Librarians as Vocab Teachers

Following a revelation I had last year regarding serving ELLs and international students at my school comes another, courtesy of my ESL teacher colleagues.  At the beginning of this year, they led a best practices session for faculty in which they emphasized that we all, no matter our disciplines or the language levels of the students we teach, need to be teaching vocabulary. They presented the three tiers of vocabulary development among other resources (mentioned below) and asked for our support in helping all students learn words in the second and third tiers, which become progressively more academic and domain-specific.

As an educator whose lessons can be jargon-heavy and full of words that have meanings specific to the library context (catalog, database, call number, collection) or the research process (authority, operator), this struck a chord. I often explain these terms during the course of an orientation or lesson, but I don’t directly teach them. In the month or so since that in-service day, I have been seeking tools and strategies to help me in my journey toward becoming a library and research process vocabulary teacher.

Maniotes & Cellucci have written in Teacher Librarian about how being a researcher and following an inquiry process leads students to develop domain-specific vocabulary related to an academic discipline or their research topic. However, at the moment I am more focused on the domain-specific vocabulary related to learning to use libraries and do research. I have started my own word bank of Tier 2 and Tier 3 words that appear in my own teaching, are found in places we might take for granted such as NoodleTools and the OPAC, and on guides for international students from academic libraries. I’ve taken a stab at categorizing them as Tier 2 (general academic words) or Tier 3 (library and research specific), tricky since “research words” do cross academic disciplines. Anyway, here’s a sample:

Tier 2:

  • Source
  • Resource
  • Publisher
  • Author
  • Title
  • Subject
  • Original
  • Journal
  • Academic
  • Keyword
  • Topic
  • Process
  • Electronic
  • Purpose
  • Content
  • Copyright

Tier 3:

  • Call number
  • Primary source
  • Scholarly
  • Database
  • Periodical
  • Reference
  • Archive
  • Dissertation
  • Thesis
  • Relevant
  • Collection
  • Accurate
  • Multi-volume
  • Catalog
  • Full text
  • Citation
  • Peer-reviewed

As a new researcher, let alone a new researcher working in their second or third language, these terms are not easily understood or may not make sense out of their previously known context.  Figuring out the appropriate word list for a research unit would depend on the level of the class and the input of the classroom teacher.

My toolbox for direct vocabulary instruction is growing as well.

  • In Vocab Rehab, Marilee Sprenger offers vocabulary instruction techniques that can be used in a class period with limited time. These could be handy during library orientations or one-shot lessons, provided there is opportunity for continued practice and reinforcement.
  • As new words come up, they could be added to a library word wall. Then a few minutes each inquiry session could be dedicated to engaging vocabulary review.
  • The Frayer Model could be used to help students understand the terms represented by the acronymic CRAAP test, for example.
  • Academic Word Finder identifies Tier 2 words for a certain grade level within a text, sometimes with surprising results.

I can’t wait to put some of these ideas to use as the year moves ahead and our ESL classes begin research projects. Building Tier 2 and Tier 3 word lists will be a wonderful opportunity for furthering collaboration with ESL teachers, and will benefit all student researchers too.

Do you do direct library vocabulary instruction? How and when? What words would you add? Any Middle or Upper School librarians with a word wall in the library (who would like to share pictures?)


Maniotes, L., & Cellucci, A. (2017). Doubling up: Authentic vocabulary
development through the inquiry process. Teacher Librarian, 44(3), 16-20.
Retrieved from

Sprenger, M. (2014). Vocab rehab: How do I teach vocabulary effectively with
limited time? Alexandria, Va.: ASCD.

Further reading:

Bernadowski, C., & Kolencik, P. L. (2010). Research-based reading strategies in
the library for adolescent learners. Santa Barbara, Calif.: Libraries

Lehman, C. (2012). Energize research reading and writing: Fresh strategies to
spark interest, develop independence, and meet key common core standards,
grades 4-8. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Student Achievement Partners. (n.d.). Selecting and using academic vocabulary in
instruction [Guide document]. Retrieved September 18, 2018, from website:

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World War II – 6th Grade History

This past year my 6th grade history teacher and I collaborated on a World War II poster project. I especially enjoyed this project since we created it together from start to finish. We issued the following guidelines:

World War II Poster Project
Due: Tuesday, May 23, 2018

5-7 facts about your topic that are directly related to World War II

Information from a primary source or a quote from a person that lived during that time period (like a President) about your topic.

Answer either WHY did your topic give the US an advantage in the war or HOW do we see the impact of your topic today?

