Monday, April 30, 2012

10 Good, 1 Bad - Guess What Sticks in my Mind?

Last week was a whirlwind of activities. The ironic thing is that, when I look back on how the week went, I can't help but focus on the things that didn't go as planned. There was one, particularly large gaffe on my part that I feel horribly guilty about, even still. I totally confused the date of the annual TDSB East Region Heritage Fair - I thought it was on Friday, April 27 but it was actually the day before. On the Thursday, I was at the NE4 Boys Book Club celebration - the organizers phoned my school to ask where I was. By the time I was able to reach a phone, it was too late for us to attend. I had to tell the eleven students I was scheduled to bring that we weren't going and it was my fault. I hated seeing their jaws drop in surprise and disappointment. They were all pretty stoic after the initial shock but I still felt bad.

So why do I fixate on the negative rather than the positive? There were a lot of great and wonderful things that happened this past week. Here's just a glimpse:

Tuesday, April 24, 2012
NE4 Inaugural Red Maple Celebration

Six school from my area converged on the Malvern Branch of the Toronto Public Library to celebrate the 2012 Red Maple Award nominees. School teams were given one of the books and had to create a marketing campaign for their title. All of the projects were "insanely awesome", as I told the group and my sentiments were echoed by Shaun Chen, our trustee. We had actual marketing experts judge the projects. The winners were Milliken P.S.'s Half Brother team and Thomas L. Wells P.S's Fly Boy team. My school group received an honorary mention for the best video book trailer.

The creativity oozed from every project. In addition to the marketing campaigns (with prizes donated by the Ontario Library Association), we had a Skype Battle of the Books talk with Acadia Jr. H.S. in Winnipeg, Manitoba. This was my school's second year chatting with Mrs. Gibson's group of students but for many of the other schools, this was their first time doing something like this.

The event ended with a presentation by the charismatic, engaging, and off-beat speaker and author Robert Paul Weston. Mr. Weston held the attention of all 118 students as he explained to them his writing process and how fairy tales are just a tame shadow of the original versions. My students showed them the book trailer they created for his novel, Dust City and he even tweeted the link. My students saw this and were thrilled that he liked it.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012
GTA Resource Fair Shopping
Track and Field Day

I have written before on this blog about how I always take students with me when I shop for books for my school library. The five students that accompanied me actually sacrificed a half-day of track and field so they could attend. (Our school's track and field date was supposed to be Monday but the rain and snow forced it to be moved to Wednesday.) They made such wise purchases and great selections. Anywhere I go while at the fair, vendors and fellow teacher-librarians ask me, "So where are your kids?" Someone told me that my tradition of bringing students inspired them to invite their own students. We kept on budget and on time, making it back to complete a half-day of track and field.

Thursday, April 26, 2012
NE4 Boys Book Club Celebration

This was my first time at the local boys literacy event. I ran a break-out session that was titled "Drama / Role-Play" but was actually the Pokemon Junior Adventure RPG. I had my hand-made version of Telestrations ready just in case the boys were responsive to the game, but I didn't need to use my alternate because they loved it! The first group didn't want to leave for lunch. The second group wanted to continue past the time allotted as well.

The boys were intensely reading and scrutinizing the cards, deciding which Pokemon was the best to pick as their starter. They were doing mental math to calculate their hit points and damage as they battled. They were marvelous!

The guest author at this event was P.J. Haarsma. He has written the Softwire series of sci-fi novels and has also created a MMORPG called "Rings of Orbis". It tied in perfectly with what I was doing during my session, just in a physical vs virtual environment.

So let me return to my original question: why, despite all these successes (including a nomination for a board award for excellence in education) am I preoccupied with the one part that didn't go as planned?

Monday, April 23, 2012

What makes a good supply TL?

Last week's blog post indicated that I'm going to be out of the building for many upcoming days. I'm lucky to have a retired teacher-librarian covering my classes as my supply teacher. (She was actually the teacher-librarian at one of my practicum placement schools when I was a student-teacher in teachers' college eons ago!) I know that I'm leaving the school library, its program, collection and students in good hands.

What does it take to be a good occasional teacher-librarian? This is a tricky question. At my school this year, we've had some concerns with some of the supply teachers we've had in to run our regular classes. We try to hire from our list of regulars, but some are unavailable because they are doing LTOs (long-term occasional assignments) or they are limited in how many days they can work because that will affect their pensions, or they are so good that other schools book them far in advance. We've had supply teachers come in to teach that have spent class time chatting on their cell phones, sitting at the teacher's desk reading instead of helping the students, and showing up late when they were supposed to pick up a class. (I will refrain from telling the horror stories of the supply teacher that initially covered for me before they booked an LTO for my very first maternity leave - let me just say that it was so bad that my fellow teachers were calling me at the hospital to complain about my replacement!)

