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Tuesday
Jun062017

The librarian and the tech integrationist - compete or complement?

I've been asked to do an interesting workshop this fall. An association of international schools has asked me to help answer the question "What are the mutual roles of the school librarian and the building technology integration specialist?"

For buildings that have both positions, the lines of responsibility are blurring.

Library media specialists are increasingly instrumental in providing and teaching students how to use digital resources for problem-solving along with assisting teachers in curating these resources to be used for instructional purposes.

Technology integration specialists have seen the ISTE Standards for Students become less and less about "how to use technology" and more about how students can use technology to collaborate, create, and problem-solve using those technologies.

Schools are repurposing "media center" spaces into learning commons, productivity centers, and makerspaces. Who is in charge of these areas?

Who supports teachers as they work to incorporate new technologies (and catch up with older technologies) in the classroom? Who best fits ISTE role of "coach" as defined by Standards for Coaches?

Who evaluates and selects digital resources and tools?

Are there unique roles for each position (book stuff for the librarians, hardware stuff for the tech integrationists)? Or should there be a single job description that includes both?

In 1998 I managed to insult both librarians and technologists with a snarky little colum called "Librarians Are From Venus; Technologists Are From Mars" playing off common stereotypes of both positions.

I would like to think that in the past two decades we have moved beyond viewing each other as competing species, but view our roles as complimentary.

But the important question for many schools still remains "How do we define the role of each position?"

I don't have an easy answer but I'll be doing some research and keeping my ears open. And I hope during the workshop to facilitate discussions with representatives of both groups which will lead to  useful ideas.

Anything, you dear readers, care to share on the topic?

 

Saturday
Jun032017

BFTP: Reading levels are political not educational

I shared this list from What Kids Are Reading; The Book-Reading Habits of Students in American Schools, 2012 edition (80 page PDF) with the teachers and administrators in my district:



Top 20 Books Read Among U.S. High Schoolers 2010-2011:

  1. Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins (ATOS book level 5.3)
  2. Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck (4.5)
  3. To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee (5.6)
  4. Night, Elie Wiesel (4.8)
  5. The Last Song, Nicholas Sparks (5.1)
  6. Catching Fire, Suzanne Collins (5.3)
  7. Mockingjay, Suzanne Collins (5.3)
  8. Animal Farm, George Orwell (7.3)
  9. Twilight, Stephenie Meyer (4.9)
  10. A Child Called “It”, Dave Pelzer (5.8)
  11. Breaking Dawn, Stephenie Meyer (4.8)
  12. The Lightning Thief, Rick Riordan (4.7)
  13. The Outsiders, S.E. Hinton (4.7)
  14. Dear John, Nicholas Sparks (5.5)
  15. Crank, Ellen Hopkins (4.3)
  16. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, J.K. Rowling (6.9)
  17. The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald (7.3)
  18. Lord of the Flies, William Golding (5.0)
  19. The Giver, Lois Lowry (5.7)
  20. Marked: A House of Night Novel, P.C. Cast (5.4)”

And one English teacher e-mailed back with the question/statement: "Hunger Games and To Kill A Mockingbird are .3 apart?"

What she is suggesting is that reading levels are pretty much meaningless if you are just counting polysyllabic words and sentence length* and not taking sophistication of theme, imagery, and interest into account.
Increasingly reading levels are being use as a political tool (In today's crummy schools kids are reading way below grade level!!!!) and not as a means of helping students find and choose materials appropriate for them. 
I've never understood how all kids could be "at grade level" in reading scores. Wouldn't an accurate "grade level" proficiency be determined by establishing the mean student reading level, with lots of kids reading better and lots of kids reading less well? If we apply this logic, couldn't we expect all kids to be at "grade level" in height and weight as well?
In our insane metric-driven teaching environment, there are still a few voices of reason. In the document above, check out section "IV: Librarian's Picks" by my friend Terri Kirk from Kentucky. She writes:

What should kids be reading?

Maybe I should start out with what students shouldn’t be reading! They shouldn’t be required to read books that are over 200 pages. They shouldn’t be reading things that are developmentally inappropriate, no matter what their reading level is.

