Venn Librarian

Reflections about the intersection of schools, libraries and technology.

  • Tag This!

  • December 2016
    S M T W T F S
    « Nov    
     123
    45678910
    11121314151617
    18192021222324
    25262728293031
  • Prior Posts

  • Copyright

Archive for the ‘Student stuff’ Category

More from the mailbox

Posted by lpearle on 28 November 2016

Part of reenergizing the program at work has included purchasing the LibGuides platform to create what we’re calling Resource Guides (it’s the Kleenex/tissue issue – who knows if we’ll stay with the same platform, so why confuse students with a brand name?).  This is the third school I’ve used these guides in, and they’re an amazing way to collect resources and guide students to them, as well as teaching them how to do research.  The usual sequence is: teacher approaches us with a topic, we create the guide, we meet with the class, and then we forget about it until the next year or next time the project is done.  So imagine my surprise when I found this in our mailbox the other week:

Crucible thankyou

Here’s a guide I whipped up in a few moments, presented and hadn’t thought about in several months that has had an impact on someone completely unrelated to our school!  I’m… pleased.  Stunned.  Thrilled.

Here’s proof that what we do matters in ways we don’t always anticipate or see. And proof that adhering to our mantra of sharing resources (via ILL, online, etc.) is one that serves us well.

So here’s what puzzles me: why do school libraries keep their resources hidden?  Why aren’t all school libraries easily findable on the school’s homepage?  If you’re using the LibGuides platform, why aren’t your guides public (there are ways to hide database passwords and login information that still make the rest of the guide public)?  It’s such a surprise to me when I look for a friend’s website, attempt to search a catalog or try to see what databases a peer school has and I can’t find more than a publicity page created by the communications people.  It saddens me that all that’s available to the public is a few facts, maybe a photo.  Allowing others to see what’s going on and what you have is such a help to those of us looking to find books on a topic that work for a certain education level (“will this work with our 7th grade?”) or ways to present information for a research project.  And it’s free pr for your school and its program.

We’re considering a third revamp of our website in two years, asking students for input on usability and comparing our page to peer schools and colleges.  Are we using similar language? What’s important to share, and what can be hidden? One thing we know for sure is that links to our Resource Guides, our catalog and our databases will be available (we use EZProxy, so you can’t access our database content without being a member of our community).  We want to share that with anyone looking because we know how important that can be.

And if anyone asks why, that email is response enough.

Posted in Collection Development, Musings, Rants, School Libraries, Student stuff, Work Stuff | 1 Comment »

Thankful for the little things

Posted by lpearle on 23 November 2016

One of the things I heard – loud and clear – when I was interviewing at Milton was that the library needed to change.  It needed to be more the heart of the school, more comfortable for students and teachers.  It’s one of those concrete-and-glass late 60s/early 70s brutalist buildings, no “curb appeal” as all those HGTV shows say.  Inside, I found a wonderful 20th century library and library program – and in 2015 that’s not a great thing, right?  So my staff and I went to work, upping the digital offerings, removing the microfilm/fiche collection, weeding the overgrown collection so that the incredible useful resources we have shine through.  Then I had to hire new staff, one of whom has the charge of energizing our Middle School program and getting involved with the daily life of that division.  And it’s working.  People are responding, perhaps slower than we’d like but still… baby steps, right?

One innovation (for Milton; I freely admit to “recycling” this idea from elsewhere) was to create two pop-up libraries, one in the MS break room and one in the US dining hall, so that busy students and faculty could easily get some vacation reading.  For two days we sat there, encouraging people to “not leave Milton without a vacation read!”.  Not as many takers as I’d hoped, but enough for us to continue this before Winter Break in a few weeks.

And then, this in our mailbox, from S, a senior:

You're awecome

*blush*

 

 

Posted in Student stuff | Leave a Comment »

It’s all worth it

Posted by lpearle on 2 September 2016

Years ago, at another school,at a difficult time professionally, I led a Mock Newbery group for some interested Middle School students.  The excitement (literal jumping up and down in the dining hall) when the winner was announced puzzled those not involved with the reading, but I knew these kids had had a great experience.

