Perfect is the enemy of the good.

If you are reading this, you believe that collaborations between teachers and librarians make a difference and are worthwhile. Whenever librarians come together, we invariably end up discussing collaborations – our successes and our frustrations.

“Making Co-teaching Stick” at AISL Boston

My AP Language students are just finishing a unit on Rogerian argumentation, making me think about the shared ground for collaboration between teachers and librarians. The best collaborations need shared time (for planning and for implantation), shared goals, shared vocabulary and shared respect.

We all have our *gold* standard of collaboration, that project that looks like it was designed to ace our MLIS Research Methods class. And we all have our practical “yay we collaborated because we talked” standard. Getting the foot in the door and setting the tone for research might be enough for some projects because it shows that the library skills are being integrated across the curriculum even if students don’t set foot in the library. For the purpose of this post, teachers fall into three categories:

  1. Eager Beaver collaborators look for any opportunity to co-teach. Students are used to seeing me in their classes and the teacher and I can finish each other’s sentences. This is where I spend most of my time, designing curriculum, in the classroom, and meeting with students.
  2. I Appreciate Libraries collaborators believe in school libraries. They tell their students to use the library and incorporate research but don’t necessarily include the librarian in their planning or scheduled library time.  
  3. Someday Maybe collaborators is the optimistic term for teachers who don’t fit into the above categories. These individuals don’t tend to see any connection between their curriculum and the library program. It’s (hopefully!) not that they dislike the library, just that they don’t see a place for it in their classrooms.

Recognize that teachers also feel the time crunch familiar to all of us. Many conversations with my Physics teacher husband led to my thoughts on how to best reach the I Appreciate Libraries contingent. Eager Beavers don’t need more encouragement, and Someday Maybes are, well, someday maybe when the time is right. But for I Appreciate Libraries; I can offer support in a way that enhances their projects while preventing me from trying to find a way to schedule three different classes during the same period.

Offer virtual help. The library webpage, libguides, slideshows, and help videos are available on demand for students in the midst of researching. Not as personal as a class session, but they can be accessed anytime students are researching. They also have the advantage of being available for multiple classes and shared between department members. 

“Some of the students were asking how to get to History Reference Center, so here’s a visual help sheet with arrows they can follow if you want to post to SSESonline.”

Offer in-person help at surprising times. Office hours, popping by classes, and having teachers recommend students meet with me during study hall have led to conversations and research consultations with individual students. I know I’m not the only librarian whose desk is next to a printer. A friendly question when students pick up work is a great opening for project assistance.

“I heard the outline is due Friday and it’s supposed to be at least two pages. How much do you have so far?”

Offer suggestions for next year. It’s hard to fix a project that isn’t working mid-stream. Personally, I’ve never been successful at it. Students are already working towards their goal, and the class as a whole gets a bit of tunnel vision. By taking notes on what’s not working and approaching the teacher afterwards, you can set the tone for a more successful project next year.

“I noticed those MLA bibliographies seemed to be in a new format that I’d call untraditional at best. If you want me to work on that before they turn them in next year when you do this, just let me know.”

Teach the teacher. I was surprised in a chance conversation in the faculty room earlier this year to learn that a teacher wasn’t bringing his classes to the library because he “knows how busy I am.” True, but my passion is teaching. I will put off cataloging and user analytics for any time with students. But also, sometimes teachers don’t plan ahead as much as would be ideal or our schedules don’t work. (Might I mention that you can all think of me next Friday when I’ll have 8 classes in 5 periods?!?) Many of my teachers know how to use JSTOR or evaluate websites after seeing me work with their classes before. It’s been really hard for me to think that it might be a sign of a successful program that teachers feel empowered to conquer these subjects on their own and that it’s really an endorsement of what the library offers, even though it feels like a rejection in the moment.

“I heard you’re evaluating health sites tomorrow. That’s awesome! Let me know if you want me to pop by or if your students have any questions you weren’t anticipating that we can work on in the future.”

Much as I want to collaborate with every teacher, I know that amongst all the classes, I’m reaching all the students in my Middle and Upper School in at least one of their courses. Instead of spending my energy worrying about teachers who aren’t looking to collaborate, I’m working on providing the skills that my students need for college and career readiness in a format that works for more of my teachers.

It’s time to think creatively. Please leave any suggestions or recommendations below.

I’ve Never Won a Game of Astro Bears Party (and that’s okay)

Last week, my school credit card was canceled. Even though I’d like to blame this on the way that Amazon can’t seem to help breaking my single order into multiple payments, it was ultimately my responsibility to make sure the statement was correct.* All school credit card holders had received a reminder from the Business Office with the warning that anyone with an incorrect statement on the 3rd of October would lose access to their card. While people would tell you that I’m more organized than most, and while this never happened with our previous banking system that sent email reminders for unreviewed transactions, it’s not the first time that I missed a deadline with our new system. It is, however, one of the first times I felt a real consequence for an inattention to detail. Since I had been developing a system that was working for me, I’m annoyed with myself that I didn’t meet my own expectations, particularly because I felt like I was caught on a technicality. (See below.)

