I’ll Take You There by Wally Lamb

I'll Take You ThereI’ll Take You There by Wally Lamb

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am a huge Wally Lamb fan and I have read just about everything he is written so of course I was excited to sink my teeth into I’ll Take You There. This is a purely selfish choice ….just love me some Wally Lamb.

Wally Lamb seems to be playing with more magical realism in this novel than I’ve seen before in his other work. There is a certain feeling of playfulness as our main character Felix experiences a sort of “It’s a Wonderful Life” / A Christmas Carol visitation by the ghosts of his past in order to work out a future plan of action. Felix is a film projectionist and heroines of classic movies invite him to step into the film of his life at certain points. It feels a bit like a Deus Ex Machina allowing Felix to re-experience his life. Some of the major events in the book are revealed through this revisiting, allowing Felix’s adult-self to observe his child-self dealing with family trauma. At times this writing technique seems contrived, but once I got to the halfway point in the novel, I couldn’t put it down. It’s not Felix, but his sister Frances, who is the centre of the huge family secret, and she captured my attention and I devoured the rest of the book in a day.

If you like your Beach Reads sad (and who doesn’t? for the Catharsis alone!), then this is a great little gem.

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Mrs. King’s recommended reads

I’m teaching grade 12 creative writing this fall and I’m so excited about it. I believe that to be a good writer that you need to read and write as much as possible.  At my library, students and staff can sign out any seven books they want to for the whole summer.

If you’re reading this, then you might be excited too.  Here’s a list of the books that I highly recommend

a) because they’re written really well

or

b) they connected with me personally and I want to share this part of me with you.

Life Changers

The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill

A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry

She’s Come Undone by Wally Lamb

100-Mile Diet by Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon (non-fiction)

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

Tomboy Survival Guide by Ivan Coyote

NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity by Steve Silberman (non-fiction)

This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein (non-fiction)

The Jaguar’s Children by John Vaillant

Medicine Walk by Richard Wagamese

The Wars by Timothy Findley

Misconceptions by Naomi Wolf (non-fiction)

Just Juicy

Son of a Trickster by Eden Robinson

White Teeth by Zadie Smith

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

The Winter Palace by Eva Stachniak

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

The Magicians by Lev Grossman

Origin by Dan Brown

Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (aka J.K. Rowling)

Bastard out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison

Dataclysm: Who We Are by Christian Rudder

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
The Second Machine Age by Erik Brynjolffson and Andrew McFee (non-fiction)

Spin by Clive Veroni (non-fiction)

 

Indigenous Nationhood by Pamela Palmeter

Indigenous Nationhood: Empowering Grassroots CitizensIndigenous Nationhood: Empowering Grassroots Citizens by Pamela Palmater

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It’s difficult to award stars to a book that is so important for people to read, but also difficult to come to terms with. This book has been with me physically for the better part of the year. In October I attended Treasure Mountain Canada (TMC) in Winnipeg, Manitoba…a city I’ve had very little to do with until this event. The day before TMC the Manitoba School Library Association invited participants to engage with the First Nations and Metis people of the area through a series of workshops. The day began with smudging, drumming, and very personal time with the workshop facilitators. I was drawn to the sessions by Melanie Florence and Niigaanwewidam Sinclair. We talked about a Canadian history that I had never heard before and I started on a learning quest this year.

I worked with teacher-librarian Jennifer Brown and book distributor GoodMinds to get a list of must-reads on the history and present of First Nations people in Canada and this book was at the top of Jen’s list. She warned me that this is not an easy book to read, but the legacy of Canadian law, the colonial strategies that are obvious and subversively embedded in our governance look very much like a violent strategy to do away with First Nations people altogether. Palmater speaks on multiple issues affecting First Nations people that start as assimilation but often lead to neglect through lack of funding. This lack of funding today is apparent in things like the state of drinkable water for First Nations people, the inattention to crucial problems like missing and murdered Indigenous women, and the inability to grant land rights that prevent massive oil pipelines to run across treaty land. Throughout the book Palmater references the history of First Nations people and also Canadian history and law.

