What do you recommend?

One of the recurring tasks on my weekly to do list is to find a middle school student who wants to recommend a book – and it’s often one of the highlights of my week. Every week during Middle School meeting a student gets up to talk about a book they love and that they think their peers will enjoy as well.

The format is pretty simple. Students offer a couple of sentences about why they like the book, and who they would recommend it to. But it’s the conversation it takes to get to those sentences that I really love. I usually stop by a classroom looking for volunteers, and on good days I’m greeted by eager students who want to share a book. Sometimes it takes a touch more cajoling, but once I get one-on-one with a student they light up talking about the book they’re recommending. 

After we turn our conversation into a more concise format, we make a slide with the book cover and recommendation, and the student gets up during the meeting to share about the book. It’s a great opportunity for students to get some low-stakes public speaking practice too!

How about you? How do you have students share book recommendations?

on doing what we ask kids to do…

I hope that this post finds you well. This month I decided to try to switch things up, and try something completely different and out of my comfort zone. Nicole, my librarian partner here at Mid-Pacific, has been having 6th graders in our Library and Technology 6 “exploratory experience” course create screencasts to show what they know and have learned. In the spirit of doing what we ask our kids to do, I decided give a screencast a try here.

My post is not intended to be slick, professional, or fancy. It’s just me talking about what we’re trying to do and trying to learn in our library of late. I stumble over my words, look down at my notes much of the time, and… Yeah… Kinda seem like a bit of a confused mess at some points, but I recorded this in one take and we’ve been SUPER BUSY in the the library for the last few weeks so it is what it’s gonna be. Please take this for what it is!!! 🤣🤣🤣.

Hope that someone out there in Libraryland gets something helpful from it!!! 🤞😃🤞

And sorry for my embarrassingly slow talking!!! 🤣🤣🤣

A screencast on what we’ve been trying in our library–warts and all!!! Trying to practice what I preach. A “learning vlog” doesn’t need to be perfect. We just want to communicate what we’re thinking and learning. With that spirit in mind, here’s the vlog. I normally would’ve done this 25 times, but we’ve been busy in the library so I recorded this in one take and now I’m gonna force myself to hit publish. It is, what it is… 🤣🤣🤣

In case you’re interested in what a 6th grade screencast looks like, here’s a pretty amazing screencast from Emma. I’m sharing her work here with Emma’s (and mom’s) permission.

Finding recommended websites in the World Book database.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Autumn “Maker” Challenges

This year we are developing our maker curriculum to incorporate units of study for each grade level from K-4. Our team consists of the media specialist, the educational technologist,and the director of technology working together and we meet monthy to collaborate.
I started with grade 3 which studies simple machines. To kick off the unit, I made up a story with a building/design challenge. Using a pumpkin and ghost as my guests, students had to design a way to get them to the Halloween party on time. Working in groups and using a box for their building along with the supplies provided at each table, students needed to design a safe way to move the guests from the bottom floor to the top floor where the party was being held. It was very exciting to see how each group and each class tried to solve this challenge. At the end of the class period, each group demonstrated how their design worked and also discussed what did not work.

In K, I used another design idea of creating the tallest pumpkin tower using candy corn pumpkins and toothpicks. They also worked in groups and had rulers to measure the height and width of their structure. It was amazing how many different approaches were used and watching the students work together to build one structure. Each group presented their final design and it was recorded.

First graders enjoyed their time in the maker space as they individually created pumpkin launchers using real “small” pumkins as their base. Each child worked at a station using a bag of rubber bands, a plastic spoon, a real pumpkin, and a bucket of various size pom poms. I made targets and had yard sticks for them to shoot at to measure how far their pom poms would launch. They also had to test different size pom poms and track if their size was related to the distance they traveled. Each child was recorded as they did a demonstration and reported on what their tests revealed.



I  started with grade 3 before they started their unit on simple machines. To kick off the unit, I made up a story with a building/design challenge.  Using a pumpkin and ghost as my guests, students had to design a way to get them to the Halloween party on time. Working in groups and using a box for their building along with the supplies provided at each table, students needed to design a safe way to move the guests from the bottom floor to the top floor where the party was being held. It was very exciting to see how each group and each class tried to solve this challenge. At the end of the class period, each group demonstrated how their design worked and also discussed what did not work. 

