Teaching Empathy with Primary Sources

“They never saw a child.”
Ruby Bridges

It was my first reading of The Watson’s Go to Birmingham–1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis, and I was fascinated by the book’s structure: most of the book is not about Civil Rights, but rather about bullying, and it focuses on childhood scenes that, though depicted with some comic relief, have an undercurrent of humiliation, intimidation, and violence. The young narrator, Kenny, tells the story of his African American family’s decision to drive from their home in Detroit to Birmingham, Alabama so that the bullying, wild behavior of his older brother, Byron, can be reined in. Byron is going to spend the summer with his grandmother in Birmingham; as Byron’s father says, it is hoped that this experience will give Byron a taste of the “real world.” The “real world” is the South of the 1960s, with communities fractured by segregation, protests, and bombings.

This book’s structure of beginning with playground cruelty–the bullying by Byron and his friends–and then showing a societal pattern of discrimination and violence towards a race, caused me to wonder if the author Curtis was helping young readers to relate to childhood cruelty first to try to grasp a much larger issue of society’s cruelty. Working closely with an English teacher, Joanna Hasbell, we decided to build empathy towards a time period that seems remote to these fifth graders, and we would build that empathy by looking at primary sources first to help see the person behind the cruel events. After students used primary sources to make observations and raise questions for further inquiry, they explored a webquest of pre-selected database articles and websites to read background information and make further observations on some of the cultural influences and issues of the 1960s.

Look Closely to Build Empathy

As a class, we began by viewing a photo of young Ruby Bridges, who is pictured walking from a building and being escorted by several men in suits. Fifth graders began looking closely and observing details, such as the men wearing badges and armbands that said “marshall.” One student guessed Ruby was being arrested, but the lack of distress in her demeanor and the number of officers to apprehend one young girl made this an unlikely guess. Students then guessed that these men were protecting her, acting as body guards. Analysis questions from the Library of Congress “Primary Source Analysis Tool”  helped to probe further observations, such as describing the physical setting (students guessed that Ruby was walking from a school building) and reflecting on what was not being shown in the photo (reactions of the crowd who were angered at desegregation of the school).

Their observations and questionings–such as “Were people angry at Ruby and angry about desegregation?”–gave students a direction for further searches to locate photos or articles to support their assumptions. Students also practiced advanced search techniques that would be used in the webquest to locate additional primary source photos or background articles: 1) bound phrase using quotations, such as “Ruby Bridges”; limiting website, such as site:pbs.org; and scanning an online article for a particular word or short phrase by using the find command (cmd F on a Mac or cntrl F on a PC).

After practicing the guided inquiry techniques of looking at primary sources, each student examined a different primary source. As they looked at photos of scenes depicting segregated movie houses, protest marches, lunch counter sit-ins, and school stand-offs, students were encouraged to look closely at facial expressions, body language, and wording on buildings and protest signs. They noted, for instance, body language: the photo below depicts white men, arms defiantly crossed, using their bodies to block the doorway of the University of Alabama as Governor Wallace delivered his speech upholding the segregation policy; contrasted with this, an opposing white man stands with his hand on his hip (a federal agent infuriated that Governor Wallace is defying the desegregation laws). In another photo, students contrasted facial expressions of two young protesters: a stern-faced African American marcher and the jeering white man who marches alongside him.  The wording on the two protest signs supports interpretations of the facial expressions.

Governor Wallace Refusing African American Students, 1963. (Britannica Image Quest)

Greensboro Lunch Counter Sit-In, 1960. (Britannica Image Quest)

Some students viewed primary sources that provided insights into how popular culture shaped the society, such as movie posters and photos from 1960s movies: theme of racial conflict (To Kill a Mockingbird); or attitudes toward “pranking” (The Parent Trap); or physical violence viewed humorously (The Three Stooges). Even toys of the 1960s were explored, such as Barbie dolls (idealized “white” beauty) and G.I. Joe dolls (black soldier doll with stereotyped features). Database articles as well as websites provided additional background information.

To Kill a Mockingbird movie poster, 1962. (Britannica Image Quest)

As students began reading The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963, the English teacher asked students to brainstorm words related to the concept of “Mean,” and she used the student responses to make a bulletin board word cloud. Their brainstormed words reflected a growing understanding of the complexity of negative feelings.