Palmater created the book by harvesting her own blog for each chapter. Stylistically, I wish that Palmater had introduced each section of the book to give more context and flow to the book. Because it’s based on a blog though I will share these links which were more impactful to me as the reader:
For the convincing arguments that Palmater makes to define Canada’s systematic violence against Indigenous people as genocide:
http://www.pampalmater.com/harpers-in…
For its deconstruction of the horrifying statistics of the number of Indigenous children who have been removed from their homes by government officials and are now in care rather than with Indigenous families:
http://www.pampalmater.com/jordans-pr…
For its coverage of the Donald Marshall inquiry and the revelation to me of the international opinion of Canada’s history with First Nations, Metis and Inuit people: http://www.pampalmater.com/justice-mi…

My life has been forever changed by just the beginning of my reading. I plan to do more.

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Tomboy Survival Guide by Ivan E. Coyote

Tomboy Survival GuideTomboy Survival Guide by Ivan E. Coyote

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Ivan’s voice is so refreshingly Canadian…I feel so strongly about this voice (new to me but not new) and its place in the Canadian canon. Ivan speaks from the heart of the Yukon, and then BC and although they have had lots of urban experience, there’s a rural twang that’s everlasting. Ivan speaks of rural isolation, attachment to family, and struggling to make ends meet. Interwoven in this memoir is the gradual revelation of Ivan’s sexuality and gender identity, which becomes more certain as Ivan does. This book is not only sensitive and sweet, it’s really freakin’ funny. I laughed out loud while listening to the audiobook on my commute. If I had to compare Ivan’s sense of humour in their writing to another author, I’d say somewhere between James Herriott (the veterinarian stories you read in your grandma’s bookshelf) and Terry Fallis (a sardonic wit mixed with Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town). I think Ivan E. Coyote should be considered for the prestigious Stephen Leacock award. There. I said it. Don’t miss out on this gem.

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School libraries and eLearning: Answering the call for access and equity

Michelle Campbell and I presented at CONNECT 2018 in Niagara Falls this week.  After some very encouraging conversations at Treasure Mountain Canada in October, we decided to take our ideas about the intersection of school libraries and eLearning success to the wider audience at this conference.  CanConnect attracts some of the greatest education influencers in the province, if not the country and has the power to implement our ideas and philosophy nationwide.

One of the first times I benefited from Michelle’s brilliant work was when she invented UG2Go, the single point access for all of Upper Grand District School Board (UGDSB)’s digital resources.  She did this to solve the problem of multiple logins and passwords that were a barrier for students when working in these spaces.  Here’s the elementary portal:

Screen Shot 2018-04-25 at 10.02.55 PM

and here’s the secondary portal:

Screen Shot 2018-04-25 at 10.03.13 PM

Each of the buttons on the secondary portal lead to a drop down menu containing appropriate digital resources in each.  We have both sponsored and subscribed digital resources here.  The invention of UG2Go was a game-changer for me as a teacher-librarian because I could direct staff and students to one place for everything.

Do you remember when we were kids that there were these Block Parent signs around the neighbourhood?  Block Parent meant that you could go to that house for help for whatever reason.  School libraries are like the Block Parents in schools.  No matter if you need academic help, tech assistance or just want a place to be yourself, you can find this place in a school library.  The shift to learning commons means that school library staff now aim to have this same safe experience in all of our resources: physical and virtual.

 

In UGDSB, the addition of robust digital resources has made it even more attractive to all students, but especially to students who break the mould.  Many of our students come to the school library learning commons well before and after school and on no bus days just for our hospitality and wifi.  The library is not a quiet library anymore as learning takes on many forms.  The library learning commons is also safe for creative risk-taking in learning.

