books, tech, lessons from a librarian

Category: ISTE Teacher Standards

Andragogy, Pedagogy, Heutagogy… Holy Goji Berries! My Brain is Full.

exploring “andragogy” and the work of Malcolm S. Knowles
Head map


I debate with myself. A lot. At times this seemingly unending stream of thoughts leads to unease and pinch of insomnia. I like to feel at peace with my thoughts, but I’ve really struggled with my latest unit of study. Andragogy, pedagogy, professional development and learning, adult educational theory, and how all of those pieces fit together… Throw them all together in a bowl with an extra dash of fatigue and you’ve got a recipe for confusion. What started out as a relatively simple blog post has morphed into a complex and interrelated tangle of educational theory and experiences. You know when you carefully pack away your Christmas lights at the end of the season and then go to unpack them the next year?

tangled Christmas lights

Yeah. I think that’s roughly what the neurons in my brain currently resemble. With that in mind, literally, I thought I’d open up my journal…

Tuesday, January 17

Andragogyandragogy definition

As opposed to pedagogy, the study of how teaching children. Got it. Google?…

Wikipedia entry on Malcolm S. Knowles

The adult learning theory of Malcolm S. Knowles

I should make an infographic explaining Knowles’ theories. Nevermind, someone else already did a better job than I could have…

Knowles andragogy infographic

Knowles’ Six Principles of Adult Learning

  1. Adult Learners are Motivated and Self-Directed
  2. Adult Learners Bring Life Experience and Knowledge
  3. Adult Learners are Goal Oriented
  4. Adult Learners are Relevancy Oriented
  5. Adult Learners are Practical
  6. Adult Learners Like to be Respected

This blog post is going to be easy…

So, to sum up: Adults learn differently than kids. It can’t be that simple, is it?

Wednesday, January 18

I think I’ve got a triggering event that will work for the topic:

What role do adult learning principles play in planning educational technology professional development?

Vague enough that I can put my own spin on the topic, without having to do too much extra reading this week (I am still trying to catch up from being sick at the beginning of the quarter)…  So how does andragogy fit in with professional development? Edutopia here I come… Holy cow. So many resources. Where to start? Discomfort, Growth, and Innovation Ha! Pretty much sums up how I’m feeling right now. “School leaders and coaches must foster a culture that celebrates the discomfort inevitably resulting from change. And that requires three key strategies: 1) Empathize 2) Model 3) Celebrate.” That represents a massive shift in culture. It’s not an easy fix, especially when thinking of the layers of tradition in professional development.

Thursday, January 19

I haven’t even scratched the surface, but something’s bugging me… Much of what I’m reading about andragogy focuses on differences between adult learners and young learners. And nearly everything leads to Malcolm S. Knowles. Hasn’t anyone taken up his mantle? And have his theories been proven? How? Anytime I come across a theory that’s so closely tied to one individual, I always become a bit of a skeptic. Does andragogy appear in Snopes? Nope.

And what about the fact that our world is very different from that of Knowles? Take a look at this article Malcolm wrote about buying his first computer (I accessed it online at my local library http://www.sno-isle.org/research/). The guy literally wrote a letter to Steve Jobs and the microcomputer industry because he was having a hard time installing and using word processing software. And Apple sent an Apple employee to his home for a day to try and help him through the technical difficulties. Unsuccessfully. Yesterday my kid installed a spelling game app on his iPad. With no help from me. He’s 7. There was no instruction manual. My 9 year old is working on a book report. He started the project at school; everything’s saved in the cloud; his learning is extended from his classroom to our kitchen computer; and now he’s writing an email to his teacher to apologize for the fact that his work will be late because he should have started this project a week ago.

Friday, January 20

So are there other models, related to andragogy? Or principles that don’t lead directly to Knowles’ work? I swear, ANY Google result for “andragogy” is roughly ½ a degree of separation from good ol’ Malcolm. Interesting and slightly related fact: Malcolm Knowles is separated by only four degrees from Kevin Bacon on Wikipedia. Pike’s Five Laws of Learning. I’ve seen that mentioned a few times.  Hmmm, let’s take a look:

Law 1: Adults are Babies with Big Bodies
Law 2: People Don’t Argue with Their Own Data
Law 3: Learning is Directly Proportional to the Amount of Fun You Have
Law 4: Learning has not Taken Place Until Behavior has Changed
Law 5: When You Can Transfer Learning to Someone Else, You’ve Confirmed Competence

Here’s another site on understanding adult learners that blends Knowles and Pike. But really, all of this stuff applies to kids and adults alike. Yeah, learning should be fun, we should keep the learner’s experience in mind, yada yada yada… this is leading nowhere. Are we shortchanging our kids by sticking to pedagogical models of yesteryear? Are they really that different than us grown-ups when it comes to learning?   

Sunday, January 22

Reading the Seattle Times with a cup of coffee (the first of many today). What a great opinion piece on school funding by the 2016 Washington State Teacher of the Year, Nathan Gibbs-Bowling. Co-founder of Teachers United… Let’s take a look… What’s this? “House Bill 1345, which defines professional learning for teachers in the state of Washington, was signed into law by Governor Jay Inslee on March 31, 2016. […] Teachers United worked with our legislators to recommend policy and craft the language of the bill.” We have a House Bill that defines professional learning? And when did “professional development” become “professional learning” and is there even a difference? Great, now I’ve got to go find what the bill actually says. Adopting a definition and standards of professional learning (HB 1345: 2015-16). And why haven’t I heard a thing about this legislation? They all sound like great ideas, but is this just another unfunded mandate from our legislature? And how can I leverage this document to push for more effective professional development for myself and my colleagues?

Monday, January 23

Searched by .pdf filetype on Google. I always forget about trying that. Here’s an interesting resource by Marcia Cross looking at andragogy and pedagogy. Oh my goodness, yes! “Unfortunately, andragogy usually is cited in education texts as the way adults learn. Knowles himself concedes that four of andragogy’s five key assumptions apply equally to adults and children. The sole difference is that children have fewer experiences and pre-established beliefs than adults and thus have less to relate.” I think this is a lot of what’s been throwing me for a loop. On one hand we’re saying adults learn differently, PD needs to be different, even state law says so. And yet, in much of my experience, it’s not changing. Stand and deliver doesn’t work; “one and done” trainings aren’t a sustainable or effective model and yet they persist. Why? And is it really a continuum of learning, from pedagogy to andragogy? I know I’ve seen kids that are more andragogical learners (especially in regards to technology) than some educators I’ve worked with over the past fifteen years…

Tuesday, January 24

What really separates pedagogy and andragogy? Kids from adult learners? Time and experience. So is that it? Seems a bit short for a blog post. Gotta keep reading.

Wednesday, January 25

Youngest kid is sick. I don’t want to get sick again. Wash hands, rinse, repeat. Please don’t get sick.

Thursday, January 26

Now I’m sick. So much nose blowing. Ugh.

Friday, January 27

I thought I’d revisit a book I purchased last year to try and give my brain a vacation from “andragogy”. I grown to appreciate the writing of Alfie Kohn. I greatly respect educators who ask questions. Not questioning just to be difficult or different, but questioning to truly seek out answers to complex issues. So let’s relax with a book…

Alfie Kohn - Feel Bad Education book cover

Well, so much for relaxing. Reading Kohn’s “‘Well, duh!’ — Obvious Truths We Shouldn’t Be Ignoring”, I’m thinking to myself: “Pretty much all of these apply to all learners, not just kids, so what the heck is andragogy?”

