Wednesday, December 28, 2011

For All of Them

My school held its winter concerts all on the same evening this month before we left for break.  I sat in the "gymnatorium" being entertained by my students, and I could not help but be impressed with the opportunities our students are provided with. The drama club and chorus were first, and they integrated their performances. The students in the drama club performed skits introducing the songs performed by the school chorus. Next, the orchestra played. One of their numbers included the principal reading "The Night Before Christmas" with the orchestra playing sound effects as he read. The band performed last, and as usual, they were wonderful. So impressive! All these performance opportunities for students in grades six through eight.  I  enjoyed the programs, maybe a little too much.  Bursting with pride, I sat up front with the camera wielding parents and grandparents. The teachers tend to sit or stand in the back, but I always want a front row seat. I had a huge smile on my face as I sat tapping my foot to the music and laughing at the funny parts. I was really into it, bordering on too into it, when the woman sitting beside me turned and said, "Which one is yours?" I said proudly, "All of them!" Smiling, she replied, "Oh! What do you teach?" Rather than my usual lengthy reply I simply smiled and said, "I'm the librarian!"
since it is not nice to talk during performances.

I think it is great that public schools provide such rich and varied opportunities for students. Academics, sports, arts, and activities such as Beta Club, Student Government, Battle of the Brains Academic Quiz Team, the school news program and more. This is a testament to what our public schools have to offer. The school library completes this package with a helpful library staff, computer labs, book clubs, the library helper program, reading promotions, before and after school hours and more. There is something for everyone.  Schools with a library run by a certified librarian simply have more to offer their students. I have heard people say that if it were not for the sports program, some students would not stay in school. The same is true for the library program.

In the age of cruel budget cuts and furloughs many say, "cut band, cut football, cut chorus, cut the library". Since there are no "library concerts" or "library games" to fill the school's parking lot and bleachers, librarians must fiercely publicize all the good that we do and all the needs that we meet. We must show what we have to offer.  Who do we teach? The answer is: all of them, even the teachers and sometimes the parents. It makes me proud to be able to say that.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Why I Love My Job

These are just a few reasons why I think I have the best job in the school. Of course, nothing is perfect, and every job has challenges.  Focusing on what I love about my job helps me get through those challenges. 

Hopefully, I will add to this post from time to time.
  • This year, I actually caught a student sneaking into the library through an exit only door. We were at capacity one morning and I was not letting any more students into the library, so a student tried to sneak in the side door. Of course, students are not supposed to sneak in. I had to correct him, but secretly, it made me happy to think I have created a place students wanted that badly to be in. 
  • Book Clubs are so much fun. I love the energy and enthusiasm the students bring with them. One of the reasons why book clubs are great is because they are something students choose to do voluntarily. Everyone there wants to be there
  • I love planning and preparing for reading celebrations and book club meetings. It is basically having a party! We know how to party in the library! 
  • My Manga Boys always keep me on my toes. They are very enthusiastic about their Shonen Jump, Dragon Ball Z, and Naruto. I am always happy to see them coming through the doors.
  • Contests Drawings and promotions are always fun. I love brainstorming new ways to promote reading. One of my latest brainstorms has been the "first check out" drawings at school and on Facebook. Who doesn't LOVE to give away prizes?
  • One of the best things about my job is the variety. No two days are ever alike and there is always something to look forward to or get ready for.
  • "I'm the only one!" as Tigger says. I'm the only librarian in the building. This has its down side, but  I enjoy being the go-to person for technology issues, research questions, reading and website recommendations and collaborative teaching. It is a great feeling to help a teacher find the perfect resource for a lesson or to help a student with their bibliography.
  • Laughing. If you ever want a good laugh, spend some time in a middle school. If you have a sense of humor and you are not too "full of yourself" it is almost guaranteed that you will be amused by their antics and their honesty and their awkwardness (which I find adorable).
  • It feels great to purchase books that students have requested and notify them when their book arrives. I always make sure the student who requested the book gets the first chance to check it out. It is like I have bought them a gift, they feel special and that makes me happy.
  • School Life is great. Especially middle school. Why? Because at the middle school level we have it all. We have sports and clubs and activities and academics, but the students aren't cemented into their "cliques" yet. There's nothing like school spirit, pep rallies, band concerts and school plays to make you feel part of a youthful right of passage. 
  • The regulars. I call students who check out lots of books or visit the library frequently my regulars. There are always some big time readers who plow through books. I love getting to know them and their tastes. I love it when I have the perfect title in mind for them when they come in for a book. 
  • I love to see students come in the library, pull a book off the shelf, plop down on the floor and read. I love to see them playing checkers together. I love to see my students use their library and enjoy its resources. 
  • It thrills me to hear a student tell me that they loved the book I recommended to them and want another one like it. Even better is when they bring a friend in to get book recommendations. 
  • I enjoy getting to know students during their three year stay at our school. It is wonderful to watch these young people learn and grow and change as they go from grade six to eight. 
  • I have the goods. Sometimes I feel like a drug dealer. "Got any library passes?" they ask. "Is the library open at lunch today? Are the new books here yet?  When is the next book club meeting? Can I be a library cadet?" Music to my ears! Okay, so it becomes problematic when Bobby visits the library six times a day without permission. But he can't help it! That's where all the cool stuff is!
  • I LOVE LOVE being the catalyst and introducing my faculty to new technologies and helping them integrate them into their lessons. It feels great to help a teacher make a leap into trying something new.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Reflecting on This Week's Lesson

