Notes from ISTE 2012

I am pretty much always late to the party, so here I am, a month after attending my first ISTE conference in San Diego, sharing my reflections.  I just finished summarizing twelve different sessions and events in order to share what I learned with my principal as we head into the new school year, and I thought I would pull four of my favorites out to share here.

Sifting through the notes, cards and QR codes was like reliving the conference, with all of its exhilarating, exhausting wonder.  More than anything – and I see people write this about ISTE all the time – I appreciated the opportunity to meet and thank, face-to-face, those bloggers, tweeters and super-sharers who have helped shape my practice as a librarian.  If by chance you stumble upon this blog entry as a new school librarian, or are thinking about pursuing any job in education, I highly recommend following the people I link to below.

Beyond Googling: Building Conditions for Structured Inquiry

Presented by Chris Lehmann

After this session, Chris Lehmann, principal of Science Leadership Academy, is one of my education heroes.  He described the philosophy of the public high school he opened in Philadelphia, an iterative process of “inquiry, research, collaboration, presentation and reflection.”  Students are immersed in guided inquiry in every class from the time they enter as freshman, graduating to more open inquiry as they complete their senior capstone projects.  Some notes from Lehmann’s presentation:

Inquiry creates:

  • Choice
  • Personalization
    • This DOES NOT mean students doing the same things at a different pace.
    • This DOES mean students are working on things they care about.
    • Relevance
    • Empowerment
    • Personal investment

Inquiry complicates:

  • Covering content
  • Planning
  • Assessment

Inquiry isn’t:

  • Teachers asking questions we know the answers to

Guided inquiry amounts to choice given within parameters.  In other words, all students in a U.S. history class might be investing a different question related to the causes of the Civil War, but they have a choice about what they are investigating and may choose to research something the teacher doesn’t know or hadn’t planned for (my example, not Lehmann’s).  Checkpoints must be given along the way to catch students who are not producing, rather than penalizing students at the end of an inquiry assignment upon realizing that they have not kept up with their work.

Lehmann describes technology at his school as “ubiquitous, necessary and invisible.”  Students don’t go to computer labs at certain times in the day.  Rather, they always have a laptop or device with them that can be used as the need arises.

This session could not have come at a better time for me as I work on revamping the library curriculum for middle school students.  I have a vision of sixth, seventh and eighth graders learning research skills and digital literacy as they generate their own questions related to a common theme or topic.  I feel like this is a more authentic experience in terms of how students will conduct research in their daily lives and will hopefully lead to a higher level of student investment.  Lehmann’s session showed me that it can be done, and with astonishing results on the part of students.

Designing Brick and Mortar Libraries in the Digital Age: Changed But Still Critical

Presented by Doug Johnson

I follow Johnson’s Blue Skunk Blog religiously, and it was a pleasure to hear him speak in person.  His presentation centered on the evolving nature of school library facilities in a digital age when most information and even books can be accessed online from the comfort of one’s home.  Johnson asked how school libraries can keep from becoming “netflixed”, a verb indicating forced obsolescence, as in the Netflix model rendering Blockbuster obsolete.  Johnson describes the future of school libraries as social learning spaces (in contrast to the quiet study halls we all grew up with).  School library spaces should be flexible, allowing for different activities, uses and services in changing configurations.  In many ways, our new library already allows for this.  Johnson cites Joyce Valenza’s metaphor of transforming the library from a grocery store (where students come to get information) to a kitchen (where students create new information and products), a paradigm shift that we can work toward at our school.  He also suggests that the library could serve as a school’s model classroom, a place where new teaching strategies and technologies can be field tested by teachers and the librarian.  He encourages community access to the library, which Hynes recently practiced when hosting the Academic Games this in the library this summer.

Digital Age Media Centers

Presented by SIGMS (Special Interest Group – Media Specialists)

This event was kind of like a science fair of best practices in school library media centers, presented by media specialists from around the country.  Ben Curran of Engaging Educators talked with me about Diigo, a social-bookmarking site with education accounts that allow teachers to set up accounts for students.  I’m looking forward to exploring this option as I’d like to give middle school students a tool to save and retrieve websites when conducting research in the library or for class assignments.  Websites for free, customizeable animations and infographics were shared by Linda Dougherty, which I will pass on to faculty looking to spruce up presentations.   I spoke with Gwyneth Jones, master of all things wiki, about using Wikispaces as a place to display student work.  Tiffany Whitehead, a middle school librarian in Baton Rouge, talked about Schoology.com, which her school is adopting after a lackluster response to Blackboard.  Schoology has an interface similar to Facebook that faculty, students and parents at Ms. Whitehead’s school seem to be embracing.

