Word of the day is sprezzatura

I imagine I’m not the only blogger who plans and drafts ahead of the deadline. I have debated completely revising today’s post, which I wrote early last month. I decided I’m not going to do that. That said, in rereading what I wrote, the me of 6 weeks ago is not the me of today. First off, I had a library I biked to every morning and a routine that included chapels and senior speeches. How quotidian that was then, and how foreign that feels now. We have no clue when we are returning to school or the lasting impact COVID-19 will leave on our schools, our country, and the world. In happier news, I had totally forgotten even applying for the grant. More seriously, we’ve gone 180 degrees on mental health, from worry about kids who had scheduled 28 hours of activities, jobs, courses, and test prep into a 24 hour day to worry about those same teens sitting in their houses on screens for at least a month nonstop.

But I think the topic of the post, avoiding sprezzatura, is more important now than ever before. I am so proud to be a leader of AISL, and I have been so impressed with the ways that AISL members have stepped up to help each other and their schools over the past few weeks! THANK YOU for creating libguides, sharing resources, and asking the questions that are allowing us to successfully move our libraries virtual without much time to plan. It is obvious that you care about your students, your teachers, and the field of librarianship. I will say personally that I’m having a lot of difficulty with work-life balance, simply because I care so much and it feels good to do something. And there’s no physical reminder that I’m not at work. All the time. I wanted to share that because I sense from our continued conversations that I’m not the only one feeling overwhelmed. I am really proud of the board, and especially our Tech Coordinator Claire Hazzard, for quickly pulling together the Zoom chats. I was surprised at how quickly I smiled as I tuned into the first one and saw so many faces I recognized, offering support and providing connection. We plan to continue these for at least the next week or two, or as long as members find them helpful. After a meeting yesterday, my teacher husband said, “it’s like we’re all first year teachers again.” We care a lot, we’re working really hard, and we still have a lot to learn. And we are definitely better as a result of the collaborative nature of AISL. Here’s the original post:


Hi, I’m Christina Pommer, AISL President and relentless perfectionist. (Am I writing this at 7:30pm on a Friday night as a “break” from reading student essays? Yes, yes I am.) Unfortunately, I’m also a bad perfectionist.

All of our seniors have to give a chapel speech that shares something of importance to them with the school community, and I have a running list of topics and partially-written speeches that will never be given because the message would be lost in my terror of speaking into a microphone.

In January, Gus gave one of the most meaningful and memorable speeches I’ve heard in a decade of listening to senior speeches twice a week. He was eloquent. His tone was perfect. And I learned a new vocabulary word that all high school teachers should know: sprezzatura-the art of studied carelessness. (Translation: Doing well without looking like you’ve tried.)

Here’s the gist of the speech. Despite what many high schoolers pretend, it’s important to care and it’s important to try. And he struck a balance of eloquence and humor, with a tone that didn’t alienate his classmates. It was the message I needed to hear that day.

“Now, in the very constrained world of high school, what we do with our time has very little to do with what we care about–instead mostly having to do with what parents, teachers, and colleges care about–but someday their influence will wane, and we will all be completely responsible for what we do with our lives.(Instead of looking to others) we will have to turn to ourselves and decide what we care about and then own up to that, proudly saying that “I do this because I care about doing this, and doing it well.”

“I hope that there is something each and every one of you does care about. I urge you all to care unashamedly, unreservedly, about something, about anything, just care.”

Two weeks previously, I had applied for a grant related to information literacy. It was hard to even admit I cared, that I wanted to do well, that I wanted it…or that I deserved it.

One of the pieces of the application that simultaneously intrigued and terrified me was the small print about “optional supporting materials. How cool to have the opportunity to share presentations, images, and publications. But how? There were no instructions about how to submit anything beyond the application form, essay, and letters of recommendation. I decided to incorporate these optional materials into my essay at the appropriate points, allowing readers to see examples of my actual work, much like Wikipedia readers might click on the hyperlinks of an article. Because I get so concerned about losing formatting in electronic submissions, my final task after proofreading and checking all links was to convert all documents to pdfs.

