Monday, March 31, 2014

SOLC 2014 Day Thirty-one: Other duties as requested

Today, I got to be a panelist for our campus' second grade PBL presentation.  I sat with several other panel members:  student council representatives, fellow support staff (those of us without "regular" classrooms), PTA and school board members, including the superintendent.  We were given a handout with some information on playground equipment and room for notes, along with a clipboard.

A group of students from each class, representing different areas of recreational and physical needs such as gross motor, fine motor, and sensory input/avoidance, pitched ideas to make our playground more accessible to students of all abilities.  The students described the equipment they had researched, including the price and ideas for fundraising.   They also talked about how the equipment best suited the particular need they were highlighting.

We were given the chance to ask questions of the groups after the presentations, and were encouraged to give our feedback via email.  I couldn't help but marvel at the poise of these seven- and eight-year-olds speaking in front of their peers and authority figures.  They seemed very confident when answering questions about their equipment choices.  

Not long after, I emailed the team with my congratulations on a job well done, and my opinion on which items should be purchased.  I received many thanks in return, for my time and my input. 

I know that "other duties as assigned" can sometimes be a sore subject for educators, but this "other duty as requested" had me glowing with pride over our amazing students.  I can't wait to see what changes they will bring to our campus playground!

Sunday, March 30, 2014

SOLC 2014 Day Thirty: Do your children ask for books?

My teenboy has discovered that if he accepts an invitation to go shopping with me (one of my ploys to get him out of the house and away from a screen), he usually gets something in return.  A pack of Pokemon cards, something yellow (his favorite color), Dots candy...I have a hard time saying no, since he is such a great kid--good student, compassionate, with a lawyerly ability to plead his case when it comes to a purchase.

Yesterday, we made our monthly shopping trip to WallyWorld so that I could stock up on multipurpose contact solution, chocolates for the circulation desk's teacher stash, and a green plastic trash can for recyclables in our bathroom.  

We came home with the first two items, couldn't find the third...and an additional Marvel characters teeshirt, Dots candy, and Pokemon cards.  

And a book.  Which we're not supposed to talk about, because he asked for it as a birthday gift.  For his birthday in May.  Both of my children have gotten really good at pointing out what they would like for their gift-receiving occasions, being present while I buy it, and then truly forgetting that I've stashed it away for the event.  It's a trait I love.

How can this teacher-librarian say no to a book?  I've never been able to do so.  One of my favorite stories occurred when I sent teenboy to his middle school bookfair with a blank check.  The librarian, a friend, emailed me at work to make sure that the forty-plus dollar purchase was okay, assuring me that we could return any of it if necessary.  My reply:  If a teenboy wants to read forty-plus dollars worth of books, who am I to say no?

Do your children, at home and in your classrooms, ask for books?  If not....why not?

It's a question worth asking.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

SOLC 2014 Day Twenty-nine: Book vs nature

It is one of those rare Austin spring days, with sunshine and blue skies and temps still below 90 degrees.  Perfect weather to head out to the back porch, book in tow, and collect some fresh air and vitamin D while getting work done.  

Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy by Karen Foxlee is my kind of book--magic and wizards, an unlikely heroine, an evil villain you love to hate.  One chapter in, still hooked...two chapters in, going strong...

I begin the third chapter, but the birdsong is just so pretty!  The June bugs are buzzing, coming to life much earlier than usual, performing in stereo from each side of the porch.  I've rolled up the legs of my capris, and the sun feels buttery warm on my shins.  My eyes close, head leaning towards the sun...  

Friday, March 28, 2014

SOLC 2014 Day Twenty-eight: Snippets


Friendly hellos to my roommates--my wonderful assistant and instructional tech support.

Hastily written notes to cover in my five minutes onstage during Friday assembly.

"GOOD MORNING, READERS!" gets such a great response from 900 elementary students; I never tire of saying that!

Handing out aging, golden Shelf Elf garden gnomes to well-deserving classes.

Reading Plant a Little Seed by Bonnie Christensen five times today, trying to be just as engaging the fifth time as I was eighteen readings ago, on Monday.

Disappointed faces when I have to answer "It's already been checked out."  Happy faces when I find a just-as-good book.

A fire drill, interrupting read-aloud.

Working both sides of the circulation desk while my assistant was on lunch duty, ordering blank ID badge replacements at the front while investigating the overdue notifications of a student in the checkout line.

Reading three dozen emails, replying to a half dozen.

Gratitude for a reliable, weekly volunteer who graciously agreed to start inventory.

