Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Bibliotherapy: Come! Weave With Us!

My talk on Bibliotherapy at the Benitez Hall, College of Education in UP Diliman last November 8, 2018 turned out to be an inspiring and life affirming session. I was with friends from the UP READING Department, kindred spirits and partners in the advocacy for literacy development. Years ago, our battle cry was to instill a genuine love for books and reading. Today, while this aim remains true, we are in agreement on the power of stories and children’s literature to heal and to build empathy. 

There has been a lot of talk going on about books for children dealing with sensitive topics. By this I mean the following issues that have not been fully explored in years past. Incest. Child abuse. Gender issue and biases. Extra Judicial Killings. Child pornography. Dynsfynctional family. Same sex marriage. Sexuality ans sexual preferences. HIV infection. We are living in exciting and dangerous times indeed! These events, trends and movements in literature and the changing times give us reason to improve teaching strategies and the delivery of effective library services and programs for children. We teach skills for comprehension, yes. But we also need to select, evaluate and offer books and stories that show care and compassion.

Comments from the participants were aplenty. How concerned they were of access to books in areas where libraries and bookstore are few and far between. Why isn’t there any national guideline on reading? While there are many localised efforts to advocate literacy and its many benefits, resources and teaching materials are still scarce. That is reason enough to keep reading, writing and teaching! It was a comfort to know from Teacher Hazel Preclaro how the department reaches out to communities in Quezon City for book donation initiatives, tutorials, read aloud sessions and storytelling enounters. It should be clear by now that, in education, one’s job and contribution to the country is unending. 

Then, we need to inspire and mentor more teachers and librarians to believe in the magic of stories. Come! Weave with us! 

Monday, November 26, 2018

Pilgrim's Pit Stop: Living in the Now

Of the many things I learned in my years of being active in Magis Deo, it is the acknowledgement that God is present in my life. Thanks to the teachings during Community Celebrations and the offerings of recollections and Ignatian Retreats by Magis Deo, what seemed to be an abstract and surreal is made real by praying the Examen every day, journaling, reflection and attendance to prayer workshops. These formation activities has deepened my relationship with God. What gives me comfort and grace in prayer is always the discovery of living in the now with God beside me.

This recognition of God as my constant companion, caring and forgiving, humorous and kind eases my worries. I worried a lot back in the day. But with this newfound image and relationship with Him, I learned to worry less. I learned to pray on my worries.

And amazingly, God replies in more ways than one. A call or private message (PM) from dear friends who read one of my cryptic social media post. A good news from the eldest who lives away in college. The sun shining in the morning after days of heavy rain. The tree frog that rests languidly on a branch of our avocado tree. The butterflies that circle the white flowers growing in our front yard. Even the sun setting and spraying the sky colors of pink and indigo is God's way of saying, rest now Zarah, for tomorrow, we battle on together.

Once, my boss had the kindness and humility to make me an espresso during "hell" week in school. She knows coffee would calm me down. God was there at that moment when she handed me the cup of hot espresso. It was God telling me to chill and that the line dividing supervisor and subordinate is a man-made law. In the end of all the deadlines and deliverables, we are all hard working people who need a break. I see God in my daughter who takes candid pictures of me when I am in a pensive mood. I am assured. There is someone who will constantly keep an eye out for me. When BCGG prayer companions patiently listen to my reflections and recurring struggles, God is there listening too. Even in the spats and quarrels I have with my husband, petty or serious it may be, God is there shaking, disturbing and awakening us.

At times when I feel He is far away, too distant to be reached and felt, or missing in the little and simple events of daily life, I go back to this memory I have of God as a warm energy embracing me. This happened in a silent retreat I had with the help of a lay formator from the Center for Ignatian Spirituality at San Jose Seminary. That was a powerful experience!

This was five years ago and the feeling remains clear in my mind. This I know. God is here. God is in the now.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

IASL and PASLI 2019 Conference

Lifted from the Facebook Page of PASLI and helping them spread the word on this international conference in Manila in April 2019.

PASLI in partnership with IASL invites you to the IASL's 5th Regional Workshop for School Libraries in Southeast Asia & PASLI's 41st National Conference and General Assembly on April 24-26, 2019. See you in MANILA!

Program (Draft)

Call for Papers

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Judging the 2018 National Book Week Essay Writing Contest 1 of 2

This week, the winners of the National Book Week contests will be awarded at a special ceremony in Gateway Gallery in Cubao. Congratulations to all the winners! 

It was my first time to judge in one of the contests which was the Essay Writing Contest. My co-judges and I read through 60 entries and after four hours, deliberations included, we were ready to submit the winners.

