April is known for many things…touted as the cruelest month (oh how true this year!), National Poetry Month, and most importantly, the return of America’s pastime.
Outside of the library world, however, it is hardly known that April is also School Library Month. I’ve never made a big deal out of it in the past, as I intrinsically celebrate every month as school library month, but this year, inspired by the school librarian twittersphere to share how becoming a librarian changed my life, I offer this.
Libraries have always loomed large in my life. Memory fragments:
- A small-town library of my early childhood housed in a remodeled farmhouse
- The more imposing brick edifice where I spent my tween and teen years both as a patron and a page
- The city libraries of Hartford and Evanston where I worked/studied as a college student
- Years serving as both a friend and trustee of suburban libraries in New Hampshire and Massachusetts
Yes, libraries have been woven into the very fabric of my existence.
And yet, when it came time to declare a major in college, I was encouraged to choose economics by the esteemed chairman of the department.
And when job-hunting in the late 1970’s (when library jobs paid mere pittances, especially to those without a Master’s degree), I chose banking.
A banker I remained for over ten years, rising to the position of Assistant Vice President and Branch Manager. The transition from numbers gal to bibliogal took almost as long, but a much more circuitous route. For seven years, after the birth of my second child, I explored options–from stay-at-home Mom to home daycare provider to educational toy store clerk to playgroup manager.
And then a serendipitous glance at a job posting in the local paper led me to a part-time paraprofessional job at a nearby public library. I had come home. Within months I had enrolled in a masters program and one year later I was hired as a school librarian, in a job that I still hold today, sixteen years later.
So, how did becoming a librarian change my life? It gave me back my life. My true, authentic life.
The life of a little girl who would rather organize and arrange Barbie’s outfits and accessories than actually dress her in them.
The life of a teenager whose hangout was the library stacks and whose friends were the nerds back there with her.
The life of a young adult who sought out the nearest library before finding the nearest establishment serving adult beverages when moving to a new community.
The life of an adult who cares more about what others are reading than what cars they drive.
How did I become a librarian? I think I always was one. It just took forty-plus years before I could actually put it on my resume.
When my colleague, first grade teacher Eileen Badstubner, commented that she was concerned about the amount of time her young students spent in front of screens, my response was “Have I got a book for you!”
Dot by Randi Zuckerberg (sister of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and a social media expert in her own right) is a simple, straightforward paean to a life that balances the connectedness of technology with the equally important connection to the world beyond the screen.
The recommendation turned out to be much more than a just-in-time readers advisory. The students loved the book so much that Eileen and I decided to take the read-aloud one step further. Taking a page out of Randi’s book (literally and figuratively) we came up with an idea that combined both old school and new school tools. Using good ol’ markers and paper, each student created his/her own interpretation of one of the pages in the book. These were scanned into the app Explain Everything. Then, one by one (with the cooperation of Eileen and her co-teacher Jessica Alderman), the students joined me in the library to tap, touch, swipe and speak the words and actions to make their drawings come alive.
As I noted in my previous two posts about working with kindergarten students as individuals rather than in a whole class setting, technology that allows for every voice to be heard is worth a little time in front of a screen. Won’t you spend 2 minutes and 13 seconds for a little reminder about what life is really all about?
What would you do if you found these puddles in your backyard? After reading Puddles by Jonathan London, Mrs. Lewis’ kindergarten class was asked to comment on this illustration from the book. Listen to their answers here.
Yesterday I wrote about using Voicethread for the first time with Mrs. Cahill’s kindergarten class. It was so successful in engaging every single student that I couldn’t wait to replicate that success with another class. Voicethread is so easy to use that I was able to set up this new project on the iPad and “train” a parent volunteer in less than ten minutes. Voila! A closing activity, that while not technically an assessment, at least demonstrates the engagement each child had with the read aloud of the day.
The beauty of Voicethread, as used in this manner, is that every child can comment independently without hearing the comments of their classmates. This paints a more genuine picture of what they are seeing and thinking. Each individual has a chance to be heard.
Thoughts are already percolating on future uses. Viewing primary source documents, evaluating illustrations, reading graphs, writing stories…the possibilities are endless.
