Social Studies Framework and Libraries – A Match Made in Heaven

If you are an educator in New York State, unless you’ve been living under a curricular rock, you’ve likely heard of the new(ish) Social Studies Framework that has been adopted by the New York State Department of Education by now. A marriage between C3 Teachers (College, Career, and Civic Life) framework and the ELA standards, this approach to Social Studies presents an elegant opportunity for librarians and teachers to collaborate. Right now, a team of teachers and individuals from the realm of higher education, led by S.G. Grant, are meeting and working and building and creating the (sort of) equivalent to the ELA modules–units of study billed as “inquiries”. Hey librarians, did your ears just perk up? That’s right: the new social studies units are being called INQUIRIES. Inquiries! Within these inquiries, the unit is guided by a “compelling question” as well as scaffolding “supporting questions”. From there, “featured resources” (things like primary source documents, images, political cartoons, etc) are gathered for students to lead their own learning, dive deeply into the text, and uncover history as historians do. Finally, students are asked to synthesize their learning with formative assessments for each supporting question, and a summative assessment to address the overarching compelling question.

If you’re like me, you’re giddy with possibility right now.

Let’s break that process down a little further, and make some connections with library language…

Compelling Question = Essential Questions (Edit 3/2/15: There are a few key distinctions – Grant Wiggins lays it out beautifully here, and I put together a quick graphic here: Essential Questions versus Compelling Questions)
Featured Resources = Text sets
Formative/summative assessments = Products of mini-research projects

Oh, and if you need some graphic organizers to help approach the texts, well, have I got a resource for you.

While I’m not on the official inquiry development team (although it is based here in Binghamton), here at Broome-Tioga BOCES, a little team of two–professional developer and social studies aficionado Pat Walsh and myself–have been feverishly working to develop a set of resources to help teachers. Our collaboration is a model for your potential collaboration–content area teachers and librarians working together to achieve something greater than the sum of our parts.

Inquiry Cycle Mashup

A bit busy for the eyes, but this flow chart demonstrates how the inquiry cycles from ELA (Odell), Social Studies (C3) and Library (Stripling) are essentially the same process.

What it really boils down to is the fact that many educators are speaking different dialects of the same language. What we need is a translator, someone to bring everyone to the same understanding that in the end, we’re really all working toward the same goal: curious, creative, critical thinkers/readers/writers that can gather and make sense of information, use said information to make a point/find an answer to a profound question, defend their position intelligently, and share their knowledge in an articulate way. That is a foundational skill across job types–and sorely missing from many current educational practices.

Man…looking back, if only my social studies classroom were like that.

I can’t say it strongly enough: librarians, this is your golden ticket. Find a social studies teacher and get. to. work. Even better: find a team of teachers and build an inquiry that spans the subjects –can you imagine the powerful student learning that could derive from seeing connections across ELA, Social Studies,art…science? music? physical education? with the library, inquiry, and research as the backbone. This is what has been driving my passion lately. I am so excited about this new framework I can barely contain it.

If you’re interested in what we’ve been putting together so far, click below. Please note: these are drafts and will be updated as we test, tweak, and improve. Feel free to use these, but please give credit and let me know if you do use it in the comments below. Even better–provide feedback on how your students did!

Was Progressive Reform Progress? Middle School Inquiry (Grade 8)
Has the Adoption of the UDHR Effected Positive Change Since its Inception? High School Inquiry (Grade 10)

NYLA-SSL 2014: Post-Conference Recap

One of my favorite things to do after a conference is to sit down and force myself to recap my big “takeaways” while the information is still fresh in my head. This serves three purposes: 1. Writing things down helps me to solidify them in my brain; 2. Revisits to the blog post often result in: “Oh, remember that great idea you had three months ago?” when I find myself back in the routine of things; and 3. It serves as a more accessible outline for the copious notes I’ve taken over the course of the conference. I also hope that there’s a fourth benefit: for those that couldn’t attend the conference, I hope this post helps disseminate some of the wealth of knowledge I’ve been privileged to bring back with me. The only drawback? It’s gonna be a long one, friends.

