Myths Surrounding Independent Reading in High School

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Often, when I’m out visiting with teachers and consulting, I make the positive presupposition (Thank you Kathryn Kee! ) that teachers are having their students read a text of their choice everyday.  I might make such comments as, “This would be an easy strategy to integrate into students’ independent response time during their free reading time in class.”  Or, “When you book-talk to your students, you might frame it in terms of genre…”

Sometimes I receive polite head-nods and sometimes I receive eye-rolling.  Independent reading time in a high school English classroom?  (And unicorns poop rainbows.)
Every now and then, I’m greatful for the honest and inquisitive participant who timidly raises her hand to ask, “What exactly do you mean by ‘independent reading’?”  She is usually within her first 5 years of teaching,  graduated from a stellar English literature/ composition program, and is the dark horse of the English department who spends her time reading things like  English Journal or following Jim Burke on Twitter.

When these gems come my way, I leap at the opportunity to unravel some perpetuative myths that exist in high school English departments and their most faithful faculty regarding independent reading.  These conversations allow me to dig down to my most fervent beliefs about reading communities and often do challenge some of those beliefs.  But, by the end of our conversation, whereas we may not still agree with one another, both the participant and myself have expanded our views just a little bit broader. 

And so, here they are!  The top 5 most common myths surrounding independent reading in high school: 
Myth #1–Today’s teenagers don’t read.
Myth #2–I have to know a lot about YA literature.
Myth #3–Students won’t read in class if I give them time.
Myth #4–It’ll mean more time spent on grading poster and book reports or messing with those leveled reading programs.
Myth #5–I don’t have the time.  We have all this literature we have to “cover.”

Boiling down all of the– honestly– valid obstacles to independent reading I have encountered myself and heard from colleagues to these five things is probably oversimplifying the issue.  If I’ve learned anything about problem solving as an educator, it’s that I need to start with what seems simple first.  Then, as I work my way through one problem at a time, the larger obstacle doesn’t feel quite so overwhelming. 

As a novice teacher, the five statements above floated above my head as I began to dig more into the possibility I knew was there for amazing reading experiences for myself and my students.  Please understand, I am not trying to be-little anyone’s experience or perspective.  The following “myths” I’ll offer as a series of posts echo my deepest, darkest, and most powerful experiences along my own journey. 

More importanlty than de-bunking these “myths,”  I hope to provide a snippet of success here and there and resources that I rely on to create a transformative, empowering reading community. 

Happy reading!

Myth #1

Myth #2

Myth #3

Myth #4

Myth #5

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Book Review: Insurgent

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Originally written for nerdybookclub.wordpress.com on May 23rd, 2012
Insurgent by Veronica Roth
One choice can transform you—or it can destroy you. But every choice has consequences, and as unrest surges in the factions all around her, Tris Prior must continue trying to save those she loves—and herself—while grappling with haunting questions of grief and forgiveness, identity and loyalty, politics and love (Goodreads.com).

What would you choose if you only had one choice:  bravery, honesty, selflessness, knowledge, or peace?  If all of your actions, your relationships, your being were to be determined by only one of these traits, what would be your choice?? 

