LSC Journal Club: Fall 2018 Recap: Evaluating Early Literacy Programs

Our Vancouver chapter of the Library Services for Children Journal Club held our fall meeting last week to discuss how and why we evaluate early literacy programs such as Mother Goose and storytime. We read and discussed an article about a research study designed to evaluate the impact Regina Public Library’s Mainly Mother Goose program on caregivers support of the development of early literacy for their children.  Here’s a summary of the article and our discussion.

Article Summary

This article aimed to understand how the Mainly Mother Goose program may contribute to caregivers’ engagement in the development of their child’s early literacy skills. Noting the lack of research related to public library program evaluation, especially with regards to early literacy programs, the researchers gave a brief literature view and pointed towards studies out of Idaho and Ontario that showed positive impacts of preschool programs and parent education initiatives. This study used a quasi-experimental design to survey caregivers before and after the program and conduct interviews a few months later. They asked the following 4 research questions:

  • Do parents report an increased use of the following nine early literacy skill development activities after their participation in the MMG program? (see article for complete list of activities)
  • Do caregivers report an increased number of library visits after participating in the MMG program?
  • Do caregivers report an increased sense of confidence and competence in using storytime materials and activities after participating in the MMG program?
  • Do caregivers use what they learned in the MMG program at home?

The results of their study showed no statistically significant change in the use of the nine early literacy skill activities. Because the study evaluated for changes in frequency of behaviour it was noted that many of the caregivers reported a high usage of the skills on the pre-test thus leaving little room for improvement.  The study included results from the program when it was hosted in the library verses when it was hosted at an outreach site. Caregivers at the outreach sites had higher rates of change in the nine early literacy skills. For the remaining research questions, there was an increase in the caregivers visits to the library, their confidence, and their usage of activities at home. Yay!

Group Discussion

Our group started by discussing the nine early literacy skill development activities the researchers chose to ask about. How did they decide on these nine? The don’t give any information regarding the selection of these skills and we noted that they inquire heavily on the skills of talking and singing. None of the questions had to do with play which we know is how children learn.  Some of the skills were very similar – talking a child vs. asking them a question – that we questioned the usefulness of the nine skills too.  We wish the researchers had given a little background on how they chose those skills and how they were connected to research.

We also discussed the researchers choice to evaluate for a change in frequency of behaviour. Our criticism, which was noted in the article, is that very little change will be observed if the caregivers are already exhibiting the behaviours before the intervention (i.e. the Mainly Mother Goose Program.) Especially when surveying caregivers who are already coming to the library on a regular basis, it’s not surprising that there wasn’t a huge impact on the nine skills. Seeing the results of the outreach site visits differ was a good justification to us that our community outreach efforts are much needed and have the biggest impact. We thought the other three research questions gave more valuable information because they showed a changing view of the library and how our programs can impact caregiver attitudes.

This study led us to think about why we do evaluation in the first place. We came up with a list of reasons to conduct research studies that evaluate our programs including to prove our impact on families, to build credibility with our organizations and community members, to push for more money and funding to increase our capacity, to identify gaps in our programming, to contribute to the body of research literature on evaluation, and to assess for learning outcomes of children and caregivers.  We noted the difference, however, between outcome evaluations and satisfaction surveys. If you are wanting to gauge what your caregivers enjoy, what they’d change, what they don’t like, etc. then that is different from an evaluation that measures learning or knowledge acquisition. Before planning large scale evaluation projects it’s important to consider why you are doing them, what you hope to measure, and what you will do with the data when you are done.

This article evaluated caregivers, but there has been recent research that evaluates children and storytime presenters. We talked about the VIEWS2 research study from the University of Washington and how they observed storytimes to see if children display specific early literacy behaviours. They also designed an intervention for the storytime presenters and proved that it helped them be more intentional about early literacy in storytime which impacted the kids as well.  What are the pros and cons of evaluating these three audiences: children, caregivers, storytime presenters? How would the study change based on your audience? It all comes back to what you are hoping to gain from the evaluation. If you want to improve your skills as a storytime presenter then you wouldn’t necessarily ask for caregiver feedback. That’s something a peer or mentor could provide more meaningful feedback based on observation. It was very exciting to see the new research coming out of the VIEWS2 project and even more exciting to see free training being developed based on this research called Supercharged Storytimes.