An additional opportunity for close observation and building empathy occurred during our school’s author visit with Nathan Hale. Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales graphic novels use the language of cartoons to dramatize historic moments (often humorously), and Nathan shared with students how primary sources and historical research are combined in his tales. In a writing workshop session with the fifth graders, Nathan asked students to use one of the primary source photos at their table to create a four-frame cartoon. The photograph depicted a Coke machine labeled 6 cents and “Whites Only.” Nathan asked students to pretend that their cartoon characters traveled in a time machine, viewed the Coke machine, and reacted to the “Whites Only” message. Below is one student’s cartoon statement on the nature of freedom in the United States.

See the Child

In a PBS interview with Ruby Bridges, Ruby commented on the angry crowds that gathered as she went to school: “They didn’t see a child. They saw change, and what they thought was being taken from them. They never saw a child.”  In this collaborative project, fifth graders used primary sources to connect with a time period that seemed to them to be very distant. By looking closely, they “saw the child” and used empathy to guide their inquiry-based research, thereby deepening their understanding of the 1960s.

Bibliography for Images

Coke Machine Cartoon. 2017. Used with Permission.

Governor Wallace Refusing African American Students, Tuscaloosa, Alabama. 11 June 1963. Britannica Image Quest, quest.eb.com/search/115_2673964/1/115_2673964/cite. Accessed 20 Feb. 2017.

Greensboro Lunch Counter Sit-In. 1960. Britannica Image Quest, quest.eb.com/search/140_1681082/1/140_1681082/cite. Accessed 20 Feb. 2017.

Hasbell, Joanna. “Mean” Word Cloud. 2017. Used with Permission.

To Kill a Mockingbird. 1962. Britannica Image Quest, quest.eb.com/search/144_1477118/1/144_1477118/cite. Accessed 20 Feb. 2017.

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Pajama Storytime

My students and I have different experiences, or lack thereof, of the public library and its programming. Our student body draws from across nine Georgia counties, which can range from suburban to rural; the libraries are not necessarily a walkable distance or even a quick car ride. In fact, a good deal of my students do not have a public library card, something I did not recognize until we waded through the waters of database access together. As I’ve settled in my role as school librarian, I’ve found myself recreating the public library events that shaped my own childhood into my school library programming. One, most dear to my heart, is pajama storytime. As a child, that nighttime storytime meant a lot: that maybe my dad could come too, that the day would last longer, that my sister and I would get to go out on the town in our matching homemade nightgowns.

In the second year of summer check-out, I decided to add in limited summer hours (I am a 12-month employee) and a nighttime storytime one evening in July to allow for more access to the collection and to provide some resistance to the summer slide. The mission of our lower school library program is to instill a love of learning and to me, limited summer programming creates a sense of safeness and security separate from the social and academic anxiety that can came with the school day. I provide milk and cookies, put on some pjs and my light-up unicorn slippers, and open the doors.

There are ancillary benefits, too. This event is informally open to the larger community- I put it on my Facebook page as well as the library’s and encourage the adults and students alike to get the word out. Our Admissions Director notifies ELC, 1st, and 2nd applicants of the storytimes while I always extend an invitation when tours with younger students come through. One night my crowd was primarily potential students and their siblings. Current students got to be experts and teach our guests some of the library’s rituals, like the singing bowl and our steadfast songs and rhymes, and the adults mingled with one another. The summer times have provided a way for new students to ease into the community and gain some comfort in our space.

These are still the early days of this program, a summer event that carried into the school year. I’m looking forward to measuring the success of it with a full year’s worth of data that give me a better sense of the days that work best, the time of year. I’ll likely leave the time unchanged- 6:30 p.m. allows for dinner and also the chance to fall asleep on the car ride home. But, in the meantime, the anecdotal evidence of success is evident: the stormy nights where only two students come through the deep winter darkness have been just as lovely as the evening with a raucous full house.

Having pajama storytime does mean a commitment to a longer day and a dedicated fund for bookish sleepwear. I find, though, that I what I put in I get back tenfold. Programming like this brings me to the core of my primary purpose as a librarian- to give back to others what was so freely given to me.

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The Things I Can Do

Lower School students are buzzing with excitement for our upcoming author visit with Jeff Mack.   Jeff Mack is an author and illustrator of extraordinary picture books and a middle grade chapter book series called Clueless McGee.