Coming back from a long weekend with my parents and brother, I can’t stop thinking about the credit card as it relates to my successes (and mainly failures) playing video games. For the most part, I found school pretty easy, and I enjoyed it. I still love learning, and I still don’t like making mistakes. Reading is my primary hobby. For my brother it’s video games. With storms in the mid-Atlantic , we spent a lot of time playing video games the past few days. Reading does not lend itself quite as easily as a shared activity across the generations. Yet, video games often get a bad rap. In fact, I’m collaborating on a Sophomore project right now that begins with this premise. However, I want to question that assumption in two key ways.

1.      There is tremendous background knowledge required to understand video game systems and the norms in the games themselves. I don’t know where the X button is, what’s likely to make my character jump or that a Martian on screen represents a character from the early 1990s. If you were measuring my video game skill by lexile, it would be low. Not because I couldn’t understand it but because I haven’t yet learned the terminology. Scaffolding is important. The game where I experienced the most success is Mario Kart, largely because I played a lot of SNES Mario Kart when I was in middle school. I was wowed by my brother’s ability to enter a new game, navigate the controls, determine the purpose, and immediately act like he had a direct connection with the avatar on the screen. I can’t even look at the score on the screen while making my character move. He works in the medical field, and I can see how his ability to think quickly, parse new information and multitask would be assets that help him excel on a daily basis. Learning the basics in a field makes it much easier to move on to more advanced knowledge, often without even realizing that we’re using our tacit knowledge.

2.      Video games teach resilience. The Switch is a forgiving system for new users. Death Squared, despite the macabre name, is a team puzzle solving game, a modern version of the logic games we used to play in elementary school. There is a goal, teamwork, and sequencing of actions. It is impossible to know what will happen when you step on a tile without actually stepping on a tile. And sometimes getting spiked. Or blown up. Or lasered. Or falling off the edge. At which point you begin the level again with that data and avoid the activity that just got you killed. The two video game experts in the room anticipated this, planned for it, and then chuckled at the new way we’d found to destroy ourselves. The two newbies apologized every time. Even with teaching about the growth mindset, it’s hard for me to keep this from feeling like failing. If you give me a goal, I want to go directly there, but I also realized the resilience my brother has developed while gaming directly relates to his ability to respond appropriately to setbacks in his job.

Playing games this weekend ultimately had me thinking about some of the struggles that some of our best students have with research. Coordinating the Capstone Scholars at my school, I spend two periods a day with students who are grappling with large-scale independent research projects. This is the first time they are creating their own targets, measuring their own progress, and following their own interests. Each has an internal faculty mentor and an external academic mentor, and my role is in helping them navigate this process. I honestly don’t know that I would have had the maturity in high school to motivate myself the way that they do. For students who have always been “good at doing school,” it’s a substantial adjustment to learn for yourself when it’s not clear if you are successful on a day-to-day or week-to-week basis. They are making up the rules as they go and trying to follow their own moral compasses. Without an external measure of success from a rubric or a transcript grade, the notion of success morphs. There is no answer that I can provide, and the amorphous shape of real-world research can be overwhelming. I can’t pretend that I was playing video games these past few days to learn a life lesson, but I can tell you that I want to take the notions of contextual knowledge and resilience back to our top students.

No one is perfect, and no one gets it right 100% of the time. But we more often celebrate our successes publicly and cover over our insecurities privately. I think that’s why there was such a strong commiserative response in our community to David Wee’s post about Messed Up Library Lessons. We’ve all felt this way, but how often do we acknowledge this to our peers, to our students, to our families? University of Houston professor Bene Brown’s TED Talk on the Power of Vulnerability has been viewed over 36 million times, likely because we all have times when we’re afraid to be vulnerable. As a perfectionist, this post is tough to write. If I get my credit card privileges back, I will guarantee you that losing it was the most effective way for me to learn a system in which I will NEVER forget to reconcile my statement. I might forget other pieces of office work, but not that. Failure is a powerful teacher. Let’s all keep learning and striving for success and setting up libraries where our students are empowered to do the same.

*Full disclosure—I did reconcile my account the morning of the 1st but then my Amazon order, which had been broken into four parts, despite being shipped in only two shipments, posted two more transactions that afternoon. I hadn’t tallied up the totals of the two I had paid to realize that the order was incomplete. I fully admit that in two earlier months I had forgotten to even enter the system, but a simple calendar reminder is all I needed to solve that problem. So I’m still going to argue that Amazon deserves part of the responsibility here. And if you have had success stopping this sneaky accounting, you’ll be my hero and a hero to all Amazon users at our school!

Inquiring minds want to know…

As we approach the start of a new school year (welcome back all!), I wanted to reflect on this year’s Critical Literacy Summer Institute.  Southern California brought the largest group in the history of Summer Institutes for days of deep discussion regarding research, the news, inquiry, and what it takes to craft a great question. The Willows School library blends indoors and outdoors—and many of us couldn’t resist climbing Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook after watching all the hikers from the base. The planning committee accounted for southern California sunshine and 80 degree days, and we split our time in interactive lectures, workshops, small group discussions, and insanely fancy snack breaks (think brie and smoked gouda).