The futuristic society of Veronica Roth’s Divergent has determined that the one way to combat the darkness of human nature is to divide itself into five factions, each faction devoted to one of the pre-determined necessary human qualities. Sixteen-year old Beatrice (Tris) Prior’s journey begins with a choosing ceremony.  (Sound familiar?) Unlike her peers, Tris has a much broader spectrum of who she could become.  Her choice takes her to a foreign world on the other side of the tracks in downtown Chicago where there’s a fine line between bravery and bullying, courage and cowardice. 
Suddenly, she finds herself at the center of a social and political civil war.  As Divergent closes we find ourselves speeding away on a train through the heart of Chicago seeking sanctuary from those who once stood by Tris, protected her,  glowing in the warmth of her new-found relationship with fellow Dauntless, Four,  and  suspended as  she yearns for redemption from her overwhelming guilt.
Insurgent is a remarkable exploration of human nature and motivation.  It’s an experiment in societal reform.  When society has so divided itself that it can no longer function as a cohesive organism what happens to those who have been abused and their abusers?     As the consequences of her fatal choice in Divergent fall like dominoes, faster than she can process, her dearest relationships are endangered;  her self-searching and determination to understand the truth about who she is at the foreground of a crumbling societey. 
True to many other “seconds” in a series, I found myself spending a painful amount of time teetering at the edge of our hero’s abyss.   In the first installation, we walk with Beatrice through the threshold (Divergent fans recall Tris catapulting herself from a rooftop) as she finds a loyal band of followers and undergoes a series of tests and trials as part of her initiation.  Once her quest is determined in Insurgent, other figures emerge as part of the dystopian landscape: the evil figure with the untimely good heart, the temptress, even death and rebirth.  As her plunge into the abyss drawers nearer, she must go deeper and deeper into her most fearsome landscape– her own soul– in order to proceed with her journey of self-discovery.
It is impossible to ignore the similarities between Tris Prior, Katniss Everdeen, Harry Potter, Todd Hewitt, Cassia Reyes and countless other YA sci-fi/ fantasy heroes, teens teetering at the edge of their own awakening to their true powers.  Every one of their societies is fighting to analyze, sort, and label who they will become.  The societies and settings, too, bare familiarities leading me to believe that Gale or Katniss will suddenly appear, running alongside the train with Four and the other Dauntless.  I hear Manchee’s searching “Todd?” from under some discarded street rubble.  At any moment, I expect Hermione to pop out of the Erudite crowd, toting a long lost volume that holds the key to what really lies outside of the fence. 
And so, as I sprinted through the final chapter and the shadows on the wall were revealed to me as they are revealed during the jaw-dropping finale, I couldn’t help but wonder …Why are we so drawn to adolescent heroes who are standing on a precipice, waiting and daring to take such a leap, whether it be bravery or curiosity that compels them?
 There is no denying the sudden rise in popularity of dystopian literature.  A recent Goodreads blog examined the growing trend in popularity of dystopian novels and described its over-arching themes over the last 50 years.  The blogger labels this latest explosion (The Hunger Games, Matched, Diverent) as “Romance” Dystopian and sites such inspirations as 9/11, War on Terrorism, and the prevalence of pop culture.  Tough heroines and anti-conformity drive these stories. 
After reading Divergent and now Insurgent, I am taken back to an Erudite’s explanation,
“Insurgent,” he says.  “Noun.  A person who acts in opposition to the established authority, who is not necessarily regarded as a belligerent. “ 
Do I hear anti-conformity?  Oh , yes.  But I think it extends beyond being radical, to being purposeful.  In a futuristic society where every member knows his or her purpose as it is handed down to him or her, where does that leave free-will?  As a constructivist, this resonates with me.  As information is funneled into our teens (as it so often is at many bytes per minute), they are persistently bombarded with labels, categories, and profiles, what choices then are left to them to determine what their truth is? 
Are we–all of us as educators, librarians, readers–not all insurgent, seeking truth for ourselves and then deciding how we will assimilate that truth into who we are and what motivates us?
Are teens devouring dystopian literature for their love triangles and star-crossed lovers?  Yes, probably.  But, are they also entering a landscape of their own fears, beliefs, doubts, and dreams in order to choose what they will take with them as they emerge from their own abyss and cross the impending threshold into adulthood?  Absolutely!

Book Review: Code Name Verity

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Code Name Verity.
By Elizabeth Wein.
2012, 337p.  Hyperion, $16.99 (978-1-4231-5219-4).
Gr. 9-12
Highly Recommended
            Under pain of torture and threat of brutal execution, Verity, a Scottish-British spy, artfully confesses to her Gestapo captors her involvement in the Resistance.  Her confession is penned on scraps of paper—everything from prescription pads to sheet music–belonging to former inhabitants of a country hotel in fictional Ormaie, France.  Through a physically, mentally, and emotionally excruciating written confession, we meet her best friend and civilian air corps pilot, Maddie, who flew her on her last mission.  Although the novel begins in medias res, Verity, in a defiant, sarcastic, and, at times, beaten tone begins with her best friend’s story up until the point she jumps from Maddie’s wounded plane in occupied France.  It is here that Maddie continues the narrative through her pilot’s notes in her simple, honest voice.  Maddie and Verity’s friendship is not one based on boys, clothes, or summer camp; instead, Wein crafts a narrative told in two voices that paints a portrait of genuine friendship in wartime.  A cast of secondary characters on both sides of the war provides depth and contrast to the two friends’ lives.  As historical fiction, some may be bothered by the inventive history and anachronisms, but the author seeks to justify her creative and research processes in the endnotes.  The narrators’ voices are in all essence la verite, truthful.  In the beginning a reader might feel bogged-down by the Scottish brag of Verity’s voice and minute details; however, once immersed in the relationship between the two young women, they will want to prolong the finale and their farewell to these friends. –Audrey Wilson-Youngblood

Prezi and QR: The Next Wave of Information Delivery

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Tech Tuesday #1

Welcome to the first edition of Tech Tuesday!  Each Tuesday I will post a blog that highlights technology tools for instructional use.  This week, I thought we’d take some time to explore two tools that I shared with the staff at Fossil Ridge High School as part of library orientation:  Prezi and QR Codes.

