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. (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!

Friday, August 26, 2016

RICBA Nominees 2017

I will be adding to this post as I make my way through the list ... favorites at the top.

Full Cicada MoonFull Cicada Moon by Marilyn Hilton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you liked Inside Out and Back Again, you will love this. It made me full of righteous anger. Poor Mimi. But she keeps bouncing back. And then Santa gave her a gift and I cried.

Paper ThingsPaper Things by Jennifer Richard Jacobson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Powerful depiction of how easy it is to fall through the cracks, and a reminder that you don't always know what's happening in the life of the kid sitting next to you. I kind of wanted to kick Gage, though. Will recommend as a readaloud to classroom teachers.

Quote: "That's the great thing about librarians; they'll help you find information without being too nosy."

The Honest TruthThe Honest Truth by Dan Gemeinhart
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was one of those books I didn't really want to read: terminally ill kid + pet dog + some survival stuff does not equal my usual reading interests. But the story pulled me in, and I think it would make a great book club read for middle grades. Lots of choices to discuss.

Ruby on the OutsideRuby on the Outside by Nora Raleigh Baskin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Short and sweet. Ruby's voice was so realistic, especially her hesitation and worrying about doing/saying the wrong thing. The fear of "getting in trouble" was heartbreaking.

p. 2: But just because you can't see something doesn't mean it's not there. And just because you don't remember something doesn't mean you don't miss it. And just because you are used to something doesn't mean it's normal.

p. 32: I wanted to keep my two worlds apart. I didn't want anything from this inside world that might affect my outside world. When I got home and that world became this world again.

p. 86: I guess you never know what you should be grateful for.

p. 108: I don't even realize what I've written until I pass it back to Margalit and then I realize that in order to keep the lid on, and keep anything from spilling out, I just switched pots on the stove completely.

p. 127: My inside and my outside are colliding. Everything is about to spill over the top, making a mess on the stovetop.

I have to add, looking at other reviews, I am not the only one who got distracted by poor proofreading ... you need to hire better freelancers, Simon & Schuster!

Trombone ShortyTrombone Shorty by Troy Andrews
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Engaging memoir that I'll be sharing with the music teacher. Thought the text was great. But the illustrations had some issues; I liked the collage-iness, but I didn't like how Trombone Shorty's face looked deformed in some of the pictures. And he definitely didn't look young enough! The photos in the back were surprising because they showed just how tiny he was ... he found his first trombone when he was FOUR.

Lillian's Right to Vote: A Celebration of the Voting Rights Act of 1965Lillian's Right to Vote: A Celebration of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by Jonah Winter
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Powerful, although students will need background information filled in before or after.

How to Swallow a Pig: Step-by-Step Advice from the Animal KingdomHow to Swallow a Pig: Step-by-Step Advice from the Animal Kingdom by Steve Jenkins
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Super interesting, although a bit long for a readaloud. One star deducted for the sometimes confusing layout.

Masterminds (Masterminds #1)Masterminds by Gordon Korman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This isn't going to win any writing awards - I couldn't tell the difference between the narrators, and the plot was a little holey - but said plot is definitely interesting. It's like a SyFy show presented for middle graders - most of the time, this kind of story is YA. Will recommend to my kids.

Upside-Down Magic (Upside-Down Magic, #1)Upside-Down Magic by Sarah Mlynowski
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Cute, quick read. Never hurts to remind kids to "Just be who you are, not who you think you should be."

The Boy Who Crashed to Earth (HiLo #1)The Boy Who Crashed to Earth by Judd Winick
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I am not the target audience for this book, and I found some of it kind of dorky. However, I know my kids will LOVE the combination of adventure and humor. I forsee a long hold list. Also, I love that Judd was on the Real World: San Francisco and is now finding success in his chosen field!

Growing Up Pedro: How the Martinez Brothers Made It from the Dominican Republic All the Way to the Major LeaguesGrowing Up Pedro: How the Martinez Brothers Made It from the Dominican Republic All the Way to the Major Leagues by Matt Tavares
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Nice messages re: family ties and working hard.

SistersSisters by Raina Telgemeier
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Solid depiction of adolescent angst and sibling annoyance.

View all my reviews A Whole New Ballgame (Rip and Red, #1)A Whole New Ballgame by Phil Bildner
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A bit heavy-handed with the anti-testing message (not that I disagree), but overall a nice early-middle-grade book with sports and classroom angst mixed together. Will definitely recommend as a readaloud to 4th grade teachers.

Books mentioned: Out of My Mind; Lawn Boy; Geeks, Girls, and Secret Identities; I Survived series; From the Notebooks of Melanin Sun; Real Revision by Kate Messner.

A Handful of StarsA Handful of Stars by Cynthia Lord
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Lily was a realistic character - a somewhat paranoid, stubborn character. My 4th grade girls will LOVE the book.

RatscaliburRatscalibur by Josh Lieb
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

It was fine for a fantasy adventure with talking animals. Not my cup of tea. And Uncle Patrick calling Joey "honcho" was very annoying. However, the twist with the villain was definitely interesting.

Wondering how they will explain everything to Mom?

Took: A Ghost StoryTook: A Ghost Story by Mary Downing Hahn
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This was my first Hahn book - and my first eBook! I thought it would be scarier.

Into the Killing SeasInto the Killing Seas by Michael P. Spradlin
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

So stressful. And the twist at the end was annoying.

Stella by StarlightStella by Starlight by Sharon M. Draper
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I just did not connect with Stella, and the dialogue seemed stagey.

The Misadventures of the Family FletcherThe Misadventures of the Family Fletcher by Dana Alison Levy
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Just because a family has two dads and four adopted kids doesn't make them all that interesting. I didn't get a true sense of anyone's personality; the omniscient narration seemed all over the place, and I didn't really care about any of the characters. I did, however, like the short notes that started each chapter. That was a nice touch. Maybe if the entire book had been epistolary, I would have liked it more.

