Week #8: Book Clubs galore!

Next class, we’ll be doing our book clubs, so here’s my thoughts on the readings:

“The Duration of Life” by the Brothers Grimm is a sort of etiological story; it explains why man lives seventy years, and why it is that man endures certain stages as he ages. I’m sort of surprised I’ve never run across this from the Brothers Grimm because this is right up my alley, but I’m glad that this was chosen for one of the book clubs. Like I said, I’m interested in the etiological aspect of it because many myths/fairy tales/legends/etc. originate from a deep-rooted need to explain something. I found the ending particularly interesting, where it describes the stages of life in terms of the animals that “gave” the years to the human. (The dog comparison…yikes!) It’s been a really long time since I’ve read many of the Brothers Grimm tales, so I’m not certain if religion plays a large part in their tales; in fact, I wonder if this was really even meant to be a religious tale at all, but rather a metaphor. (The librarian in me itches to research this more, but I’ll refrain and see what other people have to say Thursday!)

“The Fisherman and His Wife” by the Brothers Grimm (an authorial trend…I love it!) was a completely different sort of tale. This answered my question up above; it seems like God does play a least some role in some of their tales. (Not surprising, considering the time they were written in.)  This fairy tale was a sort of cautionary tale; don’t be greedy, and be content. The wife was never content, and the time in between getting what she wanted and then wanting the next bigger and better thing got shorter and shorter. Finally, when she asked to be God, the flounder took everything back they had gained. Each time the man asked for something else, the sea got more and more violent, until it was practically a hurricane on his last time out. If she just hadn’t asked to be God, she could have lived as Pope, but she just couldn’t be content with what she had, and she was punished for it. I love a good cautionary fairy tale!

“Parrot Land” in The Brazilian Fairy Book by Elsie Spicer Eells is another cautionary sort of tale, but is much more explicit about the advice it offers than the previous one: “be virtuous and you will prosper.” I found this tale interesting because I expected the guards to be punished in some way, but ultimately, this tale was about the virtuousness of the prince and how he unselfishly completed all the tasks so that he could get the parrot to heal his father. He could have taken a ruby-encrusted sword, a gold cage, or a strong horse but instead he took a plain sword, a small cage, and a weak horse. But that was okay, because once he returned home and the oil from the parrot healed his father, the cage was polished, the sword cleaned, and the horse healed. Because of the prince’s unselfish act, he was rewarded. Like I said, I find it interesting that the guards weren’t portrayed as antagonists; I suppose I’m used to fairy tales where there’s a clear protagonist and a clear antagonist, and this story didn’t have that clear antagonist; in fact, the guards, although having had the prince complete the tasks, were thankful to the prince and let him have the parrot. The story was all about the prince’s good actions and the ultimate “reward” of those actions, and so it was a different kind of fairy tale than I’m used to where the villains are punished.

“The Man Who Built Catan” by Adrienne Raphel describes Klaus Teuber and his board game, The Settlers of Catan. (Did anyone else feel themselves itching to get their hands on one?) I have to say, I feel a bit out of the loop because I can’t recall having heard of The Settlers of Catan. I think the premise is really interesting, and I enjoy the point that the article made that Catan can be played over and over again because it changes with every game (and with every player), while some videogames can’t be. (I’m still going to play KH2 over and over, but I think I can fit Catan somewhere in there, too.) What a brilliant mind Teuber has, though, that he can come up with some many board games; I always thought being a board game developer would be extremely difficult. I really liked how Teuber emphasized the social aspect of the game (as did the players interviewed) because I think that is a really important aspect of card and board games. (Think of how many Dungeons and Dragons tournaments there are!) People connect over all sorts of things, and Catan is something that has the ability to bring people together.

I’m getting excited for book clubs!

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Reflections on class #7

For the first part of class this week, we discussed the dos and don’ts of book clubs. We made some important points on both ends of the spectrum, and several that I hadn’t thought of before. I think one that stuck with me on the Do This! side was having a plan for blurters/rude people/interrupters/etc. I’ve worked with the public for several years now, but every once in awhile, someone still shocks me with how they act, and being in an environment where you, as the “leader” (bad word, I know…perhaps guide or host?), is responsible for having a fun and productive environment, you need to have contingency plans for situations that may arise. Are you going to be able to anticipate every situation? Of course not. But there will be ones that are pretty common; so, you have to think…how do I handle a person that dominates a conversation? How do I handle someone that is constantly interrupting another? How do I handle a person that rudely responds to another’s opinion? I know for me, thinking about these hypothetical situations makes me a lot less nervous about doing a book club. (Side note: the fact that we had to put “Read the book” on the Do This! side makes me sad…although I can believe it, I still am disappointed that there are those who host a book club and don’t read the book.) On the Not This! side, I wanted to clap when someone brought up tipping well if you host it in a restaurant. I had a waitress friend tell me one time she had a book club take up four tables for three hours and she barely got a tip from them. It’s very inconsiderate (and people will dislike you…it’s just a fact). I think another good point we brought up is not making people feel guilty for not reading the book; although you should, sometimes people have bad months or weeks where reading a book for book club is low on the priority list. Also, sometimes, like we said, the book club isn’t about the book; it’s about the camaraderie that comes with it. We should definitely be sensitive to that.

