Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Tuesday Slice: Misunderstandings

"The meaning of communication lies in the way that it is received." *

I remember this lesson from speech class in my undergraduate years (must have been a similar curriculum to the Open University of Malaysia).  I guess it stuck, because I recall repeating this message several times to students, in instances of behavior management ("It's not what you said, it's how you said it!") and when teaching writing ("Think of your audience!").

This topic has come to my serious attention twice in the last three weeks.  In both instances, I was neither the speaker nor the receiver of the messages, but within close circles of those involved.  In the interest of confidentiality, I won't name names or specific details...but I felt drawn to write about it.

The first instance involved text messaging.  Wrought with drama in print but without vocal inflection to clarify, frustration with friends' squabbles got misinterpreted as a thinly veiled nod to self-injurious behavior.  Lesson learned:  be very careful texting, be very clear about what you're NOT saying...and be thankful for friends who support you and do the right thing even when the message they receive is (erroneously) scary.

The second instance was verbal.  I was not privy to the conversation, but affected by the fallout.  It was one of those situations in which both parties had points with which I agree.  The message was one of outreach and hope, but some received it as a call to rebellion--an invitation they did not appreciate.  And the lesson?  Maybe it is to consider your audience...or maybe, a point was proven by standing one's ground.  Either way,  I hope the parties can continue their relationship and learn from one another.

Meanings misconstrued in serious ways...are we "getting" the messages?  Where does the error lie--in the speaker or the listener?  I'm sending out vibes for clear communication for my friends AND myself; I don't want to get into tangles like these anytime soon.

*"Introduction to Communication." Open University of Malaysia. Web. 19 Oct. 2015. <http://www.oum.edu.my/v3/download/OUMH1203.pdf>.

Monday, October 19, 2015

It's Monday! What are you reading?

If my workday alarm was not set so early, and I didn't have an author visit to host this morning, I would have stayed up to finish I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest.

Part mystery, part fantasy/webcomic--May and Trick are taking me on a suspenseful hunt for May's friend and co-creator of Princess X, Libby.  Libby supposedly died in a car crash with her mother three years ago, but the appearance of the princess around Seattle and on the web leads May to think otherwise.  Trick, a teenage hacker who's trying to get his life back on track after his college scholarship falls through, is helping May navigate the internet clues in cyberspace and on foot.

I bought this book to read and share with my own young adult daughter and son, who will appreciate the references to our modern internet culture (Reddit, Tumblr, Gchat, and other social media sites are woven into the story).  They'll also like the Princess X comics, stand-alone chapters between those with text , allowing us to figure out what really happened to Libby along with May and Trick.

I'll be staying up late to finish this book tonight; what will you be reading at bedtime?

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Tuesday Slice: Fuzzy, pretty lights

When you are parenting a high school marching band kid, chauffeuring to and from practices is part of the routine.  

We had staff development yesterday--a student holiday--and my day was filled with training on our district's new financial system, a committee meeting, and setting up for our fall book fair in the library.  Fortunately, my husband was able to leave work early to drive our youngest to the district stadium for his five o'clock call time.  

I had started my morning with my usual four-thirty alarm, battled a stomach bug all day, and finally left work at five forty-five in the afternoon.  Feeling exhausted and drained by the time I got home, all I could manage was microwaving a sweet potato to settle my stomach, laying on the couch to watch some TV, and zoning out on my Facebook feed and Candy Crush Soda Saga.

At eight-thirty, I washed my face, brushed my teeth, traded my contacts for glasses and shoes and socks for house slippers...and got into the car with my husband to pick up our marching band student.  I was reminded once again how nice it was to have my husband drive--he was on night shift for twenty years, and I was doing most of the chauffeuring until three years ago.  Picking up our youngest after evening practices almost counts as a date night!

It was nine twenty in the evening when we finally made our way home.  I took off my glasses to rub my eyes...and was awed by the fuzzy, pretty lights that surrounded me.  In my punch-drunk exhausted state, I went on and on about how the street lights and headlights looked like large, twinkling Christmas ornaments.  I was surprised by how much I could see--lines on the road, windows on buildings, store signs.  I'm rarely out and about in the evenings these days, and even more infrequently without contacts on, so it was enlightening (pun intended) to see how my eyes worked without assistance.

I left my glasses off until we pulled into the driveway.  Focused on sleep, I toddled off to bed, removing my bifocal spectacles one more time before placing them on the nightstand and turning off the not-so-fuzzy-or-sparkling lamp.

Monday, October 12, 2015

It's Monday! What are you reading?

I See KittyAlmost every child I know has asked for a pet of their own, and I See Kitty by Yasmine Surovec addresses that overwhelming desire in simple text and detailed pictures.  Young children will delight in finding the kitty images throughout Chloe's day, and will most likely guess the surprise hiding outside her bedroom door.
I have been reading Gaston by Kelly DiPucchio (illustrated by Christian Robinson) to my kindergarteners in the library.  It is a sweet story of pups switched at birth; for those of you who grew up with Sesame Street, think of the "one of these things is not like the other" song.  I've been questioning students on the feelings shown by the mother dogs in the book, as well as delving deeper into the meaning of family.  I would pair this with Jamie Lee Curtis' Tell Me Again About the Night I Was Born as springboards to discuss adoption.
Next week, I begin meeting with the fifth grade Book Lunch Bunch in our library!  There will be even more books to write about then, as we discuss personal and shared reading.

