Monday, March 25, 2013

Reprimanding Adults

This weekend, I attended an Ontario School Library Association (OSLA) council meeting. It was lengthy but productive, and as we were packing up to go, I asked our vice-president @KitchenerD and the OLA director for their opinion on a digital/ethical question. They provided some thoughtful responses and suggested that I blog a bit about it.

In the news lately, a tweet sent by a person offended by a conversation overheard at a conference led to the firing of two people, including the person who made the tweet. The links above are for two separate news articles on the subject. I'm going to avoid the topic of sexism in the technology industry or using social media for shaming, but instead focus on this question: what do you do when a fellow adult is doing something you think is reprehensible and needs admonishing?

If it were a teacher with a student misbehaving, the response is easy - speak to them directly, tell the student to stop and/or point out the undesirable behavior. I think it's "easy" because there's a power equation at work; teachers have more clout than students and can discipline a student within reason without repercussions. (I say within reason because I've heard of stories of school staff getting hassled by parents for speaking to their offspring for minor corrections to major behaviour faux-pas.) The relationship usually allows for that sort of scolding. What if it is a fellow teacher acting inappropriately? Then, I guess it depends on your relationship with that teacher, what kind of response you provide and how the teacher receiving that message will react.

Now complicate things by making it between people who don't know each other well, or add technology into the mix, and things get messy. The woman who overhead the jokes could have turned around and addressed the two men directly - but would that be safe for her? Would it have made a difference if she made an accusation or asked for clarification? (That integrative thinking element of creating your mental modes based on your own interpretation of events might come into play here. For instance, I've joked about the word "dongle" before because I think it's a funny word. Could she have been mistaken in her understanding of the conversation?) There are no easy answers. Using social media to indirectly scold them for their indiscretion led to huge problems for everyone involved.

I dealt with a correspondent recently that addressed concerns to me in a very inappropriate way using the wrong forum for that sort of discussion. I deleted it and did not respond. The person later contacted me using a better tool with a slightly better tone. I answered respectfully but I yearned to discuss the initial incident with the individual.

"What will they learn from it?" my colleagues asked. "What purpose will it serve?"

In the end, I chose to let it go. I feel cowardly but I could not argue with the points my library friends made. What does that mean for our society? Are people afraid to chastise others in person or in public for conduct that is rude or insensitive? What are basic rules of conduct and how can we address it when they are broken? When should we reprimand our social equals? How can it be done in a way that won't lead to an escalation in conflict or the degradation of one of the people involved?

Monday, March 18, 2013

Which Rubric Rocks?

Goodbye March Break, hello final third of the school year! There were several things I intended to do over the week away, like marking the MediaSmarts Reality Check independent unit the intermediate division students submitted before the break - but I didn't. (Sorry, Grade 7s and 8s!) However, my time off was not just spent sleeping in and eating out. I conducted some Forest of Reading e-chats and prepared some lessons and assignments to use in the next few weeks.

If my plans go accordingly, the intermediate students are going to re-visit blogging. There may be fancier programs or methods out there (e.g. Moodle, D2L, etc.) but there's something immediate and powerful about blogs that keep them going alongside much newer innovations in communication. Rather than reinventing the wheel, I researched different assessment tools educators have developed to assess blogging in their classes. I found a plethora of thorough evaluation tools. How do I know which one will work best for us?

I've made copies for the teachers to get their opinions, but I also want the students' point of view. There are just a few snags I can see with collecting all these judgments.

  • time = how long will it take for the students to read through them all and make a decision?
  • enthusiasm = if they don't care, will they prefer to just leave it up to the teachers to choose?
  • ownership = if they don't create it themselves, do they really care which pre-made one we use?
  • uncertainty = how do students know what the final product should look like at the beginning of a unit?
Heidi Siwak mentioned on her blog regarding self-assessment that it makes more sense to develop success criteria for a task two-thirds into the unit. Like Aviva Dunsiger's reflections in the comment section of that post, there's the flip side: some students like knowing up-front what is expected of them and may struggle without clear guidelines in place at the beginning. 

I also realize that time is ticking for me - I can't agonize over every word on a rubric for too long because by the time I develop something satisfactory, the unit will be over. Maybe I could use this device that Praxismaxis built on our Minecraft server: a time manipulation device (it can turn day into night and vice versa). Until I get the real-world version of this going, I guess I'll think, collect data, weigh the evidence and decide on a course of action.

