What I’ve Been Reading-February, March, April

So, remember when I mentioned in my January Reads post that the rate at which I’d been reading would probably be unsustainable?  Well, that happened in a big way.  So much so that I didn’t even feel like it was worth it to do a February update.  And then I just sort of forgot about March.  But I think I’ve gotten my reading groove back, though I still don’t have as much time as I’d like to read, between actual work and finishing up all of my library school requirements so I can graduate this month.  So, without any further rambling, here’s an update on what I’ve read these past 3 months:

20. Early Decision: Based on a True Frenzy by Lacy Crawford-I’m actually truly fascinated by the college admissions process-I debated for a long time whether I wanted to be a guidance counselor or librarian (obviously, you know which one won in the end).  So this book about a private college consultant and the neurotic families for which she worked was very interesting to me.

21. Divas Don’t Knit by Gil McNeil-Another thing I’m weirdly fascinated by is knitting.  Even though I’m still working on the same scarf I started like 5 years ago, I secretly want to be an awesome knitter, and I really like books about people who knit.  This book, the first in a series, not only featured a knitting shop in a cute English seaside town, but also was more hilarious than I expected.  I’ll definitely be reading the others in the series.

22. Going Rogue by Robin Benway-I loved the first book in this series so much.  This one was good, but not quite as great.  I still loved zany best friend Roux, and there was still a lot of action, and I’m still very drawn to teenage spies, especially when they are as awesome as Maggie.  I hope the series will continue.

23. Needles and Pearls by Gil McNeil-A sequel to Divas Don’t Knit.  I actually have very little memory of what happened in this book, so I guess that’s not a super strong recommendation, though it seemed perfectly enjoyable at the time.

24. Girls in White Dresses by Jennifer Close-I remember when this book came out, the number of holds placed on it at the library was ridiculously high.  I liked it, and found it relatable, but I guess I wasn’t as impressed by it as I thought I’d be.  I also found the ending to be really anticlimactic.

25. The Chapel Wars by Lindsey Leavitt-I really, really loved Sean Griswold’s Head AND Going Vintage, so I had really high hopes for this one.  Again, I found it to be good, but not great (apparently the theme for these past few books is mediocrity, at least for me).  I don’t know if it was the setting of Las Vegas, a city in which I’ve really never been interested, or the way things develop between the main character and her love interest, but I just didn’t love it.

26. Blackberry Pie Murder by Joanne Fluke-I originally picked up one of these mystery novels because I liked the idea that recipes were incorporated.  That’s pretty much why I keep reading them.  The characters annoy me, particularly the main character and her struggle, through 17 books, to choose between two men (somewhat reminiscent of another popular mystery series…), but they’re easy reads, and I still like the recipes.  This one was no different.

27. Maybe One Day by Melissa Kantor-Finally, a book I can recommend. I know that a lot of people really didn’t like the main character and some of the medical things in this book, but they weren’t really problems for me.  I enjoyed the friendship between the two characters a lot, and definitely did my fair share of crying.

28. Takedown Twenty by Janet Evanovich-Stephanie Plum continues to be hilarious.  I will read as many of these books as Janet Evanovich writes.  They’re just easy, fun reads.

29. #16thingsithoughtweretrue by Janet Gurtler-I love road trip books.  I thought the main character was a little shallow and social media obsessed, and I didn’t like how abruptly things happened toward the end of the book.  But it was still an enjoyable read.

30. Hung Up by Kristen Tracy-Not a super memorable book, but it was cute and fun.  I always like when books are told through letters, text messages, etc., and this one was no different.  I probably won’t feel the need to reread it, but it was a quick, lighthearted read.

31. Panic by Lauren Oliver-I have really mixed feelings about Lauren Oliver.  I think she is a brilliant writer, but I didn’t love how the plot panned out in the Delirium series.  I was excited to read something of hers in a different genre, and I liked the premise of this book.  It wasn’t a standout for me, but I definitely continue to appreciate Oliver’s writing.

32. The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkowski-Love, love, LOVED this book.  Hate, hate, HATE that I didn’t realize it was the first in a trilogy and I’m going to have to wait forever to find out what happens next.

33. The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan-I enjoyed Riordan’s other series much more than I thought I would, so I decided to give this one a chance while I wait for the final Heroes of Olympus book.  I’m choosing to reserve judgment at this point.  It was good, but no Percy Jackson.  We’ll see what happens as the series goes on.

34. Perfect Ruin by Lauren DeStefano-This book bothered me SO much.  I should have known, when I couldn’t ever get in to Wither, that maybe DeStefano isn’t the best author for me.  But SO many things weren’t explained, and so many OTHER things were so derivative.  Once it got to the end, the plot picked up and I feel like I’ll read the next book because I want to know what happens…but still.  Not my favorite.

