Wednesday, September 7, 2016

It's not too late to promote Banned Books Week!

Banned Books Week begins September 25, 2016, and while many school librarians are ready to promote censorship awareness, some of us are still scrambling to get ready. This happens every year, and it seems ludicrous that we all individually work so hard to develop our own thing while we could be pooling our efforts into a collective project with far and lasting reach.

Enter the Challenged Books Slide Show. Admittedly, it doesn't sound inspirational, but it is a conversation starter. Let me explain what it is, and why I am working on it today.

This project began when a fellow Connecticut librarian posted a question to our listserv community via email in the first week of September.

After many years in a middle school, I'm in a high school for Banned Books Week for the first time. I'd love to hear some ways you've celebrated this week in your high school. I'm going to meeting with the English Department on Tuesday to talk about doing something during Banned Books Week with their classes and it would be great if I could impress them by coming in with a list of excellent ideas!​

David Bilmes

I excitedly replied.

OOH! You just inspired me to think of something new. Since we are just getting started with our makerspace, I might set up a collage table with color printouts of the 100 most challenged book covers, glue, scissors, and butcher block paper. Maybe they'll come up with something creative we can display in the school.
Just a thought...

And the month flew by....

I've had my crafts table project idea on my to do list for three weeks, but it is not in place for tomorrow morning. I did start collecting the book cover images though. The American Library Association (ALA)'s Office of Intellectual Freedom is the best "list collector" for Banned Books Week. My favorite is the 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books from 2000-2009. There is a 20th century list, but most our students were born after 2000, so I  am not sure that is as relevant for them as the post-2000 list. I found that GoodReads was the best resource to find images of consistent size and quantity images, so I created a list there.

I started a spreadsheet, which would allow us to sort and manipulate information, but I didn't think that was classroom friendly.

This post, by the way, offers a glimpse into my time management issues. You see? I was just going to print pictures, but already, I created a list in GoodReads, and an unfinished spreadsheet. Printed pictures? Nope. Still don't have those.

In populating the spreadsheet, it occurred to me that it would be a good idea to include the
  • year of publication
  • page count
  • interest level
  • reading level
  • Lexile number
  • content concerns
  • description
I was really liking the spreadsheet idea, but that did not solve my picture problem. I still needed printable pictures for my makerspace idea. Printing the GoodReads List did not work - even in PDF. For some reason, titles overlapped, plus they were too small. So I decided to create a slide show, and print that. Then it occurred to me that a slideshow might be a nice instructional tool to pass along to others like David who sent the original listserv post, so I added place holders for all the columns on the spreadsheet next to each book cover image - year of publication: page count,   interest level, reading level, Lexile number, content concerns, and description.

Well, five days later, I am still trying to populate the slideshow, and today is the first day of Banned Books Week. It occurred to me on my way to the School Library Journal Leadership Institute here in Seattle that this was a perfect project to crowdsource, and this was the perfect venue to enlist collaborators. So...

That was a very long-winded request for help. If 20 school librarians tackle 5 slides, we can collectively knock off the project pretty quickly. We could have this thing ready for use in schools everywhere when students arrive on campus in the morning. Are you in?  

The resources are on the last slide (I posted them below). Use the table of contents on slide #3 to navigate.

"Book Reviews." Common Sense Media. 2015. Accessed September 25, 2015.
In a Banned Websites Awareness Day (BWAD) webinar for AASL last week, a participant cautioned me against recommending Common Sense Media curriculum for digital citizenship lessons. She explained  their book reviews were "conservative". I don't see them as conservative as much as informational. They do feature content concerns, but I think this is to help teachers and parents avoid making uninformed choices. It helps them preview resources responsibly, and preview is essential. I used this resource for the "content concerns."

"Quick Book Search." Lexile. 2015. Accessed September 25, 2015.
Self-explanatory - use search field in top right-hand corner to find Lexile number.

"Titlewave: Library, Classroom, & Digital Solutions." Follett Learning. 2015. Accessed September 25, 2015.
I happened to use this resource, but any content aggregator would work. I located the year of publication, reading and interest levels. 