Poster should also include one to three visuals (can be drawn or printed out). Facts should be written/typed and placed on poster. Facts can be placed on the front or back of the poster. Exact design may vary by topic!
Women in Factories, Rosie the Riveter
Pearl Harbor
Atomic Bomb – Manhattan Project
Entertainment – Fireside Chats
Sports – Baseball, Joe Dimaggio/Ted Williams
Life of a Soldier
Weapons of War
Different topic approved by Ms. Vining or Ms. Back

My favorite part of the project is where we asked the students to respond to a WHY or HOW question on their poster. The students spent a week in the library doing research and making their posters. The answers to the WHY and the HOW questions could not easily be found in a book or online for many of the topics above. I think that the best research projects ask students to think critically — even, and especially, in Middle School.

The students enjoyed making the posters and the end results were a success! We selected the best posters and they are now on display in the library for the new school year. As a librarian I appreciated being involved in all aspects of this project from start to finish.

Have you found ways at your school to work with teachers from beginning to end rather than just on one aspect or skill? Also, how do you encourage students to think critically with a research project, particularly in history or English and in Middle School? Any advice is most appreciated!

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on projects that get us started…

First and foremost, while this blog is about independent school librarianship, I’d be remiss if I did not begin by saying that I am keeping everyone who may be in the path of Hurricane Florence in my thoughts. May you, your loved ones, your neighbors, and your communities be safe through it all.

Advice coming from our neighbors on the Hawaiian islands affected by Hurricane Lane is to be sure to take pictures and/or video of both the exteriors and interiors of your homes (including flooring) that you may be able to use as support documentation to show the condition of your property and its contents before the storm should you need to file claims with insurance carriers.

This Month’s Post on High School Projects to Start the Year… 

For those of you following more typical school calendars and not doing hurricane prep, welcome back to school!

As I tap this blog post out on my laptop, here in the Central Pacific, we find ourselves in the midst of our fifth week of school. Yes, that’s right! While most of you were out lounging poolside, hiking the Appalachian Trail (Looking at you, Tara Vito!), or doing whatever it is that is your joy of summer, I got to have my first library classes with the class of 2031–you read that right… #NotaTypo; we had two hurricane days (no snow days in the Central Pacific, but we do have hurricane days from time to time); and we’ve had the chance to work with our frosh Mid-Pacific eXploratory classes on a world civilizations project.

The Project in a Nutshell…

Working in groups, students are creating role playing games based on exploration and research that they are doing on ancient civilizations–ancient Egypt, the Roman Empire, Babylonia, the Shang Dynasty, the Indus River Valley, and the Aztec Empire. The development of each groups’ game is a step in their broader project-based learning on the essential question: How is water or the access to it a reflection of a fair and equitable society? 

Planning for Collaboration…

We are incredibly fortunate to work with a cadre of teachers who purposefully build collaborative teaching time into their projects and create opportunities for us to team with them as they work with their students. Rather than have students read chapters in textbooks or deliver content about ancient civilizations in a series of lectures, Mr. Cheever and Mr. Falk elected to have students collaboratively gather information about their assigned civilizations.

  • Our Desired Outcomes:
    • Social Studies: Students will understand the framework for GRAPES: Geography, Religion, Arts, Politics, Economics, and Social.
    • Information Instruction:
      • Any fact in notes has to be linked to a specific source
      • Students will be introduced to and use a variety of library sources

Library session goals

In collaboration with us in the library, Mr. Falk and Mr. Cheever included a requirement that students’ notes needed to include notes from at least 5 different library sources.

There are Times When Collaboration Feels Like Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride and You Crash and Burn, but Sometimes That’s Just How It Goes…

My partner librarian, Nicole, built a Libguide and our first section of Frosh came to the library to work on the project. I tried having students read Wikipedia pages for their civilizations with the intention of having students then generate keyword search terms. It was a horrendous failure and I crashed and burned REALLY BADLY. Fortunately, Mr. Falk had enough faith to bring his class back the next day and we re-launched our work with a little more structure and  a lot more success.

What This Looks Like in Our Library…

Students set up their collaborative note taking document. All 4 students in each group took notes in a single document, but each student was required to find 3 facts per GRAPES category and use 5 different library sources.

They looked a little more excited about the work at other points in time. I promise! LOL!

Teacher-created note taking template.

Students’ “notes in progress…”

Teacher and Librarian collaboration Points of discussion on note taking:

  • Notes in their own words or copy/paste?
    • Because this is an initial project and the synthesis step is to use these facts to inform the development of a game rather than a written work. Copy/paste is okay.
    • Notes in their own words and/or in quotations for direct quotes will be introduced in a project down the road when synthesis could more easily lead to citation issues.