We ended the discussion by asking ourselves: As children’s librarians are we researchers? Do we view ourselves that way? Were we taught to do research and value research in our MLIS programs? There is so much data we collect through our children’s programs that has the potential to speak to library boards and donors about the significant impact we have in our community. But much, if not all, of that data remains unanalyzed as we do not have capacity in our jobs to conduct research studies on top of all the other day-to-day priorities.  It’s interesting to note that some libraries are joining with universities, such as Calgary Public Library and Mount Royal, to do this research together. Perhaps that is a model we can use in the future.

If you’re interested in starting a Library Services Journal Club in your area, please let me know and I’d be happy to help!

LSC Journal Club: June 2018 Recap: Co-Designing the Library

The Vancouver Library Services for Children Journal Club is still going strong! We had our June meeting a few weeks ago and talked about co-designing the library with community members and barriers some community members face when accessing the library. You all know how much I care about community outreach, so this topic was right up my ally.  Here’s what we got up to.

First we reviewed the 2-page article by John Pateman on developing community-led systems. The community-led library model was developed in Canada and the U.K. and I’m always surprised how few American libraries know of it or implement it.  Pateman starts with the premise that we do a great job of serving people who need us the least. These would be the active users of the library. But there are also passive users (lapsed or ex-users) and non-users of the library. How are we reaching and serving these groups? He notes four barriers to access:

  1. Insitutional
    • requiring an ID to get a library card
    • requiring proof of residence to use online library services
    • Charging fines
  2. Personal and Social
    • family and cultural history with government institutions
    • poverty
    • language barrier
    • time
  3. Perception and Awareness
    • the library as a quiet place
    • fear of judgment based on child’s behaviour
    • demographics of those who attend programs
    • nothing there for them
  4. Environmental
    • hours of operation
    • time of programs
    • location
    • cleanliness

Keeping these four barriers in mind we then turned to the article by Virve Miettinen which documents  three ways the Helsinki Public Library engaged users to help co-design their library space. These three projects were part of  the building of a new library in the capital city for the 100th anniversary of Finnish independence. Their goals were to provide better customer service, empower citizens, and designate the library as a 3rd space in the community with a meaningful social infrastructure. Using the co-design process they sought to raise design awareness among both community members and staff members.  We broke into groups and each analyzed one of the projects. We asked:

  1. What was the strategy?
  2. What were the outcomes?
  3. What are the benefits and drawbacks of this strategy?
  4. Who is included? Who is excluded? What barriers are there to participation?
  5. How can we apply a similar strategy to our work with children and teens?

The three projects were: Participator Budgeting, Central Library’s Friends, and the Dream On! Campaign.  I took pictures of our large flipchart notes but they don’t translate well to a blog post. Email if interested and I can send them to you! Overall we were impressed with the level of involvement from the community in these projects though we questioned how much effort was put into recruiting members from a diverse array of backgrounds. The author didn’t really touch on this topic so it is hard to know. Some of the projects had a dual impact in that they helped the library achieve a goal and they gave community members skills they could take with them into their personal and work lives. We came away with inspiration on how to get kids and teens more involved in the planning and development of our library programs. Personally, my biggest take-away was to gather feedback with a purpose. Know what you’re going to do with the feedback before you design and administer a survey.

We’ll be taking a break over the summer but plan to be back in September with another article. Check out the Library Services for Children Journal Club website to stay up-to-date!

LSC Journal Club: April 2018 Recap: Play and the Learning Environment

We had our third Library Services for Children Journal meeting this past Sunday.  We read two articles that explored play and the learning environment.  Here’s a quick recap of the articles and discussion points.  This post, except for the final thoughts at the end, was written by our group leader Jennifer Streckmann. Want to get involved with the LSC Journal Club? See if you have a local group or start one of your own!

