Wednesday, August 24, 2011

An Xtranormal Orientation

Library orientations are one of those tried and true traditions that you can practically set your watch by.  The school year stars and kids pile into the library to learn all about the four Rs:  Rules, Regulations, Reading and Resources. (Usually in that order).  This year I'm going to try to switch things up a little w/ a two part orientation.  I'll start with this video I made using Xtranormal.  I love Xtranormal.  There's just nothing else like it.  Then I'm planning a qr code scavenger hunt.  Essentially, students will scan QR Codes that lead them to specific resources, where they'll learn some stuff and find more codes, etc.  It should be fun.

One thing to note about the video is that I am planning to pause it after each question - using the answers as a springboard for discussion.  (What I'm trying to say is that all those pregnant pauses are intentional).

So... what are your orientation plans? What do you do that works? Ready? Set? Share!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Show Me The Data: Developing Plans for Library Transparency

A recent post by Doug Johnson, in which he posits that librarians are often regarded with distrust by teachers/admins, has gotten me thinking about how and why I share data.

While I like to think of my library as incredibly open, I recognize that I'm not "great" at sharing data throughout the year.  Like most librarians, I create an annual report in the spring and share it with teachers, admins and, really, anyone who will hold still long enough for me to hand them one, but my efforts to share data throughout the remainder of the year are inconsistent (at best).  This year, one of the ways I'm combating my previous half-hearted attempts is through the creation of a data wall:  a place where I can publicly follow some of Doug's advice about transparency:
Don't wait until the end of the year to file an "annual report." Keep a running list of total numbers of items circulated, students using the library, classes you've taught, etc. Make it public. If the statistics raise questions, ask them.
To be honest, I decided to do this last spring, when budget talks were running at a fever pitch and I was looking for new ways to prove my worth. To my way of thinking, transparency is a form of advocacy.  The distrust that Doug speaks of in his post is what leads budget cutters to our doors.   Doing good work simply isn't enough; we also have to make the world aware of all the good work we're doing.

Despite the fact that my gator (our school mascot) looks a whole lot like an armadillo in lederhosen, I'm pleased with the final result because it provides me with the first step in system for getting information out there.  While I've never tried to hide data about what's happening in the library, without publishing mechanisms in place, sharing it became something that I did only when a) I thought of it and b) I had time (and we all know how often that is).  What's more, my guess is that many librarians are in the same boat.  Without a system for sharing, it simply doesn't get done.

So, along with all the curriculum and collection planning I'm doing these days, I'm also constructing a data sharing plan. In addition to my data wall, I'll be posting more information about what I do, how I do it and who I do it with on my website, our MTAC's wiki and through submissions to our school system's monthly newsletter. Additionally, I'm planning to hold some contests throughout the year in which students make predictions about how many books we'll be able to buy with the amounts we're allotted or how many classes the library will see in a given month, etc. We'll have to wait and see how it all pans out.  The one thing I know for sure, however, is that, (for me anyway), it will take more than just the desire to be transparent in my practice to make it happen - it will also take a plan and a process for sharing data in order for me to realize that goal.

All of that said, I'm the first to admit that I am no expert.  I'd love to hear about how other folks share data and create a transparent library environment.  If you'd had success in the past or are trying something new this year, please let me know.  I firmly believe that when we share, we're all made better.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

What If School Was More Like This?

I ran across this video a couple of weeks ago and it has been rolling around my head ever since.  I love its wordless, captivating, 75 second message - it's been the perfect accelerant to the cognitive kindling I've been trying to spark for weeks now.  As summer officially draws to a close for me this week, I've been trying to light a fire under the mountain of to-do lists that I keep making for myself, and I think this might just be what the doctor ordered.

LEARN from Rick Mereki on Vimeo.

Every time I watch it, I think... "what if school was more like this?" What if?

What if every time we created an environment/opportunity for students we were guided by the desire to make magic; to create an experience our students will never forget; to create learning that is:
  • active
  • participatory
  • messy
  • inquisitive
  • authentic
  • joyful

 What if?

Obviously, we can't travel the 38 thousand miles, or to the 11 countries, it took to create this video as we tackle a new year with our students.  And clearly, it's tough to make magic on a fixed schedule, with no assistant, no budget and [insert obstacle here]. But, frankly, the alternative strikes me as quite a bit harder to swallow.

When I was a first year teacher, my mentor teacher asked me what I thought about giving my students the opportunity to veer away from the whole class novel in favor of choosing their own reading.  I can remember distinctly sitting on the sofa in the back of my room and saying, "I don't think I can do that."  Without judgement, she simply said, "Ok. Let's talk about what you can do, then."  It would be years before I got to the point where I could give up a prescribed common text, but her wisdom has stuck with me.

