Hosting an Anti-Bullying Event in the Library

cyberbullyingAnyone who spends any time on the internet these days has probably heard something about cyberbullying.  As more and more ways to communicate virtually become available, and as the internet becomes more and more accessible, cyberbullying has become a huge problem.  It is difficult at times to walk the line between giving kids privacy and access to information and keeping them safe.  I think the library can play a role in spreading awareness of cyberbullying, as well as providing tips for its prevention.

The library, where students go to learn how to analyze information and be respectful, responsible digital citizens, is the perfect place to host an anti-bullying community event.  I think an event like this would be a great way for students to practice some of their information and digital literacy skills, be creative, and learn about how to be respectful, responsible, and ethical on the internet.

In my library, this event would take the form of an arts showcase, giving the students the opportunity to take ownership and teach others about this subject.  The PACER Center’s information sheet on putting on an anti-bullying event suggests having a poster contest as one of the activities.  I would like to take this a step further, and allow the students to decide what they would like to create and present.  The librarian could do brief mini-lessons on creating short videos, making infographics, etc., and students could then choose to create a PSA on cyberbullying, an infographic on respectful online behavior, or something less tech-heavy, like a poem or song.

Then, at the event, following a brief welcome and presentation by the librarian or administrator including a few important tips for parents, the students would be the stars of the show, having the opportunity to screen their videos, perform their poems, or showcase their artwork.  This doesn’t have to be a contest, but rather a way for students to show off their great work while also educating the community about cyberbullying.  There could also be snacks and drinks, like a real gallery showing, to make the students feel like they are a part of something special.

Cyberbullying is a growing problem, and the only way to solve it is to make sure everyone in the community is aware of what it is and how to be respectful online.  The library is a great place to raise awareness of this problem, give students a voice, and even practice information literacy skills.

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Online Filtering: Help or Hindrance?

Filtering-URLOne of the ways schools attempt to protect students from the big, scary internet is through online filtering.  Proponents of filtering will say that this prevents students from accessing inappropriate sites and protects their privacy by keeping them from revealing too much identifying information on the internet.  But is this the whole story?

Not exactly.  Filters do block a lot of inappropriate sites, but, truthfully, they block a lot of beneficial ones, too.  In addition to legitimate educational websites, many social networking sites are blocked.  While revealing too much personal information and the possibility of cyberbullying are legitimate concerns when it comes to social networking, it is also true that tools like blogs, Twitter, and Pinterest can have many interesting uses in classroom instruction and activities.

internet-safety-thumbAdditionally, those who see online filtering as less than ideal (including myself) may argue that by preventing access to so many websites, we are not actually teaching students all that they need to know about evaluating information and online safety.  Allowing students to access the “bad” sites gives teachers and librarians an opportunity to teach them how to determine if the information they find is accurate, or unbiased, or completely false, or created by a hate group.  Similarly, allowing students to utilize social media provides an opportunity to explore internet etiquette, respect, and ethical use.  If everything is blocked and teachers and librarians are unable to give students the chance to practice these skills, then odds are they’ll leave school without the appropriate tools to analyze and evaluate information, or the proper attitude about how to interact with others on the internet.

When schools use filtering, they don’t just prevent teachers and librarians from instructing students on information literacy, they also jeopardize intellectual freedom.  Basically, people have the right to access whatever information they want, from any viewpoint, without restriction by others.  Online filtering, while ostensibly for students’ safety, takes that right away from students.  It is better to teach students how to find a wide variety of information in a smart, safe manner than to take away their right to obtain that information.

nsscomic2Most likely, online filtering isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.  However, school districts can begin to utilize filtering more effectively, so that students are not only safe, but also have the opportunity to learn and practice important skills for information literacy and online safety.

Libraries are for reading…aren’t they?

Picture found here

I don’t hate the READ posters.  In fact, I actually kind of love them.  I think there is a definite need to emphasize the awesomeness of reading.  But I’ll get to that in a minute.  What I don’t necessarily like is that when these posters are placed in libraries, the implication is that libraries exist to promote literacy in a very narrow, traditional sense, when in fact, literacy today is so much more than the ability to read and write.

Before I came to Syracuse, I taught 4th grade.  The demographic makeup of the area in which I taught meant that the majority of students at my school were low-income, second language learners.  Most of my students spoke a language other than English outside of school, had parents who did not read English, and often entered the school with no experience in English, formal or informal.

I’m not trying to discount in any way the value of their native languages.  But reading was a definitely a struggle for the majority of students I taught.  Most of them came to me, at the beginning of fourth grade, about 2 grade levels behind where they should have been in reading.  This presented a number of obstacles.  Fourth grade textbooks (not to mention fourth grade standardized tests) are written for students who are at a fourth grade reading level (the same is true, obviously, for third grade textbooks, and so on).  In addition to this, textbooks feature a lot of really specific vocabulary that makes them even harder to read.

This was our social studies textbook. I was the teacher, and I didn’t want to read it either.

These students, therefore, came to me with some pretty negative experiences with reading.  They couldn’t read the textbooks to understand the content, they were forced to read things that didn’t interest them, and as a result of these things, they thought reading was hard and boring.  Why on earth would they want to keep at it, when they could just play a video game or watch tv?  (I mean, not in school, obviously…but you get my point.)

I worked really, really hard to create an environment that celebrated reading of all kinds, and to help each kid find books that were appropriate for his or her level and that were on interesting topics for that particular kid.  I spent a lot of time and money on my classroom library, filling it with books from all genres, all levels, fiction and non-fiction, comic books, magazines, WHATEVER I thought my students would read.  And here is where the read posters come into the picture: 4th graders are heavily influenced by popular culture.  I was doing everything I could to get my students to read, and if I thought that a poster featuring a celebrity reading might help me, then that poster was absolutely going up on my classroom wall.

The thing is, though, that I didn’t want my kids to learn to read simply because I believe in the joys of reading for pleasure (I mean, I do.  But that’s another topic entirely.)  I wanted them to be readers because reading is a skill that is vitally important to the acquisition of information, and I knew that if I didn’t help them to become proficient readers, they would be cut off from so many things.  They would struggle with doing research for school, finding jobs, reading books AND finding information online, to name just a few things.

This was one of the main reasons I wanted to pursue a career as a librarian.  I’ve always known, on a theoretical level, that literacy is important, but as a teacher, I saw firsthand that students are not getting the literacy instruction they need, and that we can no longer define literacy in the traditional sense of reading and writing.  I want to help improve the literacy of students, and by this, I don’t just mean teaching them to read.  I mean showing them that knowing how to read can open up so many other avenues of information for them, from the joys of Wikipedia to using databases for scholarly research.  I also mean helping them to learn about credible sources, collaboration, crediting others for their work, and the risks that inevitably come with such expanded access to information.  Students need instruction in information literacy as much as they do traditional literacy.

So I don’t hate the READ posters; I think they can serve a purpose.  But I would agree

Our own version of a READ poster (personal photo)

that in a library, which is so much more than a place for reading, a different campaign would be appropriate.  Professor Lankes suggested ASK.  I don’t think it needs to be limited to one particular word.  I would offer INVESTIGATE, or CREATE, or COMMUNICATE, or even IMAGINE.  The point is that libraries can and should promote literacy, but literacy these days is so much more than just reading.