Venn Librarian

Reflections about the intersection of schools, libraries and technology.

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Archive for the ‘Pedagogy’ Category

What are you doing with your summer?

Posted by lpearle on 24 July 2015

I’ve already posted my early-summer PD schedule and a few “if only…” options.  Then I read this on Twitter:

and Wendy posted about her Walden experience.

Both put me in mind of a friend (a librarian friend) who worked in a school that gave out summer sabbatical travel/learning grants.  No librarian had ever gotten one, because why do we need to travel/learn?  She applied and got a grant to learn to paint in Tuscany.  The rationale?  She was a very linear learner and thinker, not at all artistic.  Learning to paint would be out of her comfort zone.  Even more out of that comfort zone would be living and learning in a language she didn’t know.  Why was this important?  Because she was very comfortable (as I suspect most librarians are) doing research and speaking the language of information fluency/skills, etc..  Putting herself in those uncomfortable shoes would mean she could, for a few weeks, walk in her students’ steps as they began to learn the process of finding, evaluating and interpreting information while they did research.  She argued, convincingly, that her experience would make her more empathetic to them and help her be a better librarian.

I’ve never worked in a school that’s had that kind of program (or, if they did, I wasn’t eligible) but it’s something to consider for next year, even if it’s out of my own pocket (as Doug says, it’s good to have skin in the game).  Imagine how your program could change and improve if you did the same.

Posted in Conferences, Musings, Pedagogy | Leave a Comment »

Help Yourself – personalized learning at #alaac15

Posted by lpearle on 9 July 2015

(another program that will be posted online – check here)

Many schools and libraries are starting to embrace personalized learning, blended learning, the flipped classroom or whatever new buzzword appears.  At the Online School for Girls, they’re talking about “competency-based instruction” that puts learners at the center, meeting their needs and goals (in other words, it’s not teacher or student driven, it’s learner driven).  This approach allows teachers to work smarter.

Projects are remapped to put the student learner at the center, allowing for deeper engagement with the materials :

  • what major competencies are desired?
  • what is the individual student profile (what type of learner are they? what do they already know?)
  • what “pathway options” are there to get the student to understand the material?
  • what operational elements need to be designed?

remember: the pathway is less important than the competencies

You can build units in your LMS – Haiku, Schoology, WhippleHill, LibGuides, Moodle, etc. – chunking competencies and building in the pathway options.

Personalized learning is data-driven: always assign what students are learning and circle back if necessary.  In other words, assess assess assess (not necessarily formal assessments!).

In order to do this, you need to think about the school climate and have conversations about pedagogy.  For this to work, creating a climate of personalized learning needs to be a strategic intention, with an evaluation of space and investment in infrastructure for what the student’s needs are. Does the school’s mission have learners at the center?

The next speaker was from SFPL, highlighting their new literacy and learning center, a place where all kinds of learning can take place.  They’ve relabeled their classroom the Learning Studio/Learning Theatre, giving it flexible furnishings that can be positions to best assist what the program is.

Other ideas:

  • develop a public instruction plan
  • create a collection of resources and programs
  • instructional materials and tools are important (use YouTube for a tutorial collection, create handouts as take-aways)

Most learners want hands-on help! Make that happen with drop-in classes, 1:1 tech help (20 min sessions), online course instruction and meet-ups.

Finally, we heard from VATech, which has created a program that stresses empowering students by partnering with faculty – to do this they’ve developed programs and tools.

Good place to start: check with the first year experience librarians at schools popular with students and build down from that

One thing they’ve created is an iPad tour of the library: auto-generated, outcome based tour (there are also auto-graded assessments).  They’re now thinking about beacons, QR codes and apps to provide the same opportunities.

It’s important to train the trainers: creating lesson plans and activities that teachers can use/drop-in to their classes.  Your role is that of coach/consultant, not teacher. Example? their Working with the Library toolkit. The anecdotal evidence is that this works, freeing the librarians to do 1:1 assistance.

VT has also created an Instructional Learning Community with the assumption that all librarians are learners.  It’s open to anyone who wants to talk about teaching and includes a Read/Lead group who read and discuss a book that deals with learning, pedagogy, schools, etc.