What does it take to be a good supply TL? Let's first start with what it takes to be a good supply teacher in general. There are a lot of articles in teacher magazines, union publications and websites that provide detailed suggestions. My list is not meant to be exhaustive, or well-researched. Just off the top of my head, I'd suggest:
  • Try to follow the lesson plans.
  • Be there - physically and mentally.
  • Respect the students, the room, and the routines, as best you can.
Being a supply teacher librarian brings an added set of complications. You've got to handle book exchange, often with a computer program you haven't been trained to use. (Heaven help you if the power shuts off and the system goes down!) You've got a variety of classes to cover so you only have 30 or 40 minutes to learn a few names in the group before they leave and another mob takes their place. Most teacher-librarians don't just "teach library" and so you've got to run around to different rooms (like the computer lab) and do a variety of different subjects that you may or may not be familiar with (such as ICT).

I was a supply teacher before I was hired permanently. It was a great experience and one I'd recommend all teachers experience before receiving their own class. Going in "cold turkey" to a new school and class can teach you a lot about classroom management and organization. In fact, it was because I supply taught in several school libraries that inspired me to take my Librarianship Part 1 Additional Qualification course early in my career. (It was also because the course was located close to my house, but I digress.) I hope that the teacher-librarians I covered for back in the past were pleased with my work. Now that roles are reversed, what would I say to supply teachers coming to cover for me?

1) Experience helps, and if you lack it, find a friendly face on staff to help.

I try to indicate in my lesson plans the names of student library helpers or teachers that know how to check out a book or operate the circulation system software. Kudos if you know how. Be cautious but willing to learn if you don't know which end of a scanner is which or the difference between the ISBN barcode and library barcode.

2) Communicate with me.

I had a supply teacher once write "Great plans. Great day. Thanks" on my plans and then I heard from an EA that classes were out of control and the check-outs were all messed up. Let me know if there were any snags so I can try to rectify them when I return. If a lesson went in a different direction than the original intent, that's okay as long as I know how it went.

3) Tidy the library (unless you have no clue what Dewey means).

This links with the third suggestion for regular occasional teachers. A colleague was dismayed to find spilled paint in her cupboard and sticky glue plastered all over the place after a supply teacher taught art with her students. Pushing in chairs is nice. Shelving books is wonderful - IF they are put in the right spot. (Mis-shelved books are a pain to find and re-do properly. Just put them on the book cart neatly if you don't know how to do it.)

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Princess Brigade

Things are going to get very busy in the next few weeks. I am planning/participating/attending the following events:
  • first annual NE4 FoS Red Maple Celebration
  • Forest of Reading Voting Day
  • spring TDSB GTA Resource Fair
  • NE4 Boys Book Club Celebration
  • TDSB East Region Heritage Fair
  • TCAF (Toronto Comic Arts Festival)
  • NE4 FoS Silver Birch Quiz Bowl and Celebration
  • second annual elementary/secondary GN Club Gathering
  • Manitoba Library Association Conference
Today's blog post will focus on something run-of-the-mill, regular, and routine: kindergarten book exchange.

My kindergarten book exchange routine involves participating in a "carpet activity" (which changes every month) while small groups receive their name card and search for their books to sign out. When everyone's borrowed a book, we clean up the carpet task and then do our lesson for the day. I have a specific group of girls that I allow to choose their books first because it takes them so long to select. In my mind, they are known as "The Princess Brigade" because the only books they want are princess books. They are notoriously hard-to-please. They already know that 398.2 is the number where they can find fairy tales but they are rather particular about the type of princess books they want.

I just finished reading Chapter 6 (Cultural Models: Do You Want to be the Blue Sonic or the Dark Sonic?) of James Paul Gee's great book, What Video Games Have To Teach Us About Learning And Literacy. The chapter, in Gee's words, "is about the ways in which content in video games either reinforces or challenges players' taken-for-granted perspectives on the world." (page 146).

These 4-year-old and 5-year-old girls have a very precise, well-defined opinion about what a "proper" princess should be. For them, their ideal princess is blonde, blue-eyed, and wears pretty dresses and jewels. The challenge is that many of my books do not conform to their narrow definition of princess. As Gee says, "A number of pervasive cultural models about gender have become conscious to people thanks to the fact that these models have been openly challenged in society." (page 150). Many of my fairy tale books depict heroines of different cultural backgrounds. A lot of the stories portray the princesses as more active, less passive, and stress their intellect and kindness rather than their beauty.