  1. Much of the material that students are required to memorize is soon forgotten
  2. Just knowing a lot of facts doesn’t mean that one is smart
  3. If kids have different talents, interests, and ways of learning, it’s probably not ideal to teach all of them the same things — or in the same way
  4. Students are more likely to learn what they find interesting
  5. Students are less interested in whatever they’re forced to do and more enthusiastic when they have some say.
  6. Just because X raises standardized test scores, doesn’t mean X should be done
  7. Students are more likely to succeed in a place where they feel known and cared about
  8. We want children to develop in many ways, not just academically
  9. Just because a lesson (or book, or class, or test) is harder, doesn’t mean it’s better
  10. Kids aren’t just short adults
  11. Education policies that benefit (or appeal to) large corporations aren’t necessarily good for children
  12. Substance matters more than labels

Wait, Alfie Kohn is bad for me? Willingham seems like a great guy, too. Well, crap. Now I don’t know what to think.

Saturday, January 28

Seriously? Ebsco just went down for maintenance… 😐

Okay, why can I not get this blog post started? I agree with nearly all of the andragogical ideas regarding improving professional learning for educators. What’s nagging at me? I think it’s the unease of the efficacy of Knowles’ andragogy model in relation to our student expectations. We’re asking them to do things that they’re not ready for developmentally. Charlotte Danielson’s Framework for Teaching, the basis for our Washington State TPEP model of teacher observation and development. In order to step up into the category of “distinguished”, learning must shift into student control and direction. How can these elementary kids possibly be self-directed and motivated when those are the very andragogical skills that develop through experience and age? I understand that scaffolding those experiences can assist with the progression, but are they really ready for that model of freedom at such a young age? Today’s kindergarten work is yesterday’s 1st and 2nd grade curriculum. So has andragogy been pushed into lower grades as well? Creativity and play and social skills have been pushed aside to better prepare for rote skills. There are so many disconnects, I don’t know where to begin…

Sunday, January 29

This blog post is not writing itself. I still have no idea what I’m writing about…

Sometimes I'll start a sentence

Wait, “heutagogy”… I thought I’d already read about all of the -gogies? This article looks at the idea of shifting from the self-directed learning of andragogy and into self-determined and autonomous learning of heutagogy.

progression of learning model(Blaschke 2012, 60)

Is this learning progression a more accurate model for today’s learners?


Monday, January 30

I don’t know. All of that reading, all of that thinking, and I still don’t know. In fact, I know I’ve got more unanswered questions now than when I first began this unit.

I’m including a list of references that I’ve explored these past couple of weeks. It’s a ridiculously long list for the trivial blog post that emerged, and it’s not even complete. I especially enjoyed reading many of the magazine articles by Knowles himself (many in Training & Development Journal), to gain a better understanding of his voice and his thinking. I wonder how he would react today to the near canonization of his theory of adult learning, and also how he would view the students of today, especially keeping in mind the changing nature of our technology? Would Knowles agree with Knowles from the 1960s, 70s, and 80s?

I just realized I haven’t even answered my triggering question. One of my deepest struggles during this time of introspection and exploration has been running all of this theory of andragogy through the filter of my own district’s professional development. And knowing that it may get worse before it gets better. We need instructional coaches. We need professional learning based on a foundation of trust built on relationships. We need to escape the culture of learning that is focused squarely on SBA test results rather than the skills and creativity of our staff. Our professional development model needs to shift, as does our teaching, but I just don’t know how to be a change agent for that necessary shift in the face of high-stakes testing. And that is a hard mental pill for me to swallow.

So what can I do? For now, I can take comfort in the simple focus of these words from Knowles in an October 1989 Training & Development Journal column “Learning to Be Authentic”:

knowles quote

I can focus on just being myself, especially when working with colleagues towards professional learning. I think that is truly the key to bringing about change… Realizing that every learner brings their story to the table, and I bring mine. 

(I hope you have enjoyed this journey into my thinking process from these past couple weeks. Please note that I omitted many random thoughts that occurred throughout this time, especially an abnormally large number of Bugs Bunny cartoons that seemed to be on repeat in my head… the operatic “Kill the Wabbit!” was quite popular this week, for some reason. If there are any dream interpreters out there, I don’t want to know what it means.) -JH


Australian Catholic University. (2015, December 16). Knowles’ six principles of adult learning. Retrieved from http://www.acu.edu.au/798038

Bretzmann, J. (2015). Personalized PD: Flipping your professional development. New Berlin, WI: The Bretzmann Group.

Benjes-Small, C., & Archer, A. (2014, January 13). Tales of the undead… learning theories: The learning pyramid [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://acrlog.org/2014/01/13/tales-of-the-undead-learning-theories-the-learning-pyramid

Blaschke, L. M. (2012). Heutagogy and lifelong learning: A review of heutagogical practice and self-determined learning. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 13(1), 56-71. Retrieved from http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ979639.pdf

Carpenter, J. (2016). Teachers at the wheel. Educational Leadership, 73(8), 30-35. Retrieved from http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/may16/vol73/num08/Teachers-at-the-Wheel.aspx

Conner, M. (n.d.). Introduction to andragogy + pedagogy. Retrieved from http://marciaconner.com/resources/andragogy-pedagogy/

Edmunds, C., Lowe, K., Murray, M., & Seymour, A. (2002). Ultimate adult learning. In The ultimate educator: Achieving maximum learning through training and instruction. Retrieved from https://www.ncjrs.gov/ovc_archives/educator/welcome.html

Gardner, H., & Davis, K. (2013). Conclusion: Beyond the app generation. In The app generation: How today’s youth navigate identity, intimacy, and imagination in a digital world (pp. 155-197). New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Henschke, J. (2011). Considerations regarding the future of andragogy. Adult Learning, 22(1), 34-37. Retrieved from http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/104515951102200109

Knowles, M. S. (1976). Separating the Amateurs from the Pros in Training. Training & Development Journal, 30(9), 16.

Knowles, M. S. (1983). Malcolm Knowles Finds A Worm in His Apple. Training & Development Journal, 37(5), 12.

Knowles, M. (1989, October). Learning to be authentic. Training & Development Journal, 43(10), 42.

Kohn, A. (1993). Choices for children: Why and how to let students decide. Phi Delta Kappan, 75(1). Retrieved from http://www.alfiekohn.org/article/choices-children/

Kohn, A. (2011). “Well, duh!”: Obvious truths that we shouldn’t be ignoring. In Feel-bad education: And other contrarian essays on children and schooling (pp. 1-17). Boston, MA: Beacon Press.

Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. (n.d.). Massachusetts standards for professional development (HQPD). Retrieved January 28, 2017, from http://www.doe.mass.edu/pd/standards.html

Pappas, C. (2013, May 9). The adult learning theory (andragogy) of Malcolm Knowles – eLearning Industry. Retrieved from https://elearningindustry.com/the-adult-learning-theory-andragogy-of-malcolm-knowles (accompanying infographic: http://elearninginfographics.com/wp-content/uploads/The-Adult-Learning-Theory-Andragogy-Infographic.jpg)

Phillips, P. (2017, January 4). Personalizing professional development for teachers, by teachers. EdSurge News. Retrieved from https://www.edsurge.com/news/2017-01-04-personalizing-professional-development-for-teachers-by-teachers

Pike, R. (2013, June 3). Creative training techniques 101: The basics [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://www.bobpikegroup.com/blog/78

Siko, J. P., & Hess, A. N. (2014). Win-win professional development: Providing meaningful professional development while meeting the needs of all stakeholders. TechTrends, 58(6), 99-108. doi:10.1007/s11528-014-0809-7

Strickland, C. A. (2009). What is high-quality professional development for differentiating instruction. In Professional development for differentiating instruction: An ASCD action tool. Retrieved from http://www.ascd.org/publications/books/109042/chapters/What_Is_High-Quality_Professional_Development_for_Differentiating_Instruction.aspx

