What’s an Information Professional Anyway?

Later this month, the board will share some demographic results from this winter’s planning survey. Thank you to the members who took the time to share their thoughts, especially those who wrote about what AISL has meant to them and how it can stay professionally relevant in coming years. One of the questions elicited an interesting conversation at my school about titles. Teacher titles are more standardized across schools, administrator titles less so. Librarian titles, the least of all. Do titles matter? What do we learn from titles?

In tabulating survey responses to this question, there were 91 unique responses, even with combining some titles like Middle School and Middle Division Librarian into one response. There were 47 different supervisory titles!

AISL supervisory titles

Those outside our profession tend not to understand why we care about being named a Librarian over Media Specialist, or Media Generalist over Library Specialist. My own director calls me Director of Libraries though I prefer the streamlined Library Director that’s listed on my nametag.

More AISL member titles

Perhaps this is the first part of our advocacy outside of the profession, an advocacy that’s so clearly needed about the training an MLIS offers and the ways that a strong library curriculum can enhance the mission of a school. Those who are virtual indicated that it’s become clearer in the absence of physical facilities that many administrators think of libraries more as static places for student supervision and book circulation rather than dynamic instructional and technology leaders.

Thinking back to the high school I attended as well as the one where I work, a teacher who is told they are teaching Geometry or Spanish One has a pretty good sense of what to expect. With changes in education over the past twenty-five years, this is less true for course like Engineering or American Literature, though many goals are still the same. But how similar are the roles of Instructional Librarian, School Librarian, and Teacher Librarian? And let’s tread carefully into speculating the job responsibilities of the Director of Library and Technology Integration, the Director of Libraries and Strategic Research and the 21st Century Learning Coordinator.

Current NAIS postings

One of the other survey questions asked what your administration would say based on their own knowledge if asked to choose the top three roles the library plays in the school. The top three answers provided by members were “collection management,” “reading advocacy and support,” and “student instruction.” That’s a positive statement about their understanding of the library, though it’s less heartening that fewer members chose “faculty instruction” than “I don’t think they have a sense of what the library does.” Even in informal settings, educating faculty and keeping them up-to-date on new trends is incredibly important in the library.

I was curious about this in my own school. While planning this post, I asked my Division Director and Academic Dean to choose three based on their knowledge of my job. I’m happy that each of them chose two of the ones I had chosen for myself.

Member responses about administrative knowledge of library roles

(For those keeping track, I’d say: Student Instruction, Faculty Instruction, and Technology Support. They said respectively – Student Instruction, Reading Advocacy and Instruction, and Technology Support – and – Student Instruction, Student Supervision, and Faculty Instruction. I’ll take it, especially since they both immediately listed Student Instruction as the top priority.)

In thoughts on advocacy, the plethora of titles got me thinking about a longer plan to collate expectations in job descriptions and share this with the larger educational community. From listserv queries and casual conversations, we’ve all had the sense that what library means at one school doesn’t correlate with its meaning at another. Even basic data collection shows there is no independent school consensus that defines our profession. I’m not suggesting that the job expectations should be standardized, just that we —and our schools —need to understand the variance about what happens in the library.

Sidenote: Whoever decided that librarians should be called school library media specialists must have had the most effective PR campaign ever! Even though AASL decided to revert to the title school librarian eleven years ago in 2010, I still have people (generally older) apologize each month for using the outdated term librarian and not media specialist.

Stay tuned for more detailed survey information and feel free to share if you have any thoughts on your job title or the expectation for the library’s role at your school.

Low Stakes Book Club: serving my faculty and staff

We do plenty in our library that is not academic. We try to make space for students to unwind, to commune, to take a little break, as well as a space for study. When our campus is open we have events like many of you do: board game days, trivia contests, crafting days, and so on. We have jigsaw puzzles, bean bags, magnetic poetry boards, and all the fixings for a great community space. Now that we are all on zoom (we’ve been home since 3/13/20 with no end in sight), those events have transformed into new things. We have book and movie fan parties, for example, with trivia and sticker prizes sent to students’ homes via snail mail. Our zoom events that are just for fun are a bit more sparsely attended, which isn’t a surprise. Who wants to go to another zoom after a long day of school?

But what about the adults on our campus? How can I serve them better in a non-academic way? The academic support, I’ve got down. I think we’ve done a pretty decent job reformatting our instruction, collaboration, and research projects for this moment. We have new services and digital resources to replace what teachers cannot access in the physical space. And while I guest-teach in classes all the time, my teaching load is nothing compared to our faculty. We have teachers with overloads, teachers with three different preps, not to mention grading, parenting, planning, being a club moderator, and wearing all the many hats one often does at a small, independent school. While we have been home, not only have I been looking for new ways to serve our student patrons, I’ve also been trying to keep present in my mind that our teachers and staff are also our library patrons. 

This topic might be on my mind at the moment because this is one of my heavy teaching weeks. I am teaching twelve classes this week, so the same number of blocks as a teacher with an overload. I am currently writing this in the last part of my lunch break after having taught the first three blocks of the day and getting ready to hop into the last. I haven’t returned emails, looked at my to-do list, or come up for air more than to get a glass of water and pass snacks to my third-grade child. When I have weeks like this, I can’t stop thinking “How are they doing this week after week?” For me, and perhaps for you, some weeks are heavy teaching weeks and others are not. They are all busy weeks, but this is next-level. 

If I believe that the library is meant to serve the students’ academic as well as non-academic needs, then I also want to consider the same for our faculty and staff. If I believe that the library is a learning space and a community space, how am I helping our teachers maintain community while we are all at home? 

Many of you probably have faculty and staff book clubs, right? Well, we didn’t. Years ago we did, but the teacher who ran it retired and I wasn’t in a position at the time to take it on. As the 2019-2020 school year came to a screeching halt (and somehow also took forever to end), I spoke with several friends and colleagues about how little we’d all been reading for pleasure since the pandemic hit. People were watching Tiger King and making shared movie/tv show lists, but our brains were fried. Yet, we all missed reading. It felt unnatural not to have one, two, or three books going at the same time. People seemed to feel that they should be reading, but also that they should be reading certain books. To that I say phooey! Well, not entirely.

I do think that informed people who intend to grow as humans should read certain books or certain authors or at least read on certain topics and about certain experiences. I do not, however, think that any reader should reject a book they want to read because it’s not on someone’s should list. I also know that sometimes, to kickstart reading after a slump, I need a particular kind of book to get me going again. Once I’m out of the slump I can tackle something more serious or challenging, but the kickstart book can be really hard to find. I wanted to end my own slump, and I knew some of my colleagues did too. To that end, I created the Low Stakes Book Club for faculty and staff. What does low stakes mean? For us, it means a few things.

  1. The book selection will not necessarily be a great work of literature, though it may be. It will often be a popular mystery, a page-turner, or a celebrity’s book club selection. We often choose books on the fly, though sometimes I send out a poll.
  2. The book club meeting is itself low stakes. Didn’t read the book? Who cares? You can show up anyway and hear about it from those who did. Maybe you read three chapters, hated it, and put it down. That’s cool! We hope to see you there.
  3. The purpose and administration of the club is low stakes. There is no theme, no pattern, no goal except to come together (on zoom) and keep our wonderful community going in a totally low stakes way. I might plan a game or trivia or discussion questions, but I really might not.

