take fewer art electives and to take an AP math or science course instead (colleges apparently love – LOVE! – those AP credits).  The push for STEM credits and students is denuding schools of humanities and arts electives, forcing students who would truly excel as a historian or creative writer into AP Biology or something.

Back in the dark ages (aka late 1970s) when I was in high school, the curriculum was, to put it politely, eclectic.  The requirements were 1 year of science, 3 years of math and foreign language, and something like 2 arts credits. History and English were combined into one department, Humanities, and I forget what the credit requirements there were.  No AP classes, although students who wanted to take the exams could. As a result, I haven’t taken a lab science since 9th grade, and only grudgingly took calculus in college (NOTE: if you have to take a placement test and test into calculus without having taken pre-calc, do not accept that placement!). Instead of Chemistry, I took Philosophy.  Instead of Biology, I took Acting.  Etc..  When I got to college I was more than prepared not only for the rigors of the college experience (mixing living away from home with studying and hanging out with friends) but also for the freedom of choice allowed in choosing my courses.

Does telling students that they have to take AP this and that, fewer electives (limiting them to perhaps a senior year) and pursue a relatively rigid path help?  I would argue not (as would the constructivist school). Don’t get me wrong, I do believe that we need a good underlying understanding of things and serious basic skills in math, science, grammar, etc..  But once we’re in high school, why force a school of round pegs into square holes?  Another friend of mine, currently Head of Modern Languages at a school, in charge not only of running the department but also approving and researching foreign travel (student trips to China, Spain and France) and managing the departmental budget, stopped his math and science courses earlier than I did.  Neither of us has suffered appreciably.

So here’s what I’m pondering: if our schools truly believe in being student-centered environments preparing those in our care for their next academic experience, why are we so afraid of student choice?

Posted in Musings, Pedagogy, Student stuff | Leave a Comment »

What if?

Posted by lpearle on 8 September 2014

Three things came together this past week and got me thinking about the “always on” culture.  The first was a blog post about a distraction-free iPhone, the second an announcement at school’s first Morning Meeting in which the girls were reminded that while texting/checking the phone discretely in the dining hall was ok, actually taking/making a call was rude and unacceptable.  The final piece was at my Quaker Meeting, where one of the members said that she had never really seen a smartphone in action and didn’t know that there was a phone “app” so that you could make calls; she also mentioned that her home internet connection was out and had been for a week and she didn’t mind it, while her husband (writing three books) couldn’t do his work so wasn’t happy.

At first I was a little surprised: how has anyone missed seeing the face of a smartphone at this point in time?  They’re ubiquitous.  And one week without home internet? Yikes!

Then, on my drive home, I started thinking about it and realizing how calming.  How nice to not have websites to check, an RSS feed piling up, many many e-mails waiting for a response.

At one of my former schools the Head has declared weekends to be e-mail free.  Obviously if there’s an emergency, that’s one thing.  But no one, from the Head on down, is expected to check – much less answer – e-mail over the weekend or during a school break (for teachers; year-round employees don’t have to during their vacation time).  At another school, there has been a stream of complaints from faculty about administration checking e-mail continuously during meetings and events (sometimes the complaints lead to a lessening of the problem, but it soon is back to previous levels).  Faculty there who do not check their e-mails over the weekend (or even at night, when they’re at home) are frequently reminded that they need to do so and respond in a timely fashion.

My current school is a boarding school, and we function in loco parentis so completely turning off overnight or on weekends is not going to happen. But what if we did limit that to emergencies only?  What if we go back to The Good Old Days, like when I was at boarding school, when communication was mostly by letter or postcard, and only occasional calls to/from home?  Often we send off an e-mail in the heat of the moment, while having to reflect on “is this an emergency?” might be a better tack to take.  Students would voluntarily put their phones in their backpacks and not check them until the school day is over.  Parents would know and respect those limits, teaching students some measure of independence from their parents.

One school I know is starting to look at those communications and considering how to best work with/educate both parents and students so that the appropriate separation happens.

What if we all did that?

Posted in Life Related, Musings, Student stuff, Techno Geekiness | 2 Comments »

Looking backward… looking forward…

Posted by lpearle on 1 August 2014

One year ago today was my first day at Miss Porter’s School.  As with any new job, there were fears and trepidations, not to mention excitement and that “here’s to a new adventure” feeling.  So what has this past year brought, and what am I looking forward to next year?