Flash forward to last night, when I got this message from the mother of one of the girls in the group:

MOW.jpg

What a wonderful message to start the school year: no matter how difficult it may be in the moment, ultimately, it’s all worth it.

Posted in Student stuff | Leave a Comment »

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.

Posted in Books, Collection Development, Student stuff | Tagged: | 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 »

Minor Musings

Posted by lpearle on 22 December 2015

The past couple of months have been filled with work stuff and some interesting (read: thought provoking) professional development.  As I digest all of that and distill into posts, here’s a round-up of other things catching my eye.

Books, Reading, etc.

School Life

Tech Stuff

Etcetera

  • Carol Dweck on how her research is misused
  • Is your school talking about equality and diversity? Read this.

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

How happy are you?

Posted by lpearle on 23 November 2015

Several years ago, Michelle Obama said that she’s only as happy as her unhappiest daughter… at a recent department chairs meeting, a department chair said that she was only as happy as her unhappiest department member and opened a conversation about what that means.

In every school I’ve worked in, and at most of the schools my friends/peers work in, we have conversations about student stress and what we can do to alleviate it.  Does that mean changing the schedule, building in more “down time” during the day? Does that mean creating customizeable experiences, allowing for them to pursue a passion rather than the cookie-cutter graduation requirements?  Does that mean designing workshops that teach them time-management and stress-reduction techniques?  What about working with parents to help students find a schedule that both “builds the resume” for college and gives them time to relax?  Or convincing students to unplug before bed?

At MFPOW there was talk about teachers finding Flow – those moments when a class is going really, really well, when you know that this is what you were meant to do.  The question of how to increase those moments is a difficult one to resolve, as into every job a little boredom must fall (personally, I hate shelving – I think I’ve mentioned that before).  In some ways it reminds me of my response to a question while on a job search.  I was asked “is this the perfect job for you?” (trying to assess my interest in the school, etc.) and I immediately said, “nope!  The perfect job would pay me about three-four times what you’re going to pay me, ask me to work only 10-20 hours/week helping students do research, and give me the rest of the time to read… but since that’s incredibly unrealistic, this job will be a good substitute.”  As far as I know, no one can be “in flow” all the time, but can you have a life that is more “flow-focused” than it is?

So, let’s get back to that unhappy department member.  What is making them unhappy?  The reality is that we, in schools and particularly in libraries, are not good at saying “no” to add-ons.  In September, everything is cupcakes and unicorns, but by November we’re too busy to pee.  Our “free” prep periods are filled with getting ready for a new class or helping students understand past material or grading.  After school there might be coaching or club advising responsibilities.  In independent schools we often advise students, acting as filters/buffers/facilitators between teachers, parents and students.  Grades are often far more than just computing an average, they’re comments and explication (and if you teach and advise, you’ve got those comments to create after reading all the teacher comments). Committees – check.  Department meetings – double check.  Cover class for a sick colleague? Oversee recess or dismissal?  Teach an extra section?  check check check.

Where are the conversations about teacher stress? Yes, students are important and helping them manage their stress is important.  But isn’t it equally important for us to work on how to be less stressed?  isn’t it critical that we model good habits for our students?  If we don’t know how to say “no” and work ourselves into an exhausted frenzy each year, are we really doing our students any favors?

What pleases me inordinately is that MPOW is willing to talk about this – perhaps we won’t come up with any real solutions, or perhaps solutions will differ per department and grades taught.  But opening the conversation, recognizing that there are stresses on faculty that need to be addressed and examined is a great place to start.  One challenge for all of us is finding time to learn something new in terms of pedagogy or technology, integrating it into our classes and practice, and that contributes to the stress.  Another is all the “outside” stuff (the things we don’t learn in professional training or aren’t explicitly in our job descriptions) and finding ways to do a good job at those and at our “real” jobs.

I’m struggling with this – who isn’t?  And as a department chair/library director, I’m also “unhappy.”  Wouldn’t it be nice if, by the end of this academic year, there was a clear way forward and an end to the cycle?

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