Category Archives: 643

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?


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?

Bonus Feature

So, I was out running this morning, listening to podcasts because I’m a nerd like that, and I rolled my eyes so hard I nearly tripped when, in the midst of Freakonomics radio, I heard the term “financial literacy.” I mean, it’s not that I think librarians have the corner on waving the literacy banner, but the way people are adding the word “literacy” to the end of whatever it is they think is in need of attention is getting a little ridiculous, isn’t it? And it’s certainly not that I think information literacy or financial literacy are ridiculous concepts. They aren’t. It’s just that what we’re all waving our respective fill-in-the-blank literacy banners about is essentially the same thing: People need to know more about the world around them and they need to ask good questions and know where to go to get good answers.

If you listen to the podcast or read the transcript (both are available here) you can hear that although Annamaria Lusardi and Lauren Willis supposedly arguing on either side of the financial literacy debate, they’re really arguing for the same thing. Lusardi says that education is the only solution but the problem is that education is expensive. Willis says that actually, we’re not that great at educating in the first place and that there is no evidence that knowing the difference between a stock and a bond correlates to people doing better in their lives, but knowing math does make a difference. In other words, knowing the difference between a database and Wikipedia doesn’t make a difference in people’s lives, but knowing how to judge information does. Lusardi says that we need to teach people how to drive before we license them for a car, and Willis says that really, all we need to do is hire a knowledgable someone to drive the car for us. In other words, education matters. Whether we’re educating students to find their own information or we’re educating librarians to be the knowledge repositories, education is still central to both of their arguments.

Here’s the thing. If people don’t know enough to know what they don’t know, how can we expect them to value what we do as librarians? To seek us out when they’re having trouble? To ask good questions? Without education, not only don’t they know that a zero-down mortgage with a crazy interest rate is a terrible idea, but they also don’t know who to ask for advice on what might be better.

I’m still considering what the librarian’s role in the banner-waving parade is. I don’t know how effective it is for us to teach one-off workshops, but I’m afraid for what might happen if we don’t. I am very concerned that we never get to see how a student might use our teaching, but I would never suggest that the education we provide isn’t valuable. It’s a kind of black hole of good intentions. What we want and what we can reasonably expect are two very different things, but we just can’t face the possibility of not trying.

Audition CDs with Audacity and iTunes

Here’s the screencast I did for this week’s assignment. I used two different tech tools for one outcome – an audition CD. Audition CDs are typically required as a screening round for graduate programs or as application materials to summer festivals. This is how I have made all of my audition CDs, except there’s usually much more swearing and many more hours involved in the actual production.

You can watch it here.

P.S. Anyone using WordPress who has figured out how to add screencast content to their webpage, please let me know.

3 articles

I’m working on a project with the Education department of the University Musical Society to redesign, reinterpret, and otherwise make more awesome the teacher resource guides that they provide for the youth performances. (Gigantic PDFs can be had here.) We have proposed a solution that requires the migration of most of the content to a new website that is directed at the students rather than the teachers. As a result, I’ve been thinking a lot about learning in an online space and visual literacy. So, my three articles:

  • “Visual Culture and Literacy Online: Image Galleries as Sites of Learning” by B. Stephen Carpenter II and Lauren Cifuentes. Art Education vol. 64, issue 4, July 2011.
  • “New Horizons: The Sea Change Before Us” by Larry Johnson. EDUCASE Review, March/April 2006.
  • “Keep Your Ear-lids Open” by Gary Ferrington. Journal of Visual Literacy, 1994.

The first is a kind of case study about how online image galleries can be used for interpreting examples of visual culture. It’s mostly a case study of a particular curated online image gallery called Seeing Culture.  I think the article has some problems interpreting results and communicating those results to the reader, but it does bring up some interesting points. Particularly this one:

“By engaging in social interpretations of visual culture, viewers construct interpretations they would not derive in isolation. The forum for interpretation provides learners with a space to rethink and broaden their interpretations in relation to interpretations posted by others. In Seeing Culture students learned to recognize the power of photo manipulation to tell a profound story on one hand or to present a dishonest message on the other.” pg. 37

The second article proposes an interesting concept: the idea of a new media literacy. Of course, it was written by the CEO of the New Media Consortium. Let’s put the bias on the table, ok? Still, the article is very short and provides good, concise definitions of  visual literacy, aural literacy, digital literacy, and information literacy. The author proposes that new media literacy inhabits a space of overlap between these areas.

 “The NMC defines new media literacy as the set of abilities and skills required for proficiency where the aural, visual, and digital realms overlap. These include the ability to understand the power of images and sounds, to recognize and use that power, to manipulate, transform, and pervasively distribute digital media, and to easily adapt digital media to new forms.” pg. 72

Lastly, an article about aural literacy. I have to admit, even with all the talking and thinking I’ve been doing about information literacy and all of its off-shoots this year, it never occurred to me that there might be such a thing as aural literacy. Learning to hear, and not in a musical or conversational context but in the context of interpreting the world, is an interesting concept. I think that there are a lot of good points to be made about all of the kinds of literacies, but I’m a little skeptical about how adding the word “literacy” to the end of someone’s pet project supposedly lends it legitimacy. Anyway, it’s an interesting article with lots of good information that would be valuable to a teacher in the lower grades. The main problem, the author asserts, isn’t in the students’ ability to hear but in their ability to pay attention to or “attend” what they hear. Think about all of the information we gain just by listening: the speed of a passing car, the footsteps of someone approaching from behind, the difference between a firecracker and a gun shot. We assume that these skills are learned tacitly, and maybe they are, but what would happen if they were addressed in a more explicit way?