Venn Librarian

Reflections about the intersection of schools, libraries and technology.

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Archive for the ‘Work Stuff’ Category

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 »

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 »

What do you call it?

Posted by lpearle on 15 October 2015

Over the past few years I’ve been thinking about names – names of resources, names of facilities, titles, etc..  It seems like we all do, in one way or another, and now that we’re redesigning the library website and rethinking the facility, it’s time to do even more thinking.

Resource names are easy, right?  Well… maybe not so much.  For years now I’ve heard many academic librarians complain that students come to them asking for EBSCO or ProQuest, not GreenFile or American Poetry.  At one session, when the question was raised, the academic librarian was shocked that the only databases the school could provide were those that came free from the state, and that there was only one EBSCO database (probably some version of Academic Search).  So why, though the school librarian, should one differentiate?  And then there’s the thing we used to call a pathfinder.  Most of us now use Springshare’s LibGuides platform (let’s not discuss the Team Lib and Team Libe issue!) and refer to them as LibGuides, which seems to me to be like making every tissue a Kleenex.  After all, some schools use Haiku or Moodle or WordPress to create similar objects.  So at MPOW and at MFPOW, we call them Resource Guides.  And catalogs!  Are they OPACs?  Are they still “card” catalogs (as many of my older colleagues call it)?  Do you give it a feline-related name, like NYU’s BobCat, or NYPL’s LEO?  Decisions… decisions…

What we call the space we work in is also fraught.  Many politicians, donors and parents want students to have a library (in theory – funding can be another matter).  But what about the far sexier “information commons” or “learning commons”? Or the still popular “library media center”?  And should it include a makerspace?  At one school with a primarily digital collection, it’s still called a library.  Another school is considering building an athenaeum.  Within the space, do you still have a periodicals or reference room?  Are they still used for those purposes?  I’ve worked in libraries that have donor-designated names for spaces, some of which are flexible (great for when you move things around or repurpose spaces) and some of which require asking if the Shakespeare Nook can now be used for graphic novels.  It’s also complicated if there’s a major renovation in a space which has already been named, because you can’t just cross out the old and bring in a new one.  One school has three named spaces in about a 1,000 square foot library!

If you work in a library, are you a librarian?  What about Director of Research?  or Information Specialist?  or Chief Information Officer?  or Library Media Specialist?  I’ve seen all of them on business cards and in e-mail sig files.  As with the name of the facility, is it confusing for others?  If I were a parent, would I know what my child was doing if they came back from the learning commons having had an hour of media literacy?   Perhaps to the Higher Powers that run our schools, that matters less than having the “in” title or facility name, no matter what the actual contents are or instruction delivered.  It seems that in the race to show relevancy, comprehension can get lost.

As for me, I’d love to work as the Resourceress in an Infomatorium, showing students how to look for resources by asking our Online InfoCat.  You?

Posted in School Libraries, Work Stuff | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Setting Priorities

Posted by lpearle on 13 October 2015

When you start a new job, there are always moments when you wonder, “what am i doing?” It can be somewhat frustrating to be hemmed in by corporate policy (there’s little room for innovation working in a fast food restaurant, for example) or to experience a steep learning curve of what’s expected or to feel like an outsider because everyone (just like when you go to a new school) already knows each other and has their own clique. Starting a new job in a school brings on all of that, and then some.

Over the past few weeks I’ve been feeling my way, setting priorities for the work we (the library department) need to do.  Part of the problem is, as in many libraries, the inertia of longevity.  I know – I’ve been there!  You create rules for collection development, with a goal of deaccessioning fiction (for example) that hasn’t circulated in 3-5 years, but then you get to that point and think, “but I loved this book… maybe if I did a better job of promoting it?” Etc..

Several years ago I was on an accreditation evaluation committee at a school whose founding Head had left after several decades.  The Head of our committee pointed out that longevity in Heads wasn’t always a good idea, that (in his opinion) after 8-10 years you “remake the mistakes you made when you first started.”  Now, I’m not sure about that, but I do think there’s a comfort level that comes with a long tenure that may make people change averse. So when you’re the new kid, the one without the attachments or the history, you see all the possibilities and are chomping at the bit to get started.

The problem right now isn’t a lack of willingness, it’s time and manpower (peoplepower?) and strategic thinking.  What I’m thinking now is what’s best to work on this year, and what’s best to put off for a year or two.  Staffing is important because we’re down a person – what structure would be best for the library, and how can the current staff be part of that structure now while we wait to hire for next year?  Collection development (print and digital) is critical, largely because that will help us create a reading culture and improve our research capabilities, as well as allow us to rethink space usage.  My goal of working on a strategic plan, based in part on the past accreditation report and a recent library study, can wait until we have the full staffing we need.  My other goal of improving programming will be a slow crawl, doing as much as we can this year (engaging students with our social media presence and contests) to create awareness, but beyond that we’ll wait for a year.  Reaching out to my new colleagues, showing them possibilities and ways we can really partner with them is an obvious priority.

Ambitious, right?  Well, it is only early October.  Stay tuned for updates and how it’s all going – things may change.

Posted in Collection Development, Musings, Work Stuff | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Minor Musings

Posted by lpearle on 27 August 2015

Books, Reading, Etc..

  • I’ve done something similar with Google Maps, but this?  The Obsessively Detailed Map is truly obsessively detailed.  Ideas for additional “value added content”? TSU has some great Immersive Experience ideas.
  • This might just be my new favorite book blog: Oh, the Books! (via)
  • The Book Riot Quarterly box might be a good way to get students excited about reading.  BookOpolis looks to be a good way to introduce younger students to online reviewing/reading communities.