I take a lot of notes

I have to admit that I never even got to perusing the project I brought to revise because I used breaks to continue conversations and delve deeper. If I had to state an overarching message, it’s that there’s always space to dig deeper, question further, and learn more. The presenters were gracious enough to share their presentation slides on the libguide, and I have linked to them directly below. Since we spent a half day thinking about developing questions, I challenged myself to think of my three main questions as a response to each workshop. This is my public declaration of my takeaways, not a summary of the sessions themselves. Feel free to get in touch throughout the year to see how I’m approaching finding answers and the way this shapes my teaching.

Thinking creatively about research questions

Source Literacy in your Library – Nora Murphy

  • What sources do I find necessary in my own life, and how did I develop the skills to evaluate them and place them in the context of the larger information landscape?
  • In teaching, what parts of the research process do I have standardized and structured, and which parts are individualized? What are the consequences in allowing for serendipity but also wanting equity of service?
  • How much time do I let students feel uncertain about their progress in the “exploration stage” of research? Am I considering that they might be falsely optimistic about their work if they move to the “clarity stage” before they’ve placed their research in the proper context?

Cognitive Bias and the Way We Search – Cathy Leverkus

  • With the anchoring bias fully a part of my students’ experience, how do I get them to keep an open mind as they learn about topics beyond their first impressions?
  • Would sharing a media bias chart with my students and having them evaluate it together as a class help them to consider the strengths of limitations of various pieces of media? (I’ll find out soon with the AP Lang students—stay tuned.)
  • Can my students accurately assess if they are evaluating sources as they search, and is their confidence in their skill warranted?

Diving Deeper: Advanced Online Searching Skills for Educators and Students – Angela Neff and Sarah Davis

  • When faculty ask me for research help, am I searching
  • for them and providing answers or am I modeling so that they can improve their own searches, particularly in the quadrant of “unknown unknowns?”
  • When I ask my students to think of the beginning stages of research like “asking a trusted friend,” how can I get them to tell me where they really go (Wikipedia) versus what they think I want to hear (JSTOR)?
  • How can I get comfortable with filming myself to create a repository of library resources that are available to students at their convenience?

Breaking News: Read Between the Lines for Librarians – Bobbie Eisenstock

  • Since students trust teachers and family more than the news itself, how do I integrate the process of evaluating the news as a professional with my own personal beliefs and share this with students who are trying to develop an understanding of the world around them?
  • Can I convince administration that digital natives may still display digital naiveté? Their tech savvy does not necessarily translate to media literacy but rather a familiarity and comfort with the format.
  • This isn’t a question, but let’s celebrate media literacy awareness week from November 5-9, 2018! A media literate person interrogates the message, the media creator, and the media consumed. He or she thinks about the ways that different people might perceive the same message and how this affects our values in a democracy. Now for the question, what are some creative ideas to make this exciting for my school community?

Exploring Inquiry – Connie Williams

  • How can I design the inquiry-based question-making experience so they aren’t focused so immediately on seeking answers, and more specifically, seeking “the correct answer?”
  • Building on the source literacy and cognitive bias sessions, how will my students keep an open mind when reading laterally and using the Making Thinking Visible Truth Routines?  Will they end up being able to honestly answer “I Used to Think…Now I Think?”
  • How many closed-ended questions do I ask compared with open-ended ones? Even for open-ended questions, are their answers I am hoping for more than others? I’m suspicious this may be the case, and would like to work to truly build an open-minded culture of inquiry.

View from the library with a scenic hiking overlook beckoning us to climb!

So now you have a record of what’s on my mind as I welcome students back for what’s already scheduling itself to be the busiest research year yet. It’s fun to watch something grow over time, and I hope you all are as excited as I am to build on research programs with students and teachers. Looking forward to learning more and connecting in person in Boston in April!


Is “All the World a Stage?”

As I see many of you at AISL this week, you may notice two things about me. First, I take a lot of notes. I’m someone for whom the process of learning is greatly assisted by the practice of writing things down, even if I never return to the specific notes again. Though AISL conferences are so full of information that is relevant to me, I keep my AISL notebook in the drawer to the immediate left of my chair. So even if a presenter says the entire presentation will be online, I’ll probably still have my pencil in hand. Second, I’m generally pretty quiet in group situations. Like many introverts I’m listening and I may seek you out to continue a conversation on the bus but I would literally hide behind a pole rather than belly dance in an airport. (Just a little reminder of what a multi-talented group we librarians are.)

So it came as a surprise to me this spring when my advisees, who know me pretty well as far as students go, asked why I hadn’t yet given a chapel speech.

Me-“Guys, I hate speaking in public. There’s no way…”
First student-“What are you talking about? You love it. Pause. Right?”
Second student-“Right! You talk like all the time.”
First student-“Yeah in our classes. You talk a lot.”
(Cue sad face for student-centered classroom failure…)

And so that brings me to my main thought of today, particularly for those of you with flexible scheduling who depend on teachers to invite you into their classes for co-taught units. Many people harbor a stereotype of a silent librarian, but are we all, secretly, theatre people? At least in one way, my answer is assuredly yes. I follow improv’s “rule of yes” whenever I can. With both students and teachers, I think it’s important to think about why you’re saying no.

 “Oh, interesting that you can’t write 1750 words on Nazi propaganda because there’s not enough out there? NO, here’s a 257 page book entirely on your topic.”

But for many questions, consciously thinking about learning goals rather than tradition might move a no to a yes or at least a let’s think about how this could work.

