Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Just a Room with Some Tables and Books, I Guess

On September 9th one the founders and directors at Lyons, sent out the school calendar, which I read right away and discovered there was a series of PTA meetings already lined up which included a "Literary Celebration" later in the year. I sent back a reply that included the following:

I want to come to more PTA mtgs this year. The series you have lined up sound fabulous. I'm curious about Literary Celebration night. What's planned for that? Maybe we could hold that one down in the library if that makes sense.

What I was trying to express was that I was going to come to multiple meetings, not just the literary celebration, but that the literary celebration was of particular interest. A series of e-mails went out about the library hosting (but not really otherwise brainstorming or contributing to) the literary celebration.

Fast forward to today, September 28th, when a PTA meeting is scheduled, and I get this e-mail from a Lyons teacher:

We wanted to show parents the library - would this be kosher?

Now, one could say that I should be happy that someone even thought of the library at all, but I guess I'm greedy. It's meet the teachers night, which means it's "come look at us!" night. And this is the thought the library gets.

I e-mailed back that I'd like to at least chat with the families who come through. This is the response I get:

Sure, although it may not be too many students, and its just part of a tour, so time would be limited...

It's not the teacher's fault. He's trying to be inclusive. The problem is: no matter how big a deal I try to make of the library, no matter how in-your-face I get or how much I hang back when I think I've gone too far, or how big a scene I try to make whenever I feel overlooked, it doesn't sink in. The library is an afterthought. It's a minor-league, kinda-nice-to-have, out-of-sight-out-of-mind afterthought.

For my part, I need to learn from this kind of thing instead of simply being hurt and harboring resentment, which is my natural inclination. Apparently, my marketing and imaging need to change, quickly. I already feel like I'm living, eating, breathing, sleeping and dreaming school 24 hours a day, so I'm not sure when I can fit up amped-up marketing into the picture, but I can't remain in this building as a librarian without getting my department better integrated in the rhythm and flow of the schools' work processes.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Brooklyn Public Librarians Visit Gaynor Campus to Issue Library Cards

Ms. Silver and Ms. Curran of the Brooklyn Public Library worked tirelessly in the cafeteria during all three schools' lunch periods to issue library cards to students 13 and over and accept applications from students 12 and under.

The librarians positioned themselves just before TYWLS lunch, the first school to use the cafeteria during the day, and continued on through Lyons and The Green School's lunch periods.

The two library advocates were great with the students. Next time, I need to try to get them some sort of amplification so they can announce their presence better. Ms. Silver tells me some schools do provide this.

Quite a few students got a card on the spot. The librarians pledge to return, both to distribute cards to the younger students and to canvass the student population again. My job will be to promote the visits better and create more buzz around them.

- Posted remotely via mobile phone.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Books on Film Series Kickoff: Diary of a Wimpy Kid

A small group of Lyons middle schoolers gathered for the inaugural screening in the library's new Books on Film series to watch Diary if a Wimpy Kid, a film based on a series of books by author Jeff Kinney recounting the trials and tribulations in the life a middle school student.

I was low-key in my marketing of the event so as to make this initial effort a kind of trial run. I ran out to our local fruit and grocery shop, Sergio's, to get soda, assorted fruit and few different types of cookies. There was enough for a larger crowd, but I was happy it was a manageable cluster of regular library users, which made for a less nervous Mr. Matthew this first time out.

Kudos to my Green School student assistant, K., who helped by signing students in at the door and making sure no one got too crazy. During much of the film, she sat quite far away from the screen, processing books, but watched the film peripherally. As she helped me tidy up after the film, her comments showed that she'd picked up everything. K. stayed to the bitter end. Thanks to K. and a good audience, the first in the series was a success.

- Posted remotely via mobile phone.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Paperless Sign-In _or_ SKANN3RZ

A USB scanner is like any other computer input device. It's comparable to a mouse. But somehow, that doesn't stop kids from being fascinated by it.
I inherited a scanner when I began working at the Gaynor Campus. It sits under my desk and I've been using it to scan in ISBNs for cataloging and to sign out books using the OPAC. A few sharp-eyed students have noticed it in the past, sometimes even grabbing it and randomly scanning things with bar codes on them. In these cases, I usually open up a blank Word document and let them go to town. Whatever numbers the bar code represents are simply entered into the document, which can be disposed of later.
As of this year I'm also using the scanner to sign kids into the library, thus avoiding paper sign-sheets, and the fake names and weird comments that show up on them. Better yet, this method makes analysing statistics much easier: no more keying in data from barely legible sheets.