Swanson, K. (2014). EdCamp: Teachers take back professional development. Educational Leadership, 71(8), 36-40. Retrieved from http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/may14/vol71/num08/Edcamp@-Teachers-Take-Back-Professional-Development.aspx

Washington State Legislature. (2016). Adopting a definition and standards of professional learning (HB 1345: 2015-16). Retrieved from http://app.leg.wa.gov/billsummary?BillNumber=1345&Year=2015

Professional Development: Small Steps & Giant Leaps

space craft

Spaceship: image by Justin Haney

NASA and Mars Exploration

On July 20, 2016, US scientists celebrated the 40th anniversary of reaching the surface of Mars with Viking I.  Forty years later, a new generation of scientists and engineers are up to their elbows in development and planning for an even bigger vision.  NASA has plans to have astronauts orbiting Mars by 2033, with a further goal of astronaut boots on the ground by the end of the 2030s.  In seventeen years, I may be able to turn on my VR device and see what astronauts are seeing when they take those first steps on the Red Planet. In less than twenty years, scientists will (hopefully) have taken the necessary steps to ensure safe passage for humans on a 225 million km voyage.  By the time my kids have graduated from college, astronauts will be be playing Pokemon GO on Mars.  And all because of a mix of careful planning, a willingness to fail, and taking first steps…

Educators & Professional Development: Disconnected

As educators, we know there is hard work to be done if we want our teaching to help our students today and tomorrow reach further heights than ever before.  Like those early NASA scientists, our future success will depend on our work today.  There is a profound need for professional development for the K-12 librarians in my school district, and especially at the K-5 level, as many of our elementary librarians have not pursued a library media endorsement for their teaching certificate.  So how can we improve the quality of our teaching?  What form(s) of professional development will work for a district-wide K-12 librarian team? Is there a particular model of staff learning and instruction that will be effective, sustainable, and promote collaboration?  Teachers are encouraged to be lifelong learners.  Professional development can take on many different forms.  Traditionally the model for many librarians has been to attend whatever trainings are taking place for classroom teachers. In the recent past we’ve successfully lobbied for librarian-specific offerings, but those in-service days are so few and far between that, by necessity, often those sessions act as a general “catch-up” time.  

My goal for this year is to help with the development and implementation of a sustainable and effective K-12 library professional development model for our district’s librarians.  So what does that mean? What would that look like?  First, let’s take a look at what’s not working…


chart retrieved from page 5 of “Teachers Know Best” report at http://www.teachersknowbest.org/  (Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation)

Karen Johnson distills from the Gates Foundation’s findings five things that educators are searching for in their professional development.  “Death by PowerPoint” is all-too-real for many teachers.  Instead, we’re longing for “professional learning opportunities that are: 1) Relevant; 2) Interactive; 3) Delivered by someone who understands their experience; 4) Sustained over time; and 5) Treats teachers like professionals.” (Johnson, 2016) https://www.edsurge.com/news/2016-06-28-5-things-teachers-want-from-pd-and-how-coaching-and-collaboration-can-deliver-them-if-implementation-improves

Professional Development: Path to Success

Think about it…  What if early NASA scientists had sat idly by, watching other countries take the lead…? If they had opted out of exploration and innovation because the risks were too great…?  If they had chosen to stay within their comfort zone and not test the limits of physics and engineering…?  Our astronauts would be like landlocked tourists, crossing the country in RVs with nerdy science bumper stickers, rather than taking those first amazingly red and dusty steps millions of miles away.  A leap of faith is required before we can achieve our goals.  As of yet, there is not a Star Trek transporter that allows for near-instantaneous travel between two ports.  If we want to explore new and distant worlds, we’ve got to do the hard work to get there.  We’ve got to plan, test, collect data, revise, collaborate, innovate.

And so it is for the team of fellow teacher-librarians in my district.  If we want to achieve great things with our teaching, and we want our students and staff to reach even further, it’s time to take the first small steps towards changing our professional development model.  This year I’m committing and looking forward to exploring the development of a librarian-focused EdCamp in the Pacific Northwest region.  I know that organizing and hosting an EdCamp won’t fill all of the gaps in our professional development needs.  Thinking back to NASA’s Mars vision, they didn’t just strap a few astronauts into a rocket and hope for the best.  Instead scientists started with small unmanned probes, monitored, evaluated, adapted.  They collaborated.  They created.  And they’re not satisfied with what they’ve achieved.  I strongly feel that a librarian-focused EdCamp could be an important piece of the professional development puzzle for myself and my teacher-librarian colleagues for years to come, and I’m excited to start this journey.  A few small steps, and then a giant leap into EdCamps!

So What’s an EdCamp?

Kristen Swanson, one of the founders of the EdCamp movement, summarizes the format of the unconference model, a model that is growing exponentially in popularity with educators throughout the nation and beyond.

An EdCamp is…

  • Free: Edcamps should be free to all attendees. This helps ensure that all different types of teachers and educational stakeholders can attend.
  • Non-commercial and with a vendor-free presence: Edcamps should be about learning, not selling. Educators should feel free to express their ideas without being swayed or influenced by sales pitches for educational books or technology.
  • Hosted by any organization or individual: Anyone should be able to host an Edcamp. School districts, educational stakeholders and teams of teachers can host Edcamps.
  • Made up of sessions that are determined on the day of the event: Edcamps should not have pre-scheduled presentations. During the morning of the event, the schedule should be created in conjunction with everyone there. Sessions will be spontaneous, interactive and responsive to participants’ needs.
  • Events where anyone who attends can be a presenter: Anyone who attends an Edcamp should be eligible to present. All teachers and educational stakeholders are professionals worthy of sharing their expertise in a collaborative setting.
  • Reliant on the “law of two feet” which encourages participants to find a session that meets their needs: As anyone can host a session, it is critical that participants are encouraged to actively self-select the best content and sessions. Edcampers should leave sessions that do not meet their needs. This provides a uniquely effective way of “weeding out” sessions that are not based on appropriate research or not delivered in an engaging format.  (Swanson, 2016) http://www.edutopia.org/blog/why-edcamp-kristen-swanson

EdCamps: More Information

The best way to learn more about EdCamps is to attend one.  Here are three upcoming Pacific Northwest EdCamp events that I would encourage you to attend, as well as a link to the national EdCamp Foundation website for even more information.

Tech EdCamp Wenatchee (Wenatchee, WA) 8/16/16  https://sites.google.com/a/wenatcheeschools.org/techedcamp/

EdCamp Lake Stevens (Lake Stevens, WA) 8/25/16  https://sites.google.com/a/lkstevens.wednet.edu/edcamplssd/home

EdCamp Edmonds (Edmonds, WA) 11/19/16  https://sites.google.com/a/edmonds.wednet.edu/edcampedmonds/website-builder

Further EdCamp information:  http://www.edcamp.org/

List of Resources (for further information on EdCamps & Professional Development)


PD for Librarians: Let’s Fix It

if its brokeI’ve been a librarian for 13+ years and I’m still learning every day. Through trial and error on the job I’ve learned about Follett’s Destiny circulation system. I’ve learned that Shel Silverstein books will never go out of style. I’ve learned that the right book at the right time in the right kid’s hands will fuel their love of reading. I’ve learned that keeping a tidy library is like stringing beads on a string with no end knot. I’ve learned that technology often experiences glitches when it’s truly most inconvenient. I’ve learned how to save time for teachers by focusing on what they’ll need, and, in best cases, before they even know they need it.

While all of that knowledge is important, very little of it was gained in traditional professional development experiences. The main problem for building specialists such as teacher-librarians is the professional development model in place in many districts is focused on classroom teachers and their needs, and building specialists are often left to try and find applicability where there is little. Or better yet, librarians are clumped together with music or art teachers or PE specialists in a corner table and we’re tasked with goals such as working collaboratively on a specialist schedule or planning assemblies instead of focusing on teaching and learning. If we are able to meet with job-alike colleagues, it’s often after-hours or at an annual professional conference, if we’re willing to fund our own way.