I worked with my sixth graders this week. The topic at hand was evaluating online information sources, basic search tips and Google tips. We used RAD CAB , You Tube Videos and had some hands on practice since the lesson was in the library's computer lab. I really enjoy this lesson. The students are always impressed with the "secret powers" of Google like the calculator, translator, dictionary and time. They love looking at questionable websites such as:
I have recently griped on this blog about my students overuse of Yahoo Answers for quick research. I know these sites offer quick and easy answers and they may be more good than bad. I was able to find a convincing example as to why Yahoo Answers and sites similar to it should be used very cautiously.

I remember years ago, sitting in front of Alan November as he spoke about validating online information and told a story about a student doing online research for a report on the holocaust. The student found holocaust revisionist information that was posted by a  math professor on a university website under the professor's "personal" server space. Since information was posted under the university's address, the information seemed  trustworthy and university endorsed.  The tilde ~ symbol in the address would have helped give away the personal directory to a savvy user. The unsuspecting student ended up using information suppporting the views of holocaust revisionists in his paper. The professor's site was taken down from the university's server long ago. However, this same paper is still online on The Committee for Open Debate of the Holocaust's website. I searched for the professor and used the Google tool "link to:" to find the same article that was previously located on the university page.

 A response on Yahoo Answers links to it now and if my students need evidence as to why this is not the best site to use for research, there it is. The response and the answers are five years old. The link is still there. I wonder why nobody has reported it? The person who asked the question chose another response as the best answer and Leon 007's answer is listed as the last one. (Does that mean his was the first answer?) This makes the whole thing seem innocuous, but I think it is still a good example. I used the link to show students that they can click at the end of the url and backspace until they get to the main page to see where the page they are using is located. The CODOH website has remade their image recently. It used to be much more confrontational. It now has a more friendly look.

I think the lesson was successful. Now my sixth grade students have a better picture of the vast spectrum of information available online: unbiased facts and information, extremist information, propaganda,  just plain silly fun and more! All the more reason to be a critical consumer when shopping for good information.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

What about Wikipedia?

Someone recently posted a comment about using Wikipedia for research. I think this topic is important enough to dedicate a post to.

"We have always been told our students should not use Wikipedia for research because anyone can change the information, it is not "locked" so to speak. 
Is this true Auntie Librarian?"