Article #1: Play and the Learning Environment

  • This was an in-depth look at child play psychology as related to the physical space of the classroom, which can be extrapolated out to the library setting.
  • Includes good materials/equipment suggestions
  • Benefits of play include: development of motor skills, vocabulary growth, sharpening of the senses, increased concentration, expression of emotions—empathy, flexibility, sharing, turn taking—harmony, role taking, ordering, sequencing, expansion of imagination and creativity, and delay of gratification

Commonly recognized types of play:

  1. Functional play or exploratory play. This type of play is a sensorimotor approach in which
    a child learns the nature of his or her surroundings. Such examples include dumping, filling,
    stacking, water play, and outdoor play.
  2. Constructive play describes children combining pieces or entities, such as with blocks.
    The purpose of this type of play is to make something and/or work out a problem.
  3. Dramatic play entails pretending. The child pretends to be someone else, for example the
    teacher or a fireman. This type of play does not require any social interaction with other
    children. See the example provided below.
  4. Sociodramatic play is a form of dramatic play with more than one player socially interacting around a theme and a time trajectory over which the play continues and evolves. Children
    enact real-life types of play activities.
  5. Games with rules encompass cooperative play, often with winners and losers. These games
    are distinguished by child-controlled rules and thus are different from the competitive games
    usually called “sports.” Children begin the games with rules stage at about age 6.

Article #2: Influence of Number of Toys on Toddler Play

  • Interesting study that involved looking at the number of toys available, and how that affects how children interact with the toys.
    The first dependent variable was the number of incidences of toy play. Toy play incidents were operationalized to include observable engagement such as physical contact/manipulation of a toy and focused attention to play. (Greater in the 16-toy variable)
  • The second dependent variable was the duration of each toy play incident. The beginning of an incident occurred when a toddler purposely touched a toy. For an incident to end, a toddler’s attention must be distracted away from the toy and refocused to another element in the room. (Greater in the 4-toy variable)
  • The third dependent variable was the number of manners of play with each toy. Unique verbs were used to describe the manners of play (Bjorklund & Bjorklund, 1979). A manner of play was anything the child did to engage in play with the toy, for example actions such as drumming, dumping, exploring, pretending, matching, gathering, or inserting.(Greater in the 4-toy variable)
  • An abundance of toys present reduced quality of toddlers’ play.
  • Fewer toys at once may help toddlers to focus better and play more creatively.
  • This can done in many settings to support development and promote healthy play.
  • This study was quite limited in its scope as the sample size was small and it captured a picture of mostly middle class white female toddlers.

Group Activity: Planning a Library Space

The group participated in a ‘blue-sky’ activity where we paired off and re-designed a library space. Each pair was given a copy of the image below that depicted a children’s department. Then they were given a blank layout to design the space from scratch. After working in pairs we all shared our designs.

Discussion points included:

  • The importance of natural light in programming spaces
  • Including interesting conversation starters that invite patrons to speak with a staff member. This could be anything from a terrarium with butterflies to an engaging display which encourages the children to ask staff a question.
  • We often want to separate different age groups from each other, however a good point was brought up that this sometimes makes it much harder for caregivers to keep track of their whole family. Thus sightlines are very important.
  • Weeding was done by all groups, in an interest of using space for programming.

Final Thoughts

One of the reasons I love the LSC Journal Club meetings is that I start to think about things in a new way. After listening to many of the challenges libraries face (budget, staff, space) on their quest to design a play-friendly space, I had an “aha!” moment where I narrowed down three important factors to consider with regards to design in general. They are:

  • Focus on the Collection: Are displays placed where community members will see them? Is the collection well maintained and weeded regularly? Is the collection organized in a way that makes sense to kids and families? Is signage clear and attractive (not too much, not too little)?
  • Focus on Play: Are there opportunities for play in the library? Are there play opportunities for little kids and bigger kids? Do families feel comfortable playing in our spaces?
  • Focus on Relationship Building: Are there elements in the space that encourage kids and families to talk to staff? Are there opportunities for kids and families to contribute their ideas or thoughts to the space? Are staff regularly in the space to interact with the community?

We also talked about how important it is to observe your space. Some of the organizations in Vancouver like Science World do a great job of testing out their spaces and regularly observing them before making tweaks and changes. This of course requires time and energy but the resulting changes can be powerful.

That’s a wrap, folks!  Did you read the articles this month? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

 

LSC Journal Club: January 2018 Recap: Educational Apps

On Sunday we had our second Vancouver Library Services for Children Journal Club meeting.  Have you heard about the LSC Journal Club? My friend Christie and I started it as a way to promote research-based library service and professional development opportunities for anyone serving children in libraries. In November we discussed executive function and this month we took a look at what counts as an “educational” app.  We highly encourage you to start a local group if you’re interested in being research nerds like us!

The research article we read this month is called “Putting Education in ‘Educational’ Apps: Lessons From the Science of Learning.”  I led the group discussion this month by reviewing the purpose of the article and the term Science of Learning which was new to me.