In conclusion, I love working this into the curriculum units and believe that the students learn so much more with a "hands on" approach. When some of the students left the room they said,"This was fun." Isn't this the goal we are all trying to achieve??? Continue to make the learning fun...

May all of you enjoy the holiday season ahead with good health and surrounded by those you love.

An idea for the never-ending To-Do List

Looking around my desk, I am surrounded by lists: lists of library projects, quotes about reading for Instagram, titles I want to read, procedures to write up for Student Congress, faculty members to email, potential Advisory activities, PD opportunities. I am the queen of sticky note lists–they are stuck all over my desk, my paper planner (both inside and out), on my computer and piled in my top drawer. I’m surrounded by great ideas, but so often the immediate takes precedence and those great ideas remain two-dimensional, lifeless and flat like the paper on which they are written.

What if I carve out time, maybe one hour a week or two hours per month, to devote to one project, one idea, and see how far I can get with it? Progress after all is the result of consistency, not perfection. If I am consistent with spending focused time with one idea, slowly I’ll find success and be able to whittle down the to-do list.

This all sounds great, right? But what happens when I run into the inevitable stumbling block, the problem I can’t quite figure out my way around? Will I be able to keep persevering, pushing towards an answer, or will I throw up my hands and abandon the project? We all know the benefit of tapping into the collective wisdom of AISL through the listserv, but I wonder about taking it a step further–I envision meeting with a small group of librarians a few times during the school year who are each working on their own projects, strategizing and encouraging each other in turning those ideas into launched programs.

Here’s what I propose–a peer mastermind workgroup of AISL members who commit to meet online once a month to share their progress on their individual goals and who are willing to brainstorm with each other about solutions to any hurdles that may arise. I am not Type A enough to adhere to the mastermind structure set forth in this ACRL article by Susan A. Schreiner about professional mastermind groups, but some guidelines would have to be established along the lines of when and how long to meet and the structure of each session (i.e. each person has the floor for 15 minutes to share their progress and ask for input on roadblocks, etc.).

While this could feel clunky at the start, I’m willing to endure some awkwardness for the potential payoff of clarity, focus and helping each other grow in our practice as school librarians. If you, like me, are intrigued with this possibility and perhaps have an idea lurking on your to-do list that needs a little nudge to bring to fruition, I invite you to join me and share your thoughts here.

A Year of Library Programming

The beginning of the year flies by for all of us — new teachers, new students, new printing software, new staff, etc. At my library, the first six weeks hold the added burden of meeting with every junior as part of their US history thesis paper. Once the frenzy of these appointments dies down, we are ready to plunge into our library programming which focuses on fun ways to engage with students and employees, and we try to have at least one thing happening every month. Luckily, our administration supports our efforts with a generous “Special Programs” budget that allows us to not only run the programming but to offer prizes for many of them. Other librarians often ask for successful programming ideas, so I thought I would list this year’s schedule here.

OCTOBER

The Halloween Candy Jar is something the students adore. We mix it up by spending way too much time buying uniquely shaped jars and making sure we pack it with all different sizes of candy to make the guessing as challenging as possible. The winner gets the candy and the jar which has become the true prize among the students. 

NOVEMBER/DECEMBER

After we return from Fall Break (previously known as Thanksgiving;) the library delves head-first into our most anticipated and involved program of the year: 12 Days of Holiday Trivia. Every day we email out a new trivia question that in some way concerns books, authors, libraries, etc. Students and employees submit their answers daily via Google form, and those with all the correct answers at the end win a prize. Typically, this contest takes up all of the time between Fall and Winter break and takes a lot of prep, but everyone loves it — especially the adults.

JANUARY

We’ve messed around with a lot of different things during January, but last year the instructional librarian ran with an idea she had and it was a huge success that we are repeating this year: The Six Word Story Contest. We give students about 10 days to submit their stories via Google form. Last year she spoke with the English department and a number of teachers used the contest as an assignment which increased our submissions. She also asked a group of faculty members to act as a judging panel which was a lot of fun. 

FEBRUARY 

For Valentine’s Day we repeat the Candy Jar…we would love to not do the candy thing twice a year, but the students would probably riot. 