CassetteTapeGuiding Question: What are some professional development options for my job-alike colleagues and me as we try to develop a more cohesive teacher-librarian cadre in our district?

For the past several years, the librarian professional learning community (PLC) in my district has met for one full day, either in the fall or spring. Substitute teachers were provided for all of us, and we all met in a meeting room at our district headquarters. Last year, our annual meeting day was cancelled due to a district snow day. It was never rescheduled. When we finally met as a whole group this fall, it became apparent that our current instructional model was broken. It is impossible to form an open and collaborative culture when you’re literally meeting someone for the first time after they’ve been in their job for almost two years! Think of the implications of placing teachers in the same boat… Imagine seeing a teacher coming down the hall, saying “Hi” to that person and introducing yourself only to find out they’ve been teaching the exact same topics as you a mere two doors down. Wow! You’re not alone in this academic endeavor! You eat lunch with them, share a few stories, trade a few tips, then you each go back to your respective classrooms, closing the door behind you, emerging again to work together… twelve months later!

It was after this fall’s somewhat annual meeting that I realized, the system’s broken. It’s been said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results. Well, we’ve been doing the same thing over and over again, and the results aren’t only different than intended, they’re trending in the wrong direction. While it is certainly energizing and engaging to gather as a large group, waiting for those whole-group gatherings does not seem to be a sustainable instructional model. At the same time, I’m also hoping to extend our cohort model — moving from an in-district-only cohort, to beyond our district boundaries.

That is not to say that there is no value in attending staff-wide trainings and professional development offerings. Stephens writes about this in her blog post, Rethinking What We Do. “‘Do we need to go to whole-school PD? Yes!’ We are a part of a learning community…you can’t operate a successful school library program in a vacuum” (Stephens, 2013). But vacuums and being stuck in a time-wasting staff development meeting share a common trait… major suckage.

One emerging professional development model that is trending in popularity is the “unconference”. Rebecca Bagley provides a great description of the unconference: “The concept is fairly simple. At an unconference, no topics have been predetermined, no keynote speakers have been invited, no panels have been arranged. Instead, the event lives and dies by the participation of its attendees. They decide what topics will be discussed and they convene the individual breakout sessions. In other words, an unconference has no agenda until the participants create it.” (Bagley, 2014). In the world of education, unconferences have taken the form of “EdCamps”. A recent Scholastic Teacher article highlighted EdCamps. “EdCamps are all about the room being smarter than the individual.” (Borris, 2016). This is the disconnect that’s so pervasive with our current professional development model. Collectively our district library cohort has a wide array of skills and knowledge, but like so many organizations, our skills and knowledge are siloed. The unconference model seeks to disrupt the tradition of “stand and deliver” instruction, while empowering and encouraging all parties to take an active role in our professional development.silos2

The Washington Library Media Association (WLMA) has held a multi-day professional conference, with sessions, keynote speakers, vendor booths, and all the normal conference accoutrements. But as Washington state schools and teachers alike have been forced to tighten spending over the past years, attendance, participation and membership rates have consistently diminished, so much so that WLMA has merged with the Washington Library Association (WLA) to save costs. Gone too is the annual conference. In its place, in October 2016 WLMA will be shifting to a one-day unconference: WLMA 2016 unconference. There are pros (free/lower-cost conference for participants, sessions are adaptable to the interests of attendees, all participants are encouraged to share ideas rather than only listening to presenters) and cons (can be an uncomfortable model of professional development for introverts, success is dependent on attendees’ participation, and conferences are on a much smaller scale). It will be interesting to see if an annual unconference model will be a sustainable one for WLMA in the years to come.

Another model of instruction that is worth exploring is on-demand and web-based professional development, often in the form of webinars or videos. The American Association of School Librarians (AASL) provides archived webinars with topics such as “Brains Change @ Your Library” and “Coaching the Leader Within”.  Pros: webinars can be completed independently, there are numerous free resources available, and they’re often available anytime/on-demand. Cons: access to full offerings often requires membership or other payment, there is often little interactivity in the delivery, and sound/video quality (as well as the quality of the presentation itself) can be inconsistent. One wondering I have is the feasibility of using webinars in a blended model, with independent viewing of the material followed by small and/or large group discussions.

Finally, I’m deeply interested in web-based (Hangouts & Google+ communities). As our district has shifted to a Google Education platform, it’s becoming easier and easier to integrate Google applications into our learning. A web-based community has many advantages over traditional in-person professional development, but it’s also not with its own issues. Pros: free access to community of job-alike colleagues from around the world, ease of 2-way conversation, no transportation requirements. Cons: our district has not opened access to Google+ for teachers, much like EdCamps these communities are dependent on members’ participation to bring value, and privacy issues — including some teachers who prefer to not be on camera.
Some examples of applicable Google+ communities: https://plus.google.com/communities/114899053206458405634 TLChat (538 members — invite)
https://plus.google.com/communities/117972083606648197914 School Library Media Specialists (2,258 members — open)
https://plus.google.com/communities/109025267965562834348 LSSD Teacher-Librarians (9 members)

Ideas and wonderings moving forward with online communities:
If I can’t convince the district to open up access to the Google+ features, what are my other options to get things started? Who will lead the sessions? Is it worth the time and effort if only a few colleagues participate?  I think these applications have the greatest potential for meaningful job-alike professional development in my current role as teacher-librarian, and I think a few proof-of-concept sessions would go far to convince district leaders of the value to teachers. And an added benefit with these new approaches… I won’t have to wait two years any longer to meet the new-hires!


American Library Association (ALA). (n.d.). School libraries: Online learning. Retrieved June 1, 2016, from http://www.ala.org/onlinelearning/schoollibraries

Bagley, R. (2014, August 18). How ‘unconferences’ unleash innovative ideas | Forbes. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/rebeccabagley/2014/08/18/how-unconferences-unleash-innovative-ideas/#26b5f2045e12

Borris, C. (2016, January/February). Happy campers. Scholastic Teacher, 125(4), 24-29. Retrieved from http://www.scholastic.com/teachers/article/how-edcamps-are-changing-face-pd

Evans, S. (2016, June 4). Our first Google Hangout for professional development [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://librarymediatechtalk.blogspot.com/2016/06/our-first-google-hangout-for.html

School Library Journal. (n.d.). School Library Journal. Retrieved from http://www.slj.com/

Stephens, W. (2013, October 14). Rethinking what we do: Professional development for school librarians. Retrieved from http://yalsa.ala.org/blog/2013/10/14/re-thinking-what-we-do-professional-development-for-school-librarians/

There’s a Pony in Here Somewhere!


excerpt from “How Ronald Reagan Changed My Life” by Peter Robinson

Chapter One
Journal Entry, June 2002:

Over lunch today I asked Ed Meese about one of Reagan’s favorite jokes. “The pony joke?” Meese replied. “Sure I remember it. If I heard him tell it once, I heard him tell it a thousand times.”

The joke concerns twin boys of five or six. Worried that the boys had developed extreme personalities — one was a total pessimist, the other a total optimist — their parents took them to a psychiatrist.

First the psychiatrist treated the pessimist. Trying to brighten his outlook, the psychiatrist took him to a room piled to the ceiling with brand-new toys. But instead of yelping with delight, the little boy burst into tears. “What’s the matter?” the psychiatrist asked, baffled. “Don’t you want to play with any of the toys?” “Yes,” the little boy bawled, “but if I did I’d only break them.”

