Venn Librarian

Reflections about the intersection of schools, libraries and technology.

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Archive for the ‘Student stuff’ Category

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 »

Minor Musings

Posted by lpearle on 16 October 2015

Books, Reading, etc.

School Life

Tech Stuff

Etcetera

Posted in Collection Development, Life Related, Links, Privacy, School Libraries, Student stuff, Techno Geekiness | Leave a Comment »

What’s your corporate message?

Posted by lpearle on 9 October 2015

One of my colleagues was talking about corporate messages, the subtle ways in which schools (and corporations, obviously) show what they really believe and value – not always the same thing as what they say they believe and value.  For example, a school that says that it values diversity, but has an all-white faculty.  Or a says that it prizes honesty, but doesn’t act in a transparent manner.  This has resonated with me as I’ve thought about two former colleagues and the messages given at their memorial services (one I attended, the other I’ve only heard reports about, although I’ve also seen many comments on social media about both).

The first, whom I’ve written about before, had a very clear message.  Eulogy after eulogy spoke of the simplicity of his life, how he didn’t spend frivolously, how much he cared about others, and that to him, good friends and a good time with those friends were prized above all else.  There was nothing hidden about him: what you saw was what you got.  The second was also not interested in “things” and “stuff” – she lived for her school and her students.  Despite having her own children (and, eventually, grandchildren), every student at the school was, to her, “her child”.  In the moment, they may not have realized how much she cared, but after a few years being away from school, they certainly recognized how special that feeling was.  Whether or not you agreed with her, you knew that the school, and the students, was of paramount importance to her and the only motivation she had.

The other day a friend mentioned that she had just been to kiddie storytime at the local library and that the librarian there was “exactly what you’d imagine a librarian to be” – I jokingly mentioned the cardigan and bun, and her response was “no, OLD.  Like, 100”  My guess is that there may have been some shh’ing going on, and perhaps this librarian wasn’t as warm and fuzzy as my friend would have liked.  To be honest, it’s been so long since I’ve seen one of the “real” librarians in the wild that it took me aback!  But it did make me think: what is the corporate message I’m sending?  Do my staff know who I am, and what I stand for?  Do they know my values and ethics?  Can the students sense those things?

Bigger picture, can I convey them in such a way as to create the “right” corporate climate here in the library?  What messages does the library send?  We’re hardly a warm, fuzzy space (seriously, that 70s dressed concrete architectural style has a lot to answer for!), and the collection is on the aging side.  We do allow food and talking, but not full meals (yes, I’ve kicked out both salad eaters and Domino’s delivery men; we’re open during dinner hours) and because of the acoustics, the noise needs to be kept to a dull roar.  Will having an Instagram and Twitter account help connect the community to the library?

What about you, and your message? Do they mesh, or is there a disconnect?  And if there is, how do you overcome it (or doesn’t it matter)?

Posted in Musings, School Libraries, Student stuff | Leave a Comment »

Seeing beyond the blur

Posted by lpearle on 7 October 2015

The past few weeks have been a whirlwind of meeting new people, finding my way around a new campus and generally figuring out what’s what in this new phase of my life.  In real life, those that know me are often surprised that I wear glasses (I’m nearsighted, but mildly so and since I can’t read with glasses on, I rarely wear them… except to drive, or when I’m meeting new colleagues for the first time).  Maybe they think I have contacts?  Anyway, this is important because I usually rely on the “blur” of the person to tell me who is walking towards me.  When people with a distinctive look, for example, really long hair or a comb over, change that look I can be confused and not recognize them from a distance.

When you’re new to a place, it takes time to learn the new names and faces.   On one of my first days here I had a lovely conversation with a woman who had a greying, shortish hair.  The only problem was that I’d met several others with similar hair coloring and styling, and she was a real blur (even with my glasses on!).  A month later, I know who she is and who most of the others are.  Every day it gets a little easier to say “hello [name]” with confidence.

And then there are the students: so many girls with straight long hair… boys with the “in” haircut… athletes in the same uniform… that clump of sixth grade girls who always come in at the same time to borrow books… I could go on.  And slowly they, too, are becoming less of a blur.

Each year there’s a new crop of students to get to know.  This year, being new myself, I can understand how intimidating it is for them to learn new faculty names, and figure out what the difference between gyms or auditoriums is, and what the unspoken rules of the community are, all in addition to learning new curriculum.  What role does the library play in helping them “see beyond the blur”?

Is it familiar books, old favorite reads that let them know that here are librarians who understand them?  Is it being able to help them troubleshoot printing and other technology problems?  Is it learning their name quickly, so there’s another adult around who asks how their day is going?  Is it creating programs that build on, but don’t feel like, classwork (like poetry slams or guessing first lines of books)?  Is it having a personal librarian program, so that first Big Research Paper isn’t as frightening?

This year is the perfect time to think, ponder and explore all of the above, so that next year, when things are no longer blurry for me, I can help others find clarity more quickly.

Posted in Musings, School Libraries, Student stuff | Leave a Comment »

 
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