This past year has been one of transformation at the library, starting early when the other librarian and I moved out of the workroom and out into the main spaces, sitting where we could easily be seen (and, as my favorite sign says, be interrupted):

helpdesk_11x17_fin600

We moved furniture around, creating better comfortable seating spaces for students as well as moving an information desk to the 1st floor – what better way to reach students “at point of need”, as they do research, than to be right there, in the stacks with them?  I know that I wouldn’t want to go upstairs to ask a question then return back downstairs: why would a student? or a teacher?  Books were moved upstairs  as we updated the fiction collection, and some really creative displays were made (not by me but by Lulu; I don’t have a creative bone in my body).

Based on our analysis of a few systems, we decided to migrate from one OPAC to another and at the same time migrate from Dewey to Library of Congress.  Talk about a lot of work!  Not only did we have to add call numbers to about 3,000 items that couldn’t easily translate, we had to physically move every book and relabel them.  Oh, and continue to do all our other work, including help with a few research projects and papers.  Speaking of research, our model is that of the embedded librarian, not the Shh’er-in-Chief:

 

As I said to my boss (and several others) during my interview, the library won’t be there immediately, but if we’re not at least 50% there after two years, fire me.  Clearly I’m not doing my job.  Analysis at the end of a year?  We have one department’s buy-in and a few other teachers are interested.    So progress is being made!  The Research Guides have been hugely helpful, and now that Springshare has updated the LibGuides platform, they’ll help us help students and teachers even more.
There was so much “good stuff” to share this past year that our Annual Report is kind of stunning, and I was there!
Outside the shelves, this is a 1:1 iPad school and that’s been a real transition.  No one here believes that simply because there’s this powerful tool in students hands there’s no need for a librarian or a library (whew!) but learning how to use one in the most efficient way possible is still a struggle.  Which stylus should I use?  What’s the best way to collect stuff: Evernote or Pocket Informant (or both, or something else)? What about NotesPlus?  How can I use iBooks to “sell” the library?
So, on to Year Two.  To be honest, I’m a little afraid of Sophomore Slump… but we’re already starting strong.  Upgrading the Guides from v.1 to v.2, working with EZProxy to eliminate off/on-campus database access issues (and multiple logins/passwords issues), even more furniture moving around (new projection devices in the Periodicals Room and the stacks, plus more tables in the stacks for students to use with classes)!  Getting the Archives Club and the Varsity Reading Club running effectively, not to mention creating even more opportunities for “non-traditional library programming” are other challenges/opportunities.
Luckily, I’m not alone.  After one year I’ve made some good connections with my colleagues (some of whom are now friends), the other librarian and I make a great team, and the students seem to be enjoying our innovations and changes.  Stay tuned for more library goodness in the months ahead – I know I’m looking forward!

Posted in School Libraries, Student stuff, Work Stuff | Leave a Comment »

The end is nigh…

Posted by lpearle on 17 May 2014

Every so often I think, “you are seriously neglecting your blog!” and immediately feel guilty – all those posts I meant to do that simply don’t get posted because “they” haven’t perfected thought-to-text blogging yet.  I do have an excuse, an oldie but goodie: I’ve been incredibly busy.

Working in a boarding school brings about a special time commitment.  There are the obvious ones, like long open hours (8-5:30 M-F) and sit-down dinners.  Add in weekend duty, evening study hall supervision, plus required attendance at various events… Some weeks, it’s a 7-day workweek with days that stretch from 8am to 9:30pm.  So you can see where “busy” comes from.  Lucky for me, I don’t coach a sport! Towards the end of the year there are even more traditions taking place (all schools have them, to one degree or another), all leading to the passing of the school’s leadership to another group of students, ensuring continuity of programs and activities and Tradition and school ethos.   This is my fourth school, so I’m used to much of this, but each school requires a certain learning curve.

My goal for this first year was to take things somewhat easily, starting to create an embedded program and assessing the collection.  Well…. that didn’t exactly happen.  In addition to that, and creating opportunities for students to use the library that aren’t study related or class related, we embarked on a very ambitious project: changing from Dewey to Library of Congress.  The reality is that as a college-preparatory school, we needed to do this.  It’s also given us the opportunity to weed nearly 8,000 volumes already, with more to follow next year.

Graduation is in three weeks (well, a little less than that) and between now and then we have to finish the changeover and find the missing items (“missing” meaning “we printed a new spine label but the book’s not on the shelf… yet”), prepare the suggested summer reading Resource Guide, prepare summer book and supply orders, attend the final Convocation, year-end performances and Traditions, tidy the workroom and get things ready for the summer break.  Oh, and did I mention that the library is now handling the online book ordering site for textbooks?

I’d blog more, but I have three classes worth of bibliographies to assess and an ereader textbook to create for an English teacher.  Before Monday.

The end is truly nigh… and getting nigher.