School Life

Tech Stuff

Etcetera…

Most important: 120 days until Christmas.  Shop now. Avoid the rush.

Posted in Books, Links, School Libraries, Student stuff, Techno Geekiness, Work Stuff | 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 »

The value of hoarding

Posted by lpearle on 11 June 2015

My father’s family seems to have the packrat gene.  Maybe it’s a “we escaped the shtetl and feel safe enough to acquire stuff” mentality, or the Depression Era mentality, or truly a genetic thing, but they’re packrats.  Wait!  This is relevant!!  My grandfather was a tax attorney who managed to acquire – as payment – goods from clients.  When he died in the early 1970s, we had the Smithsonian and the George Eastman House asking about some of the old photographic equipment he’d stored in his garage for decades (it should be noted that the car didn’t fit into the garage).  By the mid-70s, all the bits had been disbursed… or so I thought.

Early in his career, my grandfather clerked and later partnered with a lawyer whose father was a law partner of President Arthur (pre-Presidency).  The father married a woman whose family had lived in Litchfield, Connecticut since the 1700s and somehow he ended up with a packet of legal documents: deeds, debts, wills, etc..  And that packet was left to his son, and eventually my grandfather got it when the partnership ended in the 1950s.  After his death, it went to my aunt, then to my cousin and last month my father got it while helping my cousin do some work on her house.  It’s not a large packet, about 6″ high, filled with old-fashioned, handwritten deeds and IOUs and so forth from the 1700s to the Civil War era.  None of it has to do with my family, so I grabbed it and volunteered to take care of them.  Take care how? By donating them to the Litchfield Historical Society.

Why this long digression?  Because I’ve worked in four schools where the archives could have significant value to current and future researchers, if only… If only people were intelligent packrats, saving just what is relevant to the school and its history.  If only they preserved those items and remembered to send them to the school, which had space in which to store them and staff to process them.  If only they could be made available to the outside world.

Now, that’s not to imply that those schools aren’t doing what they can.  Far from it!  But it does take more than just collecting posters and programs and transcripts and yearbooks from inside the school, it takes alumni and others not throwing away the important things.  Just this year I’ve acquired an old school ring, photos of a dorm room from the late 1890s, theatre programs from the 1960s and other items.  There’s a ton of work still to be done in terms of organizing and indexing so we know what we have and what’s missing, but that’s part of the fun of archives.  Then there’s the transcription and digitization of documents, or establishing connections with outside organizations (like the David Davis Mansion, as the daughter of Gov. Davis attended Porter’s in the 1800s; their archivist has been very generous sending us links to letters they’ve transcribed that mention the school and Sallie’s time here).

This may be too late for some, but if you’re going through your old stuff and come across anything from your high school or college days, don’t throw it away until you check with your school.  They may just want what you’ve saved.

Posted in Life Related, Work Stuff | Leave a Comment »

Change, or thinking the unthinkable

Posted by lpearle on 10 February 2015

“Life is change”, we’re told. And we need to “lean in” to the discomfort (a real misreading of That Book) or recite the Serenity Prayer or do yoga or something. But change is stressful, no matter how we try to deal with it.

There’s a very loosely connected group of librarians who meet once a year at a day-long conference (the group is called the New England Association of Independent School Librarians, or NEAISL, and has no elist, no website, nothing more than this moveable conference) and this year, Porter’s is hosting that conference.  Our metatheme is change in all its permutations and instead of presentations we’re having facilitated conversations.  I know, from personal experience, that those conversations we have amongst colleagues are incredibly valuable – going to a conference presentation may lead to a new idea or two, or give an overview of a new tool, but for help with real change, real problems, it’s that interpersonal piece that works best.

So what kind of change?  As a librarian, I know that our programs have changed radically over the past couple of decades.  The school library my parents had looked very much like the one I had, but the one my nieces and nephews had has undergone so much change that they wouldn’t recognize mine!  Gone are the micro-format machines and drawers of film/fiche, ditto the card catalog, the LP collection, etc. and instead there are computers and databases and possibly makerspaces, and no shelves of encyclopedias with annual updates.  Do we stay with Dewey, or go with Metis or BISAC or Library of Congress?  What is the right size to the collection?

And then there are professional changes, like a shake-up in school or library administration.  Sometimes it’s a redistribution of duties or divisions, based on staffing changes.  What do you do if you have to change divisions, moving from your Middle School comfort zone to working with Upper School?  Or losing your K-12 range to go K-4 only?  Maybe there’s been a reduction, where your clerk has been “reassigned” (or someone without any training has been assigned!).  And if you’re new to a school, how do you fit into that team – if there is a team; sometimes you’ve gone solo and are suddenly everything from the Head Librarian to the occasional volunteer.

For some people, and I’ve heard from a number, these changes are too much.  They’ve gotten that one straw too many and it’s time to think about What’s Next.  Years ago, a colleague at another school sent out an email describing a situation at her school, where the new Head was radically changing the program and essentially turning it into a non-library space with a non-library focus.  This distress call got back to the school and a few days later, What’s Next became What Do I Do Now?  Some of us are trying to prevent that from happening to us, but the strain of keeping up with the changes is difficult to deal with.

It’s my hope that instead of thinking the unthinkable, we’ll be able to band together and share resources, share tool and share our stories, bolstering each other so that we can deal with the stress and the change.  What are we doing, and where are we going is relevant to everyone – so here’s your opportunity to vent, share and help.  I look forward to your comments!

Posted in Conferences, School Libraries, Work Stuff | 2 Comments »

 
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