First Graders laughed their heads off at Jeff Mack’s picture book story called The Things I Can Do. We read the funny story together and had in-depth discussions about all of the different materials used to create the collage illustrations.  The kids were fascinated to see notebook paper, stickers, popsicle sticks, crayon drawings, duct tape, sticky notes, pencil drawings, and torn paper decorating each page.  They needed to touch the pages to believe that the book was made up of photographs of the collage pieces.  Of the main character’s crayon drawn face, students asked “Did Jeff Mack have a kid draw pictures for him?” Students were advised to save that question for the author and illustrator himself when he visits our school at the end of the month.

Students were thrilled to make their own collage pictures, sharing what they can do.

First graders are talented.

I can drive a tugboat.

I can read.

I can be a hero.

I can dig.

I can eat my French fries.

I can hold a cat.

I can ride a horse.

I can do my own homework.

I can fly.  (This one reminds me of The Little Prince.)

As you can see, kids can do a lot of things.  And the things they can do make me smile.


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Distinguishing evidence from analysis: A student’s perspective on the first step in source evaluation

Sara Zoroufy is a junior and the Research Teaching Assistant for the Castilleja School library. Inspired by Nora Murphy’s work on source literacy, Sara chose to spend this year observing research lessons and unpacking how she and other students think about sources. Her work helps inform lesson planning. Here, she shares an idea she has been contemplating recently.

“CNN reports that the Justice Department found the following statistics…”

During a presentation in our tenth grade government class, this phrase caught my attention. Why would a speaker attribute a statistic to two different sources? I have been thinking about this turn of phrase for a long time, trying to understand precisely why it troubled me. Recently, I realized that students struggle to distinguish factual evidence from a source’s analysis of that evidence. In the example above, the student was having trouble determining what type of information she was citing and which source was responsible for the creation of that information. Without separating evidence from analysis, we can neither evaluate nor properly cite a source. I tried to draw a visual to help myself understand how a source breaks down into these components, which culminated in this flowchart:

Mapping these concepts in this way helped me identify a number of key points in the process of evaluating a source. I began to think that the essential questions that students should initially ask when faced with a particular source are: what is the evidence that is presented, what is the corresponding analysis, and what sources shaped each component?

Asking these questions is the first step in unpacking a source, and the answers are not always immediately clear when students encounter unfamiliar genres of writing. This year, my grade was presented with an excerpt from a Pulitzer prize winning piece of investigative journalism about the diagnosis of black lung in coal miners. We were asked to identify the sources of the statistics in the article. No one was able to locate this information because journalistic convention dictates integrating the names of sources into the text, as opposed to employing parenthetical citations that students use in their own writing. For example, just prior to starting a bullet pointed list of statistical evidence, the article said, “The Center [for Public Integrity] recorded key information about these cases, analyzed [the medical expert’s] reports and testimony, consulted medical literature and interviewed leading doctors.”[1]  Since the students weren’t accustomed to this particular form of citation, many of us responded that no sources were given.

Students had been instructed to pinpoint the evidence in the article and label it with an “E” and to identify and label its sources with an “S.” As I sat with Tasha Bergson-Michelson, our instructional librarian, and considered my flowchart in relation to the lesson, we realized that the instruction had skipped over several crucial steps in the process of identifying the evidence. This experience made it clear that identifying the sources of evidence can be confusing, and that simply telling students to exercise that skill was not effective. Rather, the development of this skill requires explicit instruction and opportunities to focus on practicing it.

Once we’ve identified the source’s evidence and where it came from, we are able to further evaluate it. Depending on the type of evidence, we can investigate its quality and veracity in different ways–reading the methodology behind a study or poll, for example, or comparing the details of anecdotal evidence across various sources. Another factor to take into consideration is the original publication venue of the evidence itself. Recognizing the background of the publication adds to our understanding of the ethos of the evidence, as well as the sponsor’s motivation for collecting the evidence.

After examining the evidence, we can begin to consider the analysis of that evidence. The analysis reflects the perspective of the author and the publication in which it appears. Often, students stop their investigation into a source once they have determined its bias or perspective, but that is only the beginning. The real importance lies in the source’s purpose–why and how that perspective is being argued. Our history department uses the acronym SOAPA–Subject, Occasion, Author, Purpose, and Audience–to remind us to critically evaluate each aspect of a source.[2] This strategy has been particularly helpful in reminding us to think about the author’s purpose and how it shapes the analysis of their evidence.

I find it useful to think of every source, be it a journal article or a photograph, as an essay that selects and interprets evidence to support its thesis, but that comparison is not necessarily intuitive. This idea that all sources make an argument is easily overlooked, especially when we students are presented with historical documents which we sometimes subconsciously perceive as pure fact. In our 8th grade science classes, students first encounter the idea that nonfiction can be analyzed like literature. The lesson teaches students to consider the language of a source to determine what argument the author is making and what they want the audience to think, feel, or do.