Because of its enhanced role, I've now placed its plastic holster, which used to sit on the floor near my feet, up on the desk right in front of where visitors enter.

With the scanner's new height and prominence, the students' interest in it has increased exponentially. Who says kids aren't easily amused? My scanner, like most, has a sleep function that shuts off its light shortly after something is scanned until it senses something underneath the optical reader, which wakes it up again. M. and T.D. started playing a game with it: when it goes into sleep mode, each tries to swipe his hand under it so quickly that the scanner doesn't even recognize anything was under it and remains dark. They could hardly stop playing.

After getting fatigued by asking for the CAASS ID reader, the card reader that logs students' whereabouts directly into the DOE system and which is on wheels and could therefore easily be rolled into the library, I decided to devise my own in-house system. At first I toyed with using the OPAC, Follett Software's Destiny, but ultimately, it didn't make sense. Visitors aren't part of the collection, after all, so I had to think of a way to put some other tool to which I already have access to the task. Google Docs "forms" was the perfect answer. I already use a Google form to collect book suggestions on my wikispace page, so I simply built a quick and easy sign-in form with accompanying spreadsheet. The trick will be to make sure kids don't scan books onto the sheet when I'm not looking, although even that wouldn't be tragic. It's easy to discern an ISBN from a student ID number and the data can be easily sorted and scrubbed. Otherwise, the automated process seems to be working well.
In case any other library teachers are wondering how to do this, here are some instructions:
1. Open your Google account or start one if you don't already have one.
2. Click on Documents at the top of the page after logging into your Google account.
3. Click on the Create New button on the upper left hand side (in the current design as of this writing) and you will be presented with a menu of the different types of documents you can create.
4. Click on Form
5. Fill in the areas of Form Worksheet, which allows you to name it, write questions, determine what kinds of answers you are expecting (multiple choice, free-form text, etc.), specify which questions will require answers, change the look of the form, etc.

6. After you've finished, click Done on the bottom left.
7. Click the Save button on the upper right.
8. The easiest way to go from here is to e-mail the form yourself. You can later forward it or copy the link to embed it somewhere else.
9. Go to your e-mail account you used to receive your Google Forms e-mail.
10. Click on the link in the e-mail to view the form.
11. Any time you want to see your form without going back to the original e-mail to use it or test it, go to the spreadsheet (you will find it in your list of documents in Google Docs) and click on Form, then click Go to Live Form.

Good luck!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Super Seniors and Hilarious Helpers

The library officially opened for visits today, which made things hectic. It was also the first day of a Lyons senior study hall class, which had me a tad nervous. I went upstairs to talk to Taeko about who was going to be in the class as I hadn't received a roster yet and to try to guage the level of formality that would be expected of me. I had already been told it would tie in with the college/career search activities planned for this year, but I wondered if they were also expecting mini-lessons on study skills at the beginning if class, exit tickets stating what had been studied and such. Taeko said she was looking for some degree of formality and that exit tickets might be a good idea.

When the time for study hall came I was ready for some pushback. These kids are great but I've seen them be super resistant to any instruction they don't see a specific use for, even when it's coming from a very well-meaning teacher. I took it easy for the first day as the kids streamed in and gathered at a table near the back, except one, H., who often seems to like to go her own way. She took a table a little way away from the rest. What was amazing was how quickly everyone got down to work. Those who didn't have specific homework assignments took out books to read. Only a few short minutes into the class period, the room was virtually silent.

Late comers entered and were greeted with whispers. Have I actually seen these students grow up since Fall 2008? What a difference since I'd first met them! Some growth may be due to their own inevitable trek toward adulthood, but much may be attributable to Lyons for caring enough about them to give them the space they needed to grow and the opportunities to see how the world works both inide of and outside of the classroom, allowing them to become independent, responsible young people.

