Posted by lpearle on 3 September 2013
This is the start of the school year and very nearly the start of the new Jewish year. Many of us are making some sort of resolution, following up on our thinking and reflection from last year. In opening speeches and at convocations, we’re being exhorted to make this year the best, being welcomed to the start of a new chapter and all that stuff. New faculty and new students are learning their way around the school both physically and emotionally, as well as historically. Traditions are being explained, school songs taught, and there are lots of “remember when?” and “I wonder how [former teacher/student] is doing in [new job/new life/new school]” comments.Very rarely do we look back at last year and celebrate it.
But what if we in some ways flipped our year?
At the start of the year, celebrate faculty anniversaries for years of service, giving new teachers a sense of who their colleagues are and how much they have been valued by the community. Give our academic awards for returning students, giving new students a sense of what the school’s intellectual and social life is like – what they can aspire to win/become and how they, too, can grow. Rather than (as is traditional) doing all this at the end of the year, make the welcoming part not only a start to a new year but a celebration of the past one. Let the departing students and faculty hog the limelight in June, and put it squarely on those who are still at the school in September.
We’ve talked about flipping our classrooms and our libraries, now let’s flip our year.
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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.
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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.
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Posted by lpearle on 22 August 2013
Ok, not really my mission, but the mission of a modern school library (I just can’t bring myself to say “21st century school library” because let’s face it: all school libraries are, by the sheer fact of the date, “21st century”. /pedant).
Years ago, a school I worked at was starting the self-study process that comes before the decennial visit from an accreditation committee. We had several full-faculty meetings during which we talked about the school’s mission and what it meant. A dear friend and library mentor raised the following point – a mission statement should be one or possibly two sentences that clearly state what the [school/company/person/country] is about. All the rest is implementation. Example? Avis’ We try harder. Can’t get much clearer than that, can you? You instantly know who they are, what they value. Apple’s Think Different is not even grammatically correct, and leaves open the question of “who thinks different, me or Apple?”
Last week I had a conversation with my new Head and she challenged me to create a mission statement for the library. Something short, pithy, descriptive and capturing exactly what the library is, today. What it should be tomorrow. What it could be in the future.
Part of the problem (she feels) is that we haven’t really succeeded in creating that mission statement. We constantly add to the description of what a library is, but then we run into the whole kitchen sink problem: we’re about books… and multimedia… and makerspace… and digital/visual/information/trans/whatever literacy… and we’re not about place we’re about service… and should be kitchens (or is it grocery stores, or shopping malls, or maybe Barnes & Noble). Etc. I’ve been mulling this over during my long hours in the car and at odd hours as I get things done and I agree. We know and can clearly create a mission for the “old” library, the one with few resource types from which to choose and shushing librarians and old tomes, but what about the modern library?
Help me, people. How do you define your school library’s mission?
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Posted by lpearle on 20 August 2013
The other day I had a conversation with two colleagues about pop cultural references and slang. I’d just finished reading the ARC of Trollope’s update on Sense and Sensibility and was underwhelmed, in part because of the use of modern slang. Austen’s use of language feels very dated now, and, oddly, in some ways Trollope’s version already feels slightly dated.
Three years ago a student was doing research for a report on an oldies girl group. My mind immediately went to The Supremes… The Ronnettes… Martha and the Vandellas… but no, she was researching the Spice Girls. Talk about a jolt! For her, they were old (she was six when they broke up, younger when their hits were on MTV and the radio) but for me, they were a group that existed in my 30s. Every now and then (ok, so not so “then” as much as “now”) I get hit with that problem: things that seem so close to me in terms of timing are completely outside my students’ ken.
My colleagues laughed and empathized. Then the conversation turned to slang, and how horrible it feels to students to hear us use it – even worse, when we think it’s still phat to say word. Or something like that. There are some slang phrases that are still around, like “wicked” (which appears to be somewhat regional) and “gnarly” (which I could have sworn was no longer in use!), but the ephemeral nature of slang means that by the time it’s trickled up the age ladder it’s probably already out (example? when a bunch of 65+ Jewish women are using that hip new word “bling” [in 2005] it’s well past its use-by date).
I’ve always semi-cringed when I read tweets or FB updates from colleagues my age that are slang-filled – not when they’re using it to illustrate what those crazy kids are saying now but when they’re using it to say “hey, I’m still totes cool!” Hella neat it ain’t. Hella embarrassing? You bet. And maybe that’s why the S&S update felt weird to me: the language the author was using didn’t feel authentic. The author is in her late 60s, and slang au fait with the 20somethings is not using her native language (as opposed to Austen, who I’m sure was writing the way people in her world actually spoke).
So that’s another reminder to me when I’m communicating with my students: watch the cultural references, and watch the slang. Why give them more fodder for eye-rolling?
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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…
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