Next the psychiatrist treated the optimist. Trying to dampen his outlook, the psychiatrist took him to a room piled to the ceiling with horse manure. But instead of wrinkling his nose in disgust, the optimist emitted just the yelp of delight the psychiatrist had been hoping to hear from his brother, the pessimist. Then he clambered to the top of the pile, dropped to his knees, and began gleefully digging out scoop after scoop with his bare hands. “What do you think you’re doing?” the psychiatrist asked, just as baffled by the optimist as he had been by the pessimist. “With all this manure,” the little boy replied, beaming, “there must be a pony in here somewhere!”

“Reagan told the joke so often,” Meese said, chuckling, “that it got to be kind of a joke with the rest of us. Whenever something would go wrong, somebody on the staff would be sure to say, ‘There must be a pony in here somewhere.'”

As our district moves to a 1:1 model for students and staff alike, [A] what practices can we put in place to encourage responsible technology use? And [B] are there exemplars of device user agreements, specifically for younger elementary students (2nd/3rd grade), to set the groundwork for later years? With those guiding questions in mind, these past few weeks I’ve been exploring ISTE Teacher Standard 4.

Promote and model digital citizenship and responsibility

Teachers understand local and global societal issues and responsibilities in an evolving digital culture and exhibit legal and ethical behavior in their professional practices.

With Standard 4 in mind, how do we work achieve goals A & B? The optimist might look at things and say, “We can do this! We’ll find a magical device that will meet all of our needs. Maybe an iPad or a Surface Pro.  Kids today know all about technology — they’ll know how to use them.  And if they try to misbehave, our I.T. folks will have all our bases covered. People are going to write research papers about our amazing results. It’s gonna be great!” But blind optimism with only surface-deep planning is often a recipe for disaster [see Los Angeles Unified School District’s infamous iPad plan].

The pessimist’s response is more common in the educational world.  District leaders think about the headaches that come with technology purchases and decide to prioritize limited resources elsewhere. They talk about value-added growth measures and question (wisely, at times) whether or not technology provides an adequate return on investment, often focusing on highly publicized disasters such as LAUSD’s iPads.  They focus more on locking down access to bandwidth, email, rights, and privileges, not to deny student achievement, but acting in fear of what might happen. “Give ‘em an inch, and they’ll be hacking computers.”

“Are you an optimist or a pessimist?” my own kids asked me as I was writing this piece. Would I dive headfirst into the pile to find that missing pony or cry over the toys and over what might happen.? Optimist or pessimist?  Which approach will work?  I would argue for Option C, pragmatist.  I’m looking at that room full of manure and I’m thinking, “We could sell that manure and get someone else to shovel it out. And if there’s a pony in there? Endless supply of manure! And if we posted on social media about our new school-based business: Let’s Doo It! [trademark pending] Think about the learning opportunities for our staff and students…”

Goal A: Responsible Tech Use

I could talk for hours on the value of focusing on digital citizenship, but I’ll be mercifully brief here.  Instead I’ll direct you to two outstanding resources that provide more information than I could fit into this article:

Digital Citizenship: Resource Roundup (Edutopia) http://www.edutopia.org/article/digital-citizenship-resources
K-12 Digital Citizenship Curriculum (Common Sense Media)https://www.commonsensemedia.org/educators/digital-citizenship

Goal B: Device User Agreement

As our students and staff are shifting closer to a 1:1 device model, I think a pragmatic approach would be to focus on getting out in front of problems before they arise.  What do we expect from our students with regards to technology use?  While they are certainly digitally native, they’re most certainly not digitally savvy. Students’ relative lack of fear with regards to technology is not an inherently good or bad thing. It can definitely get them into trouble in a hurry (e.g. unwise use of social media).  On the other hand, their lack of fear is a quality that many educational staff would be wise to emulate in moderation.  Making mistakes is okay, and modeling how to respond to mistakes is an area where we grown-ups often miss out on teaching opportunities.

With that in mind, I feel that one low-cost, high-impact approach would be a device-specific user agreement.  In this case, I focused on a Chromebook user agreement for 3rd-5th graders at my school.  There are a lot of misguided examples of student forms to be found online, often filled with legalese and educational jargon. They often focus on costs and restrictions, and are one-size-fits-all (one form for K-12 students).  Going back to Goal A, digital citizenship must be embedded into learning to be successful and to find meaning.  Very few of the examples I found online included elements of digital citizenship, and of those, fewer still went beyond merely a vague reference to the digital citizenship skills and learning involved.

The K-12, one-size-fits-all approach is one of the biggest blunders that many in education leadership make.  In the world of educational technology, oftentimes the K-12 approach is the easy way when it comes to those in I.T. leadership.  Uniformity allows for ease of response, opportunities for streamlined training, and for optimized repair and maintenance plans.  But uniformity is not an effective practice at a classroom level.  Each child is different, each classroom different, each teacher different, each grade level team different… the list could go on and on.  While many in leadership roles spend a great deal of time crafting the perfect mission statement, arguing over semantics of whether saying “each child” is more impactful than “every child” or “leaving no child behind”, they lose sight of the fact that there needs to be flexibility and freedom in how we empower our teachers.

Teachers need tools.  Not tool.  Tools, plural.  What works for one teacher or child may not be needed in the classroom two doors down.  A user agreement for K-12 is destined to fail in its goals.  There needs to be a user agreement for kindergarten students and parents.  A different form for 1st or 2nd graders and their parents.  A different user agreement for 5th graders than for 12th graders.  And we need to revisit the idea often: why are we having them sign the form to begin with?  Is it merely to warn them off of undesired behaviors? And if so, what message does that send?  If not, does the document truly reflect our goals?

SBA testing requirements have resulted in an incredible influx of Chromebooks in my school.  A wonderful opportunity for students, but with little guidance or time to prepare, we as a staff soon found ourselves in a room with a pony (including aforementioned pony byproduct).  Nuts and bolts issues, such as how to plug/unplug devices or how to properly carry Chromebooks, soon took center stage as staff found they were having to constantly deal with the effects of poor/misinformed choices on the part of students.  Working with a fellow teacher at my school, we developed a Chromebook user agreement for our 4th and 5th grade students:

Chromebook agreement jfeOur work was guided by two examples of documents that we found online:

Redondo Beach Unified School District http://tes-rbusd-ca.schoolloop.com/file/1244185264194/1406346522769/1457584482771379047.pdf
South Orangetown Central School District https://blogs.socsd.org/soms/files/2015/06/somschromebookprogram-t1aguu.pdf

In developing this Chromebook user agreement, our hope is that this document can be used to guide conversations before/during/after using the devices, not only between student and teacher, but also with parents.  And in the inevitable moments of missteps by students, this document can guide conversations about learning from mistakes rather than repeating them ad infinitum.

There’s gotta be a pony in there somewhere and I think I’ve found it…


In writing this post, my mind kept drifting to one of my favorite new books from this past school year, Kate Beaton’s The Princess and the Pony. Princess Pinecone is small but mighty and longs to be a princess warrior.  Her birthday wish and dream of a battle-ready horse is shattered when she finds that her newly-gifted trusty steed is in fact, a corpulent and flatulent pony with a lazy eye.  But rather than focusing on her plump equine’s shortcomings, she trains the horse for battle as best she’s able and rides the odiferous beast to greater achievement than she ever thought possible.

What’s any of that have to do with our Chromebooks and user agreements?  It’s a stretch, but here goes…  We’ve been gifted a pony (carts full of Chromebooks) and a pile of manure to boot (little training or additional supports provided).  We could focus on the shortcomings of our pony (Chromebooks are definitely not perfect) and its lazy eye (our students don’t always see things clearly either) and its emissions (…) or we can take the pony we have into battle (teaching our students and not just focusing on SBA) after adequate training and preparation (ongoing professional development must be a part of any successful technology plan). Princess Pinecone’s moment of victory was not a fluke; it was the direct result of finding the right tool for the right teacher, who fully utilized the tools she was given.

