Wanna Be a Librarian?

I hope I’m preaching to the choir here! As members of AISL, most of you are currently employed in school libraries and have successfully navigated the hiring process. When I first applied to an independent school, the whole process opened the door to a mysterious, and intimidating, world.

Recruiting agency profile?
Multiple conference calls? (This was a pre-Skype era.)
A fly-down to see the school?
Dinner with administrators?
Eight hours on campus meeting seemingly everyone?
And I didn’t even teach a sample class…

I think it was probably helpful that I wasn’t anticipating the intensity of the hiring process and thus was able to experience each step with fresh eyes and optimism.

I have since been through the process on the other side frequently, and that’s definitely the preferable side. If you aren’t part of the hiring process for new faculty, you might want to ask if that’s a possibility. I have fifteen to thirty minutes with most Upper School faculty candidates, and while I have minimal say in the final hiring decisions, I think the time is well worth it. It gives the impression to candidates that there is an expectation of library collaboration, and candidates are quick to share their best collaboration stories with me. It’s professionally invigorating.

But, hiring for a librarian is both invigorating and stressful. I’ve just finished a midyear  hiring process and am ready to turn over the lower school library to an energetic and experienced librarian and refocus my attention on my library.  I thought this could be a break from our fascinating recent discussions on digital and news literacies before most people begin thinking about the spring hiring cycle. These are my observations from what I’ve seen over the past decade in the field.

  • Details matter in your application. Apply with the correct title of the position that’s been advertised. It’s important for librarians to be detail-oriented, and it shows me that you’re more likely to have read the expectations for the position itself. While it seems small, it might matter to the school if you are applying for the position of middle school media specialist, director of the learning center, or research librarian.
  • Along the same lines, apply in the format requested, whether it’s an email to the librarian or a phone call to human resources. Institutions have processes for hiring and applications sent to the wrong place may get loss in the process. It’s appropriate to check in once if you want to make sure your information has been received, but you probably don’t want to contact the school more frequently than they are contacting you.
  • Don’t just include a resume but also a cover letter or email explaining your background and interest in the position in narrative form. It helps you stand out to the school when they can hear your voice telling stories about your experiences and your values.
  • Only claim expertise in areas where you have expertise. While it might seem obvious, it’s easy in the moment to pretend you’ve used a system you’ve only heard mentioned in passing. It’s much worse to feign knowledge at first only to flail on a more-detailed follow-up question. No one is expected to know everything and we can probably teach the school’s course management system or Koha or Google Sheets or libguides.
  • Be cautious how you ask about money. Independent schools operate individually and quite differently from public schools, and each school has a unique culture around salary. If you ask too early or too often, it may stand out to the people interviewing you, even if they have no say in those decisions. Likewise, holidays and days off.
  • Do your homework on the schools where you are interviewing; research them online. If you’ve been working as a librarian, share stories about what you’ve done, but don’t start every sentence, “At my last school…” Be open to creating new traditions that fit the school where you are interviewing. Think about non-Googleable questions for when you are, inevitably, asked if you have questions for your interviewer.
  • Be yourself! Independent schools value that individuality and spend their marketing dollars sharing what’s unique about their offerings. It’s helpful to know if you’ll fit into the school culture, especially as librarians who pride ourselves on working well with others.
  • If you are invited for an interview, be on time, be yourself (again), show curiosity about the people interviewing you, and get a copy of the interview schedule if possible. Show kindness to everyone you meet, from the receptionist to the lunch staff to the individuals who are officially meeting with you. You want to leave a positive impression on everyone who interacts with you. If it fits your personality, it can’t hurt to have samples of past work with you as examples if anyone asks Also, a water bottle is a good idea.
  • Thank you notes still make a difference! Paper or electronic, no one will ever fault you for being too polite. If you were able to get a schedule, you’ll have the list of people who interviewed you. Otherwise, the headmaster, principal, or person who set up the interview are all good choices.

Just like we’ve been telling our seniors all month as college admissions decisions arrive, keep your options open. There isn’t one “perfect fit;” there are a lot of matches that will work. If you are someone looking for your first library job or hoping to relocate this spring, good luck! If you are someone with an open position, happy hiring!

Other suggestions, especially for boarding schools, large schools, or specialized positions, welcomed below. Also, something that greatly interests me is whether people still believe there is a standardized resume format. I’ve seen documents ranging from one to four pages, in bullet and narrative format, listing schooling and not. As someone who has stuck with the format she learned as an undergraduate, is anyone willing to share their thoughts on resume structure in 2017?

A Day in the Life of a Solo Librarian

 Like many solo librarians, I think about the amount of time I spend on “library” tasks compared with the amount of time I spent working on other tasks for the school. These might be revising educational scope-and-sequence planning, supervising students as they eat cookies, comforting a crying child, or filling the copier with paper. This is probably exacerbated at smaller independent schools where everyone plays multiple roles, and it definitely keeps life interesting. So yesterday I set a reminder on my phone and took photos every hour on the hour. If nothing else, I recommend this because it made me realize how frequently I switch tasks and how much I’m still missing from this brief display. It also led to some laughs from my colleagues and some productive conversations about “what exactly I do all day.”

n-8a8am-Printing labels for Fountas and Pinnell and desperately searching through cabinets for more white Avery 5472 labels. While multiple colors were plentiful, white was not. This also turned out to be true in Capital’s online catalog, so the Business Office and I searched together to figure out how they were categorized and get them ordered.  Guess what’s on my agenda again later today?

n-9a9am-Helping a student prepare quotation analysis on the theme of sacrifice in The Kite Runner. Bonus points because she planned ahead and made an appointment the day before!

n-10a10am-Senior speeches in our gorgeous Chapel. The 3 students speaking yesterday came to our school in recent years from the Czech Republic, China, and Botswana, and all shared tips about experiencing a new culture as a teenager. There was an overarching theme that food bridges cultural gaps.

n-11a11am-Preparing for my Academic Team’s Thursday evening competition by updating the computer system and testing the buzzers. (Sidenote-I spend a tremendous amount of time on Academic Team coaching. I hadn’t realized quite how many little tasks there are: printing out directions to meets, collecting money, copying questions, organizing rosters, etc. I mainly think about our practice schedule, but there is a lot behind the scenes.) Crossing my fingers for another win soon!

n-12p12pm-Photography teacher is on a field trip with her advanced students, so watching the Photo One students in the library as they offer feedback on the photographs that their Canadian penpals shared with them.

n-1p1pm-Why is the library the most popular place on campus during lunch? There are just as many students on the other side of the “L.” Quick count after this picture showed 39 students, about 5 of whom were actively studying.

n-2pm2pm-Working with the Center for Academic Success, the English Department, and the Division Director to set up a student Writing Center. This has been a goal of mine for two years, and the momentum is finally in our favor to get this off the ground.

