When you care about your students, program and teaching/learning space (aka the library and its collection) as much as I do, it can be a very difficult decision to take a leave from school and bequeath your professional world to another (albeit temporarily).
Fortunately for me, while recuperating and rehabbing at home from hip replacement surgery, my library has been in good hands under the direction of my former student teacher, Jenn Potter. This post is dedicated to her. Kudos and thanks to Mrs. Potter for inspiring the children, supporting the curriculum and taking such good care of the library itself.
While I planned out the first week of lesson plans and left a general direction for the remaining four weeks of my leave, I encouraged Jenn to improvise, test out lessons she will use next year in her own library, and to be responsive to what the students and teachers needed while I was out. That she did!
In her second week of teaching, she devised creative mini-projects for each grade applying not only the learning objectives from the previous week, but also special get well and birthday greetings for me. These she hand-delivered, providing me hours of reading pleasure during my days cooped up at home missing Peaslee School.
Here then is a retrospective of their work– designed by Jenn as assessments, but for me they were gifts bestowed, full of sensitivity, imagination, humor and the hearts and souls of my students.
Kindergarten students learned about the five senses through the book Hello Ocean (by Pam Munoz Ryan). Each class then created a gigantic birthday card featuring presents I could SEE, pizzas I could SMELL, favors I could TOUCH, happy party sounds to HEAR and cakes to TASTE.
Experiencing books in different ways is one of the units I teach in first grade. I asked Jenn to read Mouse Match (by Ed Young). I love this book because of the surprising reveal at the end. The book is not as it appears. Rather than separate pages, the book is constructed as one long (folded) page, mimicking a Chinese scroll. The second surprise is that the story is told in Chinese characters on the back of the “scroll”. In honor of this book, the first graders created a two-sided get well scroll. Included in the illustrations were my favorite drink (coffee), my favorite team (Red Sox) and even an illustration of my new hip!
Second and third graders love folk and fairy tales and we do a great deal of work with them throughout the year. Retellings (or fractured fairy tales) are some of their favorites. So, they wrote their own. While not intended as get well stories, laughter being the best medicine, their curative power was potent. Whether it was three little chipmunks evading a chainsaw, book nerds evading a bully or squid elephants who like sushi, I chuckled the afternoon away and felt better immediately.
As part of our extensive research unit in fourth grade, we have just begun to venture into website evaluation. Our learning objective was for students to realize that they must be able to distinguish between fact and fiction, what is true and what is false on the Internet. After visiting several bogus and several real sites, the children were challenged to make a small project with a fact (or fiction) about themselves. It was my job to determine what was true and what was false, a fun activity for the long hours I was at home. I learned about Native American relatives, scrunchie collections and how much older sisters’ prom dresses cost. Oh, and also that one of them is NOT secretly Bigfoot.
As Dick Van Dyke sang in Bye Bye Birdie, you can “spread sunshine all over the place (if you) just put on a happy face.” The reverse proves true as well. The sunshine radiating from my fifth graders sun-themed shape poems put a radiant smile on my face. Vibrant, amusing and lyrical, these works of art were shining rays of warmth during my recuperative phase.
Ally’s poem (illustration unavailable) sums it up best:
“When the sun rises. Up, up and up. Over the waving sea. On top of the never ending plains. Traveling across the mountains. Brightening the world. Sharing secrets with the clouds. All I can do is smile!”
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!