 “I know it’s not really history, but I don’t understand Brexit, and I want to know if it’s really about refugees. Can I research it?” YES.

“I know you want us to have a website, but I found this really interesting podcast and it’s led by doctors. Can I use it? YES.

“I have to read a fantasy book and this one takes place in the real world except that ghosts are real. My friend recommended it, and I want to know if it can count for the assignment.” YES.

“I want to include an appendix with a picture of “Guernica” so my readers can see it for themselves.” WHY NOT?

Formal research is a tough process for our kids in today’s “infobese” culture. This is especially true for perfectionists who want to get everything right the first time. Keeping foremost the learning goals for an assignment, why not challenge yourself to say yes when there isn’t a contradicting reason to say no? As my mom says…

Along with this idea, when I’m collaborating I try to focus on the things within my control. This includes my interactions with my school community and my management of my library. For many of us, we can’t control our colleagues, their assignments, the work ethic of the students, or delays due to weather, illness or alternate schedules that pop up out of nowhere. I attend classes at the invitation of the teacher. They know their class dynamics and they are the ones creating and grading assignments. Since I ultimately want to provide support to the teacher, I try to think carefully before “correcting” a teacher, particularly in front of students. Not every project is going to meet both my research goals and the classroom teacher’s subject-specific goals. That said, it’s often possible to start tweaking a project to improve it for next year even as you’re assisting with the current version. I’ve found a variety of ideas can help as I try to link these projects to the learning goals I’d like the students to attain. Take the long view and suggest some “adaptations” for next time. Or ask if a project can be used to help you “test a database’s effectiveness.” Offer to grade the annotated bibliographies you fought so hard to include. I’ve found this comes easier the longer one’s tenure at a school. So breathe easy, continually do your best in promoting your library’s resources and leave your feedback below.


Peripheral Vision

At this point it almost seems like a habit to spend time early in the new year reflecting on research. As many of you know from past posts, my school has a solid co-taught embedded research unit for all 9th graders each January. We collect papers in the days on either side of the Superbowl and meet in early February to tweak for next year. Today I’m not thinking about how we teach research per se, but rather the peripherals. For example,  

Eat when you’re hungry.    

My younger self would have shaken this off as unprofessional, but make sure you take care of your own needs too. So many of us put any help we can give a student or teacher first, which is great, but starts to become more difficult if you haven’t had a solid lunch in two weeks. During January, my base schedule is five teaching periods a day before adding other classes and lunch meetings, and, you know, running a library. Freshmen invaded the library (in the best possible way) during their study halls. Recipe for getting hangry? It was awesome that I could look at the teacher on the craziest days, and she’d motion for me to take a brief banana-peanut butter break. Those few minutes of silent sugary protein brought me the next 85 minutes of helpful answers.

This is true for students too.

Not just with food, but in a broader sense that there is a lot going on in their lives. Concerns about friendships, other course work, jobs, or a basketball regional might be foremost in their heads on any given day. Giving a brief brain break to stretch or grab water or just listening to their concerns works wonders with getting them focused again.

Ask for student volunteers as class examples.

We always tell students that their paper (student translation: grade) will be better for students willing to volunteer “to share the current state of their project with the entire class on the projector.” I was shocked at first when perfectionists eschewed the opportunity because they were afraid to share their works-in-progress. It’s more realistic for classes to see an example that looks like theirs. Then we either demonstrate the next research step on that student’s paper or have them model for the class. (Side note—for the first time this year, we had a class fall in love with a student’s paper—on the Cod Wars—and follow a single volunteer for the entire month. From our sample size of one, it worked really well. Of course, it’s possible that you need a topic that is particularly exciting to freshmen. Like cod, apparently. Who knew?)

Rally your school community.

Use your voice and those of your collaborators to build a culture around research in your school. This may require some creativity on your part, but it helps legitimize student work. Build an advisory session where students reflect on their budding research skills. Ask English teachers to talk about the ways that History and English research papers compare. Have Writing Center tutors “pop into” Western Civ classes unexpectedly to advertise their services. When the whole community rallies around you to help you succeed, you want to try just a bit harder to make that happen.

Separate process and product.

The inspirational Alyssa Mandel will be speaking about Not-Papers at AISL Atlanta next month, so mark your calendars. For the research project I’ve been discussing here, we do have a final paper. But that final paper is worth 50% of the project grade. The other 50%, for which students could theoretically earn full credit even if they never submitted a final paper, is entirely process. There are over fifteen daily checkmark grades. Items like creating a Google Drive folder, sharing three topic ideas, writing a half page of notes, sketching an outline, and completing a peer’s Ladder of Feedback. I must admit, however, that we adapted the full-credit process grading a few years ago. Now the full outline and rough drafts earn both checkmark grades and more nuanced grades. We did this for three reasons. It helps them take these deadlines seriously. It gives them a sense of whether they are on track to successfully write a paper. And it keeps them automatically from earning 100% for an entire month in our online grading system. Other than that, as long as the student follows along, I get to focus on process and the teacher can focus on product.

Give “easy points” so procedural tasks earn 100%.

