Take a Reading Field Trip

“History is more than war and politics; it is literature, the arts, engineering…above all, history is human.”

This quote is a constant refrain in David McCullough’s recent book, The American Spirit: Who We Are and What We Stand Forwhich is a collection of lectures he gave on the importance of developing connections to history.

His commencement addresses often close with a plea for graduates to read and learn about the history of their country.  Several years ago, I attended a lecture by McCullough at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, and he mentioned that one of the best ways for families to encourage a love of history is to visit and walk historic sites with their children.

Taking to heart McCullough’s emphasis on encouraging reading and learning about our human history, I would like to suggest a few pairings of books with history museums that you might visit.  The list is far from comprehensive; it would be wonderful to expand this list with suggestions of your favorite books and museums.

City Museum
St. Louis, Mo.
This museum has to be seen to be believed.  Started by a salvager who did not wish to discard the beautiful history of St. Louis, the museum took shape as local artisans created an artistic, interactive environment of salvaged history.
Book to Pair:
The Seventh Most Important Thing by Shelley Pearsall
When forced to complete community service hours with a junk man, a young boy discovers the beauty of this junk through the man’s artistic creation.

Gettysburg National Military Park
Book to Pair:
The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara
Shaara’s son, Jeff Shaara, continued the Civil War sagas. Jeff recounted in a lecture that as a boy he toured Gettysburg on several occasions with his father—his father talked as they walked the battlefield, imaginatively plotting what would become the classic Civil War story.

Lower East Side Tenement Museum
New York
A museum dedicated to understanding the daily life and struggles of immigrants
who came to America for new opportunities.
Books to Pair:
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
Francie Nolan and her Irish-American family struggle with poverty, but their lives are rich in their love for each other.

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline
Intended as a way to remove tenement children from dangerous living conditions and bleak futures, the orphan trains supplied cheap labor for farmers and business owners.

Peabody Essex Museum (Historic Homes Tour)
Salem, Massachusetts
The historic homes tour provides insight into how early colonists viewed the New World, an environment that was often perceived as dangerous.
Book to Pair:
All the Truth That’s In Me by Julie Berry
Though the location of the village is never mentioned in this book, this Edgar-winning novel is described as Speak meets The Scarlet Letter.

Salem Witch Trials Memorial
Salem, Massachusetts
Book to Pair:
Wicked Girls: A Novel of the Salem Witch Trials by Stephanie Hemphill
This novel in verse tells the events through the eyes of several girls who were the accusers in the infamous Salem Witch Trials.

The National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Hotel
Memphis, Tennessee
The site of Martin Luther King’s assassination, this museum combines a timeline of civil rights events, primary sources, oral histories, and a burned-out bus to dramatize the danger faced by the freedom riders. Visitors even can walk near the balcony where King was assassinated.
Book to Pair:
March: Book 2 by John Lewis
Congressman Lewis recounts how the Freedom Riders boarded buses headed to the South to challenge racial desegregation laws.  Their efforts were met with violence.

Chinese-American History Museum
San Francisco, California
Book to Pair:
Bubonic Panic:  When Plague Invaded America
The Chinese Exclusion Act and the San Francisco Earthquake and Fire are some of the events as this epidemic unfolds.  Good tie-in for STEM and wonderful incorporation of primary sources.

Field Museum of Natural History
Chicago, Illinois
A naturalist’s dream, this museum shows fossils, skeletal remains, and dioramas of life as it evolved.
Book to Pair:
The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge
Gothic thriller set in Victorian Age when the Theory of Evolution inspired fossil hunting “wars” as well as animosity from religious fronts who saw Darwin’s theory as negating the bible.  Central to the plot is the young daughter, Faith, who aspires to be a naturalist like her father, but who is constrained by social conventions of her period.



Teaching Empathy with Primary Sources

“They never saw a child.”
Ruby Bridges

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

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

Look Closely to Build Empathy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See the Child

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

Bibliography for Images

Coke Machine Cartoon. 2017. Used with Permission.