Differentiating between evidence and analysis is the first step in considering the three essential questions: what is the evidence that is presented, what is the corresponding analysis, and what sources shaped each component? Answering these questions helps us understand:

  • Sources make arguments using evidence and analysis.
  • Evidence tells us what the source is using to make its argument.
  • Evaluating the origin and quality of the evidence contributes to our understanding of the strength of the argument.
  • Critically evaluating the publication venue of the source itself helps us recognize the perspective the analysis will try to validate.
  • Doing a close reading of the analysis in the source gives us insight into the author’s intention in making the argument.

In the case of the quote that started this whole journey, knowing that the evidence came from the Department of Justice and the analysis from CNN allows students to draw on any credibility offered by the DOJ’s statisticians and CNN’s popularity as a source of reporting. The students themselves attain credibility by demonstrating that their thinking is based upon rigorous sources.


  1. Chris Hamby, Brian Ross, and Matthew Mosk, “Breathless and Burdened: Dying from black lung, buried by law and medicine,” The Center for Public Integrity, last modified October 30, 2013, accessed March 2, 2017. https://www.publicintegrity.org/2013/10/30/13637/johns-hopkins-medical-unit-rarely-finds-black-lung-helping-coal-industry-defeat.
  2. The College Board recommends a similar version, SOAPSTone, for its history APs.


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Uncle Sam — err, the AISL Board — wants you!

If your school is anything like mine, one of the values we strive to instill in our students is community service, or volunteerism. Not just to pad a college or university resume, but a genuine investment of time in an activity that benefits others. My term as AISL president is drawing to a close, and it occurs to me that as independent school librarians, AISL offers us a unique opportunity to serve our North American library community. This service can take many forms—being active on the listserv, sharing resources, acting as a mentor, etc.—but it can also be through serving on the AISL Board …

… and as luck would have it, there are three vacancies for Member-at-Large positions on the AISL Board this spring!

The current AISL Board will be changing in March as people complete their terms of office and either transition off the Board, or move into new positions, freeing up these three Member-at-Large positions.

Here’s the scoop as of March 2017 – put faces to names: https://aisl.wildapricot.org/board

Katie Archambault will become President for a two-year term (2017-2019)

Renee Chevallier is assuming the Treasurer position for a three-year term (2017-2020), following in the footsteps of Jean Bruce, who has done an excellent job of keeping AISL legally compliant, vibrant, and in the black

Phoebe Warmack is moving into the Secretary role vacated by Katie

Christina Pommer remains Technology Director for a three-year term (2016-2019)

Sandy Gray will become Past-President for one year, assisting Katie until spring 2018, when a President-Elect will be determined by the Board to assist Katie in her second year as president

Allison Peters Jensen is completing her three-year term as a Member-at-Large.  Allison was the mastermind behind the “welcome Bingo” initiative at recent annual conferences, and took the lead to implement the Board’s new Mentorship Program.

And many of you know Jean Bruce, last year’s Marky Award winner and outgoing Board Treasurer, who has worked tirelessly to ensure the long-term success of this association. Not only is Jean an inspiring colleague, she’s done a great deal on the Board well beyond her scope as Treasurer, and we are all the beneficiaries of her vision. A “yuge” thanks, Jean – what will you do with all your free time?!?

So, what exactly does a Member-at-Large do on the AISL Board? This person assumes responsibility for an initiative (liaison with the planners of the Summer Institute or the Annual Conference, coordinator of the Board’s new Mentorship Program, or manager of the annual Affordability Scholarship for first-time conference attendees) and maintains contact with the constituents and the Board via email. S/he also contributes to the success of all Board initiatives as needed.

Most of our work is conducted via email, occasionally by phone, although we hope to leverage technology common to our schools (and not blocked on campus!) to meet virtually as needed in future. The entire AISL Board meets only once a year, at the annual conference, where attendance is mandatory: to serve on the Board, you are expected to attend the annual conference and Board meeting each year during your term of office.

A Member-at-Large serves a three-year term, with the option of assuming the role of President, Treasurer, Secretary or Technology Director. (No pressure!)

Those of us who have served on the AISL Board over the years recognize that our work is largely invisible to the membership, but it is critical nevertheless. Without dedicated Board members and volunteers, our association would have no website, no wiki, no blog, no social media, no membership renewals, no platform for conference and Summer Institute registration, no Affordability Scholarships, no Mentorship program – you get the picture.

