Saturday, December 17, 2011

Our students are not robots (except when they are)

I have just finished teaching an intensive two and a half week course on Lego Robotics. I met with the same 13 students all day every day during that time, and we built and programmed Lego robots, completing increasingly complex (both for them to program and me to build) challenges. It was an amazing time, but I’m not going to miss either the incessant whir of the motors or the incessant calls of “Ms. K-M, Ms. K-M, Ms. K-M!”

The other constant refrain of the course was, “My robot’s not doing what I want it to do.” To which I would reply, “Your robot is doing exactly what you told it to do; what did you tell it to do?” We talked a lot about programming and free will—specifically, your robot does not have free will, and it will only do what you tell it to do. If you’re robot is not doing what you want, it means you didn’t tell it what you wanted to do. (I managed to thoroughly undermine this line of argument by showing them Short Circuit.)

After the 342nd (give or take) time I had this conversation, I started to relate it to other conversations I’d had with colleagues, usually as they bring me their students’ final products (sometimes these are projects they’ve worked on with me, sometimes not), and they tell me, “This is not what I was expecting students to produce.” And then we look at the assignment and/or rubric, and I often end up thinking (and saying), “Well, based on this, your students gave you exactly what you said you wanted.” Sometimes it’s teachers who are disappointed their students didn’t elaborate and build on ideas—but the assignment clearly asks for a report, and makes no expectation of applying ideas and facts to new situations. Sometimes it’s teachers who are frustrated that students spent more time on bells and whistles and fancy colors (whether the product be a poster, a PowerPoint, or something else) and not as much time on content—but the rubric gives as much weight to color and visual appeal as it does to content.

If we don’t ask our students to engage in inquiry, or use critical thinking, or apply prior knowledge to new information, they won’t. Some will, sure. But most students need to be prompted, guided, and taught to do so. And that’s our job.

I’m often able to revisit these conversations the next time I start planning a project with a teacher, and we’re often able to design something that, from the outset, asks students to use critical thinking skills and demonstrate the application of those skills.

However, our students—unlike most robots—do remember the programs they’ve been told to run before. Even the bad ones. So even though we’ve created something new and different, many students will fall back into old habits.

This is a challenge I know I’m not alone in facing; I’ve talked about it with colleagues both at my school and in other schools. It is so frustrating. We want to make the shift to inquiry-driven, student-centered work that builds critical thinking ability. But we can’t make that shift all at once. But in order to make the small shifts, it seems like we have to overhaul the entire culture. But we can’t. . . you get the idea.

I don’t know the answer for this, but I am starting to think about the spring research season and how we can help students reprogram their own learning behaviors.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Et tu, Nicholas Carr?

I did not intend for it take this long for me to finish writing up my thoughts and reflections on AASL, but, well, it has. I thought of skipping writing this up altogether, but I’ve had a draft going for so long this now more about a battle of wills than anything else.

While at AASL I had the pleasure of sitting on a book discussion panel with Sara Kelly Johns, Joyce Valenza, Doug Johnson, and Nicholas Carr; we were all there to discuss Carr’s book, The Shallows.

I found the book very interesting—very frustrating at times, as the notes in my margins will attest—but I thought there were a lot of interesting ideas. I was excited to have a chance to talk to Carr about some of the things the book had made me think about—ideas beyond what he’d written. I wanted to take the conversation he’d started in the book, and push it in new directions.

I’ve posted the “long version” of my question to Carr; I did not read the entire thing—these were my notes I used to prepare (looking at this made me realize something a colleague had said to me years ago, but which I didn’t think was true—I tend to think in paragraphs. This kind of weirds me out). My question to Carr was about the ADD brain, and whether it may be better adapted to this new information landscape.

Tom Hartmann's hunter vs. farmer theory of ADD/ADHD (which is by no means the definitive explanation) proposes the idea that ADD was, at one point, an evolutionary advantage. When we hunted for our food we needed people who were excited about the risk and pursuit of the kill—but also able to muster the hyperfocus necessary to hunt and track an animal. However, those skills are maladaptive in most classrooms and offices. But with media environments that call for us to not only switch focus frequently, but also have the ability to focus in on important information (you know, like if that rustling in the bushes is the wildebeest we want to make our dinner), is it possible that we’re coming back to a time when people with ADD are at an evolutionary advantage again?

His response was, in a word, unsatisfying. His response to all of our questions was, frankly, unsatisfying. Not because of the content of the answer, but because he seemed—both in that book discussion and in conversations outside of that formal discussion—unwilling to engage in ideas outside of what he had decided he wanted to talk about.

I may be assuming too much. Maybe he does engage and dig into ideas with other people in other contexts. But he was there specifically to talk about his book and the ideas in it. However, it became clear that he was there just to talk about the ideas in his book—not to apply his ideas to new information or contexts.

For someone who had written a book that had a basic premise of “people are no longer willing and able to engage deeply with new ideas”, his seeming unwillingness to engage deeply with new ideas was, well. . . surprising.

I would have loved to point that out to him, but I have a feeling he may not have engaged with that idea either.


This is the long version of the question I asked of Carr:

I work at a school for students with learning disabilities, primarily dyslexia and ADD/ADHD. Inattention, lack of focus, and distractibility are not unfamiliar topics for me. And while no one--particularly not those who have or work with those who have ADD—would deny that it presents a variety of challenges, there are unique strengths to the ADD brain as well--the draw to risk and change, the willingness to identify problems (even or especially when tact would make others hold back), the eagerness to respond in the moment, and when engaged in an issue that interests them, a laser-like focus that is unparalleled.

Tom Hartmann's hunter vs. farmer theory of ADD/ADHD, while not the definitive explanation of the roots of ADHD, does offer an interesting hypothesis for the evolutionary basis for ADD. The theory proposes that the high frequency of ADD in modern settings represents otherwise normal behavioral strategies that become maladaptive in environments such as the classroom or office. Traits that made it possible for our nomadic ancestors to survive can make life very difficult for our settled selves.

But not in all instances. There are still situations in which the ADD brain thrives. The
environment of video games you described yesterday--being asked to pay attention to multiple stimuli at once and respond to all--sounds a lot like the demands placed on an ER doctor--a role in which the ADD brain thrives.

There is one particular strength of the ADD brain that some of us might be rightfully
jealous of, and that is the ability to hyper focus. After all, being a good hunter was not just about risk and pursuit of the kill; it also entailed patience and persistence.

