Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Shoot or Shute

We are busily checking out books for the summer, stamped with a due date of September 8, 2014. I
was gathering a stack of requests for a colleague, and as I went through the stacks I was talking to myself (as I often do). A student, one of our regulars, looked up with concern and asked "Is everything okay, Mrs. Cicchetti?" I smiled, and pulled the book I was looking for off the shelf. He laughed when I pointed to the cover and he saw the author's name.

I was muttering "Shute, Shute, Shute" and he heard  "Shoot, shoot, shoot...".

Even as we are checking out books for the summer, we are still chasing down students with overdue
books from the academic year. We have come up with an inexpensive and fun way to help students remember to bring in their books. We bought a packet of big, chunky, #84 rubber bands, and write OVERDUE BOOKS in red pen. Students are instructed not to remove the rubber band until they return their books. It is all done with a laugh, and it is working! Smiles all around.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Marc Aronson and the Common Core State Standards and Nonfiction

Aronson via Weston HS Global Ctr
EDCO Nonfiction and the Common Core State Standards (CCSS)
June 6, 2014
Weston High School Global Center, MA
Twitter hashtag #edcolibrary #msla
Presentation Notes

Marc Aronson, Rutgers University
Mary Ann Cappiello, Lesley University

In addition to their faculty positions and other professional activities, Aronson and Cappiello are members of the writing team that produces the Uncommon Corps blog.

What is the definition of nonfiction? Informational text, factual information, narrative nonfiction - how do we discuss nonfiction in our schools and libraries? The tendency ti to focus on what it isn't (nonfiction), and the implied assumption that reading is a fictional experience.

How do we define nonfiction?

It is NOT about being factual, truthful, or about the informational format v the narrative format. It is a modeling of a process of seeking truth using an agreed upon methodology of ascertaining that which may be true, in distinct ways, and distinct fields (Aronson).

There are many languages of nonfiction: history, math, engineering, sociology, multi-disciplinary areas etc. Instead of seeing of subjects as facts, or as settled pieces of information, consider approaching nonfiction from a different angle. Teach nonfiction as a language of subject specific conventions so students can learn the literacies of the pursuit of truth, using those accepted conventions within the various fields of knowledge. Nonfiction offers students the opportunity to read and to engage in reading as critical thinkers and active participants in assessing knowledge, and not just read as passive receptors of accepted information.

The best CCSS resource for teachers is Major League Baseball because for every game that is played, they provide a report from the point of view of each team. This provides two contrasting narratives of an event that happened yesterday.

The same baseball game can be described in 4 ways:
  1. survey article of all games from yesterday
  2. story of a rookie up at bat first time
  3. box score- raw data
  4. investigative reporting on an aspect of the game
Librarians need to "move away from our Dewey orientation", and move toward the ways various media are treating a topic (Aronson). We need to understand how topics are addressed throughout various genres and sub-genres of various disciplinary topics and rethink the idea of subject v treatment of a topic.

CCSS emphasizes reading like a writer, and writing like a reader. Through nonfiction students can begin to experience writing in authentic ways with a knowledge-base of writer's craft using comparison/contrast, writers choices, and treatment.  Conflicting information between texts is a valuable opportunity for students to witness how knowledge is not static but evolving.

Young people should see books disagreeing or coming to different conclusions (an example is Pluto, and the changing recognition of what constitutes a planet or star). Librarians are there to show the process of knowing, not to provide the answers for students. Demonstrate that experts disagree, and welcome students to participate in the debate by teaching them the basis of how people think, compare/contrast, make and build arguments. "Librarians as referees, not the ones who have all the answers" (Aronson). How do school librarians become support networks for teachers within our schools? How do we reposition as school librarians as agents of change and experts within our buildings.

Consider a new model for school librarians and as the people who support and collaborate with teachers and students who:
  • provide a voice for nonfiction
  • build a sense of community around nonfiction with the library as a central hub for those collaborative discussions
  • facilitate nonfiction discussions within a social context
Mission - Increasing the participation of girls in computer science

Culturally, we do a terrible job of interesting girls in computer science. 99.6% of women entering college do not go into computer science. This is a travesty that must be addressed, and we can leverage nonfiction to engage girls and young women in exploring computer science and other technology related fields. We need to use our book displays to pique interest, and combat the US cultural assumption that computer science is for males. Through exposure, we can expand areas of passion to make sure all students feel math, science, physics, belong to them as an interest, and an area they can explore with creativity and passion. Read Turning the Ship Around for Aronson's response to a New York Times op-ed piece on this topic.


The goal of school to prepare students for life after school. It is better that they struggle and fail during their K-12 education, than when they struggle at the college level. Remediation rates at colleges are very high. Schools must absorb the challenge presented by this transition because this is what will help our students when they leave K-12 education. CCSS and PARCC are for years13+.
The standards are creative, engaging, and open opportunities to broaden curriculum, rather than narrow it. Use CCSS to re-think curriculum and view test results as an analytical tool to evaluate curriculum.

The NYC Lab School is an example of a school the successfully adapted CCSS and has improved test scores as a result. Find schools that have succeeded, and determine how they define success.

Collection Development

A starting point for school library collection development to enhance trade nonfiction.These are books that are driven by the author's passion, not created to teach specific content. Review the 5-7 annual prizes for best nonfiction K-12, make a list of past 5 year winners, publicize and circulate the list. Print out the list and post it in the faculty room, and invite teachers to highlight the titles that meet their curricular needs. Last minute budget money can go towards these purchases.