Chris Harris loved the idea of keeping the spreadsheet. He thought that provided a rich pool of instructional opportunities involving the analysis of quantitative data, so I embedded it in slide number 2. 

When I pitched the idea, Elissa Malespina and Jane Lofton jumped on board. Thank you!

If anyone develops a lesson plan out of this instructional tool, please include a link on the lesson plan slide. Use the table of contents on slide #3 to navigate.

September 28, 2016 is Banned Websites Awareness Day #BWAD

From AASL’s Banned Websites Awareness Day Committee

It’s happened to all of us-- we’re at school trying to access the perfect website for a learning activity at school and.... it’s blocked.  Now what?

While banning books is commonly recognized by librarians as detrimental to the student educational experience, restricted website access isn’t on everyone’s radar.  That’s where Banned Websites Awareness Day comes in. The American Association of School Librarians (AASL) designated the Wednesday of the American Library Association’s (ALA) Banned Books Week as Banned Websites Awareness Day (BWAD, pronounced bee-wad). Its purpose is to raise awareness of how overly restrictive Internet filtering can impede student learning by blocking access to legitimate educational websites and participatory learning tools (including social media).

Overly restrictive Internet filtering is often the result of earnest efforts to comply with the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) or similar legislation, but the legislation itself is frequently misunderstood or misinterpreted. In a nutshell, CIPA requires that schools and libraries receiving E-Rate funding “block or filter Internet access to pictures that are: (a) obscene; (b) child pornography; or (c) harmful to minors (for computers that are accessed by minors).” CIPA does not enumerate a specific list of sites, and thus the decision-making authority is given to local agencies (school districts, libraries, etc.).  In 2014, ALA Washington’s Office for Information and Technology Policy (OITP) developed a helpful white paper to examine CIPA’s decade-long impact, Fencing Out Knowledge that delineated four recommendations to ALA:
  • Increase awareness of the spectrum of filtering choices.
  • Develop a toolkit for school leaders.
  • Establish a digital repository of Internet filtering studies.
  • Conduct research to explore the educational uses of social media platforms and assess the impact of filtering in schools.

In 2012, Lightspeed Systems, a school web filtering and mobile management company, published Web Filtering and Schools: Balancing IT and Educator Needs, a guide that explains in layman’s terms what CIPA does and does not require, filtering pros and cons, and best practices.  The guide’s 10 Facts About CIPA and Web Filtering points out that commonly blocked sites such as YouTube are not restricted by CIPA.

Filtering on school networks is an issue of crucial importance.  According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), CIPA itself charges schools with educating students about respectful and safe online interaction on social networking sites.  Opportunities for authentic digital literacy instruction arise when students access social networking sites in educational settings.  Permissive website access at school allows students who don’t have home Internet access to find essential resources for their personal and educational development, narrowing the digital divide that these students already may be experiencing.  Most importantly, the more openly that students can access the internet at school, the more prepared students will be when they are using the Internet independently outside of the school network.

There is plenty that you can do to bring awareness to the importance of Internet filtering, and BWAD is the perfect time to take action--small or large.

  • Contribute data:
    • Visit on your school network and click “Test Sites” to contribute data to the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University’s real-time, international record of Internet blockages.  While you’re there, take a moment to check out that live data for yourself-- it’s fascinating!  Here’s a quick link to the At-A-Glance page for the United States to get you started.
    • With your administrator’s permission, design and distribute a survey at your school about which Internet sites teachers and students feel would add to their educational opportunities.  Share the results with your school community as you and your administrator(s) deem appropriate.

  • Educate students:  Teach a lesson in your classroom or library about filtering.  Here are a few lesson plans to get you started.
    • Teaching About Freedom of Speech on the Internet, hosted by the American Bar Association and developed by a professor and student at Georgetown University.
      • Deals specifically with Internet filters in schools, school libraries and public libraries. For high school.
    • What Filters Hide: A Lesson, hosted by JEA’s Scholastic Press Rights, written by Lori Keekley and posted by JBowen.
      • Students research commonly filtered sites and interview the “gatekeeper” at their school. Linked to the Common Core Standards for high school.
    • The following sites have amazing, free digital literacy resources-- nothing quite yet on filtering specifically, but we wouldn’t be surprised if filtering lessons turn up soon!

