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Vagabond Librarian

Reports from the intersection of military life, motherhood, & librarianship.

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Book Review: Praying for Sheetrock

Melissa Fay Greene’s Praying for Sheetrock is a well-researched, detail-oriented, unhurried read about a tumultuous time in the history of McIntosh County, Georgia. Greene explores difficult subjects with objectivity and understanding, and she tells a good story.

Greene’s approach to this narrative work of non-fiction is rich with personal details that reveal the good and the flaws in all of the characters who populate the story. Greene elegantly ties each of these personal stories into the larger historical epoch. The struggle for civil rights was slow to arrive to McIntosh County, a community Greene describes as living in a state of “civilized repression” and “good manners” until an event of shocking violence “violated the unspoken social contract that allowed the whites and the outcast blacks to live in peace” (p. 122-3). While some readers may find Greene’s style and language cumbersome and overly detailed, I found that the meticulous language she used not only enriched my understanding of the events in the work, but also evoked the overall pace of coastal Georgia, where I currently reside. I found that Greene’s deep dive into intimate detail helped me understand better what was at stake for the inhabitants of McIntosh County as they attempted to reconcile their personal experience (with their history, their community, and their law makers) with the awakening of the local black community to their civil rights and to their own power.

Though Greene’s story contributes to our national narrative of our ongoing American civil rights struggles, Praying for Sheetrock is ultimately a story of people. Noble and flawed people, who are sometimes horrible and sometimes heroic, and often both. In the hands of another author, this cast of unbelievable characters–including a Robin Hood style white sheriff, flawed black community organizer, and a group of eager Yankee lawyers–could have become a farce. Thankfully, Greene presents this real life cast with a thought provoking honesty that serves this story, and the reader, well.

Further Reading & Exploration

Melissa Fay Greene’s Website 

Greene’s Website includes more information about her published work, her media appearances, and her upcoming events.

Georgia Writers Hall of Fame interviews: Melissa Fay Greene

Georgia Writers Hall of Fame honoree: Melissa Fay Greene

The Georgia Writers Hall of Fame, under the leadership of the University of Georgia Librarian, honors Georgia’s writers, literature, and cultural history. The Georgia Writer’s Hall of Fame honoree page for Greene honors her for both her extensive research and her “personal approach” to the subjects of her work.

The New York Times Review of Praying for Sheet Rock

The 1991 New York Times “Book of The Times” review of Praying for Sheet Rock, written at the time the book was published, is a concise and well-written summary of Greene’s work.

Through the Lens of Photographer Walker Evans from Georgia Public Broadcasting

In Praying for Sheetrock, Greene refers to Walker Evans’ photographs of rural poverty to provide context to the poverty and living conditions of McIntosh County, Georgia in the 1970s. The above link leads to a Georgia Public Broadcasting page that includes a brief slideshow of highlights of Evans’ work; an audio interview with Alex Harris, who was a student of Evans; and, a video that combines Evans’ photography and his own reflections on his experiences as a photographer.

Featured Image

The Featured Image for this post is from the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Online Collection, a collection of photographs, prints, and other still media that documents the lives of Americans and our collective history.

Title: A Greyhound bus trip from Louisville, Kentucky, to Memphis, Tennessee, and the terminals. Sign at bus station. Rome, Georgia

    • Creator(s): Bubley, Esther, photographer
    • Date Created/Published: 1943 Sept.
    • Medium: 1 negative : nitrate ; 2 1/4 x 2 1/4 inches or smaller.
    • Reproduction Number: LC-DIG-fsa-8d33365 (digital file from original neg.) LC-USW3-037939-E (b&w film nitrate neg.) LC-USZ62-75338 (b&w film copy neg. from file print)
    • Rights Advisory: No known restrictions. For information, see U.S. Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black & White Photographs(http://www.loc.gov/rr/print/res/071_fsab.html)
    • Call Number: LC-USW3- 037939-E [P&P]
    • Other Number: E 5153
    • Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/pp.print

Informed Voters

Photo credit: The featured image on this post is Vote by Theresa Thompson, made available via a Creative Commons 2.0 license by personalincom.org/vote

I became a librarian because I am passionate about empowering people by connecting them with information they can use to positive effect in their lives and communities. With the election fast approaching, we all continue to seek out information that we can rely on as accurate–for ourselves, and to use with our children and students. I hope the information in this post will help you feel empowered when you go to the polls next month.