35. Frozen by Erin Bowman-A very enjoyable second book in a series.  There was plenty of action, a few things I didn’t expect, and nothing I remember that really bothered me.  Looking forward to the next installment.

36. Balancing Acts by Zoe Fishman-I don’t read a ton of adult fiction, but there have been some titles that have really appealed to me lately, and this is one of them.  I love New York, so books set there are often some of my favorites, and one character seriously annoyed me with her lack of growth for most of the story, but overall, very enjoyable.

37. Side Effects May Vary by Julie Murphy-Yeah, yeah, another cancer book.  But this one has a twist-the character with cancer actually LIVES, and has to deal with the consequences of what she did when she thought she would die.  It was certainly a new take on things, and the character was well written and complex, if not always likeable.

38. The Geography of You and Me by Jennifer E. Smith-I really like Smith’s books.  I’m not sure any have measured up, for me at least, to The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight, but I enjoy them nonetheless.  This one seemed slightly less realistic to me, but I really enjoyed the settings (now I’m daydreaming about a trip to Scotland myself).

39. The Maze Runner by James Dashner-The first time I tried to read this, I really couldn’t get into it, but I decided to give in another chance, and I couldn’t put it down.  At first the language and the inability to picture the setting in my head were really disorienting to me, but the action picked up and I couldn’t wait to find out what happened next.

 

Well, that’s all, folks.  I hope to be more on top of keeping track of reading and updating the blog now that graduation is thisclose.

More Thoughts on Peer Instruction

Peer instruction, a technique in which students answer questions, present arguments as to why their answer is correct to a partner or small group, and then answer the questions again, this time with (hopefully) a better understanding of the concept, has proven to be a successful way to engage students in learning experiences.  This method is beneficial because it gives students more than one potential teacher, and the more ways something is explained, the more chances a student has of understanding the concept.  Additionally, it makes students think critically about their processes for arriving at answers, and come up with a well thought out argument in defense of their answer choices.  Learning how to think critically is as important as learning the content or skills, so this is a definite benefit of peer instruction.

Despite its obvious advantages, is peer instruction something that could work in a secondary library?  I think it could, with some adaptations from its original format in college lecture courses.  Ryan Campbell, a secondary teacher, has some tips for adapting peer instruction to work in a high school class, including writing clearly defined learning objectives, using peer instruction for skills as well as content, and limiting the time spent on direct instruction/lecturing. [1] (More of his tips can be found here.)

These tips are helpful for librarians in addition to classroom teachers, particularly since we are often teaching skills rather than content.  In a secondary library lesson, the librarian may teach students how to evaluate a website to determine whether it is a reliable resource, and then implement peer instruction with questions related to this skill.  Students may be given a website to evaluate, and then have to explain to their partner or group members why it is or is not a reliable source.  This could be adapted for different skills, or even different situations.  Although it strays somewhat from the original technique, students working on a research project could explain to a partner their process for locating information on a topic, new information they learned about their topic, how they are planning to present or publish their new knowledge, etc.

Peer instruction empowers students by allowing them to take on the role of teacher, while at the same time helping them to develop important critical thinking skills.  It is definitely something that could be beneficial in a library setting.

References

1. Campbell, R. (2012, June 19). Does peer instruction work in high schools? [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://blog.peerinstruction.net/2012/06/19/does-peer-instruction-work-in-high-schools-2/

 

Peer Instruction in the Library

So, last time, I started talking about what peer instruction is, how it works, and why it is beneficial. Now that we know what it is, we can talk about how peer instruction can be used in the library.

Peer instruction was initially designed for, and has mostly been used in, the university setting; however, I think it would still be a useful technique in elementary or secondary schools, though some modifications may be necessary.  What would peer instruction look like in an elementary setting?

In the library, the skills being taught aren’t content area skills, but rather information literacy and inquiry skills. After the librarian teaches a mini-lesson on, for example, using the library catalog, she could ask students questions, such as how to find a particular book in the catalog, or why a particular search was unsuccessful. Students can answer individually (perhaps by using clickers, or another tool like Socrative or PollEverywhere, depending on the available technology). Students must then defend their answers to a partner or small group.  Finally, the librarian has all students answer again, and is able to see if the percentage of students who understand has improved.

While the questions asked in the library might not have the same concrete answers as those in the content area classes, the process of students explaining to one another how they figured something out, and helping others to understand a concept or idea, is very beneficial, despite the different setting. The librarian is teaching students the basics of the skill or concept, but the students must describe their thought process, present an argument for their answer, and, at times, teach other students why and how to do a certain thing.  Students are sometimes better able to explain things to other students than the teacher, so this technique can be a useful one for teachers and librarians.