Both of these tools have the potential to engage an audience by disseminating information through Web 2.0 tools and smart apps.  Both are free (whoop!) and both are rather intuitive for the presenter and the audience.



Click on the logo to go to the site



Prezi

Prezi has taken the 20th century PowerPoint presentation into the 21st Century by creating a program that is web-based–enhancing accessibility for creators–and adding dynamic layers, motion, and animation to present a variety of media and information.  Imagine an animated mash-up of your best PowerPoints, videos, images, and text and voila!  Prezi. 

You might consider using a Prezi when introducing a new concept, unit, or theme (Think “view” in VESTED).  Even a three-four minute “viewing” could jump start students’ natural curiousity and help to build background.  Open House is coming up soon; play with transforming your PowerPoint into a Prezi to wow your parents.  Using the html code, you can even embed your Prezi on your class web page to provide an engaging introduction.

Students can use Prezi as a vehicle to synthesize information and create original presentations through a “mash-up” of media .  Since it is online and free, access is open to all students.  Students can collaborate to create the Prezi together on their own devices whether from home or at school. Prezi has also created an iPad app that allows the user to download and view shared and saved presentations.  The editing feature, however, is limited and not very conducive to enhancing the presentation through the iPad.

To get staretd, go to Prezi.com, create an account and watch a couple of their easy-to-follow video tutorials.  Start small and give yourself plenty of time to become comfortable with the tool before trying it out on an audience.


Check out some of these teacher Prezis for more ideas!

Class Introductions:


Jazz History

 

Quick Response “QR” Codes





QR codes are customizable barcodes that allow the presenter to provide quick links to online resources such as pages, videos, blogs, forms, etc.  To create a QR Code, go to one of the several QR Code Generator sites such as:
After pasting in a link, the generator will provide you with a downloadable .jpeg or .png file that can be inserted as an image into a document. QR codes can even be scanned off of a screen during a presentation (you might remember the funny looking barcode at the end of my library orientation presentation).
Your audience can then use their smart phones to scan the code and go directly to the information.  All they need is one of several free QR Reader apps:
Different apps are available for various cellular devices (Android, iPhone, etc.). 
What type of information works well with QR Codes?  Online forms, videos, blogs, teacher websites all work well on smart phone devices.  You might stear clear from using QR codes on smart phones for pages that include a lot of visual information or text as they can be difficult to read on a phone unless the site has a mobile version.  QR codes work great when integrated with instruction to respond to surveys and forms or to quickly link students to class pages and frequently used sites.  One school last year posted their individual class websites on each teacher door at open house.  Parents scanned the QR code and automatically received contact and class information to their devices.
Check out this article from t.h.e Journal showcasing one high school science teacher’s experiences with integrating mobile device technology and QR codes into his classroom.
We are continually bombarded with information delievered in innovative and engaging ways.  Rather than rowing against the tide, let’s harness a few tools to help our students be more critical consumers who can create new solutions and innovations as a result of the unlimited amount of information at their fingertips.
Have you used a Prezi or QR code in your class?  We’d love to hear about your successes and struggles in the comments below!

I Read The Hunger Games, Now What?

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20 Books to Check Out After The Hunger Games

Did you speed through The Hunger Games trilogy with the speed of a tribute train?  Are you sorely missing the excitement and drama of the arena?  While you wait for Catching Fire, second film and book two of The Hunger Games trilogy, to be released on November 22, 2013 (15 more months!!!), check out some of these books that might help pass the time between films.  Click on the title to view book trailers, authors’ pages, and reviews of each title!

