Thursday, January 29, 2009

Google Custom Search

Do any of you use Google Custom Search to make Internet searching more manageable for students? Essentially, you can make a mini-search engine, powered by Google, but only finding results you pre-approve. I put one together last year for my 7th grade students, and the teachers loved it. I think the students appreciated it also. Now I am updating it for this year's research. I go back and forth about Google Custom Search though. It is taking away the need to evaluate websites, therefore lessening the student's experience with this important skill.

I can see using it to teach evaluation and searching - the results are controlled, and the search screen looks very much like Google's. Or if younger students are researching sensitive topics and you want want to allow Internet research but want to make sure the students stay clear of inappropriate sites, this might be a good solution.
In my case, we are using it to make the Internet smaller, in a way. And to keep the kids from wasting time on the blogs that aren't meant to be used for research. The students are investigating what it is like to live in certain Middle Eastern countries, and then they are writing historical fiction from the perspective of an Israeli soldier, or an Iraqi teenager, etc. They aren't experienced enough to know or understand all the bias they would encounter on the web, so we made a selection of sites available to them, but they may carefully go out on a regular search engine if they want to. This way it isn't seen as restrictive, but rather as a guided experience.
Do you use Google Custom Search? Would you?

Friday, January 23, 2009

"Readicide" Versus Librarians

Kelly Gallagher, author of Readicide, claims that the joy of reading is dying in the schools. Supposedly teachers are draining the love of reading from teenagers. Definitely this book is a must read (especially with the free download), and a VoiceThread discussion to hear (thanks Joyce Valenza/SLJ for the post), but is Gallagher talking about our schools? Do you agree with the idea that "[t]he systematic killing of the love of reading, often exacerbated by the inane, mind-numbing practices found in schools" is a problem the independent schools should discuss? I think we need to be aware of it, read about it, understand the idea and its implications, but I don't think I am seeing it to a great extent at my school. Granted, we don't have to worry about the issue of teaching for the standardized testing, which seems to be a prime suspect in the crime of readicide, but Gallagher considers other suspects as well.

On page 24 Gallagher states, "[I]f we have any chance of addressing readicide, we must involve the key players (teachers, students, administrators, literacy coaches, superintendents, board members, legislators, newspaper reporters) in hard talk.We have to take an honest, perhaps painful, look at what is happening to young readers in our schools." Where are the librarians or school library media specialists? Shouldn't they be called upon as "key players" in what is happening to young readers? Schools should be demanding better libraries and librarians if they truly believe readicide is an issue in their districts.

Gallagher also contemplates the lack of interesting reading available in schools. He seems to focus on classroom libraries, which should be one focus, but another should be having good school libraries, with great librarians. He says Anaheim, where he teachers, has no bookstores - so where are people to get books? By not mentioning public libraries/librarians either, he essentially removes libraries from the conversation (Aneheim has several public libraries). How can he write a book with such strong statements about books without considering the value of libraries and librarians in this issue? If teachers are trying to develop lifelong readers, they should encourage the habit of using libraries.

On page 54, Gallagher finally mentions libraries by stating, "instead of always taking students to the library, it is often much more effective to bring the library to the students." This could be true, and working with the librarian to achieve this is crucial. I agree that classrooms should have small libraries in them, but the students should also have regular encouraged access to a large library (with a collection built by experts). Readicide, although bringing up good points and ideas to discuss, essentially fails due to the author's choice to ignore the librarian's role in promoting reading for pleasure. The discussions online about the book state that the extra effort it takes to collaborate with the librarian is a deterrent, and that is why librarians are ignored. This is a bad excuse when an email is all it takes for a librarian to bring a cart of books to a classroom and talk them up for a bit.

On another note, you should read the NEA report: Reading is on the Rise, and take a sigh of relief.. Although older teens read less poetry and drama, fiction reading is on the rise from 2002.

Which scenario tells your school's story? Or do you have a new one? I always find that just as I think reading may be on the decline, a great 7th grade class of voracious readers enters the middle school, and the second semester seniors awaken from the college applications and want to talk about books they are reading. And sometimes those 9th and 10th graders check out stacks of books. And those juniors... well, at my school, they don't seem to read novels for pleasure too much. Either they aren't reading as much, or they aren't talking about it. Whether it is SAT prep or too much homework, I don't know.

Troubles with Typos?

I happily (and fearfully) Twittered about my new blog.. and of course I wrote bolg instead of blog! I am embarrassed! What an introduction. May I present to you a new bolgger? Then I remembered what Penelope Trunk wrote about typos and now I feel better...

"There is a new economy for writing. The focus has shifted toward taking risks with conversation and ideas, and away from hierarchical input (the editorial process) and perfection.
As the world of content and writing shifts, the spelling tyrants will be left behind."

I'll confidently alert you to the big news that I am not perfect. However, I wonder if am I just making excuses for my incompetence as a keyboardist and proofreader? Or am I part of a new era where typos are OK? And in that case, are they OK for our students too?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Difficulty Teaching ARTstor?

My library subscribes to ARTstor, and I think it is a fantastic resource, but I was having trouble teaching my teachers how to use it. It isn't as straightforward as other databases, and ARTstor has great features the teachers weren't using. In fact, I believe only a couple of teachers were using it at all.
Last year ARTstor published some very helpful instructional videos on YouTube, and although there isn't one yet on using instructor privileges, there are enough short clear videos to get a teacher started in less than 20 minutes. Make sure to watch Register for an ARTstor Account, Making an Image Group, and Download Images to PowerPoint.
Tell your teachers and students about these videos - they will appreciate it! My faculty have responded well to them. I am excited to see how they will use the resource. Watch Introducing the New ARTstor below:

How are you and your teachers using ARTstor at your school?

Here I am!

I finally made the leap and started Archipelago, a blog from an independent school librarian's perspective. Last summer after ALA when my kids were home sick for over a week, and I was home with them, I spent some quality time on blogs of librarians from all different types of libraries in America and beyond. I also started following blogs of people who focus on educational technology. I quickly learned so much and before I knew it I had a personal learning network (you may not even know if you are in it yet), and a new MacBookPro. I am ready.

I have been a librarian for 15 years - a couple years in public libraries, and the rest at independent schools. For the past 12 years I have worked at my current job, in the 7-12 grade library of a K-12 school. I am excited to bring another independent school voice to the blogging community. Follow me on Twitter (eabarbanel) too!