What are you reading this week?

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Tuesday Slice: Rigor and inference

It is never more evident that I work on a book-loving campus than during our twice-yearly book fair fundraisers.  The students come pouring in as soon as we open the door at 730a, hurrying to make their purchases before the bell rings.  At 740a, there are long faces as we ask them to label a sticky note and "layaway" their stash of books, assuring them that their teachers will let them come down later to pick them up.

It's also a time when I get to chat with parents and grandparents, helping them find books for their little ones.  Some accommodate their children's wishlists, while others are intentionally looking for books to "stretch" their readers with different genres and more difficult text. As a parent of avid readers, I've tended to be more like the former buyer, not the latter. 

A school librarian's dream, to work with a campus of readers.  Why, then, do we have a testing "hotspot" on the skill of making inferences?

One of our attentive, actively involved parents asked me about my suggestions for remediating the "inference hotspot" on our test scores. I explained that inference skills rely heavily on the background knowledge of the student--and that is formed by life experience and wide reading. Play and socializing are so very important to be able to infer character feelings and motives, too. We should be spending more money on field trips!

Notice I said "wide reading", not "harder reading".  Time and again I find younger students who are able to decode  vocabulary beyond their grade level, and may even test higher in snapshot comprehension assessments, reaching for those thick volumes in the fiction section.  But are they really able to comprehend a story arc that stretches over 300 pages?  Do they get the depth and complexity of the characters, infer hidden motives,  enjoy the rich vocabulary?

Some may be able to do so, but I suspect many don't.  In the surveys I give to the students.  many confess that they have a hard time finding a book they like, and rarely finish a book they've checked out. I have to wonder how much is due to choosing books that are, simply put, too hard.  And if one improves reading skills by reading more and reading deeply, then leaving books unfinished defeats the purpose.

Dr. Seuss' books may not have SAT words, but they do have lessons on caring and learning through play.  Robert Munsch's picture books cover a wide variety of family situations and feelings.  Following along with Amelia Bedelia's foibles  or Geronimo Stilton's adventures allows younger readers to become familiar with characters and learn to anticipate their actions.  "Easy reader" nonfiction books allow students to explore their interests and focus on the content, not the decoding.  

Life lessons, making connections with text, delving deep with characters and interests--this is what increases inference skills, as does maturity and experience.  Don't be so fast to skip over the picture book section, readers; there is learning to be had there.

And don't be afraid to revisit those books.  As my oldest daughter once said, "Oh, The Places You'll Go meant a lot more to me as a graduating senior than as an elementary student."

Monday, October 5, 2015

It's Monday! What are you reading?

At our monthly librarians' meetings, we are given the opportunity to choose new books to read, review, and add to our campus libraries.

I recently chose Witherwood Reform School by Obert Skye, a chapter book with an intriguing title and cover.

By the second chapter, I was making connections between Witherwood and Lemony Snicket's Series of Unfortunate Events, with a shared theme of wily, independent children left to their own devices due to an absence of parents.

In Skye's book, motherless siblings Tobias and Charlotte Eggers have had their fill of incompetent nannies, and their father has had his fill of their escalating misbehavior.  In an effort to scare the children straight, he drops them off in front of a reform school, with the intent of picking them up after letting them stew awhile.  Unfortunately, a car accident prevents his return. The children are left to fend for themselves in this strange facility with creepy employees, vicious animals of questionable species, and the mind-bending Mr. Withers himself.  Will they ever see their father again?  Will they live that long?

The book's darkly funny narrator reminds us that bad things happen all the time.  Don't expect a happy ending...but it will leave you wanting more to the story.  I'm looking forward to the next installment. 

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Tuesday Slice: A platform built on the needs of children

I am so glad that Berkeley Breathed has resurrected Bloom County.  I follow him on Facebook, and look forward to his almost-daily offerings.  This Sunday's full-color post continued the theme of Opus running for President, based on his "wedge issue" of "two spaces after a period".  The joke, of course, is how some issues on which candidates build their platforms are really non-issues, smokescreens to avoid things that really matter, stirring the pot to garner votes.

My career lends itself to a very biased lens--I currently work in an elementary school for a district that promotes being "kidcentric."  I've taught in a Title I school, and worked in a disciplinary setting for over a decade.  After reading the Bloom County strip, I started musing about political platforms.  What if a politician built his/her platform on what was best for the children in our country?

It's not too hard to connect the dots between children's welfare and familiar national issues:

  • Production and availability of healthy food
  • Healthcare
  • Parental leave policies
  • Minimum wage
  • Education 
  • Environment 
  • International diplomacy (think about our children going to war as adults)
I'm sure you could add more to this list.  Just think about it. What if we truly started viewing our political decisions not on how they affect us voters here and now, but how they affect our children, now and in the future?

Is it too simplistic...or the biased lens we all need to look through?  The way I see it, what's good for children, is good for us all.

Monday, September 28, 2015

It's Monday! What are you reading?

We've been reading Foxy! by Jessica Souhami this past week.  It's on our district's Armadillo reading list, books we share with our younger students.