My biggest ah-ha moment at this conference was the realization that text sets, while not necessarily a new concept, are the next big wave of library integration into the Common Core. Many people were speaking different dialects of the same language at this conference, from Andrea Williams and Paige Jaeger presenting on using “mentor texts” to create connections between the library and the EngageNY modules, to Marc Aaronson speaking about creating text sets, to Sue Bartle describing the new “Common Core Lens” nonfiction evaluation tool that allows librarians to submit and search nonfiction texts by text feature/purpose. This was a special “ah-ha”, since I’ve been very interested lately in the use of non-traditional text types as information sources within a text set (see also: my post about defining text).

Text sets are an amazing opportunity for librarians to move beyond the cart of resources into purposefully planned, tightly aligned sets that meet specific curricular goals. The process of building a text set highlights the instructional prowess of librarians: pretty much anyone can gather an exhaustive, unvetted bunch of books about birds or explorers or what have you, but a LIBRARIAN can find interdisciplinary texts that scaffold up, build knowledge and lead students down a path of self-directed discovery, feature specific text features that align to the skills of both the CCLS and the Empire State IFC, include opportunities for differentiation, and if you integrate multimedia, even touch on media literacy skills. Whew! Plus…this process screams for collaboration. Really, truly, absolutely — you get all of these benefits from text sets. That’s not to say that this won’t take a whole mess of time…but if you can do it, and do it well…well, wow!

Note: I’ve been trying my hand at this. Yes, it’s time consuming…but it’s also massively fun. Promise.

The other biggie from this conference  really only needs two words: Richard. Byrne.

If that’s not ringing any bells because you don’t stalk his blog the way I do, perhaps this will help: FreeTech4Teachers.

Basically, if you were ever wondering about any educational technology tool that’s free to use and will positively impact your instruction, chances are Richard has written about it. I spent all of Saturday attending the sessions by Richard, furiously writing notes and tweeting colleagues and searching the tools he recommended.

This one blew me away: Infuse Learning is a device-agnostic program that allows teachers and students to collaborate on a common platform. During Richard’s presentation, he demonstrated posing the question, “What did you have for breakfast today?” Using any and all of the devices in the room, participants were able to join a common “room” through Infuse Learning, and answer the question by drawing a picture. There are a number of question types:

Screen Capture from http://teacher.infuselearning.com/

Question Types

Teachers can create class rosters to further customize their students’ interactions.

Perhaps the most exciting feature is the ability to auto-translate teacher questions in a number of foreign languages for students. For example, the question could display  in English, but students could hear audio of the question in a different language. What an amazing feature for ELL students!

Screen Capture from http://teacher.infuselearning.com/

Customizing Student Profiles

Check out this Storify for some other tools worth exploring:

I hope this recap inspires you to explore further and integrate something new into your toolbox–I know I will be!

Why I Am a School Librarian

Today I read the Nassau All County opening speech delivered by the president of the Nassau Music Educators Association, Nichole Greene. In her speech, she wrote:

“The following passage best explains why I am a music educator.  It is entitled “This is why I teach music”, author unknown.

This is why I teach music:
Not because I expect you to major in music,
Not because I expect you to play or sing all your life,
Not so you can relax,
Not so you can have fun,

But so you will be human,
So you will recognize beauty,
So you will be closer to an infinite beyond this world,
So you will have something to cling to,
So you will have more love, more compassion, more gentleness, more good
In short, more life’”

So heartfelt and just lovely. This spoke to my soul, to the heart of why those of us who are passionate about our livelihoods do what we do. In the face of negativity and incessant questioning of the relevance of our profession, this statement made me start to wonder…Why am I a school librarian?

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Photo via Flickr CC user Jonas Tana

Here goes:

This is why I am a school librarian:
Not to be the keeper of the books,
Not to shush children and delight in stillness,
Not to sit among dusty shelves,
Not to make you love the Dewey Decimal System,
Not because I expect you to revel in credible sources,
Not so you turn off  the TV or YouTube and just read something (although you should).

But so you will be human,
So you will be a critical thinker, reader, and writer,
So you can dive into the consciousness of a thousand souls, spanning the globe from across the ages, and come up gasping: More.
So you can know the thrill of a life-changing story,
So you can say, There are others like me or I never thought of it that way
So you can lift yourself up and out and into any life you choose,
So you can ponder. So you can wonder. So you can discover.
So you can inspire, solve, defend, attribute, evaluate, create, connect, contribute…
To dispel ignorance,
To ignite curiosity,
In short, so you can thrive. 

