Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Long term impact of reading to children

I saw this article from BBC--"Reading to children has long impact"-- and my first reaction was "duh....."  But then I stopped to consider maybe everyone wasn't as atuned to reading problems and difficulties as I am.  I see this every day.

The article talks about when parents or caregivers read to children early on, the impact lasts well into the teen years,  The difference can be reading levels as much as 6 months ahead  for those who had been read to.  And the parental involvement in reading overrode other social difficulties that could be present.  That fact alone speaks volumes.

I know it's hard to find time and energy to read and read again.  I was a single mom when my daughter was young and I can tell you some nights it took all I had just to read a few stories.  But I did it.  The house was a disaster and papers needed to be graded, but my daughter was my priority.  I don't want to sound like I was a saint.  Not at all.  But I did try to make reading a fun, special Mommy/ daughter time.  And now I have proof those exhausting nights of "just one more story, Mommy" were worth it!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Using Google effectively

I read a lot of articles from Mashable--a site devoted to new ideas in cyberspace. And I found this great infographic on using Google properly. I think I might make it into a poster to display in my library.

The page covers all the basics like using quotation marks, not asking full questions and the Boolean terms. But I especially like the section that says to be sure not to rely on Google alone--you need to check library databases as well.

Too many students these days just try to find information through Google and that's it. This article says that less than 25% of students can perform a well executed search.  And especially for academic research, the results can be less than spectacular.   Students don't seem to realize there's tons of info out there just waiting to be found but it's sorted and indexed through a database.

Hope this helps you too!

How to Use Google infographic from Mashable.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Similes and Metaphors in Music

Stumbled on the cute idea via Pinterest--great website but the biggest timesucker of all times!! You can "pin" pictures and videos to a virtual bulletin board to hang on to them. As I said, great but you get started and all of a sudden, WOW it's HOURS later!

Anyway, I found this great little video lesson on similes and metaphors. I worry about the copyright issues of the songs and lyrics since it's posted on the web. I didn't time the clips but if they are less than 30 seconds, it's okay. You could do the same thing and house it on a district server.

Such a cute idea! Enjoy.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving Break!

Our school district generously gives us the whole week off for Thanksgiving.  Actually when we had the last three days of the week off, our Mon/ Tues attendance was so bad, it wasn't worth being there.  So now we have the whole week.

I think I'm going to take a digital break too the rest of this week and recharge my batteries.  I love my blog, but I feel like I'm becoming too negative in some of my comments so perhaps it's time to step back and chill out for a few days. 

I don't know about you, but I am so anxious for the break......have way too much to do, too many books to read and too many places to be, but isn't that what holidays are for?

Talk to you next week.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Hunger Games movie trailer

Okay, I'm sure by now you've seen this movie trailer, but on the off chance you haven't, take a look. I like the scenery and costumes and the young lady playing Katniss might actually do better than I originally thought. I'm keeping my fingers crossed on this movie--it looks good so far. This is one story that Hollywood better not mess up!

Take a look--what do you think?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Gaming in the library

As much as I hate to disagree publicly with a fellow Texas librarian, this blog post really irritated me.  His argument is that a permissive gaming policy is a good thing for libraries, especially high school libraries, to adopt.  I really couldn't disagree more.

He mentions concerns I would immediately raise--the lack of computers, ditching class to spend the hour playing instead of working.  My library has 44 computers on the floor and most mornings all of them are full with students who need to finish something before the bell.  How can I justify letting a gamer hog a computer when a student needs to complete a graded assignment?  And I spend a good portion of my day --way too much of it, in fact, sending kids back to class who were sent here to finish an assignment and instead they choose to play Minecraft (the game the blogger addresses.)

With all the concern about testing and dropping scores and lack of time for students, is this the best use of our time?  I know--there's the argument about games teaching leadership, cooperation, etc,etc, etc.....  Okay, I can see it being a part of a teacher supervised lesson. I've used them myself!  But I don't want the library to turn into a gaming parlor.

Part of my hesitation is what I've had to deal with at my school.  When I first came here, this library was a zoo.  Students wouldn't come in here to work--it was loud, students ran around yelling, throwing things--you get the picture.  It was worse than the behavior in the commons.  Every computer was taken up by a gamer.  And because games were allowed, kids would try to see where else they could go on the computers-porn was rampant in here.  The library was the joke of the school.