Library Day #1: Research in Databases…

Screen Shot 2018-09-07 at 12.13.38 PM

Project database page

Teacher and Librarian Points of discussion on databases:

  • Britannica School and World Book were treated like other databases for this project. They are “offset” here because in future projects they will get phased out. “In high school, we no longer cite tertiary sources like Britannica, World Book, or Wikipedia in our academic work…”
  • We typically prefer to start with print books and ebooks before moving to research in databases. We couldn’t start our research in this order because we had two hurricane days and we couldn’t order our ebooks from Gale. When we got back to school, we were really busy and couldn’t get the order in. When Mr. Wee finally got around to placing the ebook order, he miscalculated the time difference between HST and EST and Gale was closed for Labor Day weekend. Basically, we didn’t have access to the eBooks we needed on the first day of the project and we didn’t have enough print resources for an entire class to use at the same time. #LastMinuteLibrarian #Fail

Library Day 2: eBooks and Books…

Screen Shot 2018-09-07 at 12.23.09 PM

Gale ebook sub-collection for the project

Click on the image above to view the un-pretty, but “good enough to get the job done” slideshow that I used with the class.

Getting Meta with the Research Process… 

While much of the work (as our projects often are) in our library lesson time was location & access and note taking heavy, we also always want to incorporate some “meta-discussion” on our research process and use of information so students begin building mental maps about the research process.

On day two, we took some time to discuss the metacognitive framework of the research process.

We charted what students had done (green) in the research process so far. We looked forward to the synthesis step that they’ll be doing as they begin the process of designing their games (blue). We added the arrows in red which Mr. Cheever pointed out is the “re” in research. As we do synthesis, we typically identify new information needs that must be addressed–learning and researching is a continually recursive process.

Developing Literacies is a LONG Game…

Research on Babylon uncovered An Eyewitness To Mighty Ancient Babylon by Herodotus. Mr. Cheever paused their work to have a short discussion with the class on how, as learners in a connected world, we MAKE MEANING and come to OUR OWN understanding of our world from the information we find. “We don’t have video, photos, and we can’t interview an ancient Babylonian ourselves so how do we know what is ‘true’?”


Primary sources

A recent Quartz article, “A Philosopher of Truth Says We’re not Living in a “Post-truth” World After All,” discusses how, in our connected world, the struggle we have in helping our students arrive at “truth with a capital T.” The article’s conclusion, if I’m reading it correctly, is that we have to learn to be comfortable with “understandings” of the world that are based, not on a big T truth, but rather on many small truths that we triangulate and contextualize to come to a thoughtful “understanding.”

Screen Shot 2018-09-07 at 3.47.20 PM

Our library program’s aspirational learner profile

As Mr. Cheever had his discussion with his class, I thought back to the “learner profile” to which our library program aspires, and I thought, “In terms of information literacy instruction, THIS MOMENT RIGHT NOW, is the point of all that collaboration, resource management, note taking template building, Libguide creation, scheduling, and all the rest of the frustrating things we endure to make programming happen! THIS MOMENT RIGHT NOW IS WHAT THAT IS ALL FOR, AND WHAT WE WANT TO HAPPEN!

Are our 14-year old frosh independently “information literate” as a result of this one project and that one discussion? Of course not because building an information literate human being is a long game and we won’t get there with a single step, but it’s a start that made me smile as I walked to my car at the end of the day, for sure!

At the end of what has been an exhausting first month of school, I must say that one thing for which I feel so incredibly grateful is that I get to work with teachers that let us play this long game with them!

Happy new school year, all!

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Modeling Good Writing

In an NPR video series on Billy Collins, the poet laureate was asked how young poets could get started writing poetry. Billy Collins responded, “it’s such dull advice, there’s really no key to it, you just have to read, read poetry for 10,000 hours.”

Immersing young writers in models of fine writing was an idea echoed during a 2017 NCTE conference session on literary magazines. This session was a wonderful brain trust for individuals new to sponsoring a school’s literary magazine. In addition to bringing back copies of other schools’ literary magazines, I brought back the advice repeatedly heard: provide student writers with models of good writing and read, read, read.

In an earlier AISL blog, “Inspire Writing with Memorials,” I mentioned that our library and student LitMag editors are sponsoring a writing contest. Our LitMag editors were challenged to make promotional posters that not only advertised the contest, but also featured a poem example reflecting the contest theme of memorials or collections. As our LitMag editors searched for models of well-crafted poems, the library poetry book shelves became a cornucopia of inspirational ideas.

