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In Redux

By Elizabeth Wroten

Problems with Children’s Nonfiction

On 01, Feb 2016 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten

I know there are a lot of problematic nonfiction titles out there for children in terms of race, religion, culture, etc. Unfortunately we have quite a few of them in our library collection right now. But as I am working more closely with kids in the library on research projects I am discovering that there are some deep issues with children’s nonfiction across the board. It’s not just those problematic titles that need to be reconsidered and weeded.

I guess I started noticing this a few years ago, but it’s become most apparent in the last two weeks to me with the research project I’m working on with my second graders. The vast majority…no, all of the nonfiction we have on the Underground Railroad contains incorrect information. And not just one or two insignificant facts. Big glaring untruths. I’ve noticed it in history texts about Ancient Egypt too because that’s what I studied in college and this seriously makes me wonder if it’s endemic to children’s nonfiction. (I bring this up a bit here in my review of a book about Hatshepsut.)

I’m not just finding these half truths and fairy tales (as a good friend of mine called it) in books printed for children. It’s in the database our library subscribes to. YIKES! Through another friend I know that unless you are reading peer-reviewed journal articles from a database the articles are written by copy writers, so the articles are only as good as their research. The friend I heard this from actually writes for one of the large database companies (or has in the past) and she would turn the articles out in an afternoon. That included the research and the writing. I’m not trying to be critical of her (I actually trust her), just the companies that don’t require more work and research behind the articles they put out and don’t do some due diligence and fact check them. Or better yet, pay people who are experts in the field of the article to write them.

These inaccuracies cause several problems for me. The first and most pressing is that I’m at a loss of what to use for good resources for my students. These guys are second graders so their reading skills are just coming together and they need simplified resources. That’s why we had relied on a lot of those nonfiction books and articles to begin with. I’m finding ways to get them the information they need, but it’s a lot of work on my part and isn’t ideal. Most of the resources need to be read aloud to them so they can understand the information. I will say, though, telling them about this problem and the process I’m going through is an excellent lesson for them to instill skepticism and impress on them how important thorough research is.

I’m also finding that not only do children’s nonfiction titles frequently not cite sources (another excellent lesson for my students), even when they do they aren’t always good sources. In fact a lot of these inaccuracies are perpetuated by a few sources that everyone seems to consult. Which leads to the second problem, I really just want to weed our entire nonfiction collection. Just throw every book out and start over. I already am weeding to some extent, but I think it needs to be gone over with a fine tooth comb now.

Once I’ve purged all the incorrect things though, I don’t have many, if any, places to turn to find good books to put back on the shelves, which is the third problem this raises. With all these books either not citing sources or relying on the same outdated or incorrect information sources (and in my bleak state of mind) I don’t know where to turn next to build a solid collection. I can’t fact check every book and I would need to be buying them and reading each and every one before putting it into our collection- a task that is both too time consuming and a huge hassle, but something I will probably have to do for the time being.

I do think one solution is to have a small, but incredibly well curated nonfiction collection. I would rather they had only a few places to turn than a lot of bad ones. Is anyone else noticing this or grappling with it? Thoughts, ideas, solutions? Please be careful about what you are putting on your shelves!

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In Redux

By Elizabeth Wroten

Research with Fifth Grade: Citations & Plagiarism

On 03, Feb 2015 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten

I have been volunteering in the lower school library at the school where I was working pre-baby for about two years now. This year the librarian and I decided I would take on working with the fifth grade when they started their research project on intertidal life. So I spent most of December out of the library planning what I was going to do with them, deciding what skills I really wanted them to come away with, and what topics I wanted them to have some exposure to. I also collaborated with the fifth grade teacher and the other librarian on redeveloping the project so it could fit with the library framework.

None of the content requirements have changed, but the format, presentation, and research pieces have been changed pretty dramatically. The kids have done a fair amount of research over the years, but I think there’s a lot that can be done to introduce them to more and put some scaffolding in place so they are ready for middle and high school and the requirements (like citations, using databases, and using a variety of resources in their research) that they will encounter. What we’re doing this year in fifth grade will probably be pushed down into fourth grade at some point while running simultaneously with the fifth grade. That way the fifth grade gets to work on these skills and the fourth grade will be ready for more when they are in fifth. Part of what we’re doing is just an experiment so see what the kids know already, what they can do, and where they are. Which is to say the project will evolve, especially since in two years the fifth grade should be ready to do more.

This is a long lead up to say that I’m going to share the program I’m doing with the kids. We have four days set for the library. Because of crazy scheduling (conferences, pep rallies, etc.) they are not consecutive days, but I think we’ve got it worked out well enough. We had our first day in the middle of January and I decided to cover citations and plagiarism. Most of the kids were not very familiar with either of those topics (or were, but did not recognize the vocabulary I was using), so I’m glad we did this first thing. We are also requiring that they use two different types of sources (print and online), that they create a bibliography, and that they keep note cards with their sources on them. By starting with the citation presentation I wanted to start them off right instead of inserting once they had already started researching.