That intense focus on a topic, usually to the exclusion of all others, is something that many seem to want to do, but comes naturally to many with ADD when they are engaged in a topic about which they are truly passionate. This focus, combined with its impulsiveness, makes the ADD brain, in many ways, the entrepreneurial brain. And I don't think anyone would argue we don't need entrepreneurial brains.

The world shifted and changed in a way that made life more difficult for those with ADD,
but if now our technology is truly making us more distracted and distractible, are those
with ADD, and their ability to hyper focus, at an evolutionary advantage again?

Sunday, November 13, 2011

UDL: The curb cut's cognitive cousin

At a session at AASL—which was, ostensibly, about creating resiliency in students—the presenter said the following:

“There’s very little we can do that supports students at risk that doesn’t take away from other students.”

I was already, at that point, pretty annoyed by almost everything in the session (Someone else in the session had said that a good way to teach positive classroom behavior was to threaten students to hold them in for recess, and the presenter agreed that this was an excellent way to teach positive behavior, which almost made me lose my mind. Here’s a classroom management tip: if you, as an adult, would find such treatment insulting, chances are it’s not going to have the desired impact with students. How does that teach anything? How does it address the root of the problem? If a student is genuinely struggling in the classroom due to a hidden or undiagnosed learning disability—or for any number of other reasons—and that struggle is manifesting as misbehavior, how does holding a child in for recess address the issue? And if you hold the entire class for the misbehavior of one, you’re further ostracizing that child. It’s just awful, all around. /overly-long parenthetical rant) and had been trying to make my escape (it was sparsely attended and we kept having to talk to our neighbor, which made it a little awkward).

I’m almost glad, however, that I did stay to hear that, as sometimes I forget what an unfortunately pervasive attitude that is. So many teachers believe that you can’t help the at-risk students in your classroom without somehow taking away time/attention/focus/etc. from the other students in your classroom.

(When I mentioned my frustration with that session/presenter, another colleague pointed out that, yes, if you put an at-risk student in a class of 37 (a number based, sadly, on the reality of a friend of hers), it is going to take away from the amount of attention you’re able to give the other students. Which is likely true, but if you already have 37 students in a room you likely already have high needs students, and it’s also likely that there are many students not getting the attention that they need. There is only so much good pedagogy and instructional design can address.)

Anyway, this all is a perhaps overly-wordy way to introduce the Learning Commons session I presented at AASL (and since, apparently, this blog post is all about the parenthetical aside, I'm going to use this one to give a HUGE thank you to Buffy Hamilton for all her work creating an amazing learning space).

Universal Design for Learning is built on the idea that the students in our schools vary widely in their abilities, and we need to design our curriculum in order to meet the needs of those learners. It is up to us to fit the curriculum to our students, not the students to fit themselves to our curriculum. Curricula that are designed from the outset to meet the needs of a variety of learners will meet the needs of far more students than one designed for the mythical "average" student.

I think of UDL as the curb cut's cognitive cousin. The curb cuts that are in all sidewalks were originally put there in order to make them accessible for people in wheelchairs, but those curb cuts are also useful for those of us pushing strollers or dragging wheeled suitcases. Sometimes--and I think this is especially true in the library--we don't know the individual learning profiles of our students. But if we design our curricula to meet the needs of a variety of learners from the outset, we don't need to worry about retrofitting to individuals.

I am, by no means, a UDL expert, and I don't think my library curriculum is perfect in that regard. But they are principles I strive to implement as I design instruction and select material.

Aimee Mullins, who I refer to in my slide deck, has an amazing TED talk about the views of dis/ability, and how much perspective matters:

Our perspective on students, and what they're able to accomplish, is what sets the tone in our libraries and in our classrooms and in our schools. By designing our schools to meet all learners where they are, we make them places of possibility.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

A snow storm, the keys to the bus, and a teleporter

I’m writing this from my parents’ house, on a bit of an impromptu mini-vacation, having fled Connecticut in search of electricity, heat, and hot water. Of course, power was restored to my school while I was driving here, meaning I will be turning around to un-flee early tomorrow morning. In a way I can’t quite put my finger on, this feels like a metaphor for my entire fall.

As frustrating as another multi-day power outage is (especially when it’s so cold!), it was nice to have an excuse, after a very busy fall and especially busy October, to cocoon myself in blankets and sleep for a very long time. My body and brain were both overdue for a little hibernation.

My job has changed a bit this fall, as I’ve found myself taking on more and more in the realm of technology integration. To be honest, the line between librarian and ed tech facilitator has always been a little fuzzy for me; frankly, I think the line between educator and ed tech facilitator should generally be a little fuzzy. All educators should be using and reflecting on the role of educational technology—and guiding students in using and reflecting on technology.

Over the years I’ve spent working here, and particularly this fall as we’ve launched our iPad program, I’ve found myself getting more and more directly involved with ed tech. Finally this fall I had a meeting with “powers that be” types and said, basically, “I’m driving this bus. I need the keys.” And they gave me the keys! Which is awesome! And overwhelming! But the other really great thing that came out of that meeting was knowing that my work in this area is noticed and appreciated and supported. Having recently spent time talking with colleagues in other schools who do amazing work that goes unappreciated by their supervisors, I know how lucky I am to have supportive administrators.

The first thing I decided to do in my official role as Educational Technology Facilitator was survey my faculty about their comfort level with ed tech and their professional development needs. The results in many ways confirmed what I had suspected—teachers want ed tech professional development to be iterative and hands on. Not a few days a year, but ongoing—and they also want the opportunity for one-on-one support and independent learning. I’ve been working on creating more and more tutorials, which also helps with the “I’ve answered this question a million times” feeling—now I have a ton of links I can send out when needed. I’m also trying to set up informal “drop-in” tech instruction times during the school day (as well as before and after). I’m hoping to do this a bit more now that I’m done with conference travel for a little while.

The survey also garnered a request to “learn all the things” as well as a teleporter. It’s reassuring to know that my colleagues have totally realistic expectations of what I’ll be able to accomplish in this role.

My next goal for this role (and I’m saying it here in the hopes that someone will hold me to it) is to institute a “23 things” style program for my faculty. While at AASL I saw a presentation about doing exactly that, and got some great ideas that I plan on stealing.

More AASL reflections (hopefully) to come in the next couple weeks. I have a feeling that things are genuinely going to slow down, but I have some ideas and reflections I’d like to share (including the slides from my Learning Commons presentation).