  • Raise Awareness: Observe BWAD on September 30, 2015 and Electronic Frontier Foundation’s 404 Day on April 4, 2016 in your school and/or library with special activities, announcements, displays, promotional materials, and more.  It’s a perfect opportunity for a student committee to take the reins!

  • Update Selection Policies:  Collaborate with teachers, administrators, and other stakeholders to add Internet resources to your school library’s selection/reconsideration policy.  Gain their support with a positive and informed approach!

As champions of digital literacy, librarians are ideally situated to open this important discussion.  Let’s work together with our school communities towards broad and responsible access to educational online resources while at school.

The Federal Trade Commission provides a consumer guide to CIPA on their website. For a brief guide to CIPA’s requirements by the FCC, please click here and for ALA’s legal history of CIPA, please click here.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

A Day in the Life of a Librarian

We have several openings for school librarians in our district: two in elementary schools, and one at the high school - my counterpart, Christina Russo is retiring. In a recent interview, one candidate asked "What does an average day look like for a school librarian at New Canaan High School?" It was a great question - one I have been thinking about quite a bit.

We have new leadership in our district. I recently mapped out leadership changes over the past four years, and I realized that I have had six different supervisors in that time span. New supervisors create opportunities for self-reflection. One tends to consider what one's practice looks like through their eyes.

So back to that question, "What does an average day look like for a school librarian at New Canaan High School?" It was a question I asked myself in mid-January this year, so I conducted an experiment. On the first day of second semester, I took a photo every period of the school day, plus another one after school (since I close the library). It seemed like an efficient strategy to document activity. I found the results interesting, so I pledged to continue for a full week. I soon set alarms as reminders to capture photos.

I created a ComicLife! template to curate the photos, and posted my daily logs to Tumblr. As the first week wound to a close, I decided to stretch the experiment over a month, then I extended it until the end of the quarter - a total of 44 school days.  

Eight periods per day over 44 days makes for a lot of data points. In order to find meaning in what I was documenting, I classified my activity into five categories:
  • Co-teaching: Planning, teaching, assessing, and reflecting
  • Makerspace management: Organizing and teaching innovation
  • Library administration: Collecting, organizing, preserving resources, plus meetings
  • Helping students: One-on-one conferencing and support for learners
  • Documenting & communication: Teacher evaluation, newsletters, and social media
  • Reader's advisory: Helping the learning community select independent reading materials

The end result follows. I spent nearly 40% of my time co-teaching. Another 12% was spent assisting students individually, and reader's advisory accounted for 6% (I hope to raise this number in the future!). Altogether, 57% of my time was spent on instruction, if you include reader's advisory.  Twenty-four percent was spent on library administration and teacher evaluation, excluding makerspace management. The makerspace took up 18% of my time.

Documenting all this without compromising the outcome was probably the biggest challenge. While the photos were taken in real time, the documentation was compiled "off the clock".

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Modern Language Association's 8th edition in practice

Bob (left), and Evan - Spring 2015
Have I mentioned how much I love my colleagues?

The Modern Language Association (MLA) released it's new style manual (8th edition) last week, and today, I highlighted the changes at two department meetings - English and Social Studies. Before I say another thing, I want to thank the department chairs, Bob Stevenson and Evan Remley, who carved out time for this presentation from their very busy, last-working-meeting-of-the-school-year agenda. Thank you!

I also want to give a shout out to Joyce Valenza who wrote up an excellent summary of the changes on April 18 in her Never Ending Search blog. It is an excellent review of the changes.

Most of all, I want to thank The Modern Language Association for producing a style handbook that works for contemporary researchers. I was overjoyed (truly, I was) when I read the first page, and my enthusiasm only grew from there.

The nine elements of a citation... One potential mnemonic:
Athletes Spread Cheer Over Very New Power Dominated League
These standards address an important shift in researchers' needs. Last spring, I wrote a post about the challenges of being in the business of standardization in a world that defies standardization - Questioning Authority Control. We don't know how to properly document research for media developed during the inter-manual years (lately, every 6-7 years).

