Monday, November 24, 2014

Family Book Club Nights

The last two weeks we have hosted 3rd and 4th grade Parent/Student Book clubs as part of a way to promote reading within the family.  Our 3rd grade students read the book "Runt" by Marion Dane Bauer and our 4th Graders read the book "Capture the Flag" by Kate Messer.  In each case we had originally budgeted for ten copies so that we would have approximately 20 people show up for each group.  In both cases we had to order more copies because of the response from parents and students. This was the first time I had done something like this so I was unsure what kind of a response to expect.

Our 3rd graders and their parents really got into the story of Runt and his pack.  We talked about things like the roles of each character within the pack, as well as that of Bider, the outsider.  Issues about the interaction of humans and wolves was discussed briefly.  We shared our thoughts about whether we thought Bider would have made a good leader, and about the relationship between Runt and his father King, tying it back to our own parent and child relationships.

Our 4th grade students enjoyed learning about the original Star Spangled Banner and it's size.  This actually raised some questions based on how simply Kate Messner explained it being stolen.  Interestingly parts of the story, such as the restoration of the flag were actually based in reality.  We shared our favorite characters and moments.  Some of our parents even expressed concern that the heroes in the story, all of whom were children, were allowed to roam unsupervised around an airport.  Thus we had an interesting discussion regarding the idea that the first rule of any good children's book is to eliminate the parents from a story line. One of our students had even figured out how he would have carried out the crime differently.  Most interesting was the discussion regarding the villain of the story and his ambitions.  We all agreed that the dog Hammurabi was pretty cool. Luckily I was able to share that there are two other books in this series so I think the kids that came will keep reading.

In both cases I was able to show the parents how I used Destiny Quest, and Follett's Webpath Express to do online research and create citations in regards to the topics of the books.  This was a great way to advocate both for paid database sources and citation of sources in a friendly way in which the parents can see what it is their students are learning.

The week we come back from Thanksgiving I will be meeting with the 5th graders and their parents to share about "Sophia's War" by Avi.  It is a challenging book due to the context in which the story is set so I am curious to see how they all handled it.  Still it fit the 5th grade curriculum and makes history interesting.

I'm also getting ready to send out our letters about our "Guys Read" book Club which will run from the latter part of January to late April.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Getting Busy

So it's been a while since my last post.  What can I say, it's been a busy school year.  So far we've unveiled some of our new initiatives and each of them have met with success.  Earlier this year we began with the creation of our first Battle of the Books team.  We had about 20 students express an interest and so far several of them have submitted questions for the books that they have been reading.  I don't know how many of those interested will read the 5 books and write six questions for each title but it's a start.

Our parent/child book club is off to a powerful start this year.  In the past students were selected by a drawing with only 10 students per grade level.  This year we were able to allow everyone who wanted to participate to do so.  the good news is that I had to order more copies of the books.  Our 3rd grade is reading Runt, but Marion Dane Bauer, one of my personal all time favorites.  4th Grade is reading Capture the Flag by Kate Messner. It looked like a good spy novel to get boys to read and it's one of the NC Children's Book Award nominees for this year.  Our 5th grade is reading Sophia's War by Avi, also one of the NC Children's Book Award Nominees.  5th grade studies US history so what better way to bring the America Revolution to life than to have them read a novel about Benedict Arnold and his efforts to betray General Washington.  We will be meeting in November and December so it's going to be a busy few weeks for me to get all the reading done.

Most recently I got a fun opportunity to do an activity I hadn't done in years.  Our art teacher was looking for a way to collaborate so I shared my old Book Character pumpkin idea with him.  We ended up getting a range of characters that included Tom Sawyer, No David, Charlotte's Web, and the Tortoise and the Hare as well as several other familiar faces.  As far as originality goes I was most impressed with the selection of the character "Scabbers/Peter Pettigrew" from Harry Potter.  I've had a lot of Potter themed pumpkins in the past but this is the first time a supporting character was the one that was designed.  I've attached a link to the slideshow of pumpkins if you are interested.  We were even able to get the School System TV channel come out and interview some of our students. 

Finally, beyond the school level, I took over as the NC School Library Media Association President-Elect for the next year.  That means I am in charge of planning our conference for next year.  Our theme is: Empowering Our Students: Literacy for All.  My hope is that we can provide a real focus on students that come from poverty as well as those who face challenges based on language barriers or even other types of discrimination.

