By Elizabeth Wroten
On 04, Jun 2018 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten
Today in my Feedly I read this thought-provoking article from the blog Reading While White. If you are white you need to hop over and read through it. The author, Elisa Gall, discusses troubling aspects of the traditional publishing industry including the publication of books about oppressed and marginalized people by white people as the industry’s answer to the call for more diversity. The article also calls out the fact that we’re seeing less “I don’t see color” arguments, but are seeing more people calling for books with what they call “casual diversity”. I’ve heard and used the term “incidental diversity”.
As I was reading, though, I was embarrassed to realize I am guilty of looking for those casual diversity books and naming some of the diversity I see in picture books as such. And from there I realized, as Gall points out, this is because I’m still looking at those books with a white lens. While I may never be able to remove that lens completely (or at all), I should not be looking for books that simply have brown or disabled or queer characters in circumstances or stories or places that are essentially white or able bodied or hetero. And if those characters can be swapped out for a white character, it may not be true diversity.
Now that being said, this does not mean we need one story to represent all black people (or all disabled people, etc.). Nor does it mean that a black and white character may not be able to be seen in a similar story. I think my own blindspot over this stemmed from my desire to see the abundance of stories that reflect me and my children available to children of color (and others). The problem with that is that I didn’t stop to examine whether or not those same stories would be applicable to those other children. In some cases they might be, but in many others they are not. It was a really good check on my privilege to read that article and realize how careful I need to be when reviewing books and a good reminder that I am not always the best person to be reviewing diverse content. I’m trying to use my gatekeeper status and the fact that white librarians might (sadly) be more likely to listen to my recommendations, but that doesn’t mean I will have the most accurate perception of how a book will work for an audience that isn’t white, cisgender, able-bodied, straight, and middle class.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 15, Jan 2015 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten
After a couple weeks of the Makerspace is starting up again. We have not moved into our new space yet, which means we’re still living out of bins. It’s not so bad. Clean up just takes forever because every last supply has to fit into a box just so, so that it will all fit back in our storage corner. This is not helped by the fact that I let the kids go during the hour and half I have them. I would rather they were engaged, excited, and making something rather than feeling like they couldn’t make a mess or touch anything which leads me to an article I came across on the Inquire Within blog about Inquiry and the Culture of Permission. For the record I did not/have not watched the video yet so I can’t vouch for it’s relevance or quality, but the post itself is great.
I think I already do this in my Makerspace, but it’s a good thing to think about and be sure I am giving permission to try out ideas instead of shutting the kids down all the time. It’s a short read, but well worth it. There’s some good food for thought, and even though it was written more with classroom teachers in mind, I think the culture of permission is essential to a makerspace.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 20, Nov 2014 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten
One place my makerspace struggles is keeping the kids engaged when they are in between projects or, especially, when they are waiting for help or materials. Part of this has to do with the ages of the kids in the makerspace. They’re young (second and third grade primarily) and while I wish they could be totally independent they can’t be. A second grader sometimes needs help sawing or setting up the drill.
I found an inspired solution to this problem in one of the makerspace presentations I went to at the CUE fall conference. The presenter said she sets up little activities for the kids (more on your role and curriculum in the makerspace in next week’s post), but that the instructions should fit on a post-it if you need them at all.
In Reggio classrooms teachers set up what they call provocations. These are little set-ups with materials and context that hint at what kids can do with the materials, but still allows for some interpretation and individual exploration. Drawing on this, I decided to start this practice in the makerspace. Kids can go there if they are bored, if they are waiting, if they need inspiration, if it looks interesting or I may send them there if they are off task (I haven’t actually done that yet and I don’t want to make it a punishment, but there are a couple friends that may need some specific redirecting).
I came across this article on the Inquire Within blog about how creativity and passion can’t happen on demand. It’s a lot more organic than that. I totally agree with this article and how it advocates for having creativity and passion built into the day in all lessons, however, sometimes you only have the allotted time to build and work with materials, as we do in the makerspace. I like to use the provocations to expose the kids to ideas and concepts and help get them into a maker mindset.
