Sunday, April 27, 2014

Visibility, core standards, and the power of the story: Creating a visible future for school libraries

Todd, R. J. (2012). Visibility, core standards, and the power of the story: Creating a visible future for school libraries. Teacher Librarian, 40 (1), 8-14, 4. Retrieved from

Using stories as a data collection tool, this article examines narratives from effective school library programs to explore how teacher librarians can overcome “occupational invisibility”. Dr. Todd sees Common Core implementation as a vehicle for increasing the visibility of the school librarian with its focus on developing deep knowledge and inquiry-based learning. Examples of effective school libraries are given demonstrating how they support and contribute to student learning through integrated instruction that provides information literacy skills as well as curriculum content through engagement with appropriate resources.

Dr. Todd’s vision includes the  “...the school library as a pedagogical center; the school librarian primarily working as a coteacher; the focus on curriculum knowledge and meeting syllabus standards; and the implementation of an inquiry-based pedagogy.” He suggests this will improve the visibility of the importance of teacher librarians to student achievement and describes the library as the center of a school; integral to the implementation of all curriculum.

I appreciate this article’s focus on the school librarian as having teaching as the core of their responsibilities. I also thought the idea that 21st century skills are not just about navigating and using information but actually using those skills to build knowledge was well stated. Some administrators and other teachers tend to focus on the information part of the technology without following through to explore how students will use the technology and information to increase their content knowledge.

Thursday, April 24, 2014


Design Thinking in the Classroom: From Ideas to Practices.

This blog post is about changing units of instruction to make them more engaging to students. These interactive and collaborative units are called “Design Thinking”. “Design thinking is used to solve design challenges, or units of study structured around real world problems linked with interdisciplinary academic studies”(2014). The units are broken into five parts that include Gather, Glean, Generate, Gauge and Go.  The blog describes each of these stages. Students collaborate all the way through the project and end up with a product that has real world applications.

While this blog post is geared toward classroom teachers, teacher librarians would find the information useful. These units would benefit from the collaboration with a teacher librarian. Students need a place to gather to brainstorm their assignment and the physical learning commons would be the perfect place. A virtual learning commons would allow them to gather their information in one place, for all to share.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Working Together Is Working Smarter

Jack, Gordon

National Center for Literacy Education (NCLE). (2012, October). Working together is working smarter. National Survey of Collaborative Professional Learning Opportunities.  Retrieved from

This infographic summarizes the data compiled from the National Center for Literacy Education study of 2,404 educators nationally.  The data confirms that collaboration is a key component for teacher-librarians.  While schools do not always make time for collaboration, librarians are actively seeking professional networks at their site and beyond.  In this particular study, librarians are participating in greater numbers than traditional classroom teachers, with 51% reporting that they share ideas “at least weekly in online networks and communities, compared with 23% of educators overall.”

This data confirms that librarians are not isolated professionals, but engaged collaborators both with teachers at their site and external learning communities.  While most working librarians won’t see any surprises here, this information shows others how connected librarians are and how vital they are to school improvement.  This data should be shown to any person interested in becoming a librarian as a snapshot of the type of work we do.    

Grit Over Grades

Jack, Gordon

Smith, Tovia. (March 17, 2014). Can focus on ‘grit’ work in school cultures that reward grades? MindShift. KQED. Retrieved from

This is a print version of a piece that ran on NPR’s Morning Edition examining the role of “grit” plays in education.  Educators increasingly see “grit”, or persistence in difficult tasks, as a key indicator for school success.  The question this story explores is whether this character trait can be taught or not.  The article profiles schools that are shifting away from focusing on achievement and towards a system that rewards effort, persistence, and even failure.  These schools are eliminating words like “gifted” and “smart” from their interactions with students in favor of language that emphasizes a growth mindset.

Not all educators are on board with this trend, however.  Alfie Kohn argues that this is another education fad that is keeping us from making the reforms we really need to make. “The benefits of failure are vastly overstated,” Kohn argues, “and the assumption that kids will pick themselves up and try even harder next time, darn it — that’s wishful thinking.” When schools begin to evaluate kids on these kinds of character traits, we run the risk of sending the message that if you don’t have grit, you’re not a good kid.