Two weeks later brings us to the morning of Gus’s speech. A freshman asked a question about a hyperlink that wouldn’t open from a pdf. Shifting immediately to panic mode, I wanted to check my own submission. Instead, using all willpower I possess to focus on the task at hand, we found the link on a general web search.  Then I opened my own document and clicked on the first link. And the second. And the third. I was offered the option to highlight. To strikethrough. To add a note. But not to open any links. I returned to the Word document and the links worked as anticipated. Knowing myself, in 100 times of checking, I never would have added the step to check the pdf. It’s always the last thing I do before submissions.

I was late to chapel because I was writing the committee. Better to at least let them know that my application hadn’t submitted as I had intended. This at least stopped my own wondering about the reception. A response was waiting a few hours later.

This is the time when I tell you this was all occurring two weeks before the announcement of the winner, giving me time to write most of this post as a way of processing my disappointment, while simultaneously imagining a scenario in which the nonfunctional links didn’t matter and I was the best candidate. Please tell me I’m not alone in living in two dichotomous worlds, though at the end of those two weeks I learned for certain I didn’t win.

As with many of your schools, our school is increasingly looking at the mental health of our students; what’s stressing them out and what’s making their days happier. Since beginning conversations with the team at Challenge Success, we are discussing how to limit the bad kind of stress while teaching students to cope with eustress. Was my experience the former, or was it the latter? It was a technological learning point for me, one I won’t soon forget. Sometimes a spelling erorr in a resume can cost you an interview, a traffic snarl can keep you from arriving at an interview on time, or too many “umms” can keep you from getting the job. These are real consequences.

Which returns me to sprezzatura. It’s nice to wake up with hair that looks perfectly blown out. How convenient to be on the lacrosse team that happened to win by 10 points last night. The themes of Gatbsy just flowed from your pen, earning you an A on your ICW.  It’s harder to care, and to admit to that you care, to talk about the time spent with a blowdryer, running drills, or annotating the text.

Or from Gus:

Every time somebody flexes that they aced a test without worrying about it, chalks an impressive goal up to luck and not the hours of practice they put in, or dismisses some club or extracurricular as being solely about the college app grind and not, on some level, a genuine passion, they’re employing sprezzatura . Faking carelessness like this necessarily means denying the part of yourself that really does care and losing yourself to your artificial air of nonchalance. Without caring about anything, you might avoid embarrassing yourself, you might seem cool, but you certainly won’t know any real success, feel any real satisfaction, either. If no part of your life means anything to you, your life is, in the most literal sense, meaningless.

AISL members have responded in the past with a sense of recognition when bloggers have shared their own vulnerabilities. It’s hard for me because it goes against that effortlessness that is modeled in so many corners of society. I have told students for years that the single piece of writing that stood out to me the most in four years of high school English was Joan Didion’s On Self Respect. In hindsight, I wonder both how much of it I understood and how much of my identity had already been set by age seventeen. This is my public declaration that I care about librarianship and specifically information literacy, and I put in the effort, and at the end of the day in this case it wasn’t enough. And that’s okay.

Staying Connected

The coronavirus crisis has prompted rapid intervention by schools, and long distance learning has challenged educators and teacher librarians to develop meaningful instruction and learning activities.  One key concern is how to stay connected with students and engage them in learning beyond fill-in-the blank worksheets. Librarians are resource experts: our websites and LibGuides organize collections of ebooks, audiobooks, databases, and recommended websites. Finding information is easy; engaging with the information and making personal connections is the real challenge for student learning.

One of our national treasures, The Smithsonian Institution, is encouraging students to explore art, artifacts, and videos to build connections and deepen learning through thoughtful conversations.  The Smithsonian Learning Lab’s new GoGlobal modules highlight items from the Smithsonian’s collections; these modules were developed by educators for a variety of subject areas and grade levels. To support student inquiry, the learning activities incorporate Visible Thinking routines and Global Thinking routines from Harvard Project Zero.

Vincent Van Gogh: The Starry Night. Oil on canvas, 1889.. Fine Art. Britannica ImageQuest, Encyclopædia Britannica, 25 May 2016.
quest.eb.com/search/140_1643097/1/140_1643097/cite. Accessed 18 Mar 2020.