Now five long years later, this library functions as it should.  Students come in here to work and yelling is not tolerated.  Gaming is also not tolerated.  And because trying to get to a game is "against the rules," I don't have any trouble with anything worse. 

And I have another serious problem with saying games are okay--if students have enough free time in the day to play games (that aren't part of a teacher designed lesson) then perhaps their schedule isn't rigorous enough.  Aren't we all trying to add rigour to our curriculums? I mean, after all, America is falling down in the ranking worldwide in terms of education.  Or perhaps we need to look at the grades of those very students.  I would imagine there's room for improvement.

So count on me to firmly say,  "NO games in my library."

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Reading fiction

Okay, I love it when an article comes along right when I need to read it. After my ranting about "books dying", I found this essay about why we read fiction.   The author talks about a book I've not read but the ideas about are universal.  Why read fiction?  Too many people think it's a waste of time.  But the details, the stories, the universal truths found in fiction stories bring us together, remind us to be human. 

Too many times I feel guilty at the end of the day if I want to read.  I mean, I'm around books all day, right?  But as any librarian can tell you, there's little, if any, time to read at work.  I read less now than I did when I was a classroom teacher and most people don't believe me.  But this author shows how--even as a busy father with two children under the age of two, he found time to read a book.  And if he can then some can I.

It reminds me of something I saw years ago.  If a person reads just 15 minutes a day, you can finish a book.  My math skills are poor so I don't remember all the numbers, but it was something like 15 minutes times 60 words per minute times four for an hour........or close to that. (I wish I  had known how much math I would really need in my life--I would have paid much more attention!!!!)

And I could have used this article with my boss--not only are books not dying out, we should all be reading every day.

Monday, November 14, 2011


So the purpose of a blog is to share ideas--both professional and personal--and today I need to vent some personal anger. I wasn't around school one day last week and my boss brought a community member by to see the library. My principal asked my assistant to explain to our community member what we did in the library since "books are dying out." WHAT???

And of course, I wasn't there to defend my job, my profession and my passion. The first question I would have asked him was if he ever even looked at the circ reports I send every six weeks. The first six weeks this year we checked out 900 more books than the first six weeks last year. 900!!! Doesn't seem like books are dying out to me.

Granted, most of our research takes place digitally now. I'm teaching a series of lessons to some freshmen about the digital resources we have available. Some of our resources are databases and some are online BOOKS!!! Again, doesn't look like books are dying out.

And the other comment that really irritated me was that kids were using "Kindles and those kinds of things." Excuse me? Has anyone looked at our student population? We are not a wealthy school, and I don't see too many students using Kindles, Nooks or any ereader device. Phones yes--ereaders no. Ask any librarian about the current ereader issues--those devices are made for libraries to use easily and we are trying to figure out which way to go. But with our limited funding these days, we can't afford to make a mistake so it's worth the time to investigate. And therefore, the public perception is we are out of date and useless since we only have books......sigh.....

I tell people over and over again--the stories will be there; it's the delivery medium that's changing. We're in the midst of as big of a change these days as in the days of the printing press. Some people believed it would signal the end of mankind as we know it. And we survived. As we will survive the digital age. Even after things settle in and a standard of digital writing is set, books will still be around--and must be interesting to hold our attention.

I can tell I'm angry about this topic--I'm rambling. But it's very disheartening to feel like your boss doesn't support-- or even care-- about your job and how librarians can help students. I know what I can do and I spread the word as much as I can through reports, stories and collaboration with teachers. But I'm at a dead end now.

What else can I do to share what I can do as a teacher librarian to help our students?

Friday, November 11, 2011

Veterans Day 2011

Thank you to everyone who has ever served in our nation's armed forces. We owe our freedoms to you all.

