Monthly Archives: February 2012

Book Club

I’ve been thinking about what Kristin said in class on Monday about how she always felt like book clubs weren’t for her, that she wasn’t the target audience for them. It sounded like a lot of people in class, both male and female, felt that way. I find this so interesting because I feel that we as a class would be an excellent and highly desirable audience for a book club. Our reasons for not participating may be varied, but it’s certainly not because we don’t read or think critically about what we read.

I’ve never joined a book club because I’ve never been drawn to the sales pitch of any of the ones I’ve encountered. The ones at my old public library were clearly directed at very specific audiences, none of which included me. There was the Teen book club. I was interested in the book, but not interested in discussing it as an adult in a room of teenagers. There was the Mom’s Day Out book club, and the Retiree book club. While those weren’t the exact names of the book clubs, they all met during the day, which meant that even had the book selection appealed (it didn’t) I wouldn’t have been able to go anyway.

Plus, there’s those odious book club discussion questions that come at the end of practically every book these days. Those questions aren’t doing book clubs any favors, in my opinion. If I see a book on a discussion club list that already has questions in the back, I assume that those are the questions that are going to be used. If that’s the case then I’m not interested in wasting my time.

I really like the idea of having discussion groups with very short readings or a somewhat related series of very short readings. The success of something like this would depend largely on your audience and the knowledge and expertise they bring to the table, but a pitch like this could be very enticing in the right community.

I also love the idea of a professional development book club. Especially as we transition from students to professionals, we will no longer have the same kind of immediate forum for discussion on recent happenings in LibraryLand. Talking through ideas really helps me to understand issues and solidify my opinions in a different way than simply reading blog posts or articles does. I like this, and I want one in my future place of employment.

Room for the awesome

I loved the article by Metzger on the Socratic Seminar format that she used in her classroom. I loved it because, aside from teaching algebra, my favorite thing to do as a sub was read with kids and talk about what we had read. And one of my favorite things to do as an adult is consume, analyze, and talk about stuff. Case in point, the number of text messages flying back and forth between my cousin and me after he lent me his copy of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer this summer. My most memorable learning experiences as a student  and a human have been in  a Socratic setting.

What I do not love are the book club discussion questions that seem to be occurring more and more frequently in the backs of books. What unimaginative, uninteresting questions! If you’re going to have a book club, at least go the extra step of requiring people to articulate a thought or question for discussion based on their own reading and not someone else’s. This is what Metzger finds, too, when she notices how she derails conversation when she attempts to direct the discussion. This is also what I found as a sub. Frequently, teachers have some kind of prepared list of questions that they ask at the end of a reading, and these questions were invariably the least interesting part of talking with the kids about their experiences with the text.

I’ve been away at a conference for the last few days, and here’s a short list of things I noticed:

  • When you aren’t prepared for a presentation, people notice. They especially notice when you make a point of telling them how last minute your preparation for the presentation is.
  • There are few things more boring than listening to someone read a presentation word-for-word off a sheet of paper. Or, as is more frequently the case, multiple sheets of paper.
  • The best, most effective presentations are well thought out but leave lots of room for interaction.

So, here’s what I’m saying, and this relates to the Metzger article as well as my work experience and conference experience: Plan, prepare, think, and then just let go. Don’t be afraid. You need to leave room for the awesome to happen.

Gaming and self-promotion

So many great discussions in class this week. The conversation we had about gaming was just fascinating. For me, there are two key points that I will continue to mull over.

1. Motivation: Jane McGonigal is exactly right that whatever it is that motivates people to spend so much time gaming is worth exploring. What is it and how do we leverage it?

2. Experiential learning: This is where I think that gaming in an educational context can be really effective. If the game is about exposing students to a range of experiences in a “safe” environment, I believe that teachers can take that experience as the baseline for reflection and discussion. The learning happens on the reflection. The game can facilitate that.

Case and point: This American Life, episode 424, Act I: Trickle Down History

I also want to touch on something that came up in our Blogger Issues discussion: The use of blogs for self-promotion. I realize that I was the one who brought the topic up initially in our discussion, and I’ve thought a lot about it since because it was a kind of in-the-moment realization for me. Somehow, the thought of librarians using their blogs for self-promotion is a bit distasteful, or at least a little uncomfortable. And yet, a blog is inherently about a person’s thoughts and opinions and therefore inherently self-promoting. And, libraries and librarians have a bit of a marketing problem. We aren’t good at talking to the public about what we really do and why we do it. Is the discomfort because of personal marketing in general? Or is it because, for better or worse, those librarians that are best at self-promotion are the voice of libraries to the public and what they are saying is uncomfortable?

