Sunday, March 29, 2009

A Tiny Shard of Earth...

One of the reasons I love stories is that metaphors let us move about flexibly within a larger framework of an idea. It is this need for flexibility and depth that causes me to wrestle with NCLB and its climate which makes teachers focus on discrete facts and skills.

While in philosophy I believe that we can teach a child everything s/he needs to know to pass those all important measures by focusing on the big picture, I am also very aware that a child doesn't have the capacity to know that he knows something if the words which surround it are not familiar.

For example, I watched the children, intent as they were, learning how to take a plant from its pot and place it at the proper depth and distance from another plant. They were all equally focused, equally eager, equally engaged and they were learning something they would never forget because it involved them wholly. In education we often refer to the many different learning styles - auditory, visual, kinesthetic, and more - with which a child experiences the world and knowing! The garden involved them all.

But suppose they encounter a question on the test using words they do not know to describe this particular activity. They will have no way to demonstrate mastery! This is the difficulty teachers face as they divide up their year into small bits of time in which they will teach small bits of information, or small skills. If I am not mistaken there are more standards than there is time to teach them in 3rd grade (and probably 4th as well). And now we have heard that next year 2nd graders are to memorize their multiplication tables! (Audible sigh goes here)

For these reasons I am not surprised to find that not all the teachers are rushing to be involved during school hours with the planting of a garden. It is why we planted the garden during spring break -- which meant that only a few kids got to have this wonderful experience!

So I pick up and place this shard of earth-colored glass in my stained glass window which grows every so slowly to make something positive of the broken glass. You see, despite the odds Westmeade now has a garden..... To see more pictures of the garden go to

Monday, March 16, 2009

A Single Shard -- of stained glass and flying fish!

"When do you shelve the books, Ms. McIntyre?" Bushra looked up at me with her twinkling brown eyes through that open and joyful smile! I picked up one shard of glass --- ah yes --- "Bushra, when you come in at the beginning of the day-- when we are getting ready for our WMES Broadcast. (WMES is a morning news broadcast -- another of my responsibilities.) I always have a 4th grader at the circulation desk. That is one of the times I try to shelve books. While you are looking for a book, I am trying to put books away. I also shelve during my lunch break, and after school."

"Oh" she said. I continued, providing her with more information than she wanted,"You remember Ms. Margaret who is my friend who comes once a week? Well she helps me shelve books on the day she is here and that really helps. And you know how I put all the Dr. Seuss, Curious George, and Henry and Mudge books in piles on the table? Well, most of the 4th grade news reporters know where those books go and they put them away sometimes before they have to get back to class.

And you remember Nora? She was in 4th grade when you were in Kindergarten? Well she sometimes comes back to visit after she gets home from Middle School and helps put books away....and I've been thinking about training an army of roaches that live in the school....maybe they could learn the basics and I could leave books out for them to put away....(no actdually I didn't say that last part --- but I have always thought that it would be fair -- since we provide them with paper and book binders paste to keep them going....surely they could return the favor).

So what is hopeful about this shard of broken glass? It is simply that somehow despite the fact that I don't have an aide --- the books get shelved. Not to quibble about how well they get shelved. I simply hope that the picture books and non fiction books find their way to the general vacinity of where they belong.

When I came to this library the former librarian didn't actually put them on the shelf in Dewey order --- they were filed according to their AR color. For those of you who don't know what that means -- it is simply that books are marked with a colored sticker to indicate reading level. So in the last 8 years I have succeeded in placing call numbers on all the books as well as marking all the books that have AR tests available with colored stickers! See there is more positive stuff...I just have to pick up each shard and find out where it fits in the overall picture!

How did that happen? Back when I first came to this school -- we still had parent volunteers (there were still many stay-at-home moms) I had a core group that came once a week and affixed the call numbers. There it is! It got done!! That is the first shard of a stained glass masterpiece.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Walking Barefoot on Broken Glass

It has been a year of walking barefoot on broken glass. It is why I have not written much. Since writing exposes our deepest despair or highest hopes, such exposure seemed like a bad idea, and there have been few posts.

Thursday when I was helping fourth graders use the figurative language of metaphor, it fell from my head. This metaphor describes how I felt about this year's work in my elementary school library. A school library serves many functions. Independent reading, reinforcing literary concepts, (like figurative language), using technology, helping students learn to question, to think, to evaluate sources of information for validity...encouraging and coaching! Really that is it! That is all! ENCOURAGE AND COACH.

To know this and to not fulfill the mission is walking on broken glass. I walk on the glass not because I am ill-prepared, not eager, not willing. My feet bleed because I have failed to impress those who control funds with the value of a school library done well.

  • A good library program requires planning time to carefully craft, in collaboration with teachers, the shape of student experience with data and analysis, their individual interaction with literature, their independent use of technology to achieve their goals.

  • A good library program requires support staff to do the clerical work (shelving - repair-processing-cleaning checking in and out) as the librarian works with students or does planning and coaching.

So far this is pretty drenched in despair, right? That is where the metaphor takes over my thinking. What can I do with broken glass? For the next few days I will reflect on individual pieces of broken glass and maybe I will find my way through the metaphor to hope.