Monday, September 27, 2010

A reminder about the importance of early childhood, from ALSC

I spent the three days last week in Atlanta, at the eight biannual ALSC Institute at the Emory Conference Center. The setting was a lush updated complex with high craftsman styling, as the librarians from the Chicago suburbs dotted with real Frank Lloyd Wright buildings noted archly. I attended sessions on everything from gaming to diversity to the Coretta Scott King award and saw three spiritually nourishing performances, and while the proximity to the incredible authors and outspoken and visionary professionals in the youth services field was stimulating, it was Susan Neuman's closing session that will stay with me. Neuman is a professor of education at the University of Michigan and a former Assistant Secretary of Education under the last presidential administration. Among her work is a joint PLA/ALSC project for public libraries to improve early childhood literacy skills known as Every Child Ready to Read, which sounds like a better notion that No Child Left Behind.
Neuman really punctuated the need for early access to literacy for all children, demonstrating amply that "it is poverty that is the determinant of success, not ability." The three most important actors in determining reading readiness is poverty (which trumps the other two factors handily), the mother's educational attainment, and the mother's command of language. The advantages of educated parents are illustrated when on an average the three-year-old children of professionals have vocabulary equivalent to that of parents living in poverty, said Neuman, a deficit that would require 41 hours of intervention a week to correct.

Nonetheless, said Neuman "it is remarkable what environmental stimuli can do." To bridge this gap, Neuman suggests cognitive challenging talk from birth, frequent exposure to words, and repeated reading and re-reading since vocabulary required 28 reiterations before it became integrated. Because children's book have more sophisticated vocabulary than adult television programming, Neuman suggested books are the most effective way to develop vocabulary.She stressed multiple encounters with text, at least three with each book, and advocated watching a video and then watching a book to reinforce the language introduced.

The new literacies were another issue. Neuman said children in poverty average one functional computer per 1000 children, suggesting that less expensive hardware has done little to expand access. And what happens when kids without experience use the school computer lab? They flail, says Neuman, uncertain what to do until their time in the lab is up. That seems to suggest their is a persistant digital divide, and the myth of digital natives inherent fluency with computing may be overestimated.

It was interesting to hear Neuman speak about early childhood literacy since school readiness is something that teachers often dismiss as outside their control. Being with public librarians, one can easily imagine whole communities where early childhood literacy is encouraged through partnerships with hosptials and health care providers, the kinds of partnerships that eductors can also leverage.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Everybody's up in arms

If you're not outraged, you're not paying attention...

Some uninformed fool in a Midwestern business department makes incendiary comments about a book that's ten-year tenure makes it practically canonical YA. I know the conflation of rape and porn makes this irresistible for the biblioblogger types, but if any book can hold up to the scrutiny, it's Speak. I'm much more concerned with censorship that's systematic (Common Sense Media), institutional (the Burlington, NJ library) and from within the educational establishment (Humble, Texas), particularly against authors without Laurie Halse Anderson's support and accolades.

I didn't watch Oprah yesterday, but I felt the blowback from the twittersphere:

I saw the trailer for Waiting for Superman last weekend and wretched involuntarily. I am disappointed Oprah would be manipulated by that dreck. Anyone who has seen illiterate relatives attempting to sign the paperwork for their child or grandchild to drop out on their sixteenth birthday can foresee the end result of charter schools, schools without standards like the "segregation academies" run out of people's living rooms a few decades ago. As long as our culture refuses to esteem or fund education, public schools with governmental accountability will be the only way to teach the masses.

What I'm outraged about: fewer than half of those polled by CNN oppose gay marriage. Yet the family and consumer science teacher at my school gets called in for suggesting that gay marriage doesn't affect those outside the relationship. I suppose the Nontraditional Families unit in her Family Dynamics course of studies should be limited to blended families, to allow the church-going, only-sex-within-marriage, who-cares-how-many-marriages to salve their consciences? Meanwhile, I have a student who lives with her two mothers. Evidently she (and her teacher) should allow another student to indict her home and family, because it isn't conventional and, as the protesting student kept insisting, violates her religion. So now I'm stuck babysitting that conscientious objector because, as well all know, any student with problems with the curriculum should be redirected TO THE LIBRARY.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

This long road

Image from Bob Jagendorf

Last weekend, I had an exceptional breakthrough in my dissertation work. Can Gerard Genette's concept of the paratext be used to understand the evolution of multimodal texts? It has produced some intellectual momentum I haven't felt since December 2007.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Comfort reading

Last month, the wise and witty British novelist India Knight used Twitter to crowd-sourced an amazing collection of comfort reads.

I have long decried the lack of availability of Aga saga, imported or domestic, from American publishers and booksellers and am constantly looking for anything which bumps into the genre, so the list was absolute manna.

Okay, well, I HAD read most of the books. But there were a few I hadn't seen, which sent me scrambling to order:

Miss Buncle's Book by D.E. Stevenson. I hadn't run up on any Stevenson in YEARS, adn never this one. This one is a fantasy we all hope will play out -- a quiet spinster pens an anonymous tell-all which sends ripples of speculation about its authorship throughout the community. This and the sequel (Miss Buncle, Married) both crossed the $25 limit for foxed and brittle paperbacks, but they were well worth it. If you are an aficionado of E.M. Delafield's Provincial Lady, these will enthrall you.

The Dud Avocado by Elaine Dundy. Dundy chronicles the European adventures of Sally Jay Gorse, living the expatriate dream in 1950s Paris, complete with DDT bombs for the bedbugs. I suppose it was the mild licentiousness which made this book the "cult" classic it appears to be. Vaguely reminiscent of Breakfast at Tiffany's, another book where a young woman's sexual activity is explored a decade before free love drew more attention. I particularly enjoyed Sally Jay's attempts to obtain a replacement for her lost passport, having had that experience at a foreign embassy myself.