A dozen fourth- and fifth-graders with way too much energy for a Friday afternoon, brainstorming on how to organize a bookdrive to help another librarian's volunteer efforts.  

The quiet that followed their departure; time to roam the Everybody section for display books on spring.

Saying goodbye to my assistant for the weekend, both of us commenting on how happy we are to come back to work on Mondays.

Asking for signatures from some parent visitors for our "Declaration for the Right to School Libraries".

Shutting down a dozen computers, and packing up to leave, as my ITS reports on incoming hail.  Wishes for a fabulous weekend exchanged.  

Lights off.






Thursday, March 27, 2014

SOLC 2014 Day Twenty-seven: The gift of storytelling

Yes, the giant green bookworm costume was definitely eyecatching.  Her ventriloquism abilities, and fun magic tricks, were wonderful.

But it was her storytelling that hooked the students.  Kept their eyes forward, laughing and shrieking at her sound effects and props. Water was sprayed when it rained, a lion roared, a donkey got turned into a rock and then back into a donkey again.  A student got to change his name to Horace and help make "mean soup" by screaming into a cooking pot; a girl picked an ace that turned into a library card.  A "giant" cat was captured by mice, only to escape and fall to his demise.

I think I'm pretty good at reading a story.  But this lady was a storyteller, and she had the kids hooked on every word.  

I really need to up my game.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

SOLC 2014 Day Twenty-six: Teacher-learner

I am a teacher who enjoys interacting with students (that should be a given, right?).  I love seeing the light bulbs go off when they "get it", and I'm challenged to up my game and change my strategies when their faces show frustration.  I've been told that one of the reasons I hold my current position is that I am personable.

As a learner, though, a lot of my best experiences have been through online environments.  I completed my Library Science degree online, and my Sam Houston State professors seemed much more supportive and personable than I remember from my undergrad schooling.  And I continue to maintain professional relationships with a few of them via the internet. 

I've also continued to learn online after my degree.  I participated in TxLA's "I DO Make a Difference" interactive modules awhile back, as well as a MOOC on digital footprints.  My district is offering "PD in your PJs" this year; I've enjoyed learning new tech tips, programs, and applications to make my work more engaging and informative for my learning community.  Just last night, I learned about different ways to get input and assessment data  from students in digital formats.  Fun stuff!

As much as I enjoy online learning, I can't see myself ever teaching that way.  So that old adage of "you teach the way you learn" just doesn't seem to hold true in this instance.  No full-time, virtual instructing for this real-time, face-to-face teacher-librarian anytime soon. 

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

SOLC 2014 Day Twenty-five: Ebb and flow

Depending on when you walk into the library, you would think we're either crazy-busy, or have the quietest job in the world.

For fifteen minutes last Friday morning, this is what was happening concurrently in our facility:  

A husband and wife geology team were presenting to four kindergarten classes.  Eighty children were sitting criss-cross-applesauce on the carpeted floor while the geologists talked about rocks.

On the opposite side of the library in the Book Nook, over twenty fourth-graders were being positioned for their Newspaper Club yearbook photo.

And in the middle, two third grade classes were on their absolute best behavior while they checked out books.

It was wildly wonderful.  Everyone's tasks got done, thanks to the guidance of awesome teachers and the students' etiquette.

That morning was more of an exception than the norm.  Not that we don't get our share of traffic.  On average,for at least six out of eight hours a day, we have a class or program in the library--sometimes two classes at a time.  And those two "extra" hours are punctuated with individuals and groups "dribbling" in for materials.

I enjoy every minute of it.  And I don't feel guilty in those odd fifteen-minute spaces when it's just me and my assistant, as we're catching up on emails and book requests and talking out library plans and ideas.  Because I know we'll be busy again soon enough; we're just catching our breath for the next wave.

Monday, March 24, 2014

SOLC 2014 Day Twenty-four: Professional introspection...with a looming deadline


Due date:  April 7th.  The blank self-assessment for professional evaluation sits on my desk.  The multisyllabic domains sound daunting, and I realize that this will not be a do-it-in-five-minutes task.  

How do I rate myself after the very first year on the job and on this campus?  I know so much more than I did eight months ago, and yet there is still so much to learn.  I know where I have failed, and I have plans to remediate those weaknesses.  I have faced hurdles both real and imaginary, and climbed them, for better or for worse.  I've asked for input from the staff, and received favorable comments and valid suggestions for improvement.  I am still coming to work with a heartfelt smile on my face, and I've already begun thinking of next year's program.  

But how do I fit that tidily into the ten domains I've been given?  Guess I'll be sorting that out this week.    