Some provocations we’ve done so far:
- Take apart: old laptop, set of tiny screwdrivers
- Hammering & Drilling: table full of wood scraps clamped down, bowls of nails and screws, drills, hammers, and drill bits
- More exploring buoyancy: Can you make boat that will float? Supplies: tub of water, bin of Legos
- Exploring buoyancy: Can you make a boat that will float? Try different shapes and sizes. Supplies: tub of water, bowl of tiny aquarium stones, roll of aluminum foil
- Markers and graph paper
- Marshmallow challenge: Build the tallest, most stable structure you can in 18 minutes. You can make teams or work together. Supplies: 1 marshmallow, 20 spaghetti noodles, 1 yard tape (masking), 1 yard string, kitchen timer
- Slime Kitchen Recipes: Here’s my list, recipes, and planning for this one. The link will open a pdf in a new window. It’s a little longer and more involved than the others and was driven by the kids starting out using up all our glue, glitter, and some cornstarch and water.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 20, Nov 2013 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten
On this blog I try to keep a separation between my professional development and my personal life, but back in October I attended two conferences (CUE and Internet Librarian) that brought some of my personal research into play. Over the past 6 or more months I’ve been really researching alternative educational philosophies and options for my daughter’s education. I know it’s a little early, but our public school system is abysmal and our private schools are less than impressive. The more I read about these philosophies (primarily Reggio Emilia, Montessori, and Waldorf) the more I agree with their underlying principles of student-led learning, teacher as mentor or co-learner, the incorporation of art and creativity, an emphasis on imaginative play (which is almost totally gone even from our local private schools), and a mixture of “subjects” that include more practical activities like cooking, cleaning, and developing hobbies.
I know libraries continue to see budget and staff cuts and keep having to do more with less. The new popularity of makerspaces and the insistence of some that they be part of libraries doesn’t help that situation. Neither does the fact that they feel a bit like some hipster fad. I can totally see how they aren’t right for many libraries and would be downright impossible for others to pull off. But I also think they’re a really important opportunity, especially for school libraries, to help curiosity, creativity, and outside-the-box thinking. Three of the sessions I attended at my conferences focused on makerspaces and I found myself very inspired by them, largely because the idea dovetails so nicely with the educational philosophy I have found myself drawn to in researching for my daughter.
So what exactly is a makerspace and what happens there? A makerspace is just any space that has been designated for free creating that is open to either the public, or, in the case of stand-alone makerspaces, people who pay a membership fee. Oftentimes it will be a place that has equipment that you would not have at home because it is large, expensive, or specialized, like CNC machines or letter presses (although I have to admit we own one of those) or 3D printers. They tend to be spaces that encourage people to collaborate, bounce ideas off one another, and teach each other. Some makerspaces aren’t permanent, they “pop up” when a cart of materials is wheeled out into an open room. They can be large, they can be small, they can be medium. Some makerspaces have a specific focus for the types of projects created there, like printing (again with the letter presses!), others simply provide an open flexible space and a variety of classes (like the University of Nevada, Reno’s Science and Technology library that has whiteboard walls and offers classes from lock picking to Nerf nights themed around zombies and science). Making doesn’t have to be complex or expensive and any age can do it. Think toddlers with blocks, school kids with a bunch of cardboard boxes and some tape, and high schoolers with some wood scraps and a few basic tools. All making is, is creative thinking and imaginative play. It also frequently taps into STEM (another buzzword) and STEAM. Kids building with blocks to explore architecture. Kids using Minecraft to build in a virtual world. Kids creating art to express what they are learning about biology or math. Kids learning how a camera works by taking one apart and experimenting with one. Kids writing a play and making costumes to share what they have learned about a historical figure or event. Making can be cooking, baking, or brewing.
To me, the most important piece of making and makerspaces is that it emphasizes process over product. I think far too often in school, and even the work place, the product is more important than how a student got there. Even though that process can be incredibly enlightening. I would rather a student made a mistake and turned out a less-than-perfect product, but learned from the mistakes and made adjustments later than produced something perfectly the first time and was able to simply move on without much reflection. Product is obviously important, but it isn’t the end all and be all that our educational system makes it out to be. Makerspaces provide a great opportunity for students (and people) by giving them a space where it’s okay to fail and try again.
Makerspaces also provide a place where students can direct their own learning and follow their own interests. So much of our schooling focuses around a pre-set curriculum that requires learning facts that someone else has deemed important. Sure there’s value in what we learn in school, but, at least for my daughter, I would be happier if she learns how to learn (metalearning), learns where and how to research when she has a question and learns to love learning than learns a list of historical dates. That doesn’t usually happen when someone else is telling you what to learn, what questions to ask and to answer. A makerspace allows students to explore what it is they want to explore. They learn to ask questions and then set about answering them without someone telling them how. And, again, they learn how to fail and what to do when that happens. They learn to play and have fun learning. They learn to be creative and flexible thinkers.