Purpose of the Article:

  • There are thousands of unregulated apps in the app store categorized as “educational.” Parents and educators have a hard time navigating this marketplace. Can they trust that label?
  • What does the Science of Learning tell us about how kids learn best? The researchers investigated research that applies to kids ages 0 – 8 years old. Their goals are to guide researchers, educators, and designers in evidence-based app development and to help people like us (library staff) evaluate already existing apps.
  • They came up with 4 Pillars of Learning that define “educational.”  This definition means apps should promote active, engaged, meaningful, and socially interactive learning.

Science of Learning

  • This is an amalgamated research area that takes different learning theories and draws similarities between them. It is relatively new, about 20 years old.
  • It includes research from a variety of fields – psychology, linguistics, computer science, animal behaviour, machine learning, brain imaging, neurobiology, etc.
  • It seeks to know HOW children learn not WHAT we should teach children. More about the process, less about the content.  Strives to identify strategies kids can use to think flexibly and creatively in the future.
  • Views kids as active learners, not vessels to be filled with knowledge. Takes its cue from Piaget who called children “little scientists.”

From there the article goes into depth for each of the four pillars of learning looking at what the Science of Learning says about them, what television research says, and how we can apply this knowledge to apps. At our meeting we broke up into groups and each group wrote down the key points for each of the four pillars before sharing with the whole group. Here are our notes:

Pillar #1: Active Learning

Pillar #2: Engagement in the Learning Process

Pillar #3: Meaningful Learning

Pillar #4: Social Interaction

The article then talks about what I call Secret Pillar #5: Scaffolded Exploration Toward a Learning Goal. It states:

  • Apps need a context for learning. They should promote exploration toward a learning goal.
  • Adults can play a supportive role in guiding play to lead to the best overall learning outcomes. A halfway point between complete free play and direct instruction.
  • Apps can provide scaffolding options such as providing background knowledge, offering more or less challenging levels, or by responding to individual children’s needs.

The article evaluates an app called Alien Assignment and discusses how the four pillars hold up. We were able to download the app to view it but the sound didn’t work on the iPad we had as it is an older app. It’s interesting to note that the developer is the Fred Rogers Center who came out with a position statement in in 2012 in conjunction with NAEYC that states, “when used intentionally and appropriately, technology and interactive media are effective tools to support learning and development.” So it’s not surprised their app is pretty great.

We ended our meeting by talking about the following discussion questions:

  • Do all apps need to be “educational” for us to recommend them to caregivers?
  • How can we apply these guidelines to our work with children in libraries?
  • How does this research compare to other research, position statements, and app rubrics that have been developed?

We all agreed that the four pillars are a good tool to use when evaluating apps for educational content. We can look at the apps on the anchored iPads in our children’s area, on our website, and on our bookmarks to see if they hold up to the “very deep” learning category.  While the majority of the apps we select for these things should be educational we also discussed the merits of other “playful” apps such as the Toca Boca apps.  We still think it is worth including some of those types of apps as caregivers and kids often use them in unintended ways that foster learning.  Having the four pillars in our minds when talking to caregivers is a great tool we can use to guide these conversations. One of members, Kate, came up with an acronym and mental image to help her remember the four pillars. It’s called M.E.A.L.S. She says, “Choosing Apps: Are You Serving Your Child Balanced M.E.A.L.S?” Meaningful, Engaging, Active, Learning Goals, and Social Interaction.

We also talked about how it is common for caregivers to set their child down in front of the iPads in the children’s library and leave them there unattended or without engaging with them. Parents wanting or needing a break and using technology as a babysitter, while alarming to some, is not something we as library staff can solve or regulate in our spaces.  We discussed how we provide the technology to help bridge the digital divide and we can encourage joint media engagement through our signage and handouts and conversations with caregivers.  The research from this article is further evidence that caregiver participation in media is essential for learning, especially with young children.

In terms of other research around evaluating apps, we discussed Lisa Guernsey’s 3 C’s for choosing digital media: Content, Context, and Child. Perhaps a fourth C could be something like “Cause” to align with the learning goal element discussed in the article. There are two other app rubrics we looked over, both developed by Claudia Haines. They are both worth a look and can be used to evaluate the apps you recommend and provide in the library.  Check out Evaluating Apps and New Media for Young Children: A Rubric and the Diverse and Inclusive Growth Checklist for Inclusive, High-Quality Children’s Media.