Screen Shot 2018-04-26 at 7.16.47 AM.png

So why, when we were first rolling out eLearning courses, didn’t the school library come to mind?  Why are we an after-thought now that the stakeholders realize that many of the students taking eLearning require some face-to-face help to be successful? I hate to be repetitive but this is largely because the education system bought into the digital native myth, leading everyone to believe that new generations of children would innately be comfortable using digital technology for all of their tasks.  What we’ve learned from decades of mediocre success rates is that students need equitable access to technology and technology instruction needs to be explicit and in context of learning. Students need to learn how to learn and that above all, digital technology is an additional layer to this learning not an innate process.  Even now, boards are eliminating teacher-librarians and technician jobs and instead creating unstaffed learning commons and e-learning hubs.  Much of what I do day-to-day involves personal coaching of staff and students in designing and implementing deep learning tasks both online and offline. I provide technology, professional development, just-in-time support and continuity across the school. Why shouldn’t our eLearning teachers and students have the same support? Face-to-face I am able to create a safe, participatory learning environment where we tailor our daily work to the individualized needs of staff and students.  Online I’m still challenged to find a way to embed my library work in online spaces.  New developments in collaborative technology and a shift in philosophy to include school support staff would go a long way to improve success rates in eLearning students.  

This Is Not A Test: A New Narrative on Race, Class, and Education by Jose Vilson

This Is Not A Test: A New Narrative on Race, Class, and EducationThis Is Not A Test: A New Narrative on Race, Class, and Education by Jose Vilson

I had the privilege to interview Jose Vilson in 2015 the first time I read his book.  This is the second time I’ve read this book and like any great book I learned new things each time. Same words, different me, I guess. The first time through I was interested in the systemic nature of race and class barriers in education. Now I’m interested in how classrooms can be more culturally responsive and how teachers can develop better relationships with students. Each time, Jose’s words have given me pause for thought on these topics.

Jose’s unique perspective, as someone who identifies with more than one cultural community and who is a teacher in an urban setting, is very touching. There are very human things that this teacher talks about but he also doesn’t shy away from difficult conversations. I also hope it is a new narrative….that the radical transparency that Vilson displays here in his book becomes contagious, infecting North America with revolutionary diversity. If you want to hear more perspectives check out the book club run by TVO on this book: https://www.teachontario.ca/community…

Interview part 1: https://youtu.be/tAQQcuV-iOA

Interview part 2: https://youtu.be/nI65X3-oG3o

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The Pain Eater by Beth Goobie

The Pain EaterThe Pain Eater by Beth Goobie

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Maddy is gang-raped by her masked classmates when she is alone and vulnerable but she knows another person was witness to it. At first, she is only able to calm her traumatic thoughts through self-harm. Going to school each day everyone notices the change in Maddy but only a few know why. In English class, they are assigned a collaborative novel to write one student at a time. The mean girls try to make the story about the rumours about Maddy, and Maddy is tormented through gossip and verbal harassment encouraged by her attackers. Slowly Maddy also develops allies in some of her classmates and the class novel becomes more and more about the redemption and triumph of The Pain Eater. It reminds me of Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak and E.K. Johnston’s Exit, Pursued by a Bear but with a unique angle on recovery.

As Maddy begins to put the puzzle together of who her attackers are, she wrestles with withdrawal, suspicion, rage and finally, a will to survive. Beth Goobie writes with an intensity that may be off-putting for some readers. However this raw and authentic exploration will appeal to anyone who can see through lesser writer’s tricks to avoid difficult conversations. Goobie tackles assault, bullying, self-harm and more head-on and young readers will appreciate her candor. I read this book as part of the Ontario Library Association’s White Pine program for teen readers and I will recommend this book to any student in my school library who likes realism.

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Subject to Change by Karen Nesbitt

Subject to ChangeSubject to Change by Karen Nesbitt

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Declan’s family is falling apart as his single mother works beyond her limits to keep the family together, and his brother struggles with addiction as a way to avoid confronting responsibility. Declan battles with which of his family’s secrets to keep and which to keep secret until he is pushed beyond what he can handle. Thankfully thee adults in his school are first to notice that Declan is slipping away and assign him a tutor. Through his tutor’s own example of dealing with family struggle, Declan begins to gain hope that his family could come together. Declan’s story is both a story of surviving trauma and coming-of-age, in that through his family’s hardships he realized that his role is greater than his self. This realization transforms Declan from a child into a man, and he learns to appreciate the grey areas between black and white.