May the Forms Be With You

Presented by Will Kimbley and Jennifer Roberts

I paid extra to attend this session and I’m glad I did.  I’ve experimented with Google Forms in my middle school library classes last year for a quick, easy, paperless way to collect student responses as an “Exit Ticket” type exercise.  Kimbley demonstrated how to use Google Forms to create and administer classroom assessments which, in combination with Flubaroo, can be automatically graded (if the questions are multiple choice).  Flubaroo even allows the teacher to email scores to students after assessments have been graded.

For me, Roberts took the potential of Google Forms to the next level when she shared how she uses this technology in her high school English classes.  Roberts collects responses to student questions in Google Forms, which are collated in Google spreadsheets, and then displays the spreadsheets to the class (with student names hidden) to facilitate class discussions.  So cool!   I can’t wait to try this with my middle school library classes.  I can see so many applications for using Robert’s method to teach research in the library.  For example, students can enter search terms they have generated for a given research topic and we can display and analyze their collected responses when discussing how to broaden or narrow an internet search.  Responses can even be displayed as a word cloud, which Roberts demonstrated at our session.  Did I mention that all of this is FREE?  I LOVE Google Forms, more than ever after this session.

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January, February, March 2012 in Pictures

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How to Build an Opening Day Collection

You have the once in a lifetime opportunity to stock a new school library in a new building.  Your school district tells you your vendor is Follett, and they offer a standard opening day collection, or ODC, for libraries in your situation.  Your school library needs around ten thousand books.  Why not let Follett take care of selecting those books?

But the vision of your library collection is anything but standard.  You serve students who love to read but have been without a library since Hurricane Katrina.  You have a dedicated faculty looking forward to utilizing this resource that they’ve been without for so long.  You think of the criteria for materials selection that you’ll be using for years to come, a collection that supports classroom instruction, that provides students access to quality, well-reviewed literature and exposes them to multiple perspectives.  You could let the vendor build your ODC, which would certainly include many popular and well-reviewed titles, but you can’t be sure that every title they send you will align with the vision you have for your collection.

No.  You have this one chance to open a library, and you want to make sure that every purchase counts, that every title is there for a reason.  You will build your own ODC, tailor-made to meet the needs of your PreK-8 school.  Six hundred students with a goal of ordering at least 15 books per student, not including reference books.  Your looking at putting together an order of around 10,000 books.  How to go about completing such a task?

This was the opportunity I was faced with beginning Summer of 2011.  Left to my own devices, a first year librarian with a new library to open in the winter, I would have taken Follett’s ODC without hesitation.  Fortunately I was not alone.  I was a summer practicum student in UNO’s  School Library Certification Program.  The program is led by Dr. Patricia Austin, my professor, mentor and friend, who saw the challenge of building an ODC as an opportunity for a grand experiment that me and my fellow practicum students could learn from.  The process started in June and ended in early November.  This is how we did it.

There were six other students taking the summer practicum course with me.  Dr. Austin explained that part of our training would include building my school’s ODC.  We signed up for Titlewave accounts, which would allow us to create lists of books from Follett’s inventory.  Our first task was to search lists of awards that honor books for young people, some of which I’d heard of before but many of which were introduced to me by Dr. Austin.  Following are some of the award lists we consulted, looking at both winners and honors, that were added to our ODC:

  • Newbery Award
  • Caldecott Award
  • ALA Notables
  • ALA Best Books for Young Adults
  • Christopher Award
  • Printz Award
  • Ezra Jack Keats Award
  • Geisel Award
  • Lee Bennett Hopkins Award
  • NCTE Poetry Award
  • Coretta Scott King Award
  • Pura Belpre Award
  • Americas Award
  • Notable Books for a Global Society
  • Orbis Pictus Award
  • Robert Sibert Award
  • Scott O’Dell Award
  • Awards given by NCTE, NCSS and NSTA

Merging the lists, we had the beginnings of a collection that included award winners and nominees across a variety of genres, age levels, cultural perspectives and content areas.  However, this was still a small fraction of what we needed to complete the final order for our collection.

With the goal of supporting the teachers’ instructional program at my school, Dr. Austin and I approached my principal about surveying the faculty to find out what they would like to see in the library.  My principal welcomed the idea and called a voluntary faculty meeting to discuss the new collection.  Surprisingly, even though summer vacation had already started, the majority of the faculty attended this meeting.  My classmates and I were able to collect data about special classroom units, favorite authors and titles, field trips, school celebrations and other events that could be supported in the library.  This was my first introduction to the faculty and it was important not only for the feedback we received to inform the collection development, but to communicate to teachers that the library is as much a resource for them as it is for students.  I think it was also nice for my fellow practicum students to meet the people who were benefiting from their hard work on the project.