n-3pa3pm-If you find yourself in Florida tomorrow at 9:40am, there will be a full “Thanksgiving feast” taking place with my advisory. They are good at remembering their dishes—if I put out physical and electronic reminders. It will be a truly global Thanksgiving, with rotisserie chicken, Haitian rice, dumplings, macaroni and cheese and more.

n-3pb3pm(Part Two)-Lest you think my day is spent thinking about food, I returned from the students’ cubbies to set up the projector for the faculty meeting and found this puddle in the library. The glamour of the position…

n-4p4pm-Faculty meeting in the library on past and upcoming professional development opportunities and information on exam proctoring.

n-5p 5pm-Home and on the treadmill for my Zen time. Do I read The Week, US Weekly, or check Facebook? 30 minutes is time enough for all three, right?

n-6p6pm-Teacher book club. This month’s book was The Japanese Lover by Isabelle Allende, which everyone enjoyed (a rarity) and which led to thought-provoking conversations about our own romantic histories in our intergenerational group.

n-9pb 9pm-I thought I was going to relax and read Born to Run, but I kept thinking about a request for today’s Academic Council meeting for our thoughts on our guiding principles and trends in education that are affecting us. Since my house is actually a lot quieter than the school library, it was a good chance to get my thoughts together.

There’s your vicarious view into one day in the life of a solo librarian. I actually like the idea of trying this again for myself and seeing what I’m doing at specified time intervals throughout the day. It would be a interesting way for me to document how I’m keeping busy even on days when there are fewer classes scheduled. Anyone want to join me?

“They said WHAT?” Elections and Information Literacy

Did you know the US has an election coming up in 19 days? Perhaps you’ve debated the debates, analyzed the ads, and nosed through the news?

But are you talking about it in your schools or it is too divisive? Interestingly, the other Independent Ideas blog, the one hosted by NAIS, recently showed how to build teachable moments into this election season and how to do so in a way that will make students feel their contributions are heard and valued. Schools can facilitate small group conversations to answer these two key questions. This lets us commit to our common values rather than focusing on our differences.

  • As we go through this election season, what are our school community’s overarching values, those that supersede differences in political viewpoint?
  • What core values can anchor us in a place of safety and connection?

The blog post states that educators need to be aware of their own backgrounds and beliefs and listen without judgment to ideas with which they may not agree. They also need to monitor student conversations to make sure that students are following the protocols set up for deep listening discussions. The authors recommend rather than focusing on specific candidates or policies, conversations focus on how students came to their beliefs.

  • In small groups, have one student say, “I’d like to understand your point of view. Please tell me more how you have come to that belief.”

They advocate good listening techniques like not interrupting or arguing. Students should repeat back what they heard the other person say “until the speaker feels that the listener has heard what was actually said, free of interpretation or added spin.” Because my students are often have only a budding political awareness, it’s helpful for them to be asked to think through this task. Internally I’m wondering if this is your parents’ belief or your own and learning why it’s important to you. As a proponent of visible thinking, I feel it’s vital for teens to know not only what they think but how they got there. This builds on political discussions and emotional awareness with tolerance and patience.

Read the full article here: http://www.nais.org/Independent-Ideas/Lists/Posts/Post.aspx?ID=576

This summer I was selected for the Newseum’s Teacher Institute to learn the skills that students need to be informed and empowered citizens in a media-rich world. The election was already a hot topic, and Teaching Controversy: Turning Third-Rail Topics into Productive Debates taught some strategies to host civil debates on controversial topics.

The Newseum recommends case studies (historical or contemporary) because they make you define your terms and structure what you’re discussing. Even when students come to different conclusions, they’re starting from the same facts. Here are a few groundrules they recommend to help keep conversation flowing and emotions calm.

  1. Know your students and be sure there is a routine in place for discussion. As a librarian, this means you’ll want to collaborate with a trusted teacher or a class with whom you’ve already worked closely. It’s not the time to introduce yourself to a new group.
  2. Be confident in your content. Be prepared with the facts and committed to the discussion, and ensure that you give enough background knowledge to set up an even playing field for all students.
  3. Respect your participants by understanding their perspectives, valuing their ideas, and being clear about the purpose of the case study and the rules for discussion.
  4. Ask questions (especially tiered ones), encourage debate and as you “stir the pot,” make sure to take every side.
  5. Specifically in setting up the case study:
    1. Give everyone a clearly-defined role that lets them explore the thought process of someone other than themselves. Maybe they are a mayor, the campaign manager, a retired grandma, or the Speaker of the House.
    2. Provide a limited scope that aims to answer one question from one perspective.
    3. Provide multiple choice as a plan of action (The Newseum asked us to change our perspective so that we consider how someone in a particular role might act, not what they would think.) For lower-level classes, you can preload prompts with more information on what should happen and the preliminaries of why.

6. Wrap up as a class and make sure that everyone understands the purpose of the case study and felt heard throughout the class period.

As a librarian, I have informal conversations with students more frequently than I teach full classes. In those cases, I love using the fact-checking sites with students and comparing news coverage from different parts of the country. It’s always a conversation starter to ask about advertisements and mailers and how each campaign is trying to persuade them. They love to pull back the curtain and see how facts can be manipulated, and this keeps them away from conversations about “people,” which can get heated fairly quickly. What about you? Any plans over the next 19 days to introduce the election and information literacy skills? Share below:

Back to school advice from new(ish) teachers and librarians

David Wee really hit the nail on the head this spring when he admitted that He doesn’t always feel like he knows what he’s doing. I can’t believe that I’m entering my 10th year of librarianship. I’ll still leave conversations with professionals talking about what “the adults” are saying. My colleagues have repeatedly reassured me that, yes, I’m an adult too, but I never woke up and said, “Henceforth I shall be known as a professional adult.” When a friend posted this on Facebook, I couldn’t have given it more thumbs up.



Over the last few months, I queried some teachers and librarians who have a few years experience and asked them for the most practical tip they would have liked their less experienced selves to have known. I loved their answers and found them timely as we’re planning our new year back at school. You’ll notice there’s a theme with the first few….keep reading.

“Get to know students’ names! It changes everything.”

Remember back to the Grimm tale Rumpelstilkskin and the power of names. This works when kids are testing the boundaries on the library as an afterschool game space and also encourages them to participate more in class. It’s an all-around win.

“Getting to know your students can be more helpful than content. Think about covering students, not material.”

As a librarian who teaches more skills than content, this is totally applicable. If you listen to your students talk about their interests, there are natural connections to information literacy. Sponsoring a club, attending a game, and watching a theater performance all lead to better connections with students.

“You aren’t a professional automaton.”