It’s been great. We have teachers and staff who faithfully read the book and show up every time, and people who never show up even though they always say they will. We’ve read some serious things and some less serious things. It’s been a nice way to connect with colleagues that I have no other chance to see since we’ve left the hallways and the dining hall (and the library!) to collect dust in our absence. And when we return to a new normal, the library will have played a role in bringing some happiness to a few teachers and staff along the way, which feels pretty good. 

The Low Stakes Book Club has read:

Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight

Love, Nina by Nina Stibbe

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Stamped by Jason Reynolds

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

The Guest List by Lucy Foley

The Girl from Widow Hills by Megan Miranda

The Last Story of Mina Lee by Nancy Jooyoun Kim

Ask Me Anything, Fair Use edition

“‘Is that Fair Use?’: Copyright in Schools, Conferences, and Publications” with librarian Alyssa Mandel and editorial operations specialist Erin Ryan, on March 8 at 4:00 PM Eastern/1:00 PM Pacific.

This is an Ask Me Anything, as the kids say, approach to copyright and fair use. Well, not me exactly. On March 8, I will be co-presenting a webinar with Erin Ryan, whose position as editorial operations specialist for ABC-CLIO (publisher of School Library Connection, among other things) includes permission acquisition, on the subject of copyright and fair use specifically geared for situations in which librarians may find themselves. It will also be a great source of help for you to use when working with faculty and students, too.  As a member of the AISL Publications Committee, I have been fortunate enough to have published three articles in School Library Connection and have another forthcoming in April. The committee helps AISL members find publication opportunities individually or as groups and identifies trends in the professional literature that merit our attention. Headed by Cathy Leverkus (CathyL@thewillows.org), the Committee also includes:

  • Darla Magana: Darla.Magana@smes.org
  • Debbie Abilock: dabilock@gmail.com
  • Tasha Bergson-Michelson: tbergsonmichelson@castilleja.org
  • Nora Murphy: NMurphy@fsha@org
  • Christina Karvounis: KarvounisC@bolles.org
  • Sara Kelley-Mudie: sara.kelleymudie@gmail.com

My charge to you  is to leave in the comments either direct questions you may have, or real-life examples in which issues of fair use and copyright have played a major part. I recognize that can be sticky – you may not want to directly identify elements that could open you or your institution up to negative attention, but if there is something you can share for the sake of illumination, please do so. Erin and I will be using these examples to help guide our webinar and make it as targeted as possible so it serves the greater good. 

I’ll go first! The upcoming webinar grew out of a learning experience I had when I presented a webinar in October of 2020 about incorporating art research into library skills curriculum. I created a slide presentation to illustrate my webinar: I captured screenshots of museum websites and found images of paintings and sculptures that were clearly marked as being in the public domain, and thought I was home free. Readers, I was not. The artwork itself may be in the public domain, and we were careful to give a credit line for each work based on the museums’ own guidelines, but it turns out that the explanatory text accompanying the art is copyrighted, and even though the museum websites themselves are clearly meant for free public consumption, the museums have a vested interest in ensuring the sites are presented in a positive light. Furthermore, although I was giving the webinar as a form of education its sponsor is a commercial press. What I learned from that experience is that the rules for fair use and copyright are completely different under those circumstances. Erin gave me expert guidance and opened my eyes in such a way that I exclaimed at the time I think I learned more as a presenter than I might have taught to attendees, and thus was born the upcoming webinar on copyright and fair use for librarians.

By now you may be thinking, “Uh, we already went through this – as the pandemic took root we all started navigating whether we can and cannot share read-alouds over Zoom and on YouTube; we know the Internet Archive is a wilderness; we’re only presenting stuff in the classroom only or behind the wall of our learning management systems, so what’s the fuss?”

Not so fast, y’all. 

Just this week I was presented with several scenarios in which the guidance of someone like Erin would have been invaluable. Try these on and see if they sound familiar:

•Our middle school students are recording podcasts for the NPR Student Podcast Challenge. Right now, those podcasts are within school confines only, and they are being created under educational auspices. However, should one or more of our students be among the lucky winners, their work would then be shared with a wider audience. Any music, sounds, or other elements created by someone other than the students would be subject to copyright laws. The official rules spell this out on the website:

 “Entries will be disqualified if they contain materials that appear to infringe copyrights, trademarks, or other intellectual property rights of others. Songs or chants made up by Entrants are acceptable as long as they are performed live on the recording and Entrant notes in Entrant’s submission form that the song/chant was composed by Entrant. By submitting an entry, you affirm that you own all the rights to any and all musical content in your submission, including but not limited to: the right to reproduce, distribute, and publicly perform.”

•A librarian friend at another school asked about whether music played in schools needs to be (or could be) licensed in the same way that Swank licenses movies for situations like on-campus movie nights that are more social than educational. Friend specifically asked about music used in dance classes and played in classrooms. The information I found suggests only music played in public places like a reception area would need to be licensed, but I am asking for Erin’s help in addressing this during the webinar.

•Recently I gave a presentation to members of a branch of the local county government about public research databases available to residents of the state of Florida. One member asked if I knew of any sources for things like bird calls and video clips of nature. I said I would look around, and then went on to say that I wasn’t sure how copyright and fair use would affect them. They’re a branch of government, and definitely a not-for-profit, but if they charge a fee to cover materials in a public program they sponsor, or use an image in an advertisement, I don’t think it’s as clear-cut as one might imagine. 

•Many of us have given, or plan to give, presentations or poster sessions at conferences. Such presentations are usually illustrated by some kind of accompanying image – a full slide presentation, or even a single drawing or short passage of text. A conference clearly seems to be an educational setting, but if the conference charges an attendance fee or the presenter receives an honorarium for his or her time, then the fair use waters become more murky. 

So drop your comments, questions, and observations below, and join Erin and me on March 8 for the lowdown on what is covered, what is not, and how to find out more information to help us all navigate this more clearly as professionals. Your students, faculty, and administrators look to you for guidance on these questions, so here’s a way to be better-prepared with answers.

“And You May Contribute a Verse”: Adapted, Diversified Classics for Teens, Part Two

By Rebecca Moore, c.2020

Welcome to part two of this annotated bibliography of adapted and diversified—sometimes called “bent”—classics for teens. In this context, “classics” are works which have an established presence in the western canon, and are written by named authors. They have been bent by gender, ethnicity, sexuality, and more. Although authors’ motivations are complex and individual, they often include exploring the universality of themes in the original texts, and embodying a Walt Whitman Leaves of Grass (1891) quote: “That you are here—that life exists, and identity/That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.”

Part one covered adaptations of works by Shakespeare. Part two covers adaptations of works by other authors.