Next, Dr. Austin divided the major classifications of the Dewey decimal system between the practicum students.  As part of the library’s selection policy, we agreed to only choose titles that had at least two positive reviews.  The teacher requests were incorporated into our Dewey searches.  For example, the practicum student building the 500s would look for books about the life cycle of butterflies and the student building the 300s would look for titles related to holidays celebrated at the school.  Using Titlewave’s advanced search feature, we could narrow our search by subject, copyright year, reading level, binding, Dewey range, and number of reviews.  In this way, we could assure we were building a collection that was current, well-reviewed and responsive to faculty needs.  Dewey building went beyond teacher requests in anticipation of anything a student might search for in nonfiction.

At this point, all of the practicum students merged their individual Titlewave lists to create a master list, the first of many to come.  Titlewave’s “Analyze List” feature creates tables and pie charts showing the breakdown of titles by classification and reading level, presenting a visual analysis of the balance of the collection.  Using this tool, we had a picture of the strengths and weaknesses of our collection.  We could see which Dewey numbers needed more titles or if students at different reading levels had enough to choose from.

Summer ended, and with it my fellow practicum students finished their work on my school’s new collection and returned to their own responsibilities as teachers and librarians.  I am so grateful for the hours of work they put into hand-picking quality titles to serve the students and teachers at my school.  With the base of the collection completed with their help, the fine-tuning was left to me and Dr. Austin.  I started the school year in my little temporary library made up of about two thousand donated books and a full schedule of fixed library classes.  Dr. Austin started teaching three different courses at UNO.  Our full schedules meant that completing the collection order for an October 31 deadline would have to take place on nights and weekends.

Over the course of many eight-hour Saturday sessions, Dr. Austin and I worked on the collection.  I cannot overstate how much the list was served by Dr. Austin’s decades of experience reading, reviewing and teaching children’s and young adult literature.  Not only does she know every author and title you’ve ever read and could want to read, she has them all in UNO’s COEHD Young Adult and Children’s Literature Resource Center, a lending library for students in UNO’s College of Education.  Using her memory and her own catalog, she entered titles into Titlewave and ensured that we had the greatest authors, poets and illustrators represented in my school’s new collection.  We reviewed the Dewey classifications, double-checking the teacher requests and making sure that we had enough titles for all reading levels.

We searched the master list with an eye for diversity.  Is the collection proportional to the racial and ethnic balance at the school?  Is every cultural lens represented, even those not found within our school, ensuring that we are fulfilling the library’s mission of exposing students to multiple perspectives and experiences?  Are there books about students with various disabilities?

With a focus on creating a strong Louisiana collection, we searched for local authors and books that capture everything that makes our state and city of New Orleans special – books about history, music and musicians, architecture, cookbooks.

We checked each other for cultural and political bias.  Do we have enough books about sports?  Enough books about the military?

Lastly, we wanted to make sure that there were books students wanted to read.  We added popular series titles – Lightning Thief, Hunger Games, Magic Tree House, Junie B. Jones – books that students were sure to ask for whether or not they were surrounded by award-winning and well-reviewed books.  A suggestion box was set up in my current library where students added their input over the months.  This was also helpful in addressing student preference and let my students know that they were helping to build their library collection.

Saturday after Saturday, hour after hour, bleary-eyed from monitor glare on tandem computers, we searched Titlewave, read reviews, merged lists, analyzed charts, and looked for imbalances and holes in the collection that needed to be filled.

In the end, an ODC of more than 11,000 books was submitted.  That includes reference books (and I’ll save that story for another day).

So how do you go about building an opening day collection?  With more than a little help from your friends and by standing on the shoulders of experts.  The process was a long labor of love for many people, and I am particularly indebted to Dr. Austin, whose attention to this project continued long after it benefited her summer practicum students.  Because of her vision, passion and dedication,  my students will have the best K-8 school library collection in New Orleans.

Along with the experience I’ve gained working to create a balanced library collection, I have the added benefit of knowing my collection much more intimately than I would have had I ordered Follett’s standard ODC.  When the books arrive and are placed on the shelves, I am in a better position to direct students to the right titles, pull resources for teachers, and support their instructional program in the library.  Because every book was chosen deliberately, there is also a tremendous satisfaction in knowing that the entire collection is aligned with the mission of the school library and meets its criteria for selection.  A solid foundation has been built with this collection, and I look forward to building upon it in the years to come.

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