So please consider applying for one of the three vacant Member-at-Large positions on the AISL Board. It’s a great way to give back to our larger library community, contribute to the ongoing success of our association, make new friends, and have some fun. Really. FUN!

If you are interested in joining the AISL Board, please send an email to gray@smcsmail.com and provide the following details:

1. Name
2. Title & School / Location
3. AISL experience / conference attendance
4. Activities you lead/participate in at your school
5. Highlights of accomplishments
6. Why you would like to join the AISL Board.

If you are attending the annual conference in New Orleans next month, please seek out any one of us if you have questions about serving on the Board. We’re happy to share our experiences.

Deadline to apply is Friday, April 15th. The Board will reach a decision by the end of April so we can welcome new members before the summer break.

And hold onto this thought … we stand on the shoulders of giants.

The success of AISL today is a direct result of the vision and hard work of founding members, a series of dedicated Board members over the years, and our general membership.

The AISL Board is looking to add three new members – we hope you will consider joining us! Grow professionally, have some fun, and model the volunteering commitment for your students – it takes a village to build a thriving library community!

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A storyteller

Last week, Canada lost one of its most beloved storytellers: writer & broadcaster Stuart McLean, host of the seemingly perennial Vinyl Café , passed away leaving quite a legacy. For decades, people from all across our country – from small hamlets on our east and west coasts, through urban centres to remote Northern villages – were connected through the telling of his stories, and his sharing of their own.

Despite being a fan for years, listening on weekly radio and attending live shows when possible, I’ve been surprised by my depth of emotion; reading tributes and comments from others, I know that am not alone.

Such is the power of story-telling. None of you need to be convinced of this, but it is a keen reminder for me to not to shy away from acknowledging its critical role in connecting people with the written word – so here are some action items for me:

  • Continue to enjoy building a story of summer reading, working with Celeste Porche of Metairie, LA to prepare our presentation for AISL NOLA (can’t wait to meet you in person, Celeste!)
  • Read a picture book aloud at my next Bigside Books meeting (probably Lane Smith’s It’s a Book, so great for high school kids)
  • Incorporate some short stories and spoken word poetry into a boys’ book club that I run outside of school – I’m thinking Stuart, Shane Koyczan, Humble the Poet – recommendations welcome!

Side note: Jess Milton, Stuart’s ‘long-suffering’ (his words) producer, noted in an interview after his passing that Stuart was surprisingly quiet off-stage, often focused on listening to others’ stories. As someone privileged to work with teens, this is an excellent reminder of what a speaker offered at a recent TABS conference – “the listening is the helping.”

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Shelfie Challenge

This year, my 3rd/4th grade team of teachers decided to change up the way they were teaching technology. Our two classes function independently of each other, but they have been yearning for some joint planning time as well as opportunities for collaboration. From this, our tech rotations were born.

The Logistics

We have two full-time teachers per mixed class of 3rd/4th grade students, with a little over 60 students total. Add me into the mix, and now we have five teachers to teach separate technology rotations. Don’t get me wrong, we use technology in a variety of ways all day long, but these rotations would focus on specific skills – video making, coding, typing practice, Google Slideshows, and library searching. We decided to mix and match the classes, splitting up students by grade level. Each cluster of students (named for our state’s lakes and rivers) would travel together through the five rotations, for five weeks at a time, meeting once a week for 45 minutes per class.

Library Detectives 

Because this was decided early in the school year, and I had yet to wrap my head around what a “library/technology class” would actually look like, I have been using this time to try out different lessons and styles of teaching. I wish I could say that I have a systematic process of trying out and evaluating my lessons, but right now, I’m just getting a feel for things. My loose theme for the class is library detectives because we are searching for clues to get us to certain resources. We are learning how to navigate the library’s website, how to search the catalog, and how to search our online databases. 

As I write this, I am feeling better about my approach to the class (thank you, self-reflection!). My initial fears or worries about teaching these skills were heavy –

  • Do I really need to spend time teaching students how to search the catalog?
  • How will teaching these skills in isolation help students in any way?
  • Can I make this class into a meaningful inquiry project instead of jumping from one skill to another week after week?

That last question still nags at me – if you have ideas, please do share! But I feel better because I know that we are creating meaningful inquiry experiences for students during their science and social studies project time in class. I am still collaborating with teachers during those projects, so essentially, we are building upon the skills that I introduce in this tech rotation. Or at least that’s my justification for now!