I'm selling and these girls aren't buying.

The class ECE and I will show these girls all of these wonderful stories and the students reject them. I read them books like this year's Blue Spruce award nominee Kiss Me, I'm a Prince, about an enchanted prince who wants a girl to kiss him but she declines because she wants the freedoms of childhood rather than the restrictions of royal duties. They don't want their cultural models to be challenged. Heck, even the latest Disney Princesses like Tiana from The Princess and the Frog does not meet with their approval. They re-borrow the same books over and over again and insist I buy some "better" books.

What's a teacher-librarian to do?

Monday, April 9, 2012

Before a movement becomes a bandwagon

My daughter's annoyed. She loves The Hunger Games and we read all three books together before the movie premiered. She and I saw the movie together on the opening day, with another friend of hers. Since then, her classmates are all "Hunger Games fans", despite the fact that they had neither read the books nor seen the movie. This irritates my girl severely.

"How can they be fans? They aren't real fans! They don't even know the story!" she rants.

My girl at the movies with her book.

I nod my head in understanding. I first discovered the Twilight saga November 17, 2007, thanks to a book review written by my friend Martha Martin for The Teaching Librarian, the magazine of which I am an editor. I knew about Edward and Bella long before Robert Pattison and Kristin Stewart played them on the silver screen. I have been to Twilight conventions where some attendees have never read the books and this surprises me. I have the same reaction as my daughter but I'm less vocal - how can they be fans?

A corny photo my friend Gianna took of me in my school library.

When something I care deeply about becomes "adopted" by mainstream society, it causes a mixed reaction inside for me. Part of me is delighted that more people are discovering this wonderful thing; part of me is dismayed by the shallowness of the "newly-converted" that do not seem to understand all the subtleties, nuances and history of the topic. Is that a bit elitist? Does that suggest a superiority complex for those who were aware of this "magic" before the rest of the world? I don't want it to be. I think it's society's obsession with what's popular that drives me bonkers. We "Frankenstein" concepts and ideas until they are but empty shells of the original.

The same thing is stirring in me with regards to using video games in education. We have a new member on our Gaming Educators Minecraft multi-player server. Her character name is Technascribe and she is very nice. Since joining our crew, she's built a jungle city reminiscent of the Ewok home-world. We've had a great time rediscovering all the neat things in the place we've created as we have shown our new colleague around our world. She uses Minecraft at her school in the U.S. and it appears like she's had a lot of fun playing with us. She doesn't feel like a Johnny-come-lately. I don't think I'd object to having teachers completely new to Minecraft come to try things out in a safe and welcoming environment, as long as their intent is "pure". I think I'm concerned about the folks that would want to join our server as a "feather in their cap" so they can make some claim to being a "gaming educator pioneer" for the prestige rather than for the joy and learning. The "Negative Nancy" in me worries about what will happen if the games-based learning (GBL - it already has an acronym of its own) really starts to take off. I've talked about this a bit already in this blog when I was reflecting on the webinar that Liam, Denise and I gave for the TLVirtual Cafe. Maybe I'm counting my chickens before they're hatched. After all, the amazing Doug Peterson wrote a great blog post about gaming that suggests that it won't be the next big thing because people need to find "work-arounds" to make it possible in their schools. Having just said that, however, I sense that the mood is shifting - people want to do innovative things and want to "borrow ideas" from games.Even as I was searching for Doug's tweet, I found this in my Twitter stream that @snbeach retweeted: "Join me next week for my webinar How to Use the Video Game Model to Build Curriculum Units".

Video game "model"?
Build curriculum units?
Now can you see why I'm nervous?

Monday, April 2, 2012

Do it anyway

Sometimes, I prevent myself from making posts because of the potential it has to offend. I am keenly aware that things you say online can come back to "bite you in the butt", especially if your comment appear critical of a particular group or policy or practice. I have this printed and posted at home and at school, to remind me why I bother and why I need to persevere.

(written by Bishop Muzorewa in Zimbabwe, Africa)

If you do good, people will accuse you of ulterior motives.
Do good anyway.

Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable.
Be honest and frank anyway.

People are unreasonable, illogical and self-centered.
Love them anyway.

The biggest people with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest people with the smallest minds.
Think big anyway.

People really need help but may turn against you if you help them.
Help people anyway.

Give the world the best you have and you may get kicked in the teeth.
Give the world the best you've got anyway.

What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight.
Build anyway.