Tuesday, January 16, 2018

RI Mock Newbery Reads - Voting Meeting Edition

We're down to the wire! As I type this, I have 25 hours to finish the final two books I haven't completed yet. But I aim to have them added before voting begins!

UPDATE with 2 hours left: FINISHED! Although I kind of wish I hadn't bothered with the last one, because it's definitely not getting my vote.

RefugeeRefugee by Alan Gratz
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow. Just ... wow. So intense I had to take a break after each installment of the three main characters' lives. Journalistic writing leaves you breathless and stressed out. This is getting my Mock Newbery vote.

p. 51: "Mahmoud jumped when it fell, but Waleed stood still, like this kind of thing happened every day. With a jolt of surprise, Mahmoud realized this kid of thing DID happen every day. Just not to them. Until now.

Her Right FootHer Right Foot by Dave Eggers
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Delightful. I want Eggers to write more nonfiction for kids.

The Someday BirdsThe Someday Birds by Sally J. Pla
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sweet, funny, charming, and left a tear in my eye. My one quibble is the (view spoiler) ... a little too neat. But I liked just about everything else, including p. 118 shoutout to HONEYCRISP apples, information about the Sarajevo seige, and the constant visual cues. Can see handing to my kids who liked "Absolutely Almost" and "Death By Toilet Paper."

 See You in the CosmosSee You in the Cosmos by Jack Cheng
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Loved the way the book was set up and loved Alex. Didn't love the last 100 or so pages, which stretched my suspension of disbelief - Steve and Zed were way too good to be true. But all in all, entertaining and sweet. Will recommend to Mock Newbery committee.

p. 167 "Even after the sun was gone the clouds above were still bright red, and the horizon was gold and the water was purple and they should have sent a poet."

p. 202 "Oh you mean they're like the ancestor of all the mammals which looked something like a shrew but it's still a really important step in our evolution, so maybe VHS was like the shrew of watching shows in your house."

The War I Finally Won (The War That Saved My Life, #2)The War I Finally Won by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Pretty satisfying sequel.

p. 29: "The only way out of this is straight through."

p. 56: "Dead pilots. Dead Mam. Dead colonel. Dead Stephen's family. I counted them off on my fingers. Ten people. They took up every finger I had."

p. 93: "I needed a doll a long time ago. It's too late for me to have one now."

p. 136: "You always have to choose what you believe."

p. 212: "What's right and what's permitted are sometimes different things."

p. 385: "You can know things all you like, and someday you might believe them."

The Stars Beneath Our FeetThe Stars Beneath Our Feet by David Barclay Moore
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm glad that my life has not been touched by gang violence.

Patina (Track, #2)Patina by Jason Reynolds
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This didn't stick with me like other books I've read recently; in fact, I read the first 50 pages, came back to it a few days later, and had to start over because I couldn't remember a thing. Now what's sticking with me is them having to eat turkey wings every night. Ew. Can't Momly learn how to make grilled cheese or pasta? That might have been more upsetting than Ma's legs being gone. Although I did like how Maddy imagined them off doing exciting things.

Beyond the Bright SeaBeyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book made me learn some new geography. And it was very nicely written. But settings without bus stops or CVS make me nervous. And this was so slow to get started. Would have liked more about the day-to-day on Penikese Island.

Clayton Byrd Goes UndergroundClayton Byrd Goes Underground by Rita Williams-Garcia
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Ms. Byrd needs to takd 17 chill pills. How does she not see that denying Clayton more time with his dad makes no sense when she is so full of rage at HER dad not having been around? UGH.

Starts slow and ends with something that needs more explanation, but I did like that so much action happened on the subway. The timing seemed off, though ... I thought it was midmorning when it was actually afternoon.

CycloneCyclone by Doreen Cronin
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

How did I manage to read two books in a row where young people had strokes? Now I'm terrified there's a blood clot in my brain.