The Handmaids Tale by Margaret Atwood
Throughout her career, Margaret Atwood has played with different literary genres in her novels–historical fiction (Alias Grace), pulp fiction (The Blind Assassin), the comedy of manners (The Robber Bride)–but no foray into genre fiction has been as successful as her turn to speculative fiction in The Handmaid’s Tale. Published in 1985, it echoes Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World, but a vibrant feminism drives Atwood’s portrait of a futuristic dystopia. In the Republic of Gilead, we see a world devastated by toxic chemicals and nuclear fallout and dominated by a repressive Christian fundamentalism. The birthrate has plunged, and most women can no longer bear children. Offered is one of Gilead’s Handmaids, who as official breeders are among the chosen few who can still become pregnant.
 Maze Runner by James Dashner
When Thomas wakes up in the lift, the only thing he can remember is his first name. His memory is blank. But he’s not alone. When the lift’s doors open, Thomas finds himself surrounded by kids who welcome him to the Glade—a large, open expanse surrounded by stone walls. Just like Thomas, the Gladers don’t know why or how they got to the Glade. All they know is that every morning the stone doors to the maze that surrounds them have opened. Every night they’ve closed tight. And every 30 days a new boy has been delivered in the lift. Thomas was expected. But the next day, a girl is sent up—the first girl to ever arrive in the Glade. And more surprising yet is the message she delivers. Thomas might be more important than he could ever guess. If only he could unlock the dark secrets buried within his mind.
Matched by Allie Condie
Cassia has always trusted the Society to make the right choices for her: what to read, what to watch, what to believe. So when Xander’s face appears on-screen at her Matching ceremony, Cassia knows with complete certainty that he is her ideal mate… until she sees Ky Markham’s face flash for an instant before the screen fades to black. The Society tells her it’s a glitch, a rare malfunction, and that she should focus on the happy life she’s destined to lead with Xander. But Cassia can’t stop thinking about Ky, and as they slowly fall in love, Cassia begins to doubt the Society’s infallibility and is faced with an impossible choice: between Xander and Ky, between the only life she’s known and a path that no one else has dared to follow.
Shatter me by Tahereh Mafi
Juliette hasn’t touched anyone in exactly 264 days. The last time she did, it was an accident, but The Reestablishment locked her up for murder. No one knows why Juliette’s touch is fatal. As long as she doesn’t hurt anyone else, no one really cares. The world is too busy crumbling to pieces to pay attention to a 17-year-old girl. Diseases are destroying the population, food is hard to find, birds don’t fly anymore, and the clouds are the wrong color. The Reestablishment said their way was the only way to fix things, so they threw Juliette in a cell. Now so many people are dead that the survivors are whispering war– and The Reestablishment has changed its mind. Maybe Juliette is more than a tortured soul stuffed into a poisonous body. Maybe she’s exactly what they need right now. Juliette has to make a choice: Be a weapon. Or be a warrior.
Gone by Micheal Grant

In the blink of an eye.
Everyone disappears.
Gone.
Everyone except for the young. Teens. Middle schoolers. Toddlers. But not a single adult. No teachers, no cops, no doctors, no parents. Gone, too, are the phones, internet, and television. There is no way to get help.
Hunger threatens. Bullies rule. A sinister creature lurks. Animals are mutating. And the teens themselves are changing, developing new talents—unimaginable, dangerous, deadly powers—that grow    stronger by the day (Amazon.com).

From the co-creator of the bestselling “Animorphs” comes a gripping new series in which everyone disappears in a flash on their 15th birthday. It’s a terrifying new world, and time is running out.

  
  