Why are you a school librarian?

Photo Credit: Jonas Tana via Photopin CC

Apps to Support Inquiry: Connect and Wonder

Lately, I’ve had two things on the brain, competing for space. The first: a deep dive into the Inquiry Cycle, particularly how the librarian-created Empire State Information Fluency Continuum jigsaws with the New York State-endorsed Researching to Deepen Understanding Units. The second: How to wade through the ocean of apps that seems to grow every day to find what I need when I need it, and know it’s the best option. Both concepts are so large, so time consuming, and so important, that I felt they deserved a post. The best way I know how to make sense of large topics is to break them into chunks–divide and conquer, if you will. To that end, I decided to take each step of the inquiry cycle (using a combination of the ESIFC and EngageNY/Odell Education models), and define apps that I believe would meet the objectives of each stage. I used this handy graphic organizer as my guide, which combines the two models into a single cycle.

Image

Although they use different terms, and some would argue that the EngageNY/Odell model is a pale reflection of the more robust ESIFC Cycle, I submit that the intent is the same. Politics and advocacy aside, in the end, it’s about research, and making sure our kiddos know how to do it–and do it well–while fulfilling the charge to infuse technology in a purposeful and seamless way.

I wanted to further break down this examination by grade level: what works for elementary students to curate and create information is unequivocally NOT the same as what works for high school. The easiest piece of the inquiry cycle to populate with apps, at least in my opinion, is the “construct” phase (ESIFC), or “deepening understanding” (EngageNY). So naturally, I didn’t allow myself to start there. Instead, I started with “Construct/Wonder”, or “Initiating Inquiry”. While wading through apps, I asked myself: How can our students find meaningful research topics? What would spark and ignite inquiry?
Here’s a small selection of apps that fit the bill.

Wonderopolis: Wonderopolis presents a “Wonder of the Day”. Previous days are archived and available. The format: an intriguing question is posed, followed by a short explanatory text, vocabulary words, related media, and sources for students that are “Still Wondering”. This could be a great jumping off point for exploring new topics.
Audience: Elementary, Middle School
Cost: Free

VoiceThread:  While this app is multipurpose and can be used for students to demonstrate knowledge, I also think it could be effectively used to generate conversation around a common topic. A teacher could post an image like the one below from Historical Stock Photos, then invite students to brainstorm questions, share background knowledge, and hypothesize/predict what they’ll find out about the topic. A great guide for how to get started with using VoiceThread in the classroom is available here.
Audience: Elementary, Middle School
Cost: Free

TED: Is there anything more interesting to watch than the ubiquitous TED Talks? Maybe that’s the librarian in me, hungry for new and interesting content, but I’m wild for these videos. On the app, you can sort by “Recent” or “Popular”, filter by subject, or search. My favorite inquiry-inspiring tool? The “Inspire Me” button (which acts like Google’ “I’m Feeling Lucky”) that delivers a serendipitous, randomly selected video for you to watch, defined by the emotion you want delivered and your preferred length of time. Longer time = more choices. Perfect for those students that chronically say, “I don’t know what I want to research”.
Audience: High School 
Cost:
 Free

Reading Rainbow: Users can explore different “islands”, from National Geographic Kids, “Awesome People”, “Genius Academy”, “Action Adventures and Magic Tales”,  “Animal Kingdom”, “My Friends, My Family”, and “Happy Birthday, Reading Rainbow”. Each island has books and videos. Not all books are non-fiction. Theoretically, you could pre-select 5 free books, and students could peruse these titles to find a subject that interests them. Subscribers can have up to 5 children per account (on iTunes); the website indicates that pricing for schools and libraries are being worked on for 2014.
Audience: Elementary
Cost: 5 free books per “family”; $9.99/month or $29.99 for 6 months for unlimited access.