Hens Dancing by Rafaella Barker. Two pages in, I was convinced I had read this book. Well, I had read one of Barker's books about a divorcee named Venetia with a baby daughter she called The Beauty. Turns out, I had read the second book, Summertime, published two years later as well as, I can now categorically say, the rest of Barker. Not sure how I missed this one. Maybe it was the image of poultry in terpsichorean splendor evoked by that title that put me off. But it's a gorgeous pastoral diary of a woman struggling with three children with a rather attractive builder disrupting the rural idyll. Fans of early Katie Fforde will love it.

The Darling Buds of May by H.E. Bates. I suppose this book attempts humor, but it's of a particularly coarse kind. When the fumbling tax assessor turns up, he's foisted upon Mariette, the oldest, already-pregnant daughter of a messy, hungry farming family. Give me the Grundys from the Archers any day. And there are four more of them, and a movie with Catherine Zeta-Jones.

But I thank India, and her more than 22,000 followers, for the exceptional effort, and know her My Life on a Plate would definitely make my own list of comfort reads any day.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The facebook thing

If you're one of my few fb friends, you've probably noticed I'm not there a lot. I find it impossible to navigate the privacy policies and frankly distrust the format, having no desire to expose myself, my desires and behaviors to nefarious uses by marketers interested in targeting their advertising even more precisely. And many of my tech-ier teens have cooled on the social networking tool, now that their grandmother is checking their wall...

But I'm confronted with fb on a daily basis. Student profiles on our school network are blocked from But our district didn't pay a premium to block secure sites, so allows you access, open sesame, and there's not a student that doesn't know it and consequently violate the district's acceptable use policy on a regular basis.

When I started working at my school, I really wanted students to have unlimited and, to a great extent, unfiltered access to the Internet. With fb, the purpose of use has become an issue for the first time because of the extremely limited resources at our school. Right now, two girls are regularly coming to the library to use the computers for fb fourth block, in some cases muscling out students doing research. We have only 14 machines, so most are being used instructionally at any given moment.

The official district fb blockage introduces other issues. Should I as a steward of network resources confront them for violating the usage policy? How could I do this equitably, when all students seem to participate? And what about students doing coursework who have fb open, too? In another browser window or with a document open, that seems like multitasking. And I keep wondering WHY these girls would choose the library to check fb. Maybe they don't have Internet access at home, to say nothing of the smartphones many students use to check fb in class (under the desk, or in the purse albeit). Is it an equity issue? There is that one math teacher who posts his course videos to fb, as well... I would limit access to instructional resources.

I'm sickened and daunted by the prospect of monitoring use. I once visited the library in the better-funded city school I graduated from twenty years ago, where software observes all activity at student workstations, and the librarian can close a browser session or send a note to the student's desktop. While I love that idea for bibliographic instruction, I'm not sure I want to invade their space, mechanically or otherwise.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Finally fall

Despite the wonderful daily input provided by the interwebs, back-to-school time has me still craving a little face-to-face learning. Fortunately, I have an insanely full professional development calender for the next few months. I'm really looking forward to seeing so much of my PLN and fueling this dissertation thing with some fresh thinking.

ALSC Institutue, September 23-25. Though my patron demographic is more YALSA than ALSC, ALSC always gets my vote for friendliest ALA division. Atlanta's drive-able for me and the Technology strand includes "Transforming Gamers Into Readers" with David Levithan, feeding my obsession with Scholstic's multimodal forays! As a bonus, I'll get to see Susak Kusel and Susan Polos, who I met through the amazing ALSC Newbery course taught by K.T. Hornig a couple of years back.

School Library Journal Leadership Summit, October 22-23. I love the SLJ Summits because they bring in really smart speakers instead of the usual suspects and also eliminate so much of the obligatory lowest-common-denominator element when it comes to the tech-y side of our work. I missed last year because it overlapped our fall break, but I hope to see much of my PLN in Chicago this time. The fact that it's underwritten by generous corporate sponsors (no registration!) and tends to happen in really nice places are bonuses.

YALSA Literature Symposium, November 5-7. I went to the first YALSA Lit Symposium in Nashville in 2008 and knew I'd never want to miss it again, so Albuqurque was a must. I think ALAN is the only place I've seen a similar constellation of YA luminaries, and the Morris lunch was a don't-miss. I signed up for Angie Manfredi's "Body Positivity and Fat Acceptance" preconference, too, which I just know will be awesome.

NCTE, November 19-21, ALAN November 22-33. I attended NCTE and ALAN for the first time last year. They, unlike ALA, still recognize my student status (I am currently enrolled in TWO graduate programs, but ALA still won't cut me a break...I tithe to ALA), which makes attending more affordable. The legendary "box of books" at ALAN offsets my registration, and the chance to hear from so many YA authors (albeit in a rapid-fire format) is compelling enough to draw me, even to Orlando.

So what aren't I going to?

The AASL Fall Forum, November 5-6. It's in Portland where my BFF happens to live, but it conflicts with the YALSA Lit Symposium, which was on my calender much earlier.

Kidlitcon, October 23. Kidlitcon is a wonderful amalgamation of librarians, writers, bloggers, and readers, which I enjoyed thoroughly last year in Washington, D.C, but which conflicts with the SLJ Summit this year. I'll visit Minneapolis for AASL next fall, and Chicago is SO MUCH easier to get to....

Where will YOU be this fall? Looking forward to seeing you.