Below are two examples of poetry books that sparked imaginations, along with students’ poem reflections and poster design decisions.

Bravo! by Margarita Engle.
Margarita Engle, named in 2017 as the Young People’s Poet Laureate, celebrates the lives of Hispanic people from all walks of life in this collection of poems.

Poem Reflection:
LitMag editor, Sebastian, chose the poem “Life on Horseback”and explained, “this poem is a memorial to a Mexican-American cowboy named Arnold Rojas (1898-1988). Due to lack of job opportunities for immigrants, he worked as a farmworker. He leaves that job for a more exciting life as a cowboy. This poem emphasizes that you must take pride in your work and if you don’t, you should search for a more meaningful job.”

Design principle for poster: Symmetry.
Silhouetted horse heads face each other on the poster and displayed below are flags of Mexico and the United States of America, indicating the duel heritage of cowboy Arnold Rojas.

Maya Angelou (Poetry for Young People).
This collection of poems by Maya Angelou display her emotional connection with struggles
and triumphs of African Americans, including the struggle from oppression to attaining
lives of dignity.

Poem Reflection:
LitMag Editor, Alex, chose the poem “One More Round” and observed, “this poem shows a man who loves to work and believes his work is much more than slavery:  ‘I was born to work but I ain’t no mule.’”

Design Principle for poster: Repetition.
An intricate assembly line shows miniature factory workers heaving, hoisting, and loading large flour bags onto automated belts. These bags of flour are being processed so another man, drawn above the assembly line, can enjoy a bowl of cereal. Alex reflected that his drawing shows “a man that’s just eating a bowl of cereal and is treating it like any other. Look further down on the poster and you can see the work that goes into making this bowl of cereal is worth a whole lot more than it looks.”

This process of selecting poems to model well-crafted writing was a creative stretch for our LitMag editors: an opportunity both for design thinking and personal reflection on how poems communicate to an audience. The finished posters are now displayed throughout the school, inspiring our young writers through reading poems by established poets.

For further exploration of how writers rely on models of good writing, see these books that celebrate famous poets:

Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets
by Kwame Alexander, Chris Colderley, and Margery Wentworth
Kwame and co-authors pay tribute to famous poets by imitating the poetic style or enkindling the emotional connection of these poets.

Boshblobberbosh: Runcible Poems for Edward Lear
by J. Patrick Lewis
Lewis, the 2011 Children’s Poet Laureate, writes poems in the style of Edward Lear to honor Lear’s whimsical language and playful use of the sounds of words.

To read more on how NCTE supports school literary magazines, see REALM Awards (Recognizing Excellence in Art and Literary Magazines).

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The Way of the Ninja

Katsukawa Shunsho, Nakamura Sukegoro II as Aso no Matsukawa, 1768. Woodblock print. Art Institute of Chicago.

I have two sons, one who is twelve and one aged eight. “Ninja” as a term gets thrown around a lot in my house: “You are a total ninja in the kitchen, Mom.” “Get out of my room before I go ninja on you!” “When I grow up I’m going to be a pilot. Or a ninja. Or both.” You get the idea. Cluttering up the costume closet (what, you don’t have a costume closet? We’re the only ones?) are little black balaclava masks, several sets of plastic nunchaku, and at least one pair of those split-toed socks. They are not real ninjas . . . but you can be! Without, you know, all the killing.

In fact, real ninjas in medieval Japan were employed more often as information-gathering agents, or to spread disinformation where that was useful, than as assassins, although that aspect was certainly true as needed. Black pajamas are very slimming, but you don’t need those either, for the goal of the ninja was to blend into ordinary society and work from within – your cardigan sweater will do just fine.

If you have limited paid databases due to budget constraints, below are some terrific resources to help you track down requests from faculty or students without depending on the kindness of strangers. All of us at AISL are prepared to send the occasional article to one another in answer to a request on the listserv, but you’re a librarian – your superpower is in tracking down information in places that regular humans fail to consider. Remember, real ninja were collectors of intelligence, able to blend in with regular people, and that’s definitely you so you can do this. At the very least, consider it a professional challenge to try at least one or two of these. Hone your skills as sharply as a ninjato blade and prepare to cut through reference requests all day long. Some of these resources will no doubt be familiar to many of you, but other approaches might surprise you.

Unpaywall: a browser extension that will reveal whether a requested article is available for free. Once installed, the small lock icon located in a tab to the right of your screen will turn green if the article is located for free anywhere online. A lot of us overlook the value of a straight-up Google search for an article, when plenty of resources are actually out there for free, even the ones that are of a more weighty, academic type.

