Sunday, September 27, 2015

Need this Blog to Jog my Memory and Poor Bandwidth

As I was getting ready to plan for the teaching of the research process to our 6th grade students, I remembered that I had changed my game plan last year. Since my brain has been aging, it is harder for me to know what I did last week much less how I taught something last year. I did remember that I had written a detailed account of what I did with this lesson on this blog. So I conducted a search to find the post, and you can read about it here. By reading my blog entry from last year, I saw that we had deconstructed the research process to start with the bibliography. The teachers and I decided to get that out of the way first.

Before the day of the lesson, I reviewed my slide show that you can see below. I did some editing and took out tasks that I thought weren't necessary and added some slides at the end to be more specific about explaining how to create a word document out of the bibliography that was created in Easy.bib. I have found that I never redo a lesson exactly as I did it the year before. I always try to reflect on how it went and try to make improvements for the students. Also, in a year's time the technology could change, and I have to change my game plan accordingly.

6th grade ELA Easybib project for Flush from Taylorlibrarian

I love using the technology to create and share a lesson because then it is saved for future use, but I can also easily update and edit the lesson but still use the same link that I shared with teachers and students in years past. Also, if I make a mistake and need to edit immediately (which happens to me frequently), I don't need to resend the presentation to everyone. I can just edit and upload the edited slide show into Slideshare using the same link. This also works well if I am using a different tool like Wikispaces or Livebinders to create my lesson. 

Let me tell you how the lesson went this year. Not so great. This wasn't a librarian or teacher or even student error. It was an issue with the Internet and bandwidth and speed of loading the technology. I like this lesson because I can explain and demonstrate relatively quickly what the students need to do. Then the students are given the task of creating a bibliography with six sources, formatting the bibliography in Word and submitting the final product to the teacher. The students should be able to do this  by the end of the period. All of our classes are on a block schedule, so we had 90 minutes to get this completed. We did it last year, and I thought it was doable this year. As I tried to demonstrate to the students what they needed to do, we were waiting and waiting and waiting for the Gale databases to load. I was losing the class. Finally, when it was their turn, they experienced the same loading issues. Of the six sources that the students needed to find, two were in print. Those were easy. The online sources were torture for me and for the members of the class. The teacher asked the students to finish the activity for homework. She said that they did a good job with the assignment, but I was disappointed that it wasn't completed in class. I was also disappointed that I had to stand there and wait for the sites to slowly load--it wastes so much time. 

I worry about what will happen when I teach a lesson tomorrow to the English I students. In that lesson, I have selected the articles and chapter pages in Gale for the students to read. They will not be doing any independent research. I am hoping that what happened last week was an anomaly and that tomorrow we can move through the teaching portion of the lesson quickly and that the students will have plenty of time to read the articles that I have selected for them. 

Update added on October 1st: I was able to repeat this lesson yesterday, and it went so smoothly that the students completed their bibliography with 30 minutes left in the period. That meant that they had time to check in and check out books. I was so happy to know that the slow Internet was an anomaly. 

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Banned Book Week: Students Make Comments Pro & Con Censorship

This blog post is being designed as a lesson for the English I students at PFTSTA. The teachers and I have collaborated on an activity to celebrate Banned Book Week (BBW). Many times in the past during BBW, I have invited the 8th graders into the library to discuss the banning and challenging of books in schools and libraries. I usually show some videos and share books owned by our library that have been banned or challenged somewhere in the US. This activity always spurs great discussion among the students and teachers. This year we wanted the students to create a written response to the presentation. We thought there was a real world connection if we had the students post their opinion online as a comment to someone writing about censorship in schools. The teachers and I want the students to learn how to compose a well thought out comment that is supported by evidence and concrete details. How more real world could it be than having the students comment directly on their librarian's blog? 

Together, the teachers and I created the lesson that you will find in the slides shown below:

Censorship of books in schools is a very hot topic. There are individuals and groups on both sides, who feel very strongly about  the need for censorship or the need for the freedom to read. When discussing this issue, you can look at it in terms of ethos, logos, or pathos. Now that you have heard my presentation and read several documents that support your stance on censorship, it is your turn to take a stand. Tell us in a paragraph why students should either have the option to read what they want or why schools should keep some books off the shelves of the library or out of the curriculum in English. You will need to support your stance with at least two concrete details. Please follow the rubric and post anonymously and follow the directions on how the teachers expect you to sign your paragraph. 

I am excited to hear what you have to say. Ms. Kahn

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Why the Louisiana Teacher Evaluation System is Flawed

For about four years, the state of Louisiana has been using a system called Compass for the annual teacher evaluations.It is composed of three parts. First, the teacher must write a professional growth plan and submit it. I have been writing one of these plans ever since I began teaching in the public school system, so that is nothing new. I always set some new goals for myself each school year anyway, and I really don't mind putting that down in writing. See below for an example. 