Yes, this is just an excuse to share a Minecraft screenshot!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Redesigning a great space with the Learning Commons in mind

I have a beautiful school library space. It's big and I have nice shelves on wheels and many iMac computers.
It's easier, in my opinion to make a mediocre space better than it is to make an already good space great. That doesn't mean you shouldn't try to improve it. The document Together For Learning discusses creating a flexible physical and virtual space. It was time for me to make more moves towards incorporating a Learning Commons approach to the physical appearance of my school library.

Back in December, I wrote about creating a play place in my school library. I wanted the play place to be a bit more tidy but still accessible. I don't have a great visual-spatial sense so I asked some students for advice on how to rearrange things. My adult volunteers made some other suggestions and we made some changes.

The photos do not capture how significant the changes are, but here are some shots of the new and improved play area:

 All the large stuffed animals have been removed from the top of the shelves and placed where they can be reached.

The circle tables are free for whatever activities people want to do.

All the small stuffed animal containers are kept together instead of away from the play area.

The basketball net (which I originally tried to place on top of a table but it kept falling) is held up by the door handle of an unused door. It's still one of the most popular items in the play zone.

We took a shelf away from the fiction section and transformed it into a shelf for play items in bins and containers.

The piano was moved so it is part of the play area and the reference books were moved beside the teacher resource so that students could actually see where the encyclopedias are kept. Before this, the students had to round a corner to find the encyclopedias, so they weren't being used enough.

Two rocking chairs that were in the crater are now in here as part of the play area.

Removing the shelf from the fiction area meant that we needed to re-configure the fiction section. The spaces between the shelves were too small for multiple people to fit in to browse for chapter books. Once again, we chatted with students and adult volunteers for ideas. We also discussed how to make our signage more flexible, so that we didn't have to waste paper and laminate to make new signs every time we thought about changing the layout.

This is what the fiction section looks like now. We ordered 8 1/2 X 11 clear sign holder that we could easily update if we changed around the shelves. My super-fantastic high school volunteers came and re-did the books on the shelves. One insisted that the beginning of a letter always begin at the far left side of a shelf so that students would know where to look for sections, so we followed his recommendation. This led to some weeding as we tried to make room. We ensured that there was space at the end of every shelf so that new purchases could be added with ease. We now have access to those wall outlets that were covered by the shelves before.

It looks very plain but my principal came by when we were redoing things and he admired how clean and clear the new layout was. It's still a work in progress. The 2012-2013 goal was to completely weed the non-fiction section and once that's completed (we are at the 500 section right now), we can do similar things to the non-fiction section in terms of room.

Monday, March 4, 2013

The Pain and Process of a TLCP

Last week, my colleagues and I had a half-day in-school session to work on our Teaching Learning Critical Pathway. Unlike many schools that I've heard about, our school staff actually like our Professional Learning Community times, probably because it was not forced upon us but a conscious choice we made - I credit this positive attitude toward PLCs to our former principal, who took the time to develop a school culture that was eager and responsive to what a true PLC had to offer. You can read about how our PLCs developed in this article, co-written by four teachers from my school.

“A Professional Learning Community Journey” (with Stephen Tong, Mary Jane Huh, Jenny Chiu) Partnership: The Canadian Journal of Library and Information Practice and Research Volume 3 Number 1. 2008

Our current pathway is about oral communication and writing. Our current principal tinkered with the TLCP template so that it was more useful. The administration team (which I am on) discussed how to make the process simpler and we offered an inquiry question in advance. Despite - well, actually because of some of these changes - there were a lot of struggles. The teachers weren't keen on the inquiry question. The principal wasn't thrilled with the writing form that the teachers selected as their focus. At one point, I wondered if it was possible to get anything accomplished. We talked, and talked. We suggested things, dismissed things, and clarified things. By the end of the day, to my surprise, we had actually ironed out the plan. If my technology works, I'll post the completed template as a picture file below:

As I told my fellow chairperson afterwards, I need to remember that collaboration/inquiry can be messy and painful. I should not have been alarmed by the process as I was - Carrol Kuhlthau, a school library guru, wrote in her books (such as Guided Inquiry: Learning in the 21st Century) about the feelings and thoughts during the Information Search Process and these emotions aren't all positive. There is a lot of apprehension and uncertainty (as described in the Wikipedia summary of the Information Search Process). My husband jokes that I'm a "Russian" - always rushin' to complete things. He's partially correct. I need to remind myself that these things take time and anxiety is just part of the process. Is the TLCP we created a work of art? No, but it's a great start.