Shelfie Challenge

That was a long way of introducing last week’s lesson – the Shelfie Challenge! We recently switched over to the Follett Destiny catalog from Alexandria, so I used this *brand new shiny thing!* to get students excited about using the catalog to search for books (many of my students are avid library users, so they already have favorite sections of the library).

Inspired by @gogauthia on Twitter, I created a bingo board of books to search for, then sent students off with iPads to search the library catalog for the books and take a selfie with their finds. 

Though it felt a little chaotic at the time, kids were excitedly running (eek!) about the library trying to find books – this is good! They were practicing using the catalog, exploring different areas of the library, and searching for books they may not have even known we had (a couple students found books to check out, too).

Since this is my only fixed class in a completely flexible schedule, I am (slowly) embracing the opportunity to teach library skills in isolation to these curious and voracious readers. I still struggle with the philosophical and pedagogical implications of teaching these skills this way, but for now, I’m learning and growing just as my students are.

As I embark on the journey of creating an information skills framework for our Lower School, I would be happy to learn how other schools are approaching this topic! Am I way off base here? 

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Making the most of summer: Professional Development

Even though the weather is in the high 70s here in Florida, as I pack for a weekend trip north to visit family, my thoughts turn towards long summer days. I always find February is the time when I can’t help planning summer travels. Sometimes there’s amazing synchronicity when where I want to be coincides with a professional development opportunity. Here are a few to consider for 2017 or future years, with a focus on low-cost programs and those that pay attendees.

 NEH Summer Seminars and Institutes for School Teachers

NEH offers tuition-free opportunities for school, college, and university educators to study a variety of humanities topics. Stipends of $600-$3,300 help cover expenses for these one- to four-week programs. There are over 40 programs for 2017 spread throughout the country with a March 1 application deadline.

 Fulbright-Hays Seminars Abroad

The Fulbright-Hays Seminars abroad provide opportunities for overseas experiences in non-Western European countries. Seminars are designed to provide a broad and introductory cultural orientation to a particular country or countries. The deadline for the 2017 summer programs has passed, but keep your eyes out for an announcement of the 2018 countries.

Image result for fulbright hays bilateral

Library of Congress Summer Teacher Institute 

Immerse yourself in the practice of teaching with primary sources from the unparalleled collections of Library of Congress. Each Institute week, Library of Congress education specialists modeling strategies for using primary sources to engage students, build critical thinking skills, and construct knowledge. 2017 offers two specialized sessions, one on WWI and one on STEM, as well as their general institutes.

National Gallery of Art Summer Teacher Institute 

The Teacher Institute is a six-day seminar held at the National Gallery in Washington D.C. that helps K–12 teachers strengthen their knowledge of art history and integrate visual art into classroom teaching. The program features lectures, gallery tours, teaching strategies, and hands-on learning experiences. The 2017 seminar examines visual art of the Renaissance from the independent city-states of Italy and the Low Countries during the 14th through the 16th centuries.

National Geographic Grosvenor Teacher Fellow Program

Fellows learn the importance of geographic literacy while traveling on ships and working with National Geographic researchers. 2017 regions for exploration include the Arctic, British and Irish Isles, Canadian Maritimes, Iceland, the Galapagos, Antarctica and more. The 2017 deadline has passed, and starting in 2018, applicants will need to be National Geographic Certified Educators.

Gilder Lehrman Teacher Seminar

Scholars and master teachers lead these one-week seminars in American history. Seminars are often held at places with a direct connection to the topic at hand, giving participants a rare opportunity to walk historic grounds, examine original artifacts, and study primary source documents in the same places where significant events occurred. 2017 seminars cover American history from the Colonial era though September 11, 2001. Seminars are fully funded for public school teachers, but there is a fee for independent school teachers.

George Washington Teacher Institute Summer Residential Program 

The George Washington Teacher Institute Summer Residential Programs are 5-day immersive experiences at Mount Vernon that teach about the life, leadership, and legacy of George Washington and the 18th-century world in which he lived. The 2017 deadline has passed.

Annenberg-Newseum Summer Teacher Institutes 

The 2017 application hasn’t been posted yet, but I hope this free three-day program at DC’s Newseum continues. This program looks at the past and future of the first amendment in regards to primary sources, the freedom of the press, ethics, and media literacy. There is a focus on technology integration in schools.