This honest wording makes me laugh. Let the kids know your interests and maybe some information about your pets or your hobbies. I bike to school; it’s a conversation starter. In practicality, it also means that my search examples might change from first to fourth period. Since you’re not a robot, you can personalize each class a bit based on student comments.

“You won’t teach like your mentors.”

The teacher who told me this stressed that he loves watching master teachers teach. But he felt like he was filling a role his first year trying to teach the ways they did. It was much better to take a step back and think about the goals they had from teaching a lesson a certain way and how he could achieve those same goals.

“If something doesn’t work, it may be that class and not the material.”

If something is a horrible abysmal failure, sure you can write it off and never try it again. But if it’s a lesson that was well planned where something went amiss in the execution, don’t be afraid to try the same lesson with a different group. There is so much beyond your control, especially when you’re working with multiple classes and grades each day. Even now, it’s magical to me that the same lesson that’s genius with one group falls flat with the next.

“Silence isn’t your fault.”

So true, and yet it never would have occurred to me to share this with a new librarian or teacher. If you are working with a class that’s new to you, questions may go unanswered. This is natural, especially with teenagers. You can reframe the question to let them puzzle through, but keep trying. As you work with the same group, they’ll get more comfortable talking and you’ll be more comfortable with the silences.

“When students say, ‘I’ve never learned this before, take it with a grain of salt.’ But if you want to get your message across, there’s nothing wrong with telling them the same thing again and again.”

Love this! I wrote the library scope and sequence for grades 6-12, so I know who learned what when. That doesn’t stop students from claiming something is new. Keeping in mind the ultimate goal of teaching students to be information literate, smile and repeat. And smile and repeat.

“Provide guides so students know where you expect them to go.”

Students access library materials all hours of the day and night. Give them the tools to succeed in their searches whenever they occur by providing guides that let them know how to access electronic resources even when you’re not around.

“Wear comfortable shoes. Don’t stand in front of a mirror and look at your outfit. Think about bending down to pick up a book from a shelf and leaning over student table to help with assignments. Think about what you do all day.”

Cannot second this enough. You spend very little of the day standing silently in front of a mirror. What does your clothing look like when you do your job? Being able to walk easily at the end of the day should be standard.

“The kids will cry during Homecoming week. It isn’t you.”

When you work with high schoolers, there is SO MUCH going on in their worlds. They’re applying to colleges, interested in dating their classmates, pumped for an upcoming game, worried about the test they just took… At our school, the students love Homecoming week and the daily spirit and costume competitions, but they only have so much energy to give. Pressure is high and tears happen. Coincidentally, teachers know that this is a week of distraction and thus love to schedule library time. It’s one of my busiest weeks. Thinking back to library skills, when you’re able to tie your lessons into their worlds, teens are much more likely to remember. But some days there’s just a lot happening.

Those are ten to start you off. What are yours? Think back to what you’ve learned over the years and the advice you wish you had heard. Share your favorite in the comments below, and let’s make this a great year for librarians new and old experienced. Happy back to school!

An Answer to David Wee’s “I Have No Idea What I Am Doing…”

By CD McLean (Berkeley Preparatory School)


This post is my first in a couple of years.  They don’t have a login for me yet, so the top bit says Christina, but don’t blame her if you disagree with anything in the post! Blame me (CD McLean).  I was in a bit of a quandary about what to write in my first back to blogging post. What would be the most interesting subject? What would capture AISL librarians’ attention? I thought about doing one on collaboration as I have a big collaboration project coming up with our new personal librarian program kicking off in the upper school this school year.  Then I thought, why not go topical?  Perhaps an entry on plagiarism might be thing since we had the speech kerfuffle at the Republican National Convention; we could look at the ins and outs of plagiarism and how to examine it in the classroom.  In the end though, I fell back on the tried and true for intriguing: David Wee. As most of you are whenever he posts, I was enthralled by David Wee’s post on “I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I AM DOING…”.  And I heard his call for comments and thought, “I will answer the call.”  Also, I frequently stand in the middle of the library staring out at the students and think “I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I AM DOING…” 😎

What does it mean to be “information literate?”

 A good question, but I think perhaps the question needs to be “what does it mean to be information literate to librarians and to administrators and to department chairs? (And perhaps should we check those people to see if THEY are information literate?) Wesleyan University defines information literacy as “ a crucial skill in the pursuit of knowledge. It involves recognizing when information is needed and being able to efficiently locate, accurately evaluate, effectively use, and clearly communicate information in various formats.” However, the American Library Association (ALA) defines it as “… a set of abilities requiring individuals to “recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information.””

Student Looking for Book on Library Shelves (photo from wikimedia).

The difference between the two: the university librarians added the clear communication. What do you think of these two definitions? Are they enough? Is the added clear communication enough for your students? Or do you need something more?

A third definition comes from the Association of American School Librarians (AASL) and AASL has taken a more skills-based approach at the definition. Consequently, it is a bit more detailed. Their definition comes from their Standards for the 21st-Century Learner. While AASL does say that the definition of information literacy has become more complex as resources and technologies have changed” (meaning: Hey everybody, this is tough!”), I think that the closest they come to a definition that we can use is on the right hand side of their pamphlet where they define the skills for the 21st-century learner. 

Cover of the front page of AASL’s 21st-Century Learner Pamphlet (via AASL website).

Learners use skills, resources and tools to: 

  1. Inquire, think critically, and gain knowledge. 
  2. Draw conclusions, make informed decisions, apply knowledge to new situations, and create new knowledge. 
  3. Share knowledge and participate ethically and productively as members of our democratic society. 
  4. Pursue personal and aesthetic growth.

So, out of the three definitions, which one do you prefer? All in all, I like the AASL definition best.  IMO, it is more comprehensive. It allows for us to teach ethics (plagiarism, copyright), that the other two definitions leave out. And I really like number 4: Pursue personal and aesthetic growth.  Every year I wrack my brain for how I can help students achieve this.  This year it is my goal is to create research projects that help students pursue personal and aesthetic growth.  I’ll keep you posted.  What are your goals for the new school year related to information literacy?

What does it mean to be “college ready?”

Short bad answer: a diploma.  Real librarian answer: Well, that’s the rub, isn’t it? At several of our conferences, we have had panels of lovely college librarians tell us what they are looking for in their  college freshmen.  I think the part of the problem lies with us.  Are we passing on the information we receive?  By passing on, I mean, adding this info to our scope and sequence?  Do we go back and talk with department chairs and then redesign projects?  We are certainly not the only people responsible for making our graduates college ready, but I think we do bear responsibility for making them information literate and able to research at the college level. We are part of the team.  We need to help our team be the best it can be and part of that responsibility is passing on information about how we can redesign or look at projects differently so that our students can be better able to succeed in college. 

