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Friday
Aug212015

Focused curation - an indispensable role for the school librarian

As a school librarian in the 1980s, I was sometimes asked to pull books, locate magazine articles, and find filmstrips that could be used by students to support independent research on a curricular topic. Since "plate tectonics" was already covered by the seventh grade science textbook, these resources were considered supplementary. As was my position as a librarian.

With the emergence of learning management systems (LMS) like Moodle and Schoology replacing textbooks as the primary means of providing informational materials to students, the librarian's role as "focused curator" presents a very real opportunity to become indispensable. While the modern school librarian has happily adopted the role of "digital curator" of print and digital resources organized as pathfinders, webpages, GoogleDocs, or Pinterest, the learning management system can provide genuine curricular focus to digital resource curation.

 

While learning management systems provide interactive tools (discussion forums), formative and summative assessment tools (online quizzes), and organizational helps (calendars, homework drop boxes), their primary use in many classrooms is providing clear and easy access to reading and viewing materials that support learning objectives tied to state standards. There are several reasons why the LMS used in this way becomes a more powerful instructional tool than the textbook alone:

  • Reading materials on a single topic but on different reading levels can be provided
  • Informational materials in a variety of formats, including video, can be provided
  • Links to powerful interactive websites and applications can be provided

This ability to correlated materials to student abilities and learning preferences as well as providing links to materials with differing points of view on topics (overcoming the built in blandness and irrelevance of the mass-produced textbook) simply engages more students, especially those who may not fit the definition of the "average" student.

Yet it is a huge challenge for classroom teachers to replace the textbook with LMS courses. Along with often learning the operation of the devices students use to access the LMS, the functions and features of the LMS itself, re-organizing course content by state standards, and writing learner outcomes, the location, creation, and evaluation of digital material can be both frustrating and time-consuming. Teachers will require assistance in populating units of instruction with high quality intructional materials.

Librarians, do you see an indispensable role for yourself as your school rolls out its LMS?

Tuesday
Aug182015

Make love of reading the first objective

 The myths we allow ourselves to believe about reading will continue to shape the reading lives of those we teach.  We have to stop ourselves from harming the reading experience.  We have to take control of what we say, what we do, and what we think because our students are the ones being affected.  We have a tremendous power to destroy the very reading identity we say we want to develop.  It stops now.  It stops with us. Stop Feeding the Beast – The Reading Myths We Pass on As Truth

I think we teachers are part of the problem.  I think our silence while we seethe inside at the new initiatives being dictated to us means that we are now complicit in the killing of the love of reading.  I think we have sat idly by for too long as others have told us that students will love reading more if we limit them further and guide them more.   We have held our tongue while practices have been marched into our classrooms disguised by words like research-based, rigorous, and common-core aligned.  We have held our tight smiles as so called experts sold our districts more curriculum, more things to do, more interventions, more repetitions.  We have stayed silent because we were afraid of how our words would be met, and I cannot blame any of us.  Standing up and speaking out is terrifying, especially if you are speaking out against something within your own district.  But we cannot afford to stay silent any more.  With the onslaught of more levels, more logs, more things to do with what they read all in the name of deeper understanding, we have to speak up.  Reading is about time to read first.  Not all of the other things.  And if we are sacrificing time to read to instead teach children more strategies,, then we are truly missing the point of what we we should be doing. Enough... It is time for us to Become Reading Warriers

I don't know about you, but... 

  • I did not become a reader because someone held me accountable for reading. 
  • I did not become a reader because someone offered me "points" or other incentives for the quantity of books or pages I read. 
  • I did not become a reader because someone limited my reading selections to only to those titles on a certain reading level or within a specific lexile band. 

Each of these posts emphasize that teaching the skills of reading is not enough. We also need to make sure our students love to read as well. Read each of these posts. I'll wait...

I've always proclaimed that classroom teachers teach kids how to read; librarians teach kids to love to read. No, it's not that simple. You won't love to read unless you have some fundamental reading skills, and you won't read well unless you like to read. Love and skills tend to be interdependent.