I love the structure of a rubric, but I hate thinking about points. I have joked with kids that I became a librarian so that I could just help them learn without grading their work. But we are a school driven by grades, and for most of our students, grades matter. They are likely to struggle with conceptual tasks like analysis and synthesis. But the little structural pieces matter too because they suggest a level of seriousness to the work. I believe those structural pieces, like a title page, correct spelling, and a perfectly formatted bibliography, trick the reader into trusting the argument a little more readily. Plus it’s good training for future writing where the details matter: little things like a college resume or job cover letter. I think it’s important to waste spend my time going over bibliography drafts individually with students, asking them pointed questions about alphabetization and spacing even though we just covered this together as a class. They pay attention when an adult asks about their work, and they’re more comfortable returning for future projects. They get the sense that I really care about helping them perfect this part of their work and they get the easy points, as much as it pains me to say it.

Let them flounder…a bit.

When our alums return for a panel discussion about life in college, they stress time management. Not that they don’t procrastinate, but that they are more strategic procrastinators. Have you tried giving your students a little space during working sessions to use their time wisely…or not? We are explicit that this is part of their learning process and we won’t make them work. We give suggestions about limiting distractions—like turning off device notifications, sitting at individual computer carrels, or listening to a preplanned “focus” playlist. During the first block research period, we observe but don’t interfere. In future individual research meetings, we ask them to reflect on how they’ve been using class time, and we do sometimes assign specifics for students who aren’t quite ready to motivate themselves on their own. But our goal isn’t for them to work when we are looking over their shoulders; it’s to prepare them to work on their own when no one is watching.

20 minute tasks.

Since the lesson plan and the lived experience don’t always match, here is my addendum to the previous paragraph. Last month, 3 classes were on track with learning age-appropriate time management skills. Two weren’t. In frustration, the teacher and I turned to each other after a boisterous block period and asked, aren’t people supposed to be able to focus for 20 minutes? Because I love Post-it notes, the next day we showed up in class and had everyone write their goal for the period. Then, we talked about breaking that into smaller goals, specifically identifying a silent 20 minute task to start. If they had questions on their individual papers or wanted to be first to talk to us after the 20 minute “test,” they wrote it on the back. It may have been born of necessity, but it worked amazingly. And kids kept asking for Post-its during future classes. We all know it, but it’s new to high schoolers that their next task isn’t to “write their paper” but to write three sentences or check that their As have Bs in their outlines.

Where’s your average middle?

If you’ve worked with classes where students are working independently, you know that two types of students tend to dominate your time. There are weak students, who you don’t want to get left behind, even as they try to stay invisible. And there are the strong go-getters, who would probably sit right next to you for the entire project and ask a question every step if they could. But what are you doing to make sure you’re reaching the quiet average students, the ones who complete every assignment and who would never think to interrupt you while you’re meeting with another student? Can you schedule individual meetings with students once a week? Or comment more thoroughly on their work? These are the kids that it’s easy to overlook when others are vying for your attention, and it’s worth some effort to make sure these good kids aren’t forgotten. This is a particular weakness of mine. I tend to focus on the students in front of me, and I’d greatly appreciate your suggestions about how to strategically plan to serve this demographic.

Debrief with students and with teachers.

20 minute tasks wasn’t anything I thought I’d be writing about. Honestly, I didn’t think I’d be thinking about it after a random Wednesday when I just wanted students to pay attention. But in debriefing sessions with their advisors, where students presumably felt the most comfortable, this was the top lesson they said they learned. Every time I complete a collaborative project with a teacher, I take a Post-it note and paper clip it to the top of the lesson with the dates, what we did, and what I’d change for next time. Then it gets filed away. This process has helped me prepare more efficiently for last-minute requests, and it provides me a few minutes to reflect. With whatever kind of organization system you keep, this is something I’d recommend.

Perhaps a plane ride was a bit long for uninterrupted writing, so I apologize for the Giant Block of Test ™. You get a sense of the types of questions I ask myself as I transition from one task to the next. Please add any thoughts below. I’d love to hear what tips I can learn from each of you.

And Time Keeps Marching On

“AHA moments” result from random encounters. One of my advisees recently surprised me with this as a Christmas gift.  

It’s shiny, hand-decorated with sparkly bits, much lighter than you’d imagine, and made from her home 3d printer. Her home 3d printer. She received it last year for Christmas, and apparently the model retails for approximately $250 dollars. I think that’s proportionately—and maybe even in real money—less than the black and white paper printer I had in college. How times have changed.

What struck me, however was not the gift itself. It was the normalness of all of this for her.

When I was in elementary school, my dad bought an AppleIIGS computer. I was obsessed. And despite the bad rap that some computer games have, my parents knew what they were doing. The only games I remember playing in the early years were “Where in Time is Carmen Sandiego” and “Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing.” Those games and also “The Print Shop.” If there was a birthday/yard sale/dinner menu happening, you can bet there was an accompanying card/banner/sign. For those of you unfamiliar with “The Print Shop,” it was a software package that “provided libraries of clip-art and templates through a simple interface to build signs, posters and banners with household dot matrix printers.” My grandparents were always thrilled to receive a card designed by me and printed in color on our very own home printer that could be counted on to screechingly and consistently print one page per minute. For me, nothing seemed strange about having a home printer producing cards. They never imagined home computers would become ubiquitous.