US Department of Veteran's Affairs website--with lesson ideas and information.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Sad news and budget cuts.....

from the Austin American Statesman dated 11/1/11:

More cuts to school jobs expected
More than 60 percent of Texas school districts expect further staffing reductions next year as they grapple with state budget reductions, according to a survey by school finance consultant Moak, Casey & Associates.
Almost 9,600 school district jobs — one-third of which were classroom teachers — were eliminated this year by the survey respondents, which serve 39 percent of the state's students. More jobs are expected to be lost next year because schools are relying on some one-time federal money to prop up their budgets this year and some districts will lose additional state aid next year, the school districts report.
The Legislature this year underfunded schools by $4 billion in basic aid and cut $1.3 billion from grant programs that paid for full-day prekindergarten, assisted students struggling to pass state standardized tests and more.

I don't know whether to laugh or cry.  We're already struggling this year to stay at the same levels of service and proficiency as in the past and now we may be facing more cuts?  As my dad used to say, "You don't need more people; just get bigger sticks."  Maybe not politically correct but appropriate for this situation.

I'm seeing classes of 30 in English and English teachers about to drop from trying to keep up with grading.  I see our elective teachers without a conference period every other day.  And for me, I'm trying to run a library for a school population of 2000 with one assistant.

 I should consider myself lucky.  I hear of too many other schools where librarians have no help, including our middle schools.  I used to be a middle school librarian, and I don't know how in the world those librarians are managing to function.  I know they must grudgingly close the doors some days so they can go teach.  Which is worse?  Not being able to teach a class? Or going to teach but closing the library to do so?

Yet on the flip side, some of our reorganization in our district seems to me to be counter productive.  I'm now considered a part of the tech department, and I've been requested to attend functions that pull me out of the library at least three times already this semester.  The number of subs needed to cover these meetings could have paid the salary for my assistant. I'm left to wonder--where's the logic in this?   

I sometimes wonder if this is the handwriting on the wall--how people see the library and how we function.  Or is it part of a bigger picture--the lack of support for education in general?  I'm not sure, but I know teachers and librarians are stretched to the limit at this point.  Our children deserve better than we are giving them. 

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

LibGuides growing

I saw a great article on the forum for Springshare, parent company for LibGuides.  At this point in time over 200,000 LibGuides have been created with more than 1.3 million pages of content.  I've talked about LibGuides before, but these statistics just reinforce my love for the site.  This many librarians can't be wrong!

In this day and age of Internet access to information, librarians need to be able to help kids and adult patrons find the kind of information needed to solve reference issues.  I know I've seen a huge upward swing in the use of our databases since I've been using LibGuides.  And in this time of budget issues, the more I can prove a site is being used, the more likely I'll have the money to keep using it. 

And for those times when I don't have a database site handy, I can search the Springshare site for suggested resources from other campuses.  I have an IB Spanish class that has a unit on Chicano artists.  I really don't have the specialized resources for this type of assignment.  But a few minutes on Springshare enabled me to put together a detailed, professional website for the project.  Teacher was happy; kids were happy and I was happy.  Win/ Win all the way around!

Thank you LibGuides--here's to more continued success.  And I'll keep doing my part to get you to 300,000 guides!  :)

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Importance of Punctuation

Here's a cute 30 second video illustrating the importance of punctuation.  I used to have students do something similar to this by acting out the punctuation from a piece of poetry or prose.  It was always a great lesson!

 But in our digital times, you could have students do something similar to this with Animoto or Photostory.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Yet another reason I love Noodletools!

This article from School Library Journal describes a presentation from Debbie Abilock, co-owner of Noodletools, the premier citation site available as far as I'm concerned. Not only does Debbie help students understand the basics behind citations instead of focusing on the trivial details like punctuation, the site also offers search tips and lesson ideas for teachers who teach research lessons.

This particular presentation  talked about using specific search engines to find answers to specific questions rather than just relying on Google for everything. Teaching kids to think about their research before they start searching is another tip. This is probably the hardest part of a research lesson. The computer is like a siren calling to students to jump on and find the answer--when sometimes they don't even know what the question is!

The presentation gave some specific helpful hints even for a search engine like Google. For example I didn't know this--When searching for information between a number range, use two dots between the years or numbers rather than a hypen. So for example, if you want to find out the number of major hurricanes that took place in Florida, type in "major hurricanes Florida 1996..2010" into your search."