I read this book as part of the Forest of Reading White Pine program for grades 9 – 12. I have difficulty believing that a) this is Nesbitt’s first novel as it is so well crafted and still authentic and b) that Nesbitt is an educator as there is a lot of raw, crass exploration of the teen lexicon and lifestyle choices that make it feel as though she has lived it. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who needs hope or who needs to understand how much the average teen is hiding and dealing with on their own.

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The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline

The Marrow ThievesThe Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I chose this book as it is nominated by the Ontario Library Association’s Forest of Reading program in the White Pine selection this year. …and I think it is a strong contender for the winner, but teachers aren’t allowed to vote. I’m not the only one who agrees it is a winner: this book is sitting on the Canada Reads 2018 long list, won the Governor General’s award for young adult literature and has even broken through the border into recognition in the American market.

It has all the makings of a popular young adult book: strong character development, a driving plot in a not unfamiliar dystopian world, and an optimistic resolution. More than this though, Dimaline takes many of the issues facing First Nations, Metis and Inuit people today and incorporates them into a book that will have readers racing to read more about reservation treaties, residential schools and environmental pillaging without making the reader feel ignorant for not knowing enough. There are so many things I liked about the book as an adult reader including the variety of adult role models that the main character Frenchie encounters.

As a secondary school teacher-librarian, I will be sure to recommend this book to any student looking for an adventurous book, with just the right amount of romance. There are well-developed, positive characters represented from a diversity of backgrounds who work together towards their common goal. This is a book for everyone.

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Three Day Road by Joseph Boyden

Three Day RoadThree Day Road by Joseph Boyden

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Like many settler Canadians, I am on a remarkable journey started just this year to connect with a past that was hidden from me about the atrocities towards First Nations people. I didn’t know what I didn’t know.

Having read and enjoyed Boyden’s Through Black Spruce a few years ago, I needed to explore more about the controversy around author Joseph Boyden and the appropriation accusations that have been made against him. I didn’t expect that Boyden’s book Three Day Road would feel as important to me as The Odyssey in terms of its place in Canadian literature. I was delighted to read Boyden’s masterful and painful character revelation and the searing hot pain of alienation, war and betrayal.

I think the argument goes that Boyden isn’t native enough to be revealing the sacred secrets of ritual and belief. Perhaps my point of view doesn’t matter, but I found this book to be accessible, to be inviting into a culture not my own, and above all, to be a really really good story.

I will recommend this to all of the students in my secondary school library at the senior level.  There are mild suggestions of sex, and the issues of violence and drug addiction are more appropriate for mature readers.

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Social LEADia by Jennifer Casa-Todd

Social LEADia: Moving Students from Digital Citizenship to Digital LeadershipSocial LEADia: Moving Students from Digital Citizenship to Digital Leadership by Jennifer Casa-Todd

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Jennifer Casa-Todd has set a high bar for herself in tackling this multi-faceted concept of leveraging social media to engage students in digital leadership. Her book is densely-packed with examples of how teachers and students negotiate the use of social media to support their innovative, and often, entrepreneurial ideas for social change. A full range of North American teachers will find value in this read which talks about moving from classroom to nationwide impact strategies.

The chapter that had the most impact on me as an educator is called “Build Bridges: Crucial Conversations” which covers using social media to emphasize student voice and essentially flattening hierarchies in education to make sure that students are well-represented on each level of decision-making. Casa-Todd argues that the authentic use of social media in schools does this.

In another chapter Casa-Todd attempts to cover empathy, justice and character and could do well by now writing smaller strategy books to deal with each of these on their own. I will look forward to her extension of her ideas in this book in her next volumes to follow.