Later, my first after-school open time got off to a good start with a few middle school regulars at the door immediately after Lyons let out. It was good to see them. A., who has called me Grandpa since the first time he met me, was the only rowdy one of the middle school crowd, causing a few of the others to hit him and shove him away as he harried them at their computers. As usual, he said he was bored. I've yet to find anything that will hold A's interest for any length of time, but I'm sure we'll hit on something.

At 4:00, suddenly and without warning, I was stormed by a group of Green School juniors, swarming around my desk. The last to enter was K., whose favorite thing to do is library work. She had come into to the library last week and saw I had a cart full of books with bar code and spine labels waiting to be affixed and dug right into the work, even though I was still planning my schedule and hadn't officially opened yet. That day, there had only been time to do few of the books waiting to processed.

K. strode in and extricated the cart from behind my desk and said, "Hey guys let's get to work helping Mr. Matthew," and the astounding part was, they all did!

K. explained to them how to make sure to match the bar code label to the title and to the spine label. Before I turned around, a boisterous assembly line (well, more like an assembly clump) was hard at work processing the backlog.

As they worked, they created a hilarious, politically incorrect, off the wall bawdy song that started with T. chanting something that rhymes with "I'm suing your mother right now," followed by Ch. adding a new contrapuntal layer with related lyrics, C. came in with some accompanying vocalizations and, finally, Ce., with her big, piercing voice and clear, crisp Brooklynized Caribbean enunciation topped it off with an absolutely blue rhyme. Props to the creativity!

They were able to reproduce it several times over and, musically, it sounded better every time, although the lyrics were enough to make a sailor blush. At 4:30 I told them it was time to go and they said they wanted to stay until 5:00. I managed to pry them all out and as they bumped each other through the door, Ce. elbowed T., who collapsed and ended up being dragged down the hallway by K., Ce. and Ch. as C. trailed along behind. They, too, have come a long way since I first met them, without losing their sense of fun and playfulness. I can't wait to see how this year will shape up for them.

Little Cat Feet

Friday morning, I'm checking my e-mail and out of the corner of my eye I notice my SmartBoard is not right up against the window where I knew I'd left it the day before. Hmmm... As I'm walking back there to rearrange it I see what the problem is: another TV has made its way in!

As I'm approaching the back door, a custodian walks in with a milk crate full of Edgar Allen Poe anthologies. As Karali and I had discussed with the custodial staff earlier in the week, we appreciate the books, but there's no place to pu them and we need some advanced warning and please sto bringing defunct equipment in the library for me to figure out what to with. Seems like the message had a tough time getting across.

I sent an e-mail out to the staff. Subject line:

ANOTHER TV Appeared This Morning: This One Has Built-in DVD and VCR (Don't know if they work): Anybody Want it?

THE TV comes
on little cat feet.

It sits hiding
behind a SmartBoard
on a large cart
and waits to be claimed.

I instantly got a taker.

I hope the habit of dropping off random stuff nobody knows what to do with will cease soon. I can't keep up!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

What Happens When Schools Skip Feshman Library Orientations?

This morning the plan was to get all the English Language Learners through their initial entry assessment (LAB-R) but just as I was checking their schedules to go find them, Ms. S., the new 9th grade English teacher came running in asking if her kids could please, please come for a library orientation during the upcoming period (about 10 minutes away) and the period just after lunch. She seemed completely desperate to get her kids into the library and jazzed about books. Who could say no to that?

The unfortunate thing is that if all three schools' administrations would insist on, and allot time for, freshman and sixth grade library orientations for all incoming students, then this sort of panicked, hastily prepared, hit-or-miss sessions would be a thing of the past. I'm hoping against hope that my message will get across in time for next year... Be that as may, I quickly wheeled out my projector and SmartBoard and before I could manage to put together a couple of introductory PowerPoint slides the kids were knocking at the door.

The first section was a very well-behaved group; downright angelic by freshman standards, actually. Two volunteers jumped at the chance to sit at the librarians desk and sign the books out to their classmates using the OPAC.