Right place, right time

Restored from the trash bin, posted for the correct week this time. 

I pulled this from the Wiggins and McTighe article:

“We recommend that schools develop a public syllabus for every course, which articulates the course’s transfer-meaning-acquisiton priorities and concomitant assessments. Such an approach offers a practical means of freeing high school instruction from the dominance of the textbooks and its emphasis on acquisition. The textbook should serve as a resource, not as the syllabus.”

I am intrigued by the idea of a public syllabus. Where is this syllabus posted? Who has access to it? I can see how using and organizational structure like the one proposed in the article could really help teachers to understand why they are teaching a particular lesson and what their goals are at each step. I am sure that articulating the transferability of a course could also help a teacher to address transfer. I wonder how putting this knowledge in a public forum might effect the public’s approach to education.

How People Learn says that “knowledge that is overly contextualized can reduce transfer; abstract representations of knowledge can help promote transfer” (53). I find this concept to be a knife edge. We want to provide good context, so that a student can effectively complete a task, but we don’t want to confine learning to the context or they won’t transfer. This is particularly hairy when you also consider  that “it is important to be realistic about the amount of time it takes to learn complex subject matter.” (56) Very possibly, the transfer won’t take place until much, much later. Then what?

A Short (possibly misguided) Rant

I was a little bummed that we didn’t talk about Jane McGonigal’s TED talk in class this week. She said a lot of things that made me sit back, cross my arms, and raise an eyebrow. While I find most of her premise very compelling, she didn’t talk about the most compelling part – the part where where the gamers actually take what they’ve learned in the game and apply it to the real world.

I wholeheartedly agree that gaming is an essential part of the human experience and that it is as important for survival as food and water. Of course, I believe that about all things that allow us to express our humanity. There’s a whole field devoted to musical anthropology, which essentially proves that music and dance were practiced at a time when the basic human needs were not being reliably met. This means that, unlike many people who believe that music and dance (and other expressive arts) are hedonistic pleasures that only developed when people got enough free time to spend it doing things other than fulfilling basic needs, music is an essential part of the human experience. This is proven with bows that can be deconstructed after a long day of hunting to form percussion instruments and extremely primitive flutes that have no business being found in some of the harshest and least hospitable parts of the ancient world.

Anyway, that’s a digression from my original point which is, basically, show me. Show me a gamer who truly takes what he or she has learned in a game about perseverance and epic wins and applies it to the real world.

She seems to be saying that if we could only structure the real world so that people are always given a challenge they can accomplish with their current skills, the world would be much better. I agree. The world would be much better if I always knew that I was going to accomplish what I set out to do, but that is just not realistic. Nor, frankly, do I want someone telling me what I can or can’t accomplish.

And anyway, my biggest issue isn’t even with what Jane McGonigal said, but with the consistent misinterpretation of the 10,000 hour rule. In fact, when she pulled out that hypothesis, one short, pithy word may have almost popped out of my mouth. I have a few issues with Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, but I find his premise to be fairly solid. Here’s what popular citation of the 10,000 hour rule generally ignores: 10,000 hours only makes you as good as you can be, which may or may not be as good as the next person. 10,000 hours does not mean that you will be successful. Success requires a whole host of other things including opportunity and access. And 10,000 hours does not have to be achieved before you can start to make a difference.

Assessing the Gap

Sooooooooo…. it turns out I’m not terribly information literate. I have trouble, for instance, reading charts and calendars. This lack of information literacy has led to a rather terrible error on my part. I did next week’s readings and posted about them yesterday. Luckily (or unluckily for my schedule) I have caught my mistake, and below you will find a response to this week’s readings. If you read my previous blog post and wondered what the heck was going on, sorry about that. I have taken down the post and will re-post it next week, at the appropriate time.

I’ve talked a bit about formative assessment here before. I really liked the Sadler article this week. I felt that the analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of formative assessment was solid, and I liked that the author attempted analogies that would spread across many different subject areas. Having said that, I feel the article skewed towards the creative arts. I would have liked to see more analogies that would apply to math or science. Still, this article really spoke to my experience with formative assessment and so I will tell a little story about music schools and formative assessment.