 

Peer Instruction

So for the second half of IST 663, we’re shifting from discussing educational theorists to discussing effective teaching and learning techniques.  For the next few weeks, I’ll be talking about peer instruction and how it can be used in lessons in the library.

So what is peer instruction?  It might not be what you’re thinking.  Peer instruction moves away from the traditional lecture method to help students get more involved in their own learning.  Developed by Professor Eric Mazur at Harvard University during the 1990s, peer instruction makes learning more interactive and helps students to become more engaged in what is going on. [1]

In a class using peer instruction, there will usually still be a short lecture.  Then, students will be given a question or problem to work on, and will report their answer to the professor (either electronically, for example via clickers, or just on a piece of paper).  After this, students will work in pairs and try to convince their partners that they have the correct answer.  Following this, they will report their answers again to the professor. [2]

Using peer instruction helps students to really understand the underlying concepts of the material they are learning, it makes learning more interactive and engaging, and helps students develop oral communication skills.  Students, in effect, become the teachers, and in some cases are able to fill this role more effectively than their actual teachers, because they so recently figured out the concepts themselves, and better understand what might be troublesome to their classmates. [3]

While peer instruction was developed at Harvard and has been used frequently in college classes, I think there is also a place for peer instruction in the library.  More on that in future posts.

References

1. Redish, E.F. (2006). Peer instruction problems: Introduction to the method. Retrieved from http://www.physics.umd.edu/perg/role/PIProbs/

2. The George Washington University Teaching & Learning Collaborative. (n.d.) Peer Instruction: Eric Mazur’s Techniques. Retrieved from http://tlc.provost.gwu.edu/peer-instruction

3. Lambert, C. (2012). Twilight of the lecture. Retrieved from http://harvardmagazine.com/2012/03/twilight-of-the-lecture

Multiple Intelligences and the Classroom

So, we already know that Howard Gardner theorized that there are different types, or modalities, of intelligence.  People have varying levels of the different types of intelligence, and as a result, have different preferences for how they learn and show what they’ve learned.

We know from this theory that it is important to present information to students in different ways, so that students have a greater chance for success in learning that information.  But it is also important to give students a choice in showing what they know. [1]  Therefore, when students are completing assignments and projects, whether in the library or in a classroom, giving them options for how they would like to share their work will allow more students to be successful in that assignment.

Perhaps, for example, students have been studying animals in science class.  They have developed research questions about their chosen animals, and have come to the library to use a database to search for more information on those animals.  After they finish their research, the teacher would like them to share what they’ve learned with the class.  This is an opportunity to give students choice.  Students with higher linguistic intelligence may want to write a traditional report, or use an online tool such as Voki that allows them to orally present their information.  Students with higher spatial intelligence, on the other hand, may want to do something more visual, like a PowerPoint or Glogster.  Students who have higher musical intelligence might choose to write a poem or song, while students with bodily/kinesthetic intelligence may want to build a model, or create a game to show what they have learned.

Students learn differently, based on the areas in which they have higher intelligence, and allowing them to choose how to show what they have learned gives them more opportunity for success in the classroom.

References

1. Big thinkers: Howard Gardner on multiple intelligences. (1997). Retrieved from http://www.edutopia.org/multiple-intelligences-howard-gardner-video

Review: Better Off Friends by Elizabeth Eulberg

betterofffriendsFor Macallan and Levi, it was friends at first sight. Everyone says guys and girls can’t be just friends, but these two are. They hang out after school, share tons of inside jokes, their families are super close, and Levi even starts dating one of Macallan’s friends. They are platonic and happy that way.

Eventually they realize they’re best friends — which wouldn’t be so bad if they didn’t keep getting in each other’s way. Guys won’t ask Macallan out because they think she’s with Levi, and Levi spends too much time joking around with Macallan, and maybe not enough time with his date. They can’t help but wonder . . . are they more than friends or are they better off without making it even more complicated?

From romantic comedy superstar Elizabeth Eulberg comes a fresh, fun examination of a question for the ages: Can guys and girls ever really be just friends? Or are they always one fight away from not speaking again — and one kiss away from true love?

-synopsis via Goodreads

You guys, I have a confession: I am a HUGE Elizabeth Eulberg fangirl.  A few years ago, I requested Take a Bow from the library on a whim.  Well, I blew through it in a matter of hours and have since read everything else she’s written.  Without fail, I love, love, LOVE everything she writes.  So this is not exactly an impartial review.