Tool to check out: EDpuzzle (allows students to insert questions they have about the video tutorials they’re watching)


Posted in Conferences, Pedagogy, School Libraries, Student stuff, Techno Geekiness, Work Stuff | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

What if there were more like him?

Posted by lpearle on 28 May 2015

Nearly 10 years ago I started working at Hackley School.  As is customary when at a new place, it took a while before I settled in and found my place, my “peeps”.  For me, it was all about the Breakfast Club, a group of some of the smartest people I have ever met, let alone worked with. The Club was from virtually every department in the school, and our conversations ranged from the latest episodes of House and Downton Abbey to politics to religion to students (current and former) and on to academic topics, jokes: you name it, we talked about it (and yes, I’m sure we offended some – there were no sacred cows in the Club).  People were a little in awe of us, but one student reported that he always got a chuckle out of the collective brain power at the table discussing something as mundane as the weather, and that the two women were the biggest sports fans.

One of the Club was a math teacher named Stephen Frauenthal.  He had retired from the Chappaqua public schools and come to Hackley, bringing with him an amazing skill for drawing geometric figures on the board and an enthusiasm for teaching (and math) and his students that was contagious.  He’d seen many educational fads come, and many educational fads go, and was less and less impressed with newer iterations of older fads.  He bemoaned the loss of his blackboard, because chalk came in far more colors than dry erase markers.  He refused a SMART board not because it was New Technology but because he’d tried it, and knew that it couldn’t do what he needed it to, thus not benefitting his students.  It was always about the students for Frau.  He’d give extra help, but not become a crutch.  He’d use technology when it enhanced, but not when it detracted.

Far too many teachers (and administrators) fail to think of that when they’re forging ahead with the Next! New! Thing! and rush to adopt without really considering the impact on pedagogy, whether it is in fact better than what is being used now, and whether the teachers can embrace and integrate it into the curriculum. Doug Johnson writes about the $3400 Piece of Chalk, and I’m sure Frau would have agreed.

But he was more than “just” a math teacher.  He’d worked for, and led, a summer camp in the Adirondacks for decades and was just as inspiring to his campers as he was to his students.

As I left Hackley, it became clear that Frau was ill.  Soon, he retired (again) and Hackley declared a Stephen Frauenthal Day.  This week he went into hospice, then yesterday he died.  The outpouring of emotion on Facebook has been inspiring, with students and campers from years ago remembering the man who shaped their lives.

What if we had more Fraus in our schools?  What if instead of rushing towards something bright and shiny we looked at what we do exceptionally well and evaluate the new thing against that?  What if we took the time to get to know our students and figure out what was best for them, what would inspire them, and what would stick with them years later?  A school full of Fraus would be an amazing place to teach and learn.

Posted in Life Related, Musings, Pedagogy | 1 Comment »

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 »

Minor Musings

Posted by lpearle on 1 September 2014

(more from the vault – next month, fresher stuff!)

Books, Reading, Etc.

School Stuff


  • I don’t use Pocket (yet?) but am a fan of Readability.  Which do you prefer?
  • Great playlist of TED talks on Our Digital Lives.
  • Over the years I’ve scooped, livebindered, diigo’d and been delicious… should I now flip?

Posted in Books, Pedagogy, Privacy, School Libraries, Techno Geekiness, Work Stuff | Leave a Comment »

The missing piece

Posted by lpearle on 8 January 2014

Just after my school went on Winter Break I headed off to my former school (easier to see everyone in one place!).  They, like several schools I know, are struggling with the question of going 1:1 with some device, as well as the question of if they do, what device should it be?  Since my school is nearly 1:1 (they did a slow phase-in, and by next year it’ll be 1:1 with iPads for all grades) some of my former colleagues asked my opinion and for my reaction to what I’m seeing now.  Some of my answer was informed by serving on the Professional Development Committee and hearing departmental responses…

Here’s the thing: yes, using the iPad can be helpful.  There are drawbacks, like thinking about privacy issues (do the apps track student use? what information is being collected and share without our knowledge?) and whether you’re being forced to change a text that works really well but isn’t available digitally  for one that might not work as well but is available digitally, and how to distribute apps/resources to a large number of people.  There are pluses, like lightening the load for students in terms of textbooks.  Cost is another issue, especially if you’re asking parents to pay for an iPad when they’ve just bought a new laptop for their child, let alone replacement/upgrade costs.  Etc.