Foxy! is a great trickster tale that has appealed to all my kindergarten, first, and second graders.  The images are simple and bright against a white background, and the prose has lots of repetition to get the students involved in reading along with me.  It's great to see their eyes light up and hear the gasps when they realize what the woman is doing by putting her dog in Foxy's sack towards the end of the book!  To focus on sequencing, we retell the story by looking at the pictures after we are done reading the words. 

It's been interesting to note the different personalities of whole classes while I read this book.  Some are quick to jump in and say the repeated phrases with me; others hesitate, and I have to let them know that it is okay to interact with the story while I'm reading.  I don't require them to participate, but I admit it's more fun to read aloud when they do!

What is your favorite repetitive read-aloud book? 

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Tuesday slice: Science fiction conundrum

I got to teach one of my favorite lessons today:  Bluebonnet/ Genre Mashup.  

I came up with it last year when my fourth grade teachers asked me to review genres when I wanted to promote our Texas Bluebonnet Award Nominees.  Being short on time, I decided to hit both topics at once.  A quick review of genre definitions, and then we're on to Bluebonnets--I read an annotation of a book, and each group of students must decide which genre the book belongs to, holding up a pre-printed sign naming their decision.  I then call upon a group or two to defend their answer, and we continue with more annotations/ genre labeling for the remainder of our fifteen-minute lesson.

I anticipated the confusion between realistic fiction and historical fiction.  What I didn't anticipate was my halting explanation of science fiction.  

I realized, as I was thinking aloud with the class, that so much of the science fiction of my past is now reality for our students.  They live with cell phones (and wristwatch phones!), face-to-face long distance communication, instant messaging, touch screens, voice-activated technology...even replicators, if we consider the work being done with 3D printing in the medical and industrial fields. 

I was left with examples of flying my own rocket from my backyard to a planet outside our galaxy, robots walking among us as an everyday occurrence, and time travel.

It leaves me wondering, though--are we narrowing the gap between science fiction and science as reality?  What does this mean for children's literature?  Maybe I need to explore this genre more deeply as a reader, to see what big dreams our futuristic science fiction writers have in store for us.

Monday, September 21, 2015

It's Monday! What are you reading?


My #IMWAYR posts have been few and far between these past weeks, because, as usual, I am reading less outside of school hours than during my Book Nook time.  Unless you count Facebook posts, blogs, and online articles, because I read a LOT of those.

But I decided last week that I need to be reading something just for me, not work-related or from the children's section.  So I started Colonel Chris Hadfield's An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth: What Going to Space Taught Me About Ingenuity, Determination, and Being Prepared for Anything .  

Okay, so it still has "taught" in the title...but it's not a book about the educational system.

I follow Colonel Hadfield on Facebook, and thoroughly enjoyed his posts from the International Space Station with gorgeous photos and witty insights.  I'm looking forward to reading his thoughts in full in his book.

In the Book Nook, we've been reading Dog Days of School by Kelly DiPucchio, illustrated by Brian Biggs, about a boy who wishes he lived his dog's life so he wouldn't have to go to school.  It's been interesting listening to the students debate whether the switch really occurs, or whether it's just a dream.

We've also read Flight School by Lita Judge.  Penguin really wants to learn to fly, but can Teacher and Flamingo help him accomplish his dream?  My students totally rocked at discerning the moral of this "if at first you don't succeed" story.  

The picture book that has my kindergarteners through second graders laughing and talking about the needs of students and teachers alike--especially when it comes to classroom behavior--is My Teacher is a Monster by Peter Brown.  I love stopping the story when Bobby runs into his teacher in the park, to talk about the reasons teachers may go to the park on the weekends.  Even the youngest children can acknowledge that teachers need downtime, too!

It's great to be back in the Book Nook sharing books with children.  What are you reading to your students these days?

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Tuesday Slice: Please read these!

The latest shipment of new library books crowds the top of our middle row of shelves in our elementary library.

Fiction novels, picture books, biographies, college football.  Fractured fairy tales and tales about wall art around the world.  Humor, adventure, science fiction, fantasy.

Buying books is one of my favorite parts of my job.  I love scouring the Kirkus reviews, perusing the book suggestions made by students and staff, following up on the recommendations of my graduate professors, authors, and fellow librarians.  I start another online shopping cart as soon as an order is placed, and add to it often.  Since I only place big orders two or three times a year, it feels like Christmas when the boxes arrive, with exclamations of "Oh!  I forgot I ordered that one! Isn't it great?".

But like an art gallery owner on opening night, I get a touch of anxiety, with thoughts of  "Will the students like what I've chosen?"  "Why hasn't that book been checked out? I thought for sure it would go quickly."  I start pointing books out to the staff, too, hoping they will find them useful, especially the ones that seem to fit so nicely into the curriculum.

We had a few straggler books left over from the last shipment, and I put the latest arrivals on display yesterday afternoon.

Fingers crossed that like great food at a party, they get snatched up quickly.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Tuesday slice: The importance of choice

She stood there alone, unable to choose a book.  

At first I thought she was overwhelmed.  It's happened a couple of times in the library; students so overwhelmed by the size of our collection that they become paralyzed.  I can relate--I feel like that in grocery stores occasionally.