Typically, music students attend a studio masterclass once a week. A studio is the collection of students who study with a particular teacher. A masterclass is a kind of unique performance experience where a “master” (a performer or teacher, visiting or in residence) holds mini-lessons in front of other students so that the whole studio may benefit from the master’s teaching techniques. Basically, you stand up in front of all the people in your school who do what you do while your teacher or other famous person stands right next to you, watches every little thing you do, and then lists your shortcomings for your peers in an effort to make you better and help your peers out too. It’s pretty terrifying, especially if the master in question is famous.

Anyway, I have attended many, many masterclasses, some more successful than others. The most helpful masterclasses I have ever attended were some of my first, at my undergraduate school. In addition to being an awesome educator, my teacher would require us to write on quarter-sheets of paper during our peers’ performances which were returned to the performer at the end of class. This was great for a number of reasons.

  1. It meant that all students had to be paying attention.
  2. Because you were expected to have an opinion on a performance, when you got called on for your opinion you couldn’t be blindsided.
  3. The students had to develop a language of praise and criticism. They had to create judgement criteria for themselves.
  4. Often the students were able to provide a kind of feedback that wasn’t possible from the performer or teacher. Since they did not listen to the performer on a daily or weekly basis, they could judge how far a student had come and what still needed work from a longer perspective.
  5. Students felt comfortable saying things like, “I had that problem and here’s what helped me out a lot,” when the teacher would never see or hear those comments.
  6. It allowed for fun comments such as “I like your sweater” and “Why does your left forefinger keep pointing at the ceiling? Is there something interesting up there?”
  7. The performer could also judge, based on a consensus of the comments, what the next steps might be to improve future performances.

I love this approach because it gives the listeners’ opinions as much credibility as the teacher’s opinions. How else can we create professionals with professional opinions if we never give them a space to exercise their judgement?

Sssssssynthesissssssss

Seriously, every time I say the word “synthesis” I feel like a I’m speaking Parseltongue.

I think that maybe what information literacy is really about is synthesis. It’s the ability to take what you learn here and apply it there. It’s the ability to connect seemingly unconnected things in a way that makes sense to you and possibly (but not necessarily) to others. We’re trying to teach synthesis. So, yeah, if you could just get that done in 50 minutes, that would be great.

Sarcasm aside, how are we supposed to accomplish this monumental task? Teaching synthesis needs to come from many angles and places, just like the information gathering that results in synthesis comes from many places. What an enormous responsibility to take on as one or two or even 10 or 20 librarians.

Why can’t we just trust that students will do it themselves, as a natural consequence of living? Because, well, given the choice most students would never synthesize anything. They would never choose to create something new out of what’s already there, at least not in a public forum.

Why not? Synthesis is really scary, that’s why. Creating something new that’s never been there before, based on your own ideas and opinions. That’s hard work and it takes guts. It requires taking a stand and sticking by it. Everyone else is probably just barfing up the same old stuff, so it’s easy to follow along. But let’s say that you grabbed a hold of your guts, did the work, and made something. Fantastic! You’re not done.

Next, you have to “jump naked into the void” as someone said at Quasi-Con. It’s not enough to just have created. You have to present your creations, those precious ideas that you painstakingly cultivated and you’re pretty sure are probably not that great anyway. You have to face judgement, often literally. There’s probably a grade riding on your creation. And let’s not forget (never forget) the judgement of your peers.

In the end, it’s probably not as bad as all that. There were probably no rotten tomatoes involved. Probably no one made fun of you or dismissed your ideas. Probably the whole thing went over better than you thought. Possibly lots better than you thought. You might even have ended up with something you’re really pleased with, but you’re also probably not much looking forward to the next round of synthesizing.

I mean, if this is the experience that we’re promoting, no wonder it’s not that popular when we start waving a banner.

Oh, sure, there’s euphoria too. There’s the incredibly thrill of having accomplished something, of maybe even having created something that someone else could find useful. There’s the relief of having just done it. But, really, if you told me that you sat down to write a paper and were all excited to get down to the business of synthesizing? I’d call you a liar.

I’m really curious to hear from experienced teachers. How do you trick students into synthesizing?