Tangentially related, if you haven’t already, please check out School Libraries: What’s Now, What’s Next, What’s Yet to Come, a collaborative ebook edited by Kristin Fontichiaro and Buffy Hamilton. I’m thrilled to be a part of it.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Why Do I Need to Find Multiple Sources?

When doing research, students will regularly ask me, "Why do I need to find multiple sources? I can get all the information I need from this [article, book, website]." I always explain that if you only use one source, you don't know what you're not getting from other sources in terms of information, ideas, viewpoints, etc. Students are, generally speaking, convinced by my line of argument, but I'd been looking for a good analogy to explain it (I love a good analogy).

And I think I may have come up with one. Technically, it's not my analogy, but I'm pretty happy with the presentation, so I thought I'd share! I took the story about the elephant and the blind men, used (my favorite source for Creative Commons images) to find images to illustrate the story, and put together a quick slideshow:

I'll be trying it out tomorrow with a class coming in to find sources for a persuasive essay--a perfect opportunity to talk about the importance of getting multiple viewpoints.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

On helplessness, learned and taught

It is hard for me to write about this, because some of my frustrations are very, very specific, and this could easily become about venting rather than professional reflection. Not that I never vent about these frustrations (believe me, I do), but I prefer to vent a little less publicly.

I cringe (I try to keep it internal) every time I see a teacher model a learning behavior they would never accept from students. Saying, "I don't get technology," or "I can't figure this out, I'm not even going to try" or "Here, you do it, it never works for me." All things I've had teachers say to me in front of students.

It is really hard to keep that cringe internal, because when I hear teachers say these things in front of students it makes me angry. For a faculty that is very aware of the impact of learned helplessness, we don't always spend a lot of time reflecting on who taught that helplessness.

I can be guilty of teaching helplessness to my teachers, and I am working on recognizing and stopping that behavior. When someone asks me a question, I want to answer it; this is an instinct many teachers and librarians share, and I don't think it's always a bad one. But sometimes our drive to provide the answer can get in the way of teaching people how to find the answers themselves.

For example, a teacher recently e-mailed me to ask if a certain book was available via Bookshare. My first instinct was to look it up for her; but, I'd spent a lot of time this summer creating Bookshare logins for all my teachers so they could look up books and download them for students at the point and time of need (part of a larger effort to make assistive tech a little more seamless). It would have been much, much faster for me to just give her the answer. But I didn't. I replied with the URL to the site, reminded her how to login, and pointed her to page on the library website with details for how to download a book. Yes, that took much longer (especially since I looked the book up anyway just to be sure), but I'm hoping for a long-term payoff.

We are piloting a 1:1 iPad program with our freshmen and sophomores this year. Some teachers are struggling with being comfortable with the iPad and learning new apps. I struggled with a lot of it too, at first. But now teachers will seem amazed when I know how to do something, and ask how I learned it. To which I always reply, "I pressed something, and saw what happened. And then I pressed something else. There is no self-destruct app for the iPad." But still every once in a while a teacher will say, "I'll never figure this out." When they do (and as long as there are no students around), I've tried to get better at asking, "Would you allow a student in your class to say that?" It can make the conversation kind of uncomfortable. But that's kind of my goal.

One of the things we as teachers need to model is that it's okay to fail. It's okay to get something wrong. Getting something wrong is often an important part of the process. But that idea makes many teachers nervous.

It can be scary to admit you don't know something. To admit it in front of a room of teenagers who already think they know more than you do can be downright terrifying.

But we have to be willing to model not just that it's okay to not know something, but how to ask for help learning how to do something. To say, "the kids are better with technology, I'll never keep up," and use that as an excuse not to learn? Inexcusable. When you say that in front of a student, what's to prevent them from thinking, "everyone else is better at history/math/reading/writing, I'll never keep up"? Is that the attitude towards learning something new we want to model for our students? I hope not.

We need to model the right attitude towards learning--not, "I don't know how to do this, you do it for me," but, "I don't know how to do this, can you show me how?"

If what we're teaching by our model is helplessness, we can't be surprised when that's what our students have learned.

But if instead we model that it's okay not to know, but not okay to not want to know, we create an environment in which all kinds of learning are possible.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Accessibility is about more than text-to-speech

I am, as I type this, on my way home from the School Library Journal Leadership Summit in Washington, DC. It was, hands down, one of the best professional development experiences I’ve ever had. I loved the intimacy and the intensity of the summit—it was a small group of people, and we were all in the same room, listening to the same speakers, and discussing the same ideas. It created an atmosphere very different from the large conferences I usually go to, where I’m running from session to session and always feel like I’m missing something—and have a harder time connecting with people who are focusing on similar ideas while at the conference and want to delve a little deeper.

The summit was exactly what I needed to recharge my batteries and give me new ideas and focus. I’m coming home with a lot of ideas to reflect on and implement (and unless I get completely overwhelmed at work the next couple weeks—ha!—I plan to write some more about it).

The theme of the summit was “The New World of Reading” and e-books, unsurprisingly, came up a lot. Friday morning was devoted specifically to speakers who had started e-book projects in their schools, districts, counties, regions, etc., as well as e-book vendors talking about the issue from their perspective.

It was kind of reassuring to hear that even many people who have started using e-books in their schools are still not necessarily 100% sure of the best way to do so; I admire their willingness to explore and jump in and see what happens. It was also reassuring to hear from Chris Harris, who admonished us not to buy e-books for our schools; specifically, he told us to develop ways across districts and curriculums to collectively purchase and share e-resources. Which I agree with, as I don’t have the buying power or the clout to purchase what I want and need on my own, but as an independent school librarian it also means spending time figuring out a consortium (though I’ve already connected with another independent school librarian in CT, and we have some ideas).

One of my major hesitations around e-books (and it was an issue I brought up as often as I could) is full accessibility for students with learning disabilities. One of the questions I submitted to the vendor panel was if e-books were being designed and created with LD students/UDL* principles in mind, and whether they would be fully accessible. The answer from most vendors was that many (but not all) e-books had text-to-speech built in; there was much nodding and smiling from the audience in response.


Yes, text-to-speech is good, and an important accessibility feature, but text-to-speech alone does not make a book fully accessible to all learners. For example, in many platforms where I’ve seen text-to-speech built in, it’s one giant mp3 file, with no navigational ability. How often do you read a book or article (particularly for research purposes) starting with title and author and then read the whole thing straight through without skipping or skimming?