Side note-Since librarians like finding answers, I remembered that we had a dot-matrix printer but I didn’t know the name for the type of paper with the perforated borders and the little holes. Wikipedia to the rescue with the answer of continuous form paper.  I also got other keywords like fan-fold paper, burst paper, and tractor-feed paper. This is exactly what we want to model for our kids for starting-level research, right? So often I see searches thwarted prematurely when students don’t have the background knowledge to get to the search terms they need for the subject they are researching. But that’s fodder for another post…

Tying this back to schools, most changes are more subtle. Rolling in quietly like waves year after year, our roles shift a little each fall with technological innovations. Barring that aha moment, I don’t think about the ways that school librarianship has changed since I entered the field in 2005. But in ways large and small, librarianship has a different shape. Consider—

  • Changing search strategies. Google has gotten much better at anticipating searches and providing information directly in their search engine. A few years ago, we barely had tabs and content didn’t automatically synch across devices. As an iPad school, I love that I can airdrop materials right to students’ devices.
  • Learning Management Systems that automatically give the librarian access to all course materials and assignments, as well as student progress and grades. (I never miss the feeling of co-teaching a research lesson after being handed the assignment instructions as the class walked into the library.)
  • Google Drive, Libguides and other options for easily sharing information and collaborating in the cloud. It’s so easy to create and share. The burden has shifted to organization.
  • Free Amazon two-day shipping for items needed immediately for projects.
  • The ease of finding MARC records online for items that need to be cataloged. (See above)
  • Federated search engines, imperfect though they may be, that make it easier for students to use the databases that libraries purchase, and to find and cite the information they need.
  • The rise of visual search, especially in student presentation preparation, from image matching and location recognition, to sortability options for the ideal image.
  • Author Skype sessions that are less costly than in-person visits and the new AISL webinar series that lets us learn from our inspirational colleagues outside of the time and space constraints of the annual conference.
  • Conversations around the terms libraries, learning commons, and maker spaces. The fact that we need to specify the need for quiet spaces in our bustling collaborative spaces is a world away from the shhhing librarian.
  • SMARTPHONES- ie. the ubiquity of the Internet.  Need I say more?

There is always hand-wringing about new technologies. But there’s also the potential for positive momentum. We’re continually recalibrating towards a new normal. Since we’ve all entered the fields in different years and even decades, I’d love to hear your perspectives on the specific technologies that have changed schooling and your role in librarianing. Just some food for thought this holiday season, and I hope everyone enjoys their semester breaks.

Conflicted Thoughts about a presentation that was “Mostly True”

Remember the last time that you heard a speaker who challenged your thinking and perhaps made you question your role in your profession? Sometimes, like with professor Eric Mazur who keynoted FCIS a few years ago, I didn’t even realize I was paying attention until I noticed how often I was changing my lessons to match his ideals. Recently, the county library system sponsored David Lankes, Director of the University of South Carolina’s School of Library and Information Science. His talk was “Mostly True: A Knowledge Organization in an Age of Alternative Facts.”

Abstract: Communities need the public library now more than ever. In an era when neighbors are more divided than ever, and even the nature of truth and facts are in question, how do librarians best serve their community? This presentation makes the argument that our communities do not need more information literacy, a greater emphasis on quality information, or a neutral institution. Rather our communities need trusted partners helping weave together common understandings of events and priorities.

You can watch the entire presentation here with audio and slides at

Lankes believes that public libraries are safe places to explore dangerous ideas and that librarians must change their mindset from serving the community to being part of the community. We should work off of emotional intelligence (EQ) and not just facts.

He talked about the difference in the statements “How can I help you?” and “What are you interested in today?” The first implies that we are serving patrons, and the second gives them ownership over their interests. Get out from behind the reference desk.

Basically, the setup of the talk was that our field’s response to the current news situation has been three-fold: information literacy, promotion of quality, and neutrality. He disputed that this was the best response and asked listeners to instead worry less about “truth.” All information is contextual. Instead of thinking about information, we should think about knowledge. Knowledge is social. It’s about trust. “Trust doesn’t come from neutrality but from consistency.” Lankes believes that there has been a rise in credibility by reliability rather than authority. This makes sense to me as so-called experts are called into question by those in authority, and people find sources that confirm their own biases. There isn’t always an objective “truth.”

In particular, in relation to school libraries, he questioned the information literacy courses that we teach and value. This is difficult for me. I love teaching information literacy skills, and I think that they are valuable for our students. In fact, I’m still not sure that I buy his argument. Lankes said that some of the fake news controversy that we’ve been confronting over the last year is a result of such courses. Information literacy training leads to greater confidence in one’s ability to evaluate information, but not necessarily greater ability. This struck a chord with me. I’ve seen it with my own students. His other reason is that “every tool we give to evaluate is one people can use to manipulate.” There are marketers and political analysts who will utilize what information literacy courses teach to make their sites seem more legitimate or more neutral. When making websites, these individuals will make sure that it appears to pass the CRAP test or whatever checklist your school uses. This is true, but there has to be an answer in how to teach students to be more effective information consumers who can interact critically with sources across the ideological spectrum.

Librarians should:

This is a paradigm shift for librarians. Even if we don’t agree wholeheartedly, it’s important to have conversations about information literacy and librarian neutrality. Thoughts?