Yes, it is true that anyone can change the information in Wikipedia. The information is not "locked" at all. Wikipedia itself does not claim to be a reliable source.   However, I have no problem telling my students that they should not exclude Wikipedia or be afraid to use Wikipedia in their researching and here is why:

  • I tell all of my students to always consult multiple sources when researching. I recommend that students use at least three different sources when they gather information for their projects. When multiple sources are consulted, errors and reliability should become evident. 
  • I inform all of my students that anyone can edit Wikipedia. They use this site knowing that it can be edited by anyone. Therefore, it may not be students first choice for research or the best site in their opinion. Here is the important part: students are information consumers who need to be able to develop their own opinions and skills to determine what sources they consider to be high quality or worthy of their use.
  • Students should not use any source with blind faith and should question the reliability of the majority of the online content they use. Critical thinking and evaluation is very important. 
  • Print and online non-wiki encyclopedias have errors too. 
  • Print encyclopedias are often out of date soon after they are printed.
  • Since anyone can change Wikipedia, it is very often more up to date than other sources. 
  • In 2005, a study comparing Wikipedia to Encyclopedia Britannica found Wikipedia to have 162 errors in the articles reviewed compared to 123 for Britannica.  (Jim Giles, 2005. “Internet encyclopedias go head to head,” Nature, volume 438, number 7070 (15 December), pp. 900-901, )
  • Wikipedia has links to outside sources and bibliographies that will lead students to more information. 
  • Because anyone can change Wikipedia, errors and vandalism are often fixed. 
  • One study claims that one-third to one-half of planted false information was corrected or removed within 48 hours. (Mangus, P.D. "Early Response to False Claims in Wikipedia." First Monday, Volume 13 Number 9 - 1 September 2008.
  • Wikipedia has "featured" articles that are reviewed and considered the best articles on Wikipedia.
Is Wikipedia the best choice for all research needs? No. I do not know of any resource that can make that claim. Is it okay for teachers to forbid students from using Wikipedia for specific research projects? Certainly. Would it be better if students consulted Wikipedia in addition to other more respected online and print resources and dedicated a sentence or two in their research papers on whether different facts were found in Wikipedia? Wikipedia is a great starting point for research. Instead of making blanket mandates that forbid the use of Wikipedia, Auntie Librarian says it is better to educate students and empower them to be able to form their own opinions on which Wikipedia articles, if any, meet their research needs.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Plagiarism and the Writing Process

I have been faced with several instances of blatant plagiarism in the past few weeks. I have always thought that a good solution to plagiarism is required note taking as part of the research and writing process. Most Language Arts teachers do require students to submit handwritten notes as part of their research projects. When other subject area teachers do not require students to submit notes, a breakdown occurs.

At the middle school level, most students are not going to take notes if they are not built into the assignment. I see more plagiarism in assignments that do not require notes, rough drafts and other inherent elements of the writing and researching process than those that require and grade the final product as well as the notes, rough draft and more. This makes sense to me.  Will recommending the adoption of a school or district "style guide" be helpful in bringing consistency to expectations of student work and assignments? I know this certainly is not going to eradicate plagiarism, but it might be a good start.

Diverse and alternative assignments are great and may be a deterrent to plagiarism. I have heard many people say that book reports should be banned. I believe that students need to know how to write research papers and reports, especially without plagiarizing. There is a place for them in our inventory of assignments. Overuse of the report is another story. We should aim for assignments with higher level learning goals in blooms taxonomy, but not all assignments are going to have high level blooms.

If all research assignments across the curriculum required students to take and submit hand written notes, I believe it would be more likely for good habits to be formed and possibly for plagiarism to be curtailed.

Agree? Disagree? I welcome questions and feedback. Discussion benefits everyone.

DISCUS - convincing students

This week and next week I will be working with our sixth grade students, preparing them for their research projects by teaching them how to take notes, evaluate websites and cite sources. All of this comes, of course, after I have worked with them on several occasions with other teachers. Every time I work with students I tell them that our State Library's DISCUS databases and digital offerings are the best sources for them to use while looking for information online.