Benincasa, Sara. Great. HarperTeen, 2014. 270 p. $17.99. 978-0-06222-269-5.
This modern-day adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby (1925) follows Naomi, daughter of a Food Network star, to a summer in East Hampton. Their neighbor, Jacinta Trimalchio, is an enigmatic fashionista and over-the-top party giver. Why is she obsessed with meeting Delilah Fairweather, a casual friend of Naomi’s? Benincasa felt the themes of Gatsby “were incredibly relevant to teenagers” (Benincasa). In gender-swapping the Gatsby character and keeping the Daisy character female, Benincasa, who is bisexual (Flans), “wanted to play with elements of teen sexuality and to talk about the difference between obsession and love, and I wanted to see where those lines are blurred, particularly for teenage girls” (Benincasa).

Cameron, Sharon. Rook. Scholastic Press, 2016. 464 p. $9.99 pb. 978-1-33803-246-8.
In this gender-flipped reboot of Baroness Orczy’s The Scarlet Pimpernel (1905), a far-future dystopic Earth has reverted to a pre-industrial, technology-banning level of society. Disguised as The Red Rook, Sophia Bellamy rescues prisoners from the Sunken City (formerly Paris). Can she accept the help of—and arranged marriage with—Rene Hasard, a Parisian who is more than he seems? The author states: “[I]t’s all about corsets, swords, decapitations and a female spy, and is a huge homage to The Scarlet Pimpernel” (Cameron, Author Interview). As to why the gender flip, Cameron is an admirer of author J.R.R. Tolkien, and appreciates and emulates his theme of: “Anyone, no matter how seemingly insignificant, can make their world worse, or they can make it better. Inner strength wins” (Cameron, Blog Tour). Or, as the book trailer asks: “Who needs a wedding ring when you can pick up a sword?” (Rook).

Hand, Cynthia. The Afterlife of Holly Chase. HarperTeen, 2018. 416 p. $9.99 pb. 978-0-06231-851-0.
Holly Chase, a wealthy Hollywood teen, was such a Scrooge that she got a visit from The Christmas Carol’s (Charles Dickens, 1843) three ghosts—and laughed it off. When she then died, she got recruited as the new Ghost of Christmas Past in Project Scrooge, which chooses one person a year to help. Five years later, the Scrooge is seventeen-year-old Ethan Winters. Author Cynthia Hand loved the original, and wanted to modernize the story to make it about younger, more diverse characters” (Hand). As to making Holly female, she felt that, unlike crotchety old men whom we believe can change for the good, “society is not accepting of teenage girls who aren’t, well, nice.” Thus she really wanted “to showcase Holly as a flawed, growing character—to try to push back against those gender biased expectations” (Hand).

Khan, Hena. More To the Story. Salaam Reads / Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2019. 272 p. $17.99. 978-1-48149-209-6.
This adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women (1868) sets the story in modern Atlanta, with a Pakistani-American family. Seventh grader Jameela reports for the school paper, and yearns to cover stories that really matter, like microaggressions. Then her sister Bismah gets sick. Khan was “obsessed” with Little Women in her youth, and wrote, “I think I understood and could even relate to some of the societal and gender norms [the characters] faced as a child of Pakistani immigrants.” She added, “I always thought the story lent itself well to a retelling from a Pakistani American perspective.” She considered her story “a love letter to my favorite book!” (Khan).

Langdon, Lorie. Olivia Twist. Blink, 2018. 336 p. $18.99. 978-0-31076-341-3.
This continuation of Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist (1838) imagines that Oliver was always Olivia, and had to keep her gender hidden as an easily-exploited orphan. Now sixteen and living a high society life with her cash-strapped guardian, Olivia has reverted to her thieving ways to support a group of orphans who know her as Oliver. Then she encounters the Artful Dodger once more, and her life takes a turn. As a child, the author loved imagining that Oliver was really a girl. “This way,” she said, “I could imagine myself as the heroine of the story and the Artful Dodger as the hero. In my childhood fantasies, the two would have endless adventures and eventually fall in love and escape from poverty” (Langdon).

McKinney, L.L. A Blade So Black. Square Fish.2019. 400 p. $10.99 pb. 978-1-25021-166-8.
Inspired by Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland (1865), this story’s Alice, a Black teen, lives in modern Atlanta. As a dreamwalker, she secretly travels to Wonderland with the help of her trainer, Addison Hatta, to fight nightmares before they can escape into our world. The author wanted to write an adaptation of the classic that was “steeped in Black Girl Magic” (Author’s Note). As she tells readers in her afterword: “To those black kids searching countless shelves and between endless pages, hoping to catch a glimpse of themselves in galaxies far away, fantasies long ago, and stories here and now: This one’s for you. Shine on, and drive back the dark.”

McSmith, Tobly. Stay Gold. HarperTeen, 2020. 368 p. $18.99. 978-0-06294-317-0.
With S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders (1967) as inspiration, McSmith also sets his book in a Texas small-town high school with cheerleaders, football players, and outsiders. But here, outsider Pony is transgender, going “stealth” at a new school. On day one, he locks eyes with Georgia, a cheerleader who wants more from life than popularity. McSmith, who is transgender, sees books, and especially fiction, as “the ultimate safe space.” However, having rarely found books reflecting his own experience, he put it in the book “so that it creates a safe space for other trans people. And that so other people can read about our experiences and learn from them, and help create more safe spaces” (McSmith). The connection to The Outsiders came from reflections on the book’s toxic masculinity, which equated fighting with manhood, and the hope that “[m]anhood is no longer measured by aggression and force” (341). The original “stay gold” urged Ponyboy to stay innocent. Now, Georgia urges Pony to “Stay gold, Pony. Stay true to yourself when the world pushes against you…because you are exceptional, and everyone will catch up someday” (342).

Soontornvat, Christina. A Wish in the Dark.Candlewick, 2020. 384 p. $17.99. 978-1-53620-494-0.
In the city of Chattana, all artificial light comes from the dictatorial Governor, who reserves light for the worthy—and wealthy. Pong and Somkit, having been born in Namwon Prison, know they will never enjoy that light. Then Pong escapes, and Nok, daughter of the prison’s overseer, is determined to track him down. Having loved Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables (1862) in her youth, the author always wanted to adapt it, and found that setting it in a fantastical Thailand helped make it her own. As she said, “It is a love letter to Thailand for sure! The world in the book is based on my dad’s stories of growing up in Bangkok as a young boy. When I was a kid, those stories were so vivid and fairytale-like to me, and that mood is what I tried to bring into the story” (Soontornvat).

Teran, Andi. Ana of California. Penguin, 2015. 368 p. $16.00 Trade pb. 978-0-14312-649-2.
In this adaptation of L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables (1908), Ana is a Latinx teen from Los Angeles, who has been in and out of foster homes and rough situations. At sixteen, her “last chance” is an internship on a Northern California farm run by a brother and sister. The author felt a strong kinship with the original Anne, and with Los Angeles. She chose to make Ana Latinx because, as she said, “I am Mexican American myself, so it was really important that my character reflect my heritage in that way. And I also wanted to write a story for young women with a Latina heroine, because it’s not something that you see typically in fiction” (Teran).