Sunday, March 23, 2014

SOLC 2014 Day Twenty-three: Taxing words


Filing status; separate/ joint.
Death, birth/adoption, divorce, job change.
Dependents.
SSN--Social Security Number.
Income; W-2.
Medicare tax paid.
1099-INT.  1099-DIV.
Bank statements.
Savings.  IRA.  401K.  Retirement accounts.
Cafeteria plan.  Flexible spending.  Medical expenses.
Tuition expenses.  Student loan interest.
Mortgage interest.  Home improvement.
Real estate taxes.
Sales tax.  Major purchase.
Charitable contributions; cash/material donations.
Itemized versus standard deduction.
Child tax credit.  Earned income credit.
American Opportunity Credit.

(I worry about low-literacy populations during tax season.  Does taxation without representation still exist, for those who cannot read?)
                                                      
                                                      


Saturday, March 22, 2014

SOLC 2014 Day Twenty-two: Waking up from winter

Our neighborhood was hopping last night, this first Friday evening of spring.

Picking up my son from high school, I passed the track field, crowded with hundreds of people.  Teens were stretching out and practicing their pole vault stances, while coaches conferred and parents were pitching tents to keep out the warm afternoon sun.

Four blocks away, I parked at our house.  Several neighbors were gathered in the driveway next door, chatting and watching grandkids play.  I joined my neighbor after dinner and spent a few hours on my back porch and her front porch, as my teenboy humored her kindergarten grandson's request to play. Providing sidewalk chalk to keep the younger granddaughter amused in their driveway, we whiled away a couple of hours talking about my job and her travel plans.

Voices were booming over a nearby loudspeaker, and we peeked at the hike-n-bike behind our houses.  People were gathered in the park, possibly for the cross-country teams from the track meet.  

My husband and son left for a shopping trip.  When they returned, my husband remarked that neighbors were on their porches up and down the street, and there was a game at the baseball field while the track meet continued.  The pool was busy, too.  

Our four-decades-old neighborhood is awake and buzzing once again.  The vibrancy is tangible, as welcome as the buds appearing on the trees in everyone's yards.  Life is good in the 'hood. 




Friday, March 21, 2014

SOLC 2014 Day Twenty-one: The huddle

All six showed up in the crowded cafeteria, where similar groups from twenty-six other schools were finding their places at parallel-parked cafeteria tables.  The alternate, instructed that he might have to participate if someone got a case of the nerves, went to sit with his mother.  One final pep talk, and the coaches--librarians all--were directed to move to the sidelines.  

The emcee, humorous and motivational, called the students to attention.  First, the practice question, to make sure the students knew how to follow the directions and use the voting clickers.  

Then the game was on.  Battle of the Bluebonnets, and only one team can be the winner.

I watched as the heads of the third, fourth, and fifth graders on our team instantly huddled whenever the new question came to the screen.  Animated whispering, lots of head nodding, and numbers being flashed on their fingers.

Wait, numbers?  If I can see them, so can opposing teams!  I caught the eye of one of the players, and motioned for her to tell the others to put their hands down!  She complied and returned to huddling.  But their hands would not stay down!

For a tense forty-five minutes I watched the team as they answered each question, trying to gauge if they got the right answers.   After forty questions, the results were tabulated.  We were not in the final four, who had tied with one error apiece.  Four tie-breaker rounds later, the winners were announced.

I passed out our group's participation medals and told them how proud I was of their teamwork.  I got a resounding "yes" when I asked if it was fun and if they were going to try out again next year.  And then I had to ask about the hand signals.  Did they know how obvious they were?

Their reply?  "Mrs. Margocs, we were flashing the wrong answers, on purpose, to trick the others!"

My wonderful, smart, sneaky students.  Gotta love 'em!


Thursday, March 20, 2014

SOLC 2014 Day Twenty: Teaching kids to have opinions

"You're serious--we can abandon the book, and we won't get in trouble?"

Not a direct quote, but close enough to the comment made by one of my fifth grade Lunch Bunch book club participants back in the fall.  It was a response to my explanation that if they didn't like a book by the first 50 pages, they could abandon it.

I then went on to explain that we read books for enjoyment in this club--this was not the same as reading for an assignment for class.  I also explained that if they did abandon it, they had to come to the next meeting ready to explain why they didn't like the book; they had to have an opinion, supported by the text they read.