All of this isn’t to say that because makerspaces are great I think libraries need to become makerspaces, nor do I think all libraries should create a makerspace. You need to know your institutional culture, your time constraints, your space limitations, and your budget. It’s important to note, though, makerspaces don’t have to be large or expensive (bring in some rolls of masking tape and a stack of newspapers or save large cardboard boxes and see what a group of kids can do). They don’t have to require loads of extra staffing (roll out the materials during a lull). Certainly a lot of what makerspaces stand for and encourage are tenets of libraries. I know where ever I end up when I am back in the workforce I will certainly consider creating a makerspace.
To go along with this post I would like to create post with a list of makerspace resources for anyone interested in learning more. My hope it to compile that over the next week, but I can’t be sure it will happen especially with the holiday coming up. At any rate, when it is up I will put a link in this post to it.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 25, Sep 2013 | In Reading Round Up | By Elizabeth Wroten
Since I have been plowing through all these novels lately I haven’t made much of an effort to read anything online. Now that I’m reading a bit less, though, I have come across a few articles I thought I would share here (both for others and to help me remember to refer back to them!).
First up is a blog post from Meredith Farkas about how important it is to understand where errors are coming from. I could not agree more with this and think it’s applicable to all levels of education and across all subjects. When I first started out after college I began tutoring and I had one student that was really struggling with math. She was trying to do pre-algebra and it just wasn’t clicking for her. She was bright and I was baffled. It took me awhile but I finally realized, based on some mistakes she made, that she didn’t have any basic math skills (like fourth and fifth grade math) or any understanding of how numbers worked. As soon as I discovered that, we went back and covered the basics. I even stopped working on her pre-algebra with her to get her up to speed, except to limp through her homework. After a few weeks and before we had even finished her crash course in basics she was already better understanding the harder mathematical concepts. That was a turning point for me. I realized how important it was not to just see that students make errors, but what those errors can tell you about gaps in their learning and understanding.
Last Friday I was listening to Science Friday and they had on some guests talking about science fairs. Personally I wish we did a lot more with science in our schools, but for those self-motivated enough these science fairs sounded amazing. One comment that was made that really stuck with me, though, was that working on science projects is a good way for kids to learn about failure. I think our current system of testing kids like crazy really doesn’t value failure and what it can teach us. It makes kids see failure as something to be afraid of and that’s not necessarily a good thing. Apparently David Truss also had failure on the brain, because I came across this post from his blog two days later. It’s short but has some great thoughts.
And I guess I’ll get on the Banned Books band wagon. I came across this post from Teen Librarian Toolbox about changing the discussion of banned books. It reminded me of one of my classes in library school. I can’t remember which one, but the professor gave us some tips for dealing with upset patrons that might object to a material in the library. The very first thing she told us to ask (after apologizing that they were offended) was, what was it you were looking for when you found this and can I help you locate what you were looking for? That always sounded to me like changing the subject to avoid conflict, but in light of this post from TLT I realized it can be more about redirecting the conversation and not validating their complaint. Not sure how I would actually handle this situation IRL, espeically if a patron was irate, but it’s definitely something to chew on.
Okay that’s it for the time being. I may have more in the next few weeks, but in the mean time enjoy the reviews. I have ton of them to write still!
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 13, May 2013 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten
I talked briefly in an earlier post about my research into parenting philosophies that had led me to ecuational philosophies, which in turn led me to begin thinking about how I want to teach in the library. I was reading the CUE journal a few weeks back and these connections occurred to me again. I was struck by this quote from one of the feature articles by Ferdi Serim:
“In reflecting back on two or three decades in which the rallying cry was ‘integrating technology into the classroom,’ I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s time to call the contest. We didn’t win. But the opportunity to learn from failures is how we progress. The classrooms we were trying to integrate into were still ‘stand and deliver, lecture driven, knowledge transmission’ environments. In too many classroom the lecture now shines on a whiteboard.”
So many people think technology is going to be a silver bullet. If you put technology in the classroom all students will be engaged and learning and they will all ace the test. But if you want students engaged in the learning process, technology alone is not going to do this. Technology is a fantastic tool, but it is only a tool.