However, this student literally could not make a decision, because she did not feel capable or entitled to do so.  The rest of her class was gleefully wielding their shelf markers and choosing books to take home as she stood there, struggling.  Her teacher finally picked a book by the color of the cover.

I didn't realize how much having choices had been a part of my life until, as a new teacher, I was discussing behavior management with my mother.  As educators, we are taught that giving students choices--lunch, seats, methods of production--helps them feel empowered in their learning and lays the foundation for making bigger decisions later.  My mother told me that when I was little, she would take me to the fabric store and let me choose which fabric I wanted for the dresses she made me.  My grandmother chastised her for giving me "too much power" in the process, but my mother held her ground.  She knew that by letting me make "little" choices, it would help me develop decision-making skills.  She was right--and probably avoided unnecessary tantrums by doing so.

Choosing books should not be anxiety-provoking.  We reduce the overwhelming feeling that some young children have by limiting the shelves from which they check out, and monitoring how they look for books, for a couple of weeks.  We stress choosing books they will enjoy, either by themselves or with an older reader.  Most children quickly learn their likes and dislikes, and are excited to share their finds with classmates.  It's even more heartwarming when they go beyond their wants and needs and choose books to share with younger siblings or parents, based on the family member's preferences.  Those are decisions I couldn't begin to make for them.

When children are young, adulthood seems so very far away.  Those of us with adult children know, however, that childhood goes by so fast.  Growing up doesn't happen automatically when children turn eighteen; it is a process that develops over years, skills learned and practiced over and over again in the safety of home and school, so that when adulthood arrives, they are ready.  

Choosing books may seem insignificant, but developing decision-making abilities is no trivial matter.  What better way to practice than in the library, with no wrong answers and no consequences.  Book choice allows them to use literacy skills they learn in the classroom, discover their likes and dislikes as readers, expand their horizons of learning by pursuing personal interests.  

Librarians and teachers do the hard part by building collections with age-appropriate, interesting literature in a wide variety of genres and topics.  Let's help make book choice enjoyable and empower our students' independence--and decision-making skills-- in doing so.  My little student may need some prodding, but it is my hope that she will be gleefully wielding her own shelf marker and connecting with a book on her own terms by year's end.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Tuesday Slice: Debugging

Hindsight (even just a day later) being 20-20, yesterday was not the best day to try out our new iPads in the library.  I had been up since 245a, running on less than six hours of sleep in order to get our daughter to the airport by 5a. 

I got to work by 7a, and my focus was split between tracking her flights, moving tables back to their proper places for reading, managing broadcast team questions and trying to find lunch pictures for them, and sticking the 27 QR codes I had printed out in the appropriate places for the 8a double class visit I was expecting--sans assistant, since she was covering a class for a PLC.

I had tested one of the QR codes with a student iPad on Friday, so I was fairly confident that despite my exhaustion and split focus, the lesson would work.

But they didn't.  After explaining to the classes how to get to the i-nigma app, I snapped on a QR code to demonstrate.  Went to the Safeshare URL, but didn't play the video.

Two more QR codes, two more failures.  

At this point, I admitted defeat, and sent the students off to check out books, which is what they really wanted to do anyway.  I was able to pull up my videos on my Google Drive and show them a few, but the impact was lost.  Cue the "wah-wah-wah" sound effect.

Thankfully, the rest of Monday's classes were lower grades, and there were no bugs to be seen in reading Pat Miller's We're Going on a Book Hunt.  I remembered our Book Nook songs to sing with the kindergarten and first grade classes, and praised them for their use of shelf markers.  Even the second graders were happy to be back in the library, checking out books.

Weary as I was at the end of the day, I managed to make a Nearpod presentation using most of the videos I made, including a few quizzes thrown in to see if the students are listening.  Fingers crossed that this lesson works for the fourth graders arriving at 830 this morning.

P.S. Read here for a 2011 take on the term "debugging".

P.P.S.  My ITS found out the reason my QR codes didn't work--had to do with site blocking.  Friday's success was a fluke due to a temporary unblocking that day.  What are the odds?


Saturday, August 29, 2015

It is never too late to follow your dream

A friend who's a former colleague popped into the library yesterday with her adorably cute toddler, just to say hello.  She left her position at the end of last year to pursue another degree, one that tugs at her heart for deeply personal reasons.  This was her first week to go back to school as a student again, and we talked about how that went, the changes in her home schedule, the effort it takes to read textbooks as a learner instead of a teacher.

After she left, I commented to a volunteer how proud I was of my friend for following her heart and walking this new path. She was glowing and seemed to be more at peace, traveling this course with purpose and determination.

Last night, I was pondering our visit, and realized there's been a subtle shift in my thinking, too.  I've always been supportive of my friends' efforts to build lives that are true and meaningful.  But I used to do so with a touch of envy, questioning the universe, asking, "When will I figure out what's true for me?  When will I see my path?".

Now I can support my friends from a place of knowing.  Now I can look back and see the path was always there, everything that happened led to the next right thing, experience stacked upon experience building the foundation for the life I'm currently living.