MARCH/APRIL

With March Break, this time of year moves fast, so some years we manage to fit something in, but honestly sometimes we don’t. We haven’t quite settled on a plan for this year, but every few years we run a Peeps diorama contest where we fill a table with crafting supplies, shoe boxes, and yes, Peeps. Students make dioramas of recognizable scenes from movies, books, etc. with Peeps as the characters, and we pick a few winners at the end. Full disclosure, some years this has been great and some a bust. We find this program works best when it is not done every year.

Some years we put out a bunch of poetry activities for National Poetry Month, such as magnetic poetry kits with large boards for students to play with them on. We have also had success with printing pages from famous books the students recognize (think Harry Potter) for blackout poetry. 

MAY

As the end of the year approaches, we all know there is really no time to run a real program. We keep a lot of fidget toys and crafty activities at our front desk all year — coloring bookmarks, stickers, Washi tape, etc. — but we ramp it up towards the end of the year as student stress increases. They love to spend a few minutes doing something creative and relaxing while chatting with whoever is behind the desk, and we love offering them a break. 

That list went fast — just like the school year! We find offering fun programming increases our campus exposure, gets students who may not interact with us regularly up to the desk, and adds a relaxing feature to our entire community. I hope this list sparks some ideas for you, and I’m happy to discuss any of these in more detail.

Tik Tok, Do Stop*

I’m sure many of you saw the headlines about TikTok being “the new search engine” for Gen Z. And if your colleagues are anything like mine, they wanted to talk to you about what it meant, how search works on TikTok, and if I would be changing any of my teaching strategies as a result. I had had several of these conversations before it suddenly occurred to me – was this even true? How was this determined? Why were we all so ready to believe this?

So I did what I tell students to do – I applied some SIFT strategies to this information. The first step, of course, being to Stop and pay attention to what my reaction to this story was – a reaction which can probably best be summed up by grandpa Simpson.

Okay, I’ve accounted for my biases. I saw this story in the New York Times and other publications I’m familiar with, so I didn’t spend much time Investigating the source. I did, however, have an inkling that my emotional reaction to this information might have been shared by some of the people (likely similar in age to me) who were reporting on this story. 

My efforts to Find trusted coverage were also pretty brief. This story had been in a lot of places – though I did notice that a lot of the stories relied on anecdotes. Hmmm…

Finally, I decided to Trace these claims to the original source. The source seems to be an interview with Google Senior Vice President Prabhakar Raghavan in which he said:

“In our studies, something like almost 40% of young people, when they’re looking for a place for lunch, they don’t go to Google Maps or Search,” he continued. “They go to TikTok or Instagram.”

Which is interesting! But is also very much not what was typically being reported. The story I linked to also goes on to note that the data isn’t public – another red flag. 

Mea culpa. 

Luckily enough, I was recently invited into a Chemistry class to do a lesson on evaluating popular science reporting and applying SIFT strategies to all those articles about what “a recent study found.” I was able to use this experience as an example, and talk to students about how my own biases and assumptions got in the way of my critical thinking. I love being able to talk with students about how I use the strategies I teach in my own day-to-day life. 

My own SIFT example I shared with students

The SIFT strategies are tremendously useful and I teach them all the time, but I’m realizing I often give short shrift to the Stop part of the process. For the lesson I did with the Chemistry class I asked student to specifically note the reaction they had to the story before doing any of the other steps. Looking at student reflections was fascinating, and gave me lots of insight into how students react to the sources they encounter – I will not, however, be turning these anecdotes into a story for the New York Times. 🙂

  • With apologies to Ke$ha

When our readers are writers

Today kicks off National Novel Writing Month–NaNoWriMo–and provides me, at least, with the chance to think about readers and writers–consumers and producers of books and information. In my past life as a liaison librarian at research universities the cycle of information literacy felt like a complete process. I taught a lot of undergraduate classes about finding, evaluating, and citing information (just like I do with my upper school students now), but I also worked with graduate students and faculty on publishing, sharing research, and scholarly conversations. We displayed research products, had sessions on metrics and predatory journals and lots more. The students and faculty I worked with readily saw themselves as creators as well as consumers of information. And they knew that the two were not separate or transactional, but an ongoing conversational process. As I prepped the library/writing support collaboration for NaNoWriMo, I realized that the information cycle feels very incomplete and spotty most of the time, and November is a great time to start to make it complete.