I believe having an opinion, critical thinking, and having a sense of wonder and questioning all go hand-in-hand.  These skills are crucial for lifelong learning, problem solving, and citizenship.  And this isn't just some pre-first cup of coffee musing this morning; discussions on these topics have been floating around my library since September.  I've been involved in similar discourse on other campuses, too.   I could write a really long treatise on the subject, and it would boil down to this:  

Kids should be curious.  Kids should not be afraid to take risks, make mistakes, and fail sometimes.  Kids should know how to rebound from failure, and sometimes the best examples should come from us, the adults in their lives--acknowledging our failures and demonstrating relearning and remediation for ourselves.  And above all, kids should know that it's okay to have an opinion, as long as it's supported by experience and researched knowledge.  Especially when it comes to books.  I let my kindergarteners give me a thumbs up or down after most read-alouds, and explain it is perfectly okay to have a thumbs down.  I tell them this quote:

"Every reader his [or her] book.  Every book its reader."--Ranganathan, The Five Laws of Library Science, 1931.  


Wednesday, March 19, 2014

SOLC 2014 Day Nineteen: Rockin' the Book Nook

The library schedule has been wonky this week due to two days of testing and an early release day, so I've been feeling a little discombobulated as I try to make good use of the time in my office to get some much needed tasks done.  To minimize the chaos, we're just doing checkout with grades one through five, no library lessons.

I like being out on the library "floor", interacting with the students and teachers, booktalking, teaching library and information literacy skills.  I feel disconnected and antisocial when I'm hunkered down in my office while classes are in the library checking out books.  On the other hand, I am eliminating some of the snowdrifts and sticky notes on my desk, which alleviates a lot of job anxiety.

Another stress-reducer?  Storytime.  Our kindergarteners are used to hearing a story in the Book Nook every week, and I just couldn't let them down, even with all the wonkiness.  I usually choose books from the Texas 2x2 and our district Armadillo lists, but I didn't have the book I wanted (it's now on it's way--one more sticky note gone).  So I read another by the same author:

After a brief exploration of sound words and learning the term "onomatopoeia" (yes, they giggled at the second-to-last syllable), we dove into the book--and the most wonderful thing happened.  The students automatically repeated the three sound words at the end of each stanza, mimicking my inflection and continuing the rhythm of the lines.   We were in a groove by the third page, this back-and-forth conversation telling the story of building a road.  We were having so much fun, I was a little sad when the road was completed and the book ended. 

This has to be how a rock star feels when the audience sings along.   

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

SOLC 2014 Day Eighteen: Hooked on PBS--Women's History Month



My first mistake was turning on the bedroom television as I was getting ready to retire for the evening.  It was already 930p, so I had no business getting wrapped up in a show.  The 0430a alarm is not conducive to night owl behavior.

But I wanted to squeeze in a little stretching before bedtime, and I like to be distracted while I exercise, so I flipped through the channels and found this:


If the title intrigues you, head on over to the PBS website.  I will be doing so after work today, to catch the first half hour of the series, as well as Part 3, which started at 11p here in Austin--and my sleep-deprived, though newly-informed, brain refused to stay awake any longer.  The video does contain mature subject matter, but the educator's page provides suggestions for the K-8 level as well.   

After I watch the rest of the documentary, I'm going to explore www.makers.com .  Just a quick glance at the offerings has inspired me take a hard look at the biography selection in my library.  The bigger question:  will I be able to find titles for the elementary set on "Women Who Make America"?    

Monday, March 17, 2014

SOLC 2014 Day Seventeen: My favorite color


                                I wore it today
                                      so I wouldn't get pinched.

                                Twinset, earrings, bracelet, 
                                       shamrock on a top hat pin.

                                 I wear it every day
                                       a symbol of commitment.

                                One gemstone solitaire, surrounded by diamonds--
                                       my happiest St. Patrick's Day surprise.

                                And there's another
                                        to rest on the next finger.

                                Ten years marked by alternating stones.

Shades of green have been part of my life since birth.  

Army drab olive
Palm trees and lawns of California
Geckos in Thailand
Pines of Naples and Stuttgart
Girl Scout uniforms
Matching college dorm bedspreads
August birthstones, a granddaughter's inheritance
Ankles marked in ink with clover and triquetra
The afghan crocheted by my mother, just for me.

My Irish-American mother, who made sure we wore green on March seventeen
       so we wouldn't get pinched.



Sunday, March 16, 2014

SOLC 2014 Day Sixteen: Our pot of gold

It's the last day of our spring break, and at least two of us in the household had a mild case of the grumps this morning.  Until...
                                                     
Seamus came a bit early this year.




The generous leprechaun normally visits on St. Patrick's Day.  But college girl has to head north at noon to resume her studies, so we were graced with our annual gift of gold a day early.  