How can looking closely at Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Night reveal ideas about the science of stars? Explore Sandra Vilevac’s Grade 4 Beliefs Unit that uses Van Gogh’s painting Starry Night to launch a discussion on how the night sky has influenced belief systems. Using a thinking routine called Beauty and Truth, students ponder how beauty (art) can reveal truths or, at times, conceal truth. It is surprising how accurately Vincent’s turbulent, glowing sky depicts images from the Hubble telescope. This learning module provides additional activities, such as animated video stories of the origins of stars from belief systems of the Mohawk, “The Never Ending Bear Hunt,” and Chippewa, “The Fox and the Stars.” For example, students might ponder Beauty and Truth in the story of “The Fox and the Stars”; this story describes why the stars have the appearance of being scattered in the sky and yet one can also detect patterns of star formations.

How can environmental artwork prompt us to social action? Aleah Myers’s GoGlobal learning module, Environmental Advocacy through Art, provides many art forms for students to examine and then challenges students to create their own artwork that will encourage society to protect the environment. Students might view the riveting environmental artwork, El Antusi’s sculpture Erosion, to evaluate perspectives with Step In, Step Out, Step Back thinking routine:

1. Develop empathy with an artist’s message (Step In) 
2. Clarify what you might need to investigate to understand the message better
(Step Out)
3. Reflect on your own perspective and “what it takes to take somebody else’s (perspective)” (Step Back)

Students can then watch the Smithsonian video that discusses the layers of meaning in this sculpture Erosion

These are just a few examples of the GoGlobal learning modules that encompass art, music, culture, science, history, and social action. These resources and thinking routines may spark ideas to connect your students in engaging discussions. Whether your distance learning takes the structure of embedded content in library websites, screencasts, school discussion boards, shared Googledocs, GoogleMeet, or Flipgrid, consider exploring some of the thought-provoking collections of the Smithsonian with the goal of guiding students in discussions that deepen inquiry through Visible Thinking and Global Thinking routines.

Publishing Your Distance Learning Experience

Distance Learning Search Results at Medium.Com

School Library Journal: Mental Health and Distance Learning

NAIS Tips for Setting Up Distance Learning

AASL SmartBrief March 17, 2020

Edutopia Distance Learning

Content, content, content.

As we embark on Distance Learning, Remote Learning, At-Home Learning, school librarians stand poised to support students, parents, faculty, administration, and additional learning community members in this massive undertaking. Most of us are in traditional day or boarding settings where the routine largely involves socially interacting on a schedule, operating together in the comforting physical environment of a school and learning both using digital tools and physical ones in the classroom and library.

Fast forward to right now: all of us are either already or about to embark on distance learning. Every one of us — no matter where we are on the remote services contiuum — is having to practice and learn new technology skills in order to serve our learning communities. We are supporting our faculties, we are loading resources, we are obtaining free content and deploying it to relevant audiences, we are curating our collections! We are doing what we do best, but with truly brand new flair.

This means content. You are working widely and diligently on what you love — and there is an audience for your experience and expertise.

Consider keeping a journal, watch how you post to social media, categorize how you find your skillsets largely utilized during this time. There is valuable material in there which could find its way onto a public platform!

Submissions instructions for a few publications that may have a home for this kind of work:


AASL Knowledge Quest


School Library Journal

We Are Teachers

Book Links

School LIbrary Connection

Your AISL Publication Group is here to support your publication goals! We are happy to sound-board your ideas, review a draft, or assist with finding a great home for your writing.

The Publication Group

Debbie Abilock: dabilock@gmail.com

Tasha Bergson-Michelson: tbergsonmichelson@castilleja.org

Christina Karvounis: KarvounisC@Bolles.org

Sara Kelley-Mudie: sara.kelleymudie@gmail.com

Cathy Leverkus: cathyl@thewillows.org

Alyssa Mandel: amandel@oda.edu

Nora Murphy: NMurphy@fsha.org

Creating a new story… from a distance: School library services during a shift to the digital library

Our schools, in Ohio, have started the impromptu, unanticipated three-week switch to online learning to prevent the spread of COVID-19 by order of the Governor. Our amazing teachers are working tirelessly to create meaningful educational connections for our students through online platforms and screens. Although this seems both unimaginable and daunting to our teachers, we are in this together. Each day brings more uncertainty and changes adding stress to our whole community, especially our students. I hope this post can bring some peace to these stressful times.

Our public libraries have also closed to the communities, and now we, school librarians, are the only direct connection to library services for our students. As difficult as this unexpected project is for teachers, it may seem impossible to provide school library services to teachers and students from afar. The question of “How?” has worried me as school library services rely heavily on the concrete physical library.