We also discussed how to craft discussions/questions for book clubs. I’m definitely glad for a little overview because I’ve never hosted a book club, so it’s advantageous to see what good book club questions look like. I think a really intriguing part of the question process is asking something you as the host is curious about and may not know the answer. I’m like a lawyer; I don’t ask a question in that sort of situation unless I already know the answer (9th grade Debate class probably doesn’t help with that). But it most definitely makes sense in a book club setting to ask a question you don’t know the answer to because you’re going to get diverse and unique answers and perspectives. For the piece Mollie and I chose, we purposefully chose one that could have different sides, and so I’m really curious to see what people think. I think something I’m going to have a hard time with is not answering our own questions because the articles are about a topic I’m passionate about, so it’s going to take some restraint on my part!

For the second part of class, we had our own Socratic Seminar about the Prensky article. I love being in circles for discussions, and I think we had a really great conversation. I still greatly dislike Prensky’s view, and I was pleasantly surprised when the first conversation point broached was on whether or not it was a satire piece because I wrote in my post about how I thought it was from The Onion for its black-and-white stance. It was interesting to get to hear everyone’s point-of-view. Socratic Seminars are familiar to me, but I think the size of the group kept this from being a true Socratic Seminar. Having a smaller group enables everyone to talk more than once. However, I realize we had limitations on time, so it makes sense to do it with our one big group.

At any rate, I’m excited to see what class brings next week with our book clubs!

Reflections on class #6

What a class we had last week!

I really like when you can have a class full of people start discussing something and then have it morph into another discussion entirely. While our talk started with Jane McGonigal, by the end, we were talking about privileges in libraries and what we thought of SI’s T-shirts that state “I will change the world.” (Who knew T-shirts could engender such a discussion?) It was interesting how we all saw the shirt differently: for example, I don’t like to wear mine because I think it makes a statement I can’t back-up and I’m tired of people asking, “And how will YOU change the world?” But some took a much different approach and thought that it was more about changing one person’s world. Additionally, one of my classmates mentioned the idea of privileges in libraries and privileges in a place like SI. The library profession is full of privilege for a few reasons, but mostly because a lot of people can’t afford to go to school for a job that may not ever pay for itself. Ubiquitous unpaid internships in libraries don’t help either; most people need money to live off of, and it’s hard to take on a full-time internship that doesn’t pay. I think that’s largely why that T-shirt strikes a nerve for me because it seems to say, “Hey, I’m privileged enough to be at this great school and I’m going to change the entire world because of that.” Maybe that’s not fair. Maybe I’m biased because I went to a state school in Michigan where UM had what is (after going here) an undeserved reputation of arrogance. But I think we all need to, quite simply, check our privileges and realize that by going here, we have them. (Even if most of us our paying in our life’s blood to be here.)

Our discussion was great largely because it stuck with me after class ended. In 638 the next day, Mollie and I talked about the discussion in class, and I thought about it over the weekend. I think I’m not as against the shirt as I used to be. I think perhaps I take it too strongly as a point and need to be proud that I’m a part of something bigger than myself that will hopefully change the world someday. I think I need to realize that I’m at an institution that does change the world and that’s also something to be proud of. Maybe I’m not going to singlehandedly change the world. But maybe, like one of my classmates said, I will help to change someone’s world and maybe they’ll go out and change the world for the better. Yes, I’m absolutely privileged to be here at SI, and I need to be sure that I use that privilege to its full advantage.

Thanks for the great discussion, SI-ers!

(We also discussed the professional bloggers we’ve been following, and the discussion was really interesting; I’m especially interested in the idea of librarian “branding” and it’s something I’m looking forward to getting to know more about!)

Week #7 readings, or, a really long post where Krista gets riled about some things

“In the 21st-Century University, Let’s Ban (Paper) Books” by Prensky discusses the idea of ridding college campuses of physical books and replacing them with ebooks. Let me start out by saying that I am unequivocally for ebooks. I think they allow for many great opportunities, many of which center around better accessibility. So here’s where I discuss how much my feathers were ruffled by reading this article. I think ebooks on college campuses are a good thing; with the rising costs of textbooks, I appreciate the cheaper e-versions that don’t require me to live off ramen noodles for the first month of the semester. Prensky doesn’t even mention this as an advantage, though, which struck me as weird. Prensky’s argument centers around the fact that getting rid of physical books and replacing them with ebooks is moving education into the future; that books are “artifacts” that belong in museums, like scrolls. He further says that “the physical book is, in many ways, a jail for ideas–once a book is read, closed, and shelved, for most people it tends to stay that way.” He extends his argument by stating that he has heard the arguments for physical books (“the feel of the page,” for example), but those arguments don’t stand up against the advantages of getting rid of physical books. I think Prensky has completely missed the point of books. For him, they seem to be a physical object that contains information. And sure, they are. But isn’t an e-reader the same? The same person who doesn’t crack open that physical book probably isn’t going to put it on their e-reader, either. A physical book has, and never will be, a jail. He says that “they [ideas] have been held captive for too many centuries” by physical books. I’m just curious how that is, since many ideas have only survived because of books. The written word is incredibly important and a part of history. But even if one looks past that, and says, “Hey, you know, let’s keep physical books in the library and out of the classroom.” (Prensky’s point about the value of worldwide annotations is a good one.) What about his audacity to say that universities should confiscate physical books if that’s how someone chooses to read them? (Heck, why not just burn them while we’re at it?) I pay an exorbitant tuition, and if I want a physical textbook, then that is my right. He compares me wanting to use the physical book in comparison to using tablets or papyrus. And so what if I wanted to order my textbook on 37 clay tablets? Maybe that’s how I learn best. Maybe that’s how I want it to be. Maybe I should be allowed to choose how I want to learn. Moving education forward is always a positive thing, but not at the cost of pushing and forcing people into a trend they don’t want. Prensky also mentions that my generation is “inculcated since birth to appreciate the value of physical books.” Perhaps that’s because there is value? Again, I see the value of ebooks, but to say that physical books, which have survived for 500 years, have none is, quite frankly, ludicrous. Most of my problem with Prensky doesn’t lie in the fact that he wants to install ebooks more firmly in the world of universities, but is in his insistence that physical books have lost value.