My professional growth plan for 2012-2013
click the picture above to enlarge it

The second part of the evaluation is the observation. I am suppose to conference with my principal about a lesson that I am going to be teaching, and then she observes it. The administrator must make two formal observations a year. I have always done very well on these observations. You know, I should have learned something about the best way to present material to students with 35 years of teaching under my belt. You can find the rubric here that the principal uses when she makes an observation of a librarian. The librarians have only been using this rubric for the last two years. When Compass launched, the librarians were observed with a checklist created for classroom teachers. That was totally ridiculous because it did not take into  account all the things a librarian did besides teach. It was the members of the state school librarian organization, LASL, who took it upon themselves to create a rubric specific for librarians. Not all districts in Louisiana use the rubric, but mine does. I think that to promote professionalism of librarians across the state, LASL needs to work towards getting the rubric in place for everyone. That is why if you open the rubric link above, it is housed on the Jefferson Parish website, not the state department of education website. When the two observations are completed, you are given a score from 1 to 4 based on how well you hit all the points in the rubric. For the 2014-2015 year, my score was a 4, the highest. This score is subjective based on your evaluator's understanding of the librarian rubric as it differs from the one for the teachers. In some schools, the librarian is not always judged fairly. 

I was certainly pleased with that 4; except, I still had to survive the completion of the third part of the evaluation which is the most arduous. It is solely dependent on how your students perform on a test. This part is called the SLTs or Student Learning Targets. SLTs are a measurable goal for student achievement over a given period of time. Most of the teachers use the standardized tests given by the district and the state to show achievement. There is no standardized testing program for the library. The librarians must create two tests of their own to give as a pre-test and post-test, and then with the baseline results from the pre-test, you create a goal demonstrating growth of the students.

It is a very time consuming process to create two tests for the two SLTs measuring students' understanding of research and information literacy skills. I decided that I would use the TRAILS program from Kent State University for my tests. TRAILS offers two different tests for grades 3, 6, 9 and 12. The tests are difficult. When you look at the benchmark data for 2014-15 in Louisiana for TRAILS, of the 2164 six graders tested, the median score was 49.7%. Of the 1104 9th graders tested, the median score was 47.9%. This test is hard!

After giving the 6th graders a pre-test, these were the results: 38% (or 21 of 56 students) in my class(es) passed the pre-assessment with a score of 67% or better. Not very good, but it gave them room to grow. The district provided me with the following SLT: 80% of students in the 6th grade ELA classes will achieve a score of 85% or higher  on the post-assessment. Okay, maybe that is doable, but there were only 20 questions on the test. Eighty percent of the students had to miss three or less for me to meet the target. Not going to happen. It didn't. I got a 1, the poorest score. It was worse for the 9th graders because 90% of the students had to achieve a score of 95% or higher, and the students had to miss two or less for me to achieve my goals which I did not

Problems with the SLT program:
1. I was using a test that I did not design and was not created as an evaluation tool for librarians. 
Though it is a well written test covering a wide breadth of information literacy skills, the amount of material in the test is so far reaching that I am unable to cover it in the amount of time that I have.
2. Unlike teachers who see their students daily, I had only a handful of face to face teaching lessons with the students that I tested. 
3. If you look at the benchmark median scores at the state level which were below the 50th percentile and just a few percentile points higher at the national level, it is unrealistic for a majority of my students to reach an 85% or a 95%. 

It was decided at the state level that the two scores including the observation and the SLTs would be averaged together to create the teacher's overall score with one exception. If a teacher scored a 1 on either section, the teacher would receive a 1 on their evaluation thereby branding them as ineffective. 

Ineffective!!!!! I work very hard for my students and my teachers. I have won several awards at the national and state level. In my district of 70 librarians, I am one of the ones who is called on to assist others. I have made many presentations to educators across the state including the keynote speech for 300 librarians on the LAMP tour in 2011. I am not trying to brag about my accomplishments. I have had many and ineffective is not one of them. 

Now my ineffective is part of the statistics for my school and my district. I just don't believe that is fair considering all that I do. In July, I was able to go to the district with a grievance to have my SLTs amended. My case was denied. 

The whole process has begun anew for the 2015-2016 school year. I have taken apart the four online TRAILS tests and edited them for my students. I inserted the language that I use when I teach and the language that reflects my school library rather than a generic one, and I took out some of the ambiguity found in both questions and answers. Also, the state in its infinite wisdom has changed the exception. No longer does a one get trumped. Teachers' scores will be determined by an average of the two parts of the evaluation process. If that was done for me last year, I would not be ineffective. Who knew, it was so easy to change that moniker.

Why have I written this post? I am not proud of what happened, but I don't believe that it is a reflection of what I do day in and day out as an educator. The general population needs to realize that not all statistics paint an accurate picture of what is happening in our schools. Tests are not the answer.

To me, it is the students who come back after graduation and tell me that what I did for them helped prepare them for college, and that research was a breeze because of the assistance and guidance that I gave to them. I know that I am providing what my students need for future readiness. Now I wish the state of Louisiana did, too.

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