Orphan IslandOrphan Island by Laurel Snyder
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

One of those books whose ratings in my head steadily decrease until the end. As a reader, I think I deserve certain answers. Unless this is setting up a series, or at least a sequel/prequel, then I am quite put out.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

RI Mock Newbery 2018 - September Reads

My piles and piles of summer reading are paying off ... by the time the list came out, I had already read 14/20 books on the initial list (and abandoned 1). Favorites closest to the top. I have a few more to go, so I'll be adding as I finish them. NOTE: Moved a couple to November since we didn't discuss them in September.

ShortShort by Holly Goldberg Sloan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

So funny. I dog-eared practically half the pages because so many sentences made me laugh. So sweet. I did not expect to cry at the end. Buy now for any short or neurotic or theater-inclined middle-grade kids in your life.

Pro tip: p. 16: "... it's good to feel cozy with what you are wearing when you're going into a situation that is new and scary. The last thing you want to do when you are nervous is wear wool."

Train I RideTrain I Ride by Paul Mosier
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Editors, take note: You CAN publish a solid middle-grade novel full of complex characters and situations that is LESS THAN 200 PAGES. I laughed, I cried. Held back a star for a couple of scenes that stretched the definition of "realistic" fiction.

p. 32: "Everything here looks crazy, like it was drawn by Dr. Seuss. The plants and rocks, especially in the desert, look like they're from beneath the sea. They look like they were drawn to be silly."

p. 90: "My timeline stretches behind me, a chart of other people's mistakes and bad choices and sadness that put me in this seat on this train on this night."

p. 95: "I've never heard or seen the word but I'm sure I've felt it. The whole thing is like something I've always felt but could never understand."

p. 145: "Even before she died, I was always a motherless child"

Me and Marvin GardensMe and Marvin Gardens by A.S. King
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Good depiction of adolescent angst - family issues, changing relationships, secrets, your place in the world (and how to help save it) ... BUT WHAT IS GOING TO HAPPEN WITH MARVIN'S POOP???? It made me anxious!

p. 11 - "So, the ocean started here, at Devlin Creek. That's how I saw it."

p. 64 - "[Dad] told me more than once that boys should be fearless, daring, and brave. I was being more fearless, dafing, and brave than ever since Marvin Gardens showed up, but since I couldn't tell anyone about Marvin, no one could know how brave I really was."

p. 111 - "... I took a side. It was the right side, but everyone on every side thinks they're on the right side once they take a side. No matter if you're wrong, it's hard not to be loyal to the side you picked."

p. 140 - "People are really weird. They just think you should be like them, pretty much. Dad thought I should be like him. Tommy thought I should be like him. I just wanted to be me."

Forever, or a Long, Long TimeForever, or a Long, Long Time by Caela Carter
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So many feelings! We are right in Flora's head. And heart.

Also one of my feelings is rage at the system.

Amina's VoiceAmina's Voice by Hena Khan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Gentle novel about a middle-school girl wracked with anxiety over friendships and culture/religion.

p. 70 - "And like the Oregon Trail, I wouldn't have to pioneer the uncharted territory of Soojin finding Emily 'not so bad.'"

Hello, UniverseHello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Nicely contained plot. I could have done without Ruby in the well, though. Was Virgil hallucinating?

p. 70: "Meanness always shows on people's faces. Sometimes you have to look hard for it. Sometimes it's just a part of a person's features."

p. 83: "If you didn't have bad things, you wouldn't have good things. They would all just be things. Did you ever think about that?"

The End of the WildThe End of the Wild by Nicole Helget
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Don't read this if you're looking for a lighthearted story. I did like that it was an "issue" novel that wasn't overly preachy. But man, Fern's house made me feel cold and hungry.

Beyond the Bright SeaBeyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book made me learn some new geography. And it was very nicely written. But settings without bus stops or CVS make me nervous. And this was so slow to get started. Would have liked more about the day-to-day on Penikese Island.