But beyond the quality of text-to-speech, it takes more to make a curricular resource truly universally designed. It also takes more than a built-in dictionary. Yes, those are good things, and I’m glad they’re becoming standard, but I really don’t want them to be the end of these developments. I see so much potential for making more resources more available to more learners that I will be frustrated if we fall short of what I believe is possible.

A truly UDL e-book is like art or porn; I may not know exactly how to define it, but I’ll know it when I see it. And I haven’t seen it yet. Maybe there is something out there that does what I want it to do, and I just haven’t discovered it; if so, I hope someone will point it out to me. Even something close, so I can go to a vendor (my goal is to get better at talking to vendors about what accessible e-resources should look like) with specific suggestions. And, as mentioned above, I know my school and the population I work with in general is too small to have a lot of clout, but if a vendor designs a truly UDL e-resource they will have my undying loyalty and a solemn promise to sing their praises at every opportunity.


* For those of you unfamiliar with UDL: I like to think of Universal Design for Learning as the cognitive cousin of Universal Design in architecture. The most frequently used example of universal design in architecture is curb cuts; they make sidewalks for accessible for people using wheelchairs, but they also help people dragging suitcases on wheels, or pushing strollers. The burden is placed on the space to meet the needs of those who will use, not on those using the space to adapt themselves to it. Similarly, UDL is based on the idea that it is the curriculum that should adapt to the learners, not the other way around. For a much better, much more thorough explanation (plus UDL guidelines), I highly recommend

Sunday, September 18, 2011

An open letter to academic librarians

Right around this time of year is when I start getting messages from last year's seniors. Each one is a little bit different, but in many many ways they all say the same thing: "I'm in college, and I'm doing research, and I need help." And the subtext is, always, "And I'm too scared to ask the librarians here, so can you help me?"

I'm not writing you to ask you to help my students; I know you will help my students. And that's what I tell them every time--that the best way I can help them is to direct them to all of you so you can show them all the resources (far beyond what I was able to show them) you have available.

But I have to admit, I am nervous, too. I am worried that you will judge my students for what I failed to teach them.

I did my best, I really did. But so many of my students come to me having been--for lack of a better term--abused by the educational system. They have been made to believe that they are stupid, that a failure is a reflection on them as people, not on the inherently messy process of learning. Many of them did not think college was in their future.

We did everything we could to teach them about who they are as learners, to give them the skills they need to engage with new material, to inquire, to understand both their strengths and their weaknesses, and to engage with the world while understanding that what matters is not the mistakes you make, but how you respond to them.

There is a lot they don't know about the nuts and bolts of research, but that is my fault, not theirs. Please do not hold them responsible for my shortcomings. I wanted them to see libraries as welcoming places, and librarians as welcoming people. I knew that I could never teach them everything they needed to know, so my hope was to foster the attitudes necessary to continue learning long after they left.

I know I am putting them in good hands. I know you will help them. And I thank you for teaching them the things I didn't.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

On building relationships

I was recently home visiting my parents in upstate New York. One night while sitting around chatting we somehow got on the topic of walking. I said something about how much I loved walking on the roads in their area not only because it was beautiful, but because drivers would actually move over in order to give you some room.

Then my dad started talking about walking to school in the mornings, which he’ll often do when the weather is nice. School is about 2 ½ miles from our house, if memory serves, and there are no sidewalks. At best there is a narrow shoulder.

He said that walking at that hour of the morning you see the same drivers every day. The first time drivers go past him, they’ll generally move slightly to the left—enough to avoid hitting him, but not giving a lot of room; my dad will then give a small wave of acknowledgment and thanks in return. The next day, the same driver—having received that wave of acknowledgment the day before—will move over a bit more.

And, in response, they get a bigger wave.

And so it continues—the drivers move farther and farther to the left, and getting bigger and bigger waves in return.

Eventually, the drivers are practically risking head-on collision ‘cause they know they’re getting that big wave.

The takeaway here is not that if we don’t spend time building relationships that we’re going to end up stranded in a ditch with a broken ankle.

It’s that small gestures have a pay-off. And that those small gestures, over time, can build something much bigger.

You don’t have to start with the giant wave/risk of head-on collision. That’s a lot to ask of either party at the beginning. But those first small gestures aren’t the end of it either—they’re the beginning. Each party in the relationship makes those small gestures at the beginning—and needs to see a return on their investment before willing to risk something more.

And that, over time, is how relationships of all kinds are built.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

A whole new card catalog

My library was automated about four years ago; in fact, I spent my first week on the job up to eyes in uncataloged reference books, deciding what to keep and what (like the encyclopedia set from 1981) was not worth keeping.

In moving the library collection out of temporary storage and into the newly renovated space, the old card catalog got left behind. I would see it every once in a while, and kept thinking I should grab it, but it wasn't until last year when they were doing some other renovations that I finally stuck a note on it that said "Please move to library."

I didn't know what, exactly, I wanted to do with it, but I knew I wanted to do something. I mean, just look at it--clearly, in addition to being full of old catalog cards, it is also full of possibility.

My first plan was to turn the catalog into storage for frequently-requested supplies--markers, tape, rulers, pens. . . you get the idea.

Around the same time, however, I began playing with some ideas around providing readers' advisory--namely, coming up with creative ways to help students who came in looking for books and requesting mysteries, or science fiction, or "a book about someone with a messed up life."

The first thing I did was create some lists in the catalog in order to help me have an easy reference for those lists, but I wanted to find a new way to get those lists to students (outside of searching the catalog).

And thus an overly-ambitious project was born.

I decided to use the top row of drawers for catalog cards, but rather than traditional catalog cards these cards would feature a select list of books, and be designed as a readers' advisory tool.

I took my book lists, focusing on high interest fiction and non-fiction, and came up with genre names that were reflective of the types of books my students regularly asked for. Then I created a card for each book, using the cover image and brief blurb.

There will still some old dividers in the catalog, so I made some new labels for them.

And labeled the drawers.