Terciero, Rey, and Bre Indigo, ill. Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2019. 256 p. $12.99 pb. 978-0-31652-288-5.
This graphic novel adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women (1868) sets the story in modern New York City, with a blended and multicultural family. Their military father is serving overseas, and each girl struggles with her own issues at home, including Jo coming to understand her own sexuality. The author, who is white, loved the original in his youth, finding the girls’ struggles “universal.” As to diversifying it, Terciero and the book’s illustrator, Bre Indigo, “wanted to see ourselves in the characters too, which is why we made the family diverse and one of the characters LGBTQ… Being LGBT myself, I’m just happy to be creating a book that I wish I could have read as a young reader” (Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy). Indigo, who is Black, says that “some of the character’s surface traits have been changed to allow for some readers to relate in ways they might not have been able to before” (Indigo).

Zoboi, Izzy. Pride. Balzer + Bray, 2019. 304 p. $10.99 pb. 978-0-06256-405-4.
Brooklyn native Zuri, an Afro-Latino teen, is proud of her family and her neighborhood. Wary of Brooklyn’s gentrification, as represented by her wealthy new neighbors the Darcys, Zuri is especially dismayed by the judgmental, arrogant Darius Darcy. Zoboi saw many themes in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (1813) that connected with gentrification. She also wanted to help students of color, forced to read the original, find their own connections to the story. “In the same way that wealthier newcomers to under-served neighborhoods erase the established cultures, this my very own way of reverse gentrifying the Brit-lit canon,” she said. As Austen commented on class and women’s issues, a “Haitian-Dominican teen in Brooklyn can grapple with those same issues” (Zoboi).

Other Works Cited

Benincasa, Sara. “Interview: Sara Benincasa on Young Adult Fiction, Anxiety, and Why Her Imagination Is like a Wild Animal.” Interview conducted by Alex Steed. Steed, BDN Maine Blog network, 10 Jan. 2014, steed.bangordailynews.com/2014/01/10/interview-sara-benincasa-on-young-adult-fiction-and-why-her-imagination-is-like-a-wild-animal/.

Cameron, Sharon. “Author Interview: Sharon Cameron.” Interview conducted by Kaleigh C. Maguire. Authography LLC, edited by Jacqui Lipton, 15 May 2014, kcmaguire.com/blog/author-interview-sharon-cameron.

—. “Blog Tour: Rook by Sharon Cameron – Interview and Giveaway.” Chapter by Chapter, 30 Apr. 2015, www.chapter-by-chapter.com/blog-tour-rook-by-sharon-cameron-interview-and-giveaway/.

Flans, Lauren, and Nicole Pacent, hosts. “Sara Benincasa.” Coming Out with Lauren & Nicole, episode 16, 26 Sept. 2018, comingoutpod.libsyn.com/episode-16-sara-benincasa-0.

Hand, Cynthia. “Question about Afterlife of Holly Chase.” Received by the author, 9 May 2020.

Indigo, Bre. “Rich Interviews: Bre Indigo Penciler: For Meg, Jo, Beth, & Amy: Little Women.” First Comics News, 15 Mar. 2018, www.firstcomicsnews.com/rich-interviews-bre-indigo-penciler-for-meg-jo-beth-amy-little-women/. Interview.

Khan, Hena. “Interview: Hena Khan.” Interview conducted by Bookvillageadmin. MG Book Village, 3 Sept. 2019, mgbookvillage.org/2019/09/03/interview-hena-khan/.

Langdon, Lorie. “Author Interview & Book Release: Lorie Langdon / Olivia Twist.” The Spinning Pen, 5 Apr. 2018, thespinningpen.com/2018/04/05/author-interview-book-release-lorie-langdon-olivia-twist/. Interview.

McSmith, Tobly, narrator. “How Safe Spaces Save Lives.” Harper Stacks, Harper Collins Studio, 25 May 2020. YouTube, www.youtube.com/watch?v=eeEOfih69YE.

“Meg, Jo, Beth, And Amy Celebrates The 150th Anniversary of Little Women as a Modernized Graphic Novel from Little, Brown Books for Young Readers and Tapas Media.” Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, Hachette, 6 Mar. 2018, www.lbyr.com/hachette-book-group-news/meg-jo-beth-and-amy-celebrates-the-150th-anniversary-of-little-women-as-a-modernized-graphic-novel-from-little-brown-books-for-young-readers-and-tapas-media/.

“Rook by Sharon Cameron Book Trailer.” YouTube, uploaded by Sharon Cameron, 12 Apr. 2015, www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=17&v=GlSDsV8SuMs&feature=emb_logo.

Soontornvat, Christina. “Author Interview: Magic, Writing & Durians; A Conversation with Christina Soontornvat, Author of MG Thai-Inspired Fantasy, A Wish in the Dark.” Interview conducted by Skye (Shuurens). The Quiet Pond: A Book Blog, 1 Apr. 2020, thequietpond.com/2020/04/01/author-interview-magic-writing-durians-a-conversation-with-christina-soontornvat-author-of-mg-thai-inspired-fantasy-a-wish-in-the-dark/.

Teran, Andi. “Interview with Andi Teran, Author of Ana of California.” Interview conducted by Chris Caraveo. Medium, 9 Oct. 2015, medium.com/@ChrisCaraveo31/interview-with-andi-teran-author-of-ana-of-california-69567b51b741.

Whitman, Walt. “O Me! O Life!” Leaves of Grass, 2008. The Gutenberg Project, www.gutenberg.org/files/1322/1322-h/1322-h.htm#link2H_4_0121. Accessed 20 Apr. 2020.

Zoboi, Ibi. “Walk the Jagged Streets of Gentrification with Ibi Zoboi’s Pride.” Interview conducted by Marie Marquardt. Teen Librarian Toolbox, School Library Journal, 20 Sept. 2018, www.teenlibrariantoolbox.com/2018/09/walk-the-jagged-streets-of-gentrification-with-ibi-zobois-pride-a-guest-post-by-marie-marquardt/.

Imagining Multiple Perspectives: Experimenting with “Priority-Based Perspectives”

This year, our school’s annual, 40+ hour, 5-month-long, co-curricular project with our ninth graders took place over six hours during the first week of January.

During this project students work in groups to research and ultimately present about a social issue of their choice to the grade-level parents. While this year’s nine-person faculty team determined that students would still make a brief Flipgrid video on their topic as a final product, I volunteered to design the week-long mini-course in which they would research and present their topics. I then had to decide what I really, really wanted our students to learn. Since our first run, eight years ago, students have consistently been asked to investigate multiple points of view with regard to their topic, and I have just as consistently been struck with how challenging it is for them to imagine what those viewpoints might be. So, I decided to focus on skills related to searching for and identifying multiple points of view. Specifically, our one requirement for the week was that they identify at least three perspectives on their topic.

Before winter break, students had studied Early Modern Islamic Empires in World History, and had submitted connections they saw among the political history of the Safavids, Mughals, and Ottomans and issues of global health and/or justice in the world today. I took these contemporary connections and, based on the topics each student highlighted, assigned them to groups. Since our time was so short, I framed broad research questions for each group based on their expressed interests. Almost every student articulated a pressing engagement with how personal identifiers played into political leaders’ use of power to privilege or repress different people under their influence, across a range of topics from voting rights to vaccine development to rights of women in Muslim countries (see the outcome of this last topic below).