Remote access to public library databases: your state library system may provide remote access to databases either by detecting your IP location or with a library card barcode number. I realize that it may give you pause to use your personal access to source database articles. Some library systems may be willing to issue a library card to your school. You may also wish to encourage your students to use their own library card numbers if they have them; if their families pay taxes in the state, they are entitled to use its library collections whether it is for public school homework or private school homework.

The Library of Congress does offer free remote access to a great many periodical titles. The link provided here takes the user to a page of subject areas – pick your area of research and browse what’s available remotely. Links at right will connect to the periodical itself, and users can search by date of publication for the exact article they want.

Contact the scholar: scholars are allowed to share their articles privately with you themselves. They are generally not paid for scholarly articles that appear in peer-reviewed academic journals, and they are usually thrilled to be asked to share their work. If you have an author’s name, contact him or her directly via email or phone at his or her college or university, and ask for an offprint or digital copy of the article. You have absolutely nothing to lose by asking, and the scholar in question may send you other material that  provides you with more or better information.

A note about faculty or student requests: often it happens that a student or a colleague insists that he or she needs this exact article or the world will collapse into a heap of ashes, metaphorically speaking. Literally or otherwise, this is rarely true. Often a published scholar has written several articles on the same subject and one that you can find will do as nicely as the one you can’t. Search the resources that you do have using the author’s name and some useful keywords and see what full-text results come up. You may end up finding a nearly identical article, published with minor changes, for a different audience or perhaps an even better one.

WorldCat: literally a union catalog of the world and operated by the OCLC, WorldCat covers books, DVDs, CDs, and articles. It returns results ranked by proximity to a ZIP code that the user enters, so you can search a nearby library, or one in a city you plan to visit, or where you have privileges as a result of being an alumnus or some other circumstance. Almost any publicly funded library – including college libraries that receive state funds – will allow you to access electronic or print materials if you are on-site, so at the very least a researcher could scan a print article or download an electronic one.

Hathitrust: an online digital library of millions of full-text books, many of them with their illustrations intact. Because these resources are out of the public domain, which is why they are free, the material tends to be older. However, it means this is a particularly useful resources for books that may be out of print.

Directory of Open Access Journals: more than 12,000 open-access journal titles. These are high-quality, peer-reviewed, scholarly journals, and the DOAJ provides free access to the full text. These journals are valuable enough to be indexed by many major database vendors, but they are out there free of charge for anyone to use. Dive in!

These suggestions are limited to sources for periodical articles and digitized books. There are sources such as Researchgate and Humanities Commons, that I have purposely left out of this blog post, because they involve a component of networking amongst scholars that was beyond the scope of today’s topic. If you have a favorite free resource for high-quality reference material, please feel free to be the ninja I know you are and leave a link in the comments so we can all benefit from the intelligence you’ve gathered.


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Pondering post-secondary

While our schools have evolved from solely preparing students for post-secondary to helping them become engaged citizens who carefully and critically use information to meet their needs, I would be failing in my role if I did not make every effort to ensure that our students have mastered some key basics before heading off to college/university.

I find inspiration for this through work done by many members of AISL, offered through this blog and at annual conferences (research conducted by Courtney Lewis being particularly helpful), and also through visits to academic libraries. My family and friends know that if I’m travelling to a new place, I’m going to be reaching out to university librarians in that area. Besides being good fun, being able to reference recent conversations with academic librarians can enhance my ‘street cred’ with students and faculty.

I was fortunate to visit 3 universities on two of the Canadian coasts this summer: Halifax, Nova Scotia, and Vancouver, British Columbia. What I found was immensely ‘do-able’ and reassuring.I don’t think this is because I’m nailing it, rather that despite constant changes in technology, some key tenets remain the same:

  • Arriving at school with the knowledge that support and resources are available from a magical place called a library puts them ahead of the pack
  • Knowing a particular citation style is not as important as them knowing when and how to cite
  • Information/media literacy is key – students who are used to looking at sources critically, considering potential bias, will be best set up for success

What do they see lacking in their first-year students?

  • Having the ability to read deeply, and with intention
  • Knowing how to back-plan for time-consuming reading & research
  • Recognizing that theft in a larger community is real – don’t leave your laptops/phones unattended in the library!

Based on all of this, I’m feeling good about having gotten our long-stalled library orientation off the ground again this year; resuming my winter sessions with grads to prepare them for using academic libraries; and implementing NoodleTools. I need to ramp up my PR on working with teachers on information literacy and continue modelling deep reading.