Now go find your pony.  It’s gotta be around here somewhere…


Geuss, M. (2016, May 13). After LAUSD iPad program failure, Apple’s help spurs success in other schools | Ars Technica. Retrieved from http://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2016/05/after-lausd-ipad-program-failure-apples-help-spurs-success-in-other-schools/

International Society for Technology in Education. (n.d.). Standards for teachers. Retrieved from http://www.iste.org/standards/ISTE-standards/standards-for-teachers

Jefferson Elementary Chromebook user agreement (4th/5th grade)  https://docs.google.com/document/d/1L0rgRwkT1B4C7nYD9BSox_4VQLZ44vF2V4PB1KppepQ/edit?usp=sharing

Morales, T. (2003, July 30). Writing for Ronald Reagan | CBS News. Retrieved from http://www.cbsnews.com/news/writing-for-ronald-reagan/

Robinson, P. (2004). Chapter 1: The pony in the dung heap. In How Ronald Reagan changed my life (pp. 15-16). New York, NY: Regan Books.


Manure pile http://modernfarmer.com/2014/08/manure-usa/

Pony from “The Princess and the Pony” by Kate Beaton (ISBN 978-0545637084) http://amzn.to/1TGAN6V

Parent Communication – What’s Working? How Can We Improve?

Email-Failed-DeliveryIn an effort that represents ISTE Teacher Standard 3 (Model digital age work and learning; 3c: Communicate relevant information and ideas effectively to students, parents, and peers using a variety of digital age media and formats) my district utilizes Blackboard Connect: K-12 ConnectED’s automated phone system to communicate with parents and guardians via phone and text.  In our district, this allows administrators and trained office staff to send out messages to specific student groups in an immediate and what is often a time-saving way.  


Important messages that can’t wait are delivered to the contacts that need them in a quicker manner than ever possible before. Vital information no longer languishes away deep in backpacks in the form of a 1/2 printed note.  Safety messages can be delivered far more quickly than simply sending notes home with students at the end of the school day. 


In our district, teachers are not allowed to use the messaging system.  Instead, they must filter requests through the office staff and/or building administrators.  As a result, many teachers simply print notes and messages, or send them via email to those parents who have email addresses on file.  Another issue that is becoming more prevalent is the fact that people are using phones differently now.  Many younger parents no longer check voicemail, but rather they see a missed call and simply return a call to the same number.  Unfortunately the ConnectED system registers that all calls originated from the school office.  As a result, when a school-wide message calls out we immediately see a two hour spike of phone calls to the office from people who are simply returning phone calls — they’ve completely bypassed the “time-saving” information in their voice mailbox and the office staff are pulled from any productive work while they repeatedly answer identical parent questions.  The system seems impossibly difficult to signup for — I wonder if we are reaching all of the parents that we think we’re reaching?  (Signing up in 5 easy page-long steps)

Ways to Improve

Are there ways to improve communication?  Currently phone messages that are texted out cannot be responded to.  Is there a way to allow for that level of communication?  Would a school Twitter feed assist or enhance the ConnectED system?  Are we reaching ELL families? Low-income families with less electronic access?  The instructions are ridiculously difficult — could we provide a parent training night, where staff can assist families with signing up for these resources?

Learning to Fly (and Tweet): Managing Twitter

Robot-and-Bird-03_small-779473Guiding Question:   What resource is available to assist with managing multiple social media accounts (Facebook, Twitter, Google+, etc.; and multiple accounts within each)?  On a related note, what are the best practices for utilizing social media tools in the classroom? 

It’s become apparent that I need a better system for managing multiple social media accounts, a social media dashboard. I have multiple Twitter accounts (personal, professional, school, district library team) not to mention Facebook, Google+ and more). I would love the ability to post messages from more than one account at once and also to quickly switch between the various accounts. I’ve already stopped myself from posting the right thing from the wrong account more than once, and my hope was to find a one-size-fits-all approach (and a free one, at that!). My hope was for a Windows and/or Chrome-based application, as I will primarily be posting from school computers under the direction of our district’s communication office (in a recent social media training session they highlighted the legal implications of using personally-owned devices for district business).


HootSuite: https://hootsuite.com/
hootsuite1Tweeten for Twitter: http://mspoweruser.com/tweeten-updated-with-slimmer-columns-more/
tweeten1TweetDeck: https://tweetdeck.twitter.com

All of these resources similar in functionality and are classified as social media dashboards. There are numerous tools available in this genre of apps, many of them start-ups trying to fill this growing market niche. Google searches are frustratingly unrewarding as information becomes outdated almost as soon as it’s posted. The resources that I listed all allow for managing multiple Twitter feeds (other offerings such as Buffer https://buffer.com/pricing seemed great but were limited to one account per social media platform). They all allow for scheduling posts, for posting from multiple accounts at once, and for tracking multiple account feeds simultaneously.


* all of the tools require providing account log-in information to an outside entity
* the free account plans are limited in their scope: HootSuite allows for three social media accounts (including multiple Twitter accounts) and their feeds; SocialPilot allows for three accounts but no feeds; TweetDeck allows for unlimited accounts, but Twitter-only; Tweeten is the same as it’s basically a more polished interface for TweetDeck.
* none of the social media tools I could find provide support for Google+ accounts as Google has not opened up API (application program interface) access for outside apps
* Twitter is very much still in development, and accesses are frequently changed. TweetDeck once provided access to Facebook accounts (as well as Google Buzz, LinkedIn, FourSquare), but is now Twitter only. Twitter purchased TweetDeck in 2011. On 4/16/16 Twitter discontinued support for the Windows-based standalone version of TweetDeck. Subsequent reviews on TweetDeck’s Chrome App (https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/tweetdeck-by-twitter/hbdpomandigafcibbmofojjchbcdagbl?hl=en-US) have been scathing in their feedback
* many of the tools are overwhelming in their feature sets– they’re created for folks who rely on social media for the success of their business. I’m not ready for analytics — I’m just trying not to tweet out posts from my work accounts!

I really struggled in my search for a complete tool with the features I was hoping for. Change is constant. Just when folks settle in with an app, permissions are revoked, features are added or removed. I’m moving forward with Tweeten (http://www.wpxbox.com/review-tweeten-windows-10/ and https://chromebuzz.wordpress.com/2016/03/01/tweeten-beta-review/) with HootSuite as an alternative, as I’m going to focus on finding a rhythm and routine for posting on Twitter only before adding Facebook and other social media accounts for my library classroom or school. Tweeten is in Beta form, is available cross-platform, and seems to be the approach that many users are taking following the end of support for TweetDeck’s Windows-based version.

Best practices/additional information on Twitter:

Guide to Twitter for educators:  http://www.nysecta.org/Twitter%20for%20Educators%20-%20A%20Beginner’s%20Guide.pdf
The Ultimate Guide for Twitter for Schools from Campus Suite: https://www.dropbox.com/s/fdf75v3rr36wsnd/Ultimate%20Guide%20for%20Twitter%20for%20Schools.pdf?dl=0
Twitter overload by Kathy Schrock: http://www.schrockguide.net/twitter-for-teachers.html

Learning to Fly (and Tweet): Why Twitter?

Robot-and-Bird-03_small-779473ISTE Teacher Standard 3: Model digital age work and learning
Teachers exhibit knowledge, skills, and work processes representative of an innovative professional in a global and digital society.

According to Wikipedia, Twitter debuted online in July 2006.  More than ten years later, in September 2016, I finally joined the Twitter universe.  The connection to ISTE TS-3 was immediately evident.  As an educator, I’m tasked with preparing students for functioning productively in a global society.  I can’t imagine accomplishing that goal effectively without using the Internet in my teaching.

