Archive for the ‘technology’ Category

Budget time at VSB

Thursday, April 24th, 2008

This year, as in many others, parents from Friends of the School Library presented a brief at the Vancouver School Board meetings in April.

The Friends of the School Library (FOSL) believe that qualified teacher-librarians serve as key partners working with students, their families, local community agencies and public libraries to foster a love of Canadian culture, libraries and reading. This year’s budget, in keeping with the Vancouver School District’s goal of achieving excellence in student learning, needs to support school library programs so they are staffed with qualified teacher-librarians who work to positively influence that outcome. Thank you for recognizing the many roles and responsibilities of teacher-librarians with adequate funding: for recognizing that for many children their only experience with technology, books and libraries occurs within elementary and secondary schools; that course development teams benefit by the inclusion of teacher-librarians to critically select electronic/print resources; and that qualified teacher-librarians play a role in mentoring beginning teachers and contribute to staff development programs to educate teachers about the changing array of information technologies and ways of engaging digital learners.

We would like to address two major school library issues the Vancouver School Board to should consider in the coming months.

We ask that:
The District set a minimum standard for technology in libraries to ensure equitable access to computers and technology instruction across all libraries within the District.

FOSL would like to know:
Do all elementary school libraries have a minimum allotment of computers?
When technology is purchased for schoolS labs, is there consideration of the technology needs for the school library?
Do teacher-librarians have access to instructional technology for teaching the information literacy skills that students will need for post-secondary education?
Do students have opportunities for instruction that supports inquiry or research using technology and electronic resources?
Why is there such a ‘digital divide’ across the District so exacerbated by the ability of parents to fundraise that one westside school library has 30 computers and other school libraries have student computers not powerful enough to load free online newspapers?
Do we really need yet another object lesson for children in less affluent neighbourhoods that this is yet another set of ‘playground equipment’ unavailable to them?

We ask that:
The District set minimum staffing levels for school libraries that will guarantee reasonable access to collections, connections and a welcoming physical space.

Given that there will be a reduction in incremental time for next year, if there is no basic minimum of service, there is a risk that school library time in some schools will be reduced yet agaihn. Some schools have only .1 of an FTE. How low can we go? How many schools at .1 is too many?

As well, having learned recently that the Ministry of Education is requiring each district to submit a contract for literacy, we would like to ask what the role of school libraries is in this process?
Libraries advance literacy. How does Vancouver’s literacy contract reflect this?

School District Management teams make decisions that have an impact well beyond the realm of individual schools or districts and those decisions should be made after assessing current research and best practice recommendations. They might consider that a study of Canadian publishers finds that; ‘they consider the loss of teacher-librarians to have broken their connection with children, fueled the loss of independent booksellers, and subsequently gutted Canadian publishing for children.’ Without them there will be a conspicuous hush; many students will not find certain kinds of voices in the materials available for them.

The District might consider the 2006 Provincial Health Officer’s Annual Report ‘An Ounce of Prevention Revisited.’ which is a review of health promotion and selected outcomes for children and youth in BC schools which finds that “students who feel a strong connection to school are less likely to attempt suicide, use hard drugs, smoke cigarettes, use marijuana, binge drink, carry a weapon to school, fight, have poor health, etc. etc.” Given the importance of connectedness, the BC Health Officer recommends closely study[ing] the “best” schools/school districts and sharing the lessons learned and promising practices from schools/school districts with high levels of connectedness”.

I would be willing to bet that the schools with the most connected students have a school library they feel welcome in throughout the day, where their artwork is on the wall, where they can volunteer and where the teacher librarian can give them the gift of their time.

District policy based on high standards of attainment for information literacy through quality school library collections, services and staff are needed to establish basic minimums that are both sustainable and equitable. We urge the Senior Management Team to develop such district benchmarks. We wish you success in the year ahead and thank you for all your hard work.

Yours truly,
Friends of the School Library

Provincial Health Officer’s Annual Report (2006). An Ounce of Prevention Revisited.
A review of health promotion and selected outcomes for children and youth in BC schools. (

Saltman, J and Edwards, G. Creativity and Passion: 40 Years of Publishing for Children in Canada. Presentation at BCLA, April 19, 2008.

