Castle Librarian

Archive for March, 2012|Monthly archive page

Writing is to book as …

In Musing, Web 2.0 on March 16, 2012 at 3:32 pm

Last year I witnessed a group of students attempting to define what a blog is. There was a great deal of confusion and lack of definition.

There was less confusion of format and content in the good old days when we had just books and magazines as textual information sources. A few formats could contain a wider variety of content types. A short story might be in a newspaper, a magazine or a book. Some formats were more appropriate for certain content types than others. Novels are too long for anything other than a book. The internet muddied the water by greatly increasing the number of “formats.” Now we have web pages, forums, blogs, wikis, databases, etc. Now there is a plethora of formats and a plethora of content types that can be mixed and matched. To make it even more complicated some are disguised and difficult to identify. It may not be important to identify a format. Some online magazines are using a blog format, but it is modified in such a way as to be transparent and the blog aspect isn’t really important. Format no longer tells us what kind of content to expect.

Helping students understand and navigate information sources is no longer simple, because the nature of formats is hazy. The physical formats have obvious features. E-formats are somewhere in the invisible world. When teaching visual or kinetic learners, it can be challenging to teach about the invisible/intangible. Add limited time for instruction and important foundational concepts get skipped. We go straight to “here is how to search this database” without explaining what a database is, what one might find inside, and how it works. I’ve seen this result in students searching a database, looking for research reports, but selecting letters to the editor instead. Finding and evaluating information is not instinctive. The 50 minute one shot instruction session is a tiny drop in the bucket, insufficient to the task.

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Ninja Gorilla

In Reading on March 15, 2012 at 5:52 pm

My adventures with reluctant readers continue. I followed The Elephant Man with reading A Stranger at Green Knowe by Lucy M. Boston (retold by Diane Mowat). This story was at a disadvantage, because it is not a true story. The boys don’t have much interest in fiction. I thought it might work, however, because it had a gorilla, violence, and guns. There were mixed results. Two of the six classes were so unwilling to be quiet and listen to the story that I gave up. They will never know how it ended. The other four classes managed to listen to the whole story.

[spoiler alert] The story climaxes when Hanno, the gorilla, saves the life of the boy Ping by stopping a stampeding cow by snapping it’s neck. There was a wonderfully action packed illustration of this. One boy was greatly impressed by this and coined the phrase “ninja gorilla.” The real pay off was discussing the story with the last class. When asked what they liked about the story, they talked about how the gorilla paid the boy back for his kindess by saving his life. They also expressed that the story was about being kind to animals. I was so pleased. I had just hoped for listening quietly and liking the story, not expecting them to draw conclusions and get messages. Score!

AND they asked what was next. We are coming to the end of the term and have a break. Next, term – Spartacus. Blood, guts, freedom, and brotherhood. I’m looking forward to it.

Boston, Lucy M. A Stranger at Green Knowe. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000. Print. ISBN 978-0-19-479073-4.

Reluctant Readers Breakthrough

In Librarianship, Reading on March 2, 2012 at 10:36 am

I work with the epitome of reluctant readers – a boys high school in an Arab country. Boys tend to be less interested in reading than girls. Add to that, an oral tradition culture and the challenge gets bigger. They don’t grow up with books in the home. They don’t encounter books until school and then books tend to be source of labor and boredom. So, when they come to me at age 13, it is difficult to open the door to the wonder of reading. Did I mention that they are learning English as a second language? The boys don’t have much interest in fiction. They prefer true stories. So, culture, language level, interests all add up to one librarian scratching her head trying to come up with a solution.

One to the most heavily used books in the library is the Guinness Book of World Records. It is opened almost everyday and boys gather in a group to page through and look at the oddities. As I was cataloging The Elephant Man graded reader, a lightbulb went on. The result was a two session read aloud that got their attention.

I started by telling them that it was a true story. “Yes, miss.” But, after hearing the first chapter, they found it hard to believe. Even the photographs from Wikipedia didn’t convince them. By the end of the first reading they were hooked. They wanted to know why Joseph Merrick was disfigured. Why did he die so young? With one class I forgot to write down what page we ended on. I needn’t have worried about where to start. They came in asking if we were going to read more of the story. When I said “yes” a student called out “chapter 6!”

When I finished reading the story to the last class, they begged for more stories “like this one.” Now, my challenge is to find another book. It’s a good challenge to have.

Vicary, Tim. The Elephant Man. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008. Print. ISBN 9780194789042