I remain enormously grateful to be part of a profession which happily blurs “divisions”. I have never had an academic or public librarian be less than enthusiastic about meeting with me to look at how to better support students, and I happily keep a stash of school-crested gifts and thank you notes to show my appreciation.

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Inquiring minds want to know…

As we approach the start of a new school year (welcome back all!), I wanted to reflect on this year’s Critical Literacy Summer Institute.  Southern California brought the largest group in the history of Summer Institutes for days of deep discussion regarding research, the news, inquiry, and what it takes to craft a great question. The Willows School library blends indoors and outdoors—and many of us couldn’t resist climbing Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook after watching all the hikers from the base. The planning committee accounted for southern California sunshine and 80 degree days, and we split our time in interactive lectures, workshops, small group discussions, and insanely fancy snack breaks (think brie and smoked gouda).

I take a lot of notes

I have to admit that I never even got to perusing the project I brought to revise because I used breaks to continue conversations and delve deeper. If I had to state an overarching message, it’s that there’s always space to dig deeper, question further, and learn more. The presenters were gracious enough to share their presentation slides on the libguide, and I have linked to them directly below. Since we spent a half day thinking about developing questions, I challenged myself to think of my three main questions as a response to each workshop. This is my public declaration of my takeaways, not a summary of the sessions themselves. Feel free to get in touch throughout the year to see how I’m approaching finding answers and the way this shapes my teaching.

Thinking creatively about research questions

Source Literacy in your Library – Nora Murphy

  • What sources do I find necessary in my own life, and how did I develop the skills to evaluate them and place them in the context of the larger information landscape?
  • In teaching, what parts of the research process do I have standardized and structured, and which parts are individualized? What are the consequences in allowing for serendipity but also wanting equity of service?
  • How much time do I let students feel uncertain about their progress in the “exploration stage” of research? Am I considering that they might be falsely optimistic about their work if they move to the “clarity stage” before they’ve placed their research in the proper context?

Cognitive Bias and the Way We Search – Cathy Leverkus

  • With the anchoring bias fully a part of my students’ experience, how do I get them to keep an open mind as they learn about topics beyond their first impressions?
  • Would sharing a media bias chart with my students and having them evaluate it together as a class help them to consider the strengths of limitations of various pieces of media? (I’ll find out soon with the AP Lang students—stay tuned.)
  • Can my students accurately assess if they are evaluating sources as they search, and is their confidence in their skill warranted?

Diving Deeper: Advanced Online Searching Skills for Educators and Students – Angela Neff and Sarah Davis

  • When faculty ask me for research help, am I searching
  • for them and providing answers or am I modeling so that they can improve their own searches, particularly in the quadrant of “unknown unknowns?”
  • When I ask my students to think of the beginning stages of research like “asking a trusted friend,” how can I get them to tell me where they really go (Wikipedia) versus what they think I want to hear (JSTOR)?
  • How can I get comfortable with filming myself to create a repository of library resources that are available to students at their convenience?

Breaking News: Read Between the Lines for Librarians – Bobbie Eisenstock

  • Since students trust teachers and family more than the news itself, how do I integrate the process of evaluating the news as a professional with my own personal beliefs and share this with students who are trying to develop an understanding of the world around them?
  • Can I convince administration that digital natives may still display digital naiveté? Their tech savvy does not necessarily translate to media literacy but rather a familiarity and comfort with the format.
  • This isn’t a question, but let’s celebrate media literacy awareness week from November 5-9, 2018! A media literate person interrogates the message, the media creator, and the media consumed. He or she thinks about the ways that different people might perceive the same message and how this affects our values in a democracy. Now for the question, what are some creative ideas to make this exciting for my school community?

Exploring Inquiry – Connie Williams

  • How can I design the inquiry-based question-making experience so they aren’t focused so immediately on seeking answers, and more specifically, seeking “the correct answer?”
  • Building on the source literacy and cognitive bias sessions, how will my students keep an open mind when reading laterally and using the Making Thinking Visible Truth Routines?  Will they end up being able to honestly answer “I Used to Think…Now I Think?”
  • How many closed-ended questions do I ask compared with open-ended ones? Even for open-ended questions, are their answers I am hoping for more than others? I’m suspicious this may be the case, and would like to work to truly build an open-minded culture of inquiry.

View from the library with a scenic hiking overlook beckoning us to climb!