This year Seamus left 60 (chocolate) coins scattered around the living room.  College girl and teenboy found all of them within a matter of minutes; noteworthy, because there have been years when the last gold coin or two are found among the Easter eggs.  It's nice of Seamus to always leave an even number of coins so there's one less reason for the siblings to squabble.

And Irish eyes are smilin' once again.




                                           

Saturday, March 15, 2014

SOLC 2014 Day Fifteen: How may I help you?

I needed inspiration for today's Slice, so I uncharacteristically went to the SOLC site first before writing this morning.  Each day, our challenge team is so kind to provide nuggets of ideas in the form of quotes or links to other blogs.  Today's offering was a post from "Just Write, Melanie"; head over there if you'd like to read it, too. 

Supporting versus starring role--what do you feel most comfortable doing?  For me, I am all about the support.  When considering changing careers this last time, I took a hard look at when I was happiest in my previous jobs--and it was when I was in a position to support others.  Resource teacher, NICU unit assistant, ARD facilitator...they were all jobs that helped others do their work more efficiently.  

As a librarian, I get to support the curriculum for the entire school and the reading lives of the learning community.  Promoting the library program is an important part of the job, but in my mind, it comes in second.  I would like to think that if I'm an effective support person, word-of-mouth advertising is the best promotion I could ask for.

Save the spotlight and the headlines for the library; I'm content to be mentioned in the playbill. 


Photo from https://www.stopfalling.com/Book-Lady-Pin-p-16432.html

Friday, March 14, 2014

SOLC 2014 Day Fourteen: Recipes

"Mom, I'm going to need the recipe for this one, too."

College daughter is already looking ahead to moving to the on-campus apartment complex next year.  For the first time, she will have a kitchen of her own.  She'll have to share it with her roommate, but she is already convinced that her food choices will be way better this way than what she's had from her campus cafeteria lately.

So as I've enjoyed more time to cook this spring break (and more people to cook for), she's been noting what seems tasty and easy, and asking for the recipes.

Last year, on a whim, I purchased a recipe binder on sale, with plenty of varied inserts and cards.  College girl knows that I bought it for her, for this very moment.  The easy way to start her collection would be to scan the cookbook pages and print them.  

I want her to have good memories of the food, though, and the love that goes into preparing meals for others.  I want her to experience what I do, when I read my mother's recipes that she wrote in her beautiful longhand script.  Those, I will copy for her, so that the legacy continues.  And this generation's recipes will be written in my hand.

My children will inherit my cookbooks some day, and will see the stars and tweaks and caveats that I wrote in them.  Until then, the binders will suffice.  May the food they cook nourish body and soul.


One of four shelves of cookbooks

Newspaper clipping of my paternal grandmother, with my mother's notes

My mother's handwritten recipes




Thursday, March 13, 2014

SOLC 2014 Day Thirteen: Getting carded

Is your family into cards?  Greeting cards, that is.

I was born into a family of card-senders.  This may have been a result of our military wanderings in the pre-internet/cell phone days, when overseas calls were cost-prohibitive and communication was relegated to APO zip codes.

Whatever the reason, I have cards dating back decades.  Birthday, Christmas, Easter, Valentine's Day, St. Patrick's Day...each marked with a card from one or both sides of my parents' families.

I married into a family of card-senders, too.  One of my first-generation American sisters-in-law (my father-in-law immigrated from Hungary) even sends us St. Patrick's Day cards, knowing that's a celebrated holiday in our house (Irish ancestors on my mom's side). 

Back when I felt much more organized, I would send out birthday cards every month to friends and family.  I marked the holidays with cards, too, even hand-making them some years.  I've tried resolving these past few New Year's to get back on track with sending greetings; after all, who doesn't like getting something besides bills in their mailbox?  For hazy reasons, it just hasn't happened yet.

My immediate family is the exception.  And so this morning, I presented my husband with his birthday card, just as he did for me a week ago.  One with fishes on the front, since we are two Pisces-in-a-pond-together.  Our children are into making their birthday greetings, so I'm sure he'll receive those later today.  

Getting carded brings our family together.    
Photo courtesy of RachelD

   

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

SOLC 2014 Day Twelve: Whether the weather

The wind woke me up before the alarm this morning.  We knew it was coming, this cold front that dropped temps thirty degrees in the past twelve hours.  I checked the window just to be sure, sliding my hand beneath the curtain to feel the glass.  Yep, it was cold.

Yesterday, the bold sunshine and blue skies called to the four spring-breakers in the house to head outside.  We explored a county park's hiking trail.  Forty-five minutes and two miles later, we were glistening with sweat and eager to get to Sonic to cool us down.   