One group activity that we all might do is a quick survey of our own graduates and then share that information with the list (or, share it with me and I will compile it for my next post mcleacd@berkeleyprep.org put in the subject heading graduate survey).  The end goal of the task would be to take the results and then publish them in an NAIS, AASL or another publication so that we are disseminating the information discovered.  This survey is something I did with my former students. It was quick and dirty, essentially, I asked them to send me research assignments that they had been given.  I also asked them to tell me whether they felt that they had been adequately prepared by the library department.  I also asked about how they conducted their own research in college and what resources they used, if they felt there was something we should have taught them, but didn’t, if there was something that we did teach them that they were thankful for.  On the whole, they said, we did a great job on the humanities side, but we needed more upper level science writing/research assignments because that was what they were encountering in school and they didn’t know how to do it.  In particular, one graduate spoke of a free science database (the PDB) that they were using for a science research project. Because of this info, I was able to go to the Upper Division Director and ask about the state of research in the Upper Division.  The library had been off the curriculum committee for two years.  I think it is because of this that we have been reinstated for this coming school year.  If any of you remember my talk from the Tampa conference, energetic persistence is my first game plan. If that doesn’t work, then having an elephant’s memory does.  I never forget what I have asked for and I ask for it year after year until I get it.

Are colleges truly doing a good job of preparing young adults to be thoughtful and productive citizens?  

IDK.  I think it depends on the college and the student.  If that is the mission of the school, then yes, but for the majority, no.  

If no, do we continue to build PK-12 curriculum around helping students be “college ready” or do we bravely go where other schools have not?

I think this all comes back to your school’s mission statement.  Ours is that we put students into the world who make a positive difference.  So from a Berkeley Prep perspective, we are invested in making sure that our graduates have a solid character and service learning foundation.  My school has added a director of community service and she has done amazing things with our students.  Or rather, I should say, she has been able to spotlight the amazing things our students have been doing.  Our Global Scholars Program is doing more community service oriented items.  Even in the library, where we did fundraising in the past, we have kicked it up a notch and have embarked on a major community service learning project with middle division that we hope will connect with upper division in time.  Our student library proctors are leading the charge on this effort and will be mentors to the 8th graders. 

How much of my collection should be eBooks vs. print vs. databases vs. audiobooks?

OMGosh.  I have nightmares about this question.  I also have tours that come through the library with tour guides who say, “One day print…” you know how that sentence ends!  We will be renovating our library in the Spring and it will be all packed up and we will be completely electronic for at least five months, perhaps more.  So, we are facing this question of purchasing more databases for this year to use. The question being, what if we like them?  Do we keep them?  What does that do to my budget?  

A very tiny survey of Battle of the Books students from several Bay area schools showed that the majority of them preferred print books to electronic or audio, but we are still putting our money on Overdrive and audiobooks. I think this is a “If you have them, they will use them” situation. Our entire collection isn’t electronic, but it’s a slow slide.

What platforms should I use to host my eBooks and audiobooks? 

IMO whatever works for your situation. Currently, we use Overdrive for fiction and audiobooks because they have a consortium price that is amazing; they have collections for both lower and middle and upper; and when we did the original research, we liked them best.  So, most of our kids are trained on this device.  Our public libraries use this platform as well.  

How many eBook and audiobook platforms is too many?

I was going to say not more than one.  But then I realized that we have Overdrive for fiction and for reference eBooks, we have Gale, Ebsco, and so on and so on.  We also have ACLS Humanities Ebooks, which is a completely separate platform and we have onesies out in the Destiny collection from other sources.  So, in an effort not to be a hypocrite, you should have lots!

Should I have my own “library research process” like Big6 or ISP or should we be aiming to contextualize library skills/concepts/tasks into a broader framework like Design Thinking?  

Please let me know on this one.  We don’t have my own library research process.  But we are working with history to come up with one that is similar to Guided Inquiry for this year so that we can have a process that follows our scope and sequence. Lower Division has committed to Guided Inquiry.  I feel like Guided Inquiry is the closest one that will allow me to design projects that achieve that #4 skill AASL talks about (see above definition).

Is it okay to rip the DVD of our legal copy of Supersize Me so students can view it within Vialogues on our Moodle site? Guidelines don’t count. I want someone to tell me yes or no and if they’re wrong, they get fired or sued instead of me.

Look.  If people can’t even tell if there is one monkey making three faces or three monkeys making one face, then how can we really know the answer to anything? 42.  Either way, I’m not going to answer that question or David’s.

Is the return on investment for EBSCO Discovery worth it by measurably getting many more student eyeballs on my expensive database content or is it still a not-quite-ready-for-prime-time thing that everybody is excited about and signing on for until two years from now when we’ll all want to move on to something else that is still not-quite-ready-for-prime-time?

We aren’t going there…bleeding edge and all that…

I know library research skills are necessary and important for students’ future success, but how do I get teachers to believe what I believe?

Energetic persistence and an elephant’s memory (“Why, Martha, are you still doing that luau project in March?  I have just the thing for you!  If you come by tomorrow, when I have your favorite snack in my office, we can chat about it.”)

Why do we have to change libraries into “Learning Commons” rather just calling them libraries and adding/evolving the functionality and work that happens within a “library?” (Modern hospitals seem to still be called “hospitals” without the messy historical baggage associated with the fact that physicians used to use leeches to suck blood from sick people. Things change, people, move on!).  

I’m a librarian and I work in a library. End of story.

Is coffee bad for me or is it good? What about salt? Butter? I’m a librarian. If I can’t figure out what to eat or not eat, how am I supposed to teach students in a health class what sources of information are to be believed?  

Coffee good. Coffee with chicory, better! I’ll stop there. And I want coffee in the LIBRARY…;-)

MLA 8 has landed. Should I stay with MLA 7 for this year or make the jump in August?

Now you might look at my comment on bleeding edge and have bet that I would arguing sticking with MLA 7 for this year.  You would be wrong.  MLA 8 is out.  The books are out.  Whether the English department likes it or not, MLA 8 is here to stay.  One way that you can make yourself indispensable to your English department is to point out that you and your library staff has MLA 8 books and are all trained on MLA 8.  Additionally, you would be OVERJOYED  to give them all a brief primer on how to teach the new MLA 8 style to their students.  MLA 8 is not bleeding edge, it is concrete, here to stay, in your face, deal with it, change.  Be the happy, helpful librarian that those overwhelmed teachers need to help them deal with that one more thing they didn’t want to learn! 

Easybib Schools got murdered. Easybib Scholar didn’t look worth the cost difference for my school needs so we planned to migrate to NoodleTools, but now Easybibwhatever it is called now is, supposedly, free. Go or stay?