We've got some great names like Dr. Rebecca Constantino who runs a non-profit in California that works to replace outdated school libraries since there is not state money set aside for this.  She did her Doctoral work with Dr. Stephen Krashen who has long argued in favor of the value of school libraries and combining that with her heart for working to supply libraries for those with the greatest need and the least resources she was a perfect fit for our conference.  I've also planned to have Joyce Valenza, a librarian who has worked at various levels and types of facilities over the years.  She's quite prolific in the school library field and brings an enthusiasm for how to continue adapting our field with the times.  My dear friend and now big name author, Deborah Wiles has agreed to come as well.  Over the years I have loved her work from "Love, Ruby Lavender" and "Freedom Summer," to her new extremely powerful novel "Revolution," Which has won the Distinction of being on the National Book Award List.  We've also talked to Donald Davis who is a storyteller from the Outer Banks of North Carolina about coming to enthrall us with his talents.  I've heard glowing reviews of his work from several of my highly respected colleagues so I'm ecstatic about this given my love for traditional storytelling.  I'm in the process of getting contracts ready to send out to all these people so while they aren't "official" yet, they have all verbally agreed to come. 

Sorry this is so long.  I'm hoping I can write more regularly which should solve that problem.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Elementary Battle of the Books

Today our school held its first two interest meetings for our Elementary Battle of the Books.  I was completely unsure what to expect but so far everything seems to be going extremely positively.

Our wonderful PTA has backed us from a financial standpoint and purchased extra copies of the books for our library. I am grateful for their support.  I'm not really sure how I would get enough copies of the books otherwise.  Soon we will have three physical copies of each book and a few in    e-book format.

As for the kids their interest has been phenomenal.  I briefly book talked all 18 of the titles with each of the 4th and 5th grade students which for us is about 250 kids.  The copies that we already had are now all checked out with waiting lists.  Even some of the kids who haven't officially expressed an interest in Battle of the Books were asking for the titles.  This is not something I would consider normal behavior unless we are talking about Diary of a Wimpy Kid or Minecraft.

I've recruited 4 other teachers who are willing to help coach our kids and be "experts" on some of the books which is good because I'm not sure how I'd get all 18 of the titles read on my own.  I've got two read but need to write questions for them.

After our two interest meetings we have 15 kids who have expressed interest along with their parents so hopefully we can field a full 12 person team.  I'm holding out hope that some other kids who did not come to the meetings will still want to participate.  I'm going to remind the students in class as I see them the next time.

In general this to me is an outstanding success that I am excited about.  As long as the kids have fun this year, and share the titles with their classmates then I think we've done something pretty important in regards to sharing a love of books.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

The Book Whisperer

       Earlier this summer I was at a workshop by Eric Jensen expanding my knowledge base from his books "Teaching Kids with Poverty in Mind."  It was while I was there that "The Book Whisperer" by Donalyn Miller was recommended to me.  The teacher was very enthusiastic about the title and I had already ordered the title for our Professional collection.  Needless to say I was excited when both it and "Reading in the Wild" arrived at school.  I took "Book Whisperer" home with me and read it.  It was a quick read and best of all it excited me about reading.  I'm a librarian, so I'm a reader at heart but it is always refreshing to read books that are written with passion and a desire to inspire others in education.
As I flew through the book I got frustrated that I couldn't highlight inside it because it was a library book.  Rarely do I read a book from a library, especially a professional book and think, I need to get my own copy of this.  That said, it encapsulated and gave voice to my own philosophy of inspiring a life-long love of reading.

I've been doing a lot of reading recently with being in grad school but I am sad to say that, like our students it was purely for information gathering purposes and not only did not inspire a love of reading. As a result I can certainly relate to students reading a number of texts that they simply don't love.  Thankfully I have been buoyed by a strong foundation that can overcome this less than enjoyable reading to remember that come reading can in fact be fun.

Oddly, this philosophy is somewhat contrasted with "Annual Growth for All Students" which shows how a school system's approach to address reading deficiencies in it's students before 3rd grade. The methods successfully implemented in by the staff in this book use pre-scripted lesson methods and materials like those found in the "Imagine It" series, a textbook source our school system uses.  It is a method that many teachers do not like because they feel that it stifles their individual strengths or their unique classroom makeup.