Louise Seaman Bechtel Fellowship 

This fellowship provides a $4,000 stipend to allow a qualified children’s librarian to spend a month or more reading at the University of Florida’s Baldwin Library of Historical Children’s Literature, which contains a special collection of 85,000 volumes of children’s literature published mostly before 1950. Applications have closed for summer 2017.

Oxbridge Academic Programs 

After my affordable options, this is pricey “luxury edition” for those with extra professional development funds. I’ve heard high praise, particularly in regards to quality of the academic libraries. The seminars are based in the world’s greatest centers of culture and learning – including Cambridge, Paris, and Oxford, and they are led by distinguished Humanities scholars.

Image result for oxford bodleian

Last, but certainly not least, remember AISL’s very own Summer Institute All School Reads: Making Book Day Work at Your School hosted at Horace Mann School in New York City from June 27-29.

This is the beginning of a list that will be more helpful to all of us if you continue to add your own thoughts below. Happy summer planning!

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Valentine’s Day in Middle School (Fun or Fear?)

Valentine’s Day… thrills and fun or awkwardness and misery? For me, a bit of both. Even as an adult, I am not always in the “right” romantic state to make it giddy bliss. My preference is to downplay specifically “romance” in Middle School. Our most numerous patrons are 5th and 6th graders. Not that 7th and 8th graders won’t come by, but a  Teen Read mystery week may be a better draw for them. It’s always a challenge (for me at least) to find the sweet spot to lure in busy 7th and 8th graders.

Keep it Light and Fun

Our MS staff discourages candy. (Students will have plenty from each other anyway.) I know not everyone has the time, interest, inclination or suburban location to make these ideas work. I love that we don’t all “look like librarians”, and we each bring our own personalities to our schools! These ideas have fit for me. Check Pinterest and other social media sites for creative images and ideas from brains worldwide. (Check the Comments below, for AISL input!)

Free Book Marks from Discarded Books

I cut up the undamaged cartoon strips after  a Garfield book met an early death in a lawn sprinkler incident. A well-loved and falling apart Far Side book met the same fate. (Caveat on the Far Side: check the cartoons as you cut them.  I culled a few I felt too risqué to hand out to 5th graders.)

Inexpensive Book Marks (about a penny each)

Use 12 x 12 scrapbook paper. Standard book mark size is 6″ x 2″– a perfect fit. Craft stores (ex: Michael’s; Hobby Lobby) have a wide selection. At 15 cents/sheet x 10 sheets = 120 bookmarks for $1.50. Tuesday Morning, Marshalls, TJ Maxx and similar stores are hit or miss, but check the stationery shelves. These flowered pages were on sale 25 sheets (300 book marks) for $1.50.


Keep your eye out for stickers. Tiny is fine – middle schoolers have great manual dexterity. They can peel one to stick on forehead, hand or cheek. The cuter the better. Hearts or sports balls are also popular. Stickers are often displayed near greeting cards at dollar stores, Walgreens, and many other places.

“I Am Loved” Pins (if available?)

Our local Helzberg Diamonds jewelry store gave me several handfuls of these pins about five years ago, from a big bowl on display. I thought they would be more popular (or perhaps be a flop due to students poking other students) but so far, there is more looking than taking. I checked online, and could not find if they still offered them to educators for free. If you have a Helzberg near you, it might be worth asking. Each pin says “I am loved” in a different language. (I chose a few at random, for the photo.) I put them out on Valentine’s Day. If students ask for one, they can have it. They are a conversation starter that may last a few more years.

I’m fine with my low key V-day, and if you have a bolder (or more subtle) way that works for you, please share with a Comment.

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on teaching teachers to be wolves in a “fake news” world…

I had an opportunity to teach my teachers about “fake news.”

“I’m not a librarian. What should I be teaching my kids about fake news?”

After reading Courtney Walker’s latest post, I have to admit, I added the quotation marks around “fake news” in my blog title and the presentation I did wasn’t really about “fake news” in and of itself. I just used “fake news” as a buzzword to get teachers to come to my breakout. It was really about more holistic source evaluation.

Let me tell you, though, whatever you call it. It. Is. Hard.

As it turned out, though, an awesome number of my teachers are, indeed, “media literacy wolves.”

My plan was to do about 15 minutes of background information about fake news, a 30-minute activity where teachers tried to analyze web content, then 15 minutes of discussion.