I suspect this article’s purpose was to goad, and I’m goaded. If I hadn’t known better, I would have thought that this was an article from The Onion, since it was so far-fetched. The fact that it’s 2 and some years old and still hasn’t come to fruition proves that it isn’t the great idea he thinks it is. Prensky states at the end that by moving your university to ebooks only, you’ll be remembered. Yes, you sure will. Remembered for taking away a precious resource and forcing another when the advantages for doing it are flimsy at best.

“Socratic Seminars” by Tredway talks about the advantages of the Socratic Seminar, a method in which students are taught to actively engage in their learning by interacting, debating, and discussing with fellow students a topic that has real-life meaning. In this way, students are able to connect what they’re learning to their real-life, thereby increasing the chance of transferring what they’re learning to other parts of their life. Tredway discusses many advantages, including self-esteem boosts, experience in analyzing, synthesizing, and and reasoning, as well as intellectual and emotional maturity. Socratic Seminars are quite the adventure the first time you’re involved in one, at least it was for me. My professor never said it was a Socratic Seminar, but by the middle of the year, I realized that was what it was. There were ten of us, sitting around a round table, and we’d all read a few texts and come to class ready to discuss them. The second week of class, my professor asked a question about how one author would respond to another’s view, and a classmate answered the question. But then my professor asked how he knew that, and to support his answer, and the entire class stared at him. From then on out, it wasn’t enough to know the answer; we had to be prepared to defend it. By the end of the year, my teacher only played the part of the coach, ready to jump in if clarification was needed or to give some more insight, but we ran that class. We questioned each other, debated with each other, and pushed each other to reason out our thought process. We didn’t always agree; in fact, we largely didn’t, but that was okay because as long as the person could talk us through their reasoning, then it was enough. I can’t tell you how many times someone would state their view and someone else would say, “Wow, I never thought of it that way.” What a fascinating way to learn, and the greatest part about it is that it doesn’t cost any extra money, but just some extra training, both on the teachers’ and students’ parts. I don’t know if teachers are trained in the Socratic method, but I know as a student, I wasn’t really trained properly until the latter parts of college. The Socratic Seminar pushes students to engage in their learning because it simply isn’t enough to state, “Person A thought this way.” Nope, you have to have reasoning for that. “Person A thought this way as evidenced by…” And then another student jumps in and says, “When I was reading Person A, I was thinking about how that his opinion contradicts Person B’s because…What did you guys think?” The Socratic Seminar is difficult because it does take more time, but the benefits from it are great, and it’s really a shame more schools don’t take part in it.

“The Book Club Exploded” by Hoffert discusses how book clubs are taking on new formats, subject matters, and themes in the last few years. I really like Hoffert’s ideas because she identified the problems I’ve had with book clubs in the past. I always disliked when I went to a book club and they chose a book I didn’t like, or one that I had already read (that’s okay every once in awhile, but when all they choose is up and coming fiction…I work in a library; I’ve probably read it). The idea of a thematic book club really appeals to me for those exact reasons. Never again will I be stuck with a book I don’t like, or one I’ve already read. Additionally, like Hoffert points out, everyone can introduce a new title (built-in readers’ advisory…I love it!) and also bring with them unique perspectives. And just from a library worker’s point-of-view…having 24 copies of the same book is next to impossible for many libraries. Ann Arbor District Library has those great “book clubs in a bag” that Hoffert mentions, and that’s fantastic, but…a  lot of libraries can’t do that. But it would be really great if a book club calls and says, “Hey, our theme this week is biographies. Can you pull some for us?” instead of “We need 24 copies of the new Steve Jobs biography by next month.” (True story, at a time when getting one was difficult.) I think the closest I’ve ever come to a thematic book club was to choose an award-winner, and it was great; it was such a varied discussion, and I left with a list of about 8 books I wanted to read based on our discussion. I also think Hoffert’s push to include nonfiction is great; sometimes, people would tell me, “Oh, yeah, I wanted to do book club, but they’re doing The Devil in the White City and it’s nonfiction, and I hate nonfiction.” And I would tell me them how great of a book that is, but the entire genre of nonfiction turned them off. Like Hoffert suggests, a really salacious biography is a good way of easing readers into the idea that nonfiction isn’t all dull, academic writing.