Recently I worked with a third grade class to help them create a book award of their own.  We had just been studying ALA Caldecott books, Newbery winners, Coretta Scott King honorees, and many others award-winning titles.  My hope was that students would take a more personal view towards evaluating books… it’s okay to have favorites and some books are better than others.   Many students named awards after themselves, a favorite teacher, their pets, a family member.  A few kids thought beyond their sphere of influence, naming their awards after famous authors or their favorite athletes.  As we wrapped up the brief lesson and activity, I noticed the finished award of one boy:twitter2

The “Inspiring and Anti-Cyberbullying Award” was his creation, awarded to a Minecraft-themed book, Invasion of the Overworld by Mark Cheverton.  The student wrote: “I was a cyberbully until I read this book.”  Now, I don’t know Mark Cheverton.  I haven’t read any of his books (though my boys have many times!).  Quite honestly, Invasion of the Overworld is not in my summer reading plans.  I doubt that the author has Newbery Medal aspirations.  With all of that said, it was clear that the student made a connection to the text like few of his peers had been able to do.  

In the past, that would have been the end of things…  I would have sent the finished posters onto the teacher so they could see their students’ work.  I may have posted a few of the most interesting examples in the hallway for other students to see.  Some of the projects may have even found their life briefly extended by being posted on a proud parent’s refrigerator.  Thinking back to ISTE Teacher Standard 3b (“Collaborate with students, peers, parents, and community members using digital tools and resources to support student success and innovation”), though, I quickly came to the realization that Twitter was a perfect vehicle to extend our classroom to the greater community — in this case, the author’s ear.twitter1

Within the same school day, the author had responded to the student’s award.  I immediately printed screenshots of the Twitter conversation for the student to see.  (I’ve had to reprint them twice for him, as the prized printouts seem to develop feet!)  I emailed screenshots to the boy’s parents and his teacher, creating great opportunities to talk about the positive value of social media.  In the days ahead, I used the conversation in related lessons with other library classes, and in response their output and efforts were far more focused than the first class.  Modeling positive interactions such as this one are a powerful responsibility that I’ve overlooked in the past.  In the future, I’m going to make every effort to not miss those kind of opportunities.

In the past school year, the value of Twitter for an educator and librarian has become increasingly clear.  In fact, I’ve gone from avoiding Twitter to having a new issue…  managing multiple Twitter accounts and social media feeds.  My next blog post will explore some the tools that I’ve found to assist with that task.  One of those tools, HootSuite, highlighted some of the reasons for harnessing social media in a classroom setting: (1) Use technology to create a culture of collaboration, (2) Use technology to empower students to contribute, and (3) Remember: students don’t always understand the difference between personal and professional social media use.  My limited time spent exploring Twitter’s strengths has made me feel foolish for avoiding it in the past.  Lesson learned.


Byrne, R. (2015, July 29). Using HootSuite to spread your school’s message. Retrieved from http://www.freetech4teachers.com/2015/07/using-hootsuite-to-spread-your-schools.html

Kushin, M. (2014, August 18). How the social media mindset can be an asset to your classroom. Retrieved from https://blog.hootsuite.com/how-the-social-media-mindset-can-be-an-asset-to-your-classroom/

Crompton, H. (2014, July 24). Know the ISTE Standards T3: Model digital age learning. Retrieved from https://www.iste.org/explore/articleDetail?articleid=109


Danger, Will Robinson! Computerized, Incentivized Reading Ahead!


As an elementary school librarian, fostering students’ lifelong love of reading is my penultimate duty.  I embrace technology like few around me, but this unit study has been a personal struggle.  My exploration of the ISTE Standard 2 for Teachers (Teachers design, develop, and evaluate authentic learning experiences and assessments incorporating contemporary tools and resources to maximize content learning in context and to develop the knowledge, skills, and attitudes identified in the ISTE Standards for Students) was centered on assessment of students.  My guiding question became:  What forms of assessments and digital tools would be appropriate for 1st through 5th graders to use during the course of an independent summer reading program?

My district (like many) is always striving for excellence in our students, and (like many) we measure our students’ success primarily with summative test scores and data.  With that in mind, we will be encouraging students at the elementary and middle school level to participate in a summer reading program.  Students are tasked with reading (primarily independently) with testing immediately following completion of books.  The students’ results on these comprehension tests will serve as proof of their understanding and efforts.  Our district is contracting with Renaissance Learning to provide summer-month access to their Accelerated Reader (AR) program.  My immediate concerns: (1) staff training (2) equitable at-home access for this online resource (3) ELL supports in place? And (4) cost.

I’ll be honest… Librarian-me wants no form of formal assessment in the summer months for my students.  Dad-me wants my three boys to read for pleasure while on break.  Today’s kindergarten students are yesterday’s first and second graders when it comes to academic expectations.  It’s vital that we allow our young readers to discover joy in reading at an early age, so it’s an ingrained part of who they are.  In her wonderful books The Book Whisperer and Reading in the Wild, Donalyn Miller talks about the keys to developing lifelong reading habits. “Wild readers” as she refers to them: (1) Dedicate time to read (2) Self-select reading material (3) Share books and reading with other readers (4) Have reading plans, and (5) Show preferences for genres, authors, and topics.  

So what’s absent from this list? Summative assessments.  A student who is reading and making connections to text and self is fully engaged in their task.  Readers often talk of getting lost in a book.  At the same time, I’ve never once in my 14+ years in classrooms and libraries and homes ever heard a child say the words, “I can’t wait to take a test on this book to prove my understanding” or the follow-up “And please make it multiple-choice, and focused on vocabulary and short-term memory questions!”  Miller says, “Comprehension tests feed into a classroom cycle of assign it, then assess it.  But where is the learning and teaching in that cycle? Teachers assign these summative assessments in order to motivate students to read and to determine whether students did, in fact read a book. Where is the joy that we hope reading will engender in students?” (Miller, 2011, 131).

Going beyond my gut reaction as a librarian to many and a dad to three vibrant readers, I have to ask: is AR what’s best for kids? Is it truly the most cost-effective way to approach reader development?  Or are there better, more meaningful ways to inject reading into summer reading programs and beyond?  According to their website, the Institute of Education Sciences  “is the statistics, research, and evaluation arm of the U.S. Department of Education. [They are] independent and non-partisan. [Their] mission is to provide scientific evidence on which to ground education practice and policy and to share this information in formats that are useful and accessible to educators, parents, policymakers, researchers, and the public.”  The IES website What Works Clearinghouse summarizes its findings: “Accelerated Reader was found to have no discernible effects on reading fluency, mixed effects on comprehension, and potentially positive effects on general reading achievement.” (Institute of Education Sciences, 2008) This is a remarkable statement when you consider that AR is the flagship product for Renaissance Learning, Inc., a privately-held company with a market valuation of over $1.1 billion.

So is AR the right tool for the job? In my experience and research, I would strongly argue it is not, especially when you consider the service we’re contracting for is on the low-end of the SAMR model.  In my opinion, any funds would be far better spent on providing more access to reading content, whether it’s printed books, online databases, or even e-content providers such as Overdrive, especially as we shift to a 1:1 device model at our upper grades. Reading guru, Jim Trelease: “Before committing precious dollars to such a program, a district should decide its purpose: Is the program there to motivate children to read more or to create another grading platform?” (Trelease, 2013)  Dr. Stephen Krashen is professor emeritus at the University of Southern California, and he’s written extensively on the topic of incentivising student reading with programs such as Accelerated Reader.  “It remains mysterious to me why the obvious, most pleasant, least expensive, and probably the only effective way to improve reading ability — providing readers with interesting, comprehensible reading material — appears not only to be the last resort, but is often not even mentioned.” (Krashen, 2009, p. 25)

So now I’m a Luddite?  Not yet!  Technology definitely has its strengths.  We can encourage our students to communicate with classmates and kids around the world at sites like Wonderopolis and Biblionasium.  Responding to books is so different and so much more powerful on a longterm basis than online multiple-choice book quizzes.  We can encourage our kids to research online for the joy of it, seeking out answers to questions that arise during the freedom of summer months.