So now you have a record of what’s on my mind as I welcome students back for what’s already scheduling itself to be the busiest research year yet. It’s fun to watch something grow over time, and I hope you all are as excited as I am to build on research programs with students and teachers. Looking forward to learning more and connecting in person in Boston in April!


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Getting Campy in the Library


Starting a new school year is like setting off on a expansive hiking expedition. Many of us are in our prepping stage: getting out our dusty gear, charting and mapping our course, and acquiring new skills for the journey. In the realm of research and information literacy we serve as guides to our faculty and students touring them through the current media landscape. Additionally, many of us strive to create a space where students can find shelter and learn new independent skills. Recreation, restoration and reflection—essentially, we all want our students to “camp out” in our libraries.

This is the metaphor we are embarking on in the Jean Ann Cone Library at Berkeley Preparatory School this year. We are getting campy in the library. We have pitched some tents, gathered gear, and planted a paper forest. It is fun to physically construct displays, but it also serves the purpose of tethering the mind to a focus for the beginning of the year. While we hope to allure and delight our students when they see this first display it helps us convey important concepts we want to provide our students.

The Expedition Team

While this conceit has the librarian as the guide for students in the camping metaphor it can emphasis the importance of a team integration to a successful summit. One of my favorite aspects of being a librarian is working alongside the core subject teacher, the technology department, and other specialists to show students that their guidance comes from different sources and that it is a team effort. This in turn models collaboration for them when they have group projects. Additionally, the whole library staff is another part of the expedition and support team. I am lucky to have a creative and supportive team around me sharing in ideas and tasks. Students know we are all here to help them.

Maps and Navigation Instruments

“Don’t lose sight of the forest through the trees,” an apt cliche for describing the complex process of research. As librarians we are tasked with breaking down the cognitive load of this multifaceted process. Our maps take the shape of our standards and curriculum guides. At our library we are in the process of looking at the new AASL standards to reflect on our program and incorporate new educational trends to our current program. Pedagogical models like “guided inquiry” underpin the scaffolding of information literacy that bolster student inquiry so students do not feel like they are lost in the dark.

Librarians have a keen sense of direction in the information world and our analog compasses now have a digital GPS counterpart. From websites and databases to apps and “smart” devices there are many tools and gadgets at our disposal. Analogous to our readers advisory many of us also impart a “users” advisory by recommending new apps, software and interactive websites. I always like to review AASL’s Best Tools for Teaching list to peruse new tools I can tinker with and share. A Libguide or library website becomes the virtual campsite for digital adventures in which we chart the course for the learning task.

I also seek personal tools to improve my own practice and productivity. To help me stay organized this year I am adding two apps used in combination to my repertoire: Swipes and Forest. Swipes is a elegantly designed to-do list app in which you either swipe right for a completed task and left for an uncompleted one to schedule. It helps me take action for the things I need to get done. Once I’ve decided on an action I use the Forest app to help me focus solely on that task and to clear distractions. Forest uses a fun premise to help you ban multitasking. You set an internal timer for a task and the app grows a tree. The more focused you stay the more trees for your virtual forest and eventually you get credits to buy real trees for reforestation efforts. You can’t get campier than that in an app. The beginning of the year is a great time to try new apps and build new habits so that you can share your discoveries with others if you find them useful.

Mile Markers

To see the distances covered builds confidence and courage for more challenging tasks. Just as classroom teachers mark progress librarians also have assessment tools for students to check their growth in research. These go beyond simple number counts of circulation and database usage. Our research checklists and templates give students ways to reflect on their learning process. Scheduling research consultations give a more nuanced feedback to the complexity of research work. For our own growth when we are able to make multiple visits and check ins with classes we can see our own patterns of influence in the learning experience for students.

Campfires and Star Gazing

Finally, it is the most rewarding aspect of librarianship-building community and wonder. It is the small acts of kindness and welcoming that creates the campfire moments in the library. Knowing a student’s favorite genre and hand picking a book for him or her. Involving student choice or leadership roles in the library fosters bonds. Creating creative corners or makerspaces expands the types of intellectual work students can do in the library. Our upper school librarians share treats with a class at random times surprising and delighting the students. These offerings show students a different side of librarians; their fun and thoughtful spirits.

Many students are drawn to the aesthetics of a library. All those spines lined on the shelf offer endless opportunities for wonder in our world; whether, it be a history book that delves into new found fascination with a time period or the next book in a fantasy series. I am always in awe when I walk into any library. All the books on the shelf capturing the broad spectrum of human knowledge is both humbling and sublime. It is like star gazing at the constellations of our collective conscious; but here, they are always in arms reach.