The hurriedly arranged orientation called for a brief intro by Ms. S., a several minute talk about the specifics of out library, including an interactive "What do you like to do at the library?" slide andpp plenty if time for kids to rove around, select a book or two and get some reading done. Section one went off without a hitch.

Afterward, I ran around assembling my new ELLs only to find that yet another new enrollee from Ecuador had arrived just today, so she came with us and sat with the three other studious and well behaved girls for the first few sections of the test before it was time for lunch.

During lunch I tweaked and expanded my PowerPoint orientation slides and in came the next group. Ms. S. warned me sotto voce upon entering that this was the rowdier section.

In fact, I was pleasntly surprised. I found them quite attentive during my intro talk and kind of fun to work with during the book browsing phase of the class period. They were a tad noisier and a few had a harder time settling on book choices, but they were also kind of witty and playful, which I didn't mind a bit, although I'm afraid Ms. S. may now think I'm overly permissive.

I trained one volunteer J., on the OPAC and he was the quickest study I've had yet. He was soon joined by a female classmate X. (too shy to be photographed head-on) and the two hardly needed any help navigating the system except when a new student whose name wasn't yet on the rolls needed to be added manually and they seemed to pick this kind of thing up quickly as well.

Groups of kids chose books quickly and settled in at tables right away to enjoy them. Ms S. and I worked to find books for the several lost souls who weren't having any luck.

By the end if the period, everyone had checked out at least one book and some had even come back to the desk to get one or two more.

I was sad to see them go, but the next period arrived I had to get my LAB-R test takers back together, which turned out to be no small feat in terms of tracking them down, and we managed to get through almost all of it. A few last pieces to wrap up tomorrow.

Finally, I stopped into an extra after school enrichment class in US history to help two struggling ELLs, who seemed to really appreciate the attention and support, and ended up staying with them the whole period.

The ELLs, both newly arrived and those continuing from last year are requesting a self-contained class. Ben, the co-director in charge of programming is going to set one up next week. This should be a big boost to the suddenly burgeoning ELL population and a good way for me to further my ESL classroom teaching practice, which I always enjoy. How it will all fit into my schedule is a worry, but, oddly, and perhaps over-optimistically, I feel as though I just might be up to the challenge.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Long Day

Today was my longest school day thus far. I was greeted just before 8:30 with boxloads of books unearthed from former IS49 classrooms on the ground floor.

I appreciate the custodian's impulse to bring them to the library but my IS49 backlog already makes me feel like Sisyphus, and frequent unexpected deliveries of discovered classroom libraries only seal the deal.

Luckily the weekly library meeting with Karali, The Green School's principal, was already on the agenda for today and this became Agenda Item Numero Uno. Long story longer, Karali agreed to run interference between me and the well-meaning but often cantankerous head custodian.

We want the books, but we need advanced warning and, at this point, we need them to be stored somewhere outside of the library while we take care of the backlog. After a breif kerfuffle, two of the affable, accommodating custodians came up to sort things out.

I was hoping that during the flap, I'd be able to solve the problem of the mysterious TV that suddenly appeared in the library last week.

It has neither DVD player nor VCR and the heinous looking metal cart it's strapped to has the added bonus of years' worth of filth and detritus. I sent out an e-mail to the staff to see if anyone wanted it, but so far, no takers. Karali thinks we should put it on Craigslist. However we jettison it is fine with me at this point.

On the ESL front, we've received six new English Language Learner enrollees since school opened for the school year, four of whom need formal assessments (LAB-R) asap. Tomorrow is my personal deadline to get them all tested. I also met with Ben, co-director of The Green School, and our lead Spanish teacher, Frank, to talk about our ESL program with Native Language Arts support. Very productive meeting, but the problem remains that the ELLs at each level of English proficiency are scattered throughout grades and cohorts, making our original push-in plan unrealistic. Many students are about to be reprogrammed because of this and other issues and we'll probably end up with one self-contained class and a second period of push-in for more advanced students, as we did last year.

Finally, I stayed late for the first meeting of Parent Association leadership to kick off the year.

The participation is much greater than it has been in prior years, with Freshman parents eager to contribute. We weren't sure if parents would be overwhelmed by too much fund raising talk, but the parents themselves kept coming back to the idea that raising money for the school was the main thing they want to do. Fantastic!