Please vote.

 

Our System: The Electoral College

Having trouble explaining the electoral college process? The National Archives and Records Administration U.S. Electoral College webpage can help! This collection of current election information, historical resources, and Frequently Asked Questions is a great place to begin when explaining our electoral process to students or foreign friends.

 

The Candidates: Their Positions and Policies

Get it straight from the candidates’ websites. Click the name of each candidate below to visit the page of their official website on which their policies and positions are articulated. The candidates have been listed here in alphabetical order.

Hillary Clinton

Gary Johnson

Jill Stein

Donald Trump

 

Educational Resources 

Newsela: Students Vote 2016

Newsela is a website that many educators at my high school rely on for current event articles that can be adapted (scaled) to different Lexile reading comprehension levels. In addition to providing high-interest articles for readers of all levels, Newsela is currently featuring Students Vote 2016, in which Newsela presents a collection of articles, profiles, biographies, speeches, maps, and other resources for students to explore citizenship, voting, and the election.

PBS LearningMedia Resources: Election Central

PBS LearningMedia’s Election Central provides a treasure trove of multimedia resources to engage voters and future voters of all ages. You will find information about the election process, debates, electoral college, candidates, as well as films, lesson plans, and tool kits to engage students in actively learning about the electoral process.

TED-Ed Video and Lesson: The Electoral College

In the following video from TED-Ed, Christina Greer explains the Electoral College, and how votes are counted on the state and national level. You can find the learning material associate with this video on TED-Ed here: Does your vote count? The Electoral College explained.

National Education Association Lessons and Resources: Elections

Retired middle school teacher Phil Nast has curated a rich collection of resources and lesson plans that are available via The National Education Association’s Elections webpage.  The page includes lessons for student from Pre-K through 12th grade, and are curated from sites such as Scholastic, PBS, National Endowment for the Humanities, and other organizations with a history of providing reliable information in formats that provide a platform for students to engage their inquiry and critical thinking skills.

 

For Fun and Further Exploration: The Political Quiz

Having trouble defining your stance on some issues? Looking for a way to spark a conversation based on thoughtful consideration of the issues with your students? One of the following political quizzes may help get you started.

Pew Research Center: Political Typology Quiz

I like the Pew Research quiz for two big reasons: the questions are thought provoking, and there is a group version of the quiz that could be used to engage a class or other group interested in engaging in meaningful inquiry of political typology.

iSideWith.com: Political Quiz

I like the iSideWith quiz because it provides granularity in the available response choices to each question, and allows the person taking the quiz to weight the importance of each issue to them as a voter.

Encourage Making Over Using

The following is an actual question, posed by an actual school librarian:
 
You can’t use citation generators–why?? That is awful–we need to prepare kids for the real world. In the real world we use the generators.
The original post that inspired this “question from an actual school librarian” was by a school media specialist asking colleagues to share a few of their best online resources to provide students learning citation skills, to which she added the note that the students would not be using citation generators. Presumably, the librarian was looking for awesome sites like Purdue Online Writing Lab, which was by far the most popular answer to the query.
 
Similar “why do we have to learn this when they have an app for that” questions from students, I understand. From a school media specialist, though, the question makes me wonder what this person is doing in education. In the real world we do use tools like citation generators, calculators, and GPS navigation devices. We can and should make use of these tools. It is vital, though, (yes, vital) that we also make an effort to cultivate an understanding of the inputs and rules upon which these tools work. Things like citation generators and calculators should be a convenience, not a necessity–and they will be a necessity if we fail to facilitate learning and instead teach to the tool, app, or gadget.
 
“Why???”
I’ll be happy to explain why.
 
