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.
Presenting a long overdue blog post in which I talk about Writer’s Block and Caldecotts Mock.
Coming soon and sticking with the same rhyme scheme: Taking Stock and Pedagogical Tick-Tock. Topics will include fifth-grade book trailers, “Newey Neighborhoods”, the fourth-grade “Wondering Project” and my pedagogical pendulum swings between the digital and paper-based library world.
After a flurry of writing in December, January came and went with nary a post. This despite a flurry of snow that extended the holiday break to two full weeks and the gift of a long weekend two weeks later.
Now I am finally ready (and thanks to yet another snow day), but before I begin I’d like to revisit the problem of my recent writer’s block especially after such a successful spate of writing. Well, okay, there were bumps in December too. But I managed to work through them with more ease.
I’ve come to the conclusion that I was overwhelmed with an abundance of topics and rather than choosing one and diving in I just stared at the screen. No, not true, I didn’t even approach the screen. Creative paralysis had hit. It was as if I was presented with an all-you-can-eat buffet or one of those endless menus one finds at the local diner (with the tiny kitchen) where somehow you can get everything from a grilled cheese sandwich to veal cordon bleu. What am I in the mood for? What is everyone else ordering? Should I go healthy and hearty or hedonistic? I literally could not make up my mind and so I wrote nothing.
I wonder if this is how our students feel? Write about what you know. Write about a favorite experience. Write about your best friend. Maybe the inability to write that first sentence is not too little to write about, but too much. Food for thought.
Just like my students, I am a learner. Lately, my best teachers are the members of my Professional Learning Network (PLN) on Twitter. It’s amazing what can be shared in 140 characters or less. I have also been blessed with two smart, passionate and inventive student teachers. Sometimes it is hard to tell who is the mentor and who is the student. No one dare call me a stodgy ol’ librarian! Between embracing the ideas of my youthful student teachers and taking advantage of 21st century learning on the twitterverse, I took a tried and true unit and made it even better. This year I decided to go with depth instead of breadth:
- Art gallery-To prepare my students for evaluating art, we make art. As before, the students created illustrations using different media and techniques. This time, however, we took the “gallery” piece of it a little further by discussing how to view art and by modeling art gallery behavior. The results were significant. The students were more observant and made thoughtful comments about each other’s work and their own.
- Experiencing and evaluating the contenders-There is truth to the statement “Less is More”. I narrowed down the potential winners to ten (from 24-28 in previous years). We spent two full weeks reading all ten books in small groups. Every student was able to make a closer, deeper connection to the illustrations and text. In previous years we have narrowed the original field down to eight by using student committees, but not every child had the opportunity to see every book. I realize now, the shortcomings of that approach. There really was not enough time to make a thoughtful decision.
- Voting-Instead of each class making their own choices, I opted for a school-wide approach this time. I used ballots instead of a showing of hands (where everyone peeks, even when asked to keep their eyes closed). The ten contenders were narrowed down to four which were then read again to all students. The final vote also required a sentence or two from the student defending his/her choice. A built-in assessment where before there was none! And the winners were:
- Peasleecott Gold-The Day the Crayons Quit written by Drew Daywalt and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers
- Peasleecott Silver-Journey written and illustrated by Aaron Becker
- Peasleecott Honor-The Story of Fish and Snail written and illustrated by Deborah Freedman
- Peasleecott Honor-Warning: Do Not Open this Book writtten by Adam Lehrhaupt and illustrated by Matthew Forsythe
- Award Design-In the fourteen years I have been teaching this unit, the students have designed their own version of the Peasleecott Medal, sometimes before and sometime after the final votes are in. This has depended more on the school calendar, snow days and assemblies (which throw the best-laid plans up in the air), rather than any instructional design, but this year I expressly waited until after because I was curious about the images the children would choose to draw based on the winning books. I was NOT disappointed. Another easy assessment and another unique way to honor the winners.
- Writing to the Winners-Although this is an experience that won’t likely be replicated in the future, I can’t help but gush over the serendipitous moment when one student’s idea changed the course of the lesson (and for the better I might add). As I stood in front of the giant chart paper scribing brainstormed ideas that would become a class letter to Oliver Jeffers, a third-grade boy raised his hand and suggested that each kid write their own letters to Mr. Jeffers in the voices of the crayons. Genius! Everything about the idea was better than what I had planned. Opportunity for demonstrating voice in writing, more involvement from students, choice of working alone (for the introverts) or in small groups (for those who might need some support or socialization). And such creativity. I was bursting at the seams with pride as I looked over the final products.
