Venn Librarian

Reflections about the intersection of schools, libraries and technology.

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What I did on my summer “vacation”

Posted by lpearle on 29 August 2016

Wow.  I know I promised to post when life calmed a little – guess what, it didn’t.  While my position is on the teachers schedule, this summer we had a major project going on.  In the space of seven weeks, I and two recent graduates worked hard to weed books, reshelve them in a better order, move furniture and really start the process of creating a 21st century library space:

There’s still much to do, but at least the pace will be a lot slower.   I won’t promise to blog more, because that hasn’t worked in the past, instead I will promise to try to blog more.

Posted in Books, Collection Development, School Libraries, Work Stuff | Leave a Comment »

From the sublime to the…

Posted by lpearle on 27 June 2016

The past week I attended a workshop on Design Thinking in libraries at my alma mater, Emma Willard School (currently referred to as Hogwarts by students):

EWS Quad

And immediately after, I headed South to a city I never thought I’d visit (Orlando) for ALA’s Annual Conference, where I stayed in the Castle Hotel:

Castle Hotel

Of course, I’ll be blogging more about those two experiences (and much more) once real life has reasserted itself.

 

Posted in Conferences | Leave a Comment »

Difficult year

Posted by lpearle on 21 June 2016

I know, I know: I disappeared.  Because reasons.  One reason, one I’m still struggling with, is that there was a lot of death in my professional circles this year – and when you have to go in every day, not allowing the outside to influence how you are interacting with  students and your colleagues…

Last year I mentioned a former colleague who had passed.  His memorial was the second or third weekend of school.  A couple of weeks later, there was a memorial for  a woman I’d worked with at PCS.  Then I heard about the very unexpected death of a tech guy whom I’d never worked with but who was an integral part of the NYCIST group and a man I greatly admired for his sense of humor, sense of decency and his approach to technology. This gentle man had just retired, was on vacation with is family (including young children).

A few months later, another tech guy died.  Here was someone whose ideas were not mine, but whose passion and commitment I admired greatly (and he was a serious Red Sox/Celtics fan – always a plus for this Boston-born gal!).  Mother’s Day Weekend I read (on Facebook, of course) about the death of a beloved teacher of mine, one who helped make me who I am.  And then, last week, came news of the death of the Head of Hackley School.

As you can imagine, my heart has been very heavy this year.  There’s a lot of good to share, and starting today I’ll be with friends and mentors at the AISL Summer Institute and ALA Annual.  So stay tuned.  But while you’re waiting, tell the people in your life that you admire, that you love, who have changed you in some way how much they mean to you.  Before you can’t.

Posted in Life Related | 2 Comments »

Getting my Alex on

Posted by lpearle on 9 March 2016

In addition to getting to know a new collection and a new school’s way of doing research, I’ve been working on the 2017 Alex Award Committee.  If you’re not looking at adult reads being published in 2016, you’re missing out (trust me on this).

The charge of the Alex Award is to find books with teen appeal, something that is at times difficult for me to suss out.  As someone in her second half-century, putting myself in the mindset of a teen isn’t always easy!  There have been occasional meme-based responses to our Instagram posts and, well… luckily I have staff who are much closer to that age group and get memes.  With Alex, I’m looking for a plot that might interest them – even in non-fiction, as I learned working on the ENFYA Committee and as I’m telling our sixth graders, there can be a narrative arc! – with characters that make sense.  That doesn’t mean I’d expect them to “relate” to Hannibal Lecter, but so many teens love to read Silence of the Lambs thanks to the horror and “creep factor” that it’d probably have gotten the Alex, had it existed when the book was published.

A few weeks ago I booktalked some recently published novels by American authors to an American Lit class.  We came up with twitter “reviews” to pique their interest (eg, “Orange blossoms mean fascination. Chrysanthemums mean you’re a good friend.  More subtle than emojis, flowers speak volumes” for The Language of Flowers, a 2011 nominee)   and they were asked to choose one, read it and then present (to the class and others) on how that book mimicked or expanded on themes in the books they were reading for class.  Talking with them as they chose these books was interesting, with many excited to read something new and not being taught in class.  One or two have even asked for more by that author, or in that genre.

Our fiction collection here was not necessarily bought with teens in mind – Ferrente’s Neopolitan novels, for example – but traditionally we have had a lot of faculty who use our collection for their pleasure reading.  As I continue to read for Alex, I’m wondering about that “teen appeal” part and reflecting on some of the books I’ve read in the past, like Millay’s Sea of Tranquility, which (to my mind) had little adult appeal but was not published at a YA book and thus won the award in 2014.  It will definitely guide my purchasing for our collection in future, as we try to balance “adult appeal” with what will actually appeal to our students.  It will also be interesting to see how we can market these books to both faculty and students without one or the other feeling as though their needs are not being met.