This project was A LOT of work and A LOT of fun. It was a great way to both refresh my memory and become more knowledgeable about my collection. I can't wait to share it with students--my goal is to have them creating cards and contributing to our readers' advisory catalog.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Introvert in Your Classroom

I read Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain several weeks ago, and I am still reflecting on many of the ideas. Cain begins with a discussion of the development of what she calls the Extrovert Ideal--an ideal that many of us are, consciously or unconsciously, very familiar with. As an introvert, I have frequently felt pressure to be more extroverted, as many of the cultural messages we get assume that being extroverted is "right" and introversion is. . . well, weird. I have often felt like there was something wrong with me because I wasn't more extroverted

I know that my introversion has impacted my professional life. I'm terrible at networking. I find small talk conceptually confounding. I can do it, but not without a lot of conscious thought and effort, and I find it exhausting in every sense of the word. On the contrary, when I can connect with one person (or a small group) and delve really deeply into a topic I feel energized. But chit chat? Lost on me.

I could go on and on about this book, but instead I'm going to encourage you all to read it (it's perfect for introverts who could use some affirmation, or for the extrovert who just doesn't get it) and just highlight some ideas that resonated with me in terms of teaching and learning.

* The importance of asynchronous participation

L'esprit d'escalier is a lovely expression (generally translated as "staircase wit") that describes a feeling many of us have experienced; it's when you think of the perfect thing to say after you've left the room. Usually it's used to refer to that witty comeback that wakes you up at two in the morning, but for me it applies to all sorts of situations. That crucial question about a new project or initiative. An insight from past experience that would be useful to a colleague. The idea or input that's pertinent to the topic at hand. The feedback on an ongoing project. All of which I find next to impossible to offer up during most meetings. I am generally ready to speak up in a meeting precisely when we've moved on to a new topic--or after the meeting is over.

It can be hard for introverts to speak up in class. This is not even just about extending wait time after you ask a question (though that's always good). An extra five seconds isn't always going to cut it--some students will need an hour or two. Which is not really a reasonable wait time.

While it's an oversimplification, I've heard the difference between extroverts and introverts explained as introverts think before they speak and extroverts speak to think. The introverts in your classroom are busy absorbing information, sorting it for relevance, reflecting on it, and incorporating it into what they already know. Of course, the extroverts in your classroom are doing this as well--they're just doing it out loud.

This is where asynchronous participation becomes invaluable. The introvert who isn't ready to speak up in class may be ready to contribute to an online discussion later that night. Or do better sharing with one classmate rather than a whole group. Or asked to reflect on the previous day's discussion during the next class. It's important that the brilliant ideas that occur on the stairs have a place to be heard.

* It's not just about how much you participate

The person who comments on a blog or replies to a listserv with only the phrase "I agree" without adding anything more? I can pretty much guarantee that that person is not an introvert.

I struggled with this in graduate courses that required participation in online discussions. It was important to me that I not simply be reiterating the same information and ideas--I wanted to be adding something new to the discussion. Otherwise, what was the point?

For many extroverts, chiming in with agreement is a way to build community and show consensus, so echoing earlier ideas is an act of community-building. On the other hand, many introverts only see value in adding their voice to a conversation if they're contributing new information. Both motives have value, but it often means that it looks like extroverts are participating more.

This also happens in group discussions in class. We tend to value the input from people who are the loudest--regardless of whether they're the most qualified. Introverts' voices tend to be drowned out. Cain sites a fascinating experiment in which students performed poorly on a task (selecting and prioritizing resources needed if they had crashed somewhere) despite having an expert in their group--because that expert was an introvert and was easily shouted over.

Which leads me to my next big take away:

*Group work is not king.

During a library school assignment I described my ideal library as one with room for both active collaboration and quiet contemplation. I was particularly happy with this turn of phrase, and proceeded to overuse it as much as possible.

I deeply value many of my collaborative relationships with colleagues, but I think it's important to remember that collaboration and group work are not the only way. Cain points to several studies that show that we get some of our worst ideas when we brainstorm as a group. But group work has become the assumed ideal.

There is value in group work, and I think structured group work can provide an excellent venue for introverts to develop skills necessary to sharing their work in public and with their peers. But extroverts could also benefit from developing the skills needed to work independently and reflect deeply on a topic before sharing ideas.

*Sometimes it's okay when a kid sits alone. Really.

We will, sooner than seems possible, be welcoming new students to campus, and welcoming back our returning students. The first several days are a whirlwind of group activities and events. The mantra is that everyone must participate all the time. And I get that--having everyone together those first few days really builds a sense of community, and helps ensure that our new students make connections (and don't have too much time to get homesick). Introverted me is exhausted by these days, and my heart always goes out to the introverted students in the group. There is a lot of new information to take in during these days, and the more introverted students have a hard time finding time and space to process all of it.

Sometimes the kid sitting alone is not lonely, or distraught, or unable to connect with other people. Maybe he just needs a break to reflect on the day. And that's okay. More than okay. It's what that student needs.

*Extroversion is not the ideal. Neither is introversion.

We will have extreme extroverts and extreme introverts and everyone in between in our classes. It's important that we create environments where they're all able to not only use the skills that come naturally to them, but to safely and comfortably develop other skills. We can't "make" someone be introverted or extroverted, nor should we want to. But what we can do is try to better understand the different strengths we all bring to the table.

Further reading on introversion (in case I wasn't long-winded enough):
10 Myths About Introverts

4 Ways Technology Can Enable Your Inner Introvert

Are You Shy, Introverted, Both, or Neither--And Why Does it Matter?

Is Shyness and Evolutionary Tactic?

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Poor Xerxes never stood a chance against those mice

While I was on vacation on Cape Cod I went to the Edward Gorey house, which was just a ten minute walk from where I was staying. It was his actual house, and his cousin was the tour guide, which made for a much more intimate experience than most museum visits; more than facts everyone there got some great stories.

Like many people, the Gorey work I'm most familiar with is The Gashlycrumb Tinies, and the Gorey house had an absolutely wonderful scavenger hunt devoted to that book. All around the house were small displays representing each of the scenes/deaths from the book--some were very obvious, many were incredibly subtle. Our tour guide pointed out many of them, but I was excited when I was able to pick out a few on my own.

X is for Xerxes devoured by mice.

G is for George smothered under a rug.

N is for Neville who died of ennui.

L is for Leo who swallowed some tacks.

And of course, A is for Amy who fell down the stairs.