Posted in Books, Life Related, Student stuff, Work Stuff | Leave a Comment »

Minor Musings

Posted by lpearle on 30 December 2013

Now that I’m tidying up from a year-end reading binge, it’s time to clear out some of my saved links on Twitter and in my RSS feed.  Lucky you!

Books, Reading, Etc.

School Life

Tech Stuff

Etcetera

Posted in Collection Development, Links, Pedagogy, Privacy, School Libraries, Student stuff, Techno Geekiness | Leave a Comment »

Minor Musings

Posted by lpearle on 18 December 2013

For those about to go on Break, some things to explore and/or ponder.

Books, Reading, Etc..

School Life

Tech Stuff

  • FlipGrid looks like an amazing tool for both reader-to-reader advisory and in class collaboration for online learning.  (via)
  • Are you Sleepless in Cyberspace?  Maybe this vacation is a good time to try to rethink things.

Etcetera…

  • Doug ponders Age, Energy, Privacy and Morals – I’m a little more concerned about privacy (perhaps because of my age) than he is… it’s interesting to note that many of my students don’t think about it, but when you start talking about the lack they get very concerned.
  • For those of my friends traveling, some tips on how to get through the airport fast.  Bon voyage!

Posted in Books, Collection Development, Ethics, Links, Pedagogy, Privacy, School Libraries, Student stuff, Techno Geekiness, Work Stuff | Leave a Comment »

So what do I know?

Posted by lpearle on 16 December 2013

Nothing, apparently.

A couple of weeks ago I gave The Infinite Moment of Us a three-star review, in part because “The starts and stops of the relationship felt real, and Myracle has a real ear for the language real teens use.”

Then one of my hard-core readers borrowed it and completely disagreed: she felt (strongly) that the language was not authentic, that the teens didn’t resemble anyone she (or her friends) knew.  Wren seemed one-dimensional, and the relationship just didn’t work for her.

I’ve often wondered about the difference between my reading a book as an adult, with an ever-growing distance between me and my teen self, and an actual teen’s experience of that book.  Several books that have seen much critical love – being added to the curriculum or as all-school reads – from adults but from the intended audience’s point-of-view they’re complete flops with characters they don’t relate to and a message they feel stifled by.  These are readers who know that books like Gossip Girl or those by Sarah Dessen aren’t real or meant to be “good” books but they’re enjoyable reads anyway.  And they don’t expect those characters to be real, or relatable in the same way that the characters in this book are supposed to be.

How many others have had similar experiences? Or have recognized themselves in a character, only to realize that the author is closer to them in age than to the proposed age group – and that what they’re responding to is from a teen perspective some decades old?  It’s making me question many of my recent reads, and whether I am, in fact, buying the right books for this library.

Posted in Books, Collection Development, School Libraries, Student stuff | Leave a Comment »

Annnnd we’re off!

Posted by lpearle on 29 August 2013

Classes are starting – is it June yet?

No, seriously, it’s fine.  There’s still a lot of tweeking of the collection that needs to be done, books still to be processed, stuff to be updated and all that, but we’ll manage to do all that around the classes coming in for research and people coming in to find great reads and spend time in our library doing personal research, studying, etc.   The buildings and people are more familiar and routine is starting to creep in.

It’s always interesting exploring new school cultures.  I’ve worked with schools who had an (unwritten) dress code of Laura Ashley and/or cashmere twinsets and pearls and those with written dress codes mandating jacket and tie for the men; I’ve seen hippie unshaven legs/underarm and braless on some colleagues and dress casual on others in the same faculty group.  Meals are also interesting: do the faculty eat with students?  is there a faculty-only table?  or do the faculty grab something and eat in their classrooms?  Some schools have free meals for faculty, others subsidize the food and still others have the faculty pay full price.   What you call your teacher also varies, from the Quaker school “everyone uses first names” to one school who loudly touted the number of PhDs on the faculty by insisting they go by “Dr.”

How seriously the school takes itself is also always interesting to see.  Some have a very casual attitude, some hammer home Tradition and History, some do a mixture of both.   I’ve spoken to schools who find any opportunity to tout their age (“oldest school for girls in the country”, “oldest continuously operating school in the country”, “oldest co-ed boarding school in the state”) or their athletic prowess (“xx consecutive wins in [sport]” or “xx state championships in the past xx years”) or their facilities (brand new? historic register? the same classrooms frequented by [VIP names]).

When you’ve been at more than one school, having experienced more than one way of doing things, it can be amusing and confusing to start in on a new way of doing them.  In many ways, it’s more difficult to switch from one style of dress, address and culture to another than it is to go from Mac to PC or tablet.   The good news is that all those new students are making the transition with you.

Enjoy the journey.

 

Posted in Musings, Student stuff | Leave a Comment »

LOTS or HOTS?