They had their topics. I had my learning objective. Now, I just had to figure out how to teach the skill set of searching for and identifying multiple perspectives … in 40 minutes or less.

Through a day-long debate with my 20-year-old offspring, we formulated the following approach to identifying multiple perspectives. Though I taught it to 64 students at once in a Zoom meeting, I would definitively say my thinking is still in draft form. Please help me kick the tires and see if it holds up! I would be deeply grateful for critiques and feedback.

It always feels helpful to start with a framing activity that helps to ease students into the complexities we will be tackling in a lesson. In this case, I wanted to get them thinking about how the “government’s job” is not a unitary or settled notion. By adapting a few questions from the (wonderful!) World Values Survey and a recent budget survey done by the city in which our school is located, I asked them to answer four questions about what governments should prioritize.

Though I did briefly show them results to demonstrate that, even in the “room,” we had lots of varying opinions, I cared less about their answers and more about the students contemplating competing priorities.

A bar chart recording responses from class survey demonstrate that everyone has different opinions about the role or priorities of government.

Ultimately, we framed the lesson around the notion of “Priority-based perspectives,” the idea that points of view vary because individuals and organizations must sort through conflicting needs, and some must ultimately take precedence. I drafted a list of what some of these categories of priorities might be:

Image of a slide from class, with a stamp on it saying: DRAFT: Some categories of priorities: moral, economic, logistical, public relations/political, allegiance

The big epiphany I had (though it seems obvious in retrospect) was that my students were never thinking beyond the moral concepts that drove their own interest in their topics. They simply don’t have the life experience to suggest another path for investigation. So, we spent some time discussing that, for example, no matter how strongly you consider rest a moral right, the need to feed and house your family might still require a higher priority than time to rest. Similarly, you may morally believe that everyone has the right of equal access to a COVID vaccine, but we have been witnessing the real logistical challenges of efficient and equitable distribution.

One element that turned out to be pivotally helpful was that this construct moved students away from the binary pro/con approach for identifying perspectives (“Who agrees with me? Smart people. Who has a different opinion? Mean people.”) and instead started their research in a fundamentally different place: “What are the economic considerations of vaccine development? What different priorities might be competing? What are the logistical considerations of vaccine development? What different priorities might be competing with regard to logistical issues?” and so on. It removed their thinking from themselves and their closely held beliefs and allowed them space to be curious about what issues and priorities might exist.

Of course, we reviewed a few key search tips:

1. Pay attention to search terms, which will yield specific POVs:
— For example: Undocumented workers, illegal aliens, birthright citizenship
2. Search for your answer, not your question:
— Think about what you might expect someone to write about a topic and search for that.
— What words might someone use when they are talking about “morals”? How about “economic”? For example: budget, cost, price tag
3. Consider: how might people with the same goals have different priorities that lead to different POVs?
4. Remember to use stepping stone sources:
— Identify expert vocabulary/pertinent search terms that appear in the sources you have read so far. For example: CRISPR, designer babies, genetic engineering
— Who are some stakeholders mentioned in your sources who have points of view on this topic (people, groups, or organizations who care about the issue)? For example:
1.”According to the Department of Justice…”
2. “Emails leaked by the whistleblower”
3. “Professor Arvind Gupta, a researcher at the University of Oklahoma…”

There was one final issue that required addressing in this lesson: what does one do with points of view that do not meet with standards of evidence-based-reasoning? In the past, I have taught finding various political perspectives and a separate lesson on more diverse news consumption generally (finally this year I pointed out to a colleague that selecting sources by left-leaning and right-leaning just left out too many people, and ethnic, religious, and other community news sources needed to be included in any list of sources for reading political news). Yet, I try to balance understanding various perspectives against including harmful or factually incorrect perspectives in the classroom. For example, we do not accept as factual perspectives disproven medical studies (they may be mentioned for influence, but not presented as informational sources). I’ve never quite figured out how to walk that line effectively.

In this lesson, I drew on the World History course theme of historical empathy, and explained that identifying priority-based perspectives is an interstitial step that assists in identifying a range of perspectives; doing so also helps us understand the mechanisms that create structures in our world today, including the persistence of structural inequity. After identifying different priorities, and (potentially) sources that speak from the perspective of those authorities, it is the researcher’s job to evaluate the source (or, as we teach, identify the context and construction of the source’s authority) and determine whether it passes muster in our evidence-based environment.

The faculty for the ninth grade project all agreed that the students’ work this year was quite strong, despite the various emotional challenges everyone faced during our six hours of project time (including the events of January 6, 2021). I was particularly proud of the group that wanted to focus on women in Islam, as they moved themselves beyond a blind critique of the “other” and ended up delving deeply into a complex set of women’s perspectives about being a hijabi.

So, the idea of priority-based perspectives seems to work. Yet, I suspect I am missing (various) pitfalls or have elements lacking clarity. Thoughts?

Ages & stages

I can’t be the only one thinking a little bit more about retirement these days.

When looking at lists of pending retirees in recent years (both within AISL and at my school) , I have been taken aback by the increasing number of people listed whom I consider mentors. It really does seem like yesterday when I first met them, had the pleasure of learning alongside them, and began seeking  them out for guidance and direction. These librarians and teachers have had a seminal effect on my growth, largely professional but in many ways, personal. I focus on being happy about someone’s planned retirement while feeling something akin to distress. 

So – where to from here?

Theorist Donald Super offers these 5 stages of self-concept & career development

I wish I’d seen this a couple of years ago when I was flummoxed by the plateau I was feeling; I now realize that it was the stagnation noted in the Maintenance stage. 

Almost 20 years into librarianship, I have been fortunate to be involved with some major tasks: three LMS migrations, the revitalization of a school library program, a renovation and integration into our new school commons, and much technological transformation. I firmly believe that our school deserves dynamic people at the helm, and my diminished emotional state was making me question whether or not I should be passing the torch.

Fortunately, by this time last year, I seemed to have gotten my rhythm back. Just in time for the pandemic – ironic, but also timely, and it has provided opportunity for creativity and innovation in ways we couldn’t have imagined.

I’m going to embrace being at the Maintenance stage: holding on to what is serving my students well, updating what needs to be refreshed, recognizing feelings of stagnation if they return but aiming to push past them by continuing to innovate

I’m also going to work finding a new word for the 5th stage: “Decline”, my posterior. It’s clear Super never met a KARL 😉

Delighting Every Customer

When I tell people I am a librarian, I often get various responses. One is, “You don’t look like a librarian,” as if they anticipated a shushing, grimacing battleaxe.  The other response I get is, “Do people still go to the library?”  Both questions, while annoying, encourage me in my pursuit of offering top notch customer service in my library to deflate that stereotype and encourage patron usage. Therefore, it is my goal to assist every guest who walks through the library door with the same friendly, quality customer service.

When I am introduced to new students or touring families, I emphasize that I will ALWAYS help them and that our library is a place they can utilize anytime.  I express that I LIKE to help them, that is my job and it makes me happy.  While I truly enjoy working with my students, I also perceive that everyone at my school is responsible for recruitment and retention of students, and my job depends on enrollment. I am on the lookout for students who need help, and if they don’t ask, I ask them. I thank them for coming, because truly, without their patronage,  I am irrelevant.  I became an educator because I like working with students.