“The Evolving Book Club” by Dempsey focuses on how to cater book clubs to the users and what the users want. I think this is such an important point, because book clubs in the middle of the day aren’t probably going to be successful. Book clubs with too narrow of a theme are similarly going to run into problems. (There are only so many Jane Austen books.) The library I worked at always struggled with book clubs until one of the librarians started hosting them in the evening, one day a month, at a restaurant. The month he held it at the local brewery? Best-attended book club the library had ever had. People loved being able to come to a comfortable atmosphere and enjoy each other’s company while talking about books. I think a lot about book clubs for young adults; often, there are none, and I think that’s largely because people don’t know how to create one with their needs in mine. Another local library had one for teens, and the librarian there did so well in analyzing the needs of the young adults. For example, she hosted it about a half-hour after school got out, which meant kids could come straight from school and it wouldn’t eat up their entire evening. She provided a snack and beverage (food rules went out the window) and allowed the teens to provide their own books no matter the format. She had quite the run on graphic novels for awhile, but they eventually deviated into so many other genres and formats as well. She had a Facebook group where they talked about meetings or questions they might have before the club, and if they didn’t read a book that month? That’s fine. Just come and chat with the group. (Dempsey’s no-pressure policy point is a great one…I often feel that when I do book clubs.) I especially liked Dempsey’s point that book clubs are therapeutic because I have always thought that is a great purpose of book clubs. Of course the scenario she described of outreach in correctional facilities is a great example, but I think in any scenario book clubs are therapeutic. When you get a group of people together talking about a book that may touch on issues personally affecting their lives, the discussion that results is almost always therapeutic.

“Teaching reading: beyond the plot” by Metzger talks about how to use the Socratic Seminar to help students understand books at a deeper level than just the plot. Like I stated earlier, Socratic Seminars have huge advantages; they allow students to bounce ideas off one another, to engage in group discussions (where group etiquette has to be followed), and encourages them to have reasoning and logic behind their ideas. However, I’m not entirely certain that I’m sold on the inner circle/outer circle method; perhaps that’s because I’ve never had a class that way. Maybe it’s also based on the fact that I know I would have hated and resented the outer circle in high school. I suppose I see some benefit, but I think it could get out of control fast, and Metzger admitted it did, at first. High schoolers (and especially high school freshmen) can be brutal, and having an open forum for them to criticize is asking for it. Granted, teaching them the difference between criticizing to be mean and constructive feedback is is an important lesson, but the first time a student hears everyone thinks they talk too much might shut them up for the rest of the semester. Maybe I’m missing the point of the outer circle. I understand it’s about summarizing and observing and analyzing others at work, but I don’t know if it’s necessary to have them take notes about what someone is doing while they’re involved in the inner circle. If I had known I was being observed, I wouldn’t have said a word in high school. (Now…not so much, but as a high school freshman? Definitely not.) I guess I’ll have to ponder on the outer circle more. But the idea that Metzger basically ended up sitting back and not really being involved in the discussion is an important one, because I think that’s the ultimate goal of the Socratic Seminar: teaching students how to actively engage in their learning with each other. (Although laughing at an interpretation? Speaking of brutal…Interesting that students noticed she grimaced the day before and told each other to ignore her.) I think working through difficult texts together is the best way to do it, and the Socratic Seminar is a great platform to do that.

Apologies for the long post, but…don’t mess with my books, man.

BONUS ENTRY: summarizing bloggers

Bloggers from my future career: (public libraries)

Bloggers not from my future career: (academic libraries)

(Just a sidenote: I enjoyed each and every blogger, and would recommend them all!)

Jacob Berg

Jacob Berg might be my favorite blogger on this list. He’s the director of an academic library in Washington, D.C., and he blogs about libraries and beer (not that I would be interested in that…not at all), as the title suggests. He also blogs about other things, on occasion, (like going to concerts, for example) but his posts pretty much stay with his title. Throughout his posts, he discusses libraries’ places in the community and society at large. For example, he tackles issues like the future of libraries, the somewhat oppressive environments of libraries, and new librarianship. He also discusses leadership (as I mentioned, he’s the director). Furthermore, he talks about library science studies, and if you want some depressing reading, he’s got some great posts about how we might all be jobless because library schools are graduating too many of us. Berg is interesting to follow for a variety of reasons, but one is that he’s an academic librarian, and so he talks a lot about instruction both of students and faculty.

(He also likes to use a lot of reaction gifs, and as a huge proponent of that, it just made me like his blog just that much more.)

Jessica Olin

Jessica Olin is the director of a library of a liberal arts college in Delaware. She blogs to, as the title of her blog would suggest, new library science grads. She also blogs about her experiences as the newly minted director of the library. Jessica also has a lot of guest posts that discuss various topics. As an academic librarian, she blogs about unique problems of students (like textbook prices), how students navigate the library, and her relationships with faculty. Her guest posts often are authored by public librarians, so there’s a mix of both academic and public librarians on her blog (one of my favorite guest blog posts was Dear Soon-To-Be Public Youth Services Librarian).

She’s also friends with Jacob Berg, and so she mentions him a lot, which is cool because she obviously looks up to him and it’s obvious he’s kind of a librarian celeb in the world of academic librarianship.