As in any class there are the ones who always raise their hands, the ones too impatient to even wait to be called upon and the quiet ones who listen but never offer comments or observations. Whether it is due to shyness, introversion or just a lack of confidence, these silent children don’t have as many opportunities to share what they think.
Sure there’s “Think, Pair, Share” and “Exit Tickets” and a whole catalog of other strategies. But I continue to seek out new and different ways to let every voice be heard (even if just as a whisper). Given that I have less than a half hour of instructional time per week with my students, it is often collaboration with teachers that allows me to reach this goal. Collaboration, in conjunction with technology, has opened the door for children to speak up and speak out.
The latest venture involved kindergartners making predictions about the book Mud by Mary Lyn Ray. The predictions were based on viewing two illustrations from the book. Using Voicethread, their teacher, Stacy Cahill and I showed the children how to comment on the images. All nineteen students were given the opportunity, the wait time and the encouragement to record their own voices. And speak up they did! Listen to the wisdom of the children here.
Extra time (via collaboration) and technology provide the perfect solution to the imbalance of classroom participation. Whether it is this delightful kindergarten experience, the Readers Theater I wrote about here (thanks Amy Melisi) or the Book Trailers I wrote about here (thanks Andi Daunais and Lisa Miranda and Nick Greenwood), teacher partnerships and new technologies are giving our students the opportunity to say what they need to say.
Thanks to the assistance of my high-energy, motivated and creative student teacher, Jenn Potter, we have had a very busy January and February at the Peaslee Library. Peasleecott Awards, Book Trailers, taking on the major task of reorganizing the Dewey Decimal section, first grade research starters, MSLA bookmark contest and a Leo Lionni inspired mural. I’ll have to up my game in March to keep up!
I wrestle constantly with how much time I should devote to information literacy skills and how much to promoting the sheer joy and love of free, independent, voluntary reading. My passion is the latter, but my lessons for upper grade students often favor the former. The older my students get, the less cool recreational reading is for many of them. Is the emphasis on information literacy, then, misplaced?
As the “invested, introspective and inspired’ librarian that I aim to be, my mission is to save my students from the terrible fate of a bookless future. (Okay, that’s a little melodramatic, but it got your attention, eh?)
So swings my pedagogical pendulum. And did I mention that there’s technology integration to think about?
Tock–Free Independent Reading
Tick–Big 6 and the Inquiry Process
Tock–The Book Whisperer (awakening the inner reader in every child)
Tick — Digital learning
Tock – Old-fashioned paper based instruction
Tick–Standards for the 21st Century Learner
As is often the case, a conversation in the teachers’ lounge morphed into a project that quieted all this incessant tick-tocking. One of my colleagues asked me if I could teach the students how to make book trailers. She had seen me working on one during a summer iPad workshop. Here was an opportunity for me to “practice what I pixel”—I could “sell” books to reluctant readers, while teaching a valuable 21st century skill with an authentic purpose. The Fifth Grade Book Trailer Project was born. Still a novice with iMovie, I enlisted the help of our technology specialist and we were off and running.
Information Literacy? Check. Students learned about both safe and copyright free image searching as well as crediting sources.
Free Independent Reading? Check. Students were given (almost) complete autonomy in choosing books for this project
Inquiry Process? Check. Successful image searches required thoughtful development of key words.
The Book Whisperer? Check. Allowing and encouraging students to read what they want, in class and out.
Digital Learning? Check. Not only was the creation of an iMovie a motivator, but it also became an authentic task when we determined that we could link the book trailers to our online catalog. How exciting to see your own production featured in the school’s catalog for everyone to see!
Old-fashioned paper based learning? Check. Storyboards were created by hand so that students knew exactly what they were expected to do before beginning the movie-making process.
Standards for the 21st Century Learner? Check. Students used “technology… to display knowledge and understanding in ways that others can view, use, and assess”.
Readers’ Advisory? Check. What better reader’s advisory than a recommendation from a fellow student?
Actions speaking louder than words, please enjoy these short iMovies (45 second to two minutes) about our students’ favorite books. (And if you would like to see more, contact me for the links to the rest of these award-winning productions!)
Roll the credits, please…. Thanks go to Andi Daunais, Nick Greenwood, Lisa Miranda and Jenn Potter and all the wonderful fifth graders at Peaslee School.