Our library learning commons annual report

There is nothing like ending the school year on a high. My friend and colleague Lisa Unger diligently spends time each year to collate the work that we’ve done that may seem invisible but all together looks outstanding!

How does Lisa make this annual report?  She began by returning to one of our guiding documents:  Leading Learning   As you will notice, the document is laid out like a giant rubric so that you can rank your own work on how well you’re doing.  When our new principal began last year, I went through each of the look-fors and told him where I thought we were at and what work needed to still be accomplished.  The first slide of the slideshow shows a tag cloud that Lisa created based on the primary ideas that drive our LLC goals.

Lisa then harvested any tweet from our Library Learning Commons Twitter account @ODSSLLC, combined that with our annual goals, and tried to showcase what we do.  Once you’ve collated your evidence of your impact on student success, all you need it to have its desired effect is some uninterrupted time with your principal.  Our principal gave us 45 minutes and lots of positive feedback for us.  As Lisa showed off the slideshow and talked about the goals of each event and its success, I took notes on what our principal’s ideas were.  I may have interjected once or twice in my enthusiasm for how well this was all going.  Of course as we were talking, we also realized how much invisible work there is that we didn’t take pictures of including our smorgasbord-style staff meeting where we had 12 concurrent sessions on improving staff and student well-being and relationships.

Thanks to the success of our annual library report in conversation with our new principal, we have put a bow on the end of the year and more importantly, we’ve reflected together on what we’ll take forward into the next school year.

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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Exo by Fonda Lee

Exo (Exo #1)Exo by Fonda Lee

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved this book. I know as a secondary school teacher-librarian that I’m supposed to remain neutral at all times, but I loved this book. Through this universe in which current generations of humans have joined forces with alien governance, Fonda Lee is able to explore the effects of colonization. It reminds me of Rick Yancey’s The 5th Wave and its deeper than Eve Silver‘s book Rush. It explores polarization without the artifice of Hunger Games’ Districts or Divergent’s Factions.

Donovan is a political agent entirely designed by his parents. His father is the Prime Liaison: a political position devoted to negotiations and ultimately satisfying the will of the colonizing aliens. His mother rejected the submission to the aliens and instead leads a rebellion against them. Donovan’s childhood body was experimentally subjected to transformation in order to accept an ingrained body armor called an Exocel. Donovan has the body of an athlete and has been raised to be the warrior within it…until he reconciles with his mother. Suddenly the black and white world of Exocel vs. rebellion isn’t as clear anymore. Donovan realizes the compromises that have been made on both sides in order to gain peace. He risks losing everything but feels compelled to stick up for both sides and to open up negotiations again for greater understanding.

It’s not often that a science fiction novel can spark tears in me, yet it did. I better leave it there to tempt you, rather than to risk any spoilers. I read this book as part of the Ontario Library Association’s Forest of Reading in the White Pine nominees. I liked it better than Cherie Dimaline’s The Marrow Thieves and that is saying something. Don’t overlook this book if you’re new to science fiction. I would highly recommend it to everyone but especially to any teacher who is looking for a way to explore topics of colonization with their classes.

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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 Feedback-Friendly Classroom by Deborah McCallum

The Feedback-Friendly ClassroomThe Feedback-Friendly Classroom by Deborah McCallum

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There are so many hidden gems in this unassuming book. McCallum uses gentle prompts to stir up thinking about how we build trust, reliance and collaboration in our classrooms with the ultimate tools of feedback. If we could write the follow up to this book using some of the rich technology in education that we use every day, this book would take on new significance.

McCallum has reminded me to worry about depth of thinking and not breadth of curriculum coverage.  Her book has reminded me to make feedback part of my teaching practice every day.

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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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