Access My Library (Gale): If you are in New York–you have access to a number of Gale databases for FREE through the NOVEL NY program. Outside of NY, you would need to purchase Gale databases for this app to work effectively. With access, this app is incredible! While use of databases is often relegated to the “Investigate” or “Gathering Information” phase of inquiry, this app has some great tools for discovering paths of inquiry. On the Home Page of many of the databases, you can find links to popular articles and searches. On the Opposing Viewpoints database, there are featured videos and news, as well as a set of topics by subject area that are a perfect starting point for defining a topic of interest.
Audience: Middle School, High School (Elementary could use Kids Infobits in a similar way by diving into the visual Subject areas, but this may be too unstructured depending on your individual class)
Cost: Free

BrainPOP/BrainPOP Jr: As an elementary librarian, I love love LOVED using BrainPOP with my students. Something about that robot Moby just grabs kids’ interest like nothing else, and the way the BrainPOP videos can explain complicated content in a simple, accessible way is nothing short of elegant.
Audience: Elementary, Middle School…could be used with High School depending on your audience
Cost: Subscribers to the BrainPop service have access to all content, but both BrainPOP and BrainPOP Jr. feature a free movie of the week. Lucky for those of you in the Broome-Tioga School Library System: if you subscribe to the Media Library, you already have a subscription to BrainPOP/BrainPOP Jr., and BrainPOP ESL.

iTunes U: Holy wow, I can’t believe I’ve missed this resource for so long. Organized like the app store, students and teachers can filter by category/subject area, level, and language. There are “top charts” of courses and collections, as well as standout/new and notable courses. My favorite? The Primary Sources Collection. Gorgeous!
Audience: This one feels pretty-High School leaning. There’s absolutely Elementary and Middle School-appropriate content, but it requires pre-selection/scaffolding as the search tools and sheer volume of content could be overwhelming for younger students.
Cost: Free

I would also suggest looking into newsfeed apps, such as Flipboard, Feedly, NPR for iPad, or BBC News as an exploration tool for students–there’s several good options, so students can benefit from choosing the interface that works best for them. Subject-specific apps, like those selected for AASL’s Best Apps for Teaching and Learning 2013, might also serve well for research inspiration.

While my starting point for this post was the Apple App Store, most of these apps have an accompanying website, and are often available cross-platform. Disclaimer: This is not exhaustive–that’s a job for crowdsourcing (hint, hint). Have you used apps with your students to jump-start inquiry? I’d love to hear your suggestions and add to these recommendations!

Next Up: Apps to Support Inquiry: Investigate

A text in any other format is just as informative…

So, that allusion sounded a heck of a lot better in my head. Think roses and smelling as sweet and so forth. Ah, see…there it is. Now it makes sense. Carry on.

Recently, the concept of “what defines a text” has been cropping up on my radar with increasing frequency. A sampling:

  • A presenter in a media literacy workshop claims that videos and images can be text.
  • An assistant superintendent asserts that students must know how to “close read”, or deeply engage with the written word, in order to 1. meet the Common Core standards and 2. perform well on state assessments.
  • A teacher shares that he was told in an English Language Arts Common Core workshop that video and images can be “text.”
  • A local museum struggles to find relevance in the Common Core frenzy, and questions whether their exhibits (largely non-print) can align to the standards across content areas.
    Is this close reading?
    Photo credit: Nic McPhee 2006, Flickr CC

So…what is a text, anyway?

Before we proceed, full disclaimer: I have not attended the  “Network Team Institute” sessions at our state capitol to learn at the feet of the New York State Common Core architects. My background is firmly grounded in library science and an undergraduate in English Literature long before the Common Core rolled around. However, given my understanding of the Common Core, and citing evidence straight from the standards, I think a compelling argument can be made for the inclusion of non-print resources in the arena of text. (Now that is a Common Core compliant statement, my friends. See: citing evidence, argument)

OK, now that we’re on the same page (ha! See what I did there?), let’s start with the bare bones. My buddies Merriam and Webster have a pretty narrow initial definition of “text”, with an emphasis on words. However, the extended definition, specifically 3b–grants the leeway we’re looking for: “a source of information or authority”. Thanks to 3b, you can easily allow for non-traditional text types in the formal definition of “text”.