Chocolate milkshakes to hot cocoa in a day--Mother Nature's mood swings seem to be the norm in Central Texas this year.  Whether I let the weather changes bother this mother or not, that is the question. 


Tuesday, March 11, 2014

SOLC 2014 Day Eleven: My quiet morning ritual

My mornings are insulated with an hour of quiet

The only sounds
that punctuate the pre-dawn stillness
hissing of water boiling
clanking of silverware and dishes
as I unload the dishwasher

And then the tap-tap-tapping of the keyboard
connecting with the world
(quite literally, as friends reside
                                                         in multiple time zones and countries)

                                                 I have become my godmother-aunt
                                                 who didn't speak until after her first cup

                                                 A fulfillment of the prophecy
                                                 remembered from a Meyers-Briggs workshop long ago
                                                 that we tend to flip those letters at midlife
                                                 ESFJ becoming INTP

                                                 First cup down, sun up
                                                 time to find my voice.

                                                     

Monday, March 10, 2014

SOLC 2014 Day Ten: Walking and inference

The sun is shining through hazy skies, temps are in the fifties, and thanks to spring break, I don't have to be working at 830a--so I went for a walk.

At first, I regretted not plugging myself in to music to make the walk go by faster.  But I quickly changed my mind when my attention turned to the sounds of the hike and bike--birdsong, dog barks and leash rattles, squirrels chirping, leaves rustling.

My eyes focused on the water remaining in the drainage ditch, the wooden and metal sculptures crowded on an apartment landing, the chattering squirrels eyeing me with suspicion, the buds straining to emerge from the fig bushes.

Last week, I shared The Watcher:  Jane Goodall's Life with the Chimps by Jeanette Winter in my library Book Nook.  I made sure to emphasize the passages where Winter remarks on how Jane was a watcher, and prompted for the synonym--observer.  I think I was subconsciously following up on a conversation I had with a parent last weekend.  This interaction came to mind as I observed nature on my walk.

(Disclaimer:  I do not hold an advanced degree in reading pedagogy.  My teaching background is in special education, and I often refer to my classroom experience as a "warped universe" due to the intricacies of teaching students with learning disabilities and emotional difficulties.  Teaching and working in Title I and alternative placement schools also contribute to my personal bias.)

At a volunteer opportunity last weekend, I had a long conversation with one of the highly involved parents from my school.  One of the topics he asked me about was the "hot spot" in our testing data--inference.  (Bear in mind that this school's scores are in the nineties, but since we are required to review and improve upon weak areas, inference is a focal point.)

I took a deep breath...and replied that it has been my experience that children's inference skills have a lot to do with what they bring to the test--their own background knowledge, or schema.  After all, they don't usually read test passages about reading and writing; the passages are stories and descriptions.  I gave an overly simplistic example to illustrate my point:  if I'm reading a passage about something that's liquid, blue, and has octopuses swimming in it, but have no idea what an ocean is, how will I be able to infer that information?  

More observations I touched on:  We have more curriculum to cover and fewer field trips than in the past.  While the content has increased, the length of the school day and year have stayed the same for decades.  We have students with widely varied backgrounds, and yet test questions are not necessarily reflective of demographics.    

Back to my walk and my final thoughts on the topic:  Often, our focus on testing leads to teaching our students to conform and react, not necessarily to observe and experience.  This includes appropriate, fulfilling social interaction, which I also worry about.  If we, and they, can't slow down enough to listen to the birdsong, note the roughness of the tree bark, dip our toes into the ocean, laugh and cry with those around us...how will they infer meaning from text? 

Sunday, March 9, 2014

SOLC 2014 Day Nine: Spring Break reading

It never really feels like Spring Break until that first Sunday night.  I imagine I'm like most Monday-through-Friday workers, spending the afternoon and evening of Sundays preparing for the week ahead.  By this time of the day, I've usually planned my work clothes for the week, made the bags of veggies and meats for lunches, given myself a fresh manicure, checked the calendar for events and appointments, and checked my work email from home.

But not tonight!  My husband and I enjoyed dinner out and a quick trip to the same Whole Foods I visited yesterday, so he could share that experience.  Then we made it home in time to watch Neil deGrasse Tyson's continuation of Carl Sagan's "Cosmos" on television.
No rest for the weary

Tonight, I get to read in bed as late as I want to!  I'm even going to try to sneak in some hour-long reading sessions this week, between the spring cleaning, decluttering, phone calls, and work-related tasks I've got lined up.  I am bound and determined to knock some books off of my to-read mountain! 