- Twitter as a platform for announcing the winners-This year I announced the winners on Twitter. In less than three hours, I had heard back from both Deborah Freedman and Aaron Becker, both active users. A week later, this beautiful thank you arrived in the mail from Deborah Freedman. I love the connectedness of it all.
And so, although I taught the same unit, I didn’t teach it the same way. And I never will again.
Disclaimer—if you are here to read about libraries, education and children’s literature, (the usual stuff of this blog), you might want to reconsider. This is yet another navel-gazing reflection on my life, brought about by my participation in the #nerdlution movement. I promise this will be the last post on the topic, until perhaps January 20th when this 50-day challenge ends.
I’ve written previously about acknowledging failure as a tool for learning. Today’s focus–the water level in my drinking glass and the color of my spectacles. In other words, I’ll be taking a look at my particular reality and how one can frame one’s outlook on life. I can proudly say that because of #nerdlution, my glass is just a little more than half-full and my world looks pretty darn rosy.
I’ve been thinking about the concept of reality a lot lately.
Spending long hours in hospital waiting rooms (family member, minor procedure, all is well) exposed me to a “surreality” of suspended time. Day runs into night runs into day. Endless strangers come and go. Life’s daily routines are sidelined.
Holiday “hustle-bustle, cook, bake, clean, repeat” presented yet another version of reality, far more joyous, but equally separate from Standard Time. Meals eaten at unconventional hours. Dishwasher running nonstop. Family coming and going.
Events such as these can (and did) interrupt my 50-day commitment to meditate, write and exercise regularly. I could have easily fallen into the trap of castigating myself for failing to live up to my self-established goals.
And yet, because I feel sustained by the Twitter community that created this commitment and because I believe in the redemptive power of the restart button, I am buoyed, not disappointed, by my current reality.
There is a Buddhist saying, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” The teacher appeared yesterday morning in the form of my yoga teacher, Pat Lebau, who read the story of Krishna, Sudama and the desire to experience “maya”. Maya, according to Merriam-Webster is the Hindu belief of a “powerful force that creates the cosmic illusion that the phenomenal world is real.” I do not claim to completely understand this concept, but I would like to think that if life is an illusion, why couldn’t it be the illusion of my own making? Why not wear rose-colored glasses and drink from a half-full cup?
We are past the #nerdlution halfway point and I haven’t kept up with my resolutions as measured by the letter of the #nerdlution law. But, by the spirit of the law, I am a rose-colored success.
I have reestablished my meditative practice. I have written and published 6 posts in December (second highest monthly production since I started blogging). And I have exercised considerably more than I would have if I hadn’t joined this community of self-improvement. More importantly I am doing significant work at quieting the Inner Critic, that busybody of a kvetcher who kibitzes, disparages and belittles my work and deeds.
The rosy fingers of dusk signal the beginning of the end of another day. Time to drink up to this wonderful life! L’Chaim!
“You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em; know when to fold ‘em; know when to walk away; know when to run.”
With apologies to Kenny Rogers and to my readers for the weak metaphor to follow, I have been reflecting on the gamble I took when I publicly committed to 50 days of self-improvement known as #nerdlution. Whether viewed as a re-alignment of self or an attempt to form lasting positive habits, fifty days of three lifestyle changes (meditation, writing and exercise) seemed challenging but doable. Failing in public was the gamble.
I have thought a lot about the basic premise of the assignment and the definition of failure over the last two weeks. Today (Day 13) has been a good day, as were days 1-11. But yesterday, I just didn’t have it. And so, I rested. The morning meditation was successful. In fact I have increased from five to twelve minutes since I began. (Building my stamina!). But exercising every day turned out to be too much of a good thing. Between the cold and the damp and the daily exercise, my arthritic hip decided enough was enough. As for writing (or reading or pondering), it just wasn’t in the cards either.