Like last year, our Writing Support teacher is hosting writing time during lunch in the library each day of November. I’ve built a collaborative spreadsheet where our participating students and faculty can log their writing throughout the month by day, time, and word count, and earn badges to mark their achievements–like hitting various word counts, writing 5 days in a row, attending the lunchtime writing blocks, etc. The library also has a display for the month that features books that were drafted or begun from NaNoWriMo projects. These are all pieces to support more of the creative (and creation) process for our community. I also plan to host a session on ways to share their work as we arrive at the end of the month so students can think about how to put their work into the world, and also how to think about intellectual property and copyright from the creators’ side of the desk.

NaNoWriMo Group Page
Individual logging page

I’m excited for the opportunity to work with our students as creators, and yet, it reminds me how infrequently I do this throughout the year. Some of the limitations for completing the information cycle are structural–I only get to work with classes when faculty invite me, and only have the time they allot. I regularly remind faculty that I can work with them and students on all parts of the research process and anything involving the using or sharing of information, but I still only get class time to talk about finding sources and citing them. Another structural piece is that the artifacts of student work go directly to the teachers and there is not a tradition yet for sharing those products beyond the classroom except in the arts. That said, opportunities exist–some initial work with our visual arts department has (hopefully) opened the door to more opportunities to work with students as creators. Our student publications are yet another way to work with students where they do see themselves as creators or information. These opportunities may be just the wedge in the door to help faculty see the possibilities to collaborate and inform their students about how knowledge is produced and shared in their disciplines, and how students can contribute their voices to the conversation. 

For now, I’ll be focused on our creative writers who see that the works they read influence the stories they want to tell, and who already know their voices belong in the world.

The Value of Connections, and 15 Minutes of Homecoming Fame

“Can we put a picture of you on our Homecoming t-shirt?”

This question was posed to me by Junior class leaders in the fall of 2018. Once I got past the initial “you have GOT to be kidding!”, we talked about their plan, which was incredibly silly but also a huge compliment – one of the most meaningful I’ve received during my career. At my school the Homecoming themes are determined by the Seniors, and the Juniors are always given something weird and difficult. In 2018 the Junior theme was “tertiary sources,” thus the visit to the library. We took a photo, they turned it into graphic art, and almost 90% of the students chose that as their favorite design.

So how does a school librarian get her picture on a shirt worn by 150 teenagers? It’s all about making connections.

When I started at my current school in 2004 I inherited a fairly uncomfortable relationship between the library staff and the students, with many challenges to adult authority and no shortage of irresponsible behavior. I spent years working to set a better tone and to gain the trust of the students, and over time our library has become a mostly happy and respectful place, where students want to hang out with each other, to share ideas and concerns with us, and to get some schoolwork done. Students now see us as partners in the educational process rather than behavioral adversaries. The library has become a place of fun and learning, where there is always time to discuss an upcoming research paper or the latest Colleen Hoover novel.  

What I have learned over the past 18 years is that the only way I can develop meaningful connections with students is to take the time to be where they are. Sitting at my desk with the door open I can think I look available but actually I look busy, and students are hesitant to interrupt, or apologize for “bothering” me. So I get up often, walk around the library, ask lots of questions: “What are you working on?” “What have you learned that you found surprising?”  And sometimes, “Wow that party sounds like so much more fun than your Ethnic Studies paper!” When a teacher brings a class to the library, I don’t leave after making a research presentation – I stay in the room, circulate to check in on each student individually, stop the class for a quick pointer when I hear the same question or problem from several students. Many students won’t ask a question in front of the class, but will ask for guidance when I sit at their table. When I walk past students in the Student Center I check in with them to see what they are working on (or to learn how to play the latest video game). But the thing students seem to appreciate the most is that I try to be available after school via email or text. Students often aren’t fully attentive in class, but questions arise when they do their homework in the evening. I tell them I’m only available until 10pm, and I warn them that sometimes I have a life and won’t be online, so don’t wait until the last minute to talk to me! Yes it intrudes on my personal time, but in fact there aren’t enough evening requests to feel demanding, and it offers students the support they need at the time they need it. What I enjoy about the evening interactions in particular (which now often happen on Zoom, thanks to what we learned during Covid) is that the conversations often turn into something more than just a research paper discussion, and I get to know my students better. Every one-on-one interaction informs my instruction, develops a personal connection, and makes me a more effective teacher.