But I know that librarians are tough!

We are motivated!

We are problem-solvers!

We are book worms and information dragons!

It is easy to fall into a state of misery when there is so much unknown. But a librarian never says “I don’t know,” we say “I’d be happy to help you find the information.” We just have to keep in mind that research often does not provide a direct answer but rather it allows you to make a hypothesis and to create an educated experiment to find an answer.

There is not yet a specific answer to the question, “How do I provide school library services from home?” But the librarian in me is not satisfied with “I don’t know.” So together let’s experiment for the next few weeks of a shift to the digital library. As you connect with your teachers and students in this new platform, share your successes, discuss your struggles, celebrate your students, and engage with other librarians who also are trying to find the answer to being an “online school librarian.” 

Embrace this change with open arms. While our school libraries are integral to school life, our librarians are essential resources for our teachers. Our role as librarians does not change in an online platform; take this opportunity to engage with your teachers and share yourself as a resource. More so now than ever, our teachers and students will need their school librarians to be the guides through information overload.

In this forum, I do not have to promote the importance of reading during time away from the physical classroom. But it is so important that I will ask you to remind your teachers and students’ families to encourage reading. They can read to them, read on a device, read a magazine, stream audiobooks / read-aloud videos, read nonfiction, read instructions, read recipes, etc. This will be the biggest benefit for building connections between families and students not falling behind.

In addition, here are some connections and suggestions that I hope to try during our shift to the digital library. I plan to update this post with my observable data.  

Some background information on my specific experience:

  • an Early Childhood to 12th-grade school
  • all girls K-12
  • co-ed ages under five
  • 3 librarians, I specifically support under age 3, third and fourth-grade library classes, and fifth through eighth-grade flexible research and leisure reading
  • a robust curated collection of physical and digital resources
  • access to technology was offered to all students by the school
  • fourth through twelfth-grade students are familiar with an online-based Blackbaud system already used in the classroom

Worthwhile experiments benefit from prior knowledge. What do I already have in my toolbelt? Start with what you have created and saved.

  • Revisit your personal creations. Did you create booktalk videos that you could reuse? Do you have favorite library activities that could easily be adapted to at-home play?
  • Have students interact with your OPAC. Through our OPAC, our students can write comments/reviews for books. Suggest to an English teacher that this tool could be used as an interactive assessment.
  • What databases does your library subscribe to? Do you have an accessible online list? Be sure to include any off-campus usernames and passwords in an obviously visible way
  • Are your databases organized well for this new 100% online platform? Our alphabetical list of databases worked great in the classroom but with less direct instruction adding a layer of “Age Level” is now helpful to teachers and students.
  • Explore your current databases under a new lens: What would be beneficial to online learning vs. in the classroom? I found that our current databases have interactive experiments and even digital timeline creators. Teachers might just need a reminder that these tools are there. 
  • Our teachers are inundated with resources, many of which the library may have already vetted for your school- share with your teachers what is the most user-friendly for each age level.
  • Check out subscription resources that are now free in this situation. Ask your teachers what programs they use in class that you might help advocate for access. ABCMouse is a resource to which we had limited on-campus access, it has now become temporarily free.
  • Remind families of public library digital resources like Libby, by Overdrive. Even work with your public library to provide digital access for online resources.

Embrace the oxymoron: Use the technology, limit the screen time. Most of my lessons and activities will not be videos, websites, or even based on a screen. They don’t even need to have a digital assessment. Treat the device as a medium of communication. 

  • Be defenders of unplugged, unscheduled child-led free time. Boredom is a learned skill. Creativity and imagination bloom in times of quiet boredom. Authors and illustrators are born in boredom.
  • Provide prompts for students to handwrite or illustrate a story
  • Reading Bingo (modify a summer reading bingo or create your own)
  • Design a new room decoration inspired by a favorite book or literary character
  • Make their own secret language and create a translation key
  • Create a new ending to a fairytale
  • Partner read (switch every paragraph / page)
  • Track number of books read at home with a custom thermometer 
  • Build a new literary world with legos or other materials
  • If your library includes a maker space, brainstorm a new invention that could be printed from a 3D printer
  • Encourage reading aloud between students and parents/siblings/pets
  • Reread a favorite story on your bookshelf, did you experience something new? 
  • Try to read for ten minutes in every chair in your house.