The Road by Cormac McCarthy
 A father and his son walk alone through burned America. Nothing moves in the ravaged landscape save the ash on the wind. It is cold enough to crack stones, and when the snow falls it is gray. The sky is dark. Their destination is the coast, although they don’t know what, if anything, awaits them there. They have nothing; just a pistol to defend themselves against the lawless bands that stalk the road, the clothes they are wearing, a cart of scavenged food—and each other.
Prentisstown isn’t like other towns. Everyone can hear everyone else’s thoughts in an overwhelming, never-ending stream of Noise. Just a month away from the birthday that will make him a man, Todd and his dog, Manchee — whose thoughts Todd can hear too, whether he wants to or not — stumble upon an area of complete silence. They find that in a town where privacy is impossible, something terrible has been hidden — a secret so awful that Todd and Manchee must run for their lives. But how do you escape when your pursuers can hear your every thought
Delirium by Lauren Oliver
 Before scientists found the cure, people thought love was a good thing. They didn’t understand that once love — the deliria — blooms in your blood, there is no escaping its hold. Things are different now. Scientists are able to eradicate love, and the government demands that all citizens receive the cure upon turning eighteen. Lena Holoway has always looked forward to the day when she’ll be cured. A life without love is a life without pain: safe, measured, predictable, and happy. But with ninety-five days left until her treatment, Lena does the unthinkable: She falls in love
Grave Mercy by Robin Lafavers
 Seventeen-year-old Ismae escapes from the brutality of an arranged marriage into the sanctuary of the convent of St. Mortain, where the sisters still serve the gods of old. Here she learns that the god of Death Himself has blessed her with dangerous gifts—and a violent destiny. If she chooses to stay at the convent, she will be trained as an assassin and serve as a handmaiden to Death. To claim her new life, she must destroy the lives of others. Ismae’s most important assignment takes her straight into the high court of Brittany—where she finds herself woefully under prepared—not only for the deadly games of intrigue and treason, but for the impossible choices she must make. For how can she deliver Death’s vengeance upon a target who, against her will, has stolen her heart?
Birthmarked– In the future, in a world baked dry by the harsh sun, there are those who live inside the walled Enclave and those, like sixteen-year-old Gaia Stone, who live outside. Following in her mother’s footsteps Gaia has become a midwife, delivering babies in the world outside the wall and handing a quota over to be “advanced” into the privileged society of the Enclave. Gaia has always believed this is her duty, until the night her mother and father are arrested by the very people they so loyally serve. Now Gaia is forced to question everything she has been taught, but her choice is simple: enter the world of the Enclave to rescue her parents, or die trying. A stunning adventure brought to life by a memorable heroine, this dystopian debut will have readers racing all the way to the dramatic finish.
Divergent by Veronica Roth
 In a future Chicago, 16-year-old Beatrice Prior must choose among five predetermined factions to define her identity for the rest of her life, a decision made more difficult when she discovers that she is an anomaly who does not fit into any one group, and that the society she lives in is not perfect after all.
Unwind by Neal Shusterman
 The Second Civil War was fought over reproductive rights. The chilling resolution: Life is inviolable from the moment of conception until age thirteen. Between the ages of thirteen and eighteen, however, parents can have their child “unwound,” whereby all of the child’s organs are transplanted into different donors, so life doesn’t technically end. Connor is too difficult for his parents to control. Risa, a ward of the state is not enough to be kept alive. And Lev is a tithe, a child conceived and raised to be unwound. Together, they may have a chance to escape and to survive.
Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi
 Aria has lived her whole life in the protected dome of Reverie. Her entire world confined to its spaces, she’s never thought to dream of what lies beyond its doors. So when her mother goes missing, Aria knows her chances of surviving in the outer wasteland long enough to find her are slim.