Recently, Buffy Hamilton has been speaking and writing about enchantment as a force for learning in the library and I believe this a branch from that same tree.  Her message of tapping into student passions as a means of fueling learning is one that resonates deeply with me.  That said, while I may not be able to make every learning experience look like the ones in the video or fill every lesson with enchantment, I'm definitely ready to start thinking about what I can do.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

5 Things Every School Library Website Should Have

I ran across this article the other day outlining the 5 "essentials" that every school website should have.  Naturally, it got me thinking about my own library's web presence.

I'm one of those nerdy people who actually really loves tinkering with web design. Don't get me wrong, I'm no code writer, but given a little time and a few tools, I can make, if nothing else, a huge mess good effort.  Additionally, I probably spend more time than I should poking around other school library websites too - just trolling for inspiration and such. It's easy to spot the sites that only get updated once per year.  Typically, these sites contain only a few sad elements: there's a list of the library's hours, a brief bio of the staff and, if you're lucky, somewhere between all those virtual cobwebs, you might find a description of the library's various subscription databases.  Zzzzzzzzz.

Now, I've been doing this long enough to know that the librarians who built the website described above are probably working their bifocals off.  Just because they've got a boring website doesn't mean they've got a boring library.  I know that.  I know it because I work in a school.  I know it because I visit other libraries.  I know it because I have the opportunity to peek behind the boring website to find the brilliant teacher.  I am an insider.  And I am not your website's target audience. 

That said, who is?

Seriously.  Who is looking at your library's website?  And if the answer is nobody, who do you WANT to be looking at it?  Your students?  Your (current and prospective) parents?  Teachers?  Principal?  District administrators?  Other librarians (like me!)?  Elected officials?  Other tax payers who vote on education bonds, etc?

More importantly, though, once these folks arrive at your site, does it provide them with an accurate and complete picture of what your library is all about?  By clicking your links, do they get a taste of how the work you do actually impacts student learning?  If not, it's time for a redesign. Which leads me to...

5 Things Every School Library Website Should Have:

  1. A focus on teaching:  If teaching is what you do, your website should reflect it.  Whether you do it through a a library blog, a teaching/learning wiki, a collection of slideshows, or any number of other elements, your site should showcase the LEARNING that takes place in the library.  Everybody already expects a library to have books.  Your website should show them something they don't (but should!) expect about school libraries/librarians and how they impact kids.
  2. Examples of student work:  One sure fire way to get parents to visit your site is to make it a gallery of student work. Posting student work on your site not only provides the student with an opportunity for real world publication but it also emphasizes your role as an instructional partner within the school.
  3. Opportunities for participation: If teaching students about digital citizenship and the ethical use of information is part of your mission, then your website should be an online laboratory where students get to put those skills to work. I know.  I know.  It's scary to give kids control of your library's public face, but you don't need to hand them the keys to the kingdom to do it.  There are lots of interactive web 2.0 tools, from Wallwisher to ThingLink, that provide students/parents/teachers with the chance to contribute to the library's web presence.  By making your website a collaborative space, you're also inviting your visitors to take ownership of your programs and the work that is created there.   
  4. Evolving resources for your evolving audience:  If we want our libraries to be thought of as THE place to find the most up to date, the most relevant and the most cutting edge resources, our websites need to contain resources of equally high quality.  Tired lists of out of date links will not cut it.  The resources we share on our websites need to a) be updated frequently to reflect student needs b) be directly linked to student learning and/or our school(district/state)'s mission and c) be a part of our own practice in the library.
  5. Flavor:  Finally, your website should give visitors a taste of the library experience that you have created.  If your library is a fun, noisy place filled with opportunities for kids to grow and learn, your website should reflect that.  Every library is different as a result of all the people who spend time there learning and creating, your website should offer visitors a taste of the flavor that is unique to your school library experience.

So... am I practicing what I preach?  Almost.  Since I started thinking about this, I've been working on giving my webpage an overhaul.  Although I'd already updated it with some summer reading stuff before donning my vacation gear, there were still plenty of remnants from last year cluttering up the corners.  I've still got some work to do, obviously, but that's the thing about websites: they are a perpetual work in progress.  Even so, it's almost ready for showing off at open house in (gulp) 1 week.  Obviously, some sections won't take off until students arrive and we all roll up our sleeves, as it were.  But for now, it's starting to take shape and represents the beginnings of what I hope will be a collaborative, teaching and learning focused webspace that offers my visitors access to great resources as well as a snapshot of what my library looks like in action.

As always, I welcome feedback if you decide to take a look.  What's more, I'd love to see other examples.  What's your favorite school library website?  And what makes it so special?  Please, please, please share! I'm anxious to see the work that inspires you!