While I was working with another class I looked across the library to see what the class in the computer lab was doing. I noticed that the students in the lab were visiting the sites: wiki answers, and yahoo answers to get the answers to their research questions. I listened closely to the teacher as the next class began to see if she recommended certain sites to the students. I was relieved to hear her tell the class that they should try DISCUS, but disappointed when I saw them go right to wiki and yahoo answers. It reminded me of the time when my three-year-old niece asked me for some money. I gave her a dollar and she ripped it up saying, "This isn't money! This paper! I want real money!" I handed her a handful of nickles and she was happy as a clam.

Today, this same group of students was sitting in front of me as I presented a note taking lesson to them.  I asked them, "Why? Why, after I have explained to you that DISCUS has THE BEST online resources, do you choose to visit sites such as wiki and yahoo answers?" Their answer was, "Because it is easier. The answer just comes right up. I don't have to read and scroll as much to get the answer." I am not surprised. If all they need is a short answer to a question like, "How far is the sun from the earth?"  of course they will choose the path of least resistance.

Next week's lesson, where I will give explicit examples of misinformation on wiki and yahoo answers and examples of bogus sites will hopefully give them some incentives to use better online resources. But should I be concerned about their use of these sites for simple assignments? Is it truly a problem for students to choose sites like wiki answers and yahoo answers over better resources if they get the right answers in the end? Am I wasting my time?  Of, course it might be wise to build site quality requirements into assignments as well. Should I try that route? Maybe I will ask for wiki and yahoo answers to be blocked.  Suggestions or comments? Guidance? I'd love to hear from you.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Good Stuff - School Libraries: What's Now, What's Next, What's Yet to Come

The T&L Virtual Cafe came to my rescue last month, now a new e-book is out that I have been turning to for inspiration without disappointment. Talk about shameless sharing: the book is free.  

School Libraries: What's Now, What's Next, What's Yet to Come

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Letting Go: Flying Solo

Don't sweat the small stuff?
A year ago, the sight of an overflowing book return bin would send me into a stress fit. Letting these kind of things bother me is not an option anymore because they are going to happen a lot more than they used to. I have decided to focus on the people that I serve and let a few things go. So far, it looks like my library program is going to be better off for it.

Is an overflowing book return bin what the students and teachers who pass through my library will remember about their experiences there? No. I hope not. What they will remember is how I helped them and what they learned and whether I was happy about helping them or not, smiling, or not, whether they felt welcome.

Students are running my library more than ever before, since the library assistant position was cut. They are  shelving the books, checking books in and out, creating book displays, organizing games, loading programs in the computer lab and dusting. I now depend on them.  The books are not always shelved in the correct location, but that is not as important to me as it used to be. It is one of the many details I am now dismissing. Gone is the idea that my library has to be an orderly place. It certainly has never been a quiet one. I quit date stamping books. Last year, I did not scan an inventory of the collection.

Instead of being upset by change: crying, eating an enire bag of peanut M&Ms, throwing temper tantrums, and then apologizing for my  bad behavior, or being depressed,  resentful and wallowing in self pity, I have decided to keep moving, one day at a time, toward being the librarian that I have always wanted to be. I find that I  am using my time more effectively, and I am focused more on professional development for myself and the faculty.   I find myself asking, "How can I improve?"   Should I reserve one day a week for collection work? Should I set up a self check-out kiosk for students to use when I am busy with another class? Last year when someone suggested a self check-out kiosk I looked at them as if they just suggested that I let students shelve books.