Pursuing my own dream of becoming a librarian, putting some of my needs first to accomplish that goal, has given me insight and appreciation for the struggle.  Instead of looking from afar at others as they work towards achieving their goals, I am standing on my own foundation, reaching down to lend a hand up, even if it's just in empathy.  I can cheer as a coach, someone who's "been there, done that", instead of from the sidelines wishing I could do what they're doing.

Follow your dream.  It is not selfish, and even more fulfilling when you can support others who are doing the same.  

(Photo by Peripitus (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Tuesday slice: First day

The students returned to campus today.  

The first day always begins and ends with a rush.  In the morning, it's parents dropping off their students and walking them to class while they can, before our "hug zone" gets implemented tomorrow; kindergarten parents in the library afterwards, sharing comments of "What do we do now?" and "Time has gone so fast!"; and our brand new fifth grade broadcast team, eager to get to work but naive about the intricacies of running the announcements.

The middle of the day was more routine--dividing up old lunch cards among the newly formed classes and delivering them, rounding up new students to have theirs made, answering emails, filling out forms.

The end of the day is another rush of students, criss-crossing the campus as they go one way to line up for car pickup, another for the buses.  All hands on deck again, to make sure each child gets home safely.

And then quiet falls upon the school, an eerie quiet, not unlike that calm that follows giving birth.  A moment of bewilderment, of "I did it!" followed by "What's next?".  And then the exhaustion hits, and I realize that I still have to pick up the high school child, drive home, and come back tomorrow to do it again.  So home I go, home is where I stay and eat dinner and write this blog and work a little bit, until sleep claims me before the evening news airs.

Monday, August 24, 2015

It's Monday! What are you reading?

(Visit www.teachmentortexts.com for more info about It's Monday! What Are You Reading?)

I am embarrassed to admit that I did not complete a single book this past week!  Instead, I've been talking a lot about books with my colleagues as they've returned to our campus to prepare for the coming school year.  

Here are some books we've talked about:

Gaston, by Kelly DiPucchio and illustrated by Christian Robinson. A puppy who feels a bit out-of-place among his brothers and sisters finds out what family really means.

The Scraps Book:  Notes from a Colorful Life by Lois Ehlert. This autobiography of an artist's life is full of familiar colors and shapes for fans of Ehlert.  I was quick to point this book out to our new art teacher!   

On the professional side, the hot teacher materials of the moment are Number Sense Routines:  Building Numerical Literacy Every Day in Grades K-3 by Jessica F. Shumway and Number Talks:  Helping Children Build Mental Math and Computation Strategies, Grades K-5 by Sherry Parrish.  I've got teachers on a waiting list while I catalog them into the system!

Our students arrive tomorrow!  Here's wishing everyone a great school year.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

I am fortunate

We had our district librarian job-alike meeting today.  This is one of the two times when librarians from elementary, middle, and high schools meet together; we break off into elementary and secondary for our monthly meetings.

Two years ago, I attended my first library job-alike in a state of awe.  Brand new librarian, I felt like I had been given the secret password into a special club.  I still feel that way.  To be part of a group with such a honed sense of purpose--literacy and lifelong learning and service to our patrons--is inspiring.  This group is quick to share resources and nodding glances when we talk about the hurdles we surmount in getting our tasks done.

We were reminded today about how lucky we are to be working in Round Rock ISD.  There is a certified librarian in every school in our district--high schools have two!--and many of us have at least part-time assistants.  Our jobs are valued not only by our campus colleagues and administration, but by district personnel all the way up to the superintendent, who credits part of his success to his public school library experience. 

Our colleagues know that our job is more than just collection development and circulating books.  We support the curriculum through lessons on reading, writing, technology, and information literacy.  We support creativity through makerspaces and club sponsorships.  We support our community through fundraising and outreach.

We support, and our district supports us in return.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Tuesday Slice: I'm not ready!

The students arrive in a week, close to 1100 of them at last count.  That number is about 150 more than last year's beginning of school enrollment.  We've added four more classes over the past two weeks.

My vision for the library schedule this year included two flexible mornings with no regular library visits, so that we have room in the week for longer lessons when requested, author visits, presentations, and rescheduled classes.  But as my "single slot" teachers--kindergartens and first grades--fill in their preferred times for library visits, I am thinking that some of that flex time might become fixed visit time.  My upper grades will often double up classes for their slots, but there's only so much time in the week!

I have no control over the size of our student population, so I've spent the last week on tasks within my control:  ordering books, scheduling author visits, rearranging shelves, laminating new signage, subscribing to our local online newspaper, meeting with the new teachers.  I'm working on the orientation lesson (using iPads this year!) and scheduling meetings with teams to go over read-alouds and lesson topics.

The library looks messy, the circulation desk is cluttered, the shelves are not done, signage is not up, the new badge printer is not plugged in.  I'm not ready for school to start yet!

But yesterday, in the office to see if my academic year wall calendar had arrived (it is the best tool EVER for this librarian!), there was a mom enrolling her two children.  When I introduced myself as the librarian, she immediately asked me about reading incentive programs in our school.  They had just moved from another state, and she felt their previous school was not big on encouraging reading (!).  As I explained our Bluebonnet reading program, read-alouds, regular library visits, and genre challenges offered by many of our teachers, her eyes lit up.  Her son and daughter came up to the front desk to hear the details, smiles on their faces.  

I'm not ready, but they are.  I'd better get cracking at that to-do list!