I am biased.  We have been a Noodletools house for 14 years.  In those 14 years we have had exceptional service and service that has grown from not just a works cited generator, but a research platform for students. I have gone from one or two history teachers, to a committed history department.  It connects with Google docs, allows for notecards, outlines and also allows for all of those to be printed as well.  Everything is electronic, paperless and allows for teachers to grade online, at the bank while waiting in line for a teller (which my US History teacher tells me he does). Photos can be saved, colors can be used, everything can be moved around and shifted according to the neatness or messiness of your process.  We happen to love it.  We have complaints at the beginning of the process from those complainer kids, but when it comes to the end and they put their notecards together and they see what they have and realize that their paper is all there, they are converts. Amazing converts. My answer is go.  We love it.  And it will be updated to MLA 8. 

What am I not doing that I should be doing? I don’t know what I don’t know…

You are way ahead of the game, Mr. Wee.  Because you are a seeker of knowledge, you may be in the  13.5% of people who are early adopters or you may be in the early majority, two key early adopter groups from the bell curve for the adoption of technology chart that explains the innovation adoption lifecycle.  Or we could look at the more humorous and more likely scenario of the Pencil Metaphor put out by Australian teachers.  

The Pencil Metaphor: I believe Mr. Wee is one of the Sharp Ones.

Podcast Recommendations: Because why stop at just books?

Raise your hand if you’ve been asked for a book recommendation because you’re a librarian.

I’ve been in the car a lot this summer, and audio books are a real commitment. Do I want to devote 12 hours to learning about presidential assassinations ? Or trends in education? The gender pay gap? Podcasts have filled the gap for me for nonfiction, letting me learn an hour’s worth of information, without the commitment of an audiobook. They’re perfect for shorter roadtrips, bike rides around the neighborhood, and dinner preparation time.

Last month, I wrote about professional books, and here are some of my favorite podcasts. The ones that aren’t, you know, well-known on NPR…



5. Slate’s Working

Summary: Slate interviews Americans about their jobs and what they do all day. It’s a polished conversation that often answers specific questions about the details of day-to-day life for professions ranging from zumba instructor to used book seller.

Best For: Nosy workaholics

Started: Fall 2014

Average Length: 25 minutes

Sample Episode: What does a principal do all day?


  1. American Libraries’ Dewey Decibel

Summary: ALA introduced this podcast recently to educate people on the world of libraries today. As a young podcast, it’s still getting its footing though it’s been interesting to learn about the field of librarianship outside of schools.

Started: Spring 2016

Best For: practical librarians

Average Length: 30 minutes, monthly

Sample Episode: There are only three; you can easily catch up.


  1. Gastropod

Summary: Co-hosted show by journalist-foodies with expert interviews that discuss the history, culture, and science of food.  Topics vary from ice cream to food packaging.

Best For: sciencey foodies

Started: Fall 2014

Average Length: 20-40 minutes, every two weeks

Sample Episode: The United States of Chinese Food


  1. Good Job, Brain

Summary: Started through Kickstarter from a pub trivia team, this podcast covers pop culture, trivia, and the all-encompassing interests of the four co-hosts. Every fifth show is an all-quiz show.

Best For: unabashed nerds

Started: Winter 2011

Average Length: 45 minutes, weekly

Sample Episode: Eggsellect (Because this show refers to current events, I’d start with a relatively recent one.)


  1. 99% Invisible (99pi)

Summary: I would listen to this podcast just to hear host Roman Mars’ voice. But, on a content level, it “exposes the unseen and overlooked aspects of design, architecture, and activity in the world.” Have you wondered about water fountains, ice production, or tall skyscrapers?

Best For: curious city-lovers

Started: Fall 2010, weekly

Average Length: 15-25 minutes

Sample Episode: Atmospherians (Straight out of Central Casting)


Your turn!



Best For:


Average Length:

Sample Episode:

 I have a 16 hour drive to Florida coming up. Please make my drive feel faster, and happy listening.

A Professional Reading List

In the board survey this spring, there was a request for more book recommendations on the blog. While it’s always fun to think about reading by the beach over the summer, it’s also when we might have more time to delve into professional books. Each year, my school requires a professional read for faculty, and while these have been fine, none have been overtly influential. I thought carefully, and mined my Goodreads shelf, and here are the five books library management/education/productivity books that have made the biggest difference in how I teach and organize the library on a day-to-day basis. They’re not new or flashy, but they have for me been “the right books in the right hands at the right time.” Perhaps they’ll do the same for you, or I’d love to hear your selections below!AISL-UCUnderstanding Comics: the Invisible Art by Scott McCloud (1993)

We do a lesson on visual analysis with the AP Lang students and show selections from McCloud’s Ted talk (https://www.ted.com/talks/scott_mccloud_on_comics?language=en). They are teens, so they immediately notice that he’s a lot older now than when he wrote this book. But then they settle down to listening to his message. I think the first graphic novel I read was Lynda Barry’s What it Is when I was in library school, and I honestly didn’t know how to parse the visuals and text. McCloud demystifies the genre, sharing its history and common conventions in graphic novel format. I’ve realized that my facility and speed with print does not translate to the visual realm, and some of my students are more adept at picking up the nuances than I am. It’s been helpful in understanding how comics work and for convincing teachers to take them seriously. As culture today becomes more and more visual, this book shares insights that translate to human psychology and marketing.AISL-TSISThey Say/I Say: The Moves that Matter in Academic Writing by Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein (2006)

I may have bought a copy of this book and read it before cataloging, at which point I may have handed it to the English department chair who immediately made it his own and included it in the AP writing curriculum. Though written by teachers at community college, there is tremendous applicability for high school writing assignments. It’s also a teeny-tiny book, full of writing templates. The writers’ premise is that students are often entering a conversation when they begin writing, and they need to recognize their position in respect to what has already been said. The structure of a template isn’t confining but instead encourages students to be more creative and original as they are learning writing skills. This book probably isn’t groundbreaking, but it is accessible for both teachers and students as they work to improve their writing.AISL-GoTThe Geography of Thought: How Asians and Westerners Think Differently…and Why by Richard Nisbett (2003)

This is a book written by a psychologist, and it isn’t specifically focused on education, but it approached an idea that was new to me: that the way we physically view the world is not universal but is strongly culturally dependent. The way that this is presented is not obvious as it might seem from that summary and begins with Ancient Greek and Confucian philosophies and carries through to present-day child rearing and business transactions.  The author is an academic who draws heavily on his own research: http://www.pnas.org/content/100/19/11163.full to deeply explore notions of attention, independence and cognition. The idea of Western independence compared to Eastern interdependence recurs throughout the book, starting from Western children learning nouns first while Eastern children learn verbs first, emphasizing the interconnectedness of items that they are taught from birth. I work in a multicultural school, and reading the ways that some of my students may see what I present in different ways was helpful to me.AISL-SaWThe Students are Watching: Schools and the Moral Contract by Nancy and Ted Sizer (2000)