That’s all well and good, but instructionally-speaking, when is a non-print text considered a text? I think the answer lies in the task. At the heart of the definition is the purpose of the printed (or recorded, or painted, or played) material: a text is used for the purpose of information. SO, if a painting is used to analyze and find evidence to support/refute information about historical context, then why CAN’T it be a text? If a movie is used to identify imagery or as a comparison to the written version of a story, OF COURSE it’s a text. If a speech is read or listened to, isn’t the information still present? Couldn’t the spoken word convey MORE information than the printed transcript? Couldn’t non-print texts be more CONTEXTUAL than print in some cases?

I humbly submit a resounding yes. Incidentally, so do the standards. The whole shebang can be found here…but it’s a big document, and we’re all busy. So, I pulled out my favorites, just for you!

For the purpose of brevity, I’m only including the anchor standards for English Language Arts (ELA) below, which translate across grade levels. You can find grade-level specific descriptions by clicking on the standards, finding the strand (i.e. Reading, Writing, Speaking and Listening) and the number of the anchor standard under the grade level column.

Onward, to the standards! (Please read with a battle cry in your head. Wasn’t that fun?)

ANCHOR STANDARDS FOR READING:

7. Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.

11. Respond to literature by employing knowledge of literary language, textual features, and forms to read and comprehend, reflect upon, and interpret literary texts from a variety of genres and a wide spectrum of American and world cultures
(I’m making the case that genre encompasses format here, as evidenced by the inclusion of “media” and “other texts” in the grade-specific standards).

ANCHOR STANDARDS FOR SPEAKING AND LISTENING:

2. Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally

ANCHOR STANDARDS FOR WRITING:

8: Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, assess the credibility and accuracy of each source, and integrate the information while avoiding plagiarism.

Bruegel - Landscape with the Fall of Icarus Source: Wikimedia CommonsThe beautiful thing about these anchor standards is that they require no leap of faith or additional justification for using non-print texts. That said, one could additionally make the argument that you can identify theme, compare and contrast, determine point-of-view, draw on specific details, analyze structure, make and defend a claim, interpret cultural influences and so on with all kinds of media (and I would agree).  In this case, I would suggest looking to Anchor Standard for Reading 9: Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take.  Here’s a grade-specific example:

Grades 9-10, Reading Standard for Informational Text 9: Analyze seminal U.S. documents of historical and literary significance (e.g., Washington’s Farewell Address, the Gettysburg Address, Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms speech, King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail”), including how they address related themes and concepts. Here, I think an analysis of the American Flag and its changes, including variants like the Gadsden and Confederate flag—would meet this standard. How about John Gast’s painting, American Progress? Or, listening to a recording of Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms speech? What about the images on a dollar bill? How about some of the paintings off of this list compared to a piece of historical/informational writing? FYI—not all are school appropriate: http://www.michaeloart.com/americas-top-40-paintings-of-all-time)

A final caveat: I am not suggesting that media should totally replace print, and I’m sympathetic to the fact that strict adoption of the EngageNY modules may not allow for this kind of deviation in format. That said, the point of  instruction is to meet learning objectives that are guided by the standards–and I believe these objectives, in many cases, live outside of format. In our multimedia world, visual literacy, audio literacy, TRANSliteracy is essential–and there’s a place for it in the Common Core.

Postscript: I am certainly not the first person to argue for the inclusion of non-print text in Common Core ELA tasks. This excellent article from ASCD’s Educational Leadership by William Kist, “New Literacies and the Common Core” does an excellent job of suggesting concrete ways to integrate “new media” into Common Core lessons. It also has an awesome chart of “prompts for close reading of non-print text.”
Post-postscript: The idea of “close reading” media as text dovetails perfectly with the concept of media literacy. Actually, it doesn’t just dovetail…”close reading” media IS media literacy. There are a few organizations, like the National Association for Media Literacy Education and Project Look Sharp that are doing wonderful things with teaching media literacy…but that’s a whole other post.

Sources:
Text [Def. 3b]. (n.d.). In Merriam Webster Online, Retrieved December 9, 2013, from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/text.