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My Kanye moment

Posted by lpearle on 29 February 2016

No, I’m not going to interrupt someone – I’m talking about this moment:

Kanye

https://twitter.com/kanyewest/status/698926987281371136

Research season (part one) hit us, and once again I thought about how difficult research is for students.  As we’ve been weeding the print collection and bulking up the digital offerings, it’s been interesting to watch how students interact with what we have.  Much of their research has been what I’d call “cherry picking” research: find a fact here… find a fact there… find a quote somewhere else… repeat.  The great narrative nonfiction we have doesn’t get used to their fullest extent, in part because they (the students) don’t really have time to delve into their topics.  Of course, that hasn’t changed since I was in high school!

Over the past few years, I’ve regretted the loss of those Time-Life book sets.  Remember them?  So many of them were great resources for research, perfect for a quick read and cherry pick information, much as they do with Daily Life series.  But, sadly, T-L has ceased publishing (before completing This Fabulous Century!) and what we have is falling apart from use.

Years ago, the Marvelous Marion and I dreamed up a business idea: Sugar Daddy Press (because we’d need a sugar daddy to get things going).  We’d buy the rights to those series and create wonderful reprints, even extending them.  Example?  The Library of Art would move into other arts, giving us The World of Mozart and The World of Bronte in addition to The World of Van Gogh. We’d also take on those Jackdaws, only now they’d be online (Rosen, please get on this ASAP!).  There were so many other books that we found – and I still find – missing from our shelves, if by “missing” you mean “never published” or “out of print”.

Hence my Kanye moment.  Much as I love my job, if someone invested in Sugar Daddy Press I’d leave this one in a second to start getting things moving.  Because Research Season (part two) is about to hit.

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

More testing thoughts

Posted by lpearle on 9 February 2016

A couple of weeks ago I was chatting with a friend about my job and recent developments in library land, and the topic of testing arose.  As always, I’ve been very happy to not be working in a public school with all that mandated testing, but we still do see students studying (and taking classes) for AP exams.  Only one school I’ve worked at had a full compliment of AP courses, while the others have had more or less depending on their focus.  Hackley, for example, had gotten rid of the humanities AP classes but still had science and math courses (although that was under discussion); PCS only offered an AP for Calculus, but didn’t classify the course as AP.  My current school has many “honors” and “advanced” classes but nothing called AP (which is a designation that only those who submit a curriculum for approval can use).

I’m of two minds about the AP.  As my British and French friends have repeatedly said, having some sort of national test allows universities to determine the academic readiness of the student.  That’s a fair point: knowing that someone in rural Kansas has the same knowledge as someone at an elite East Coast prep school does help in the admissions process.  But… it bothers me no end that while we’re all too ready to decry Common Core or No Child Left Behind, we’re also all too ready to give millions of dollars to a company (College Board; not-for-profit, but still!) to not only test our students but to approve our curriculum!

Following on that conversation, a colleague told me that he had to submit his curriculum to the College Board but hadn’t quite followed their rules and guidelines.  He’d learned that they’d sent it back unapproved and so, over a long weekend, he’d spent about 30 hours dotting ever i and crossing every t they required… submitted it late Sunday and got approval early Monday.  So clearly “they” didn’t even really look at what he’d done, just made sure that the ‘tasks’ had been completed.  Says quite a lot about the company that also administers all the SATs, doesn’t it?

Over the next week or so students are going to start thinking about their courses for next year.  Some will have to take required classes to meet graduation requirements, most will have some leeway with electives.  The advanced and honors classes will be filled with those who are thinking about taking the AP in April, looking to prove their academic worth to college admissions counselors.

I wish that weren’t the case.  I wish that one company didn’t hold so much power over our students academic careers.  I also wish there were some way we could come to a consensus that would take their power away while still allowing for some sort of level playing ground in terms of education, so all students have an equal chance to prove they know US History or Biology, or whatever.

 

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

Testing… testing…

Posted by lpearle on 27 January 2016

This is my fifth school and the fifth iteration of EXAMS.  Each school has done things differently, but somehow the student stress remains.  Even though my own school days are very far behind me, my memories of exams (trisemester or semester) are that there was less stress, less sense of impending doom.

Of course, “everyone” says that students today are overstressed, overscheduled, overwhelmed, etc.  Schools have started to try to ameliorate the scheduling and the stressing, and sometimes that has an affect on testing.  For example, Hackley School decided to do away with finals and moved exams to March.  Reason?  Having midterms in January, so close to Winter Break, meant that students didn’t truly get a break because they knew that those tests were looming.  Having a final in June meant that students took a test and then got it back on “Class Day” and then told, essentially, ciao.  Got an F? Ciao.  Got an A? Also ciao.  No way to celebrate and build on your expertise and no way to recover from a disaster. March, prior to APs, gave students an alternative that meant they could practice for an AP or have a final project that gives them an opportunity to prove themselves in a different way than by taking a test.