Andy Woodworth 

Andy Woodworth is a New Jersey public librarian. He blogs about a variety of things (he doesn’t seem to have an overarching theme like most of the other bloggers), and like Berg, he looks at things in a more sort of bigger picture sort of way. For example, his most recent post (at the time of this writing) was on gender inequality in libraries (most librarians are women, but most published literature in library science is written by men). He also discusses the roles of libraries in the future (we were, apparently, going extinct in 1983), and why degrees for us future librarians are still really important. He’s a bit more upbeat about library grads’ future as librarians, mostly because he thinks it can be fixed.

Brian Herzog

Brian Herzog is a reference librarian at a public library in Massachusetts. A good majority of Brian’s blog are his “Reference Question of the Week” posts, which are pretty entertaining and generally illustrative of all the wacky situations you’ll encounter as a librarian. (Especially him, as a reference librarian.) Honestly, reading these every week has made me miss public libraries a lot. (Not to say that academic libraries don’t experience weird situations, but there’s just something about a public library…) His posts are generally pretty specific to his library (like the pros and cons of a public scanner), but the posts always have a wider context. He also often asks for his blog followers’ opinions on certain topics. His blog also has just plain interesting posts, too (like a post on Flickr, who if you look at their source code, states that they’re hiring; should we be using some sort of similar method for libraries, since it’s obvious if you’re looking at the source code you’re detail-oriented?). Right before I posted this, he had a post on some people’s perception that because they pay taxes to the library, they should be able to dictate how the money is spent (and how that isn’t how public money works), which was intriguing because it hit home, like many of his posts did.

In summary of all four:

Well, one trend common to almost all of the bloggers is that they’re worried about us. Us, as in future librarians, those of us in grad school. (I linked Berg’s post up above, Woodworth’s is here–although he’s more optimistic–and Olin’s is a more indirect implication). Sometimes, the blogs are depressing reads, to be honest, because they discussed how this year we’ll be graduating 8,000 more LIS graduates than there are expected jobs. For most of the bloggers, they’re worried about library programs not properly preparing us for the new role that we should be filling. All but Herzog addressed this issue, and all cautioned us to only be choosing this profession if there is true love for it there (because it definitely isn’t because of the money). But I think most of us know that, anyway.

And not surprisingly, another trend was the role of librarians and libraries in the future. All of them are (expectedly) positive about libraries’ future, and all agree we’re entering a new era of not only libraries, but librarianship as well. We are a new breed of librarians, and our training should reflect that; ultimately, too, we are serving the public in different ways than ever before, and we need to be prepared for that as well.

So my Big Takeaways? First of all, we are going to have to be constantly reevaluating our profession and the institutions of libraries as a whole. I think part of the usefulness of blogging is in reflecting and reevaluating, and these librarians, by keeping these blogs, are constantly doing both in terms of them as a librarian and their libraries. For example, Jessica Olin just celebrated her one-year anniversary of being the director at her library, and one of her posts was on all the things she’s learned this last year, and all the things she still has left to learn. Almost all of the bloggers readily admitted that they are constantly learning in their job, and I think that’s such an important (and cool!) part of our profession.

It’s difficult to see if there are things they disagree on because one of the greatest things abut following these blogs is that they blog about different things. As far as I could see, there wasn’t a lot of overlap in what they blogged about, but there were the trends I discussed earlier.

It was interesting because some of the bloggers talked about their day-to-day business (Herzog), while some just discussed their libraries as part of the bigger picture. I think both are useful. Herzog, in his reference question posts of the week, gives a nice snapshot of day-to-day business and the Berg, for example, gives a more “bigger picture” view.

I think something I really liked is that they all referenced one another. We’re a close-knit profession, and it’s kind of cool to see them talking about one another with admiration and respect. Supposedly there’s too many of us, but it feels like a small community of people, and really interesting people at that.

Reflections on class #5

The two or three times that I’ve had to write a survey of some kind has proven to me that it’s hard. It’s difficult not to write leading questions, and it’s also difficult to know what are the priority questions you really want to ask.

But honestly, I’m a pretty good person to write surveys because I’m one of those people. If I bother to do the survey at all, I often get bored and don’t give quality answers. Sometimes, it’s laziness, but often, I’m annoyed by the questions. We were given an example of a question where it asked why something was outstanding (what if it wasn’t?), and I’ve seen those questions a lot. It’s leading and it’s hard to be honest with a question like that. That’s no excuse, though, and I really need to start completing surveys more because they are important. I’m really into people giving me feedback and I often don’t give it back to people (usually it’s because I don’t want to hurt their feelings…if they’re great, I’ll definitely tell them so). I suppose I need to work on giving people constructive feedback when they ask for it.

At any rate, I’m glad that we discussed assessment in regards to surveys. Like I said, despite my unwillingness to answer surveys, I do realize that they are important and are definitely an important part of formative assessment. Taking the example survey after Jane McGonigal’s talk was useful because it showed what could potentially be misleading or negative aspects about surveys. It was helpful to talk about how surveys/formative assessments connect to libraries because I was a bit confused about the connection beforehand. Because of that, I found it interesting when Kristin said how librarians are naturals at formative assessment because I never really thought about how I use formative assessment in my job. But looking back, I think in my own experience, the way I did this most frequently was by telling people if they couldn’t find what they were looking for, they should come back and I would do the best I could to help them again. Sometimes, I would inevitably not be able to help a patron, but they always said, “Oh, you were so helpful!” because they felt like they could approach me again.