So, for your viewing pleasure:  a birthday date selfie, my every-growing to-do list, and my reading pile for the week.  Happy Spring Break! 

Enjoyed our dinner!
Hoping to read a little of the top title, and finish the other three!

Saturday, March 8, 2014

SOLC 2014 Day Eight: Grocery shopping at Whole Foods

It's the first Saturday of spring break, and three Piscean Princesses (two present plus one former DAEP staff colleagues who celebrate March birthdays) meet up at the fairly new Whole Foods Market at the Domain in Austin, Texas.

The differences among the three are many.  In no particular order:  Brunette curls, redheaded bob, black spiky locks.  Grandmotherly, mom of adult/teen, mom of teen/toddler.  English teacher, librarian, art teacher.  Bilingual...and not bilingual.  Birth years spanning three decades.  


What they do share:  A history of  work at a secondary disciplinary alternative education program.  Kind souls who recognize the value of every child-student, and of every teacher who dares to venture into classrooms of hurting children.  Women born under the sign of Pisces, who are flexible, creative, intelligent, empathetic (almost to a fault).  Support for one another. 

They share a friendship that goes beyond those DAEP walls.  The kind of friendship that stays alive through social media and emails.  The kind that even once-a-year outings seem like they happen every day, because there's no awkwardness in their smiles and hugs.  The kind that is already making plans for their next meetup even before the goodbyes are over.

And today they shared time at Whole Foods, eating, laughing, venting, commiserating, catching up, and yes, shopping.  

This slice of life was juicy, sweet, and fed our spirits.  Can't wait to do it again!

Friday, March 7, 2014

SOLC 2014 Day Seven: Picture this

Think of your favorite picture books.  (This may be hard for you secondary-level teachers and parents, but try it anyway.)  
Got them in your head?  

What was it about those books that you liked?

Was it the illustrations?  The particular medium the artist used--watercolor, collage, sharp lines and bright colors, or muted shapes and pastels?

Maybe it was a beloved character.  A cat in a striped hat, pigeons that drive, spiders that weave stories, voracious bugs, bears in clothes, elephants that rule kingdoms, girls who attend a private school in Paris.

Or maybe it was just the cadence of a rhyme, the repetition of words that made you feel like a reader before you could recite all twenty-six letters of the alphabet, in order.

Now remember what you felt like when you read the book, and had the book read to you.  What words come to mind?  I can think of a few:  home, security, delight, warmth, joy, fun, togetherness, love, safety.

Any wonder why storytime is one of my favorite tasks in the library?

Thursday, March 6, 2014

SOLC 2014 Day 6: Books, books, books!

Is there such a thing as too many books?

My husband might say so, as yet another Amazon box arrived at our doorstep today.  This one contained Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell (yes, I'm a bit behind the times in reading that one), Celtic Daily Prayer by The Northumbria Community (I'm a sucker for anything that mixes Celtic tradition and spirituality), and a meditation CD.

They'll move to the top of the Mount Everest of a to-read pile that I have at home.  There's got to be a few opportunities for falling into a book coma over spring break!

Things were not that much different at school over the past three days, as several Amazon and educational vendor boxes were delivered to the library.  Reward books for my students who read the entire 2013-2014 Bluebonnet Nominee list; books for classroom Project Based Learning(PBL) units; books to fill out our depleted birthday book selection; books purchased by the PTA for curricular use.  The office staff member making the deliveries asked if the orders were coming to an end; I sheepishly had to admit that no, we were still expecting some books on bats for yet another PBL project.

I wish that I could say that a lot of those books are also on my to-read pile.  But for right now, I'll have to be content with them lying in the to-be-cataloged-quickly pile.  Summer's not that far away...and this new librarian has her own key to the school library.  {{insert gleeful smile here!}} 

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

SOLC 2014 Day 5: Reading and writing my way through my birthday

Things I have read so far on this day, my birthday:

  • The beautiful birthday card from my husband, left on the kitchen table, next to equally beautiful flowers
  • Several emails
  • Birthday wishes on Facebook and via text messages
  • Appointment reminders
  • A Lands' End catalog
  • Street signs
  • The menu at the coffeehouse where my friend and I met early this morning
  • Emails another teacher was showing me, to illustrate a point
  • My car audio system readout, identifying what song was coming up in the queue
  • The drive-through menu at Fazoli's for lunch
  • An entertainment magazine at the hairdresser's salon
  • The label on some new hair gel I purchased after my haircut
  • Even more happy birthday wishes on Facebook, as well as some interesting and funny stories
Things that I have written so far, on this day, my birthday:
  • A to-do list for this afternoon
  • A check, for my massage
  • Captions for posts on Facebook
  • My signature on credit card transactions
  • Lots of thank-yous for birthday greetings
  • More posts on Facebook
  • This blog post
All of this is ordinary stuff for me, and probably for readers of this blog. But these very same activities are difficult for a substantial number of students and adults who have learning disabilities, language barriers, visual impairments...or are simply illiterate due to life circumstances. 