I often wonder, what would my mother do in the face of all this change? Thinking of how she would react helps me put so many things into their little boxes and gain perspective. I know she would make the best of what she is given to work with. She would, "grow where she was planted" as she used to say.  I am going to smile and be happy in these tumultuous times because my happiness in my job influences an entire school to some degree. Like it or not I am the weather in my library.  Ma and I listened to a book by Mark Matousek, titled, When You're Falling, DIVE, on one of our many road trips.  I have never forgotten the passage in which a woman on her deathbed tells her daughter that dying is
 ". . . easier when you let go."

Everything is easier when you let go. Let go of the way you have always done things. Dive into the future. Change. Stop complaining and Grow.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

I Believe in Book Fairs

 I wrapped up a book fair last week. I enjoy watching students browse during the book fair, browsing with them, talking and enjoying the whole experience. I have come to embrace book fairs, but it wasn't always this way. When I was a new librarian, I did not like the idea of book fairs. Not in my library. I thought, What an un-librarian like thing to do. Sell things to students, use valuable school time, pull students away from their reading and research. Not only that, but the pesky book fair was pulling me away from my important work. I decided it was a necessary evil, however, because I needed some new library books and some books for book clubs. When I conducted my first book fairs, I did not enjoy them. I felt stressed about theft and handling money, and I hated the non-book "stuff" that came with the books. 

I lamented about having book fairs in one of my journal assignment entries during library school. Having a book fair was horrible, and I was embarrassed about having one. My professor, Dr. Wallace, responded to my rant by saying, "NEVER feel bad about having a book fair!" I was shocked. I thought, Really?  We have book fairs to support our library programs. "Why are you having a book fair in the first place?" she asked. Remembering this, I now realize why I was having such a hard time with book fairs. We have book fairs to raise money for our library program. What I know now, as I reflect on that moment, is that, at the time, I did not believe that my library program was worthy or important enough to merit a week-long fundraiser. That was before I realized that I had super powers, a cape and all. I'm so different now. 

After last week's book fair I can easily list a few reasons why I believe book fairs are great:

  • Excitement: Do you remember the excitement of the book fair coming when you were in school? I do! and I LOVED it. Students still love the book fair. It is a part of the school year to which they look forward. It's festive and fun, similar to a pep rally, but for the library. Even the teachers look forward to it. 
  • Learning about Money: What better place to learn to handle money than at school where your teachers are there to help you? Students will ask and find answers to questions such as: How much tax is on a dollar? How much will these two items cost? Do I have enough money to pay for these two items?  Is it okay to hand the cashier a wadded-up dollar bill? Should I count my money first before I hand it to the cashier? I use the book fair to teach these simple lessons to students and insist that they be careful with their money.
  • Consumer Lessons: The fair is a great place for students to practice being consumers and ask important questions such as: Is this item worth the price they are seeking? What is the value of the item to me? Is this a fair price? If I want two items but only have enough for one, which one should I get? Which is the best value or choice for me?
  • Browsing: I enjoy going to Barnes & Noble and browsing. Hours fly by like minutes as I get lost in books and magazines. I encourage my students to have the same experience and try to give them enough time to  pick up the books, open them, browse, sit down and look through a book or two. I encourage students to make notes of the books they believe they might like to read or that they would like the library to purchase. It was touching to see a group of "tough" 8th grade boys sitting down at the book fair tables engrossed in books, sharing with each other and reading together. I remember laughing hysterically with students as we looked at the Klutz book, Rule The World: 119 Shortcuts to Total World Domination at last year's book fair  I always tell my students, "If you see a book at the fair that you like, we already may have a copy in the library." Some students go right to the shelves and check out a book they saw at the book fair. After the fair is over, I am hounded relentlessly until I get all the books that I've pulled from the fair processed and put on the shelves.
  • Giveaways: I give away at least $100 worth of merchandise to students and teachers every fair. It feels great!
  • Profit: I have earned at least $300 worth of books from every book fair I have hosted.When the fair goes really well I get cash profit. A few of he items we have purchased with my book fair profit are: Playaway batteries, new audio books, book club materials, multiple copies of new popular new releases, board games, field trips, family game night, a Wii console, Wii games, family literacy night, seasonal decorations, summer and winter reading programs and rewards, professional development and more.
Of course, there are more reasons why book fairs are great. I am sure some would argue that I am completely off-base in my support of book fairs. Auntie Librarian says you should let go and embrace your book fairs! Don't get too hung up over "the non-book stuff" that comes with the fair. Don't stress too much over theft or it will ruin your experience.  Enjoy the book fair with your students and you will feel better.  As my Ma used to say, "Enjoy yourself, it's later than you think!"