The EdCamp Model for Professional Summer Reading

Our 2016-17 school theme was “Re-imagine” and the division directors thought it would be fun to reimagine our professional development reading for the summer. In past years, all directors sponsored a book of interest. Teachers chose any of the five books and attended a discussion led by the director during our preseason week. Fairly standard procedure, and it worked well.

Based on the success of our EdCamp professional development day last January, they decided to try a similar approach to summer reading. At EdCamp events, participants create an agenda on the spot and lead impromptu sessions based on areas of shared interest, need or expertise.

For summer reading, this meant that teachers could choose to read any book they felt would help them develop professionally. From the directors:

Summer is around the corner and with that comes our annual summer reading request. We’ve Re-Imagined for this summer and are going with an entirely different approach.

Being that our EdCamp Professional Development Day was such a hit, we’re going with an EdCamp Books  where everyone has his/her own choice of book to ignite their passions.

Your job is to choose a book you’ve never read before and return in August ready to share what the book meant to you, how it might affect your teaching, your daily interactions, etc.

We will keep a list on a Google Doc, so please add your information as soon as you decide the book you’ll read.

Some of you may join others in reading the same book.

However, we are hoping for some outside of the box books and thinkers that will introduce us to a variety of books and insight into our colleagues’ passions and interests.

Happy Summer and Happy Reading!

Basically the Google sheet populated itself over the summer

Based on feedback from teachers throughout the summer and following yesterday’s discussions, I’d say that EdCamp-style summer reading was an unqualified success. There was some slight initial trepidation from a few teachers about choosing the “right” book, but that passed pretty quickly. The libraries recommended books to those who asked, and most teachers got recommendations from colleagues or chose books they had been wanting to read already. It’s nice to have an excuse…

We met in predetermined but random groups, and discussions formed organically. In my group, we found some themes common to our reading and offered the best tips from what we had learned. The hour flew by, and I made a note of several teachers with whom I’d like to continue the conversation in the coming weeks.

Summer reading is something like a fingerprint for each school with each program varying based on the school’s personality. If you have success stories of your own or questions about what we tried, please write them in the comments below.

Turnitin – Plagiarism Catcher vs. Originality Checker


Following up on April’s themes of controversial topics in library land…

When I attended my first AISL conference in Baltimore, I remember being surprised when a casual conversation between calm librarians heated up quickly.  The culprit?

Turnitin, the iParadigms software that reviews student work for plagiarism.

I don’t have any records of how many independent schools use Turnitin, though overall the website claims…

I inherited administration of Turnitin when I started at my current school, and I knew little of the service beyond its scary reputation. (Admit it, how many of you are happy to have graduated before the age of information overload and originality algorithms?) The students called it the “cheating program,” and from what I could tell, the purpose of Turnitin did indeed seem to be ferreting out plagiarism. I doubt my students were some of the 30 million who “trusted’ the program. In the past few years though, I’ve been very impressed with Turnitin’s services.

We are now very conscientious about the ways that we refer to it with students, most particularly in calling it an “originality checker.” Teachers set up assignments to allow for multiple submissions until the deadline so students can check their own work. I’ve heard fear from others that this will lead to students figuring out how to change just enough of their work not to be caught. But, our hope for a synthesis paper is incorporating other’s ideas, and it’s something we are trying to teach them to do effectively while citing their sources. Why not make the process a bit more transparent to students who are just learning? In my experience on my school’s Honor Council, students generally cheat out of laziness. Thus anything that gets them to spend more time interacting with the source texts and their own writing is a benefit.

For our school, here are the positives:

-Turnitin provides a visual representation of synthesis. We ask students to review their own work and to look for color mixing rather than color blocks. This gives them a way to scan their own material and see if they are integrating sources effectively or writing a series of article reviews. It’s also helpful for research-based papers for students to see the green-yellow-red marking of the similarity index. If they are at a blue 0% match, they probably haven’t done enough research to prove that experts agree with their argument. If they are above 20%, they probably haven’t done the hard work of translating the experts’ research into their own paper.

-The ways that Turnitin lets readers offer feedback on assignments are fabulous. We don’t even regularly use all of the features, like the grammar checker or the rubrics, though I hope that use increases more next year with our integration (see below.) Students love hearing voice comments from their teachers. Tone carries better in verbal communication, and teachers are forced to comment on the papers as a whole, rather than specific grammar issues. Students can also review each other’s papers, and this works well for an entire grade to receive peer review that can be completed electronically, anonymously, and outside of class. The extra time spent revising shows the importance of writing as a process and improves the overall product.

-Turnitin relieves pressure from teachers, especially in fields outside of History and English, to know when plagiarism has occurred. All papers are submitted to Turnitin, and so teachers don’t get the reputation of being “easy” or “tough” on plagiarism. It is a part of the school culture and standardized across departments.

-Finally, on cases when plagiarism is suspected and students are sent to Honor Council, the Turnitin report is a valuable tool in showing the student what he did wrong. Honor Council representatives have this report to validate their assessment of the case and can use it as a teaching tool for the inevitable revision that will occur in the weeks following the case.

On the other side, not everything has gone well.

-The customer service relies on an antiquated email ticket system. It can take days to communicate back and forth to solve seemingly minor issues.