AASL 2013

About a week ago, I spent a whirlwind 3 days at the AASL conference. Back home, I’m contemplating how to translate all I learned, observed, and soaked up in Hartford into practice. First and foremost, I was blown away by the incredible community of librarians. Time and again, I was struck by their generosity with information; their willingness to share experiences, tools, tips, and lunch tables; and the passion for equality of access, freedom of information, and innate curiosity/thirst for knowledge that drives our profession. If nothing else, my time in Hartford affirmed that I am proud to be a librarian and that I have seriously found my people in this profession. Below, I’ve included a summary of my top sessions of each day, followed by a “key takeway” in bold (Hint: if you want to skip the story and cut to the chase, just read the bold text).

Thursday: Holy cannoli, Dr. Tony Wagner knocked my socks off! Dr. Wagner is the Innovation Education Fellow at the Technology & Entrepreneurship Center at Harvard (I like to know who people are and why I should take their opinions to heart) and he had some definite opinions on assessment, the role of creativity and innovation in schools, and “survival skills” for today’s students. In lieu of re-writing it all, here’s a Storify of some of the live tweeting during his keynote. The big takeaway: Creativity is essential to innovation, innovation is essential to growth/college and career readiness.  Critical thinking is about knowing HOW to find the answers to big, tough questions. How will we help students develop and hone these skills?

aasl

Photo credit: The Daring Librarian @GwynethJones

Friday: On Friday, the most notable session I attended was on the topic of changing school policy to allow personal devices and mobile technology. This was a mini, condensed version of a pre-conference workshop.  There was a panel of speakers, with varying device policies in their districts. One of the speakers, Michelle Luhtala, has won a number of national awards, including Innovator of the Year from the International Society of Technology Educators (ISTE); in her school, students are not only allowed but encouraged to use their cellphones and personal devices for educational purposes. Another speaker,  Brenda Boyer, taught in a district that has been one-to-one for over 10 years (now that’s forward thinking!) using MacBooks. Their perspectives on policy (keep it vague), restricting student use (tell students you trust them, and they generally honor that trust) and the amazing things that can be accomplished by allowing device freedom was incredible. The big takeaway: Students are using devices, period. Instead of fighting the current, we can tap this ubiquitous use for incredible instructional purposes. Device integration is a continuum, but no matter where you are, librarians play a key role in harnessing media to help students find answers and information.  Also of note was the Intellectual Freedom session I attended, with small group discussions on a number of intellectual freedom issues, such as eBook access and student privacy, challenged books, internet filtering, and selection policy. Each small group had about 10 minutes to discuss–I wish we had much, much longer. The big takeaway: Have a selection/challenge policy in place before you need it, and seriously consider working with your district to create a policy that includes challenged WEBSITES, apps, eBooks, and other rapidly shifting media in addition to your print collection policies. 

Saturday: On Saturday, I was most impressed by a panel discussion that I attended on “Project Connect”. This panel included the 2013 American Association of School Administrators (AASA) National Superintendent of the Year Dr. Mark Edwards, Dr. Karen Cator, former Director of the Office of Educational Technology at the U.S. Department of Education and current CEO of Digital Promise, Dr. Mark Ray, SLJ columnist and 2011 Washington State Teacher of the Year (and first librarian to win that honor in his state), and Dr. Steve Joel, the Superintendent of Schools in Lincoln, Nebraska. These administrators and policy-makers joined together with other educational leaders and representatives from Follett and Gale, two major library companies, to work on promoting the leadership capacity of school librarians. Project Connect is an on-going initiative, and is creating white papers, videos, and case studies to help school districts tap into the potential of using their librarians as instructional and technology leaders. It was energizing to hear these prominent educational leaders speak and to see how the field of librarianship is becoming more essential as digital content and devices become prevalent in schools. The big takeaway: Keep your eyes and ears open for resources from Project Connect. They get why librarians are leaders, and are spreading the word.  Debbie Abilock and Kristen Fontichiaro’s session on “Big Data” blew. my. mind. There are some pretty scary and pretty amazing things happening with data collection/mining, from hidden internet tracking to companies crowd-sourced data collection for the common good. The big takeaway: Download Ghostery right now, and be totally creeped out by who’s watching. Then, help classify some galaxies with the crowd-sourced data site Galaxy Zoo.

  aasl

While the conference theme was “rise to the challenge”, I think the real challenge is taking all the useful things I learned and putting them into practice. If nothing else, I was able to bring back some great ideas, expand my PLN, and return to my office tired, inspired, and raring to go.