To join or review our book club’s discussions go to: https://www.teachontario.ca/community/explore/TO-OSLA-book-club/projects/social-leadia-book-club

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Code in Every Class by Kevin Brookhauser and Ria Megnin

Code in Every ClassCode in Every Class by Kevin Brookhouser

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A powerful little read that zips by. Although I’m personally working on my entry-level Lightbot skills, I really like how Kevin Brookhouser opens up with pseudo-coding activities to create a coding mindset and then works towards more and more challenging materials. The appendices filled with resources will be something that I return to again and again.

I’ll look forward to Kevin’s next book as he will hopefully design a continuum within each of the coding languages to help us again. I’m left with questions that lead me to think that there must be a tipping point when it becomes an embedded part of school culture, but I wonder if this needs to be taught or if curiosity will develop with the right atmosphere and opportunity.

It reminded me a lot of another small but powerful book that transformed my teaching practice: The Socially Networked Classroom: Teaching In The New Media Age

I have been really glad that I could rely on our TeachOntario community as we worked through the book together in our book club.

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Treasure Mountain Canada 2017, Winnipeg

22519653_10154729817275356_8002586963580574990_nStarting with a little crowdsourcing on the topic:

This is an incredible event, and it’s only offered every 2 years but I try to never miss it.  Our focus this year is about being culturally responsive to our school community and there were a wide range of topics explored.  Being hosted in the heart of Indigenous history in Canada, we talked a lot about libraries complicit involvement in First Nations, Metis, and Inuit rights and how we could begin to repair the damage done.  This great work of school librarians in Canada’s context is published and archived through this website: http://tmc.canadianschoollibraries.ca/

My mind is so full with ideas and reflections of the last few days that I can barely put two words together.  That’s why I’ve used the tool Storify to bring you this, the full story:

https://storify.com/banana29/treasure-mountain-canada2017

 

School libraries and eLearning: Answering the call for access and equity

This week Michelle Campbell and I are off to the Manitoba School Library Association Conference to present this paper to other learning leaders in Canada at Treasure Mountain Canada 2017, the school library think tank for Canada.  We would love your feedback on our work and to hear from you about your projects in school libraries, eLearning and partnerships with public libraries.

Learning beyond school walls

School is no longer just a 9:00am to 3:30pm activity. With the increased use of technology and the growth of online learning, our children have an opportunity to learn anytime and anywhere. Upper Grand District School Board (UGDSB) has spent a great deal of time and money purchasing and curating excellent digital resources for our students to access 24/7 from school and from home or travelling between both. With the addition of UG2GO (our Virtual Learning Commons) and UGCloud (our Google Apps for Education environment) more and more homework and learning activities are being provided digitally. This works well for students who have ready access to technology in their home but provides a significant disadvantage to those students who have limited or no access to internet or devices in their homes. As well research studies have shown that children with internet access at home do better in school.

“There is agreement among teens and their parents about the role that the internet plays in teens’ education.  Eighty-six percent of teens, and 88% of online teens, believe that the internet helps teenagers to do better in school.  Eighty percent of parents and 83% of parents of online teens agreed with that proposition.” (Pew Research Center, 2005).

At Upper Grand we also offer a number of eLearning courses for our adolescent and adult students, that rely heavily on access to our excellent digital resources e.g. video streaming content. Staying connected is essential for student success in eLearning courses.

School libraries as safe spaces for eLearning

In general, the success of eLearning is due in large part to the flexibility it offers to its students to learn on their own time and in the setting of the student’s choice. The opportunity for learning in the school library with its reliable hours, equipment and staff support, pulls eLearning students into the space as regular patrons.  For marginalized students and eLearning students, who are working within the school system but in alternate modes of learning, both school and public libraries are safe spaces.  Safety comes from the security, the reliablility, the privacy, the equity of access and the hospitality of libraries.  Especially in small or rural communities, as in the UGDSB,  the “benefits of [these] shared spaces are numerous, and include economic, networking and collaboration, and safety reasons. An added advantage is that in a small community shared spaces support privacy and confidentiality” (County of Wellington, 2011, p. 29)  To meet the needs of eLearning students after school library hours, we have added improved access to digital resources through the physical addition of reliable equipment in community libraries.