As school starts up this year, I hope more classroom teachers realize that the love of reading is as important as the skills of reading. And I hope there are librarians in every school to put the right book into the right hand at the right time for every child. That remind parents and teachers and administrators that free voluntary reading improves test scores. But that the love of reading is in and of itself a very good thing.

Like Library Girl (my friend Jennifer LaGarde), I too can remember significant adults who stirred my passion for reading:

  • Both my grandmothers who read aloud to me. And my mother was a role model for reading as a pleasant pastime.
  • A school superintendent to whose office I was sent when I became intolerable in the elementary classroom and would pull down sample literature textbooks for me to read while serving my time out in her office.
  • A public librarian who allowed me to check out adult mythology books after acknowledging that I had read all the books of myths and legends in the children's collection.

I am sure there were others who inculcated my love of reading. To those unmentioned, thank you as well.

Would I have learned to read were I in school today? Were I to have to take a test after reading every chapter? Were I not allowed to read materials of my choice? Were I in competition with other students on how many pages I'd read? (I am not a real fast reader.) Were I given candy or a toy or a sticker each time I read a book?

A common mantra among educators is "all children can learn." This seems a rather shallow and a very low bar. All chickens "can learn" when rewarded with a kernel of corn for pecking the correct lever. Why doesn't our goal become "all children will love to learn" and make the love of reading our first objective?

Image source

Monday
Aug172015

Data or gut?

The Top 10 Reasons Why the Top 10 Reasons Don't Matter (Heart of Innovation)
  1. Reason is highly over-rated.
  2. If you need more data to prove your point, you'll never have enough data to prove your point.
  3. Analysis paralysis.
  4. You're going to follow your gut, anyway.
  5. By the time you put your business case together, the market has passed you by.
  6. "Not everything that counts can be counted; not everything that can be counted counts." - Albert Einstein
  7. The scientific method came to Rene Descartes in a dream!
  8. Most reasons are collected to prove to others what you have already decided to do.
  9. "The reasonable man adapts himself to the world. The unreasonable man persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man." - G.B. Shaw
  10. I am, therefore I think.

We're wired to be superstitious (so are dogs, parrots and most other creatures trying to survive), and if your favorite false causation makes you feel like you have a bit more control over things, enjoy it. But just as we'd rather not have a veterinarian that brings a rabbit foot into the operating room, when in doubt, it pays to understand what's actually happening and what's merely a crutch. Seth Godin

Data about our children are piling up like snowdrifts on a January morning in Minnesota. We spend immense amounts of (instructional) time, teacher time, technology support time, equipment usage time, in-service time, and administrative time on creating, reporting and organizing these flakes. And time costs money, of course. Of course time also has a value that cannot be measured by dollars - it cannot be replaced or reused once it is gone and time that could have been spent on actual teaching and learning is the gone as well.

Were these data used in ways that actually help schools become more effective in providing a quality, personalized education, I would be totally on board. But does this happen? Do any of us in education have the skills or will to make hard judgements based on hard numbers? Or do we pay lip service to data use, use data to support our pre-made assumptions, or use only the data that support the programs and projects our guts tell us work?

I will start believing schools take data-driven decision-making seriously when all administrators and teachers are required to demonstrate proficiency in statistical analysis. Numbers alone don't mean a damn thing. In fact, I would say that numbers used badly, can be harmful.

From my vague recollection of my (much enjoyed) grad school statistics class in the previous century, terms like "standard deviation from the norm," "valid sample size," and "correlation vs causation" are pretty important when looking at numbers. In using test results, for example, one first needs to know if, say, a five point difference between two groups is statistically significant before trying to figure out either the cause or the cure for that gap.

Until schools are willing to invest in training their staff on statistical analysis, let's just save our dollars and use them to buy rabbit feet and other luck charms.

And surrender the test data to those who simply wish to use it to bash and defund public education.