All of which led me to the conclusion that the fifty-day challenge (for me at least) wouldn’t work. What would work, however, would be a challenge with built-in time off. Acknowledging that within the structure of this self-improvement trial, I could take a little R and R—a resolution sabbatical if you will– without sacrificing the end goal. Without meaning any disrespect, even God rested on the seventh day. And so, taking yesterday off was in fact not a failure but a strategy, a recharging of the batteries of commitment.
This personal revelation has significance for me in my role as teacher librarian as well. Just like me (and I imagine many other #nerdlutors out there), children do not have limitless ability to concentrate and focus. Children also need breaks. They need recess. To them, a fifty-minute lesson might be as difficult as my fifty-day challenge. It is not failure if children don’t bring their A game every day or every minute of the day. It is our job to help them perform the best they can.
In an Education Week article entitled “Classroom Shock: What I Am Learning as a Teacher in Finland” (published online November 26, 2013), teacher Tim Walker wrote, “Finnish schools often schedule lessons into hour-long blocks: 45 minutes of instruction, 15 minutes of break. Students rarely have back-to-back lessons without breaks—and at the elementary level, it’s expected that children will spend their breaks playing outside, rain or shine.”
Breaks! Every forty-five minutes! The positive result—children are refreshed, and “stay balanced and sharp throughout the day.”
So, what can I do, short of moving to Finland? While I will continue to focus on being a teaching librarian with an important curriculum, I will acknowledge that for some students library class provides a recharging station. This doesn’t diminish the importance of what I teach, but will allow me to be more understanding of those whose concentration wanes. I can advocate for developmentally appropriate recess in our schools. When the weather allows, maybe I can build in some outside lessons. Storywalk anyone?
I will not be walking away from #nerdlution. Back in the saddle, meditating, exercising and writing/pondering/reading my way to improving my self and hopefully the world (at least a little bit) as well.
Early this morning, when I should have been getting ready for work, Jennifer Reed’s Slice of Life post beckoned. As is often the case, she arrived at the revelation party a few steps ahead of me. (Must be because she has more spring in her step than I.)
The topic of her post this week was “choices and decisions”. She segued easily from a personal reflection about her own life choices, big and small, to observations of her students trying to make choices about what books to borrow. As you can see in the reply I hastily posted to her blog, this same subject matter has been on my mind lately.
Okay, you really have to get out of my head, Jennifer!!
You so often seem to be writing about just what I am thinking. This morning’s thoughts were to choose two books for each child in a certain class, have them browse/peruse and then write a few sentences about why they would pick one over the other. (And then, of course, hope they would actually borrow the book.) Narrowing the choices! Can’t do this for all classes (don’t have time to make that many thoughtful choices), but going to experiment with one to start. I’ll keep you posted.
You see, I too experience the frustration of that frenzied browsing and borrowing time at the end of library period. Twenty children, ten minutes, one librarian.
“Mrs. Kellner, where are the origami books?”
“Mrs. Kellner, remember that book that Johnny borrowed two weeks ago? The one with the hot air balloon on the cover?”
“Mrs. Kellner, when is it going to be my turn to borrow Battle Bunny?” (The library has three copies, by the way).
“Mrs. Kellner, I want a book with a sparkly tiara in it.”
Important questions, all. But, while I am assisting these children, the ones who are having a hard time with choices and decisions fall by the wayside. They leave without a book, hastily grab the closest book at hand or linger as the next class walks in the door. Not an optimal situation at all.
So what’s a teacher-librarian to do?
Here are some choices I have made or plan to make in the near future:
- Gather up all the superhero books (whether DC comic, folktale, or the amusing contemporary picture books like Superhero School by Aaron Reynolds or Max by Bob Graham) and put them together in one bin
- Curate an ever-changing and easy-to-find collection of pretty, pretty princess books
- Use signage, special displays and stickers (as Jennifer noted in her post)
- Create “If you like…” bookmarks
- Try not to answer every “Where are?” or “Do we have?” question. The older students have the skill set to work this out on their own. I’ll just give them a gentle (figurative) shove in the right direction
- Have a “Backwards Day” where we borrow first, before the lesson
- Invite the children who struggle the hardest to come back when I can devote time just to them
What choices have you made to insure your collection is browsing friendly and accessible and to ease the decision-making process for your students?