That seems sensible and after a year’s worry (OMG!  This is 2/3 of the way through the year?  how will I remember the ‘extra’ information??) students and faculty seem to have a good feeling about all this.

When the test happens aside, I wonder about the why of having a final (or midterm).  Why don’t we just have a regular test in class?  One of the people who works with me teaches Chinese when she’s not in the library (ok, it’s really the other way around but I like to think she’s primarily “mine”) and she’s giving an exam.  But why couldn’t it just be a regular in-class test?  What difference does the extra hour make?  Isn’t language cumulative, so each unit builds on the previous one, which means that if you do a regular test (or one over a two day period to encompass written and oral) you know whether or not the student is learning the material .  Why do you need to give one two hour exam that explores… what?  What more can you ask, beyond simply asking for more?  The same holds true for other subjects, not just languages.  And for subjects that are unit based, why, once you’ve moved on from a unit that you covered in, say, October, do students need to recall the information in January or March if they’re never going to use that information on any other assessments that year?

This week is Exam Week which means the library is filled with students madly trying to cram information in (or back in) before sitting down for two hours to prove their knowledge.  We have students working in groups, in pairs and as solo studiers.  We’ve purchased coloring books and Crayons to create a #nostresszone feel in some places.  Today bags of candy were handed out to give students something to keep them going during their tests.  That hasn’t stopped the stress and as the day wears on it’s worse as they finish one  and anticipate the next.

I get having students write essays to showcase their immediate writing skills (as opposed to the edited and thoughtfully considered essays they’ve handing in as homework).  I get quizzes and tests.  But the need for one exam?  or two? that totally disrupts the flow of school and adds so much stress to the system?  No matter when we hold them, it seems odd.  We’re talking a lot about teaching the essentials and about changing how we teach. Maybe a good start would be to change how we test.

Posted in Student stuff, Work Stuff | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Minor Musings

Posted by lpearle on 15 January 2016

Some things to think about while I digest ALA Midwinter and hiring new staff…

Books, Reading, etc.

  • While I’d love to teach this exact class, since I’m on the Alex Committee for the next couple of years it might be possible to figure out a way to create something similar with those books.
  • More Shakespeare thinking (this time from JSTOR and the Folger)
  • This year we’ve been working with the 6th grade English class and creating book recommendation materials.  Here’s an idea. And another one for increasing vacation reading from Katie: bring the books to the kids.
  • Don’t you love year end lists for personal and professional collection development?  I do.  Here’s stuff from The Hub, Semicolon

School Life

Tech Stuff

Etcetera

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

Rethinking School

Posted by lpearle on 7 January 2016

While students were wending their way back to school post-Thanksgiving Break, we faculty were doing “professional development”, in this case, the first of three sessions with Charles Fadel. The big question posed for this particular session was “what is the implication of technology on already stressed minds?” particularly since our world is increasingly interdependent (and fragile: just look at Ebola or IS as “stressors”).  Much of what we spent the day on made me think and question to the point where I felt it was necessary to take a step back to see if my questions were relevant later on.  And you know what, some of them were/are.

First, the takeaways.  Aka “the good”.

Fadel asked us to think about the word relevance with respect to education.  What is relevant today?  Can we still teach the way we did and the things we did? Can “old” still be relevant? Looking at different subjects, we need to do a deep dive into them and ask what about each subject actually matters?  why does it matter?  And – most important – who determines this? students? faculty? parents?  So much of our lives is now automated (eg, Google Translate, or other translation apps making foreign language acquisition irrelevant, or easier, but perhaps leading classes into deeper dives into cultural understanding or the literature written in that language) it’s worth thinking about what we’re doing in a school.

We’ve been told that virtual reality is the Next!Big!Thing! but what does that mean?  Do we need it?  Can we integrate it?  and why would/should we?  When we take our cues from tech leaders we need to remember to have thoughtful discussions about exploration and integration, not just expeditious implementation. If we don’t address the negatives, we give ammunition to the naysayers!  We also need to remember that much of what’s being developed is by ASP boys/men and Silicon Valley startups, not by people who work with a diverse population of students.

So, our mission as an independent school with resources should be to buck the system and to teach students that it’s ok to not always do things, to not always buy into prevailing wisdom but to question things and find new ways to make things relevant, useful, worthwhile, even if it means sticking with the old.  Fadel acknowledged that all this tech is a vast social experiment and we don’t know what the end results will be, if this will ultimately be a good thing or a bad thing.

At bottom, we need to determine what are the essentials:  what do students really need to know? and then ask how we can best teach those essentials.

Now, the questions.  Aka “the bad/iffy”.