Reading and writing are important.  Pass it on.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

SOLC 2014 Day 4: Confessions of a slow scanner

I am a librarian.  (It still makes me smile and giggle a little when I say that; wonder if it will ever get old?)

One would think that, as a librarian, I would be a "super-reader".  You know, reading the latest bestseller in every spare moment, whizzing through inches-thick volumes in less than a week, books flying from my to-read pile to my done-and-shelve pile like snow from the blowers my northern friends are used to.

That image couldn't be farther from the truth.  Not only am I a slow reader, but I'm a scanner, too.  I tend to have two or three books in progress at the same time, usually of different genres, and usually in different rooms in my house.  (Check out my blogpost referencing my mother to learn the origin of that habit.)  It can take me months to finish a two-hundred page novel.  

I don't say this with pride, and I wasn't always like this.  As a kid, I was a voracious reader, spending hours on this favorite activity as well as snatching those moments of "reading on the fringe" that Donalyn Miller and Dr. Lesesne refer to in their books.  I could totally immerse myself in a storyline, becoming insensitive to my surroundings until the slowest of plot progressions or the end of a book snapped me out of my reverie.  

So what happened?  The only thing I can think of is...life.  Life that became work commutes (sorry, Dr. Lesesne, I'm just not an auditory reader!), lesson plans, family dinners, laundry piles, bills, paperwork.  The never-ending to-do list and distractions that preempt most of my attempts to get lost in a book.  

I am reading plenty, if you consider emails, blogposts, book reviews, magazines, Facebook feeds, Twitter, storytimes with my primary students, and the book club choices my fifth graders share with me.   

But it seems the leisure of my youth is only replicated a few times a year, when I am able to forego the demands of adulthood and slip into a book coma.  The conditions have to be just right:  a fast-paced/ really interesting book and enough sleep the night before so that I don't start snoozing after fifteen minutes; no immediate family or work obligations; and more importantly, no guilt for plopping on the couch and leaving the world behind for hours on end.

Until that next opportunity arrives (hopefully over spring break next week), it's slow-going fringe reading for me.  I'll add "improve my reading life" to my to-do list...right after the load of towels that needs to be washed.     

Monday, March 3, 2014

SOLC 2014 Day Three: The everybody section

"Ms. Margocs, can I take the shelf elf quiz?"  A student confronts me in the midst of checkout chaos, and I quickly glance at the clock.  "Sure, we've got ten minutes left.  Let's head over to the computers."

I exit out of all the current screens, and ask the student to navigate to our online catalog.  Just about every student has done this with ease, first finding the school website, then the library site, clicking on the navigation bar once there.  One task checked off.

"All right.  I need a book about sharks.  Can you help me find one?"  I see the student type in "shark", and the book list pops up on the screen.  Another skill demonstrated; check.  "Are any of these available for checkout?"

"Yes, Ms. Margocs, this one."  "Great," I say, "what's the call number?"

"E SAU," the student replies. 

"Can you find it for me on the shelf?" I ask.  The student heads to our Fiction section.  I wait a minute or so as the student searches in vain for the book, then walk over and prompt again for the call number.  "It's E SAU," the student says.  "What does the E stand for?"  I ask.

"Fiction," is the reply.  I give another prompt, but to no avail.  I stop the student before frustration sets in, as the rest of the class is lining up to leave.

"I know it's been awhile since you've looked at the Everybody books.  Remember, that's what the E stands for.  Take some time to walk around the library when you get a chance, and then come back to take the quiz again.  Okay?"

At the next break between classes, I dash off a note to the secondary-level teachers on my elementary campus, with a suggested challenge to third, fourth, and fifth graders to choose an "Everybody" book at their next library visit.  After receiving a positive response, I peruse the online catalog for picture books with higher level text, and begin pulling books and placing them on a cart by the circulation desk.

The next day, as fourth graders file in, I announce the challenge.  A smile crosses my face as I hear the "oohs" and "aahs" from students rifling through the cart, and see a few come through the checkout line.

Task completed.  Check.