The 15 minutes of background based heavily on presentations and work by Erinn Salge and Kathy Rettberg, and shared in Courtney Walker’s post–Librarians Being Proactive in a “Post-Truth” World went pretty well. Once we hit the 30-minute activity block, though, we got through just 1 of the 5 parts of the activity I had planned. Though the session went off the rails a little, the discussion that took place between the teachers ended up saving the day and in the end helped me understand how to better approach teaching students about source evaluation in a fake news world.

Click here to go to the News Literacy slideshow.

Click here to go to our faculty meeting breakout session Fake News Libguide

By the way: The content below will probably only make sense to you if you buzz your way through the slideshow and Fake News Libguide linked above, first.

Thoughts for future consideration:

  • The x-axis is almost always going to be the basic starting point for “point-of-view” or “bias.”
  • The labels “factual” and “sensational” didn’t work for some of the working groups so they changed the labels used. Perhaps the most valuable take away from the entire experience was coming to the realization that the process of developing the labels might be one of the MOST IMPORTANT parts of of the source evaluation and literacy process. This is where a lot of critical thinking and analysis are happening so don’t short circuit the process!
    • Perhaps “independently verified” and “unsupported assertion/claim” might work better on the y-axis?
  • In some contexts (reading articles about science studies come to mind) other axes might be necessary.
  • Placement on the the axes is not so much about a binary process of, “use it if it is above the line, but not if it is below the line…” as much as helping students understand, “This article is from the owner of the Deepwater Horizon. I can use the information in my research and in my project, but I need to put that information into an appropriate context and that context is…”
  • It is hard to impossible to make decisions about the “quality” of the information in a piece on a topic if you only look at one or two sources. In an world where information has been democratized, we need to engage with more sources to have any hope of being able to triangulate the information we find and construct “knowledge.”




A point of discussion that came up was, “Why can’t we just find unbiased sources to direct kids to?” and/or where do we find “good quality, unbiased sources?”

One teacher pointed out that our sources have always been biased–that the history textbooks of (some of) our youth were widely accepted, but presented a definite orientation/bias.

In an information universe that has been highly democratized by disruptive technologies, we are now able to see video, hear the voices, and read the lives of countless groups of people that in an earlier time had no meaningful voice.

The disruptive technologies that make that possible, however, also mean that the tasks of vetting, evaluating, and contextualizing information have shifted from writers, publishers, editors, and librarians to the end users of information. It’s a new world!

You Know You Are a Lucky Librarian When…

Well, my teachers are an AMAZING pack of wolves to have around! On Wednesday afternoon we had breakout meetings during our scheduled faculty meeting time. On Thursday, I got invited to hang out with a class as they did a modified version of the activity. How cool is that?!?!? I work in such a cool place!!!

I actually thought that the teacher wanted me to teach the lesson, but I love the fact that this teacher, Lyssa, stood up and just started teaching the source evaluation piece as I sat in the back of the room and got to watch! She challenged students to develop their own method to make their thinking and analysis of the article visible. In my mind, a foundational part of becoming information/media literate is knowing what axes (or factors) you need to have in your head as you read, and what labels you place on each of those axes.

Here are some of Lyssa’s students in action!





Training More Wolves

My larger goal for information instruction in this realm is to see all science, math, social studies, arts, etc. teachers similarly coaching their students through the, “What axes do we need for this research?” and “What labels do we need for these axes?” process as well.

We have just booked arcs of lessons with our 10th grade English teachers and our US History teachers who had chosen different break out sessions so for these teachers, our library lessons will serve as faculty PD opportunities for us with them as well.

The Activity (as I plan to modify it when I do the lesson with students in the coming weeks):

  • Have each group use blue painters’ tape to create X and Y axes, and give each group a stack of Post-it notes.
  • Show the class copies of The Three Little Pigs and read The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by A. Wolf (Jon Scieszka).
  • Have groups decide on what labels belong at each end of the x-axis for point-of-view, then have them place each source on the x-axis.
  • Discuss the implications relevant to the use of each source.
    • Does it matter that the stories are being told from different points of view?
    • If you were a reporter, how could you know which source was more accurate?


Sometimes it really does feel like constructing “knowledge” from our information is a real burden. It. Is. Hard.

When we really think about it, though, what can feel like a “burden” is, in many very meaningful ways, the ultimate “privilege.”

I want every student who graduates from Mid-Pacific to venture out into the world with the ability to construct knowledge from information, and to realize that they have the RESPONSIBILITY to seek out TRUTH.

It’s not easy. But nothing that’s truly valuable and meaningful ever comes without putting in some work.

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