This was the first book I read from the Sizer family, and the main idea is timeless. It’s about the growth that we want to see in our students, not in knowledge, which is covered in many other books, but in morality, ie. character. Unlike They Say/I Say, there are no templates here, just a thoughtful contemplation about the ways that schools are set up and the structure of the school day. This book looks at informal teaching and the ways teachers model the behaviors they expect (or don’t) throughout all their interactions with students. Students look up to us as examples, and they don’t stop paying attention the second the bell rings. The authors believe that relationships are important in schools, and that getting to know students makes a huge difference in what we are able to teach. As independent school librarians, I think we’ll all agree. One of the main reasons that I work in a school is my ability to get to know the students personally and having the chance to help them navigate the confusion of teenagerness to end up as confident and caring adults. This book gave me specific strategies for doing that. AISL-GTDGetting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen (2001)

I read this book at the recommendation of a friend in grad school, and it’s a sneaky bugger. I didn’t know until a Wired article this year that there’s a whole GTD community on the web. Frankly, at the time I thought the book was similar to many self-help/organizational books, repetitive and self-evident. But Allen tugged at my mind with his accurate diagnosis of the items keeping me from being as productive as I had hoped. Allen has a process for everything, outsourcing the nagging section of your brain. Wikipedia, at this writing, has a good overview, and I’ll try to trim it down even further. I don’t follow everything and my inbox is never at zero, but these are the direct changes that have definitely amped my productivity.

-Break your “to do” list into next steps. If you are hung up on a specific step, write that step down exactly as it’s hanging you up. Inventory is not an actionable item. For me, the tasks went something along the lines of:
        1. Find inventory netbook and get it updated.
                       2. Start inventory in Follett.
                       3. Create circulation type .rtf files.
                       4. Scan fiction, Scan 900s, etc and front the shelves as I scan…
If you take nothing from this book except this, this advice can be targeted specifically to help struggling students. Too often, they think the next step is “write research paper.” It never is.
-If a task is not complete but you are waiting for a step from another person, put the action you are “waiting for” on a separate list. You won’t forget it, and you know the status of item in question.
-Don’t put something on your calendar unless it needs to be done that day. All else is added to the “to do” list where it best fits.
-Ideas and big picture items go into the “someday/maybe” file. This is my personal Pinterest for ideas I want to keep for the indefinite future. Set a reminder to review these items if you’re worried you’ll forget about them.

Like many librarians, I love to talk about books. Rather than standing up on a podium and talking about books that have influenced me, I want to follow Katie’s lead. Do any readers have thoughts on the books I’ve mentioned or suggestions of their own? It’s tough not to ramble while summarizing several thousand pages of texts into five paragraphs, so let’s continue the conversation below.


What do we mean by “information literacy anyway?

(Sidenote—our school has had no Internet for the past two days. This is exam week, aka the throes of “end of year” activities. It’s been fascinating to see the way that technology has snaked its way into so much of our daily lives. Next time someone describes a library as “quaint, old-fashioned, or book-filled” think about your life without Internet, let along without computers. 

Things I cannot do
:Check out or return books, Update overdue lists
:Run usage statistics from library databases and catalogs for end-of-year report
:Place my MISBO order for 2016
:Access collaborative files on Google Drive
:Check the time Amazon is supposed to deliver a box of books for our administrator(needed today)
:Download summer reading books on Overdrive
:Write this blog post on WordPress or get the screenshots I need
:Waste time Googling things that pop into my head

Things I can do
: put class assignments with my feedback into their relevant folders
:Remove extra icons from the library computer desktops
:Reshelve books
:Sort book donations           
:Look at print books (but I’m still not brave enough to read during the day)           
:Write this post in Microsoft Word and plan to post it later

Libraries are technology hubs! But away from my digression…)

In 2010, a forward-thinking administrator added digital citizenship/information literacy units to grades 6, 9, and 10. I usually prefer teaching within specific classes, but he gave me a lot of leeway in terms of the types of units I could create, so I feel like it’s a pretty creative and engaging series of lessons. At the end of my days with the 10th grade, I give them the TRAILS information literacy assessment. For 5 years, they’ve rocked the 9th grade assessment, with questions like:TRAILS-Rowling9so this year we changed it up do see how they’d do with the 12th grade assessment. Most of you are probably familiar with TRAILS, the information literacy assessment out of Kent State University. It was designed with AASL’s Standards for the 21st Century Learner and the Common Core standards in mind. Students answer multiple choice questions on research and technology use in the following categories: develop topics; identify potential sources; develop, use, and revise search strategies; evaluate sources and information; and use information responsibly, ethically, and legally. Plus it’s free! Though I think it can be tough to identify digital literacy skills in an abstract test like this, it’s helpful for me to see trends and also to be able to use the results to advocate for more time spent learning specific tasks. For example, TRAILS-biasAs adults, I want my students to be able to identify bias in the media. This is as varied as evaluating the current electoral debates to browsing sponsored content on Instagram. It’s an important life skill. And thus it’s helpful for me to know that it’s one my students aren’t getting. (Yet, Carol Dweck!)  Just over half chose one of the other options. It seems so straightforward to me that I probably haven’t done enough to address it directly during my time with them. (Luckily I shared this with an 8th grade teacher and we’re adapting the Visible Thinking Headlines routine that we do to show both unbiased and unbiased options. Advocacy goal met.)

In general, it’s a world of difference between the 9th and 12th grade sets. For example, one of the topic selection questions in the 9th assessment is: TRAILS-topic9Here’s is a topic selection question from the 12th assessment: TRAILS-amendmentBecause I recognize that there’s a tough balance between getting teens, who I don’t teach on a daily basis and do not grade, to take something seriously but not stress about it, I told them that this was for me to grade myself. I also showed the way that I receive their responses as a class rather than as individuals, which fed class competitive spirit without individual pressure. But, the other way I tried to keep their interest was by telling them that there were three questions where I felt that more than one answer was entirely valid. This is one of them. Well, actually I think the second answer is correct. But I can see some justification for the first.