None of this happened overnight. I arrived at my grades 6-12 school having spent eight years at an elementary school, where students were excited about “library day” and hugs were abundant. I was a bit intimidated by teens, didn’t know upper grade curriculum, and had a newly minted MLIS but little idea of how to put what I’d learned into practice. In my early years I was probably more authoritarian than was necessary, and I thought maintaining a “professional distance” from the students was the best approach. Gradually my students have taught me that if I want their respect and attention I need to show that I care about them as people, not only as students. I learned that silliness is the way into their hearts, and that by letting down the professional aura I can get to know them as the wonderful adults-in-training that they are while having a lot more fun on the job. And they in turn see me as someone they can comfortably come to for research assistance or for a conversation about a TV show they enjoy. Each librarian will have their own way of building those connections but whatever your personal style, the effort you put into making connections with your students will pay off in a better learning experience for everyone.

So, quite unexpectedly, positive relationships with students led to my picture being worn by the Junior class. I walked with them in the Homecoming parade, and when they did their class dance I danced with them (there is video proof, unfortunately). It was more embarrassing than I can describe, and it was one of the most fun things I’ve ever done. It was an unforgettable day!

The Poky Little Printer

Raise your hand if you’ve heard me harp about the student printer. That printer is locally famous enough to have made it into my Baccalaureate speech – celebrating a future where seniors never have to wait for that particular printer again. When we moved from iPads to BYOD, I smiled Grinch-like. My heart grew three sizes that day. That printer has a vendetta against iPads. Though, to be fair, it doesn’t have a particular love for Mac Books. And it’s only black and white. And only accessible if you are on the school wifi. Sometimes I’ll stand next to a student and watch as they send a print job only to see it sit stoically with a print queue of zero.

Like a moody cat that only loves its owner, I’ll admit that the printer likes me just fine. I can print from my PC. From my Mac. From my iPad!  I send a job from anywhere on campus and can count on it to churn up the copies exactly as requested. It’s dependable. Reliable. Loyal.

With some administrative restructuring last spring, I slipped into a new role. It’s both mentally adjacent to my previous role and physically indistinguishable – the same chair, the same view, the same printer to my left. I initially celebrated that printer management would fall to another. And yet…

The poky little printer—in its natural state

The following is a paragraph that I imagine will read as fantasy to those in larger schools. We’re a Google school, so my school email pops up any time a student hits the share button and types the letters “CP.” Because my library is a large L shape and is frequently used by our Study Out students, I tend to do a lot of my teaching in classrooms. Students are enterprising. I’d be working with World History or AP Lang, far from the library, and suddenly ping, ping, ping.

“Document shared with you.”
“Document shared with you.”
“Document shared with you.”

“Hold on class. Open. Print. Repeat.” When I asked students about this, I’d hear some variant of, “That seemed faster. It always works for you.” At its highest, this was twenty plus papers a day. And this was the solution students deemed easier. And while it might not be for the reasons I’d hope, this certainly showed that the students felt the library was central to their lives.

With some metaphorical distance – and an improved printer interface this fall – I’ve realized how many student interactions I gained from that printer and how much stronger I was as a librarian because of it. I’d have conversations with students every day about their work. When I had time, I’d ask about their projects. I’d make comments like, “Do you want to alphabetize that bibliography before printing?” or perhaps, “Ummm…remember this requires a bibliography. Want to print that too?” So many one-on-one conversations. And since just about any printing issue could be solved by sending it to me, most of those conversations ended with a student feeling like the library left them in a better place than they’d been a few minutes before. So later conversations might be, “How did this ICW compare to what you’ve been asked to do as a Precis in History?” “Tell me something you learned about how bees communicate.” “Why are you choosing to write about this book for your essay?” To say nothing of the SAT tickets, senior speeches, trip forms…

Obviously this isn’t an optimal library use strategy, but it is interesting what sorts of conversations come up during this involuntary quality time.

Designing a New Library Web Page

A targeted goal for our library this school year was to create a fresh look for our main library web page and to streamline navigation and functionality for our users. The process aligned well with Design Thinking, so I  created an infographic to sum up the process. Many thanks to AISL librarians who shared insights and links to their “public facing” library web pages. These library web pages provided great inspiration for the brainstorming phase of the process. I am also grateful for the AOS library team, faculty peers, and students that provided feedback for the rough prototypes. Our school communication department and the consulting staff at Springshare streamlined the process for this updated library webpage. View the new AOS library webpage.