I believe it is crucial that I know my patrons, and if possible I find out what  they like to read.  I have an office, but I never use it; I sit at the circulation desk where I am visible and approachable.  I greet visitors with eye contact, a smile, and by name. My “superpower” is learning student names. The greeting and the smile go a long way; I have had students and alumni tell me how much it meant to them to be cheerfully welcomed to the space every day.  This creates, through word of mouth, an understanding that our school library is a safe and welcoming place and as a result we accrue more patrons.

I have had to train my aide to “take the extra step” in terms of patron support.  I had a similar experience with another librarian colleague I worked with at a different school who expressed that I was “too nice.”   I don’t think I am doing permanent academic damage to a student if I lead him/her to Shakespeare’s plays, or grab A Midsummer Night’s  Dream for the student, as opposed to writing down the card catalog number and sending them on their way.  For one, I think the student will more likely remember the positive service  than how the Dewey Decimal System classifies drama.  I also think teens and tweens are often  overwhelmed, and I typically give them the benefit of the doubt. The sullen teen can usually be won over with respect, courtesy and friendliness; it’s important to realize that we never really know what is happening in their lives.   I think about  my own experiences as a customer, and how perturbed I get when an employee at a hardware store expects me to find an Allen wrench hex key when I have no idea what it is or what it’s for.  Similarly, I am not too happy when employees at my favorite grocery store ignore me while they engage in casual conversation.  I try to put the student first – and address their needs even if I am mid task or have been talking with staff members. I get a little bit unhinged when teachers arrive to pick up their class from the library, but instead engage in small talk leaving their students to become more and more boisterous, which is only to be expected. 

It’s important to “keep up appearances.”  It’s a lot of work, but I’ve made the holiday tree of books several times with hundreds of books and strands and strands of lights.  We have book art, rotating displays, interactive bulletin boards, lights and whatever else I can dream up, steal from other libraries or find on Pinterest to make the space  inviting and fun.  Our comfortable seating and manipulatives have been limited because of Covid-19, but we are adjusting. Contests as well as a no fine policy have also promoted good will and increased usage in the library.

Every interaction matters. According to  Anthony Molaro,  Assistant Professor, Graduate School of Business and Professional Studies at St. Catherine University,   “A worldview that sees library users as patrons is one in which the patron  is above libraries. According to this worldview, we should feel lucky that they support our work, and we are forever indebted to them. Some people call this term archaic, while others have no idea what a library patron even is. In the end, the perception is that the patron is above us.”  

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Especially at independent schools, where tuition can be incredibly high, customer service makes all the difference in creating relationships between staff, students and families.  It should be a priority for all library staff. 

“Information Activist.” Library Journal, vol. 136, no. 5, Mar. 2011, p. 50. EBSCOhost,

Pundsack, Karen. “Customer or Patrons? How You Look at Your Users. Affects Customer Service.” Public Libraries Online, Mar. 2015,

“The Powerful Play Goes On”: Adapted, Diversified Classics for Teens

By Rebecca Moore, c.2020

Before stories were fixed in print and copyright, they belonged to everyone and no one, and were retold and adapted as the storyteller saw fit. That drive to retell has never vanished, as is evidenced by the plethora of adult and YA novels—not to mention fanfiction—adapting classic tales from Cinderella to Sherlock Holmes.

Writers adapt classics for multiple reasons. For instance, readers familiar with the original have a leg up into the adaptation, which might induce them to read it. Writers gain an advantage from whatever aspects of the characters, setting, plot, etc., they feel inspired to use, and may also find it an engaging writing exercise. The growing trend of adapting classics by making them more diverse—sometimes called “bending” or “re-storying”—brings more reasons to the table. Some writers adapt canon stories to show the universality of their themes/plots/etc. Others, especially #ownvoices writers, adapt to create and/or enhance representation. Many writers do both.

Classics hold cultural power for three main reasons. First, readers from all groups love them, and share them with friends and family. Second, familiarity with the canon often proves key in advancement within the dominant culture, such as getting diplomas, degrees, and respect, whereas familiarity with the stories of a non-dominant culture merits no such respect. Third, many generations of readers have grown up believing in the “single story” classics frequently represent. That “single story” tends to encompass only the dominant culture/gender/sexuality/etc., essentially erasing—and thus in some ways controlling—non-dominant groups.

Bending such classics can enhance representation of underrepresented groups in all readers’ minds. This can help readers from dominant cultures gain empathy, understanding, and awareness. Readers from non-dominant groups can feel a reclamation of the stories through the representation, and an assertion of their right to engage with writers from the past on their own terms. Bending is thus a form of resistance against the “single story” of the dominant-culture canon. Diversifying classics is a step toward embodying a Walt Whitman Leaves of Grass(1891) quote: “That you are here—that life exists, and identity/That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.”

This is the first of two booklists of bent classics. We start with perhaps the biggest canon writer in the English language, William Shakespeare, himself a re-teller of tales. Part two, coming in August, will cover adaptations of other classics.

Fleet, Suki. This Is Not a Love Story. Dreamspinner, 2014. 270p. $16.99 Trade pb. 978-1-63216-040-9.
This re-imagined Romeo and Juliet tells the story of Romeo, a homeless, mute, teen who sells his body on the streets to survive. Julian, is the older teen protector Romeo loves. The ending, however, is not tragic. Said Fleet: “My aim was to write a story that, while it harped back to Shakespeare’s classic themes, ended in hope instead of tragedy.” As the majority of LGBTQ+ books Fleet read in their youth ended tragically, “reading became a painful experience.” For current LGBTQ+ youth, Fleet wanted to write a story “more hopeful and positive [and] diverse” (Fleet).

Jones, Patrick. Unbarred series. Lerner, 2016.
Jones’ experiences working with incarcerated youth, mostly of color, drove his writing of this hi-lo series that adapts Shakespeare’s works into modern, urban settings and language. The original impulse arose when a teacher insisted on teaching Shakespeare to incarcerated students who were mostly of color and reluctant readers (Jones, 2020). Said Jones: “I’m interested in telling stories about teens who don’t get their stories told by mainstream writers” (Jones, 2015). Many teens he saw were “struggling readers for so many reasons, but in part because they didn’t see themselves in books and/or they’d failed so many times trying to read in past that they associated any book with failure” (Jones, 2016).

Jones, Patrick. Heart or Mind. Lerner, 2016. 120 p. $7.99 pb. 978-1-51240-091-5.
This book recasts Romeo as Rodney, a Black boy recently out of a correctional institute. He falls for Jawahir, a Somali Muslim girl, but in Minneapolis, the conflict between Blacks and Somalis is violent.  

Jones, Patrick, and Marshunna Clark. Duty or Desire. Lerner, 2016. 120 p. $27.99. 978-1-51240-002-1. $7.99 pb. 978-1-51240-089-2.
The authors re-imagine Anthony as Alejandro, a Latinx teen released after serving time on a trumped-up charge. He is seeking to free himself from his gang. His Cleopatra is Chrissie, a Black teen who has suffered a similar police run-in.