Curious about the other ones? My kids didn’t particularly answer this “correctly,” and I’m okay with that. I’m saying that I value this assessment at the same time I’m questioning some of the questions. And that can be a reflective tool for both me and my students. They loved guessing the ones where I struggled to find the “correct” answer, and I was happy to have them initiating conversations about information literacy. TRAILS-mathTo be fair, we don’t purchase any math databases, nor do we require any math research projects. But if a student came to me with this open-ended assignment, the first place I’d suggest looking is the table of contents in her math book, followed closely by a Google search on the topic. I probably wouldn’t search through a math magazine, but guess what, neither would any of my students.TRAILS-powerpointWhen I think Powerpoints, I think images. Our teachers are pretty strict about using slides to illustrate discussion points rather than as a teleprompter. But even so, for information for a health class, which in our school would be a basic elective, any of these would be fine places to get information. The first site for diabetes (not exactly nutrition but related) that comes up with the .gov limiter is the National Institute of Health (http://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-topics/Diabetes/your-guide-diabetes/Pages/index.aspx) The Diabetes Unit of Massachusetts General Hospital, number two on US News and World Reports “Best Hospitals for Adult Diabetes, has a comprehensive and trustworthy page (http://www.massgeneral.org/diabetes/). And just last October, Newsweek published an article about the link between sleep deprivation and diabetes (http://www.newsweek.com/study-lack-sleep-linked-risk-factors-stroke-diabetes-and-heart-disease-386492). Of course I’d trust the science database. But if you are trying to find information to share with your classmates who may have less of a background in a topic, I wouldn’t limit myself.

Returning to the idea of how seriously the students take this, it was helpful to me to see that almost half of my students got this wrong because they selected the library catalog. I never would have believed it otherwise. It’s a terrible answer; even if we took it to the next step, I have no books in my collection that would answer this! Their responses show that I’m likely still favoring library resources over some others. Yet again, for the millionth time in the last month, I’m inspired and challenged by Nora Murphy’s Source Illiteracy presentation. TRAILS-catalogAnd saving the best for last, I learned that the tree octopus has been around long enough that it’s new again! Unlike a few years ago, this year’s sophomores weren’t familiar with it, and I loved the statement, “ It’s just so cool I want it to be true!” Guess that can go back into my information literacy lessons in the younger grades, huzzah!TRAILS-tree octopusPlease share your thoughts below. Am I off base in questioning some of the questions? Do you use TRAILS with your students and what do you do with the results? In what grades have you tested the students and how has your teaching changed based on what you’ve learned?


Hello LA!

Welcome to Los Angeles, and a huge thank you to the Committee for planning an organized conference with diverse programming! Even though I’ve only been involved in AISL for 4 years, every time I enter the hospitality suite at the start of a conference, I feel like I’m finally with my “tribe.” Here’s my takeaways from day one.


Willows – maker space signage

After an hour exploring first-hand the highway system of LA, we all got the LA native experience to start the day. The Willows School has model STEAM and library programs, and everything they shared showed that theirs is a culture that fosters collaboration. You know you are in the right place when the headmaster starts the day by saying, “The library is the heart and soul of the school.”

Part One: The Willows School

Maker Spaces and STEAM Curriculum

The three maker teachers shared their own backgrounds and their belief that you can come to the maker world through literacy, science, or the arts and all learn from each other. One of the presenters, Mr Wittenburg, talked about the transformations and “aha moments” that come with agency and ownership in a makerspace. At Willows, they teach maker classes in co-units with teachers as well as doing projects before and after classroom subject lessons. I liked the analogy that the easiest way to do start collaboration is to take two courses and basically build a Venn diagram about what overlaps. The presenters advocated that maker spaces provide opportunities for authentic interdisciplinary learning. Students are motivated to solve problems that they have identified in their work, and they don’t think in terms of specific classes. The librarian is in a unique position to oversee collaboration and resource and to make sure that there is a scope and sequence followed between grades.


Willows – bracing with newspaper

To consider: Specific recommendations include Google Drive, Scratch, iMovie, GarageBand, and Makey Makey.


Willows – STEAM project

Creating Ever-Evolving, School-Specific Learning Commons

The second session discussed the idea of a learning commons and how libraries are evolving in today’s educational landscape. A team of architects led the session. As learning becomes more project-based and interdisciplinary, and as digital resources become more vital to library collections, libraries don’t have to be limited by physical location. Learning commons are adaptable and may be satellites for the “library” or may replace the traditional library model entirely.


Willows – Fun color-changing lights (loved them!)

If your school is considering making structural changes and brings in an architect, here’s what to expect. Designers need to be asking school personnel and students a lot of questions. They should also survey the space to see what works and what doesn’t. Then they will talk with the librarian! So, you should visit places (not just schools but also companies and other areas of interest-explore) to figure out what inspires you. The architects will work with you to translate your inspirations and the school’s educational philosophy in the library-learning commons transition. Though it’s obvious, the architects also need to know the budget considerations and work within the school’s budget. This may involve a multi-stage plan.


Willow – ideas on whiteboard wall

To consider: How will acoustics work, especially if you have combined group and silent workspaces? Do you have enough electrical outlets? Is the furniture comfortable, and do you want some of the furniture to be mobile so that the space can easily transition uses? Who will be responsible for the management of common spaces?

Part Two: Marlborough School

The Marlborough School is a 7-12 girls’ school located in the beautiful Hancock Park neighborhood. As we lunched underneath the enormous skylight and watched the palms wave outside the window, we learned about their transition from library to Academic Resource Center (ARC). There is a large open central space, stacks, 2 computer labs, and 3 group study rooms. Future plans call for more collaboration space, better sightlines, and a makerspace. The space is already lovely, and I hope I’m able to return one day to see what they’re able to do.


Marlborough – first tech defense

Integrating a Library Program with Information Technology Department

The librarians and technology staff have been one department at Marlborough since 2009. They all attend all team meetings, and thus are crosstrained across departments and have many opportunities for conversation. It keeps the librarian from being limited as the “book person” and helps teachers realize the librarian’s role in teaching both teachers and students. Noise and acoustics were mentioned as a concern, and that’s something to always consider when you have increased collaborative use of the library.

I loved that this presentation included both the student and teacher perspective on the 7th grade Digital Citizenship Project and Tech Tools classes. I highly recommend this conference to anyone, and if you attended, you know that seeing the class lessons and projects on the school’s Haiku site provided plenty of ideas. They are models for providing interactive, student-centered 21st century information literacy lessons!


Marlborough – graduation dress display


Marlborough – a great idea for students and alums

1:1 Transition

If I could only say one thing about this panel discussion, it’s that there’s no one path to successful 1:1, but there are a lot of questions you should ask along the way. The panel was both positive and honest, sharing the experiences of their schools with 1:1, which ranged from 3 to 20 years.


Marlborough – coloring station

Questions to ask:
Do you want to purchase devices or have students bring their own? If the school purchases, will the students be allowed to make their own in-device purchases? What is a succession plan for new devices in future years?
Have you considered a pilot program for one grade or faculty before a school-wide implementation?
Do you have a technology plan for device maintenance? This should include a schedule for replacing devices, funding for this, and staff for tech support.
What is the purpose of the devices? iPads and computers have different functions, particularly as they relate to research, paper writing, and citations.
Will the school offer charging stations, and will the librarian play a role in this? What happens if students forget their devices or if they are being repaired?