In general, the entries followed a template of lofty ideals presented in one main idea and supported by details. Written by high school and senior high school students from different regions in the country, I had a glimpse of the students’ experiences of libraries, books and reading. Their stories are poles apart. Some essays show a rich expoaure to books while many reflect the scarcity of reading materials. I also had a sense of the level of writing skills of students of today. Essays with strong voices stood out as well as ones that are well structured. There are essays that are too personal, it missed the discussion of the NBW theme. On the other hand, there are essays that discuas big ideas related to the theme that lacked the authenticity of a high school student’s experience. At some point, I wonder who the student writer is writing for and does he or she know her purpose for writing the essay more so, joining a nationwide competitionz

I think these things need to be established early on. Writers write for themselves, yes, and this has to be processed and discussed with the student. Because, while this is true, writing is an art of communication. In my writing workshops with teenagers and adulrs, I begin by asking them existential questions: 

Who are you? 
Why do you write? 
What is your message or story?
What do you know that is worth sharing with others?

Wirting is personal and writers reach out to the world by communicating their stories and their knowledge. 

It is also important to know how to communicate one’s message and story. Enter craft, use of language and the mechanics of writing. This is the hard part. So, a writing process and model are set up so students will not be lost. If ever they wander away, which is often the case, then the process and model come in handy to bring them back to focus. 

Writing is a complicated cognitive activity. Students need mentors. While they have teachers, librarians can come in the picture and help teachers mentor students in the writing journey.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Tips, Tools & Tech for the Busy Teacher: Asking Questions & Human Rights Education in Math

Our library is subscribed to the digital and print format of Mathematics Teaching Middle School (MTMS) and Mathematics Teacher (MT), publications of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM). Of course, these resources were requested by our Math teachers a few years back and since then, they have been using the magazines and journals for teaching and instruction. What I like about MT and MTMS is that it has articles that discuss mathematics conceptually.

Take for example the issue of MT last October 2019. It has a discussion on human rights, human rights education and how allocation of resources like food production can be taught through math. Food is an experience common to all, likewise the access to food supply is a basic human right. Food shortage is a global problem. In an article by Blair Izard, Teaching Human Rights Through Mathematics, these personal and global issues on food are discussed with matching equations to show data and numbers that establish reason, logic and clarity. Honestly, my comprehension reached a bottle neck when Izard presented a set of equations. I leave that to the Math teachers!

What really piqued my interest was Izard's methods of discussion before engaging students in the equations she shared in the article. She began with the question: When will a community first experience a shortage of food? This led her students to wonder and ask for more information like, population and the amount of food a country produces. This led her to draw out more questions from her students and even added hers to the discussion such as,  what is one way a country could potentially run out of food? and what information would you need to know to determine whether a country might run out of food?

Allowing her students to understand the needed information to answer the questions, she provided the information on population and food supply. After which, she presented the equations so they can solve for answers together. There is further explanation on her methods and how in the middle and at the end of the class, they were still in discussion of their answers. There are concepts in the lesson as well as mathematic skills, drills and cooperative and collaborative experiences for students.

Asking questions and techniques to facilitate this experience in a math class is also a featured article in MTMS as the October Issue highlights three best practices on teaching inquiry. These are: funneling, focusing and IRE.

Funneling is the technique teachers use through sequencing questions to lead students to a specific answer or conclusion. Focusing is a strategy where the teacher listens to students and their questions, helps them think through their questions and encourages them to press on the important ones so that their thinking is guided towards answering or finding solutions to it. IRE is an acronym that stands for Inquire, Respond and Evaluate. Teacher inquires on a topic, a concept, a math equation and students respond by answering the teacher through discussions, drills, models and even more questions. Teacher then evaluated the response using a pre-determined criteria or standards.

These are higher order thinking skills that need to be done on a regular basis. Integrating this in class as a thinking routine or a method of inquiry that will help build students' critical thinking skills as well as their emotional stamina. Note that the teacher is always present in the strategies,  techniques and methods presented. This only goes to show that teachers do teach concepts and skills, but they are companions of students in the journey of inquiry and thinking processes.

Now I am beginning to look at Math from a different perspective!

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Dear School Librarian In Action: Working with Teachers

Here is part 2 of my conversations with school librarians of Raya School where we talked about working with teachers and sealing collaborative projects.

3. My priority in buying books for the library are the titles that teachers need for their lessons. However, it is not often that teachers suggest titles due to their busy schedule. Is there any possible guide that I could follow in acquisition of books?

This has been partly answered in number 2. Teachers will always put their teaching hat first. Some teachers may not recognize or admit that they need support, yet, they do. Librarians can lend that support.