While I don’t think anything will ever compare to the love I have for Take a Bow, Better Off Friends was a great book.  I loved meeting Levi and Macallan as awkward middle schoolers, and watching their personalities develop over the course of several years.  I think Eulberg has an incredible talent for creating rich, three-dimensional characters, and for crafting believable, authentic relationships, particularly boy-girl friendships.

I thought the story moved very fluidly, despite the large chunk of time it covered; I felt like I had enough information to really see their friendship unfold, without any large gaps missing or tiny details that made the story lag.  Despite the commentary from present-day Levi and Macallan at the end of each chapter, I wasn’t confused at all; the plot flowed in a logical manner.  I also really enjoyed the alternating viewpoints, because I liked being able to see things from both characters’ perspectives.

While I definitely loved Levi and Macallan’s friendship, I think my favorite relationship may have been between Macallan and Levi’s mother.  One of my pet peeves in YA is that parents are either really bad or not present at all, and I think Eulberg did a great job of creating positive parental figures, and not only that, but someone who could serve as a surrogate mother for Macallan during a time when she really needed someone.

As much as I’ve raved about the book, there were times when Levi drove me CRAZY.  When he complained about Macallan manipulating him into spending time with her, or went on about how important and great it was for him to have the guys and a team and a girlfriend, I just wanted to smack him.  I’m sure Macallan made mistakes also, but for some reason, the way Levi treated her at these moments really bothered me.  While this behavior seems typical of teenagers, I just felt like with him, it went on for too long with no growth.

Really, though, that’s my only objection, and it’s a small one.  I truly loved Better Off Friends.  The writing is smart and funny, the characters are loveable, and I devoured it in one sitting.  I’d recommend it to anyone who’s ever had a crush on their best friend, as well as fans of Sarah Dessen, Jennifer E. Smith, and other queens of YA romance.

Copy received from Scholastic via NetGalley.  Better Off Friends will be published on February 25, 2014.

Review: Bright Before Sunrise by Tiffany Schmidt

brightbeforeWhen Jonah is forced to move from Hamilton to Cross Pointe for the second half of his senior year, “miserable” doesn’t even begin to cover it. He feels like the doggy-bag from his mother’s first marriage and everything else about her new life—with a new husband, new home and a new baby—is an upgrade. The people at Cross Pointe High School are pretentious and privileged—and worst of all is Brighton Waterford, the embodiment of all things superficial and popular. Jonah’s girlfriend, Carly, is his last tie to what feels real… until she breaks up with him.

For Brighton, every day is a gauntlet of demands and expectations. Since her father died, she’s relied on one coping method: smile big and pretend to be fine. It may have kept her family together, but she has no clue how to handle how she’s really feeling. Today is the anniversary of his death and cracks are beginning to show. The last thing she needs is the new kid telling her how much he dislikes her for no reason she can understand. She’s determined to change his mind, and when they’re stuck together for the night, she finally gets her chance.

Jonah hates her at 3p.m., but how will he feel at 3 a.m.?

One night can change how you see the world. One night can change how you see yourself.

-synopsis via Goodreads

Well, on the surface, this book seems like it would be a winner: boy meets girl, boy hates girl, boy and girl spend 12 hours together, judgment and anger and hilarity and romance ensue, boy and girl have a bright future together.

And there were definitely elements that I really liked.  I think both Brighton and Jonah suffer from issues that are typical of the teenage experience-Brighton feels pressure to be nice to everyone and liked by everyone, and basically do it all, while Jonah moves to a new school and feels like he really doesn’t fit in anywhere.  I think readers will really be able to relate to both Brighton and Jonah.

I also have to say that I was definitely able to get wrapped up in the plot-the story moved along quickly, and I enjoyed the interactions between many of the characters.  I loved Jonah’s relationship with Carly’s siblings, and Brighton’s conversation with Jonah’s Hamilton friends at the pizza place.  I thought Jonah’s tenderness with his baby sister and, eventually, with Brighton, showed us a softer side of him.

I guess my main issue with this book is that Jonah and Brighton went from dislike to infatuation in such an abrupt manner.  I really think that over time, they would have been able to see past their differences, get to know one another better, and gradually become more than friends.  But to me, it seemed like Jonah went from abject hatred to love with hardly any transition time-that part of the story seemed a little unrealistic to me, especially considering he had JUST ended another relationship.

While this wasn’t my favorite book ever, it was an easy, light read with a fun romantic element and a few heartwarming moments.  I’d definitely recommend it to anyone who loves to get swept up in a whirlwind romance, or who loves to root for a happy ending.

Copy received from Bloomsbury via NetGalley.  Bright Before Sunrise will be published on February 18, 2014.