Ellie's Story (A Dog's Purpose)Ellie's Story by W. Bruce Cameron
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I didn't think I'd like it, but I read all the RICBA books each year, so I suffered through it. However, my kids already LOVE it. And they're the audience.

Ideas from Sept/Oct 2016 American Libraries

Upcoming Events to Celebrate
  • September: Library Card Sign-Up Month. Our department met this week and discussed partnering with the public libraries in some way to try and get all students to sign up for a library card. One roadblock is that an adult signature is required for anyone under the age of 14. Which means that said adult needs to go to the library with the kid to get a card, which is not always possible. We're looking at some way to have parents sign something at home and then have the kids get their cards at school.

  • October 16-22: National Friends of Libraries Week. Our state organization is trying to come up with a toolkit for school libraries to create Friends organizations. The problem is that most public library Friends pay dues, and that's something we might need school committee approval on. I need to look into this more ... oh, look, a toolkit has already been created by United for Libraries

Readers' Advisory

I show my kids how to use Novelist (we have a subscription through our statewide consortium) and Goodreads to find a new book to read. Here are some libraries who are doing it very personally:

I'm thinking that a goal for the future could be to set up an online book recommendation service for my kids like Darien's "You Are What You Read Next."

Web Site Accessibility

Meredith Farkas points out that now people are able to create their own web content v. hiring a designer who would keep accessibility in mind, and we usually aren't really thinking about it. She gives some tips: add alternative text descriptions to images; make sure title attributes of links are clearly described; check this list from the University of Washington.

Farkas also notes that "accessiblity isn't just a nice thing to do - it's a legal requirement. Several colleges have been subject to lawsuits from the National Federation of the Blind in recent years for requiring the use of technologies that were inaccessible."

Coding in the Library

The CS4RI initiative championed by our governor seeks to have computer science offered to all public school students by December 2017. Linda Braun mentions the ALA/Google "Libraries Ready to Code" project, but I can't find anything much about it online besides a press release announcing its launch. I've heard great things about the curriculum, but here's the thing:

The longer I've been teaching in an elementary school library (I'm going into my 6th year), the more I believe that my most important role is to foster a love of reading for pleasure. It sounds so low-tech and old-fashioned, but given that kids are bombarded with required texts that in turn require them to parse out theme, author's purpose, etc., they just don't get much time during the day to read for fun. And when they go home, most of them are bombarded with other ways to spend their time. ... and yes, I realize that grandparents reading
may not inspire kids, but I couldn't find a photo online
of the youngest daughter reading her book
RELATED NOTE: I watched a couple of episodes of Life in Pieces last night, and was struck by the fact that several characters were shown reading at the start of a few scenes. Another reason it's a great show!

BACK ON TOPIC: Colleagues have told me that there are lots of lessons that don't even require computers; they focus more on "computational thinking" and problem-solving. Which I'm all for. However, I was hired to teach information/media literacy, as well as to run a circulating library. I already don't have enough time to cover everything I'd like in the (max) 12 instructional hours PER YEAR I have my kids. I'd be happy to deliver a coding/tech curriculum, but it would have to be during a dedicated coding/tech time.

Professional Development

I'm not being formally evaluated this year, but I have ideas for my Professional Growth Goal for next year. Being Indispensible: A School Librarian's Guide to Becoming an Invaluable Leader by Ruth Toor and Hilda K. Weisburg will probably factor into it.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Ideas from March/April 2015 American Libraries


What learning/circ challenges can you present your students in the guise of a game? Bohyun Kim points to for lots of examples of gamification influencing consumer behavior. I wish the article include specific ideas for libraries. But I guess that's up to us! I've found that any time I present an assignment as a competition between teams, the kids' engagement goes up exponentially.

Edited to add this from summer 2016 issue of Entrsekt: Gamification strategies include leveling up, missions, visual maps, rules and obstacles, and extended simulations.

Pegagogy/Curriculum Development

An article by Joan Lippincott suggest several ways in which librarians can support "new types of assignments that require students to produce projects using a variety of technologies as a means to:

  • increase student engagement with course content
  • provide students with opportunities to explore new media technologies and innovate in their academic work
  • increase individualization of assignments, which can also reduce plagiarism
  • facilitate student expression in media that are not purely textual"

FMSS Library
The article is geared towards academic libraries, and I have to say, one of the scariest sentences in the article is " ... it is also often noted that few faculty have had any formal preparation for teaching. Similarly, there are many academic librarians who have had no formal preparation to take on teaching roles." Yikes!

Luckily, K-12 librarians do have some (but not enough) teaching training before they arrive in their own classrooms. Often, however we are closer to our grad school courses than the classroom teachers we work with. I die a little inside every time I hear of a PowerPoint being assigned (especially if the kids are given a limit on the number of [way too text-heavy] slides and not expected to credit image sources). There are so many more options including:

  • "creating a website or a video
  • working with other students on a group project
  • collecting, analyzing, and presenting data
  • solving problems
  • incorporating special collections materials into a media product
  • conducting an interview with someone in a remote location
  • making a physical object"

My PGG next year may involve collaborating more with classroom teachers to create more authentic learning assignments.

School Librarian as Learning Alchemist

Things I want to do this year:

  • have kids bring their own devices with them to try out web sites/apps and do research
  • make all extra-credit assignments available online for those who might want to go back at the end of term to add more points to their scores
  • spend more time on fact v. opininon, which ties into "teaching students how to evaluate the credibility of information"

Search Engines for Kids

Oh, my, look at this gorgeous site from DK.  
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This work by Meredith C. Moore is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.