The Modern language Association developed a style manual that will work for all media by defining the nine elements of a citation. What follows is what I wrote to my colleagues about how I anticipate this will impact researchers.


Thanks for your time this afternoon. I was glad to have a chance to highlight the eighth edition of the MLA handbook for you - not because I love citations (I really, really, don't), but because I felt as though the old standards led many kids to frustration and failure. Most juniors who fail to make goal on the research paper do so because they don't properly document their research process. I am hopeful that these new standards will be more teachable, and that students will focus more on the inquiry process, close reading, and expressing original ideas. 

A few resources:

    • Here is the presentation. I only reviewed slides 27-41 with you. It is much longer than that (and still growing, I'm afraid). It will, eventually, become a video.
    • MLA's page highlighting the changes
    • Joyce Valenza's post about the changes (Joyce is a leader in my field. I learn tons from her.)

I am just starting to revise How Do I Cite, the exemplar works-cited list composed of three years worth of texted inquiries from New Canaan High School students (it's on the library website, and THE ANNEX@).

Thanks again!


So ... the presentation? It is still in development, but one can learn more from sharing a work in progress than a finished (or, as I like to call all my projects, abandoned) project. It follows. Eventually, when I permanently abandon it, I will narrate it, and post it to YouTube.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Day in the Life of a Library Program

This is just a quick follow-up to last week's post about sharing more. I got through another week of documenting A Day in the Life of a Library Program, and I uploaded those documents to Tumblr. They look like this:

Because I am writing my mid-year reflection for the district's teacher evaluation program, I wondered how my time was distributed. Since I'd been documenting this anyway, I measured it. Literally.

I broke my tasks into five categories.
  • Co-teaching (either collaborative instructional planning time or co-teaching classes)
  • Makerspace management
  • Helping students (virtually or face-to-face)
  • Reader's advisory
  • Library administration (ordering, troubleshooting, cataloging, etc.)
  • Teacher evaluation (explaining what we do)
Then I calculated how many periods I spent doing each one over the course of 10 school days, and broke that down into percentages. Here's what it looks like. 

If you want to see more, I updated our Twitter archive in Storify, and our photo uploads in our library's Flickr album. I still haven't quite figured out how to best use our Instagram account. I am thinking of using it to showcase our students' makerspace creations. Our Buffer experiment was a success. We are now scheduling our posts to hit our Google+Twitter, and Facebook accounts simultaneously along with my personal Twitter account, and I suppose this is a warning to those who follow both me and the school on Twitter that there will be lots of duplicate posts.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

More sharing this year!

If one of my new year's resolutions was to procrastinate less, I think I already failed. Tomorrow is February first and I am just now posting my new year's resolution. It's a simple one: Share more.

It isn't that I have not been sharing. I have. It's just that I've been sharing elsewhere, and neglecting to cross-post, which is pretty silly considering how many tools are available to address that issue. So I guess my resolution is to link more accounts and share more.

Transform Your School Library
Last Thursday evening, I sat in on a virtual meeting with the folks at Mackin and an impressive group of administrators, tech integrators, and librarians as Mackin kicked off its TYSL (Transform Your School Library) initiative, which, I suppose, is what kicked me into finally writing this post.

So... Here's what's been going on since August.
There are lots of other new things happening, but we've focused on what's above quite a bit this fall.

Rather than re-explain all that's happened, I will share the monthly newsletters we sent to our Parent Faculty Association (PFA) this fall. In November, we started publishing these in Smore, I will embed them as separate posts below and backdate them. The newsletters are mostly compiled from the bi-weekly news updates our principal includes in his weekly updates to the learning community (including parents). Just for kicks, we made a PDF of the first semester library updates and published it using Issuu
We've been Tweeting. After a nearly two-year quiet period on Twitter, it took me a while to get back into the swing of Tweeting regularly. My personal account remains quiet, but the school library account is pretty lively at this point. We Storify our Tweets every two or three weeks to archive our record of library activity. Our Tweets auto populate our instructional portal, THE ANNEX@, as well.