Scar IslandScar Island by Dan Gemeinhart
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Much less painful to read than "Lord of the Flies."

Family Game Night and Other CatastrophesFamily Game Night and Other Catastrophes by Mary E. Lambert
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Lots of characters making lots of bad decisions. I never get when people lock up their secrets and let them take over their lives ... I tell everyone everything. Anyways, I'm glad they're off to counseling.

Clayton Byrd Goes UndergroundClayton Byrd Goes Underground by Rita Williams-Garcia
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Ms. Byrd needs to take 17 chill pills. How does she not see that denying Clayton more time with his dad makes no sense when she is so full of rage at HER dad not having been around? UGH.

Starts slow and ends with something that needs more explanation, but I did like that so much action happened on the subway. The timing seemed off, though ... I thought it was midmorning when it was actually afternoon.

The Warden's DaughterThe Warden's Daughter by Jerry Spinelli
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This went from a 4 for liveliness and characterization to a 3 for remembering at a pivotal moment, "Oh, yeah, it's a Jerry Spinelli book, so naturally something tragic would happen," to a 2 for Eloda's (SPOILER) diary. Yes, Cammie needed you, but you needed some lessons in how to be there for a damaged, angry girl. And then to just (SPOILER) take off with no goodbye?s Jesus Christ, her other two mother figures did the same thing, and now you're just adding to the trauma. I guess people weren't as tuned in to basic psychology back in the 50s? Fail.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

I MAY be a Little Behind - Ideas/Notes from ALA/AASL Pubs

The stack of magazines and journals under my desk is ridiculous. I'm working backwards in time with the goal of having everything read by the end of the school year. Today: May 2016.


I like "the National Academy of Sciences' metaphor of the internet as a swimming pool: It offers plenty of opportunities for recreation and learning, but it can be dangerous, too." As Deborah Caldwell-Stone from ALA's Office for Intellectual Freedom says, "You can teach them how to swim, or you can put up a fence. What happens when they climb that fence and open the gate?"

Denise Agosto of Drexel University thinks we're using too many scare tactics when educating kids about online privacy. I'm going to look into the San Jose (CA) Public Library Virtual Privacy Lab.

Yet another goal: Some kind of event for parents during Choose Privacy Week. I wonder how they would take my suggestion to stop posting so many pictures of their kids when they're on vacation? "Hey, robbers, we're not home!" Do they realize that they're creating a digital footprint over which the kids have no say? Sometimes beginning in the womb?

Our students all have Gmail accounts, and for the first time, they're accessible via Aspen. Maybe I'll start some kind of "pro tip" communication for them. And ask my principals to include more info from me in their parent emails. About all kinds of things, not just privacy.


Idea #4,589: Post "Weed of the Week" somewhere, in the spirit of AwfulLibraryBooks.net (tagline: "Hoarding is not collection development"). I regret not taking pictures of some of the gems I've gotten rid of so far.

Interactive Readalouds

From an article by Priscille Dando in Knowlege Quest:

"Joan Frye Williams' analogy frames libraries as no longer being grocery stores stocked with ingredients but kitchens where ingredients are combined to create something new."

I like the idea of working with classroom teachers to choose readalouds that can be delivered during library time.

"Readers never ask a question that they already know the answer to. As the reader, ask interpretive questions rather than factual."

Questioning as a Literacy

From an article by Sara Kelley-Mudie and Jeanie Phillips in Knowledge Quest:

"Understanding a question is different from answering a question; it means being able to form an idea of what an answer might look like and what type of information is being sought."

Write arounds

Question Formulation Technique from the Right Question Institute

Sample prompts: "How would it be different if ..."; "What is the purpose of ..."

Criteria for prioritizing questions

  • Which questions will best help us solve the problem?
  • Which questions will make interesting research questions?
  • Which questions can we answer through direct observation?
  • Which questions can we develop an experiment to answer?