-With no apparent pattern, Turnitin has occasionally flagged student work as plagiarized from an earlier version of the same assignment. This has not happened frequently but causes student panic when it does.

-Students tend to forget the email that they used in middle school to sign up for the account, and the site asks asinine questions to authenticate the account. How would the “you” from eighteen months ago have answered some of these?

-The filter features for turnitin are unreasonably blunt. While the site claims that you can filter by quotation and by number of words, I haven’t found that these work particularly well. Even worse, my Tech team can’t figure out how Turnitin decides where to place the origin of words that appear on multiple sites on the web. Think of cases where something is printed in a magazine article, copied to Wikipedia and then used in many student papers. How does Turnitin decide which particular source to list, and why can’t it list all the sources?

Our next step:

Turnitin has finally created integration software for our course management system. We used to have this integration with Schoology, but they didn’t offer it for our current platform. Starting next fall, teachers will be able to create assignments that students will submit to Turnitin straight from SSESonline. I can’t wait!

Please continue the conversation below. Do you use Turnitin or some similar software? How does it work for your school community? Do you have suggestions for how to use it better? 

Making the most of summer: Professional Development

Even though the weather is in the high 70s here in Florida, as I pack for a weekend trip north to visit family, my thoughts turn towards long summer days. I always find February is the time when I can’t help planning summer travels. Sometimes there’s amazing synchronicity when where I want to be coincides with a professional development opportunity. Here are a few to consider for 2017 or future years, with a focus on low-cost programs and those that pay attendees.

 NEH Summer Seminars and Institutes for School Teachers

NEH offers tuition-free opportunities for school, college, and university educators to study a variety of humanities topics. Stipends of $600-$3,300 help cover expenses for these one- to four-week programs. There are over 40 programs for 2017 spread throughout the country with a March 1 application deadline.

 Fulbright-Hays Seminars Abroad

The Fulbright-Hays Seminars abroad provide opportunities for overseas experiences in non-Western European countries. Seminars are designed to provide a broad and introductory cultural orientation to a particular country or countries. The deadline for the 2017 summer programs has passed, but keep your eyes out for an announcement of the 2018 countries.

Image result for fulbright hays bilateral

Library of Congress Summer Teacher Institute 

Immerse yourself in the practice of teaching with primary sources from the unparalleled collections of Library of Congress. Each Institute week, Library of Congress education specialists modeling strategies for using primary sources to engage students, build critical thinking skills, and construct knowledge. 2017 offers two specialized sessions, one on WWI and one on STEM, as well as their general institutes.

National Gallery of Art Summer Teacher Institute 

The Teacher Institute is a six-day seminar held at the National Gallery in Washington D.C. that helps K–12 teachers strengthen their knowledge of art history and integrate visual art into classroom teaching. The program features lectures, gallery tours, teaching strategies, and hands-on learning experiences. The 2017 seminar examines visual art of the Renaissance from the independent city-states of Italy and the Low Countries during the 14th through the 16th centuries.

National Geographic Grosvenor Teacher Fellow Program

Fellows learn the importance of geographic literacy while traveling on ships and working with National Geographic researchers. 2017 regions for exploration include the Arctic, British and Irish Isles, Canadian Maritimes, Iceland, the Galapagos, Antarctica and more. The 2017 deadline has passed, and starting in 2018, applicants will need to be National Geographic Certified Educators.

Gilder Lehrman Teacher Seminar

Scholars and master teachers lead these one-week seminars in American history. Seminars are often held at places with a direct connection to the topic at hand, giving participants a rare opportunity to walk historic grounds, examine original artifacts, and study primary source documents in the same places where significant events occurred. 2017 seminars cover American history from the Colonial era though September 11, 2001. Seminars are fully funded for public school teachers, but there is a fee for independent school teachers.

George Washington Teacher Institute Summer Residential Program 

The George Washington Teacher Institute Summer Residential Programs are 5-day immersive experiences at Mount Vernon that teach about the life, leadership, and legacy of George Washington and the 18th-century world in which he lived. The 2017 deadline has passed.

Annenberg-Newseum Summer Teacher Institutes 

The 2017 application hasn’t been posted yet, but I hope this free three-day program at DC’s Newseum continues. This program looks at the past and future of the first amendment in regards to primary sources, the freedom of the press, ethics, and media literacy. There is a focus on technology integration in schools.

Louise Seaman Bechtel Fellowship 

This fellowship provides a $4,000 stipend to allow a qualified children’s librarian to spend a month or more reading at the University of Florida’s Baldwin Library of Historical Children’s Literature, which contains a special collection of 85,000 volumes of children’s literature published mostly before 1950. Applications have closed for summer 2017.

Oxbridge Academic Programs 

After my affordable options, this is pricey “luxury edition” for those with extra professional development funds. I’ve heard high praise, particularly in regards to quality of the academic libraries. The seminars are based in the world’s greatest centers of culture and learning – including Cambridge, Paris, and Oxford, and they are led by distinguished Humanities scholars.

Image result for oxford bodleian

Last, but certainly not least, remember AISL’s very own Summer Institute All School Reads: Making Book Day Work at Your School hosted at Horace Mann School in New York City from June 27-29.

This is the beginning of a list that will be more helpful to all of us if you continue to add your own thoughts below. Happy summer planning!