I thought this was a really delightful way to engage visitors in the displays, and I think it would translate well to libraries. You could do the Gashlycrumb Tinies, or another alphabet book, or pick out some distinctive items or scenes from any book. The Edward Gorey house had a checklist you could pick up and use as you walked through the house--it would be neat to have something like that in your library that students could pick up when they had some down time in the library. It might even bring them into areas they might not otherwise go!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

It’s not about what we do, it’s about who we are

At the end of one of the sessions I went to at ISTE (yes, this is me finally writing my ISTE reflection) I had an interesting conversation with two English teachers about perceptions of librarians. They were definitely pro librarian, and both expressed sympathy about how school librarians were getting “beat up” lately, and asked me why I thought that was happening. One mentioned that she had been to a session about finding research, and said that “library/librarian” was put near the bottom of the list of resources for finding good research sources (it wasn’t clear to me whether that list had been generated by the presenters or the audience, but either way--ouch). She wondered why so many people still didn’t “get it.”

I don’t really have an answer for that--well, actually, I have lots of answers for that, but no “one size fits all” answer. But one of the core issues is, I believe, about relationships.

One of the issues that this teacher raised was that so many students seem to gravitate towards sites that they often KNOW contains less-than-scholarly information, which is something I’ve seen as well.
I told her that one of my theories about why students like Yahoo!Answers (and other similar sites) is because they feel like they’re getting the info from a person--even if that person is demonstrably crazy. They want to know that they’re getting information from a person--they want a connection to the information source.

This echoed an idea that had come up in the session we’d just sat through (The “Yeah, Buts”: Answering the Top 10 arguments against change)--an idea that I thought was one of the most important and relevant ideas I’d heard discussed during the entire conference:

Successful change is not just built on rational arguments; it requires an emotional investment and response.

This was an idea I’d been looking to hear more of after Buffy Hamilton’s amazing, beautiful talk about enchantment (a video of Buffy’s talk, as well as her slidedeck, is available on her blog, and you should all go watch it if you haven’t already).

So often we get excited about new tools and new ideas, but neglect to build the relationships that will help us bring other teachers along on our journey. And sometimes our immersion in technology can, frankly, lead to a kind of arrogance. Every time I hear a librarian say something along the lines of “librarians are the ONLY ones in schools who know about X” with X being anything from emerging technologies, to reading, to (in an article I read recently) knowledge production and consumption, I cringe. Really? How off-putting. That assertion is often accompanied by some thinly-veiled resentment that their expertise is not more widely recognized or valued. Obviously I know that there are many librarians who don’t do this, but I’ve seen it happen enough that it seems to be a trend.

If I were a teacher working in a school with one of these librarians I would not feel like my own perspective and expertise were valued or welcome--whether I were new to these technologies and ideas and just trying them out, or had developed my own knowledge and was putting it to use in my classroom. When someone else in my building says they’re the “only” one who knows how to do something, I don’t feel like they’re going to be receptive to what I may have learned and discovered.

Assertions of our own expertise--insistence on our own rightness--cuts off conversation and limits the possibilities that can develop when we take the time and effort to build relationships. It may mean having to answer what we think of as obvious questions (though I’ve found that answering “obvious” questions helps me refine my own thinking), and it may mean admitting that we don’t something. But that means learning something new. We shouldn’t just be collaborating with teachers in order to improve student learning--we need to collaborate with teachers in order to improve our own learning.

Because, to get back to my earlier point, we learn best when we learn from other people. We want to feel a connection to the people we’re learning from. I can be interested in an idea I read about and stumble across, but when I get to discuss (or hear someone talk about) how they actually made that idea happen in their school--that’s when I get excited about trying something new. Likewise, I get more excited about a new idea of my own when I’m able to share it with others.

This is, for me, one of the most valuable things about conferences--spending several days sharing space with 13,000 other people who are also excited about new ideas and learning, and making real connections with those people

And this is the feeling we need to bring to our students and teachers. If all we talk about is the STUFF we do or have, we are never going to get as many people on board that we would if we focused on WHO we are. We need to sell not what we do, but who we are. All libraries have different resources to offer, but the one thing that should be consistent across all libraries is that there is value added by the personal interactions you have with the librarian--whether that’s a personal reference interview or the value that’s added by organizing and building a collection in order to meet the unique needs of that school.

We all know students and teachers who insist they don’t need the library because “everything is on Google.” We know we have more to offer, but unless we focus on building those relationships, no one else will.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

What doesn't kill you, makes you a leader

I've been meaning to do a wrap-up post on my ALA and Emerging Leaders experience; the EL day was my main professional development experience at ALA, and I want to share some of my reflections on leadership, but I haven't been feeling very leader-y lately. I've been feeling far more sit-on-the-deck-reading-a-book-y. That feeling is not conducive to writing.

But then someone (I think it was Andy Woodworth) tweeted a link to a post by Jenica Rogers of Attempting Elegance (I'm not going to tell you how to do it), and it got me thinking again.

I remember my first day teaching. I was very lucky in that I'd gotten a job in the same school I'd done my student teaching, and so already knew many of my colleagues. They were very generous with advice and support. However, what I wanted to know more than anything was not what I should say, but what the students' reactions would be. I wanted some book that laid out, "If you say/do this, students will say/do this in response." Because what came next (and next and next) would build off how students responded and how was I supposed to plan if I DIDN'T KNOW AND NO ONE WOULD TELL ME.

I was, it is fair to say, a little anxious.

And this is kind of what leadership is like. I mean, it's in the name. You're leading. As in at the front. If you're doing it right, you're often doing things that haven't been done before, and you have no idea how people will respond, and that can be terrifying. And exhilarating. And, when it works out, awesome. And, when it doesn't, fodder for some great stories over drinks with sympathetic friends--and a some hard-earned knowledge of how to go about things the next time.

And that, too, is the point. The first time out in front as a leader is the hardest. Whether you rock it or fall flat on your face, the next time you take on a leadership role is easier--either because you have confidence from earlier success, or first-hand knowledge that failure will not kill you.

My first day as a teacher I was terrified because I had no idea what came next. Several years later, within my first few days as a school librarian, I was leading a previously unplanned PD session on the library for faculty. I knew it was a new library, I was new to the school, and there were lots of new faculty--and I knew if I didn't get in there early introducing myself and my vision of the library, it would be even harder for me to build what I wanted to. The ink wasn't yet dry on my MLIS, and I barely knew anyone's name. I had very little idea of what the future would hold (and most of the ideas I did have were wrong), but I did know that doing SOMETHING was far better than nothing. I knew that it was unlikely to be a disaster, but that even if it was it wouldn't do irreparable harm.

That, in general, is my leadership style--I like getting in the middle of things and seeing how they work. I plan, too, but at a point I have to stop planning and just *do* something; just as I didn't know what came next in teaching because I didn't know what the students would do, I don't know what comes next in a project until I can see how the first step actually turned out. Think of it as "fire, aim, ready."