Data Literacy

From an article by Kristin Fontichiaro and Jo Angela Oehrli in Knowledge Quest:

"Students often believe that numbers are objective, though data in the real world is rarely so. In fact, visualized data - even from authoritative sources - can sometimes be anything but." Categories include:

  • Statistical literacy: "Discerning correlation from causation; recognizing the difference in the meaning of mean, median, and mode; understanding what margin of error signifies in polling data; recognizing potential biases in collected data (e.g., where did they gather it from?)"
  • Data visualization: "Having skills to create and comprehend mapped data, graphs, pie charts, and emerging forms of visualizations"
  • Data in argument: Infographics need to make a point, not just be a random collection of facts
  • Big Data and citizen science: How much personal data is too much?
  • Personal data management: "While students might like seeing relevant ads or music recommendations that match their favorite, few know it is because of the breadcrumb trail they leave behind. ... "today's online content creators and social networks are engaged in a balancing act between maximizing advertising revenues and delivering quality content."
  • Ethical data use: Realizing that data can be "framed, edited, manipulated, or otherwise modified" to sway or confuse

ala.org: click to link to PDF version

Gaming as Meaningful Education

I've had board games available in my libraries for years. As the ALA infographic notes, "In game play, players work towards mastery and rarely experience failure as an obstacle to trying again and again. There is something in play that gives players permission to take risks considered outlandish or impossible in 'real life.' There is something in play that activates the tenacity and persistence required for effective learning."

Other key points:

  • "Many board games encourage players to detect patterns, plan ahead, predict the outcome of alternative moves, use deductive logic, and learn from experience."

  • "Research shows there is a link between playing certain types of board games and scoring well on math tests."

  • Games are a more powerful learning tool when we teach kids that problem-solving ability is like a muscle: It can be strengthened with practice and learning."

Source Illiteracy

This article by Nora G. Murphy in Knowledge Quest reminded me of when I worked for Johnson & Wales University, and The Daily Show wanted to do an interview with one of our deans re: the new "Sip and Spit" law in Colorado that allowed underage students to do wine tastings. "It's a national news show!" some people exclaimed. But my friend/colleague Stacie and I could only imagine the questions a comic fronting as a serious reporter would ask. We turned down the interview.

Kids need to have "the ability to interpret from context, to know what to ask, to read the clues, and to use the understanding brought from knowing about other sources." That understanding is hard to teach, because "source literacy is usually gained through experience and not instruction."

I like Murphy's suggestion of having kids create source banks, similar to Pinterest pages with boards for different types.

Creating a Literacy Plan for Your School

Realize that it "takes years of intentional effort" and don't "try to tackle every grade at once."

  1. Be the leader - Gather a group of stakeholders and start with SOMETHING with the knowledge that it will undergo a ton of changes
  2. Know what you can and can't control - Focus on what you can do without relying on anyone else
  3. Make the goals visible and generate excitement - Get decent posters made; present at meetings with teachers, parents, and administrators
  4. Determine where the skills will fit - Build a big-picture view by meeting with every teacher, even just for 20 minutes, to create a comprehensive document re: what is already in place and where the holes are
  5. Plan, plan, plan - Map out ways for student understanding to grow and build over the year through all subjects/classes
  6. Assess, rinse, repeat - Share accomplishments and make adjustments as necessary

Sunday, October 9, 2016

RI Mock Newbery 2017 - November Reads

Love Jen J's spreadsheet! Because of it, I'd already read most of the books on the list before the list was even out. I'll be adding to the post as I make my way through the list: favorites at the top.

MaydayMayday by Karen Harrington
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Fantastic. Loved it. So much humor for such heavy topics. And the holding planes in his hands? I laughed. I cried. True story.

p. 223 - "When you want something in your own life, it looks like everybody at every table in a restaurant has it. I'm not just talking about eyebrows."

The Girl Who Drank the MoonThe Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Beautifully written, albeit overlong, and I'm not sure how I feel about the ending. However, the writing definitely deserves to be considered "distinguished."

