Thursday, September 11, 2014

40 Book Challenge

I've often written about Donalyn Miller and her take on reading in the classroom. Whenever I hear her, or read what's she's written, all I want to say is "Amen!"

When I came to Greenhill in 2007, I was thrilled to see that the middle school students read. They read A LOT!!!! Encouraged and supported by their literature teachers, the kids rushed into the library, selected books, and read during one class per rotation. I just couldn't keep up with them. (Middle school kids don't drive, do laundry, cook dinner, cleanup, market, etc.) It was a great problem to have. Several years ago, however, the middle school schedule changed. Now the kids had longer class periods (from 40 minutes to 55 which I love), but there was no longer a split between literature and composition. Outside reading plummeted. Last year I would see kids tote the same book to the library week after week, not having read a page between library times. My heart broke.

While I don't have the influence of a classroom teacher, I decided that I needed to do something to help with my concern. I needed a program or something to help encourage the kids to read. Obviously, book talking, blogging, "New Books" emails, and verbal encouragement wasn't working. Leave it to social media. Donalyn Miller's blog post about what some folks had done to the 40 Book Challenge piqued my curiosity. What a great program! Kids read a variety of 40 books during the school year!

During inservice, I mentioned the 40 Book Challenge to my colleague, Katie Beth Miller. She was meeting with the middle school English teachers that morning. I asked her to present the idea to see if it would fly. Surprisingly, all of the English teachers decided to participate, and some even challenged themselves, like me, to do the challenge along with the kids. Katie Beth went above and beyond getting materials together. She created a Prezi to show to the kids delineating the program, created log sheets where kids could check off the genres of books read, and posters to promote the program. (Katie Beth is so talented that she could be a graphic artist!)

I got a copy of Donalyn Miller's book, The Book Whisperer, and devoured it in my doctor's waiting room. I agreed with every page. Yes, yes, yes! I was so excited!

Here's the deal:

1. Students read 40 books during the school year.
2. There is a list of genres to ensure kids don't get stuck in a rut reading the same type of book over and over.
3. Kid will post what they read on BiblioNasium.
4. No grades, no treats, no reading logs, etc.
5. Reading for the sheer joy of reading.

Yesterday, on an email, I got a link to a Washington Post article "Why Kids Should Choose Their Own Books to Read in School." I want to say, "Duh!" Then I found a link to this blog post tweeted by Teri Lesesne "Reading-It's Good for You."

 If readers know these things, if the research says these things, then why aren't we DOING these things?

My rant for today.

Friday, September 5, 2014

6th Grade Science Literacy

Science teachers extraordinaire, Megan VanWart, Heather Haas, and Stacey Van Wink, asked us to teach their sixth grade science students about plagiarism (everyone's favorite subject), web evaluation, and NoodleTools. I put together a LiveBinder with resources and had the students "flip" some of the learning.

The first day we reviewed plagiarism by watching a video, discussing ways to prevent plagiarism, and taking notes by utilizing fact fragments. After the students took notes, they paraphrased them into paragraphs with the information they found. I had the kids take an online "quiz" about plagiarism which helped them to practice their skills.

I "flipped" some of the learning by having the sixth graders watch a Youtube video called Credible Web Sites? and read two short pieces about evaluating web sites. When they came to the library, they took a short Socrative Quiz to demonstrate their knowledge that they should have acquired in the homework assignment. I love Socrative's new interface! Using Kathy Schrock's 5 W's of Web Site Evaluation, we discussed how to evaluate web sites. I've created a Google Form for the kids to do their evaluations.

Having searched for good places for kids to get science articles, I added those resources to the LiveBinder as well. My new favorite is Newsela (Science) which I learned about at the ISAS Workshop in New Orleans last February. We have used it to help the kids find good quality current events articles as well.

Students learned to share their NoodleTools projects, and I will track their progress as they add citations for the web articles they will be using throughout the year.


Thursday, September 4, 2014

It "ain't" your mama's library anymore!

Yesterday the library staff had a very interesting discussion. The purpose of the meeting was to plan an Open House for Faculty and Staff after the first full faculty meeting. Many ideas were shared, but none of us were satisfied by any of the discussion. In the end, we decided that an Open House wasn't really the correct forum for what we are attempting to achieve.

We really want our faculty and staff to understand that the role of the school library has changed. We want to focus on the five roles of a school librarian: 1. Leader, 2. Instructional Partner, 3. Information Specialist, 4. Teacher, and 5. Program Administrator. Those teachers who work with us on a consistent basis "get it," but how to make others understand?

We thought about showcasing new books, but that would perpetuate the myth that the library is all about books. After a full day of teaching and an all-school faculty meeting, we didn't think anyone would want to see a demonstration of eBooks, databases, and NoodleTools. (Demonstrations like TLA?)

One of my biggest concerns here is that the library is viewed as a building, not a program. This happens in too many places. Some view it as a place to warehouse kids for testing, babysitting, etc. Would they ask the math department to vacate their classrooms for testing? No, of course not! The science department is not ever concerned with having to close down because there's a need to warehouse students. However, the library is the number one place people think of when there's a need for a place to put kids. When AP testing occurs, 50 students in the library trump 1825 others who cannot use the library. Is that right?