The Power of Permission

Ah, copyright.

Is there any other single word that creates such confusion in the lives of educators? OK, maybe that’s dramatic, but copyright ain’t easy.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/pugno_muliebriter/1384247192

When faced with issues of copyright, questions abound: What is fair use? Am I OK to use this in class? What about online? Do I need to use 30% or 10% or 15% or 3.78645 pages or 13 words or the length of my finger? Am I going to get arrested? Who’s even checking these things, anyway? 

Friends, colleagues….I hear you. I’m feeling it, too. I certainly don’t know the exact answer. Copyright is delicate, and it’s based largely on opinion (in my opinion). Fair use is a judgment call, according to a set of qualifiers. Yes, there are rules, but the rules are vague. I mean, even the office of copyright hedges their bets:

The distinction between what is fair use and what is infringement in a particular case will not always be clear or easily defined. There is no specific number of words, lines, or notes that may safely be taken without permission.

U.S. Copyright Office: “Fair Use”, June 2012

That being said, there is one golden, magical workaround to the Maniac Magee-worthy ball of string that is Copyright Law.  Say it with me, now: Permission. Permission trumps everything. Even the slippery U.S. Copyright Office says so:

The safest course is to get permission from the copyright owner before using copyrighted material.

Sounds great doesn’t it?

Reality check: Permission isn’t always straightforward. What about major music producers or filmmakers? What about popular and well-known media where the copyright holder isn’t clear? What if I ask and no one answers? These are valid concerns without a simple answer. However, when it comes to something you find on the web, particularly from a blog or other social media site, permission is where it’s at.

So what inspired this blog post? I asked permission today…and I got it. In minutes. 

I’m putting together a presentation on promoting eBooks. I found a rockin’ blog post with perfect images for my presentation. I wanted to host the presentation on SlideShare, and that can be muddy waters for fair use–posted publicly online, intending to use all of the images from the original post for a similar purpose…

So, I found the author’s email, which is quite easy to do on blog posts. I sent him an email that read:

Good afternoon:

I am creating a PowerPoint about promoting eBooks for school librarians, and was wondering if you would grant me permission to use your images from this blog post in my presentation: http://goodereader.com/blog/e-book-news/how-to-make-library-ebooks-more-visible

The PowerPoint will be delivered to a group of school librarians in person, and then hosted on my organization’s website via SlideShare. Of course, I’ll provide a link to your site as a photo credit at the bottom of the PowerPoint slide and any other credits you would like. I would be happy to send you the link to the completed presentation.

Thank you!

Nicole

And do you know what happened? He said yes. Just like that. Now I have permission. Shiny, beautiful permission. No nightmares of the copyright police knocking down my door. No cold sweats as I upload to SlideShare. It was easy! It was fast! It was fun! Bonus: I made a connection with someone who now knows that his blog is being read and helping people. Win, win, win, win.

Will it always work? Nope. Does it solve the copyright conundrum? Not even close. In fact, I asked a major company for permission to create a DVD from a VHS that was not available for sale in either format a few months ago, and I received a resounding NO.

That said–asking permission is an essential addition to your digital citizenship toolbox.

Now…imagine the power of teaching kids to do this. Send an email. Ask nicely. Be succinct, and state your purpose clearly. Persuade. Hello, Common Core Writing!

6-12 ELA Writing Anchor Standards, Production and Distribution of Writing 

Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and to interact and collaborate with
others.

-New York State P-12 Common Core Learning Standards for English Language Arts & Literacy, page 54.

So, if your kiddos find something online, and want to use it in their presentation/video/blog/etc, let them ask. Lead them through the process. And if they’re told NO? Help them troubleshoot, find something else, re-think and demonstrate perseverance. Now those are college- and career-ready skills.

Have you or your students asked for permission? How did it go? I would love to hear your experiences in the comments!

PS–Don’t forget about Creative Commons, and Royalty-Free resources, too. You can also check out additional copyright resources here.

Photo Credit: Flickr CC http://www.flickr.com/photos/pugno_muliebriter/1384247192