Counting ThymeCounting Thyme by Melanie Conklin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Fantastic portrayal of a girl struggling to make her way in a new setting while her family is preoccupied with her brother's cancer. And the shout-out to No Fits, Nilson! was great.

Thank you to Conklin for giving me my new favorite knock-knock joke:

Knock, knock.
Who's there?
Europe who?
You're a poo, too!

GhostGhost by Jason Reynolds
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Reynolds is able to capture his narrators' personalities within a page or two.

p. 27: I felt like I had seen this in every single sports movie I had ever watched. All of them. "Ma'am, your son has potential." If this went like the movies, I was either going to score the game-winning touchdown (which is impossible in track) or ... die."

p. 155: ... you can't run away from who you are, but what you can do is run toward who you want to be.

Ollie's OdysseyOllie's Odyssey by William Joyce
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Epic. Will be recommending to my 2nd grade teachers who do class readalouds.

The Best ManThe Best Man by Richard Peck
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

On the fence on this one. Loved the dry style and some of the ridiculous - yet realistic - things that people said. However, the plot was choppy, and I'm very confused on the timeline of uncle Paul and Mr. McLeod's relationship.

p. 137:
"This isn't the body I wanted to take to middle school. Look at it. I need another year. I'm pre--what?"
"Prepubescent?" Mom offered.
"Probably. You'll have to homeschool me."

The Seventh WishThe Seventh Wish by Kate Messner
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

First off, I liked that Catherine named her flour baby MEREDITH. I also enjoyed the family word game, which is similar to Apples to Apples. And Charlie's thoughts about Abby's drug use and relapse were spot-on (I also have an addicted sister and have thought a lot of the same things). I very much appreciated when Leah said, "There's nothing you can do when someone you love is an addict. So you just ... you keep living. And do other stuff." (p. 212). Because I needed therapy to get to that understanding.

But I took away a star for the magic fish. The fantasy and the harsh reality just didn't mesh for me. Poor, poor Robert.

Nine, Ten: A September 11 StoryNine, Ten: A September 11 Story by Nora Raleigh Baskin
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The kids' stories were fine, but the actual 9/11 events were kind of vague. If the reader doesn't already know what happened, they will be confused. Also I'm not sure I buy that all four families would have made the trek to NYC in 2002.

p. 79. "'...what matters is what's in here.' She tapped her heart and then her head. 'And here. And how you treat people. Yourself included, dear one.'"

GhostsGhosts by Raina Telgemeier
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Realistic sister relationship, but the ghosts were just odd.

When the Sea Turned to SilverWhen the Sea Turned to Silver by Grace Lin
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

So I gave "Where the Mountain Meets the Moon" 5 stars, and "Starry River of the Sky" 4. But this one ... this took me forever to get through. At one point I literally fell asleep. It was like homework. But people I respect on the RI Mock Newbery committee raved about it, so I saw it through until the end. But I wish I hadn't bothered and had spent more weekend hours binge-watching "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend" instead.

The stories being told seemed like just interruptions until about page 140, when I started to see connections. However, by the time we get to the Sea King, and Yishan's stunt with the string, I didn't care anymore about how anything was going to go together. And the tortoise chapters were distracting. And the big reveal on p. 345 made me roll my eyes.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

RI Mock Newbery 2017 - October Reads

My feverish summer reading is paying off ... by the time the list came out a few days ago, I had already read most of the books. Favorites closest to the top. A couple I plan to read only if they make it to the finals: I'm skipping Hour of the Bees for now, because I've had enough family problem plots for a while; I tried to read Samurai Rising, but there was too much to keep track of; and Some Kind of Courage might be too stressful to read at the beginning of a new school year.