Embedded school librarianship in online classrooms

Embedded librarianship is part of the eLearning experience at the post-secondary level but has yet to emerge in school libraries in a systemic approach.  For post-secondary students, embedded librarians are available, helpful and consistent in their approach to student queries ranging from technical understanding to research approaches.  My experience as a student with embedded librarians has influenced the work that I do as an embedded teacher-librarian in the eLearning classes I have access to.  

There are two main scenarios where I act as an embedded librarian: 1) through Google Classroom in our Google Apps for Education suite and 2) by creating an active space through our eLearning classrooms in Brightspace D2L.  In the first scenario, I often have the opportunity to meet the students face-to-face at least once but I provide resources, reminders or even assessment of skills online through Google Classroom.  The home teacher simply invites me as a secondary teacher to the environment.  Through our collaboration, I can help the teacher diagnose weaknesses in the students’ readiness for inquiry, respond to student discussions or invite the student to a face-to-face discussion where we can work through difficulties that they are having.

The highest level of achievement I have to date of being an embedded librarian though comes through our local Digital Historian program (http://www.digitalhistorianproject.com/about/).  Our school is home to this travelling 4-credit program for grade 11 and 12 students, in which students research the histories of local veterans to build an e-book of their lives to be housed at our local museum.  I often get to meet these students once before we are separated by distance.  This second scenario of embedded librarianship is managed through a persistent link I created within their digital classroom inside Brightspace D2L which has resources and also my contact information, should they need assistance.   The persistent link allows me to create resources in a public space, in my case a Google site, and link resources specific to their program and direction.  With these students the help I provide is often a series of pathfinders that lead students through increasingly complex historical and genealogical work.  We use many of the government websites, databases, Ancestry software public licenses and military records.  I am also able to link to a bank of instructional videos for research, but also any inquiry topic like MLA formatting.  The distance and isolation that these students feel in taking a risk by becoming an online student is decreased through the support I offer as an embedded librarian.

Imperative support for at-risk eLearning students

Our UGDSB experience has shown that fully online learning is usually first accessed by students in grades 11 or 12 and that the most requested courses tend to be in the university-stream. In the 2016-17, I was part of a group of librarians and eLearning teachers who ran an action research project (sponsored by an Ontario Teachers’ Federation grant) to examine student engagement in online spaces.  We found that some of the reasons that students are compelled to choose online courses are because: a) the course they want is full at their base school; b) the course is needed to upgrade a post-secondary application average or c) the online learning environment suits the lifestyle of these students who have schedules or geographical challenges that make face-to-face learning challenging.  Tragically, more and more students are forced into an online class because the course they want to take is not available at all in a geographically accessible, face-to-face school.  This factor is the primary reason why students are not successful in online learning (Feick, King, Downe and Unger, 2017).  Our action research indicated through a survey of 109 active online learning students that the following factors affected students ability to learn:

  • More trouble staying motivated in online learning versus face-to-face (27%)
  • Difficulty managing time (20%)

The greatest indicator of whether an online student felt supported or not was having opportunity to ask for help. (Feick et al, 2017).  

In my experience as a college preparatory English teacher, students often need my course to graduate.  Many of my students are returning to the secondary school learning environment just to complete my course and graduate.  This readiness and motivation to succeed is one of the reasons that I believe at-risk students can be successful in the online environment.  Many of my students are experiencing social challenges or lifestyles, similar to this report on youth homelessness in our area:

The primary group [at risk of becoming homeless] includes:

  • Large families (with 3+ children), particularly given the scarcity of affordable family housing units in the County
  • Youth, especially 16 to 18 year-olds (There is much confusion re when youth are “kicked-off” the child welfare system, and the rules about youth accessing social assistance).
  • Young and/or single parents
  • Individuals/families experiencing job loss and credit problems (bankruptcy)

Secondary populations who are also vulnerable include:

  • Young adults with limited job prospects who return to their home communities when they have nowhere else to go
  • Those who come from families with a history of poverty and/or transience
  • Long-time locals with inadequate shelter (e.g. poorly heated farm houses)
  • Men living on their own” (County of Wellington, 2011, p. 23).  