Focus on passion and connection. Move information and curriculum in a way that is amusing for you and your students!

  • If storytime in the library is your jam, there is no reason storytime can’t continue online. My co-librarian is creating amazing interactive storytime videos that will be posted just for her students to enjoy. She even included the pauses in her normal greeting, song, and wiggle rhyme so that students can respond!
  • I plan to video at home booktalks while including my pets: a german shepherd, corn snake, and painted turtle. I believe that acknowledging that I too am at home can be a comforting connection.
  • Share how you are moving time along. How are you accessing eBooks or audiobooks? Are you discovering the joy of self-care or organization? Relate these activities to habits your students too can build. 

As for lessons, add joy; there is no better time to make your students giggle through a lesson. With online learning, focus on skills and habits rather than content.

  • Teach alphabetical order and shelving by asking them to organize a random collection from A-Z, share your reaction as they return images of alphabetized cereal boxes, stuff animals, or maybe even Skylander figurines! 
  • Discover virtual field trips 
  • Discuss the differences in genres by having students imagine the story through a different genre lens. How would the iconic mystery And Then There Were None be different as a romantic comedy?
  • Develop the basics of research while discovering information about ice cream or bowtie noodles.
  • Encourage author videos like Doodles with Mo Willems
  • Create two-line scary stories
  • Practice poetry by attempting to speak in rhymes all day
  • Storytime and read aloud:
    • Read a story with an element of food and then cook/bake that item
    • Create a rap/song for a book
    • Encourage families to create a new reading nook in their home and share the image of family reading time. 
    • Retell a story with hand shadows/shadow puppets
    • Turn silly stories into a “Try not to laugh” challenge. Wonky Donkey by Craig Smith comes to mind!

Mistakes will be made by both you and your students. Do not let that stop you from trying something new.

  • Step back and remember that students are NOT digital natives, they are adventurous. Just like they are willing to jump off a high flying swing, they are willing to use new technology but they might still bruise their knees before getting it right. My fourth graders reminded me of this when I took them to the public library computer lab for the first time and I had to start with a step by step lesson on “what a computer mouse was.”
  • Create a community of empathy. This is all new to you, to your teachers, to parents, and to students. If your teachers are overwhelmed, offer to create step by step instructions/videos for resources. 
  • If something doesn’t work the first time, it doesn’t mean it is trash. This is why experiments have many trials and include discussion of changes and struggles. 

Librarians still have an obligation to intellectual freedom, copyright, advocacy, equity, diversity, and inclusion. 

  • Encourage equity, diversity, and inclusion throughout your lessons and recommendations. Think about not only the internet and computer access but printer access. Can I provide resources that are accessible in multiple formats? Are my instructions accessible to students of all abilities?  
  • Families often make overarching decisions for their students concerning information access, belief systems, and values. Many students find safety in books that may be starkly different than their family background. While they are home, how are we creating safe spaces for them to continue to discover their own sense of self? I need help solving this “How?” question.
  • Build up parents. They too are stressed and will be learning with your students. Do not fall into the assumption that parents will understand directions. Family barriers including language, level of education, work obligations, and disability will impede your students. Breathe and remember this is not within their control. 
  • Continue to be a defender of original expression. Copyright still exists, and often authors are not the decision-makers. Many authors have posted to social media that their resources can be made available to students by reading aloud. Be sure to double-check with the copyright holder and terms of Fair Use before providing these resources to students.

Offer faculty social-emotional support

  • Recognize the possibility for equity imbalance; reach out to teachers that may not have the internet at home. 
  • Provide adult activity lists for those stuck in their homes (best books to binge and shows to stream)
  • Offer suggestions for the best children’s books for teachers to read (two of my favorite being Fish in a Tree and Song for a Whale)
  • Whether introverted or extroverted, our everyday relationships are changing. We need to actively reach out to our work friends, all of our coworkers, check in on them and attempt to create the same normalcy we are creating for our students. 

This is my call to action as we write our new story as Online School Librarians: experiment and share!  This network of librarians has always comforted me; you are all superheroes of information for your schools but also for me. I feel that within our listservs, forums, and social media groups, librarians have created a utopia of an online safe space. Our librarian groups allow for mistakes to be made, for concerns to be voiced, for opinions to be shared in a way that is both respectfully educating for individual growth and actively protecting oppressed parties. As you connect with your students in this new platform, highlight your successes, dialog your struggles, salute your students, and connect with other librarians who also are trying to find the answer to being an “online school librarian.” 