When Green Becomes Tomatoes: Poems for All SeasonsWhen Green Becomes Tomatoes: Poems for All Seasons by Julie Fogliano
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Now THIS is a picture book with Newbery-worthy text.

may 20
"enough already"
i whispered
to the clouds
(just loud enough
for the sun to overhear
but not enough to wake the rain)
"the strawberries are furious
and i think i just heard
even the roses sigh"

august 30
if you could take a bite
out of the middle of this morning
it would be sweet
and dripping
like peaches
and you would need a river
to jump in
before a bee comes along
and calls you
a flower

october 22
october please
get back in bed
your hands are cold
your nose is red
october please
got back to bed
your sneezing woke december

january 30
it is the best kind of day
when it is snowing
and the house
sounds like slippers
and sipping
and there is nowhere to go
but the kitchen
for a cookie

The Wild RobotThe Wild Robot by Peter Brown
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was 5 stars until I hit page 200 or so, and things got violent and I got distressed. But up until then, love love loved it.

BookedBooked by Kwame Alexander
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Not the same level of emotional resonance as The Crossover, but still a solid middle-grade book that I will buy for my libraries. Loved the inclusion of words and novels as part of the plot. And Alexander is definitely a poet. If we had a Sharpie budget, I'd have the kids make blackout poems from the pages of weeded books.

As Brave As YouAs Brave As You by Jason Reynolds
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Amusing and poignant. Fantastic voice and depiction of guilt, confusion, and striving to fix what's broken. Loved Genie’s book of questions. Still not entirely sure why the dad was so mad at the grandfather, though.

Wolf HollowWolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Four stars for the writing, two stars for the dread and the nonsense of a war veteran taking orders from an 11-year-old girl. Like some other reviewers, I had to peek at the end midway through because the plot was stressing me out so much. Supposedly the publisher wanted to aim it to kids in grades 3-7, which is MG, but they call it YA. I call it a book for grownups.

Raymie NightingaleRaymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Quick read that I don't think will stick with me. I did like that the girls took initiative in attempting to solve their problems, but many of the situations they ended up in were kind of insane.

Full of BeansFull of Beans by Jennifer L. Holm
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The history of turning Key West into a tourist destination was interesting to me, but I can't see it appealing to any of my students. I would have preferred nonfiction. Also, I couldn't keep any of the oddly named kids straight.

View all my reviews Maybe a FoxMaybe a Fox by Kathi Appelt
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The fox points of view aren't working for me this year. Everyone else loves this and Pax, but while I WAS able to actually finish this one, I think it would have worked much better with no fox stuff. The running, the rocks, the grief, that was all good. The fox ruined it

Paper WishesPaper Wishes by Lois Sepahban
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

While I think it's important that children learn about this aspect of the WWII homefront, there are other books that do it better. I didn't feel connected to Manami; the choppy prose didn't help.

PaxPax by Sara Pennypacker
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I know everyone else loves this book but I thought it was dreadful. Even though I know it will be on the RI Mock Newbery list, I gave up halfway through, because I won't be getting quizzed on it, and I have a stack of other books I'd rather read.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Summer Reading - Ideas and Notes from Professional Journals

School starts in a few days, and I finally just now getting around to tackling the huge stack of professional reading I was supposed to have kept up with all summer. Here are some takeaways:


AASL has a new toolkit for educating principals and classroom teachers about "the positive impact school librarians and school library programs can have on student achievement."

Design Thinking

In the June 2016 issue of American Libraries, Linda Braun writes about using the design thinking approach to problem-solving. It's pretty similar to the scientific method, what with coming up with and testing a hypothesis (or prototype).
She gives a link to a toolkit for libraries

Oh, my, maybe this can be a PGG in itself ... the site says, "On average, working through the entire toolkit can take 5-8 hours a week for the next six weeks, depending on how much time you have on a weekly basis with a team or on your own."

I'll send my principals a link to the toolkit for eductors to send out to my colleagues.


Yet another goal - have more volunteers in the library. A book on the topic - Library Volunteers Welcome! - is coming out in the fall. One recommendation is to match the person with the activity they're most interested in and able to perform. Sadly, not everyone is dying to put away nonfiction. 

