Monday, June 24, 2013

Independent School Magazine: The New School Library

So many people, even at our own schools, don't really know what we do. In this article we tried to help non-librarians at Independent schools form more current views of school librarianship and understand how librarianship and school libraries have evolved into the school centers they are today.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Pondering E-books, Memory, and Moonwalking
Found on

I am fascinated by the recent articles about relating current brain research and reading e-books, like this article from Scientific American by Ferris Jabr, who writes the following:
Beyond treating individual letters as physical objects, the human brain may also perceive a text in its entirety as a kind of physical landscape. When we read, we construct a mental representation of the text in which meaning is anchored to structure. The exact nature of such representations remains unclear, but they are likely similar to the mental maps we create of terrain—such as mountains and trails—and of man-made physical spaces, such as apartments and offices. Both anecdotally and in published studies, people report that when trying to locate a particular piece of written information they often remember where in the text it appeared. We might recall that we passed the red farmhouse near the start of the trail before we started climbing uphill through the forest; in a similar way, we remember that we read about Mr. Darcy rebuffing Elizabeth Bennett on the bottom of the left-hand page in one of the earlier chapters.
In most cases, paper books have more obvious topography than onscreen text. An open paperback presents a reader with two clearly defined domains—the left and right pages—and a total of eight corners with which to orient oneself. A reader can focus on a single page of a paper book without losing sight of the whole text: one can see where the book begins and ends and where one page is in relation to those borders. One can even feel the thickness of the pages read in one hand and pages to be read in the other. Turning the pages of a paper book is like leaving one footprint after another on the trail—there's a rhythm to it and a visible record of how far one has traveled. All these features not only make text in a paper book easily navigable, they also make it easier to form a coherent mental map of the text. 
The article is much longer and points to other areas where e-reading is often less desirable than reading the printed page, but this area stuck me the most.
During Thanksgiving weekend of 2011, I read Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer. I often marvel at those people with fabulous memories and I wonder how they do it. How do you memorize so many numbers of Pi? How do you memorize cards during card tricks and gambling? One technique that Foer shares from the centuries of memory masters  (he calls contemporary ones mental athletes) is that they visualize a home or a building they know really well and place their memories in locations in the house (or memory palace). Then, they can tour through the house and have this mental map, which gives context to the details they are memorizing. Sometimes instead of a home, mental athletes will image something else, a streetmap they know well, or the human body, "so long as there is some sense of order that links one locus to the next, and so long as they are intimately familiar" (97). One person could have many memory palaces, one for each thing being remembered.

This type of memorization technique must be somehow related to the "mental maps" above that Jabr writes about in Scientific American. Perhaps the physical space of a book naturally helps our brains remember the stories better. Thinking of a book as a structure, or memory palace, and knowing where events happen, and what details occur on what page, probably helps with remembering and context. I wonder if the memory masters Foer writes about prefer e-books or print books for learning.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Teaching Citing: The Importance of Individual Attention

This month I spent a lot of time assessing some of what I teach the kids. I haven't done a lot of this in the past, and I am seeing the the fruits of my labor now. Believe me, it has been a lot of new work. But it is so worth it! Here is an overview:

 A teacher asked me to grade some of her works cited sheets from her seniors, and while grading I realized we were failing in how we were trying to teach them how to cite using NoodleTools. Maybe failing is too strong a word.. Some students did well, some didn't, either because they didn't put in the effort, or they didn't know how. They also didn't know I'd be grading it, so senioritis could be part of the problem.

In response, I changed tactics this year with how I teach citing to 9th graders. It is now much more individual in approach. As we embarked on our third project of the year, I did show them briefly how to cite reprinted articles - the last new piece of citing we do as a group. But instead of spending a lot of time on it, I made some quick citing videos: What is a Reprint and How to Cite it, and How to Cite from Bloom's Literary Reference Online. Then, as I did in two other projects this year, I gave them individual feedback online in NoodleTools to their working bibliographies.  I told them if their sites weren't academic, I told them if they didn't understand how to cite the items. I gave them feedback online, and met with several individually either on their free time or in class "workshops" where they could work at their own pace and ask either me or their teacher for help. Then I had them turn in a paper works cited to me and I graded the 120 works cited lists using a rubric which included citing skills from our few years together.

The kids enjoyed this new approach and individualized instruction. Who wants to listen to a lesson about citing or do citations in the abstract? They need to know it when they need it, and I need to be there for them. They have to know when to ask for help - and what to ask. I got to know many of them much better, and I feel like they trust me and know I care about them. They know citing is not exciting, but they also know it is one of my responsibilities to help them understand why and how  to do it. I am excited to see how their skills last as they continue in the upper school. Will their lists of Works Cited be as dismal as the ones I graded from our seniors? Or will this new "worshop" approach work better for them?

I am also in the midst of grading 10th grade blogs. Each 10th grader made blogs during a UN Simulation activity, and I am part of the grading team. I just make sure they are citing quality sources and using proper Creative Commons images on their blogs, with appropriate captions. The tenth graders with more research and Creative Commons experience are doing better than the others, demonstrating that practicing information literacy and digital ethics helps you over time.

An interesting side observation:
The most important part of citing is knowing what you are looking at and trying to cite. For the first time this year I had several students think they had the paper copy of a newspaper article for example, because they had printed it out. So they chose print, when actually they were citing a database newspaper article. Interesting.. I long for the day when none of this will matter anymore.