Bypassing the Brain; homework and kidnapping

Sunday, March 2nd, 2008


Take my kid for example. He’s 15 and this is how he does his homework: Ears are plugged and wired to rap rap rap; eyes are flitting between screens: left to TV hockey, right to candy glow, diving through windows, Facebook pokes from messaging pals, to, to Merriam-Webster (online), to Google (images - search), along the way kidnapping text and images and audio and video to paste, without glue, uncensored, into his word doc homework - and almost by-passing his brain.

You have to wonder if anything sticks.

Another example of the new homework in the digitized school library: 17-year-old students, of a course titled, no less grand than Comparative Civilization - line up at the printer, laboriously spitting out Sphinxes and Mona Lisas. Great world mysteries elude the brains of these students, who barely give the facsimiles a glance before stapling them to ripped-off paragraphs, to be handed in as their very own.

Students have always sought an easy way out of homework, taking the intellectual property of others, and pretending it was their own. But in the olden days of book and magazine research, every borrowed phrase and idea had gone through a catharsis of writer, editor and publisher. Now teachers cannot tell the difference between essays composed of online paragraphs and those of their students, because they are equally flawed.

Not that teachers aren’t getting more savvy. They teach about the evils of plagiarism (from the Latin: plagirius, kidnapper). In course descriptions, they warn about stern consequences. Research essays are assigned with extreme note taking systems - ” Do not under any circumstances write any of your own ideas on the same sheet of paper that has quotations from other sources.” The mantra is quote, cite, quote, cite. The latest adaptation of teachers is to set up creative booby traps to ensure the single user essay (Compare Anna Karenina to your mother; Create your own planet and
describe how you would build a swimming pool on it).

Behind the 8-ball is the CAD (formerly known as drafting) teacher, whose digitized assignments could theoretically be done by only one student in a class of 30, e-mailed to the remaining 29, and with names changed to protect the guilty, all electronically submitted within minutes. Forced to adapt to the new technological challenges, the teacher adds a personal creative spin to the assignment and now has to take triple the time to mark 30 individualized assignments.

In class the temptation to check out Facebook, chat with Jared in the next computer classroom, or play at is too much.

We put amusement machines under the noses of the kids and then expect them not to play. We give them computers, with drone-like brilliance to copy stuff and to instantly link minds world - wide. And the kids, adaptable and fresh, with a compelling need to connect, have taken to them, like ducks to water.

But make no mistake. Computers are not teaching machines, unless the content of the instruction is computers. “Interactive” sites are ok at best, compared to the interactivity of a flesh and blood teacher with an imagination.

A computer connected to the Internet may be school library at a child’s fingertips. But entrance to a room full of books does not guarantee a student will read or make sense of anything. The burgeoning volume of information is no reason to be impressed. The world is large and complex. Always has been.

Internet data comes flying at kids out of the blue, out of context. A book at least has some kind of order, usually chronological, or thematic and a door to open it; a contents page and an index.

A good book has the presence of the writer and is more like a living teacher, whose job is to inspire students to think, analyze, compare, synthesize, and create.

Accessing information instantly does not make anyone learn faster. Reading with understanding is a subtle process that takes time.

Instead of a neck-crunching, eye-scrunching hour in front of a monitor, try this. Lay out the 32 “black heirloom” volumes of Encyclopedia Britannica, the “over 44 million words”…”written and revised by the world’s foremost scholars and experts, including many Nobel Prize winners” on a table, and ponder how much you don’t know. Be awestruck.

So, who or what has been kidnapped?

Perhaps it is the teachers who need to create faster-and-faster in- class songs-and-dances, to keep up with the fragmented, multi- tasking young minds sitting before them. Taking time from precious one-on-one with students, preparation and contemplation, they are busy wrestling with report card and attendance software, scooting kids off the toys, and adding ugly confrontations with addicted game
players to their school day.

Perhaps it is the school boards caught up in a whirlwind of computer expenditures, replacing teachers, librarians, textbooks and library books with upgrades, laptops and techie handmaidens to keep the damn things going?

Or is it the kids, who click as easily as they breathe?

Judith Comfort

Dr. Charles Best Secondary School Library, Coquitlam