Here is the basic overview of the program. See below for a downloadable pdf with more information and links:

  • Video- from EasyBib about citations and plagiarism
  • Discussion
    • Defining plagiarism and respect
    • why do we create citations?
  • Whose Is It? Activity- from Common Sense media, gives the kids scenarios and has them decide if it’s plagiarism and why or why not
  • Assignment requirements- at least two source, one print, one online, bibliography
  • Discussion
    • What does a citation need to be useful?
  • Practice creating citation with EasyBib- they won’t be required to use this, but I wanted them to see that they could, how it worked, and simply see what a citation looks like
  • Fill out plagiarism worksheet- this was just a couple questions that helped the kids recap what we had discussed in their own words

Here is a link to download the more detailed notes of what we did: Citations & Plagiarism Lesson Plan.

I had a few reflections on what I would do differently next year. The kids were so quiet! I think they were shy around me and the format for library time was really different. Next time I want them to be more interactive and I would like to try changing up the seating arrangement.

I also really hate worksheets. I think they’re just busy work, so I want to move away from that in the earlier part of the lesson. I really like inquiry driven study so my ultimate goal is to move toward that. That being said, I think there is value in having them do the reflection at the end and putting what they’ve learned into their own words and physically writing it out. It does help them retain the information.

I was also surprised how few of them really knew anything about plagiarism and giving credit to other people for their work. They knew a little bit and they knew a little more about copyright, but they need more. Especially since they are doing research all through lower school. Which is why I ultimately want to see this in fourth grade.

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In Reading Round Up

By Elizabeth Wroten

Reading Round Up: Twitter

On 17, May 2013 | In Reading Round Up | By Elizabeth Wroten

I’ve decided to do something a little different with these posts for the future. Now that I’m feeling more on top of following blogs and librarians on Twitter, I want to start actually tweeting more. To that end I am going to start actually tweeting the links I would normally include here. Then every Friday, I’ll aggregate them here for anyone who missed them or isn’t on Twitter. I can also add a little more detail to my thoughts on the articles.

Since most of the links I find to share are in blogs I follow, I tend to come across them on Thursdays when I read my blogs. I found a service that allows me to set up tweets in advance (Twuffer, a Twitter buffer) so that I don’t inundate my tweeps. Without further ado:

I agree so much with the idea here that customer service in libraries needs to be top notch and of a type that is more than pointing to the bathroom. I know added value is an irritating buzzword, but I think it’s still a relevant and necessary concept.

I have mixed feelings about this piece. I agree in so many ways, but I also think that undergrads (and other patrons like the general public and younger students) do not always approach librarians. It’s true that the results they get from new fangled, improved search interfaces may not be the best, but are they better than what they got before? I don’t really know the answer to that. I think the issue lies more with marketing reference services and getting students to the reference desk (virtual, real or otherwise). However, I hadn’t really thought of those types of tools in regard to writing librarians out of reference. I think this underscores the importance of digital/information literacy skills.

I didn’t work with these types of teens, but as a new parent I can’t imagine how difficult it would be to be a single, teen parent. The sentiment is really sweet and I think the ideas are really awesome.

I think a lot of people believe technology is some sort of silver bullet. That you can just take a new technology and use it the same way in every situation. But that just isn’t true. As with any program or tool you need to know your culture in order to know if it’s right and how it should be implemented. I’m going to address this topic in more depth next week.

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In Reading Round Up

By Elizabeth Wroten

Reading Round Up: Gadgets

On 19, Apr 2013 | In Reading Round Up | By Elizabeth Wroten

I recently came across a few things that I thought would be pretty cool integrations of technology. The first was this projector app for your smartphone. It projects an image into a storybook that actually interacts with whatever is on the page. Watch the video, it’s short and very neat. Just one more thing you could keep up your sleeve to enliven storytime from time to time.

The second isn’t really a gadget per se, but it sounds interesting. From Turnitin, a rubric that helps students evaluate online resources. “Turnitin worked closely with educators to design The Source Educational Evaluation Rubric (SEER), which is built on five criteria: Authority, Educational Value, Intent, Originality, and Quality.” I haven’t had a chance to see how it works, but I am all for anything that will help students evaluate their sources. They are terrible at doing that.

Finally, via Walking Paper, the Escondido Library is offering Pop Up Podcast which is a space that: “…provide[s] a fun, creative environment for teens to engage with audio recording technology and explore their own self-expression and presentation skills.” I thought this was a very clever idea. Although they have a more elaborate set up I think that a lot of libraries could do something similar with some very simple equipment.

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In Reading Round Up

By Elizabeth Wroten

Reading Round Up: Miscellany

On 08, Feb 2013 | In Reading Round Up | By Elizabeth Wroten

Just a few links this week to share.

This one from Stephen’s Lighthouse is a pyramid of learning showing how much students retain of a lesson depending on how you present it. I think this is informative and bears remembering when you are doing lesson planning. I think the point is not to discourage you from ever lecturing or stopping required reading so much as encouragement to be sure you are using a broad range of teaching methods.

While I am not a writer and never will be, I found this response to Philip Roth telling an aspiring writer not to bother very inspiring and humorous. I think the underlying message is good no matter what you do: you have to try and if it’s between giving up and doing something you are passionate about then go for the passion.

I came across this article in the class I’m taking through ALSC on information literacy. I thought it was very interesting that they used anthropologists to help create and execute the study. Their findings that students aren’t nearly as research savvy as we like to think is also very interesting. I can’t say I’m surprised having seen what skills high schools students in an elite prep school come away with (or don’t). The findings also remind me that kids always seem to be a lot more tech savvy than they really are.


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