Monday, August 17, 2015

It's Monday! What are you reading?

Back to work as an elementary school librarian ironically means less time to read, or at least it does for me.  Of course, once the students return, I'm usually reading all day long with them in the library! 

My one book for this week:
Saving Lucas Biggs by Marisa de los Santos and David Teague is a 2015-2016 Texas Bluebonnet Award nominee, and the last of the twenty nominees for me to read.  

I was still reeling from the post-Katrina harsh reality portrayed in Zane and the Hurricane when I started this book; when it opened with the depiction of the miserable treatment of coal miners by the mining companies in the 1930's, I thought I was in for another heartbreaking story.  And I was...until the element of time travel was introduced.  Modern-day Margaret O'Malley is determined to do whatever she can to help her father, who has been wrongfully arrested.  His fate has been determined by a Judge Lucas Biggs, whose view on life became twisted in that coal mining town long ago.  Somehow, Margaret must save Biggs from becoming a coldhearted corporate pawn in order to save her father.  There were parts in this book that were still a heartbreaking read, and should spawn interesting discussions about life in the early 20th century. 

Next on my list:

Finishing up Are You Fully Charged?: The Three Keys to Energizing Your Work and Life by Tom Rath
A Plague of Bogles by Catherine Jinks

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Tuesday Slice: Crafting a vision

Monday was my first day on the work calendar, but it was spent in tech training for the new iPads I have waiting in the library.  

My Facebook post yesterday echoed how I felt about these past three months (to the tune of a pop song):  This summer has been all about that tech, 'bout that tech, no paper.

So today is my first day back among the books.  Only with lots more technology.

After lugging in the bags of stuff from my hallway at home (most of which are books, naturally), I know I will spend time just sitting at my circulation desk, imagining what the library will look like this year.  I think the interactive screen--all 70 inches of it--is currently set up in my book nook.  But after hearing other librarians at the training talk about ways it can be used, is that the best place for it?  It might look better over in the learning area, but there is already a Promethean board hanging on that wall...will it become obsolete with this new tech, and if so, what do we do with it?  The iPads have been delivered, too.  That's more orientation for the students...time to rework the beginning of school year lesson.  Will the expected hubbub over the new devices eclipse everything else in the library?  Will I be okay with that?

Harking back to the words of The Tech Rabbi at iPadpalooza, I reaffirm my purpose in the library.  Promoting print and digital literacy, the enjoyment of reading, and love of lifelong learning is still paramount in this space.  All the questions I have will be answered in due time, I know.  

Coffee in hand, vision a bit more clear, I wade into the 2015-2016 school year.

Monday, August 10, 2015

It's Monday! What are you reading?


My first day back at work, two weeks before students arrive, so I've spent the last week madly reading the last Bluebonnet nominee books on my list!  I am on the last one, so I have already beaten my record of 16 Bluebonnets read last summer.

The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom by Christopher Healy was a fun romp with all the Prince Charmings--the ones associated with Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Snow White, and Rapunzel.  They do have names, you know (according to Healy)--Liam, Frederic, Duncan, and Gustav--and they may not be as suave and sophisticated as the previous movie-animation versions portrayed.  It was a long book (over 400 pages), but worth the read for middle grade students who think they've outgrown those princess fairy tales.  Lots of adventure to be had with the Prince Charmings! 

I jumped from fantasy to sci-fi with The Lost Planet by Rachel Searles.  The story opens with a mystery--a boy wakes up on a lawn of a house on a planet with a yellow sky.  His head hurts, and he doesn't know who or where he is.  Rescued by Parker, the house's lone living inhabitant, we soon discover that the boy's name is Chase.  Parker has a mischievous streak born of boredom, and the two boys find themselves in increasingly more complicated and dangerous situations, caught in the turmoil of political unrest and deceit.  Searching for details about his past leads Chase to discover just how special he really is.  Sci-fi readers will make connections with Star Wars and Star Trek in this fast-paced story.  
Zane and the Hurricane

Book nineteen for me was Zane and the Hurricane: A Story of Katrina by Rodman Philbrick. Zane Dupree travels from New Hampshire to Louisiana to meet his great-grandmother, the woman who raised the father he never got to know.  Unfortunately, the visit happens right as Hurricane Katrina is about to hit the coast. Philbrick pulls no punches with his historical fiction depiction of the aftermath of the storm in New Orleans, and includes information in the afterword about actual events that lent him the factual details.  Living in Texas at that time, I was very aware of the devastation as the refugees came to our state and city, but I don't recall hearing about the violence perpetrated on some of those trying to escape the floodwaters.  Philbrick shows us how extreme situations can bring out the best and worst in people.   This wasn't an easy read for me, but it made me eager to get to the end to find out how Zane and his rescuers fared.

Currently reading:
Saving Lucas Biggs by Marisa de los Santos and David Teague
Are You Fully Charged? The 3 Keys to Energizing Your Work and Life by Tom Rath

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Tuesday Slice: Taking stock

Next Tuesday will find me back among the stacks, hopefully rearranging books, putting up new signage in the Fiction and Everybody sections, and processing the pile of materials I left behind back in June.
Some of the books to return to school
Pile of stuff to take to school

With three weekdays left of summer break (I have professional development on Thursday), I am determined to drown out the woulda-coulda-shoulda voice in my head with there-is-still-time, look-at-what-you-have-done reassurances.