A rose by any other name

I recently wrote an article for our school newsletter and in doing so, struggled with how best to refer to myself (job title: librarian) and my colleagues (job titles: library assistants).  I ultimately went with “library team” as it acknowledged how I view us collectively, while allowing me to conveniently sidestep the issue.

Which apparently is something to do with the fact that I am very proud of being a librarian; graduate school was tough and I feel that I earned the title – plus it is my official job title. In the same vein, my two colleagues hold the official title of “library assistant”.  Why do I worry that this somehow implies something negative? That the definition of them being people “who rank below a senior person” (OED), while technically accurate, is demeaning? Or that someone might think they’re my assistants? I too rank below a senior person (and had a short but satisfying stint as an assistant in my former corporate life), so what’s my problem? 

This issue came up in a workshop discussion at a recent library conference. I learned that there had been a big dustup about an association-level document referring to anyone working in a school library as “library workers”.  Some people were upset about not being referred to as librarians; others were upset about teacher librarians and ‘non-professionals’ being lumped in with professional librarians. “Library workers” seemed to be a good example of a compromise that satisfied no one.

So when does a title matter within our school community? I guess when putting the staff directory together. Certainly when the buck stops with me regarding a sticky issue. And absolutely in terms of compensation and being viewed as a stakeholder. But when it comes to our students, most do not distinguish us by job title; to them, we are all librarians. At my school, they focus on the interaction rather than the title of person with whom they are interacting – is this the same for your schools?

I like the slightly facetious wording suggested by one person at the workshop: “all beating hearts who work in a school library in support of students”.  This doesn’t address my weirdness, but it does in some way reflect how I feel. Roses all 🙂

Spotlighting On Diverse Titles in Your Collection Development

Recently there have been many articles on evaluating our collections and adding to them so diverse voices can be heard. In the last edition of Booklist 2/1/20 (pp. 36-37) they listed all the book awards that ALA gives out to recognize books devoted to some form of diversity. In addition, a more expansive list of these children’s book awards can be found here: ala.org/alsc/awardsgrants/bookmedia/childrens-book-awards-other-organizations

So in our school we decided to start focusing on various PLC (Professional Learning Communities) and one of them is to develop a bibliography, as well as individual lesson plans for teachers on a variety of topics. I am on a group of third and fourth grade teachers as weel as a Spanish teacher. All of the information we collect will be available on a Google Drive so it can be continually updated and easily accessible. The topics we chose include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Poverty
  • Disability/Special Needs
  • Small Acts of Kindness/Inclusion
  • Immigrants/Refugees
  • Civil Rights
  • Gender Stereotypes

We decided to focus only on using picture books, since they could be read in one class period. We are using  books that we have in the library, as well as in individual classroom libraries. The titles will be listed under those various topics along with the location, ( Dewey Number) or classroom number, for easy access. They can also be found by searching the actual keywords (topics) in our Destiny catalog. We also developed a form for the lesson plan, so teachers can have an easy access lesson to use at their fingertips. It includes the title, author, a focus skill, opening, read aloud, discussion, vocabulary and extension (enrichment).

The focus skill could be:

  • Inferring
  • Visualizing
  • Questioning/Evaluating
  • Making Connections
  • Determining Importance
  • Synthesizing
  • Symbolism
  • Cause & Effect
  • Plot/Theme
  • Identifying Main Idea & Details
  • Compare & Contrast
  • Classify & Categorize
  • Draw Conclusions
  • Determine Fact & Opinion
  • Describe Figurative Language
  • Identify Genre
  • Identify Point of View
  • Make Predictions
  • Sequence Events
  • Describe Story Structure
  • Identify Explicit Information in Non-Fiction Text
  • Summarize

As librarians we can also take it a step further and add our information literacy skills:

  • Brainstorming and webbing
  • Questioning
  • Keyword searching
  • Skimming and Scanning
  • Determining Information Gaps
  • Making Notes
  • Analyzing Text for Perspective or Bias
  • Citing Evidence
  • Summarizing
  • Synthesizing From Multiple Sources

The goal is to enrich the collection with materials that will cover all topics of diversity and make lessons easier for teachers to access. Perhaps some of these ideas can work in your schools and libraries, too. It is one way collaboration is working for me!