The Lost Code by Kevin Emerson
What is oldest will be new, what was lost shall be found. The ozone is ravaged, ocean levels have risen, and the sun is a daily enemy.
But global climate change is not something new in the Earth’s history. No one will know this better than less-than-ordinary Owen Parker, who is about to discover that he is the descendant of a highly advanced ancient race–a race that took their technology too far and almost destroyed the Earth in the process. Now it is Owen’s turn to make right in his world what went wrong thousands of years ago. If Owen can unlock the lost code in his very genes, he may rediscover the forgotten knowledge of his ancestry . . . and that “less-than-ordinary” can evolve into “extraordinary.” Kevin Emerson’s thrilling novel is Book One of the Atlanteans series–perilous adventures in a grimly plausible dystopian future, fueled by high-stakes action, budding romance, and a provoc-ative question: What would you do if you had the power to save humanity from its own self-destruction?
Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld
Prince Aleksander, would-be heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, is on the run. His own people have turned on him. His title is worthless. All he has is a battletorn war machine and a loyal crew of men. Deryn Sharp is a commoner, disguised as a boy in the British Air Service. She’s a brilliant airman. But her secret is in constant danger of being discovered. With World War I brewing, Alek and Deryn’s paths cross in the most unexpected way…taking them on a fantastical, around-the-world adventure that will change both their lives forever
City of Bones by Cassandra Clare
 When fifteen-year-old Clary Fray heads out to the Pandemonium Club in New York City, she hardly expects to witness a murder — much less a murder committed by three teenagers covered with strange tattoos and brandishing bizarre weapons. Then the body disappears into thin air. It’s hard to call the police when the murderers are invisible to everyone else and when there is nothing — not even a smear of blood — to show that a boy has died. Or was he a boy? This is Clary’s first meeting with the Shadowhunters, warriors dedicated to ridding the earth of demons. It’s also her first encounter with Jace, a Shadowhunter who looks a little like an angel and acts a lot like a jerk. Within twenty-four hours Clary is pulled into Jace’s world with a vengeance, when her mother disappears and Clary herself is attacked by a demon. But why would demons be interested in ordinary mundanes like Clary and her mother? And how did Clary suddenly get the Sight? The Shadowhunters would like to know. . . . Exotic and gritty, exhilarating and utterly gripping, Cassandra Clare’s ferociously entertaining fantasy takes readers on a wild ride that they will never want to end.
Graceling– by Kristin Cashore
“His eyes, Katsa had never seen such eyes. One was silver, and the other, gold. They glowed in his sun-darkened face, uneven, and strange. She was surprised that they hadn’t shone in the darkness of their first meeting. They didn’t seem human….Then he raised his eyebrows a hair, and his mouth shifted into the hint of a smirk. He nodded at her, just barely, and it released her from her spell.Cocky, she thought. Cocky and arrogant, this one, and that was all there was to make of him. Whatever game he was playing, if he expected her to join him he would be disappointed.”
In a world where people born with an extreme skill – called a Grace – are feared and exploited, Katsa carries the burden of the skill even she despises: the Grace of killing. She lives under the command of her uncle Randa, King of the Middluns, and is expected to execute his dirty work, punishing and torturing anyone who displeases him. When she first meets Prince Po, who is Graces with combat skills, Katsa has no hint of how her life is about to change. She never expects to become Po’s friend. She never expects to learn a new truth about her own Grace – or about a terrible secret that lies hidden far away…a secret that could destroy all seven kingdoms with words alone
Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
 In order to develop a secure defense against a hostile alien race’s next attack, government agencies breed child geniuses and train them as soldiers. A brilliant young boy, Andrew “Ender” Wiggin lives with his kind but distant parents, his sadistic brother Peter, and the person he loves more than anyone else, his sister Valentine. Peter and Valentine were candidates for the soldier-training program but didn’t make the cut—young Ender is the Wiggin drafted to the orbiting Battle School for rigorous military training. Ender’s skills make him a leader in school and respected in the Battle Room, where children play at mock battles in zero gravity. Yet growing up in an artificial community of young soldiers Ender suffers greatly from isolation, rivalry from his peers, pressure from the adult teachers, and an unsettling fear of the alien invaders. His psychological battles include loneliness, fear that he is becoming like the cruel brother he remembers, and fanning the flames of devotion to his beloved sister. Is Ender the general Earth needs? But Ender is not the only result of the genetic experiments. The war with the Buggers has been raging for a hundred years, and the quest for the perfect general has been underway for almost as long. Ender’s two older siblings are every bit as unusual as he is, but in very different ways. Between the three of them lie the abilities to remake a world, if, that is, the world survives. Ender’s Game is the winner of the 1985 Nebula Award for Best Novel and the 1986 Hugo Award for Best Novel.
Ship Breaker– In America’s Gulf Coast region, where grounded oil tankers are being broken down for parts, Nailer, a teenage boy, works the light crew, scavenging for copper wiring just to make quota–and hopefully live to see another day. But when, by luck or chance, he discovers an exquisite clipper ship beached during a recent hurricane, Nailer faces the most important decision of his life: Strip the ship for all it’s worth or rescue its lone survivor, a beautiful and wealthy girl who could lead him to a better life… In this powerful novel, award-winning author Paolo Bacigalupi delivers a thrilling, fast-paced adventure set in a vivid and raw, uncertain future.

White Cat– Cassel comes from a family of Curse Workers – people who have the power to change your emotions, your memories, your luck, by the slightest touch of their hands. And since curse work is illegal, they’re all criminals. Many become mobsters and con artists. But not Cassel. He hasn’t got magic, so he’s an outsider, the straight kid in a crooked family. You just have to ignore one small detail – he killed his best friend, Lila, three years ago. Cassel has carefully built up a facade of normalcy, blending into the crowd. But his facade starts to crumble when he finds himself sleepwalking, propelled into the night by terrifying dreams about a white cat that wants to tell him something. He’s noticing other disturbing things too, including the strange behavior of his two brothers. They are keeping secrets from him. As Cassel begins to suspect he’s part of a huge con game, he must unravel his past and his memories. To find out the truth, Cassel will have to out-con the conmen.
 Reviews from Goodreads.com