The reason that many students are behind in their reading skills is that they have not been exposed to or given the opportunity to read as much as others.  I would imagine that whether you choose to use the pre-scripted methods or the more personalized choose your own books (that are on your actual reading level, not your grade level), I imagine the key is what kind of data you collect and how you analyze it to determine deficiencies and skills that need addressing.  Certainly many books on a wide variety of levels can do this,it just becomes a bit more work to make it happen.  Admittedly, more work is nt something most of us want to hear.   Yet having said that, if we can create students who love to read, their internal motivation should help solve the problem of students struggling with reading skills while also creating a society of literate citizens, something we should all desire whether we teach, have children of our own, or merely live here.

Monday, August 4, 2014

An Explosion of Initaitives

This summer I decided to try a few new things to challenge myself professionally.  My previous post was one program that I plan to work on.  This post will share several other initiatives that our library will be exploring this year.

Last Spring I got to hear an inspirational talk from one of the leaders in the library field and someone I feel speaks to some of the very real challenge our profession faces.  +Jennifer LaGarde set me to thinking both in her talk to our county's librarians, and in listening to her speech at AASL.  My thanks to those who posted it to YouTube.  While I like to think of my library as a warm and inviting place I also know that there are some areas where recalibration and reinvention are necessary.  Perhaps some of you have tried these at least some of these efforts in your library in the past.  If so I would love to know how they worked.

1.  This year, thanks to the persistence of some staff members and the willingness of our PTA to fund the effort, our school will form its own Elementary Battle of the Books team in the 4th and 5th grades. I've been involved in the NC Children's Book Award Program for years but I've never participated in this particular program.  It is my hope that this program will allow our most advanced readers to grow in their reading skills and find a way to experience some academic competition.  Having seen some of the other programs in our district I know that there are some success stories and tough competition.

2. One of the untapped resources over the years that I have missed is student publishing.  I have from time to time been given student created comic books which I have willingly cataloged and checked out. Having said that I have never actively promoted this concept.  Obviously the best way to get better at writing is to practice.  In addition, what better way to get students to understand the need to edit and revise their works.  Most importantly it explores the area of Intellectual Property from a different perspective than we usually do since the student is the creator.

3. For the last several years our school has hosted parent and child book clubs.  In the past a colleague of mine organized and facilitated these groups twice a year for third, fourth, and fifth grade students.  This year she will not be at our school but I was honored when she asked me to take over a project that I know was very dear to her.  I look forward to engaging conversations with parents and their children over some new books.  Again, I can't begin to say thank you enough to our PTA who have been willing to purchase books for this outreach.

4. The opportunity I am most excited about the potential for however is the creation of a Boys Reading Club.  I applied for a grant to fund the purchase of books for this endeavor so I will need to wait another month to see if it comes to fruition.  If it does, then the plan is to let the boys select the books they want to purchase from some catalogs.  They will meet several times through out the year and will share their reading experiences with their peers as well as create book reviews to install on our Online Catalog System and perhaps some book trailers to run on our school broadcast system.  Boys and reading has been a passion of mine for a long time so I am hopeful that this project will work out.  even if the funding doesn't come through I will have the book club but simply let students pick out books from our library collection to use.  Either way this should be a fun experiment.

For those of you who are interested, yes we will still be doing all the programs we have done before in the library, we are just seeing if we can dig a little deeper.  I'm setting higher expectations for myself and my students this year.  I'm excited to see what learning and growth occurs for all of us as a result.

No One to Listen

One of my favorite images of children is watching them snuggle up to a parent and listen to a good story.  My wife and I enjoy this evening activity with our son on a nightly basis.  The hope is that by establishing this routine now, he will be more likely to develop into an independent reader once he gets a bit older.  This seems like something that every parent should be doing with their child.  As a librarian it just makes sense.  Yet for so many of my students (and probably yours too) this isn't the case. The reasons are varied and exploring them is far beyond the scope of this blog post.

I recently ran across an idea that I really liked which might address this problem.  One librarian mentioned that she had noticed this problem with her students and so she had sought to address the issue by providing her third grade students with an unconventional reading buddy.  She was able to acquire through various means, a collection of stuffed animals.  Students were then given the option to select a stuffed animal "reading buddy," take it home, read to it, and then keep the librarian updated on how it was going.  There were of course expectations and rules associated with the taking the stuffed animal home and these were gone over with the student. Students were made to understand that this was their buddy and they were responsible for its care and maintenance while it was in their possession, much like a real pet.

I don't recall whether the student was expected to keep track of the actual reading or to journal about it or not. I will need to go back and reach out to the librarian to find out specifics.  I do remember that she followed up with the teachers of the students who were involved in the project and tried to monitor their growth in reading.  This is taking an idea into the realm of action research.  Her findings were that the majority of the students did indeed show growth.  None of the students regressed.  It got me thinking.