I think the phrase that sort of wraps up what we talked about was “assessment of learning versus assessment for learning.” We’re largely still assessing the amount of learning a student achieves, instead of to learn. Things like self-reflection papers are incredibly useful because it aids the student in really looking back on what they learned and it also allows for teachers to give them feedback in something that isn’t an exam. (Which is invaluable, really.)

For whatever reason, this was a short post for me this week! (I think I made up for it in my reading post for this week, though!)

Week #6 readings

“Put Understanding First” by Wiggins and McTighe discusses the need for not only teaching for acquisition, but meaning and transfer as well. We’ve talked about this a few times in class, and it’s always interested me because I think that many schools are edging out meaning and transfer because that isn’t tested on standardized tests, and as a result, schools are churning out poorly prepared students. I was glad to see the authors give examples of how to successfully plan a unit in acquisition-meaning-transfer and especially glad to see the examples were math and science, the two subjects I think are probably the most difficult to do that sequence in. Their discussion of rethinking the instructional sequence caught my attention because the way that education is set-up now, if students are disinterested in the content (or don’t understand), they won’t/can’t climb up that metaphorical ladder to transfer and understanding. I had never considered that acquisition shouldn’t be first, because even the classes I feel I’ve had that emphasized meaning and transfer as well have always started with acquisition. It’s definitely something to think about. The math example hit home because I remember the mean/median/mode unit and I remember hating it. I think the idea of having students figure out which is best to calculate their grade is such a good one; I would have probably actually cared to learn it if I knew my grades were at stake.

I think one of the best classes I’ve ever had that really emphasized meaning and transfer as well as acquisition was United States History in eighth grade. All the history classes were split into boys versus girls, and those who wanted to could campaign to be generals (I was one of the girls’ generals, and man, was I proud). Each side had three generals, and throughout the semester, we engaged in “battles,” (i.e., teachers hid trivia questions around the eighth grade wing which required us to learn how to use databases to find the answers) that gained us victories, and we also were given “hypothetical” battle situations which we worked out as teams (they were based after real battles, but we didn’t know that). They also let us reenact battles with water balloons, which in addition to being fun, as also a learning experience because we had to go through the battles and answer so many correct questions before they just allowed us our fun. At the end, those with the most points or “battle” victories won, and well, not to brag, but the teachers said they had never before seen a trouncing like we did to the boys that year. But at the end of the day, not only could I tell you dates of battles, but I knew the cause-and-effects and the larger social contexts. Everyone did phenomenally on that unit, even those that hated history, because it was fun and engaging and gave us a wider contexts to place the facts in. However, that took place over an entire semester, and was rigorous for them to plan/carry out and took a lot of cooperation, and that might be difficult for some schools to do because of lack of staff and money.

Ultimately, I’m relieved that there are educators that realize our educational system is in trouble. I think we’ve painted ourselves in the corner, so to speak, with assessments and this relentless drive to get the best grades. Schools are producing ill-prepared students who fall flat on their faces in college because they don’t know how to critically think. Something clearly has to be done.

Chapter 3 of How People Learn discusses factors that lead to successful transfer of learning to other contexts. The chapters introduced several factors, but there were a few I thought were pretty interesting. The first is the factor of initial learning. Later on in the reading, the chapter brings up the idea of mastery of foundational concepts, and I think the two ideas really tie together; if, for example, a student is unable to grasp the foundational concepts, it’s going to hinder their ability to learn further, and ultimately, the ability to transfer it. I think a good example of this is math; if a student can’t master algebra, it’s going to make trigonometry really difficult (this is, perhaps, based on personal experience). Or, even, if a student isn’t understanding math, chemistry is going to be really difficult (hence prerequisites). I think another important point the chapter introduces is learning vs. memorizing. We’ve discussed this idea in the past, but I think it’s such an important one, and maybe that’s because I feel like in certain subjects, the only reason I did as well as I did is because I have a good memory. I wasn’t learning anything. If I’m just memorizing facts, the learning isn’t being transferred, and that is, as the chapter says, the ultimate goal of schooling. I was also particularly interested in the section of transfer between school and everyday life. What good is it to learn fractions if you can’t figure out a tip? Where I often got tripped up in math (I think everyone that has read a few posts of this blog now realizes that I was really atrocious at math) was that I saw absolutely no reason for sin, cos, and tan. Nobody ever put that into context for me, and to this day, I still have no idea what good that was. Acquisition is important, as is meaning, but transfer is what should be the ultimate goal of education.

I can’t for the life of me remember where I read it (it may have been for this class or 638 or one of my other classes), but I was reading recently that American schools were built upon the idea of preparing workers for factory work, and that is why it’s largely based on rote memorization. I’ve been stewing on that and it makes sense, because that is perhaps why transfer has never been emphasized because it wasn’t necessary. But now it most definitely is, and so it’s interesting that the educational system isn’t evolving with the times.

Reflections on class #4

We librarians like our jargon.