I definitely need to look into the feasibility of reaching out to other organizations, like high schools, colleges, and companies that place value on community involvement. One mom did contact me because her workplace will give a $1,000 grant to the school if she puts in 100 hours of time. Godsend! Hmm ... there's something called VolunteerMatch that I will investigate. 

I also need to come up with more things that volunteers can do from home. Maybe they can do blog posts re: local literacy events and new books in the catalog?

Cassie Hileman of Harmony School of Excellence in Houston has a nice idea: award exceptional voluhteers with a bookplate to place in a library book of their choosing. I could do this at the spring book fair. 

Social Media in the Classroom

I have tweeted authors and illustrators about their books making it to our Mock Caldecott finals, or being used in a lesson, and it's always very exciting to get a response! I'd like to do more of this, sharing questions or comments from kids. I guess I should set up accounts for my two schools for that and leave @mercolleen as my personal PLN account.

Quote from Burlington (MA) Public Schools assistant superintendent Patrick Larkin in summer issue of Entrsekt: "Social media presence is the new resume." Kids need to know about digital citizenship.

Possible to-do: Look into Edmoto as a way for my kids to interact across town. Or is it just adding too much if I already have a blog and a LibGuide? Maybe too much to manage effectively, but not too much to offer?


In American Educator, Daniel T. Willingham writes about how "Grit' is trendy, but can it be taught?" He defines grit as "passion and perseverance for long-term goals," and points out that long-term in this case can mean over several YEARS. Grit "seems to measure one's willingness to keep going even when the task becomes arduous."

Grit is related to conscientiousness ("doing what you're supposed to do right now") and self-control ("avoiding impulses to do something else"). These two traits are more applicable to the classroom. However, if you want to try and teach grit-related behaviors, he gives these suggestions:

  • "help students identify what they are passionate about
  • encourage them to pursue their passion
  • teach them how to find resources to pursue their passion
  • teach them to learn from failure
  • teach them the importance of practice
  • teach them when to persist and when to seek a different path if they encounter an obstacle"

Writing for Understanding

In American Educator, an article adapted from a book by the Vermont Writing Collaborative makes the case that the way we've been teaching the writing process (prewriting, drafting, revising, editing, and publishing) isn't enough these days. Kids are presented with a glut of information and have trouble turning it into a coherent piece. They need:

  • "opportunity to reflect on their knowledge, to analyze information, to synthesize ...
  • a framework for organizing and developing ideas
  • frequent opportunities to write"

One tenet of the authors' process is "oral processing," which is something I've done with my kids. I don't give long writing assignments, but sometimes students have trouble even coming up with a few sentences. I ask struggling kids to just tell me what they want to say, and they're usually relieved that they can simply transcribe what they said. 

k6educators.about.com (Getty Images)
If I were to give a more complex research assignment, the students would need to soak up as much information as possible before even attempting to get anything down on paper. I feel like all too often, teachers give due dates that allow only for looking up a few facts and regurgitating them. The kids aren't becoming experts on their topic ... indeed, they usually aren't given much choice on their topic, and so couldn't care less about gathering the knowledge in the first place.

Since I only see the kids once a week, and have only about 20 minutes for lessons, I don't attempt long-range research projects (I tried one year, and it was a disaster). The article states that "students cannout and will not become effective writers if this kind of instruction occurs in a fragmented or decontextualized way." The same applies to research skills. 

Ideally, I would be able to partner with classroom teachers and give instruction on using databases and crediting sources at the exact time the kids need it. Teaching these concepts in a vaccum does nothing. The kids don't remember anything I went over the previous month in library, and I find them copying from Wikipedia in the back of the room as they frantically try to finish something for social studies or science. It makes me bananas. The way to go, I think, is to teach the teachers. I'm just not sure when this will happen, given that my schedule between two schools is hideous. I'd love to meet with grade-level partners during their common planning, but that's when I have their students!

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