Venn Librarian

Reflections about the intersection of schools, libraries and technology.

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Archive for the ‘Student stuff’ Category

Pausing to reflect

Posted by lpearle on 11 March 2015

It’s Spring Break and actually about time for Spring, Break or no.  Afterwards comes the incredibly hectic run to the end of the year, a time filled with angst for the students (APs, finals, leave-taking) and faculty (planning for AY16 while finishing AY15).

For us, too, it’s a time to plan next year (did that research project go as well as it could? are the teachers open to more collaboration? if not, what can we still do to support the project/students/teachers? what new needs to be added to the collection so that we’re ready to go in September? etc.) as well as supporting what we can over the next couple of months.  One of the things I’ll be thinking about is what happened earlier this year, during a program we call InterMission.

The program is akin to a January term, or Winterim, where students forgo academic classes in favor of a mini-term.  We had something like this when I was at Emma Willard and when I was at Hamilton, although the Emma courses were two weeks at the end of December.  What was/is wonderful is that the students have the opportunity to really delve deeply into something for a period of time, knowing that there’s no graded outcome (like Emma, unlike Hamilton).  There were many courses where you could feel the excitement and engagement on the part of the students, something that doesn’t always feel as though it’s happening when they come in to do research.  There were also several seniors doing “capstone” projects that allowed them to really engage with a topic on their own, touching base with their faculty advisor early each day then going off to do research, think, program or whatever.

The question for me is how do we get the students that excited about research overall?  Not just when they get to pick the topic, but when they’re assigned something by their teacher.  When they sign up for an elective, they must have some interest in the topic – so why don’t I see that translated into their research projects?  Is it because of the way it’s approached, in terms of timing and expectations?  Is it because they have never really experienced the joys of research before?  Is it me?  For me, knowing how to cite sources accurately is the least exciting part of the process – the most exciting is the time spent searching for the resource, the answer to the question or some obscure piece of information that will make it all perfect.  The actual writing comes somewhere in between those two poles.

Last semester, a student was quoting an English translation of a German poem.  Because time was tight, I told her to watch what I was doing as I looked for (and ultimately found) the original English translator and publication information.  She was amazed at the tricks I was using to find the actual source, jotting down some hints for future reference.  We talked about how much fun that can be, knowing the answer is there and not stopping until it’s found.  If only we could build in time for them to just play with finding these things, but on topics they choose not proscribed topics based on the course they’re taking.  If only we could do this early on in their careers here, so that they could – as they progress through the years – have one such moment during each project.

How to make that possible, given time and curricular restraints, is what I’ll be thinking about over the next couple of weeks as I wait for the Mad Dash to the End to start.

Posted in Musings, Student stuff | Leave a Comment »

It’s the little things!

Posted by lpearle on 4 March 2015

In the midst of change, and stress and angst, it’s the little things that make what we do bearable.  Before I went back to school and got my MLS, there were only a few of those times – I can count them on one hand, I think.  That’s not to say I didn’t make friends or have fun, but those surprising rays of sunshine seem to happen more frequently now that I’m working in a school.

For example, the reason I’m on Facebook is that a former student e-mailed to ask for personal reading suggestions even though she was still at school (her librarian apparently didn’t read much YA fiction, and never really tended to that part of the collection), and she also complained that she’d had to e-mail – why wasn’t I on Facebook, where she could reach out far more easily.  The first friends I had there were former students, all of whom reached out to me.

One of those students, a girl who’d graduated several years before, sent me a personal message apologizing for giving me a hard time one day.  Honestly, I didn’t even remember it but apparently she’d felt guilt about that for a while and this was her chance to get rid of it.   She’s not the only student who has reached out to apologize for being a teen.  And each time, they’ve mentioned that I’d been gracious about their behavior, which was what had stuck with them.

Another former student, from my first school, turned up as a teacher at my last school.  We’d bonded back them, even though I was only there for a year, and during the time we worked together he would occasionally come to the library for some “Laura time” – in part because not only had we bonded, but in the intervening 10 or so years I’d remembered him and the things he was interested in.  It’s those little connections that matter to students.

At my current school, we have Weekend Duty for about five weekends in the school year.  Duty can range from chaperoning a dance to driving students to the mall to a pizza making party.  One weekend, a colleague who was supposed to stay in one of the dorms while the housemother had the weekend off couldn’t make it.  So in addition to my other duties I was scheduled to stay in the dorm from 6pm – midnight, making sure the girls were ok.  This was in my mailbox a day or so later:

cupcakes

Just for doing my job!

And then there are the students.  They’re all very polite, thanking me for proctoring study hall or for driving them somewhere.  But as at all schools, there are some who stand out, who become “library groupies”.  There’s one, a voracious reader, whom I’m convinced is the daughter I’m pretty sure I never had.  There’s another who has come to me with some problems and asked for advice.   When new books come in, there are a few I know will be in soon, perusing the display and choosing what they’ll read over the weekend or during a Break (or, as I did as a student, instead of doing homework).  Some feel comfortable enough to joke with me.  Last week, three of them gave me hugs during study hall (for three different reasons).  Talk about the little things!

Finally, there’s Jenna.  Apparently one of her goals is to be mentioned in a blog post (yes, I’ve spoken with her about raising her aspirations and goals… still, who am I to deny a lifelong dream).  And I’m happy to do it – not just because of the wish-fulfillment, but because she’s one of the ones who in some ways reminds me of me, back when I was in high school.

I don’t think she’ll do what I did with my high school librarian, with whom I became professional colleagues years after working in the library as part of my community service.  One day I called her from work, saying, “Barb, I’m going to say something to you that no former student has probably ever said to you before, nor will in the future.  Thank you for teaching me how to cover books, because that’s one of those things they don’t teach in graduate school – and it’s so necessary to know!” When I next saw her, she handed me some mylar in celebration.

Those connections, those random acts of kindness and hugs and smiles and “thank yous” make the larger job so much easier.   It’s nearly spring, a time for hope and warmth.  We’re also rushing forward to the end of the school year.  As you reflect on the year past, the successes and failures, don’t forget to count all those little things.

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

Finally, new content

Posted by lpearle on 6 February 2015

This is Winter Long Weekend, and a good time for me to start catching up – getting organized with my taxes, updating all sorts of information and generally recovering from the blizzards/a four-week (and counting) cold/ALA Midwinter.  While I’m doing this, I’m “multitasking” by watching/listening to tv while doing all the data entry stuff.  One of my favorite tv shows is C-SPAN’s Q&A, which replaced Booknotes (another long-time favorite).  This past week’s show is worth watching for anyone working in a school:

http://www.c-span.org/video/standalone/?323965-1/qa-dr-frances-jensen

There’s also a TEMED talk given by Dr. Jensen:

Working in a school with teens means you see some of these behaviors (the stress, the texting) and know all about the development of the brain from external evidence.  This is some of the clearest explanation of the actual science I’ve seen yet.

Posted in Student stuff | Leave a 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 »

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 »

 
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