This year, there are going to be a few new ideas that I experiment with in the library.  One of them will be stuffed animal reading buddies.  I'll probably start with one grade level but if the program is successful why not expand it?  Kids need to be shown that they are cared about and that they can be trusted to care for others.  What better way to establish empathy than to given them a "friend" to share a book with.  Just something to think about.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Why I'm Keeping Dewey

There's been a great deal of interest over the past few years about shelving library books in the same manner that book stores do.  In other words, to put our books in order by genre. Admittedly a lot of time and research was put in place by the good folks at Barnes and Noble, Borders, and other fine bookstore chains.  Millions of dollars were spent to organize their shelves in ways that would hopefully drive up sales.  Here's the thing.  Most of those stores are currently being closed because the companies are losing money. Obviously something didn't work out exactly as they hoped.  So let's take a step back and consider a few things.

Keeping the main thing, the main thing.

The purpose of a school library is to help students and teachers  find the resources they need.  I get why genre selection is popular.  It lets kids go to one section, which they know already, and find a book most likely to pique their curiosity.  Yet it also prevents them from stumbling upon a book that is outside of that particular genre.  In addition how do you shelve a Katie Kazoo book?  Is it humor or realistic fiction? What about Gregor the Overlander? Is it fantasy fiction or adventure?  Let's not even talk about the Hunger Games.  It could be fantasy, science-fiction or adventure?  

So if the main thing is to help kids find what they are looking for we need to examine a few things like equipment, time allotted, and methods used.  


Most schools by now have converted to computer catalogs.  Ours uses Destiny Online.  Are you students allowed to use them each and every time they come to look for resources?  We have ours is set up and billed as a one stop shop for materials and websites thanks to Webpath Express.  That said we add additional useful websites into our collection in addition to the ones we pay for.  Do you have visuals of the book covers?  That tends to be a great help.  Again, this is likely an option to pay for, but well worth the money.


Do your students  have time to browse?  If your answer is yes, then are they using their time efficiently?  Do they spend almost all of their 15 minutes on the computer and one minute at the shelves? Do they talk to their friends for the majority of the time? If you answered no, what can you do to convince teachers to allow their students more than 5 minutes in the library? If your check out is during class times, how can you adjust your lessons to accommodate this and still accomplish what you need to do? Perhaps you could have students check out in small groups during class to discourage talking and rotate through the class so not everyone checks out at the same time?

Instructional Methods

I saved the methods used for last because it involves taking a hard look at ourselves and the manner in which we instruct.  This can be difficult at first but one thing I learned a long time ago is that reflective teaching means better teaching.  According researchers like Eric Jensen a lot of kids are simply bored in their classrooms and thus aren't paying a whole lot of attention when we teach.  This is true of all instructors not just librarians. So when we teach are we talking the majority of the time or are the kids talking about the tack in front of them? Are they actively engaged or passively waiting for you to tell them what to do? How often do you go over the process?  Do you embed it in multiple activities throughout the year so that you aren't necessarily having a DDC lesson? I tend to embed the OPAC in most of my lessons so that finding resources of any type become second nature for a large number of my students.


For the record, I don't recommend having your students memorize Dewey.  I don't know everything and I'm in the library every day.  It's a worthless skill.  The reason we used to do that is to find the material.  Now, we type it into the computer and instead it tells us where to go.  As long as your students understand which section is which in your library then they should be able to navigate through the shelves to the right place.

I know there are still some kids who like to browse.  That's great.  How well are your shelves labelled beyond the numbers?  Do you have visual aids to assist them? One librarian has some live cockroaches above her insect section.  I don't do well with live critters but I think the message is awesome.  I'm working on signage for my shelves.  Each column gets a sign with graphics of what is on the shelf. Give them visual clues, not bookshelves that look identical from a distance.

I've probably not convinced anyone to change their mind, but realize that first and foremost changing over your library organization method is a lot of hard work.  That in itself is not a reason to refrain from doing it.  It also isn't something that vendors tend to catalog for so there will be continuous cataloging for your library personnel, whether that means you or an assistant.  It will also mean lots of money spent on genre stickers.  If you are seriously invested in the idea and you are convinced that it will increase your students' ability to read then get to it.  I support your bold effort.  I'm simply going to work to make students and teachers better able to navigate the system we currently have.