So here's to taking stock of my summer.  I have:

  • worked out 33 times
  •  read over 25 books (and I'm farther ahead on the Bluebonnet nominee list than I was at this time last year!)
  • helped my daughter prepare for her study-abroad semester
  • cooked some really good meals, and planned them through August
  • written 18 blogposts (not counting this one)
  • attended four days of professional development
  • made one book trailer
  • made two quickie flipped lessons
  • become a little more familiar with my district-issued iPad
  • put on a garage sale with my family
  • filled the bird bath almost every day--and enjoyed bird-watching as a result
  • watered my outdoor plants A LOT to try and save them from our TX heat
  • enjoyed afternoon naps
  • participated in a Write Away Day at the Writing Barn with my children, where I finished three book reviews and journaling and worked on some fiction pieces
  • participated in a colleague's Visitors' Day as part of her Central Texas Writing Project Summer Institute
  • met up with friends from two campuses ago, commandeering a table at Panera Bread for over three hours
  • nursed my son back to health after his wisdom teeth extraction surgery
  • spent lots of time with my husband, daughter, and son--the best-spent time this summer.
Just putting this list together makes me feel better!  There are still two or three major tasks that I must absolutely get done before next Monday, but I've already scheduled in a bit of fun with girlfriends on Friday afternoon.

For all you teacher-types out there who are heading back to work this month, I encourage you to make your own list!  I'm guessing you got a lot more accomplished than you give yourself credit for.

Monday, August 3, 2015

It's Monday! What are you reading?

Alas, I cannot yet report on the books I was reading last week....because I haven't finished them yet.  (I am **this** close to finishing The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom by Christopher Healy!)

But I had to write something today, so I took a break and read all these wonderful books I picked up at the Scholastic Reading Summit last Tuesday.  I can't wait to get them into the school library!

I sent an email reminder to myself to get a copy of A Fine Dessert by Emily Jenkins after reading The Styling Librarian's blogpost review last Monday...and there it was in the Scholastic bookfair on Tuesday! The author takes us on a fascinating journey through history by following the recipe for blackberry fool.  We learn how it was made in four different centuries, two countries, and four different families.  As the author writes in her notes, there is a lot that can be discussed through this book:  changes in food gathering, preparation, and refrigeration; changes in clothing and gender roles; slavery in the United states; and a common love for sweet desserts!  The recipe is included, and be sure to read illustrator Sophie Blackall's notes as well--there is a surprise detail about the endpapers!  I'll be sure to display A Fine Dessert in November with other books featuring food and family.

I am a sucker for children's picture dictionaries; I think they are a fabulous resource for young beginning writers as well as ELL students.  I especially like the ones where words are grouped by category; First Words by Dawn Machell and Jane Horne gathers words in familiar groups such as clothes, foods, family members, and animals.  There are a lot of pictures and words per page, which makes this a great resource for primary grades or a book to explore together with a younger child.

Flora and the Penguin is Molly Idle's follow-up to Caldecott Honoree Flora and the Flamingo.  Wordless and using spare imagery in soft wintry shades of white and blue, we watch Flora and her ice-skating penguin partner as they dance; Idle's innovative use of flaps moves the action along a timeline (compare with comic book frames).  I love using wordless books to teach story elements and provide students struggling with writers' block with a nudge to put their own words to the pictures.

Nana in the City by Lauren Castillo is another Caldecott Honor Book, illustrated in bright tones with heavy black lines and lots of details.  A young boy is hesitant about visiting his grandmother in the loud, scary city.  Nana knows what to do; she knits a superhero cape to inspire bravery in her grandson, and together they explore the wonders of city life.  This would be a fun and easy read to pair with your favorite version of "City Mouse, Country Mouse".

Last, but not least--my two signed books by Kate Messner, Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt, illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal, and How to Read a Story, illustrated by Mark Siegel.  Ms. Messner read the latter to us at the Reading Summit, and I immediately thought it would be perfect at the beginning of the school year when we talk about choosing good-fit books in the library.  She covers all the bases--choosing a book for your audience, making a prediction from the cover and title, using context clues to sound out words.  Up in the Garden was purchased with our school's garden PBL project in mind, but it could be used in units about soil, the seasons, insects, and the environment.  I like having books written by the same author but with different illustrators, because they can spark discussions about art styles and the editorial decisions behind matching the art to the story.

It was nice to take a break from my chapter books and feast my eyes on these wonderful picture books.  I'm looking forward to sharing them with my students in the library!

Scholastic Reading Summit

This Tuesday, I attended my first Reading Summit sponsored by Scholastic.  It was a deal I couldn't pass up--professional development hours, paid for by my Scholastic Dollars earned from book fairs, and held at the Renaissance Hotel, a mere fifteen minute drive from my house.  Oh, and lunch was provided!

It was such a good deal that I was able to take two teachers from my campus (one from K-2 and one from 3-5) using Scholastic Dollars as well.  Bonus!