Laskin, Pamela. Ronit & Jamil. Katharine Tegen Books, 2017. 192 p. $17.99. 978-0-06245-854-4.
This verse novel adaptation of Romeo and Juliet sets the story in modern Jerusalem, with the lovers being Israeli girl Ronit, and Palestinian boy Jamil. Laskin chose to bend the story to demonstrate the universality of not just young love, but “of adults whose blind intransigence serves unwittingly to destroy this love,” and of how each generation must “[find] a future in full adult awareness while rejecting the burdens of the past” (Author’s note).

McCall, Guadalupe. Shame the Stars. Tu Books, 2016. 288 p. $20.95. 978-1-62014-278-3.
In the early 1900s in Texas, the relationship between Texas Rangers and citizens of Mexican descent were violent, fraught, and unjust. Joaquin del Toro finds himself and his love, Dulceña, caught in the crossfire. McCall wanted to bring to light the injustices of that time, and was inspired by the theme “love is the most important thing of all.” Romeo and Juliet could have ended differently, she said, if people had had faith in love of family, home, community, and country. This book “is about our ability to conquer our fears and let the light of love shine through” (McCall).

Myers, Walter Dean. Street Love. HarperCollins, 2007. 160p. $8.99 pb. 978-0-06440-732-8.
This verse novel adaptation of Romeo and Juliet brings together Harlem teens Damian, bound for Brown, and Junice, trying to hold her family together after her mother is imprisoned. As a young reader, Myers never found himself or anything from his life in books. “As a consequence,” he said, “I did not love myself as a Black person or have a particular respect for much of the Black community.” He wrote about Black characters so modern teens could avoid the “subtle shame” he’d felt at his exclusion (Myers).

Shakespeare, William. The Most Excellent and Lamentable Tragedy of Romeo & Juliet. Adapt. and illus. by Gareth Hinds. Candlewick, 2013. 128 p. $21.99. 978-0-76365-948-6. $12.99 Trade pb. 978-1-76366-807-5.
This beautifully illustrated abridgement features Capulets of Indian descent and Montagues of African descent. Hinds sought to “[underscore] the universality of the drama by bringing a multiracial cast to the setting of historical Verona” (Hinds).

Talley, Robin. As I Descended. HarperCollins, 2016. 388 p.  $17.99. 978-0-06240-923-2. $10.99 pb. 978-0-06240-924-9.
Talley re-imagines Macbeth as a horror story set in a southern boarding school. Maria, a Latinx senior, needs a scholarship for college. Her roommate and lover Lily, white and disabled, will stop at nothing to help her get it. Said Talley: “I think it’s important for fiction to show the breadth of the world we live in—positive, negative and in between,” in order to offer readers the “opportunity to reflect on their place in the larger world” (Talley, 2016). She also felt that the ambition and high stakes of Macbeth fit well into the setting (Talley, 2015).

Winters, Cat. The Steep & Thorny Way. Amulet, 2016. 352 p. $17.95. 978-1-41971-915-8. $9.99 pb. 978-1-41972-350-6.
In this adaptation of Hamlet, biracial teen Hanalee Denney lives in Oregon in 1923. Her Black father’s ghost is trying to warn her about the danger she is in, as the KKK have a hold on her town. A gay character is also in grave danger. The author wanted to bring to light “Oregon’s racist past—a past that clearly affected the state’s lack of racial diversity that exists to this day” (Winters), and found the Hamlet story a perfect framework on which to hang her tale (Author’s Note).

Other Works Cited

Fleet, Suki. “This Is Not a Love Story.” Received by the author, 11 Apr. 2020.

Hinds, Gareth. “Romeo and Juliet.” Gareth Hinds, 2018, www.garethhinds.com/wp/romeo-and-juliet/.

Jones, Patrick. “Author Interview: Patrick Jones.” Interview conducted by Charlotte Kirton. Finch Blog, Finch Books, 12 Feb. 2016, www.finch-books.com/blog/author-interview-patrick-jones.

—. “An Interview with Patrick Jones.” Interview conducted by Jessi Shulte-Honstad. Teen Librarian Toolbox, School Library Journal, 30 June 2015, www.teenlibrariantoolbox.com/2015/06/an-interview-with-patrick-jones-by-guest-blogger-jessi-schulte-honstad/.

—. “Unbarred Series.” Received by the author, 20 Apr. 2020.

McCall, Guadalupe Garcia. “Shame the Stars.” Received by the author, 19 Apr. 2020.

Myers, Walter Dean. “Reading Is Not Optional: An Interview with Walter Dean Myers.” Interview conducted by Amy Nathan. PEN America, 19 Mar. 2012, pen.org/reading-is-not-optional-an-interview-with-walter-dean-myers/.

Scott, David Meerman, and Reiko Scott. Fanocracy: Turning Fans into Customers and Customers into Fans. New York, Portfolio/Penguin, 2020.

Simeon, Laura. “Article Intro Notes.” Received by the author, 22 Apr. 2020.

Talley, Robin. “As I Descended: Author Robin Talley on Queer YA Retellings of Classic Stories.” Interview conducted by Dahlia Adler. BNTEENblog, Barnes & Noble, 16 Sept. 2016, www.barnesandnoble.com/blog/teen/as-i-descended-author-robin-talley-on-queer-ya-retellings-of-classic-stories/.

—. “Robin Talley: ‘It’s important for fiction to show the breadth of the world we live in.’” Interview conducted by Confessionsofabooklover. The Guardian, Guardian News & Media, 2 Nov. 2015, www.theguardian.com/childrens-books-site/2015/nov/02/robin-talley-interview-lies-we-tell-ourselves.

Thomas, Ebony E., and Amy Stornaiuolo. “Restorying the Self: Bending Toward Textual Justice.” Harvard Educational Review, vol. 86, no. 3, 2016, pp. 313-338, 473. ProQuest, https://search.proquest.com/.

Whitman, Walt. “O Me! O Life!” Leaves of Grass, 2008. The Gutenberg Project, www.gutenberg.org/files/1322/1322-h/1322-h.htm#link2H_4_0121. Accessed 20 Apr. 2020.

Winters, Cat. “The Time It Was about The Steep and Thorny Way.” Interview conducted by Stacee. Eleven Thirteen PM, 29 Feb. 2016, eleventhirteenpm.com/2016/02/the-time-it-was-about-the-steep-and-thorny-way.html.

Making the Case for Conversations in the Research Process

Years from now, when educational researchers evaluate how the restrictions of Covid changed classroom teaching, will experts discover that some of the most essential things about effective teaching remained constant and possibly blossomed in new ways?  Simultaneous in-class and distance-learning instruction poses a communication challenge for teachers and teacher librarians, but a recent Inventors project with 5th graders showed that making time for small conversations sparked the inquiry process and deepened understanding. Here are a few examples of how conversations led to “Eureka” moments for students as they researched inventors.

Launching Conversations with Short Videos
The Inventors research project provided wonderful opportunities for students to explore the Design Process. The below diagram was used as a touchstone as we began each class with a 10-minute exploration of how an inventor used the Design Process. The class discussion was launched by considering how the design of the spoon has changed over the years (from wood/bone to metal to plastic spoons), and students identified the plastic spoon’s merits (disposable/cheap) as well as adverse factors (non-degradable/environment hazard). Then students watched a video about an edible spoon created by Narayana Peesapathy, an inventor from India who created edible cutlery to lessen the problem of plastic waste in India landfills.