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Be Contagious: The Power of a T&L Cafe Webinar

I love my job as a middle school librarian. Middle School students are energetic and entertaining. But, I was feeling lousy about work and things have been different since my mother passed away. Overwhelmed and disenchanted, I was depressed at having my assistant cut, wanting to be a good librarian, but feeling uninspired and worn out. How in the world would I be able to keep this energy level up in the library when I now have so much more work?  The students have come to expect a certain level of customer service and I enjoy bringing that energy and level of excitement to my students everyday. It is what makes me love my job. It is contagious. 

Not knowing how I would be able to make it all work, I put on a happy face and kept on with the daily grind. I spoke to my friend and colleague Ruth, who teaches English, about feeling so blah and passionless only to discover that she was feeling the same way. She said she was struggling to reach one particular class, and having frustrations getting them to write for her. We have done countless projects, presentations and parent nights together over the years and we feed off of each other's creative energies. I said to her, "I saw a call for presentations e-mail and felt terrible that I am not doing anything worth sharing!"  She said she felt the same way. What to do? Usually when a teacher tells me he or she is looking for a new way to teach something I have tons of ideas to suggest, and enough energy and excitement to reel them in. Honestly, this is what happens when you don't go to conferences for two or three years.

The same day I chatted with Ruth, Cathy Jo Nelson sent out a reminder that there would be a T&L Virtual Cafe Webinar on Monday October 3rd. Ah, Cathy Jo! She has been my inspiration on several occasions. Her Facebook and SCASL listserv posts are great. Amazingly, she never stops pushing it out. The voice of Cathy Jo sounds something like this to me: "Hey! Check this out! Look! Over here! A great article, blog or app! You should try THIS!" A GURU-COACH, that is what she is for me.

I go to the T&L Virtual Cafe Webinar that Cathy Jo posted about.  Tamara Cox and Tiff Whitehead knock my socks off. There's a great vibe going on there, and I needed that. Joyce Valenza was there! She inspired me at ISTE in Chicago years ago.  I have been a big fan ever since. At this T&L Virtual Cafe webinar, one of the many awesome things I am introduced to is Comic Life. Wow! Such amazing graphics! So visually appealing! I can't wait to tell Ruth! That night, I could not sleep. I was too excited and inspired!

On Tuesday I sneak out of the library and burst into Ruth's classroom with loud excitement (during her planning time) to tell her I have found exactly what we need. I can tell she is a little skeptical because I am acting like a wide-eyed, sleep deprived, coffee fueled spaz talking fast and excitedly commandeering her computer.  She looks at me like I am crazy. I show her Comic Life. Although Comic Life has been around a while, it is new to us. And, we're excited about it. We schedule the lab for her classes. The students love Comic Life and now not only are we both doing something exciting and worth sharing, but we are planning more exciting things like presenting our experience with Comic Life at the Spartanburg Writing Project's Fall Conference, and making cake pops at family write night at the library! The great thing about this inspiration is that it impacts not only me, but also two other teachers (so far) and ALL OF THEIR STUDENTS. Since I work with the entire student body, this inspiration will probably reach even more students. Everyone wins.

I still don't know how I will be able to make it all work, and maybe I won't be able to make it all work. That's okay. Things are changing. I am taking it one day at a time.  Because of T&L Virtual Cafe and my collaboration with Ruth I FEEL better and my work feels more meaningful and worth sharing.  And that's a start!