What did you think of this month’s article? Let me know in the comments!

LSC Journal Club: November 2017 Recap

Yesterday we had the inaugural meeting of our Vancouver Library Services for Children Journal Club! If you missed my post about the LSC Journal Club, go read it now and find out all about this free professional development resource aimed at anyone serving children in libraries.

The articles we read and discussed were about executive function skills in early childhood development. Our discussion leader started by recapping the articles and giving us a clear definition of executive function. It can be broken down into the following three dimensions:

  • Working Memory: The ability to hold and use information in our minds over a short period of time. For example, a child being able to follow three simple directions is using their working memory.
  • Inhibitory Control: The skill we use to think before we act and resist temptations. A child would use this skill to refrain from hitting another child who has taken their toy.
  • Cognitive/Mental Flexibility: The ability to switch gears or tasks and take on different perspectives.  A child uses cognitive flexibility, for example, when trying different ways to get a science experiment to work.

Executive function skills support the learning process and develop over time with the preschool years being a prime developmental window.  Stress in early childhood can affect the development of executive function, but interventions have been shown to help kids overcome this deficit.

We spent a large portion of our discussion talking about ways we can support the development of executive function at the library.  As a place, we are one of the key environments kids spend time in as they grow.  There are so many storytime examples in particular that we are already doing such as: having a mystery box or having kids practice taking turns or doing deep breathing and asking kids about their emotions.  The list goes on! For even more examples, I encourage you to watch the webinar Using Storytime to Grow Executive Function and Self-Regulation in ECE.

We noted though that as a library we often only have kids in our programs for 30 minutes to an hour. It can be hard to build relationships with the kids or between kids in such a short time span.  We felt that early childhood educators such as preschool and daycare teachers who see little ones all day long would benefit from learning about executive function too. We offer professional development programs for ECEs and brainstormed ways we could include this content in some of our workshops.  Finding ways to make the language around executive function accessible to all is another point we stressed.

Here are some questions we continue to ask ourselves:

  • How can we take the academic lingo in these research articles and translate it into layman terms that would be appropriate to use in storytime or other programs for adults?
  • What are some ways to incorporate executive function scaffolds into school-age programs, especially for the kids who would otherwise be deemed a “problem'” or “lazy”? How can we make adjustments, not punishments?
  • What types of play-based programs for the 0-5 crowd can be utilized to fill the gap for families who for whatever reason don’t come to storytime?

What I love about the LSC Journal Club is that even if I don’t come away with all the answers, I do come away with more knowledge of the why we do things and the confidence that it is rooted in research.  I’d love to hear your thoughts about executive function! Let me know what you think in the comments.

Introducing the Library Services for Children Journal Club!

Oh, friends. Have I got something exciting to tell you!  For the past few months I have been hard at work on a special project that is finally ready to launch. I would like to introduce you all to the Library Services for Children Journal Club.

This project is the brainchild of myself and my friend and colleague Christie Menzo. I had been throwing around the idea of hosting something similar on Jbrary as a way to facilitate professional development reading amongst library staff serving children. Christie had been learning about journal clubs in the medical field through her husband who is a doctor. When we got together and started chatting, voila! The Library Services for Journal Club was born.

So what is the LSC Journal Club?

The Library Services for Children Journal Club is way for children’s library staff to engage in professional dialogue or critical appraisal of research publications and other professional literature related to children’s library services. Our goal is to help children’s library staff keep up to date and engaged with published research and new developments in the field of children’s library services, and to think critically about the quality of the research that informs our decision making.

How does it work?

Once every two months Christie and I will be selecting one or two articles for us all to discuss. The articles will fall into one of six themes.  We’ll be hosting a local Vancouver meet-up and we highly encourage you to set up meetings wherever you are! This could be an informal gathering at someone’s house or it could be more formal like at a library staff meeting. We’ll also be sharing out thoughts on social media using the hashtag #lscjournalclub.

When does it start?

Now! We’ve posted information about the first discussion which will take place in November. You can read the two articles we selected which are all about executive function. Start gathering your group together! I’ll be posting my thoughts on each article here on Jbrary and I encourage any other bloggers to do the same.

Please feel free to leave me any questions or comments you have about the LSC Journal Club. I hope my fellow research nerds will rally behind this project that holds a special place in my heart.