The food was yummy, I got to chat with some of my SHSU profs, there was oodles of Starbucks coffee and ice water to be had, and a friendly Scholastic representative every ten feet to help you find your way.  Those sneaky Scholastic folks even knew how to get us there early--they opened up the book fair an hour-and-a-half before the first keynote, and kept it open all day.  I got my shopping for the library done early, and even snagged two signed copies of Kate Messner's books; Ms. Messner was kind enough to personalize them for my school.

But enough about the food and shopping.  Here's what I learned....

Opening Keynote--Scholastic and Donalyn Miller

Alan Boyko, President of Scholastic, treated us to a booktalk on Crossover by Kwame Alexander after talking to us about research data on decreasing attention spans and the importance of independent reading for critical thinking and lifelong learning skills.  He stressed the importance of book talking; at Scholastic, they even begin their meetings with a book talk!  You can find resources for book talks at http://www.scholastic.com/bookfairs/books/booktalks .  

Donalyn Miller, author of The Book Whisperer and Reading in the Wild, honed in on the importance of allowing student choice in reading.  My favorite points from her talk:

  • We need to support our students' reading choices, or else risk extinguishing interest in reading altogether.
  • The most important thing that an adult can do is stop and listen when  a child wants to talk about a book.
  • Book choice develops decision-making ability.
  • Students' voices should be louder than ours.
Ms. Miller also gave us some great ideas for promoting books:  student-made "shelfies" to recommend books; decorating doors with recommended books or "currently reading" titles; posting QR codes to book trailers, then laminating them and placing them inside the book covers to be discovered; and hosting a Review Club, in which books are reviewed by at least two members for all grade levels in the school.

iDEAL:  Inspiring, Developing, Empowering, Assessing, and Leading a Schoolwide Independent Reading Culture

This full-day workshop was based on Scholastic's "Independent Reading Professional Learning Guidebook", as well as the highly-recommended Creating Lifelong Readers through Independent Reading by Barbara Moss and Terrell Young.   Lottie Liner, guest principal from Forest Lane Academy in Richardson, provided copies of the book for her staff when implementing her school-wide literacy program.

Scholastic provides the framework that Ms. Liner used, including pre-assessment surveys for staff and parents, online tools and resources (many of them free of charge), and post-assessment surveys. More information can be found at  http://www.scholastic.com/bookfairs/reading-summit/2015-summit-resources .  

Points I liked from this workshop:
  • Develop your vision and find enthusiastic supporters.  Each campus needs to decide what independent reading looks like to them--DEAR time for the whole school?  Students carrying books to read during transition time?  Book talks on morning announcements, in community circles, at PTA meetings?
  • The 20 for 20 challenge asks parents to dedicate 20 minutes of reading WITH their children for 20 consecutive days.  Information and resources can be found at the aforementioned link.
  • Creating Lifelong Readers as well as Donalyn Miller's Reading in the Wild offer guidelines for curating classroom libraries--which should number at least 300 books per room. Scholastic offers boxes of "bruised" books at discounted prices; teachers noted that don't always seem that "bruised"!
  • When using the pre-evaluation from the resources, think of what needs to be done as a three-year plan.  Get your rituals and routines in place during year one, applications such as one-on-one reading conferences, data gathering, and student response systems in year two, and assess student and family engagement in year three.
  • Another resource is No More Independent Reading without Support by Debbie Miller and Barbara Moss.
  • Sustain your efforts by using the provided surveys and connecting with your professional learning network.  
  • Ideas for finding the time and space for implementation:

  • Scholastic ReaderLeader is a blog for administrators that is now open for anyone to follow:  www.scholastic.com/bookfairs/readerleader
  • Invite your teachers to tweet about books!  Hold contests for assigned parking space for the most tweets!
The iDEAL resources seem very helpful, whether you decide to use the entire process as outlined or pieces that resonate with the needs of your campus.

Ending Keynote--Booktalk and Kate Messner
The Scholastic manager for Texas book talked Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt (it's on my to-read pile!).

Kate Messner took the stage, and energetically shared her story of becoming an author (while she was a teacher!).  My favorite part of her talk was about handling book challenges, after she had a particularly distasteful encounter with a classroom parent.  Her response was so well written, and she generously said to borrow whatever we needed from it to help us if we faced a similar situation.  Her letter can be found on her blog, here.

This led into a focus on diversity in children's literature.  Ms. Messner talked about the importance of children finding themselves in the books they read, as well as learning about others--our differences AND what we have in common, perhaps helping to make the world a better place.  The books she featured:

Ms. Messner continued by sharing her wide range of books with us, from her newest Ranger in Time series and stand-alone novels to her picture books on the rainforest, gardens, and the ocean.  She thoroughly researches the material for her nonfiction and "Ranger" books, traveling around the world with her writer's notebook to capture details that make her stories come alive. We then read How to Read a Story together--the perfect book to use when teaching students how to find and share a good-fit story for themselves.

Favorite points:
  • "Reading is magic."  That makes teachers and librarians wizards. "We can write books, but if they're not finding their way to the readers, we're kind of shouting into the dark." 
  • We should be okay with questions that don't necessarily need answers.
  • Be careful of "genderizing" books too much.  Boys and girls need to read all kinds of books, to avoid sexism later.
  • "We read independently to understand others."
Kate Messner's keynote was a wonderful way to end my first Scholastic Reading Summit!