I think it's very difficult to quantify and "condense" what we do. Because we partner with teachers, much of our efforts and hard work are discounted because the finished product is what "matters." Too many folks don't understand that great process makes great products that that the process MUST BE INTENTIONALLY TAUGHT. Kids don't get it by osmosis. (If I've heard the phrase "Don't the kids already know that?" one more time, I'm going to scream.)

How to share what we do? I'm still not really sure the best way. We've got some ideas "percolating," but nothing concrete. An Open House just doesn't seem to work. (I still can't see how someone could demonstrate being a Program Administrator!)

School librarians are no longer the gatekeepers for books. Yes, we do the collection development, purchasing, and processing. But books are a means to an end. Books provide the vehicle to encourage and support recreational and informational reading, to support the curriculum, and to support research and critical thinking. We use library databases to give our students and staff access to QUALITY information that they can use to create new understanding. We teach technology tools, not because they are cutesy, but because they are vehicles to creation of new thinking and a demonstration of learning.

To me, a Library "Open House" would be like going to a symphony concert and simply be handed a piece of sheet music. Yes, the music is integral to the performance, but without the expertise of the musicians, the quality of their instruments, the hall in which they play, and a conductor to bring it all together, the sheet music really isn't worth the paper on which it is printed.

My rant for the day...

Friday, August 29, 2014

My mantra for 2014-2015

The First Week of School

As we are about to finish the first week of school, I must muse a bit. This is my thirty-eighth first week of school as an educator. (Yes, that makes me old.) This is my eighth year at Greenhill, and my eighteenth as a school librarian. Wow! In many ways it has gone very fast, and in other ways, it seems like a very long journey. This week seemed VERY long. Monday seems ages ago.

We get caught up in the "getting ready" for school. There are myriad meetings, discussions, plans, activities, etc., but sometimes I think we really get too caught up in all of that. I know that I've spent more time planning meeting agendas, answering emails, meeting with colleagues, writing an essay for my Folio Evaluation, setting goals, dealing with budgetary matters, technology issues, building needs and so on and so on.

Sitting at lunch last week, an upper school teacher asked if he could join me. "Sure," I said, "but you are going to inundated with a bunch of librarians."

"That's okay," he replied. "I like books."

Books? We do books? I hadn't even thought about books. The love of reading and books is what brought me to librarianship, but I hadn't been thinking about books. Research projects, yes. Purchase orders, check. Schedules, done.

But books?

Sadly, I get to work with books less and less and with other "stuff" more and more.

As we are about to start the 40 Book Challenge with our Middle School students, I hope books and reading come more to the forefront. I sat at the doctor's office on Wednesday and read Donalyn Miller's book, The Book Whisperer. Yes, she was preaching to the choir, but this librarian needed to be refocused. I need to be the kind of librarian that matches Donalyn's zeal for books.

So, I'm anxious to start the 40 Book Challenge. Yes, I think it' important to "walk the walk." I hope I can read more than 40 books. I'm going to try to focus on what brought me to librarianship in the first place.

Books? Yes, we do books. Let me tell you about a few...

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Ask My Mood Ring How I Feel by Diana Lopez

Tomorrow I attend the memorial service of a young woman who died of breast cancer. Yes, I said young woman. A young woman who had her life ahead of her.

Breast cancer is the focus of the book I finished reading a couple of weeks ago. In Ask My Mood Ring How I Feel, Chia's mother is diagnosed with the disease. Chia want to help, but doesn't know how until she comes up with the idea of a promesa to God in exchange for her mom's health. Initially, she decides to run a 5K in her mother's honor, but she realizes that's too easy. She determines that she will get 500 sponsors to sign up to support her in the race. Unfortunately, she forgets about homework, friends, watching her little brother while her mother is ill, and dealing with her precocious, very intelligent little sister. Her mood ring gauges how she feels throughout the ordeal.

Cancer does not just impact the person with the disease, but the family as well. Chia, like any child, worries that her mother will die and leave her. She's forced to assume adult roles in the household as the oldest child. Her sister, Carmen, internalizes her feelings in other ways such a counting inconsequential things and showing off her intellectual superiority. Jimmy, their young brother, acts out worse than usual. The kids' dad also acts on his stress and worry, often taking it out on the kids.

Unfortunately, there are a number of kids who must travel the same road that Chia does. I appreciate that Diana Lopez dealt with a tough topic honestly and realistically. There's no sugar coating here.

I only hope that some day books like this will not have to be written.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

I read Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell a couple of months ago, but I didn't have time to blog about it after I read it. Having read and loved Eleanor and Park, I was anxious to see if Ms. Rowell could replicate the excellence of the previous book. While I didn't like Fangirl as much as E and P, I still thought it was a great read.

Cath and her twin sister Wren are freshmen at the University of Nebraska. Cath is an aspiring writer, having a great following for her fan fiction of a popular book series somewhat like Harry Potter. Cath falls for her roommate's "boyfriend," Levi, while her sister becomes a fan of alcohol and partying.

This is a coming of age tale. Cath grows from a insecure child living in the shadow of her much more popular sister only to find that she is the stronger, more sensible twin. She also realizes that her mother's rejection and her father's fragility do not define her.