We update our Flickr album ever few weeks as well. While our Flickr account is seldom visited, we keep a running slideshow on our library website. Our students nag us when we don't update the album often enough, so we're making the assumption that they like it. :)

This weekend, we opened Instagram, Tumblr, and Google+ accounts for our library. Between the app settings on Twitter, Facebook, and Buffer, I think we can get all these accounts to cross-pollenate. We'll find out in the morning when Friday's Tweets are scheduled to release - more on that in a minute. If we miss something, we'll try with IFTTT.

Our second semester began on January 21st, 2016, and we decided to start an experiment. I am not sure how long we can keep it going, but we set alarms to remind ourselves to take snapshots of the library program in action every period of the school day (and once after school). We upload those into a Comic Life 3 template we created, and this is what it looks like (mobile-friendly version):

We are calling this our Day in the Life of a Library Program project, and for now, our Tumblr account will be used exclusively for this purpose. As long as the project continues, we will hold off on posting most of our Tweets until the end of the day when we create the day's poster, then we will Tweet the images that don't make it in to the poster. We are using Buffer to release our Tweets on a schedule to avoid overwhelming our principal, Bill Egan, who re-Tweets everything with the @NCHS_CT handle.

This brings me back to the beginning of this post. In Mackin's TYSL meeting last Thursday, Randal Heise urged participants to share news of their transforming libraries publicly and frequently, so I am following Randal's advice and sharing. :)

Happy New Library Year to All!

Monday, February 23, 2015

Video instruction

I look forward to talking about using video for instruction on Wednesday, February 25, at 5PM, Eastern Time. It’s something that has become such an integral part of my practice that I don’t often pause to think about how it impacts teaching and learning at New Canaan High School.

One of the things I love about doing these webinars is that it makes me pause and reflect on our program, and how to improve it. You will often hear me say in a webinar, “I’m not too proud of this…” or, “I wish I could figure out how to…” It’s in those moments that you all pitch in, and as a community we develop solutions to the challenges we face.  I love that.

So I’ve outlined the webinar to answer the whos, whats, whens, wheres, whys, and hows of video instruction. I realized a while back that I needed help with the how part. I know how we use video at New Canaan High School, but there are so many other creative uses! So I reached out to someone with great ideas. Emerging tech regulars may remember that I interviewed Emily Valenza in May 2014 for There's an App for That! 50 apps in 60 minutes webinar, and Emily shared her use of Koma for a video project with her elementary students at Kingsley Montessori School in Boston, MA, where she heads up the arts department and teaches K-6 students. I interviewed Emily again for this webinar, and I will include what she shared in Wednesday’s webinar. I am confident that you will love her creative ideas. Here is that interview: Webinar #47 - 50 apps in 60 minutes - Emily Valenza from michelle luhtala on Vimeo.

In the meantime, I thought I would share a few great instructional video projects. They follow in no particular order:
Printz Honor winning author, Vlog Brothers co-creator, and Nerdfighter extraordinaire John Green, launched the Crash Course site three years ago. My colleagues on the New Canaan High School faculty  - several who had (sadly) never heard of John Green – absolutely LOVE these videos!

New Canaan High School students created this amazingly powerful anti-cyber bullying video. Wow!

Emily attended the Online Education Symposium for Independent Schools in Los Angeles this January, where she saw Stephanie Castle, an AP Biology teacher at United Nations International School (UNIS) in New York City, present her use of video as an assessment tool. This inspired Emily to adapt the project for her learners, and here is the result.

hundertwasser demo - full from Kingsley Montessori on Vimeo.

A few weeks ago, I was lunching with the New Canaan High School social studies department (my lunch peeps), and I was delighted to hear them discussing their use of Amy Burvall’s Lady Gaga/French Revolution video. I spent some time with Amy a few years back at Alan November’s Building Learning Communities Conference in Boston, and I reached out right away to relay the conversation. Here is the video in question.

Finally, I am sharing a video I use with my juniors. This is a great sub-plan lesson for any second semester social studies teacher whose students are working on the research paper. It is accompanied by this in-class activity.

I hope to “see you” on Wednesday!