It is important that we practice putting together the components of a citation so that we understand what citations are made of and how they “work” to provide reference as well as acknowledgement. It is also kind of cool to look at the way different fields assemble their citations, depending on what is most important to them. Similarly, it is important to understand the fundamentals of mathematics so that we understand what to put into our calculator, and which function to apply in which order and in what situation. I love my home improvement projects and am glad that I know how to figure out on my own how much tile, crown moulding, or driveway sealant I need for a project. And, it is important to have at least a rudimentary understanding of map reading and direction so that when your GPS stops working after the zombie apocalypse…well, maybe not such a great example, but I can tell you I’m ready to evade those zombies.

It is through practice that we learn. Having students practice assembling citations without the help of a generator facilitates greater understanding of the components of a citation. Tools only work if we know what to put into them–and often, what to put into the correct field. Generators make mistakes. How will you know if your generator is spitting out the correct citation if you don’t know what components you are looking for, what order they belong in, or where to look for the standards? Please, please do not sell your students short by only teaching them how to use the tool that will accomplish the task. Teach them the reason for the task, teach them how to find the information they need to complete the task, teach them to be curious about how to improve the task. Encourage your students to be makers, not users. 

Failure is Always an Option

Hoping for Wonderfully Messy Failure
Hoping for Wonderfully Messy Failure

At our house, we love the Mythbusters. As soon as we saw the “Larry’s Lawn Chair Balloon” episode we were hooked. We love the Mythbuster’s enthusiasm for investigation, their willingness to look at things from different perspectives, and we especially love their willingness to fail, and fail, and fail again to prove or disprove a theory. We learn so much from our lovable Mythbuster Adam when he reminds us regularly that “Failure is ALWAYS an option.” We learn a lot from the other Mythbusters, too, but Adam always has such wonderfully spectacular failures that we are particularly fond of him.

There are a few maxims we live by at our house:

Leave things better than you found them. 

You won’t know if you don’t try. 

And, thanks to Mythbusters, Failure is always an option. 

The last was an important addition because failure is an important step in learning, and we are life-long learners. Teacher librarians would be smart to embrace failure as an option for our students. I’m not suggesting we embrace failing grades, or let students flounder. I am asking that we recognize that failed attempts are learning opportunities. I am asking that we allow time and space in our instruction for re-dos and improvements and even intentional failures. I am asking that we stop giving students one chance to do well, then quickly moving on to the next topic, thus reinforcing the notion that if you can’t get things right the first time around, you might as well forget about doing well at all.

How would I do this in a library learning environment? I’m so glad you asked! I would combat fear of failure by including students in setting goals for assignments, placing emphasis on certain assignment elements, making failure a goal for some assignments, and encouraging students to seek out Failure Role Models.

1. Include students in setting goals for assignments to give them a greater sense of ownership in learning and boost their confidence so that they can reach those goals. Use a tool like the KWL (Know-Want to Know-Learned) Chart to help students define what they want to know and create goals from there.

2. Encourage students to focus on one or two elements of a project at one time to increase student confidence in the project’s success. This would be appropriate for a project that has already been divided into chunks but may still seem daunting to some students. Let’s say they are working on a graphic organizer to record research for an essay. Encourage students to focus on finding facts from reliable resources and remind them that for fact gathering we aren’t worried about having perfect writing or spelling, just in recording the facts correctly. Removing the pressure of feeling like their writing in the organizer has to be “perfect” may help relieve that fear of failure enough to make students more receptive to the lesson.

3. Create an assignment in which failure is the goal. My son’s after-school STEM class is working on this kind of assignment right now. The students have been tasked to create a bridge that fails. By the time the class has accomplished this task and shared their observations with each other, they will have investigated multiple reasons a bridge could fail. Then, they will attempt building bridges that don’t fail.

4. Provide students with examples of people whose successes were built on failed attempts-whether scientists, authors, musicians, artists, etc.. Show students through these examples that most people aren’t successful without trying, failing, and trying again. Encourage students to look up articles and to find books about people they admire and find out how long it took them to attain success in or mastery of their field. They could do this as part of a lesson about using resources in the library and share what they learned with the class.

Will my suggestions work? Will they fail? Although these suggestions are grounded in solid theory and based on success I’ve experienced or seen elsewhere, I will have to try them to find out. One thing is certain–I won’t know if I don’t try.

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