It’s About Purpose

As we get closer to the end of the year, increasingly frayed nerves, and AP testing, I again try to come up with a meaningful plan of what to do with the students that teachers randomly send to the library during their class time. You know the ones: perhaps they are known as “troublemakers,” or perhaps it is just entire classes who have completed their AP testing and now the teacher doesn’t know what to do with them. In the past when I have questioned such decisions (because the teacher certainly does not come to the library with them or provide a project…or notice), the teacher explains, “Well, they said they wanted to come to the library.”

Um, yeah. Of course they did. (Wouldn’t you rather be in the library, relatively unsupervised, with nothing specific to accomplish?) This year, however, I want to be intentional with purpose. What is the purpose of a teacher sending a student (or their entire class) to the library: for them to work on a project or for the teacher to get a break? What is the purpose of the library during the time when the students trickle in: academic, student union, etc.?

I’ve decided my best course of action, besides asking the Principals to request that teachers keep their students in their classrooms, is to clarify a teacher’s purpose when/if they send an unsupervised class to the library. For example, do they need the students to work on a project and therefore need my help? It’s a complicated dichotomy: I love helping students, and I always want them to feel welcome. However, I also do not want other faculty to view the library as “free babysitting.” Otherwise, I end up with all the AP classes, yearbook, photography, orchestra, etc. classes all in here at the same time without their instructor or a defined purpose.

Has anyone else tackled this issue? (I hope it’s not just me.) What did you do?

I’ll let you know how it goes…

The Next Logical Step

Our third graders have officially entered into the realm of coding in the library. Many students have experience either through summer camp programs or on their own at home with coding, but few have explored the basic skills of coding,  namely logic and problem solving. If you search the Internet for coding activities your browser will burst with new online programs, some free some not, that teach young students how to program. However, often a very important skill is overlooked, that of really thinking like a programmer. To become true coders students need to learn to think logically and to problem solve. Students who lack these skills will often become frustrated as the programs they envision do not become reality. This is because students consider programming bugs to be problems within the computer instead of what they are, a mistake made by the person writing the code, the programmer.

This means that we start coding off the computer. Our third graders are working on their logical thinking and problem solving skills. In addition we emphasize that computers are not really smart, rather it is the person creating the program with the real brains. A computer will do nothing it is not instructed to do. Our first lesson was having students create simple pictures using lines and colors. They then had to create instruction cards for another member of the class to replicate the same picture. This lead to much laughing but through the merriment students were lead to understand that it was not the person following the instructions, but rather the instructions themselves which were bugged. This lead to interesting conversation about how they could have made the code simpler, easier to follow and was the order of the directions correct? How did a person know where to put the yellow line?

We followed this activity with another short pairing we called Caller and Drawer. Paired students were given a picture made with shapes. Sitting back to back, one student called out instructions on how to create the picture, while the other student drew the shapes with the directions. Again, there was much hilarity as the students shared their pictures, however, this time students were working much harder to get their ideas across. We discussed how clear, short directions were most effective. As a bonus, this also lead to a discussion about how we all communicate a little differently and that we need to be open to each other and seek to listen to understand.

Presently, the students are applying their skills to board games. We have grouped the students into fours with some groups playing Mouse Mania while others are playing Make’n’Break. The Mouse Mania is a simple straight forward coding game, however, we have used the adapted version of the rules for Make’n’Break. Similar to the Caller and Drawer game. Students played in pairs and worked to have their partner build the image they were assigned on the card.

The students are really enjoying the game play even as I continue to circle back emphasizing the skills they are learning through the play. Because students want to become better players, they are listening to advice and thinking more about how they can more logically approach their tasks. The students will be moving onto the online coding application, Scratch, in a few weeks, once they have time to establish and build some basic skills.

As with all skill development and mastery, some students will cement the skills very quickly while others will establish mastery at their own rate. Giving ample opportunity for the game play followed by discussion provides practice for students. This is a new way of introducing coding skills for me, so I am excited to see how these students approach Scratch, compared with classes I’ve taught in the past.

Deselecting the Guilt (About Weeding)

When it comes to collection development, I love weeding almost as much as selecting new titles. Actually, I may enjoy it more. I love it so much that sometimes I feel guilty. Not because of the uncertainty that is sometimes involved, but because it is so much fun and so satisfying. I worry that my weeding endeavors are a form of librarian procrastivity. I feel like there must be something more important I should be doing at that moment for my students or program.