I mean, I think information professionals in general like it. (I have never been around more acronyms than when I started here: “Yeah, I’m going to SI to get my MSI in LIS and maybe in PI, too.”) But for some reason, librarians love making up their own jargon.

Which is why I find transliteracy an interesting term, and also why I’m glad we discussed it during class. It’s a buzzword that doesn’t really seem to have a concrete definition. I come from a background in comparative religion where people spend their entire career coming up with a definition of (a)”god,” (gods, entities…well, I’m just proving my point), but we librarians want a concrete definition because that’s who we are. I had never heard of transliteracy until a few weeks ago, and when I was doing my search, I didn’t come across it at all. (Perhaps because I was looking into public libraries?) Transliteracy, as was stated in class, is a “bucket term” and we were asked what it meant to us. I’m not certain I know what it means to me yet, to be honest. I think too broad a definition is harmful to it being useful, but too narrow of a definition threatens to make it useless as well. I think I may have to mull on it for awhile. Certainly, the profession is going to have to because no one seems to have come up with a “blanket” definition yet, and there very well may never be one. I wasn’t too sold on Sue Thomas’s definition because it’s too broad, and as we were saying, her definition just really defines communication. But it’s truly hard to put into words what the ability to distinguish what the text is saying versus what the picture is depicting actually is.

We also talked about different models of learning. I’ll be honest about Carol Kuhlthau: I never really thought very extensively about her research before, even when it was introduced in 647. This is not a good thing, because Carol Kuhlthau is about as famous as a librarian can get, and her research is pretty fascinating. But before, all I really thought was that I know in my research process I go through a variety of emotions (anxiety and triumph are basically the two), and so I always figured other people did, too. End of story. But what really stuck out to me about our discussion was at which point in the process librarians can intervene so as to have the most impact in a person’s information search process. In Stripling’s inquiry model, investigate is where we’re probably going to have the most impact, and in Kuhlthau’s model, we’re probably intervening at exploration, too. I think knowing when to intervene is important because if you, as the librarian, come in too early, you may be a detriment to the process (perhaps not…perhaps you can help the student or user narrow down a topic), but if you come in too late, the damage is already done, so to speak. I think the key time is, like Kuhlthau and Stripling suggest, when a person is researching and exploring ideas and we can help lead them in the most helpful direction as possible.

One last point that I want to bring up is that in class, someone was quoted as saying, “Even if we didn’t have libraries, we need librarians.” I think the fact that so many librarians are working outside of libraries is evidence of that;  good librarians have all sorts of great skills that can be useful outside of libraries. I don’t really have a lot to talk about on that phrase, but it just sort of illustrates to me that we’re a special breed of people and it reminds me why I’ve always wanted to be a librarian.

Week #5 readings

“While formative assessment and summative assessment serve the same learning goals, the former is an ongoing process and the latter is a finale: the finish line at the end of the race.” This observation made in “The Fundamentals of Formative Assessment” really resonated with me. The chapter discussed the benefits of formative versus summative assessment, and I think that quote really sums up the difference between the two for me. I’ve never heard of formative assessment before, although now that I’ve read about it, I think that many of my teachers (and often many of my favorites) used these sort of methods.

The first point the chapter makes is that formative assessment is student-focused and although I think some people think that student-focused teaching in classrooms is intuitive, it’s not always. Some teachers don’t realize that students learn differently, and don’t adjust accordingly. The second point the chapter makes is that formative assessment is instructionally informative. I think for a long time I thought those “pre-assessments” were a way of shaming us into paying attention because our attention was now centered on how much we didn’t know. Later on, I realized the teacher was gauging what we knew and what we didn’t, so that he or she wouldn’t repeat what we obviously knew (and waste everyone’s time) and really concentrate on what we didn’t. The third point the chapter makes was that formative assessment is outcomes based. Formative assessment is all about achieving goals rather than determining if the student met that goal. If students don’t know what’s expected of them, it’s difficult to do well. It’s also difficult to do well when a student isn’t getting feedback on their work. How are they to know how they should improve if the teacher isn’t telling them? Along the same lines, how does a student know they’re doing well and should continue with this sort of thinking if the teacher isn’t telling them so? I always thought it was backwards when students took a test and they didn’t do well, and teachers gave no feedback and spent no time making sure the obvious problem was corrected. It was often blamed on the student (and although there may be times the student should shoulder the blame), sometimes teachers simply didn’t realize the students weren’t grasping the concepts. Math tests for me were only easy if they involved memorization; the study guides had a particular type of problem, and if I could memorize the pattern, then I was good to go. I got the A on test, and that’s the goal, isn’t it? But shouldn’t the goal be that I learned how to do that particular type of problem, and if I hadn’t gotten that A, what would have been done to fix it?

One thing I’m glad this chapter addressed was standardized testing because I believe that it’s hard for teachers to incorporate formative assessment when there are benchmarks they have to meet. For example, in Mrs. Chavez’s English class example, I think those activities were great; they engaged the students and make them critically think about what they read. But that may take a lot of time; a few class periods, depending on how long she plans. A state test might ask for an example of a character trait, but it’s not going to ask what events led to Holden being a sardonic and misanthropic cynic and that it’s all about cause-and-effect. I’m not saying that there aren’t teachers who can’t teach in a formative assessment style and still get the job done, but there are a lot that can’t, and therein lies the problem.