All in all sounds like an excellent presentation and I'm sorry I missed it! Thanks to SLJ for the write up.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Spy School

Spy School by Stuart Gibbs--my most recent book review submitted to School Library Journal

grades 6-10

Ben Ripley, self described nerdy math genius, receives a mysterious summons to join the Spy School, a secret recruitment arm of the CIA. Since his life’s ambition is to become a spy, he is thrilled by the offer. But once at the school, Ben finds it to be a very different sort of place than any other.

His introduction and initial assessment upon arrival involves ninjas, flying bullets, and Erica, the most beautiful girl he has ever seen. His first encounter with a fellow student is a request to hack into the computer mainframe because the rumor mill says Ben supposedly has great cryptography skills. Later that night another secret agent breaks into Ben’s room to kidnap him.

It turns out someone keeps leaking sensitive information and Ben’s recruitment to the spy school was set up as a ploy to find the leak in the CIA and the school. Using a cover story of cryptography makes him a perfect target for SPYDER, the organization of rogue double agents, who have infiltrated the school. Most of the adults at the school are so inept and clueless that Ben and Erica, working together with the help of their fellow students, find the mole and save the school from being destroyed by a giant bomb hidden in a secret passageway.

Twists and turns in the plot keep the reader guessing the identity of the mole until the very end. The story, over the top funny, combines Alex Rider’s espionage skills with a huge dose of the sarcasm of Artemis Fowl. Subtle digs at the stuffiness of a federal agency and the romance of spying abound throughout the story; at one point Ben is called a “Fleming—someone who comes here actually thinking he’s going to be James Bond.” Readers looking for a funny story, even if they aren’t fans of spy novels, will enjoy it. The book ends with a letter, fully redacted of all sensitive information, to the Director of Internal Investigations recommending Ben’s continued attendance at the school, leaving room for a sequel or two in the future.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Endangered Minds

Nicholas Carr's article yesterday reminded me of a book I had to read for my NJWP certification.  The book was called Endangered Minds by Jane Healy (link courtesy of Amazon). It was originally published in 1990 and I'm not sure how many people read it today.  But that long ago, Ms. Healy was talking about some of the same issues as Carr's current article.

I remember the one point that stuck with me had to do with television viewing habits of kids.  My daughter was young at the time and I had let her--matter of fact, encouraged her-- to watch shows like Sesame Street if she watched tv.  Well, Healy's assertion about these sorts of shows contributing to our changing brains really scared me!  All I could think was "What have I done???"  The short, quick bursts on these shows are  not allowing developing brains to grow and develop the plasticity needed for long term concentration and reading.  And I had thought I was being such a good mom by only letting her watch educational tv!

The short catchy bits of Sesame Street and shows like it were just the beginning.  This same generation now uses the Internet regularly and now the Internet is being blamed for the same thing.  This generation doesn't stand a chance!  Too much skimming rather than long, deep reading prevents us from developing the skills we need to read in depth.   Our reading skills are wide rather than deep.  And while skimming is a valuable skill for researching, it isn't always going to work for reading. 

So the question for me remains---what have we done to our children?? Do we need to worry about what sort of brains are humans going to have in the near future?  Will we lose the ability to think deeply about topics? 

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Nicholas Carr keynote speech at AASL

While I wasn't able to attend AASL this year, I followed along via Twitter.  I was interested in the responses to Nicholas Carr's keynote speech with a title similar to his recent article in Atlantic Monthly--Is Google Making Us Stupid? Some interesting points in his article do make one stop and think about what's happening to our brains in the age of the Internet. 

Most people find it hard these days to concentrate on reading for long periods of time.  I know I see this in kids every day.  "Reading is hard," and "I don't like books--they're too long" are comments I hear on a regular basis.  Carr's article points out that people tend to skim when reading online--bouncing along the surface like "a jet ski" as they look for information rather than reading something indepth.  Hyperlinks added to text don't help either--those tempting links are more than one can resist sometimes and then the distractions begin.  I can't count how many times I've been looking for one thing and ended up somewhere else---and still don't know what I originally was looking for.

Carr ends his article with a comparison to the hue and cry that resulted from the invention of the printing press--people in that time thought the world was changig and intellectual laziness would result.  And we know that didn't happen.  So maybe this is the same thing.

But I must admit I see changes in children's reading habits and not for the better...