Not only are their prospects of graduating secondary school challenging, but so is their access to reliable computers, print and digital resources, technical and academic support and functioning skills in organization and time management.  As their teacher, these challenges between reader/user, and software and hardware are often insurmountable without a third party stepping in to assist the learner.  In our board, that third party is often a guidance counsellor for emotional support and a teacher-librarian for academic support.   

Pedagogy of eLearning with at-risk youth

Students who are both at-risk and ambitiously taking on eLearning classes are more at risk than their peers in face-to-face learning environments.  These students who are often verging on adulthood require a special pedagogy of their own.  In Handbook of Research on K-12 Online and Blended Learning, Repetto and Spitler apply a framework of “5Cs” (as cited in Ferdig and Kennedy, 2014) to online learning with at-risk students.  According to the 5Cs framework students need:

  • to be able to connect current learning in school to the knowledge and skills they will need post-school…
  • to be provided with a safe and supportive climate for learning….
  • to understand and learn how they are in control of their own learning and behaviors….
  • an engaging curriculum grounded in effective instructional strategies and evidence-based practices to support their learning….
  • to be part of a caring community that values them as learners, as well as individuals

(p. 115). The success of eLearning students at this precarious moment also often relies on moving eLearning students from adolescent reliance to adult independence through explicit training of time management, accountability and organizational skills.  Our research and practice demonstrates that school librarians are valuable partners in helping each student achieve this independence.  However the limited access to school library staff and spaces has challenges for eLearning students.

Equity and student success

The decision to bring technology to students in the community was based on an initiative from the Upper Grand Technology Council, an internal board group that brings together representatives from the board’s IT department, board administration, school support and program services. The intent of the technology council is to plan and strategize ways in which technology can support student success. Understanding that many students are at a disadvantage in terms of access to technology, the members of the technology council discussed many possible reasons why a student might not have access to the Internet or technology — no Internet in the home by parent choice, no Internet in the home because of low income, no Internet in the home because you cannot get Internet service in a rural area, Internet in the home but no or very limited access to devices in the home.

“In Canada, 83% of households have access to the internet at home, but a closer look at the numbers shows a stark divide between the top and bottom quartiles of family income – 98% of families in the top quartile have internet access, compared to only 58% of those in the bottom quartile (with average family incomes below $30,000)”(People for Education and Statistics Canada, 2012, p. 4).

One solution that is often proposed is to go to the public library to access technology, but we also hear from our students that the technology at the public library is limited and in high demand. “Given the digital divide, it is unsurprising that poorer Canadians rely more heavily on public access points such as libraries to use the Internet. The biggest user of library Internet access are Canadians aged 16 to 24, where 21.5 per cent used Internet library access in 2012”(Geist, 2013).
After much discussion we decided to approach one of our local public library systems – Wellington County Public Library – with a unique pilot project to see if we could increase access to devices for UGDSB students by having the public library loan out our Chromebooks to our students through their library system. Wellington County Library was chosen for the pilot because their jurisdiction covers most of the rural areas of our board. Wellington County Library was very receptive to the idea and willing to move ahead immediately with this project in 3 of their branch libraries. We worked together to create a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that outlined the roles and responsibilities of each party as they relate to the project. For example we determined that Upper Grand DSB would be responsible for loss or damage to the Chromebooks without any cost to the public libraries.

Bridging the digital divide by partnering with public libraries

“Not all students have the same kinds of access to digital technologies. The “digital divide” refers to the gap between the privileged and underprivileged members of society in terms of their ability to access digital tools and the Internet.” (People for Education, 2014, p. 4). After a successful pilot project with Wellington County Library we moved forward with approaching the rest of the public library systems in our board jurisdiction in an attempt to bridge the digital divide.  In addition to increasing the project at Wellington County Library to include 11 more branches (total of 14 branches) we added Guelph Public Library (7 branches), Shelburne Public Library (1 branch), Grand Valley Public Library (1 branch) and Orangeville Public Library (2 branches). The school board donated 5 Chromebooks for each branch library to circulate to Upper Grand students only. There were a total of 25 branch libraries between the 5 different public library systems that were given Chromebooks as well as given protective cases and Chromebook charging bins.