Final Course Reflection

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Audrey Wilson-Youngblood
SLIS 5720
Blog Post #4
Final Reflection
I began my exploration as a new teacher considering technology integration with an eagerness to “get it right.”  Oftentimes, I became frustrated with myself and my students when a lesson or project that centered around technology failed.  My many attempts at MovieMaker, for example, left me disenchanted with the possibilities of digital storytelling.  However, curiousity and perseverance prevailed as I hesitantly but patiently continued to seek and try resources and instructional technology.  After several more years and a change of position, I gained back some of the confidence I’d lost.   Like the pre-service teachers in Daniella Smith’s (2010) article, “Making the case for the leadership role of school librarians in technology integration” who “lacked the knowledge to link Web 2.0 technology to classroom activities” I, too, needed to find a support system that allowed me to collaborate with other teachers seeking to effectively integrate technology into the classroom. 
In my initial technology assessment, I commented on my strength as a professional development leader and the knowledge of specific technology tools I gained while in a coaching position.  It was there that I realized how important embedded professional development is even for “digital natives [who] need instruction in how to transition to teachers who use advanced and assistive technology in the classroom” (Smith, 2010, p. 619).  As a professional development team, we spent most of our time demonstrating various tools, but we failed to provide support for teachers as they sought to integrate the them, “moving them from structuralism to student-centered constructivist activities” as Smith discussed with pre-service librarians (2010, p. 620).   Due to the structure of our position and limitations of our roles, little to no follow-up training was available for teachers.  Now I am validated by the importance of a “supportive infrastructure that includes support for teacher initiative and involvement” (Smith, 2010, p. 620).
                         I’m now able to reflect upon the type of campus leader I hope to become.  As a “transformational leader” I will work with campus leadership “to empower school stakeholders such as teachers, community leaders, parents, and students, which serves numerous purposes [creating] long-term reform” (Smith, 2010, p. 621).  To facilitate the creation of a “shared vision” I plan to initiate a library advisory committee.  I see an opportunity for the committee to not only consider the new direction of the library as an information center, but also to pilot a “Bring Your Own Device” project.  By allowing students to bring and use their own devices, teachers can bypass much of the headache our campuses lack of instructional technology or outdated technology often causes.  My role as a leader and instructional specialist will be to support teachers as they seek to integrate various Web 2.0 tools into their instructional practices.  Several products of this course including the blog and website will enable me to provide “on-demand” professional development supporting the work of this team. 
                        As I look ahead, I continue to gather the numerous tools we’ve explored in the course and utilize my new Diigo account to bookmark, organize and synthesize information I come across so that I can then share it with others.  I find RSS feeds to be particularly useful and have subscribed to sites such as digitalshift.com and digitalis.nwp.org, both of which are platforms for educators to share, discuss, and collaborate on topics related to digital literacy and the integration of technology into the learning process.  I’ve found and subscribed to a number of blogs, which refer me to even more blogs and sites.  Most importantly, I’ve discovered a network of colleagues who are my teachers and who will continue to share their resources and experiences.  Some of these colleagues are organizing into a digital committee on my campus.  Other colleagues are part of national communities of learners and educators. 
My learning experiences in the course allowed me to move from confidence to efficacy as a teacher who integrates technology.  My goal for myself was to broaden my knowledge of various tools.  Like the pre-service librarians my “confidence seemed to be closely aligned with [my] knowledge of technology tools” (Smith, 2010, p. 626).  I now feel that not only have I gained more knowledge than I anticipated, but I also have numerous resources to continue to explore once the course is over.  I relate to the pre-service librarian who wrote, “I try new technology more readily.  I am not afraid to fail if it helps me learn to succeed” (Smith, 2010, p. 624).  I’ve come to understand that where technological integration is involved, learning is part of the struggle. 
Daniella Smith, (2010) “Making the case for the leadership role of school librarians in technology integration”, Library Hi Tech, Vol. 28 Iss: 4, pp.617 – 631.  DOI:  http://libproxy.library.unt.edu:2199/10.1108/07378831011096277

Obstacles to E-book Integration in School Libraries

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Audrey Wilson-Youngblood
SLIS 5720
Blog Post #3
Obstacles to E-book Integration in School Libraries
The enthusiasm from the world of school libraries has become contagious as publishers continue to develop and promote electronic books.  Adding these formats to a school’s collection opens the door to student patrons who find the electronic format to be more appealing than their traditional bound counterpart.  Whereas readers once browsed content and made selections by thumbing through the pages of a paperback, today’s teen readers are finding the accessibility, portability, and discretion of e-books to be ideal.  Despite enthusiasm from the general librarian population significant obstacles limit the potential e-books hold for library patrons and the collection.
NOOKcolor/ NOOK side-by-side