As students watched the video, they identified Empathy (problem of plastic waste), Ideas (several flavors; nutritious ingredients of millet and rice); Problems to solve (funding); and Testing (women workers provided samples of spoons to people in the streets of India). In class, students even received samples of edible spoons to taste.This initial inventor example promoted excited conversations and memorable connections to the Design Process.

Design Process

Other Inventor discussion starters included:
* Wind-powered Lego Car (video showed funding through a Twitter campaign)
*Thomas Edison’s Lab (video showed research lab is manned by experts in various fields)
*Lewis Latimer (video showed how inventors build on the ideas of others)

Modeling What Good Readers Do
Excerpt paragraphs from the Lemelson MIT website were used to model aloud what good readers do: clarify unfamiliar vocabulary and make connections to the text. The Visible Thinking Routine of Sentence, Phrase, Word was used by students to discuss important keywords to add to their notes. Using an article about Josephine Cochrane, inventor of the dishwasher, students discussed how Cochrane’s family and her education sparked her curiosity as an inventor, and they discovered how technology of the time (inadequate home water heaters and inferior soap) made Cochrane’s invention a success in hotels but not in households. It was not until 1950s when access to better water heaters and improvements in soap (as well as changing attitudes of women) made the dishwasher a success in the home. This was an important lesson that inventions and their importance can change over time. Science teacher Jan Fertitta was invaluable as she engaged students in classroom conversations to think more deeply about their inventors.

Connecting with Images and Primary Sources
Students expanded beyond text sources and located images using Britannica Image Quest and Advanced Google Searching (limiting search to site:.gov). Rather than just a portrait of the inventor, several students located patent designs or images that revealed more of the story of invention. One student discussed with me why she chose a particular painting image of Louis Pasteur. She explained that she chose the image because it showed one of his famous experiments to refute the theory of spontaneous generation. I thought that was an interesting comment, especially since the image caption did not provide that information. Later, while working with another student who was also researching Louis Pasteur, we located an article describing Pasteur’s experiment, and the experiment was indeed detailed accurately in the painting image: Pasteur is depicted with two flasks, one a closed-off swan neck flask that retained the sterile solution and the other an open flask with a cloudy solution, proving that bacteria in the air had contaminated the solution.

Louis Pasteur. Fine Art. Britannica ImageQuest, Encyclopædia Britannica, 25 May 2016.
quest.eb.com/search/107_3348341/1/107_3348341/cite. Accessed 8 Feb 2021.

Promoting Peer Conversations
Our current cohort classrooms have made facilitating peer conversations a challenge. To facilitate collaboration,the Language Arts teacher, Caroline Ferguson, has used Zoom breakout rooms as a helpful means for students to meet across cohorts (and with distance learners) for peer critiques and conversations during the research project. Students used CoSpaces to develop interactive digital scenes to present important aspects of the inventor/invention process. Students shared their developing CoSpace scenes with each other through Zoom breakout rooms, which promoted engaging and helpful conversations about good design, clear communication, and incorporating specific details from their research notes. One student was developing a digital scene about Jacques Cousteau and a thought bubble had simply stated: “I know, I will create the Aqualung.” After a small conversation and encouragement to use details from her notes, she edited the thought bubble to add specific details about the problem (see below). Students enjoyed the digital storytelling of CoSpace scenes.

Defining the Problem

Making Connections Among Inventors
Students used Graphic Organizers to develop 5 scenes for their Inventor CoSpace, and students made interesting connections as they added ideas to their graphic organizers. One student noted that her inventor, Milton Hershey, had his “Eureka” moment while attending the 1893 Chicago Exposition (World’s Fair), and that another student’s inventor, Josephine Cochrane, won an award for her dishwasher at this same Chicago Exposition. We both marveled that this must have been an exciting opportunity for inventors to share their new inventions and get new ideas. Students who researched Black Inventors (such as Garrett Morgan, Madam C.J. Walker, Charles Richard Drew, and Patricia Bath) discovered that in addition to their inventions, these inventors had a lasting impact by working for social change that would help the Black community.

All of these opportunities for conversations, whether in full class settings, teacher-student conferences, or peer communications via Zoom, promoted an insightful exploration of inventors. The Art of Communication to guide and deepen inquiry is a valuable tool in the research process.


Last week, when the alert I set in my calendar popped up to remind me I had an AISL bog due this week, I thought “okay, I’ll do some thinking, get an idea, and write something up this weekend.” And I thought. And thought. But no ideas came. At least none that I liked. I didn’t want to write about the challenges of this year, but it’s also the major thing on my mind. 

We’ve done some cool community-building projects this year, but our instructional program has taken a real hit with our revised schedule. For a variety of reasons, we moved to a semester-based schedule this year, which means that previously year-long classes are now being taught in a semester. One of the impacts of this is that a number of research projects have been cut or curtailed. And while I know that constraints breed creativity, the reality of the constraints of our schedule has meant that there is just not the time necessary for in-depth research. It also means I’ve had fewer opportunities to collaborate and brainstorm with teachers, which is one of my favorite parts of the job.

One of the other changes that came with our new schedule is the introduction of some new electives, including a 9th-grade course focused on the Middle East. This was my opportunity! The course had a lot more flexibility than other classes, and the teacher is a willing collaborator. So, Tuesday afternoon, as I was still struggling to brainstorm a topic for this blog post, I sat down to brainstorm with this teacher.

And it was so much fun! I have all sorts of strategies and methods for brainstorming with teachers (some of my favorites come from Project Zero’s Thinking Routines Toolbox), but this time we just had a one-on-one conversation where we built on each other’s ideas. I kept my research instruction menu open in the background so I could connect our ideas to the skills we’re hoping to teach. 

One of the goals we established right away is that we don’t want students to think of the Middle East only as “a place with problems” but to understand it in all of its richness and complexity. Given that this class may not have been every student’s first choice, we also wanted to build in some opportunities for them to feel more agency in their learning.

With those goals in mind, here’s what we’re thinking about so far. More brainstorming to do, and would love to hear any ideas you have!

  • Each student (or pair of students) will pick a country to become an expert on. This will allow us to do research tasks of different sizes at multiple points. Students can learn the history of a country, share current events, delve into the art and culture of a country, etc.
  • As a way to frame the research about their country, and as a way to develop some questioning skills, the class will generate the questions they’ll pursue answers to for their country study.
  • I’m hoping to find a way to incorporate (socially-distanced) write arounds as a way of developing background knowledge and thinking about multiple perspectives
  • This seems like a great opportunity to do some work with students on source types. This tends to be very abstract for my students, particularly at the younger grades. I have been wanting to do a source deck activity since I first read about them, but never seemed to be the right opportunity – until now! I’m still thinking about a topic, but would love any suggestions.

All these ideas need some more refining and planning, but it was exciting to be creative without constraints for a little while – and to get my brain storming in more productive ways.