My initial search lead me to an adult reading challenge on the PopSugar website.  What I especially loved about their approach was that it focused on exploration and playfulness on the part of the reader.  “Read a book with a blue cover.”  “A book that takes place on an island.”  These were seemingly random identifiers, but I loved that aspect of it — what a great lead-in to get kids to explore library shelves for unread books!  So the search was on… was there anything similar already prepared for elementary and intermediate students?  The best example I could find was Scholastic’s 2015 100 New Year’s reading resolutions for kids.  They have published similar pieces before and since but the 2015 list is the one I’m going to adapt for my students’ use.  I am required to follow the district plan (AR testing for all books completed), but I’m going to do all that I can to encourage reading for fun and joy.  My hope is that students will use this checklist as a tool for self-reflection and self-assessment.

Reading is an art. It requires practice. It requires connections and support and beauty and time and freedom and curiosity.  The problem lies in the inherent difficulty of quantifying that sparkle in a child’s eye when they find a book that is right for them. There’s no rubric for it, but it’s a very real thing.  We get so caught up in 5-Finger Rules, and SBA scores, and Lexiles, and AR results, and we are losing sight of the sparkle.



Common Sense Media. (2014, November). Accelerated Reader educator review | Graphite. Retrieved April 24, 2016, from https://www.graphite.org/website/accelerated-reader

Greene, P. (2015, November 17). Accelerated Reader’s ridiculous research | Curmudgucation. Retrieved from http://curmudgucation.blogspot.com/2015/11/accelerated-readers-ridiculous-research.html

Hill, H. (2015, March 26). 37 Ways to help kids learn to love reading | Edutopia. Retrieved from http://www.edutopia.org/discussion/37-ways-help-kids-learn-love-reading

Institute of Education Sciences. (2008, October). Accelerated Reader™: What Works Clearinghouse. Retrieved from http://ies.ed.gov/ncee/wwc/interventionreport.aspx?sid=12

International Society for Technology in Education. (n.d.). Standards for Teachers. Retrieved from http://www.iste.org/standards/iste-standards/standards-for-teachers

Kohn, A. (2011). How to create nonreaders: Reflections on motivation, learning, and sharing power. In Feel-bad education: And other contrarian essays on children and schooling(pp. 87-99). Boston, MA: Beacon Press.

Krashen, S. (2003). The (lack of) experimental evidence supporting the use of Accelerated Reader. Journal of Children’s Literature, 29(9), 16-30. Retrieved from http://www.sdkrashen.com/content/articles/does_accelerated_reader_work.pdf

Krashen, S. (2005). Accelerated Reader: Evidence still lacking. Knowledge Quest, 33(3), 48-49.

Krashen, S. (2009). Anything but reading. Knowledge Quest, 37(5), 18-25.

Lapowsky, I. (2014, February 19). Education company Renaissance Learning raises $40 million from Google Capital | Inc.com. Retrieved from http://www.inc.com/issie-lapowsky/renaissance-learning-40-million-google-capital.html

Miller, D., & Anderson, J. (2011). The book whisperer: Awakening the inner reader in every child. New York, NY: Scholastic Inc.

Miller, D., & Kelley, S. (2013). Reading in the wild: The book whisperer’s keys to cultivating lifelong reading habits. New York, NY: Scholastic Inc.

Neary, L. (2013, June 11). What kids are reading, in school and out | NPR. Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/sections/monkeysee/2013/06/11/190669029/what-kids-are-reading-in-school-and-out

Pennington, M. (2010, January 24). The 18 reasons not to use Accelerated Reader | Pennington Publishing Blog. Retrieved from http://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/reading/the-18-reasons-not-to-use-accelerated-reader/

Platt, R., & Wolfe, J. (2014, August 20). AR killed my dog and now it’s coming for you | We teach, we learn. Retrieved from http://www.weteachwelearn.org/2014/08/ar-killed-my-dog-and-now-its-coming-for-you-a-defense-of-accelerated-reader-and-a-plea-for-less-drama/

Renaissance Learning. (2012). The research foundation for Accelerated Reader goal-setting practices. Retrieved from http://doc.renlearn.com/KMNet/R001438603GC81D6.pdf

Shin, F. H., & Krashen, S. D. (2008). Summer reading: Program and evidence. Boston, MA: Pearson/Allyn and Bacon.

Trelease, J. (2013). The Read-Aloud Handbook chapter 5, pg 3. Retrieved from http://www.trelease-on-reading.com/rah-ch5-pg3.html



By CBS Television (eBay item photo front photo back) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


Reflection on Final Unit Project


It happens every February and March.  The calendar keeps creeping along.  Lesson ideas keep piling up.  Yearly SBAC and MSP testing is getting closer and closer.  And yet, we’re tasked with cramming as much content as we can into short weeks.  And don’t forget to make it engaging.  And so, I tried, and continue to try…

Each morning at my school, a fourth or fifth grade student presents the morning announcements via our building intercom system.  The contents vary slightly daily, but typically include:  “Good morning” recited in another language; the lunch menu, any pertinent school announcements, a Washington state fact, a history fact for the day, and closing with a book talk.  My goal is to work with a group of fifth grade students to explore ways of integrating technology into the AM announcement process and to increase student engagement, especially in regards to the daily book talk process.  This project is intended to demonstrate an understanding and application of technology integration into the planning and implementation of a classroom activity or lesson.  I will be utilizing the framework of the ASSURE Model:


Here’s a link to the full .pdf file of my unit plan and revisions:  Individual Project Haney

To be honest, the formality of the ASSURE model was a struggle for me early on in the process.  While it did force me to consider and reconsider and continuously revise my goals, the reality is I felt hamstrung with constantly trying to make sure I had forgotten anything.  The more time I spent following this ASSURE format, though, the more I realized that much of what I naturally do in my typical lesson planning already follows these steps.  Time is consistently the biggest hurdle to overcome.  As a specialist on a fixed schedule, my weekly time with each class is painfully short.  Add to the mix: holidays, field trips, assemblies, NCCE conferences, a guys’ weekend at a convent for one of my partner teachers (I can’t make this stuff up!)…  Put it all together and it quickly becomes apparent that lessons and skills can’t be introduced and mastered during the students’ library time alone.  That has been my biggest challenge during the quarter, and indeed, during the past few years of teaching.

So how to respond?  Blended learning is a promising next step in my library/classroom’s instructional model.  The idea of creating videos that students can watch independently on-demand, thereby freeing me to work with other groups at the same time.  There’s only one of me, but a blended lesson is about as close as I can come to cloning myself (it’s a bit unnerving to look around and see a video of yourself playing on all of the student’s Chromebooks!).  I’m excited to see where this leads, especially as troubleshooting becomes less necessary.  The kids cannot wait to start trying out web conferencing with Google Hangouts!

My first attempt at an on-demand lesson video for my students:

In many ways, my planned unit has been an utterly incomplete failure, and yet, I don’t think I’ve seen the students more engaged or enthused in quite some time.  But I’m not giving up.  Thanks to one of my fifth grade students, I know that when things seem bleak…student 1

Mission & Vision: Collaborate

vision4Our students need more from us than any one person can provide.  The only viable option to reach all of our students is collaboration with a team of caring adults, both teachers and parents alike.   Continue reading

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