I gave a brief talk about the library and how parents could help. They seemed very interested in coming in to help process books perhapsa few other duties. These efforts would be incredibly helpful. We kept going until after 8:30. With any luck we'll be able to keep this enthusiasm up for the entire year.

- Posted remotely via mobile phone.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Scheduling Meetings Continue

Met with Nicholas today and worked through Lyons' requests/requirements. They want me to run a study skills class two days a week which could dovetail with college entry talks. It sounds good and I'm eager to do it. I know these seniors pretty well and have had my ups and downs with them. I hope a study/college class will be more up than down.

On The Green School front, worked on ideas for the Parent Association and volunteered to be part of a series of trainings on creating a non profit and doing fund raising that the school has paid a consultant to run for us. Participating will be a great way to further library funding efforts to support our students.

Confirmed Thursday, September 23rd as the date when a local Brooklyn Public Library young adult services librarian will set up a table in the cafeteria from 10:30 to 1:30, giving students at all three schools an opportunity to get public library cards and learn about BPL's many young adult programs.

Tomorrow, if all goes well, the schedule will be approved and I'll be able to send out my first communiqué to all staff.

- Posted remotely via mobile phone.

Monday, September 13, 2010

First Day of the First Full Week

Worked a lot on schedules today. Mostly English Language Learners' schedules from The Green School. I'm still trying to figure out which periods will be best for my push-in/pull-out instruction. The students are quite scattered in terms if language level, which will make things challenging.

This will also help me figure out Lyons' library times. Meeting with Nicholas, Lyons' amazing AP, tomorrow, and Ben, The Green School's fabulous AP, to finalize on Wednesday. In the meantime, I got an e-mail from New Visions' college program coordinator asking if I could teach 30-minute sessions on getting to college for all senior advisories at Lyons: this is exciting and I very much want to incorporate this into my talks with Nicholas.

Lots more students were in today than were at school last Wednesday (no comment) and bunches of regulars stopped by to say hello. Really marvelous. Also, Elias already had me staying late to help him with ELA homework. I wish we could bottle his motivation and give sone to his classmates!

On the whole, the kids seem more at ease in school and more comfortable with us adults. Here's hoping that small attitude shift will help make this a more productive school year.

- Posted remotely via mobile phone.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Day One of the 2010-2011 School Year

Yesterday the students came back to school. Having been in and out of the building all summer had the effect of calming my nerves. I felt ready to go and had fewer butterflies than I would have had otherwise. I came in on an early schedule because neither my daytime ESL nor my after-school library schedule has been finalized. It was disheartening that no classes even visited the library as a quick first day hello. I had specifically asked Lyons admin to make sure their sixth and ninth grade advisors brought their kids in since their Day One schedule listed a "school tour," but the message seemed not to have got across.

While waiting, however, I shelved all the books that had been in the New Arrivals display last Spring and unpacked the first batch of new books, which had just arrived, placing them out as New Arrivals.

I began a new Reading Vine across from my door and Karali, the principal of The Green School, wandered by wondering aloud if vines shouldn't sprout up in different places, specifically across from ELA classrooms. I like this idea. My hope is that the various vines might one day begin to meet each other. As Karali said, the more kids see them, the more inspired they'll be to add leaves to them. I started vine number two across from 12th grade ELA and will start the others next week. I haven't cut out any leaves yet, but can get a batch out to teachers early next week.

The best part of the day was that students came of their own volition to say hello. Two of my ESL students came running in telling me how disappointed they were not to have a self-contained ESL class with me this term. Who knew? I thought they had found it stigmatizing. Their complaint made me feel appreciated, though! I explained that, starting next week, they would see me every day as I'd be coming into their classes to work with them there, rather than have them all together in a class of their own. They don't seem 100% convinced that this will work for them. I want to make sure I give each of my English Language Learners sufficient attention every day. The population is small enough that I believe I can make this happen.

This weekend I'll map out which hours of the day work best for The Green School's ESL students, then go back to Lyons and TYWLS to finalize their library times. A quiet first day doesn't mean I'm not going to have a year that roars.

- Posted remotely via mobile phone.