Nonfiction sections of libraries need to be regularly weeded to learn what is actually on the shelves, make sure it is current, attractive, and easily accessible to students. Assemble course packs using digital collections of chapters. Database articles can be managed in this way. Trade nonfiction is not as well integrated into the ebook world as is fiction. Weed nonfiction! Save some of the outdated books to help teachers and students understand what is happening today in nonfiction, and see the changing representation of difficult topics.

Pre-Internet the library was the place to find authoritative information. Shelf nonfiction should not be about hunting for facts, but about compelling writing. Also, the niche interests of students should drive nonfiction curriculum development. Database needs v print needs are very different, and the format should meet that need. Nonfiction for curriculum means students are under-exposed to the wide range on nonfiction formats and sources. Increased narrative nonfiction exposes them to new formats as well as increased and diverse reading experiences. Narrative nonfiction means that the author has placed emphasis on setting, plot, description, dialog, and evolving plot. Pleasure reading should reflect the diverse interests and passions of students, including the kids who like to read math texts, programming texts, and topics we have not included in our cultural perceptions and definitions of pleasure reading.

Textbooks are often equated with nonfiction in schools. This discussion is about books with voice, point of view, a single author, and narrative nonfiction should now be considered school nonfiction. Librarians should both use and recommend nonfiction as a read-aloud with great voice and narrative quality that promotes critical thinking, and demonstrates that we place value on nonfiction. Focus on pre-service teacher education with a world view that centers nonfiction literacy at the heart of practice, and the seeking out of the library as a central partner in the success of the CC standards.

School librarians need to make themselves visible in this transitional period via self-advocacy based on the importance of our skills at this moment in time. What are we offering our students that will provide reading challenge, and that also build knowledge?

Text Sets

Text sets address this need, and librarians are uniquely skilled in knowing the various formats, sources, genres, primary sources, media sources, video, and diverse digital resources that can be assembled in the form of curated materials (Cappiello). The three types of texts in the texts sets:
  • scaffold texts
  • content texts
  • extension texts
For greater detail, consider purchasing Cappiello's  Teaching with Text Sets.

What is needed as we move ahead? Greater crossover between school library programs with educational programs in order to build realization of the value of the role of school librarians. Advocacy from within gets you so far, but perceptions will begin to transition towards the librarian as  central to curriculum planning and critical support partners for teachers. 

Aronson is eager to hear from the field and invites school librarians to visit his website, email him with comments and questions so that he can continue his learning from authentic voices in the field. Cappiello feels like a teacher who has infiltrated the library world, and is looking for greater collaboration between organizations to build partnerships and greater visions.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Going Bookless: Does it Have to be All or Nothing?

School libraries have very different missions from public libraries, and thank goodness our public library colleagues are innovating and launching new service models. The San Antonio BiblioTech Library   offers glimpse of bookless future  which is certainly doing wonders for developing a new user base.

As we were in the planning stages of building a new high school with a state-of-the-art learning commons I was asked how much space we would need for shelving. It was an interesting question because space was at a premium. The state of Massachusetts has set guidelines on space allocation for new school projects, and we needed to decide how much of our space would be for books, and how much for collaborative activities and student workspaces. I remember clearly saying "I don't want to prioritize books over student activities." And I didn't, because two years ago I was all about going bookless. Since then there has been a shift in my thinking.

The biggest shift came from my students, specifically those voracious and brilliant readers who chew through books and bang their fists on the table, and show up in school wearing black because a beloved character was killed. These students read digitally when on vacation because otherwise their suitcases would be filled with books and no clothes. Their fervent preference was to read physical books. Despite all my arguments their firm preference for deep reading was print. (Abigail Reyes in the BiblioTech article states the same preference.)

There were two articles that particularly resonated with me and contributed to my shift.  How Reading Makes Us More Human (The Atlantic, 2013) clearly reinforced the attitudes and behaviors of my students. However, it was The Reading Brain in the Digital Age: The Science of Paper versus Screens (Scientific American, 2013) that really fueled the change in my thinking. The short version is that the mapping/navigation function of the brain occurs in the same area as reading, and contributes to comprehension, specifically in deep reading experiences.

Our new school is scheduled to open in spring of 2015 and our learning commons will embrace a bookless philosophy, but there will still be a place for books on the shelves. Our print collection will focus on high interest print fiction and narrative nonfiction, with room for high interest classics and core reference. We will continue to develop our ebook collection reference holdings and expand the audio collection to reflect high interest fiction and narrative nonfiction.

In the meantime, I have to chuckle and wonder as I reflect on my own preference for reading digitally. The Kindle is light which makes it easier on my wrist, and enlarging the font makes it easier on my eyes. I learned to read print and wonder if this early navigation/mapping contributed to making me the reader I am today? My preference would be to get all my reading material for free digitally, but because of the chaotic state of the industry and limits on availability of titles/licenses to public libraries, this isn't going to occur anytime soon.

Hopefully our learning commons collection will support our developing high school readers across all platforms, and help them build the skills to become passionate readers in the future. Just as long as they continue to read with passion, bang tables, and weep and rejoice over books.

Photo credit: Robin's iPhone, Creative Commons Attribution License