I don’t need to cover all that here, because others have done it better earlier.  For me, the biggest challenge, the biggest “missing” has been teacher training.  It’s more than merely rethinking classroom management, keeping students engaged in class despite having a machine linking them to the world “outside”.  It’s completely redoing your pedagogy and revamping lesson plans: how does this homework assignment look if we’re using digital resources in class?  should the class “flip” and if so, how?  what multimedia resources should be integrated to best make use of the new tool?  It’s also about training teachers to help students use the new tool: if it’s an iPad, how are they taking notes (using a keyboard? with NotesPlus or Penultimate or ??)? how are they organizing their digital notebooks? how do they access your downloadables and do they really need to print them out? And finally, who is making the decisions, the tech people (deciding what they think will work best) or the teachers (which may mean more work for tech support, but would lead to better teacher experience).

The departments at school all have different approaches, with only one truly embracing the possibilities the iPad presents.  Another department is using it, but the teachers are struggling with all of the above.  Still another seems to be refusing to really use it, staying with “tried and true” for now.  Training would help – having the teacher who really rocks a specific app or process work with those who can see some way to use it but don’t know how to get started.  More than a mere introduction at the start of the year would help (Genius Hours for teachers, anyone?), and when a major application changes (as NotesPlus did just as school started) then PDO time is not just nice, it’s a necessity.

All too often I’ve seen this rollout done poorly: tech department, plus the administration, decides what device and which applications without teacher input.  Teachers don’t get the training or time to effectively integrate the new tools into their curriculum, just a mandate that This Is The Way Things Will Be and are hesitant (or resentful).  Students sense that the teachers haven’t fully embraced the tools and don’t try, either.  Result? Failure.

I’m hoping that we can change and improve what’s going on at my school, and that my experience can help others heading down that road.  Stay tuned as we move forward, finding the missing.  And, as always, if you have thoughts and suggestions, the comments are open!

Posted in Musings, Pedagogy, Privacy, Techno Geekiness | 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


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.


  • 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 »

Minor Musings

Posted by lpearle on 31 October 2013

Sorry I missed September – here’s two month’s worth!

Books, Reading, Etc..

School Life

  • A recent project about the Republican Party’s ideas about debt and fiscal planning led me to give my “sometimes, it’s ok to use biased information” speech.  This time I also added “but if you use social media, you’re going to need to verify what you’re reading”.  Of course, as always, Joyce puts it far better than I.  And HT @lbraun2000 for 10 Ways Students Can Use Twitter for Research.
  • One goal for the year is getting colleagues (some, not all) to see us as “embedded” in their courses, and much of the work will be done on-line.  This article about feedback will help me  work with both students and faculty.  We also need to work on improving the library experience for them.
  • Don’t you love the video tours here?  Think we need to try doing some for my library!

Tech Stuff

  • As I begin to play with my iPad and watch students intently focused on their iPhones, I’ve begun deleting that which is not used.  Cleaning the crap makes it just more usable – and I’m not alone in this thinking.  (I’m also working on learning to type – thx Doug for these tips!).  That won’t stop me from seeing which of these apps I should recommend to everyone!
  • Research season is fast approaching, which makes this the perfect time to revisit what Archipelago said about her Adventures with E-books. Even better (from my viewpoint) is the opportunity to test-drive some of this with students and talk to vendors at AASL and ALA Midwinter.
  • The Atlantic gives advice about the iPhone signature far too many people haven’t yet changed.  Go now and be creative.
  • Usually it’s my librarians who give away the good Google search tips.  This time, it’s Wise Bread (so maybe now more people will get the hint[s]).
  • Badging is becoming a big thing these days, and I’m inspired by Laura’s blog to consider ways we can integrate badging and library skills.


I bookmarked this a while ago, and having just finished meeting several parents during Families Weekend, it’s worth remembering that not everyone is, or thinks like, a librarian.

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


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 »


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