But then there's this post that another friend pointed out: Don't Start a Sentence if You Don't Know How it Ends. This is the exact opposite of my problem. It takes me a LONG TIME to formulate a response to things. I tend not to jsut think through the end of the sentence, but sometimes to the end of the paragraph (this happens in my writing, too--I think and think and think about a topic and then whoosh! I've written two pages).

One of my hesitations about taking on formal leadership positions is that I am very, very introverted. And things like networking--which tend to involve small talk--take a lot out of me. And I'm just not very good at it. I could get better, I'm sure, but I really dislike small talk, so I'm not very motivated, to be perfectly honest. I need to feel a connection with someone first, and I'm much better at building deep connections with a few, than large networks of more casual connections. And in some ways that's definitely a strength, but it does make it more difficult to build the large networks necessary for institutional leadership.

(I have, perhaps coincidentally, been finding a lot of great articles on introversion lately, including this one: 10 Myths About Introverts and thinking a lot about how introversion shapes my practice, and how introverts fit in an ever-more-socially-networked world. But, as you might imagine, I'm going to need to think about it a bit more before I share my thinking.)

I'm still figuring out where I want to be in terms of formal leadership positions. I know that I have far too many opinions--and get far too frustrated by inaction--to not take on some sort of leadership role, if only informally.

I know I have areas of weakness I would need to develop in order to take on more visible leadership roles. I also know that some of the strengths I have make me uniquely suited to less visible leadership roles--and the strengths I do have are often areas of weakness for others. Do I have more to offer by sharing my strengths, or developing my weaknesses?

I realize, of course, that this is a false choice. Whether or not I take on visible leadership roles, developing my weaknesses would be a net good--and my strengths are, well, my strengths, and likely to stay that way. I guess, really, the question is whether leadership is more about playing to your strengths or being willing to work on your weaknesses. And I think in order to be a good leader you HAVE to be willing to develop your weaknesses--how can you convince others to try something new if you're not willing to? Even if you focusing on developing your weaknesses doesn't make you stronger, anyone with leadership experience knows that it will, at the very least, not kill you.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Prisons, Hamlet, and Education

On my run yesterday morning I was listening to an old episode of This American Life (yes, I know: most people listen to music when they exercise; I listen to NPR podcasts) about a group of inmates rehearsing and performing Act V of Hamlet.

I'd heard this episode before; if you haven't, I highly recommend listening to it. It's an amazing story in all kinds of ways.

While listening yesterday there was one moment that really struck me. Right around the 25 minute mark one of the prisoners/performers is explaining why he's involved in this performance group says, simply, "she makes us feel human, man."

Shortly after that Jack Hitt (the reporter) says, "One guy with a 3rd grade education level said he was surprised to find out he wasn't stupid, just uneducatated."

Those two lines--as part of this incredible story in which these men who have done truly awful things create a truly awesome (in every sense of the word) performance--really beautifully illustrated two of the fundamental things I believe about education:

1) If you treat someone like they are capable of something, they are more likely to believe that they are actually capable of anything.

2) In order to work in education, you have to believe that people are capable of change. Or, as I sometimes put it: if you don't believe people have the capacity for change, you have no business working in education.

Friday, July 1, 2011

The ALA/ISTE Marathon

I am now two days and 20 hours of sleep removed from the ALA/ISTE marathon; I am, for the record, still tired. I have mostly unpacked but still have piles (literal and electronic) of notes and information to go through and follow up on.

I'll be writing more here as I do that, but I wanted to give a snapshot as my thoughts take shape. The conference experience was amazing, but also overwhelming, and frustrating in some ways.

Doing two conferences back-to-back is exhausting, both physically and cognitively. Well, technically ALA and ISTE aren't back-to-back--they overlap significantly, which means you can't really do both. I ended up missing several things I wanted to see at both conferences. And while I'll be able to catch up on some of those things online, that's not really the point--if I just wanted to catch up online, I wouldn't go to the conferences.

Some of the things I missed weren't entirely my fault; there were two sessions I really wanted to see scheduled at 8:00 Sunday morning--the same time as AASL's Affiliate Assembly, which I had to be at as a representative for CASL. To have three sessions for school librarians all at the exact same time--particularly when there aren't a lot of sessions for school librarians--seemed like really poor planning, and was very frustrating. I want to become more actively involved in leadership at ALA, but I also want to be able to get something back from my professional organization. I think it's reasonable to want to do more at conferences than go to committee meetings.

My approach to ISTE was a lot different than last year, when I ran around like a crazy person trying to see everything. After one day at the conference I was feeling kind of fried, and knew that my ability to absorb information was maxed out. So I made a not-entirely-conscious shift in my approach to the conference. I found myself focusing less on the "what" (new ideas), a little on the "how" (ways to implement ideas I've been playing with) and far more on the "why" (as in why I do what I do).

The "why," for me, is what conferences are really about. I can (and do) find a lot of information about what and how all the time, but I go to conferences to connect with people and to get a little philosophical TLC--to be recharged by sharing a space with thousands of other people who are excited about the same ideas I'm excited about.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Think, Create, Share, Grow at your school library

Tomorrow morning, pre- crack of dawn, I leave for New Orleans for ALA and for the culmination of my Emerging Leader experience. It's been an amazing six months, and I've been lucky to work with a group of other smart, passionate, and creative librarians. It's been a lot of work, but also a lot of fun.

We were given the task of creating some promotional materials for Learning4Life and AASL's Standards for the 21st Century Learner. We decided pretty quickly that the best way to promote the standards was to highlight the incredible work school librarians are doing all over the country. So we wrote and distributed a survey using a GoogleDocs Form, and used the responses we got as the raw material for all of our projects.

I created an Animoto using some images that school librarians shared, and included some examples of the standards in action:

Melissa Corey created a Storybird, which I just love:
Think, Create, Share, Grow at Your Library by melissacorey on Storybird

as well as a great GoAnimate video: Think, Create, Share, Grow in Your Library by melissacorey

Like it? Create your own at It's free and fun!

Alicia Blowers made this great Xtranormal video:

and Kim Ha made one too:

Kim also made several great Google Search Story videos (seriously, making those things is so much fun):

And I would be seriously remiss if I didn't mention our other team member, Leah Ayers, who did a wonderful job compiling all of our results and getting things ready for our poster session.

