Kudos and Thanks

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.

Cootie Catcher, Origami, Book within a Book and Popup Technology

Cootie Catcher, Origami, Book within a Book and Popup Technology

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!”

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Kindergarten Voices

What would you do if you found these puddles in your backyard.

Puddles!

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.

 

 


Let Every Voice Be Heard

Mud by Mary Lyn Ray

Mud by Mary Lyn Ray

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.

The images students commented upon

The images students commented upon

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Lights, Camera, Action

Pedro's book trailer-click to watch

Pedro’s book trailer-click to watch

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?)

Click here to watch AIdan's book trailer

Click here to watch AIdan’s book trailer

So swings my pedagogical pendulum. And did I mention that there’s technology integration to think about?

Kerri W's book trailer-click to watch

Kerri W’s book trailer-click to watch

Tick–Information Literacy

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

Tock–Readers Advisory

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

Grace's book trailer-click to watch

Grace’s book trailer-click to watch

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.

Jasmine C's book trailer-click to watch

Jasmine C’s book trailer-click to watch

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.

Hayden's book trailer-click to watch

Hayden’s book trailer-click to watch

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?

Amanda's book trailer, click to watch

Amanda’s book trailer, click to watch

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.


Writer’s Block and Caldecotts Mock

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.

Writer’s Block

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.

Used under the Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial License Photo by Jeremy Brooks

Used under the Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial License Photo by Jeremy Brooks

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.

Caldecotts Mock

I have written about our school’s Mock Caldecott process before here and here but I would be remiss if I did not share this year’s game-changing Peasleecott experience.

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.

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  • 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.
Just a little something we got in the mail.

Just a little something we got in the mail.

And so, although I taught the same unit, I didn’t teach it the same way. And I never will again.


Memories

Inspiration begets inspiration. Katherine (who reads, writes and reflects) inspired Jennifer (who learns, leads and sparkles) inspired me (who is invested, introspective and inspired) . Who’s next? Please pay it forward.

BEST PICTURE BOOKS

BEST MIDDLE GRADE FICTION

CHOICE POSTS

BEST PROFESSIONAL DECISIONS

  • Attending my first AASL conference
  • Stepping up collaboration with colleagues
  • Becoming active on Twitter

BEST APPS EMBRACED THIS YEAR

SOME CHOICE MOMENTS FROM THE SCHOOL YEAR

Looking forward to making new memories in 2014 with many of you. Best wishes for the new year!


Decisions, Decisions

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?