This project has been and continues to be extremely successful in terms of circulation statistics. The use of the Chromebooks in house and the circulation outside the library has continued to increase over time. During the 2015-2016 school year Guelph Public Library circulated 744 chromebooks and Wellington County Library circulated 1204 chromebooks. During the 2016-2017 school year circulation increased as GPL circulated 964 chromebooks and Wellington County Library circulated 1298 chromebooks. We expect this upward trend to continue for the upcoming school year.

Marketing and promotion was essential to ensure that students and parents were aware of the chromebook project. We used social media (school board and public library), school newsletters, public library newsletters, television and radio advertising, and online and newspaper articles to promote the project over a period of time. Here are a couple of examples of our marketing efforts:
http://www.ugdsb.ca/blog/Chromebooks-available-at-all-Guelph-Library-locations-for-Upper-Grand-students/   

https://www.guelphmercury.com/news-story/5551299-upper-grand-school-board-links-up-with-libraries-to-provide-student-internet-access/

In cooperation with Guelph Public Library we also had an opportunity to present the Chromebooks in our public library project as a poster session at the 2016 OLA Superconference. The goal of the session was to spread the idea to other school boards and public libraries in the province. The title of the poster session was “Five Public Libraries and a School Board” and you can see the poster here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1nFmji_CTcN3dHd6EOP-Qk48ucxJDj99B2o-w5oe1jvo/edit?usp=sharing

Chromebook circulation has been so popular at Guelph Public Library that we were able to allocate an additional 16 chromebooks for circulation through their branch libraries in the 2016-2017 school year. Other positive stories came from Shelburne Public Library who let us know that the addition of the Chromebooks allowed them to start a creative writing program for teens program. At Wellington County Library the addition of the devices prompted them to purchase and circulate “wifi to go” devices for their rural communities. Many of our UGDSB students have taken advantage of this new addition and will borrow both a wifi hotspot and Chromebook for home use. We also heard from a number of parents that this program has alleviated family stress because they only have one computer in the home and two or more children that need to use it at the same time.

Next steps

We will continue to support all of the libraries with replacing lost and damaged Chromebooks and any other support they require. In the next couple of years we anticipate that the Chromebooks will all need to be replaced and we plan to support this by ensuring that necessary budget is allocated. We anticipate that we will continue to provide additional devices to the two larger public library systems as there never seems to be enough.  Overall we feel that this has been a very positive and unique partnership with our local public library systems and the high circulation statistics justify the need. We hope we have helped to bridge the digital divide for our rural students and our low income students by providing equitable access to Chromebooks through public libraries.

School libraries are pivotal to the success of online learning programs, especially in rural communities.  The profile of an online adolescent student in combination with the context surrounding their choice to learn online puts the library at an optimal position to support this learning.  “Constructivist tenets of online learning match those of inquiry and problem-based learning associated with information fluency and library instruction” (Boyer and Kelly, p. 367).  As online students often are transitioning for the first time from face-to-face environments, they realize that they need to develop new strategies for their studies and a new skillset for success.  As with face-to-face learning, school libraries have the flexibility, security and tools to meet the needs of online learners.  The reliable nature of the public library in conjunction with the partnership of school libraries has allowed all youth to access online learning support across our rural community.  

Helping Your Reluctant eLearners Finish With Pride

Off to the BOLTT conference this week and this time I’m presenting for the first time to this audience. Maybe it’s because I’ve been teaching online now for 7 years or because I just had a fabulous experience researching online engagement last year, but regardless, I now have the confidence to talk about elearning for at-risk students.

During the presentation I’ll be harvesting the ideas of the participants in the room on Padlet, which I promise to share with you after the presentation is done on Friday.