The issue of On Cue and the article were focused specifically on blended learning and I take Serim’s point in regards to it, but I don’t think the issue is limited to blended learning. One of the biggest failures in (American) education, in my opinion, has been it’s failure to innovate and change on a pedagogical level. Or at least it took a wrong turn and focused on the wrong pedagogy. Like Serim says, classrooms are still lecture based. This is the transmission model of education in which people belive there is a body of knowledge that must be taught to students (and then tested to ensure they have learned it) and I really disagree with strict transmission.
I think educators need to accept the idea that students have valuable contributions to be made to the classroom and to content. One of the reasons blended learning really appeals to me is because it encourages using a variety of ways to interact with information and curriculum. I think it also encourages a mix of transmission and discovery. You engage everyone (or should) and have the flexibility to meet students where they are and teach them in a way that works best for them. It also creates a much more autonomous classroom where the teacher can be both a resource and a facilitator of learning. They help the student gain knowledge through exploration rather than exclusively giving it to them. I think that takes some of the pressure off the teacher, too. It’s okay to say you don’t know and that you will find out together. I suppose in theory this could happen in a traditional classroom, but I have yet to see it.
I realize this isn’t necessarily a library issue, but I do think as central learning hubs, school libraries are well situated to make shifts in their pedagogy and in their programs. They can then serve as evangelists of sorts and even help with integration of new ideas into the classroom. I also think blended learning doesn’t necessarily have to focus on technology. To me it’s so much more than any one physical piece (like an iPad or a laptop), it’s about pedagogical change. Libraries are already champions of knowledge and content creation. They are already facilitators of knowledge. They are already resources for knowledge. It seems a natural step into pedagogical shift and blended learning.
I know none of these ideas are new and I’ve even talked about them here before, but I guess this article really made me realize how important I find it. Apparently CUE really gets my feelings about education and how it needs to innovate.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 03, May 2013 | In Reading Round Up | By Elizabeth Wroten
I guess I’m hopelessly out of the debate loop in Libraryland, because I had no idea until this week that people were debating the need for librarians to have an MLS/MLIS. I don’t want to turn this into a lengthy opinion piece, but I wanted to add a couple thoughts and share three links to some good posts about the debate that I read this week. First the links:
- From Andy Woodward: Yes, We Should Talk About the MLS
- From the Effing Librarian: Why Buy an MLS? and Buying an MLS, Part II
- Updated 5/8/2013: Guest Post on Andy’s blog: Why am I getting my MLS? Because I have to.
As I said, I was totally clueless that this was even something up for debate. I always thought it made perfect sense to require an advanced degree to be a librarian if for no other reason that it shows some level of dedication. Plus I think it lends professional librarians an air of credibility and legitimacy outside the library community. Whether or not that’s a good or bad thing is another conversation.
I agree with the Effing Librarian, because library school does give you a good philosophical foundation, just like getting a teaching credential would give you a good pedagogical foundation. Sure it’s expensive, but education is. Maybe we should discuss reducing the cost instead of no longer requiring the degree all together. Although I think Andy’s idea about a certification isn’t bad either, especially for people who already have professional degrees.
Update: While I really agree with most of the sentiments in the guest post on Agnostic, Maybe my own experience with the degree was different. I worked full time in a really poorly paid position. The economy had just tanked and jobs were disappearing. I didn’t have the option to quit my job and find a library job. San Jose State, where I was enrolled, had many internship opportunities but they were all unpaid and in the Bay Area, a good two hour drive from where I was living. Taking one of those just wasn’t an option. I also noticed that many of the other students enrolled were older than I was and married. They either already had a library job or had a second income that gave them the flexibility to take unpaid internships or low paid internships. I wish I had been that lucky. I tried to get library jobs while I was in school, but no one was hiring in my city. I used library school, even if it wasn’t perfect, to get a theoretical background, to get a sense of the directions I could go, and earn the necessary degree.
That isn’t to say only librarians with an MLS/MLIS are good librarians. There are bad librarians with the degree and there are good ones without it. But I ultimately agree with the Effing Librarian that without some sort of educational requirement/certification it potentially opens the field up to a lot of unqualified individuals and when the administration that does the hiring already thinks you just run a book museum, that’s a problem.
By Elizabeth Wroten
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.