Which reminds me--if you're going to be at ALA we'll be presenting our projects during the Emerging Leader poster session Friday afternoon at 3:00 in room 271-273 in the Convention Center and in the Exhibit Hall at 1:30 and 4:00 on Saturday.

You can also find our projects at our Diigo group, Emerging Leaders Group A, all of which have been tagged ateamproject. Also in the Diigo group are links to work that school librarians shared with us--there's some awesome stuff in there, and plenty of ideas I plan on stealing.

Local girl makes good

Last week I gave a talk at my hometown library as part of their Wednesdays in Wadhams series. The topic was how to find what you're looking for when searching online--focusing specifically on how to use Google to its full potential (there's magic in the sidebar!), a quick look under the hood of Wikipedia, and highlighting some other great online reference resources.

It was a lot of fun. The audience was great (and I'm so grateful so many people showed up on such a beautiful summer night)--and it was awesome that there were so many people there my mom hadn't invited.

In order to introduce myself I made a resume of sorts using Google Search Stories

Here's the PowerPoint for the talk:
Google and beyond
View more presentations from kmthelibrarian

And a couple "action shots" my mom took:

Several people mentioned they'd like me to come back and give another talk, which I'd love to do--guess I need to start thinking of a new presentation!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

This not about that WSJ article

I had been planning a post about YA lit and why I read it and what I love about it, but before I could Meghan Cox Gurdon wrote that ridiculous article and I felt like if I was going to write about YA I had to respond to what she said--but I really, honestly don’t feel like it, for many reasons. One is that it’s incredibly infuriating and even thinking about causes a spike in my blood pressure. But the more time went on people responded to her article, saying exactly the things I wanted to say, but saying them far more eloquently.

  • Read Barry Lyga’s response if you want something viscerally satisfying: On the WSJ, YA, and Art
  • Read Gayle Forman on Wall Street Depravity if you want to know how such ridiculous “journalism” ends up in print.
  • And read Libba Bray’s tweets, because she says everything that needs to be said and gives a shout out to librarians, which is one of many reasons to love her.
  • For an excellent dissection of the original article--along with links to many other responses not included here--read Liz Burns There’s Dark Things in Them There Books.
  • Read Maureen Johnson for a wonderful Italian food analogy (and because I sat at the table next to her in an Italian restaurant Thursday night, and we both totally played it cool)
  • And if you want to feel like you’ve been punched in the gut in the best way possible, read Sherman Alexie on Why the Best Kid’s Books are Written in Blood. Actually, go read that one no matter what. Read that instead of this if you must.

But never mind all that for now.

Our graduation was about two weeks ago. This is my fourth year here, so this was the first group of four-year seniors I worked with. It was amazing and emotional in the way that all graduations are, but somehow more so. Knowing that we’d all started at this school together made me feel a special connection to these kids. And now we were sending them off.

It had me thinking a lot about potential (as in “these kids have so much potential’) and why I love working with teenagers so much--and also why I love reading YA lit. It is this really fascinating and frustrating time of life when ANYTHING--good or bad--seems possible, even likely. What I love about YA lit is what I love about working with young adults--there is, no matter how bleak, a sense of potential.

I don’t want to paint adult literature with a broad brush, as I am by no means an expert (I know, clearly, I shouldn’t let that stop me) but one of the reasons I often end up frustrated when reading a lot of adult literature (particularly realistic fiction) is that everyone brings so much. . . baggage to the story. There is a lot of past that needs to be sifted through, and the focus is often on that past and how it got them there. And even when characters in YA bring a heavy past with them to a story, they are more often looking to the future than the past. And I like that. A lot.

There are always more possibilities than past.

I remember a student I had my second year teaching. His girlfriend was his soul mate and the love of his life. As was the girlfriend after her. And the one after her. Yes, it was kind of ridiculous, but there was also something kind of. . . charming about it.

There’s something kind of awesome about the ability to believe with passion and intensity something that is the exact opposite of what you believed the day before. And that happens with love interests and political beliefs and sartorial choices, often with the same level of intensity.

The best teachers and YA librarians and YA authors I know have managed to hang on to a little bit of that mutability. I don’t know if it’s that people with that quality are drawn to working with teenagers, or if working with teenagers keeps whatever that is alive in you.

Meghan Cox Gurdon has made up her mind. No counter-argument (no matter how well-crafted or persuasive) will convince her otherwise at this point. And part of that is because she feels under attack (though I have a hard time believing she didn’t know she was picking a fight) and we all dig in our heels when we feel we’re under attack. And part of it is because the older we get the harder time we have shifting our perspective.

There is the old line about the older we get the more we realize we don’t know, but I think the counterweight to that is that the older we get the more absolutely certain we get that we are 100% correct about the little we do think we know.

And that’s the thing with adults. Most of the time, what you see is what you get. By the time we’re adults, we’ve pretty much made up our minds about who we are and how we act. Habits are ingrained. Sure, they can change, and life happens and we adjust and adapt, but a lot of who we are is set in stone.

Not so much with teenagers. Things are still shifting and forming and developing. Personalities are still being fine-tuned. So much about your life is still up in the air as a teenager; you can try on different personalities and world views with a lot more ease.

Literature can offer a way to try and on and experience different lives without having to take those paths yourself. You can see how other people live, and develop a sense of empathy. Sometimes we look to books to mirror our experiences and sometimes we look to books to experience another life completely.

Here’s the thing that annoyed me about that article that I haven’t seen discussed much--I give those books that Cox Gurdon derided as containing “hideously distorted portrayals of what life is” to students ALL THE TIME. Am I corrupting these students? Ruining their lives? When a student comes in looking for the latest Ellen Hopkins book am I supposed to turn them away and tell them I don’t trust them enough to know what they’re interested in reading? Am I supposed to say, “Sorry, I don’t trust you with your own development”?

I’ve recommended light books, dark books, and everything in between. What I recommend depends on the student and what they're looking for right at that moment. Sometimes my recommendation isn’t quite right, and a student comes back and we find something different. I’m not “bulldozing” anyone. Not to get all Ranganathan on you, but every book his reader, and every reader his book.

Adolescence is, mostly, about deciding who and what you want to be post-adolescence. You are full of potential, but still deciding what direction it will take you. And a lot of the time, reading is a lot safer way to try on those different lives than actually living them. Yes, teens need guidance and help and support--in everything, not just reading selections--but if we’re trusting them to become independent adults, can’t we trust them enough to let them chose what they want--and need--to read along the way?