Suggestions, Ideas, and Thoughts:
The role of the library might change, but there are many opportunities for mobile integration.
The school may want to require cases. Students have been known to damage devices. 🙂
Keep searching for and trying new apps. New apps appear daily.
It’s fine to have downtime from tech. No one should feel compelled to use technology in every lesson.
Students will be on social media. Educate parents and teachers about appropriate use, and offer monitoring suggestions.
Train teachers so that they are comfortable with devices. If funds permit, the school might want to offer money for teachers to purchase technology programs, apps, or training.
The computer labs will likely see less use, so you may want to consider alternate uses for them.
Students may use their devices to contact teachers all hours of the day and night. Consider boundaries and expectations for these interactions.


Marlborough – I want glassed-in group study spaces so badly!

Specific recommended programs include Google Drive, Nearpod, TouchCast, Turnitin, Geometer’s Sketchpad, and Artsonia.


LA Central Library – Original Card Catalog

Part Three: Central Branch of the LA Public Library


LA Central Library – Zodiac Chandelier

We finished our day with 3 sessions at the downtown art deco masterpiece that is the Central Branch of the Los Angeles Public Library. They offer tours daily for visitors, and they offer reading programs, tutoring services, technology classes, STEAM projects, performances, and life skills courses for youth throughout the city. Whether you’re a local or a tourist, it’s worth a visit!


LA Central Library – Augmented Reality Display

In case you’re wondering what life is like in the day of an AISL conference attendee or what you’ll learn, this is my snapshot for day one. Next up are informal dinners with librarians throughout the city and time for exploring the city. In my case, that means an evening at a superfun used bookstore, The Last Bookstore.  Thanks for sharing my notes.


LA Central Library – Children’s Room(s)

Conference attendees, please feel free to add your own observations from the day in the comments below. And definitely follow #aisl16la on twitter and instagram!


LA Central Library – Puppet Premiere of The Tortoise and the Hare

Google Drive, redux

Way back in the fall of 2014 when Independent Ideas was a newborn blog, my first post was Why I’m Drinking the “Google Drive” Kool Aid  As I finish January “research season” with my freshmen and am full force into Sophomore World History projects, Google Drive has been on my mind. We’ve tweaked our use of Drive over the past two years. We’re now spending less time mandating that everything be done in the same (exacting) format, and instead are focusing on freeing ourselves up to answer individual questions as students work independently in class and at home.Drive LogoWe’ve given each student a research partner who is his first responder for basic technology assistance and general questions. (This time of year we have a lot of students missing days for sports championships and Model Congress-type competitions, so partners were tasked primarily with keeping each other up-to-date and answering questions like, “Is there a rubric for the outline?”) Some students chose to share their project folders with their partner, and those who did so benefited from the extra set of eyes on their work. The Google Drive cloud-based platform has proven important not only for the ability to share work, but also for the ability to switch between devices. We’ve learned that the iPad is not the ideal (litotes, anyone?) device for writing a research paper with Chicago-style footnotes.

Basically, beware, the mobile interface sometimes eats your footnotes.File TypeWe have a class set of computers in the library, and students switch back and forth between PC and iPad depending on whether they are working on steps like note-taking and writing or steps like formatting footnoting and creating a bibliography. We want students to know that the format is standardized and is important, but we don’t want them spending time stressing about a hanging indent.Sample FileWith 80 9th graders this year and a month timeline for the freshman paper process, the teacher and I split up the classes in terms of commenting on individual assignments. We have a modified draft where we pick a few favorite topics (and a few students we specifically want to shepherd along), and then we each take the remainder of the students in two of the periods. Google Drive has shortkeys for commenting, and copy/paste has been my friend for many common concerns. We make sure to leave a trail so that we are supporting each other and providing the same feedback. We sometimes ask struggling students to respond so we know that they are reading our comments and making changes. I have my account set up so that anytime a comment is added or someone responds to one of my comments, I receive an email. These link right back to the document and provide context. “Is this too vague?” now refers to a sentence and not to the paper as a whole. I feel like feedback is targeted. In this particular project, two of the top freshmen worked diligently on their papers on their own asking for feedback electronically on an almost daily basis. Their final papers were much better because we were able to give them the individual support that they craved as they reached sticking points in the process.CommentsThe visibility and sharing are helpful for our internal coordination as well as for other supportive resources. As we plan our trip to the public library, we give the librarians at the Central Library viewing access to our topic/thesis/is this student on track spreadsheet that we update daily. They pull materials and run database searches on each subject. I can’t praise their reference department there too highly! Students working with tutors and with our Center for Academic Success staff share their folders so that the individuals working with them can use our comments to guide their work. Students have been known to share their files with other History and English teachers, especially during the revision process.Add ArticleAnother change over the last two years involves file types. On those occasions when I serendipitously come across the perfect article for a student’s research while working with another student, I’ll drop a file into her folder. These unpredictable surprises can’t help but lead to a little dopamine spike and maybe more time spent working on research. (On a related note, here’s how we talk about the compulsive desire for technology with our students.) We play around each year with requirements for notes, and for the past two years we stuck with this wording. “We encourage you to take notes in Google Drive so we can see what you’re working on and accelerate you to the next step. However, if you’re someone who learns better with paper notes, listen up. At the end of each class period, take a picture of your notes from the day and upload them.” The vast majority take notes in Drive, though a few students in each class thank us profusely for letting them work with paper and pen. Moving beyond photos, let’s talk about extra credit. Almost every student will admit that teachers recommend that they should read their papers aloud to themselves as they revise. But they don’t. We’ve taken to offering one optional extra credit point to freshmen who record themselves reading the first three paragraphs of their essay and then record a 30-60 second reflection of the experience. They upload the audio to Google Drive, and we check that it’s complete. The feedback is pretty consistent.

“My paper didn’t sound like I thought it did.”

“I hate my voice.”

“I have a lot of work to do over the next week.”

By now you’ve probably figured out our secret plan; the extra credit is just a gateway point to more time spent revising and a better final product.Multiple FilesAs this has been a relatively glowing review of Google Drive thus far, it’s time for the two caveats. Students are terrible at remembering to make their files Google Drive files and often upload Pages, Word, or pdf documents. This means that we can’t offer feedback, and we make them resubmit. These are often the same students who create files outside of the folders shared with us, who then wonder why we haven’t reviewed their work. I don’t know why these are the one sticking points, but it’s been consistent for a few students each year.

We’re not paperless yet, but we’re closer. More importantly, for us it’s been a collaboration miracle, letting us work more efficiently as one unit. Any other thoughts on Google Drive? Suggestions for projects or collaborations, particularly for schools that are Google for Education schools?