Depending on the day, well, there very well may be. However, weeding is really important and easy to ignore and put off. It also has an impact beyond collection management and making room for new materials. While the library is more than the collection, the collection is a visible, tangible, and obvious sign of the care we are showing to our school and students. It is probably the first thing people think of when they hear “library,” for better or for worse. Prospective families get glimpses of it on tours. Teachers see it when they bring their students for exploration or information gathering sessions. If we haven’t weeded, they notice – along with their student who’s interested in a topic for which all of our books are dusty, decades-old, and written exclusively from a white cisgender heterosexual male perspective. Not only is collection management in itself a key piece of our responsibility to our students and our schools, but it’s also an issue of advocacy, inclusivity, and ethics. We need to have what they need, but we also need to not have what they don’t need. Specifically, material that is outdated, incorrect, or potentially harmful and counterproductive to tending a library that is inclusive, anti-racist, and student-centered. We can collect all the new award winners and more, but those trolls in the stacks are still there if we don’t weed them out. I’m embarrassed when a student brings a book to the circulation desk that we shouldn’t have anymore, and I have to give them a disclaimer. What faith will they have in our library or future libraries if I wince at the age of their selection and don’t have something better to offer? 

So, I can’t feel guilty about my time spent weeding. The CREW Manual advises that it should be a continuous part of our work. After ten years at my school, I am starting to weed items that I purchased, which is sometimes a slightly bitter pill to swallow. But, like Marie Kondo, we have to thank these items for the purpose they served and say goodbye. We gain clean, tidy, appealing shelves, students who feel confident and comfortable with the books that were selected for them (not for their grandparents), and more space for what they need. I find it’s a great thing to do on Friday afternoon.

Making room for reading

I’ve long been intrigued by the idea of doing an All-School Read, but have also found the logistics of pulling something like that off a little daunting. And even though I would talk with colleagues about books that might make for great community reads, the idea of picking a book that could, in theory, appeal to everyone at my school seemed impossible. 

But I still wanted to do what I could to encourage reading for pleasure, and to use reading as a tool for community building. Thus, the faculty/student book clubs were born!

I decided to build on the strong relationships so many of our students have with their teachers, and to use those as a vehicle to promote reading for pleasure. A student who may not pick up a book on their own may be inspired to read if it means they get to hang out with one of their favorite teachers. 

I wanted to start small, so the plan was for the book groups to meet once, right after our December break. Our semester ends before the break, so in theory our students wouldn’t have work to do over the break, and would be more likely to have some time to read. 

My first step was to recruit faculty to lead these groups. I emailed faculty with the outline of the plan and some “recommended reads.” I tried to include a mix of fiction and non-fiction, as well as different genres of fiction. Many faculty chose one of these books, and some chose a title on their own. Much to my surprise, I had multiple faculty members volunteering to “sponsor” the same book, which was great! With a little more recruiting, I was able to get teachers from different departments in each book club.

We had some time during an assembly to announce the book clubs and for faculty members to make a pitch for the book they were sponsoring, and then sent a sign-up to students. There were tons of posters and announcements and displays as well in order to hype up the book clubs. 

And then, we read!

Overall, attendance at the book clubs was low, which was what I expected for an inaugural effort; but everyone (faculty and students) who participated really enjoyed both the books they read and the conversations they had. Much to my surprise, one of the most popular book clubs was for Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari. I could not have predicted that, but was delighted to see so many students connecting with a type of text they may not have the opportunity to read elsewhere in school.

More than having these book clubs themselves, my over-arching goal was to shift the conversation about reading. I know many high school librarians struggle to get students to read for pleasure, and often the narrative is that “kids don’t read anymore.” But they do! We know they do. But if the narrative is “kids don’t read” we make it less likely that more kids will want to pick up a book, and we de-legitimize the readers in our midst.

There were plenty of students who didn’t participate in the book clubs, but who made it a point to tell me about the books they had read over break. Having a public celebration of books and reading gave them an excuse to talk about books and to have that be celebrated. Giving reading the same space we afford to other pursuits in the school – academic, athletic, or artistic – helps shift the conversation about reading for pleasure.