In lesson planning, teachers identify learning materials, references and instructional aids. What are listed in that part of their lesson plan? Knowing what’s there can be a starting point to creating a Possible Purchase File. This is your record of resources to acquire sooner or later. Also, find a way to engage teachers in conversations about their learners and teaching practices that work. This will inform you of media and technology to set up, maintain and organize in the library for teacher's use. Have a Kapihan sa Aklatan, open a social media account for the library if your school allows this to promote library learning resources from print, online to maps, infographics and other visuals.

Over the years, I have documented and blogged about activities and projects that school librarians and teachers can do. Go to Teacher and Librarian Collaboration.

4. I give simple prizes such as stickers and bookmarks to those who frequently borrow books in the library. This works for those who are already frequent users in the library but how could I reach those seldom visit the library?

Hmm… what grades do you handle? You can approach reading promotion by grade levels, for example, K-3, middle grades, junior high and senior high. Consider their reading developmental levels in promoting books and the use of the library. Also think of what the library can offer them aside from books. Are the senior high students stressed from academics? Set up a stress buster or Makerspace that has art and crafts activities. Display books and resources about arts and crafts to go along with it. Storytelling is a MUST, especially in K-3 and changes focus somehow in the middle grades.

Reading promotions can be a program you can create but it is anchored on your collection development program and your three year library development plan.

For a bigger picture of the many hats that school librarians can wear, read this post on Reading Advocacy . This doesn't mean a librarian must play all the roles at one time, or that he/she is all that. Librarians are people in the school community and those they work with need to know and recognize that. That is part of our work also - help them see what we can do to support them.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Ebooks and Cloud Computing in the School Library

Technology and its specific applications in library work are not my skills of expertise. But, I sure know how to work and coordinate a project with people. So, when our library information systems needed an upgrade, I called on Romy Sebastian to help us again.

Romy Sebastian has a history with the Beacon Academy Library. He has seen us through three systems upgrades. From LIBRO to PLATONICXZ to MyRIZAL, Romy has stayed on course assisting us with the utmost understanding of a librarian who knows his technology. Now, we are considering the cloud version of the system but first things first: migration of our Online Public Access Catalog to a new web host.

L-R: Josef Halos of EBSCO, me and Romy Sebastian

I am excited at this migration project since my staff and I will be given a control of the administration panel 24/7, web page design and real time updating of the database. I promise to post in the blog our progress.

On the same day Romy was in school, Josef Halos of EBSCO came by as well. His purpose was to teach us how to access and use the ebook functionality of EBSCO. We have been dilly-dallying on this, because honestly, the package is pretty expensive. Josef Halos gave us a month of trial for the ebooks but I know, it will take me another month more to do the budgeting. 

Needless to say, a librarian’s work is not done in isolation (similar to writing a story and creating a book). Much has been said and written about the library being the heart of the school or the institution. These days, it has become the lifeblood of an organization. 

Dear School Librarian In Action: The Benefit of Print and Planning a School Library Development Plan

I was fortunate to meet School librarians of the Raya School early this month. We had a fascinating and interesting conversation about students, the way they learn and read books, and the work librarians do to help teachers. Here are questions that have kept them awake at night. This is part 1 so come back to the blog for part 2!

1. With the emergence of information technology we have today, I wonder if it is still relevant to teach students how to use the dictionary if they could just google or use an online dictionary instead.

Yes. Print is still relevant because, it promotes and keeps the reading experience alive particularly, long and deep reading. These are the kinds of reading the human brain needs to function well. Ebooks and online sources rob the brain of so many things, and one is the development of a physical memory. Print provides that physical landscape so that the brain’s capacity to remember becomes stronger. Print is good for MEMORY and REMEMBERING.

Second, we need to provide different forms of media to our readers because they learn in varied ways. Their modalities for learning is not one dimensional. Learning through visuals may be strong for one person, but his/her aural skills do not mean it is non-function at all. So, develop whole brain learning by providing an array of learning materials and employing varied and appropriate instructional strategies.

The availability of online references provide ease of access to information. Print sources help in retention and in stretching one’s attention span. Both are cognitive skills needed to navigate and understand different media formats and technology.

2. There was a time where grade 6 students borrowed reference materials in the library so they could practice citing of sources for their AP class. There was also a time where grade 4 students searched for "pabula" in the library for their Filipino class.

I know that one of the library's main roles in the school is provision of books to the students for the enrichment of their learning but what else could I do to help?

Notice that the information needs of your students differ from one grade to another. Why is it that grade 4 students are searching for pabula? Why reference materials for grade 6? 

Know the students, the teachers who teach them, the school’s curriculum and pedagogy. From here, you can create a collection development plan. Then, budgeting comes into play. This is long term, progressing and continuous. A three year library development plan identifying targets and strategies need to be in place, as well as a library procedural manual.

Include a library instruction program or an Information Literacy program. This is ideally, integrated in the language arts skills program. So, work with teachers to make this happen.

Part 2 is all about collaborative work with teachers.

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