Posted by lpearle on 27 August 2013

Over the past year I’ve taken classes towards a certificate in eLearning and Online Teaching.  The most interesting thing has been seeing  different approaches to being an online teacher – each of my teachers has had different interaction techniques, different ways of posting and making the material available, different rubrics for in-class discussion and (obviously) different strengths.  Sometimes the class didn’t meet my expectations, sometimes it exceeded it.

Here’s the thing that puzzled me the most: in two classes that were not about instructional design, we were asked to create a module and essentially do instructional design.  And for each of those classes, we were asked to essentially make every part adhere to what Bloom’s Taxonomy refers to as Higher Order Thinking Skills.  The problem for me was twofold, one of which I’ll talk about later in this post, and this one: Lower Order Thinking Skills, like reading and writing and absorbing material were being devalued.  In order for any student to really apply HOTS, they need to use LOTS first.  I’ve seen students struggle with analyzing and synthesizing material while doing research because they don’t have time to completely understand the material.   This is part of what the Common Core is expected to correct, that we’ll be graduating students who have plenty of HOTS and can apply them in any situation.  Not so sure this is going to be the case, because in our rush to implement, we’re neglecting LOTS.  And that the design of a module should solely focus on the HOTS?  Problematic.

The other problem I have have is that if the class is about assessment, then what we should have focused on in designing a module was the assessment piece: why weren’t we concentrating on rubrics? modeling a good final product? authentic assessment over recitation of facts and quizzes? self-assessment for both teacher and student?  why chose one form of assessment over another? etc..  And if the class is on communication/collaboration, then let’s spend our time working on how to, within a created unit, pose leading questions and direct the conversation, what the best collaborative tools for that module are and why (and why other tools won’t/don’t work for that module), etc..   That’s not to say we didn’t cover some of those, but on those two courses creating modules that emphasized HOTS made me think about how confused students must be when we focus on something that seems irrelevant but is perhaps mandated by the state, district or department chair.

My big takeaways were to encourage teachers to include time for absorbing the material and applying it, and to create assignments/assessments that make sense in the context of the class.

Posted in Musings, Pedagogy, Student stuff | Leave a Comment »

What’s on the shelves?

Posted by lpearle on 13 August 2013

Last week I dove into doing inventory – in many ways, my least favorite library activity (my aching back and shoulders! my dusty hands!) , but also in many ways my favorite library activity as it’s a great opportunity to look at the shelves and see where there are gaps, problems, areas that could be moved, etc..

As always, learning a new collection means taking a step back from what you knew about your old collection: comparisons only work if you’re comparing discrete sections, not overall.  So when I see few books on [topic] on the shelves, and fondly remember all the work done to bring the old collection’s books on that topic to a great level, I can’t assume it’s because the new collection is lacking, it may be the curriculum is that different and many books on [topic] aren’t needed.  And the reverse also applies.  Meeting with the different departments and learning from them what they need from the library, and what their ideal collection would be (given unlimited funds and shelf space) is going to be a critical component of my next few months.

Of course, DDC doesn’t help.  I saw books on AIDS in three places: 362.1, 614.5 and 616.9.  Books on Tennessee Williams are in 809, 812, 813 and 818.  If my goal is to make it easier for students to find books, that’s not helping!

In the fiction section, obviously, comparisons can be made.  It’s always interesting to scan the shelves to see what’s popular, what’s gathering dust and what’s unique to that library.  It’s also always interesting to see what’s appropriate in one school may not be appropriate in another.  A few years ago I spoke with a school that did not want books like Junie B. Jones on the shelves because it promoted disobedience to adults.  At another, even though the English department requested Sandman, the decision was that graphic novels weren’t “literary enough” (despite Persepolis and Maus being used in the curriculum).  One well-meaning teen organized a large donation to school libraries, but didn’t know enough to weed Fear of Flying from the ages 10-18 boxes, which made me wonder how many younger librarians would know about that book!  What I have noticed, in working with the various schools, is that few of the librarians actually read YA books.  One librarian I worked with castigated me for not reading “serious” books (I do, but I also read genre fiction, non-fiction, YA fiction, and ABC books – it’s really helpful when you’re doing reader’s advisory!).

If there’s a series “missing”, does it mean that students didn’t respond and it’s been weeded, or that no one thought to buy the books to begin with?  If there’s a lot of a specific type of book, is that because it’s a beloved author/genre, or due to a donation from a departing student/faculty member?  Again, working with the students will help me better fill in the gaps and create a really great pleasure reading collection.

More to follow…

Posted in Books, Collection Development, School Libraries, Student stuff | Leave a Comment »

 
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