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on savoring our days of summer and books…

I hope this post finds you savoring your final days or weeks of summer. The Hawaii school year, however, starts very early and public school students across the state are returning to school today. Here at Mid-Pacific, we will have new students and high school frosh on campus on Friday and the ’18-’19 school year officially gets underway on Monday!

I very successfully savored my final days of summer. In fact, I was so successful with my “savoring” that I have been running around like a mad man addressing all of the start-of-the-year tasks that need to be done in a library that I didn’t take care of because I was successfully savoring…

Anyway, that is a long way of telling you that this post is really short because when I am in savoring mode my time management and executive function skills revert to those of a middle school boy (and not even a really academically successful middle school boy… Just a barely passing, shake your head, “Wait, what?”, middle school boy).

Anyway, over the last few days, there has been a really wonderful AISL listserv thread about building a culture of reading with students. Wonderful ideas have been shared, but it occurred to me that it would be wonderful to foster a culture of reading with my faculty as well. A few years ago Katie Archambault shared a post on how she runs her faculty book club. I followed her template and have run a very informal faculty book club for the past two years, but I hoped to add something else to our mix.

This summer I read and completely loved, The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups by Dan Coyle.  Though written for an audience focused on business leadership, I found the book extremely accessible and easily adaptable to the needs of classroom teachers working to get cohorts/classes of students to work well together or perhaps to administrators, department chairs, or librarians working to get teams of teachers collaborating successfully.

I thought the book aligned so well with our school culture and the philosophy of learning and teaching that we try to foster, that I decided that it would be a worthwhile investment to try to just release the book into the wilds of the Mid-Pacific community and to see what organically emerges.

My original copy of the book will get cataloged and added to our collection, but I ordered 7 additional copies of the book and affixed a book plate in front of each with the following instructions:

I’ve chatted up the book and dropped them into the hands of people around campus to whom I thought the book might resonate. I simply asked them to give it a read, clarified the information already on the book plate, and left the rest of to them. After just three days, I’ve gotten positive feedback from two of them.

I’m looking forward to seeing what happens.

Enjoy and savor the rest of your summer days! Though you might want to savor your days just a little bit less than I savored mine so you won’t find yourself waking up in the middle of the night writing reminders to yourselves down on Post-it notes that you keep next to your bed…

#Sigh… #Hahaha!!!

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Teaching Research With Stories

Back in April at our conference, Carmen Agra Deedy inspired us to contemplate the power of stories and storytelling as teaching tools. I found a line in my notebook from that day – “Storytelling – (inc. into teaching research?)”

As a school librarians, we teach the research process. I have been wondering about how stories and storytelling might improve and spice up the teaching of this process, connecting inquiry to human experience in ways that feel relevant and vital to students. I’d love to help them progress through a research process using story to engage and illuminate, and in so doing, revealing to students that they, as researchers, are creators and storytellers. How to do this? I’m sharing ideas here that are still baking in the summer sun, so I hope you’ll consider and comment freely especially if this reminds you of something you already do or know about. While I’m inspired to learn more about storytelling and to begin to practice it, I’m not quite there yet. So far, I’ve thought of two texts that might help serve as stepping stones to engaging students in the process through story.

This summer I picked up The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin, which had been on my list for some time but until now had remained unread (yay, summer!). Benjamin begins each part of the novel with a quotation from the main character’s science teacher, Mrs. Turton; each part of the story relating to a section of a scientific paper and lending the novel that sense of structure:

“Background: Your background provides the context for your scientific quest. What do we already know? What don’t we know? Why does it matter – Mrs. Turton” (63).

How about a collaborative research unit with Middle School English and Science teachers, beginning a research process with a study of this novel? Has anyone done this or something like it? A summer idea to mull over!

Another book that could work to incorporate visual storytelling into teaching and supporting students through the research process is Grant Snider’s relatable and adorable The Shape of Ideas: An Illustrated Exploration of Creativity. While meant to relate to artistic creation, I think that parts of this simple book in the graphic format are wonderful illustrations for students identifying research topics, exploring information, formulating research questions, making connections between ideas, struggling with originality and procrastination, and reflecting on the process.

If you have this book in your collection, I recommend taking a look at its application to high school researchers as an illustrative guide to and validation of their process and feelings. It also helped me feel better about not knowing what this post would be about until pretty recently.

Benjamin, A. (2017). The thing about jellyfish. New York, NY: Little, Brown and

Snider, G. (2017). The shape of ideas: An illustrated exploration of creativity.
New York: Abram Comicarts.

Snider, G. (2015). Asking questions [Comic strip]. Retrieved from

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