How People Learn, chapter 6, had a quote that stuck out to me right away: “Everyone expects much more from today’s schools than was expected 100 years ago.” I think people expect much more from today’s schools than they did ten years ago, let alone 100. I had kids coming into the library asking me for books on citations and they were in elementary school. I didn’t learn citations until eighth grade, and that was standard. So even though we bemoan the state of our educational system, sometimes I have to take a step back and examine the fact that our schools and educational tenets are changing so rapidly (do they even teach cursive anymore? because I had to learn that in fourth grade and it was the bane of my existence) that it’s difficult to keep up, both on students’ and teachers’ parts.

This chapter focused on having a learning environment that is learner-centered, knowledge-centered, assessment-centered and community-centered. First, in regards to learner-centered environments, I’m really glad this chapter addressed students’ prior understandings, beliefs, cultural values, etc., and how teachers need to respect that and “build a bridge” between that and what they’re learning. So often, I think that students are taught they are to be a tabula rasa, so to speak, when it comes to school, and bringing in background experiences can be an embarrassment. This is also connected to the knowledge-center environment in that students build new knowledge off of prior knowledge, so it’s imperative for teachers to realize what prior knowledge students already have. An interesting point I came across was that of students becoming “metacognitive” in the sense that they know that new information should be making sense, and if it isn’t, then they should ask questions. Asking questions is difficult for a lot of students because they feel embarrassed, and by emphasizing that asking questions is part of a process, and it should feel second nature because they don’t understand, is something that I really hadn’t thought of before. Students shouldn’t just be learning math; they should be learning to think mathematically. Assessment-centered environments emphasize students’ goals when it comes to assessments, and that feedback and revision are critical. Feedback has always been important to me because how am I supposed to learn if I’m not being told that what I’m doing is good or not? My tenth grade English teacher used to give us vocabulary quizzes every week. We had to not only tell the meaning of the word, but spell it correctly and use it in a sentence correctly based on a grammar rule we were learning that week. If we got it incorrect, we had to fix it and then explain why it was incorrect. There was simply no way I wasn’t going to learn unless I didn’t do the revisions based on his feedback. I thought an interesting point this chapter introduced was community-centered environments and the effects of classroom and school communities. Everyone can probably relay a story of not asking a question for fear of seeming stupid, or having boys say you shouldn’t be in that class (I was told that freshman year of high school, when myself and another girl were in a drafting class of 24 other boys). How discouraging are those two scenarios and how detrimental are they to the learning process? (Very, would be the answer.) How much a student feels a part of the classroom, school, and wider communities is going to effect how they learn. Ultimately, though, and I’m glad the chapter addressed this, is that it’s hard to align all of these together. It’s not just going to have to be at only the classroom-level, either; it’s going to have to be a school-wide overhaul as well. And that is always a difficult thing.

Reflections on class #3

When Kristin first described our in-class “project” to make a graphic/poster/meme/comic/etc. about a question we had during our readings on information literacy/transliteracy, a mixture of anxiety and fear began to well up inside of me. I’m typically not good with time limits that are really short (timed anything are a real joy for me, let me tell you), and I’m often in a state of inferiority when I look around at all my fantastic classmates here at SI. (I’m not sucking up, I do really think you guys are awesome.) I have times where I can be witty, but those moments take time to craft; I’m not instantaneously witty or funny. (Although I’m not sure I’m ever that witty or funny, but hey, I’ll give myself the benefit of the doubt.)

But, clearly, I got through it.

And so then we got to walk around and discuss with classmates their creations and questions. I think all of the questions were extremely sound ones and I was amazed by the differences in how we created our “masterpiece;” some did comics, some graphics, a mindmap was used, and so were many memes. Many of the questions I would like to explore more, and that really just shows how complex information literacy/transliteracy is.

I think the activity with the Google Glass article was interesting because we did take it at face-value. (Although I think some of us had seen the article before, so some weren’t, but I know I should have been more cognizant of the fact that it was a shady website that it was hosted on.) All it took was a classmate to claim she had seen it on AP for the rest of us to nod in agreement. I think we were collectively…embarrassed as a class (maybe that was just me), that we’re future librarians (informationists/archivists/etc.) and it took us so long to realize this wasn’t probably the most credible source. (Somehow, I don’t think we’ll fall into that trap again!) But us (who are burgeoning information professionals) falling into that trap shows how easy it is, even for people trained to handle information, to be caught up. Imagine if you’re not really trained in information literacy…imagine how easy it would be to fall into that trap. I remember a few years ago, there was supposedly a study that was released that redheads would go extinct within a pretty short time. I had friends emailing me this article (along with a few HAHAs), and it took all of 2 minutes to discern it was false, but many many people I knew thought it was true.

Overall, I learned a great deal in this class (that I shouldn’t quit my day job to be a graphic designer is something I’ve always known but was reconfirmed), and these kind of classes that force me out of my comfort zone of lecture-based classes and into actively engaging in my learning are something I look forward to more in the future.

(Also, while doing our project, I started using a new tool someone had just told me about called Canva, which makes amazing graphics, if anyone needs that sort of thing.)