One obstacle that stands in the way of placing e-books in the hands of readers is the availability of digital reading devices.  In fact, 67% of librarians surveyed by School Library Journal, report that this is the biggest obstacle even over the cost of the e-books themselves (“Things are Changing. Fast,” 2011, p. 28).  A plethora of reading devices exist in the market:  Nook, Kindle, Sony, iPad, and numerous other devices.  Purchasing these devices can quickly deplete an already shrinking budget with prices ranging from $99-$600.  Linda Ashcroft (2011) suggests that librarians can learn from e-book suppliers and features such as “Open eBooks” that allows nearly any e-reader or software that can display EPUB and PDF files to display the text (p. 44).  Distributors such as Follett now provide e-books that are compatible with multiple devices and smart phones (Android, Apple, Nook, Kindle) and that can be accessed online.  Although libraries may not be able to circulate the devices themselves, publishers have taken a significant step towards improving accessibility of e-books by increasing compatibility to allow readers to use their own devices. This advent to the e-book market will allow more school libraries and districts to invest in e-books themselves rather than shying away from venture.  Personal device compatibility will be the key to successful school library integration. 
In addition to devices, librarians also reported digital rights management and competing platforms to be a concern (“Things are Changing. Fast,” 2011, p. 28).  With their e-book collections scattered among multiple platforms and questions of digital rights causing publishers to limit accessibility, librarians feel overwhelmed with the amount of hoops they have to jump through to put e-books in students’ hands.  Sixty-nine percent of respondents, according to Ashcroft (2011), report that the limitations for content usage is a significant or very significant hindrance (p. 401).  Digital rights management issues muddy the waters for many school librarians to the extent that the time and energy trying to understand the varying issues and perspectives outweights the possible benefits of integrating electronic books into their collections.

 Librarians are also faced with choices for their circulation.  E-books may be circulated “one person one book” or “unlimited access/ simultaneous use;”  58.5 % prefer unlimited access but 39% prefer a combination of both models (Ashcroft, 2011, p. 405).  Publishers continue to search for a sustainable and appropriate business model for e-books.  Maintaining flexibility and the option to customize services will be key to reaching the wide and diverse school library market.  Suppliers should support librarians efforts by providing simple platforms, bundling options, and circulation options as well as customizing products to meet the needs of a school and its collection. 
E-books accessed through personal devices such as smart phones

In contrast to SLJ’s survey, Ashcroft (2011) finds that the biggest limitation librarians report for e-book usage is reader awareness.  When respondents were asked why they didn’t use the e-book collection, the highest response was “I do not know where to find e-books” (p. 399) What was more concerning to Ashcroft was the librarian’s lack of awareness of readers’ needs, “users need to know that their library provides ebooks, then how to find them” (p. 399).  To overcome this obstacle librarians can again learn lessons from publishers who are offering events such as OverDrive’s Digital Bookmobile that goes into communities to raise awareness (Ashcroft, 2011, p. 405).  A school librarian can take advantage of social networks such as Facebook and Twitter to publicize e-book holdings, create video tutorials for accessing e-books using VoiceThread or host online chats to answer questions and book-talk specific titles in the e-book collections.  The more tools librarians utilize to reach student readers, awareness will grow and readers will seek out this special part of the school’s collection.

            Despite the rapidly evolving world of e-book technology, librarians continue to demonstrate their enthusiasm for the future of their collections.  In fact, in five years, librarians projected that “ebook penetration to increase 14-fold by 2016, to 7.8 percent” (“Things are Changing. Fast,” 2011, p. 28).  In order to get there, libraries will need to re-focus multiple resources to support e-book acquisition and usage.  Budgets, professional development, and initiatives will need reconsideration in order to provide funds, skills, and awareness.  For now, a keen awareness of what is available from vendors and publishers and a healthy “wait and see” attitude might be the best course of action while the many issues surrounding e-book integration continue to be refined.  Knowing when to act and when to wait will enable the school librarian to wisely and cautiously integrate the service into the school’s collection.

Ashcroft, L. (2011). Ebooks in libraries: An overview of the current situation. Library Management, 32(6), 399-407. doi: 10.1108/01435121111158547
Things are changing. fast. (2011). School Library Journal, 57(5), 28-33. Retrieved from http://libproxy.library.unt.edu:2103/login.aspx?direct=true&db=llf&AN=503013798&site=ehost-live&scope=site