“I hate to read” is a common saying among teenagers. However, many of them hate to read because they haven’t been allowed to read things that they like. The basic tenet of getting all students to read is to let them choose what they are interested in. 

Spoken like someone who wants kids to love to read, not just know how to read. Yeah, spoken like a librarian, not a politician. Oh, I wonder what the reading level of 50 Shades of Gray or the latest Vince Flynn thriller might be? Are we adults reading "below grade level" as well?

Folks, you see "reading level" proceed with caution.


*From the report, page 67:

The ATOS Readability Formula is a free text-analysis tool provided by Renaissance Learning to estimate the quantifiable dimension of text complexity. ATOS takes into account the most important predictors of text complexity—average sentence length, average word length, word difficulty level, and total number of words in a book or passage—to help educators assist students in finding books to read at appropriate levels

The ATOS Readability Formula is a free text-analysis tool provided by Renaissance Learning to estimate the quantifiable dimension of text complexity. ATOS takes into account the most important predictors of text complexity—average sentence length, average word length, word difficulty level, and total number of words in a book or passage—to help educators assist students in finding books to read at appropriate levels

Original post May 1, 2012

Friday
Jun022017

The fixed-flex library debate re-visited

Over 15 years ago I poked a sacred cow of the school library profession by defending fixed library schedules* in schools (Real Flexibility, School Library Journal, Nov 2001). You can read the article, a grad student paper on the topic, and lots of responses both pro and con on my website. <http://www.doug-johnson.com/dougwri/real-flexibility.htm>

In summary, I listed 5 reasons why fixed rather than flexible schedules might be better for both kids and librarians:

  1. You can’t teach kids you don’t see.
  2. We are enabling teachers to deviate from the curriculum.
  3. It’s not just research, but reading.
  4. Inquiry should be a daily activity.
  5. We are neglecting our part in the containment agreement.

In the districts I have supervised library programs, we have tended to have a combination fixed/flex program. Kids come to the library on a scheduled basis, but professional staffing permits the librarian to work with teachers on a special project type basis as well as doing some PD. In other words, we are not so fixed that some flexibility is still possible.

I'd not thought much about this then-controversial stance until receiving an e-mail yesterday asking if my feelings on the topic had changed. Well....

I still stand by my support of fixed library programs for many of the reasons that I detailed in the article linked above. In summary, a fixed schedule ensures that all kids in a school get access to library resources and to some basic information literacy skills. The program's success or failure is not dependent on the personalities of the librarian and other school staff members. School librarians have greater job security.

What has changed for me is that perhaps we should be taking more risks with the increased possibility of creating exceptional programs. Increasingly I wonder if standardized library programs, like standardized curriculum and standardized tests, inhibit creativity and growth and don't allow the kind of experimentation needed to re-invent and energize the profession.

My sense is that if these factors are present, a school should implement a flexibily scheduled library program.

1. Committment and understanding of administration. Principals and other school leaders need to recognize the value of a good library program and articulate goals and expectations for that program that are vital to the goals of the school building and district. Principals must also be willing to commit to ensuring that ALL students regardless of which teacher they may have will get equitable resource allocation and skill instruction.

2. Librarians who are self-starters and great communicators. The librarians who lead flexible programs cannot wait to be told what to do or how to do it, but must take initiative and be able to generate excitement and support. Further, they must recognize the critical need for good communications with staff and families that explains clearly what the librarian does if not supervising students.

3. Districts that have sufficient fiscal resources for non-classroom support positions. Flexible scheduling is more expensive for districts since librarians cannot provide teacher-contract mandated prep time. If budgets get tight, library positions may be viewed as dispensable if the program is not tied directly to the goals and mission of the school. Just the way of the world...

There are fabulous library media programs that are flexibly scheduled and that can serve as models for how our profession can remain critical as schools experience digital conversions, not just in educational  materials, but in teaching methodologies, and can better respond to the changing needs of both our students and our society.

Go for it! But plan and get buy-in from leadership.

* for non-library folks, fixed schedules are ones in which classes of students come to the library on a regular, usually weekly, basis for planned activities including book checkout, story times, and information literacy instruction. Flexible schedules are co-planned by the classroom teacher and librarian on an as-needed basis.

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