With the ever-changing educational environment, new demands and new priorities, my blogging career came to a halt last year after my initial post. I decided to put more energy into my library classroom and less on my musings.
I have found, however, that I miss the writing and the opportunity to communicate with those interested in libraries and books. So, this year, I am writing reviews for the Massachusetts-based Youth Services Book Review.
I am focussing on picture books (my first love in youth literature), but you will find reviews of middle grade novels as well, including one by Northborough’s own Sarah Beth Durst.
Read them here and let me know what you think: Youth Services Book Reviews
Excited to begin another year at Peaslee School!!
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.
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.
Le Petit Prince was right. On ne voit bien qu’avec le coeur. L’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux.
As a high school student (lo those many years ago), I read The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery in the original French. This classic fable has stood the test of time, offering up a plenitude of memorable quotes, but none more resonant with me than this one: “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly. What is essential is invisible to the eye.”
Today while students spent one more day digesting turkey; teachers devoted time to professional development. As one of our district priorities is curriculum mapping, the teacher-librarians met to develop essential questions (and enduring understandings) to go with each of our instructional units.
According to our curriculum mapping software, “an essential question is used to provide focus for a course or a unit of study in the form of a question and keeps the focus on inquiry as opposed to answers.” While I have informally used essential questions in the past, today’s endeavor required a rigorous approach, correlating essential questions to standards, content and skills already input into the database.
And so we dove in. Fingers were flying on keyboards, questions and clarifications ping-ponging back and forth. As a professional development session it was extremely productive, yielding dozens of potential essential questions such as:
- How can we be safe and savvy on the Internet?
- How does the medium and technique of a book’s illustrations affect the mood of a story?
- Why do we classify and organize information, knowledge and things?
- How can historical fiction help me to have a better understanding of history?
- How can I develop strategies to find information relevant to my research question or personal need?
Productive? Yes. Focus on inquiry? Absolutely. Collaborative? Without a doubt. A successful workshop indeed.
And yet, a little itchy thought niggled at my brain. Something essential is missing from these essential questions. And the little prince had the wisdom to see it. “What is essential is invisible to the eye.”
Yes, these essential questions are important. But we must not forget the (invisible) human connections and relationships between teacher and students. They are as necessary to arriving at an enduring understanding, the “big idea that has enduring value…beyond the…classroom” as the essential questions themselves.
Since this revelation is so important to me, I turn to those who can express it more eloquently than I. Please find time to take a hop, skip and a jump over to the words of two profound writers–Katherine Sokolowski and Jack Schneider. Katherine, who blogs at Read, Write, Reflect, (a must-read blog for teachers, librarians, parents, principals and policy makers) talks about relationships as the core of her teaching. In this sm post she links to Jack Schneider’s wise words published in the Washington Post. In my humble opinion, these are both essential reading.
I would love to hear what you think.