Never assume…

Me:  What can I help you find today, Jimmy?

Jimmy:  I dunno.

Me:  Well, what do you like to read about?

Jimmy:  I dunno.

Me:  Would you like a made up story, or do you want a book that will help you learn something?

Jimmy:  I dunno.

Me:  Well, let’s see.  I think last week you got a book about sharks.  Would you like to learn about another kind of animal?

Jimmy:  I guess.

Me:  Okay, how about…snakes?  (Jimmy shrugs.)  Tigers?  (More shrugs)  Alligators?  (On and on, until the next little one is tugging at my sleeve…

Sound familiar?

This fall my first and second graders taught me a thing or two about assumptions, and am I glad they did! Let me explain.

In the fall of 2009 the libraries in my district upgraded to Follett Destiny. With just two days of training before the opening of school, I scrambled to learn the nuances of the new system, get acquainted with new reports and terminology, etc. I cut myself some slack as far as giving myself time to get up to speed and then share this great new tool with my oldest students, who are third graders. Typically I taught a unit of study on using the automated catalog in late fall. Last year I waited a bit longer. (I was also getting used to using a SMART board at the same time.) Finally, shortly before Christmas I felt “ready” to teach the unit and introduce kids to Destiny. Success! The SMART board made the job simpler and allowed for students to practice even within whole group
instruction. We used the basic default interface. I knew the visual interface was an option for younger children, but I dared not go there.  After all, I was still getting used to the new software, and I assumed that the reasons for waiting until third grade to teach the use of the catalog were still valid.  I assumed that our younger learners weren’t ready.

At one of my meetings this fall with my colleague in another building she mentioned that she had begun introducing the first graders to Visual Destiny.  When she explained how excited they were I decided to give it a try as well.  As it turns out, this interface has provided a handy way to differentiate teaching the use of the catalog.

First graders are perfectly capable of using the picture cues to make some selections and narrow their choices.  They understand the concept of following the “bread crumb trail”  thanks to Hansel and Gretel! They are able to find the call numbers (which we’ve called “codes” so far to make it more fun) and then jot them down on a piece of scrap paper so that an adult can help them locate the book.  (So far the biggest challenge has been to get them to train their eyes to look at the right hand side of the screen to see if the book is available before they make a request of an adult.)  Second graders are learning more of the traditional vocabulary and learning to access more information from multiple screens in a way that I never even considered doing before.

The benefits have been surprising and I couldn’t be more pleased!  Students are more actively engaged during book selection time, and they feel empowered because they are helping themselves as opposed to having to ask an adult for everything.  There is very little idle “wandering” going on and I’ve had very few conversations like the one above.   Sometimes you have to let go of your old assumptions and put a little more faith in your students.  I’m just “kicking” myself for waiting a whole year before giving this a go!  Shame on me!