I found this article interesting because it presents a balanced view of this topic that I haven’t seen before.  Evaluating a student’s work is easy compared with evaluating character traits like grit.  Still, I favor the shift away from emphasizing results and focusing instead on process.  By promoting growth mindsets, we help students see that being smart isn’t something one is born with, but rather something one works at.  I also like the comment by Angela Duckworth, the researcher who coined the term grit. “I don’t think people can become truly gritty and great at things they don’t love,” Duckworth says. “So when we try to develop grit in kids, we also need to find and help them cultivate their passions. That’s as much a part of the equation here as the hard work and the persistence.”  Helping students develop their passions is something teacher-librarians are well suited to do. By working with teachers, we can incorporate more choice into assignments to allow students the chance to pair an interest with the subject being learned.

No More Moocs

Jack, Gordon

In this article, Levinson makes the analogy between changes in the music industry with changes in education.  Just as listeners are buying singles rather than a whole album, Levinson recommends that educators allow students to assemble pieces of information themselves instead of taking an entire course.  He states the weak completion rates of most online MOOCs as evidence that today’s student doesn’t want an “album” of curriculum.  Instead, more and more learners are gravitating to YouTube to select the “singles” of content they are most interested in.

The article suggests that educators take note of this phenomenon and crowdsource their course content.  When the learning experience is constructed for students to find problems, generate questions and devise solutions to authentic challenges,” Levinson writes, “then the need surfaces for students to seek information.”  Levinson quotes Dr. Mark David Milliron who suggests that educators “turn students loose” on a topic and let them gather all the material they can from any source they can and then share the resources they used.  From there, the teacher can “create customized playlists for units of study.”


I don’t quite buy Levinson’s music analogy to education.  Some of the best music on an album isn’t always the hit singles, just as some of the most important information isn’t the kind students will easily find.  Also, sometimes a song needs to be heard in the context of the entire album to appreciate its value, just as parts of class only become significant in light of the other information presented in the semester or year.  Still, I appreciated his suggestions for making learning more meaningful to students by engaging them with compelling topics and questions and allowing students’ curiosity to drive their information seeking behavior.  I think this is a great way to hook kids, present a variety of content, and make learning more relevant.  From there, the teacher needs to help organize this information to give it some coherence and meaning.

Library Website Redesign Process

Jack, Gordon

Becker, D., & Yannotta, L. (2013). Modeling a Library Website Redesign Process: Developing a User-Centered Website Through Usability Testing. Information Technology & Libraries, 32(1), 6-22.  Retrieved from:

Most library users begin their information search using search engines rather than library websites.  In an attempt to drive more users to their Hunter College Library site, Becker and Yannotta redesigned their website with the following goals in mind:  
1. Users should be able to locate high-level information within three clicks
2. Eliminate library jargon from navigational system using concise language
3. Improve readability of site
4. Design a visually appealing site
5. Create a site that was easily changeable and expandable
6. Market the libraries services and resources through the site

The authors describe their redesign process and place emphasis on the importance of small, iterative user focus groups to provide feedback.  In the study, the authors observed users “thinking aloud” as they performed the following tasks on their site:
1. Find a book using online library catalog
2. Find library hours
3. Get help from a librarian using QuestionPoint
4. Find a journal article
5. Find a reference article
6. Find journals by title
7. Find circulation policies
8. Find books on reserve
9. Find magazines by title
10.           Find the library staff contact information
11.           Find contact information for the branch libraries

By following user feedback, the authors were able to redesign the library website to increase users ability to successfully complete in all areas listed above.

I found this article helpful in describing a process for library website redesign.  As we try to make our sites adhere to the Virtual Learning Commons template, it is important to beta test these changes with our users to ensure they help them find the information they need.  Simplicity, both in language and in design, seems critical here.  Excessive graphics, while visually appealing, may slow down page download times.  Library terminology (e.g. “LibGuides” instead of “Research Guides”) also seem to make it harder for users to find information quickly and easily.