I’m always curious about so-called education experts who have little to no experience in a school as a teacher or administrator, or whose experience predates the rise of the internet.  Fadel falls into the former category, and his first few slides, in which he cited PISA as an area for concern (yes, but… we’re not a small, homogeneous country with a mandated unified curriculum and the results are an amalgamation of every school in the US, from high achieving independent schools costing thousands in tuition to low income public schools with students who may not even speak English as a first language or who may have learning issues independent schools can turn away) and VUCA as our “watchacronym” (we’re an independent school, not central command at NATO!) didn’t allay my concerns.  It was also curious to me as a librarian that he never cited his sources or research, even when alluding to the work of Alan November or danah boyd.  When consultants come to say Thou Shalt, my response is Why?  Shouldn’t change be part of a collaborative community conversation?

That aside, the bigger question for me was what about the ethics of all this: are we perpetuating privilege when we talk about these things?  just because we can do something does it mean we should?  There’s a digital divide (read this!) and experiential divide that is widening – I think of the students my nephew and cousin teach, students virtually given up on by society and hoping to avoid jail/irrelevance/hopelessness by getting at least a high school degree or GED, and then I look at the students I work with and wonder what we really mean when we talk about educating students for the world to come.  Will my cousin’s students get in to college, something my students take for granted? And if not, will exploding the curriculum, teaching the “essentials” and then deep diving into other topics help them as they work in relatively menial jobs? Or are we mandating for the type of education where a segment of  HS students take basic classes and then do vocational training the rest of the day while the rest get to get a “real” education?  And what about the sustainability of all this?  Shouldn’t we think about climate change, resource limitations and energy issues before considering implementing technology programs that have equipment that require updating/upgrading every few years?

What the next two sessions will look like is unknown.  They’re in June, and until then, I’m suspending judgement about whether this was useful for long term change.  The questions that he asked and that he (unintentionally?) raised will perhaps be answered before then.

 

 

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

Diverse Diversity @ #ALAN16

Posted by lpearle on 5 January 2016

Diversity was a minor theme for the various professional development opportunities I had during the month or so before Winter Break.  I’m always mindful of the fact that “diversity” doesn’t only mean “skin tone”; when I was co-chair of my school’s accreditation self-study, we tried to think about all of NYSAIS’ definition of diversity when discussing the school’s culture:

How does the school officially communicate its policies and practices with respect to differences in ethnicity, race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, age, socioeconomic level, physical ability, and learning styles?

Sometimes we do better at one, sometimes better at another.  When I hear #weneeddiversebooks I think about the diverse diversities and what books are doing to address them.  How does this relate to ALAN?

Last year there was a lot of discussion about “boy books” vs “girl books” and that carried over to this year.  One panelist asked why no one asks where are the strong boy characters, simply because strong boy characters are the norm.  Why can’t we have a world where that’s assumed equally for boys and girls? When one voice (male, or white, or Christian, or whatever) is always the authority/norm in books, it starts to carry over into real life because that’s what readers internalize.  Protagonists are protagonists, period.  Why don’t we say, “the protagonist” rather than “the girl protagonist”?  Because if it’s a girl (or not white or poor or some other diverse subset) that’s what we notice.  And isn’t that a shame?

The myth of diverse (by ethnicity or race) books not selling was also addressed.  They do sell, but part of the problem is that the publishers are small presses without the big ARC/promotion budgets of the big houses.  Why are so many English books translated into other languages, and not vice versa?  What about diverse authors, and getting their story out?  We were reminded that diversity is not all conflict, it can just “be” and still make for an amazing book.  Just look at science fiction/fantasy/speculative fiction: they write around diversity and outside themselves all the time and no one questions those authors about using an authentic voice (and it was repeated: did not being a wizard make JK Rowling’s world less authentic?).  The big takeaway was that maybe we should promote diverse books by not framing them as diverse, but as being about the story, as in “this a coming-of-age story” or “this is about first love”.

We were reminded that there were other diversities (see, it did all tie in!) that aren’t being as discussed, and where are the authors who are writing about these issues? Poverty, the not-college-bound, the disabilities (cancer, something other than OCD/ASD, a physical limitation), teens in prison, etc. are also missing from our shelves.  The reality of these lives is that they’re not easy, not everyone accepts them and sometimes, life hurts.  We need books that also say that while we may have depression, asthma, grief, etc, we aren’t depression, asthma, grief, etc., we’re human.  Let’s remember that, as Laurie Halse Anderson said, adults know how to handle “dark” while teens are turning to fiction to learn how to cope.  And Margi Preus eloquently said that every student reading is doing research into their future lives, books are a door to that life.  So let’s open up the canon, add some new books that maybe weren’t taught (or published) back when we were in high school!

Posted in Books, Collection Development, Conferences | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

 
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