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

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

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

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

Judging a Book by Its Cover

Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers.  Voltaire

“Judging a book by its cover” has the negative connotation of shallow perceptions and narrow-mindedness; however, in a recent Design Principles unit, 7th and 8th grade students examined cover art of young adult books to critically evaluate design principles and to brainstorm ideas as they created snowflake-themed posters. This unit was part of an elective class, Literary Magazine, but these ideas could be adapted as a library unit on media literacy, in particular a discussion on how media messages are constructed using a media language with its own rules, thereby supporting the following AASL standard:

2.1.6 Use the writing process, media and visual literacy, and technology skills to create products that express new understandings.

The following description of the design project may spark ideas for your own students to identify design elements, evaluate how the elements are used for persuasive communication, and create their own products that incorporate effective design.

Collaborative Learning and Discussion
GO! A Kidd’s Guide to Graphic Design by Chip Kidd became the textbook for learning about design principles. (This resource text and the initial design activity was the brainchild of my librarian predecessor, Dorcas Hand, and I am grateful to build on her creative lesson.)

Working collaboratively on a Google slides presentation,  each student summarized a design principle from a chapter in the GO! book and chose one image from the book to illustrate the design idea. Using a Google image search of advertisements, students selected a second image.  Book cover art was used as a third example, and in a serendipitous opportunity, our library had just received new young adult novels through donations at our Book Fair. Spreading out these new books on tables, students began to explore cover art that best matched their design principle. Following are a few examples of book covers students selected and shared in a group discussion of effective design (all book cover art from Amazon):

Book:  Twenty Questions for Gloria
Author:  Martyn Bedford
Design Principle:  Cropping

(Landscape image with girl beneath tree is cropped as a silhouette of a girl’s face–Student commented that the tree is positioned to mirror the girl’s brain, suggesting that this book involves psychological intrigue.)

Book: The Skeleton Tree
Author:  Iain Lawrence
Design Principle:  Asymmetry

(Student added a yellow line to the image to point out the asymmetrical design: large, black cliff on the left balanced out by the smaller cliff edge with two figures overlooking an immense wooded valley.)


Book:  Towers Falling
Author:  Jewell Parker Rhodes
Design Principle:  Inversion

(Inverted image of twin towers is mirrored in harbor waters with current building, the One World Trade Center, in upper half of image. Young characters in the story are trying to bring meaning to the reflection, memory, of the 9/11 disaster.)

Book:  The Weight of Feathers
Author:  Anna-Marie McLemore
Design Principle:  Vertical/Horizontal

(Horizontal lines add a sense of stability and strength to a design–like the strong horizon line in a landscape.  According to the design textbook, horizontal lines can also be used to suggest seriousness, and the thin lines of the tree limbs reflect the precarious balance of the two young people who fall in love.)

Book:  The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle
Author:  Janet Fox
Design Principle:  Light/Dark

(Large, dark mass of the castle threatens danger and the small lit doorway illuminating the children suggests a mysterious adventure awaits.)


Book:  Anna and the Swallow Man
Author: Gavriel Savit
Design Principle:  Big and Small

(Journeying/Quest theme of book is emphasized with small image of the walking girl contrasted with large, shadowy wings of the flying bird–Swallow Man–who travels with her.)

Collaborative Poster Design and Discussion

Students used a combination of design principles to create their own poster to advertise for writing and art submissions to our school literary magazine. Beginning with a paper doll pattern and white paper, students cut out their design of a taller student holding the hands of a younger student, which supported our theme of
unity/community participation in the literary magazine.  
These paper dolls were created in a circular pattern, giving the design the appearance of a snowflake.  This link provides sample directions to creating circular paper dolls (snowflakes).  The snowflake image signified the unique aspect of each student’s creative efforts.

Students shared digital photos of their paper snowflake in a Google file so that each student could assemble images as they wished for their final poster design.  Using Google slides to create their  poster (two slides created for an upper and lower half of the poster–joined together after printing in color), students demonstrated wonderful collaboration as they helped each other with newly discovered design approaches, such as 1) cropping snowflakes as a circular shape rather than the square-shaped cropping tool, 2) showing each other how to use gradated colors rather than a solid fill option for shapes, and 3) suggestions on style, size, and weight of type fonts.

Students wrote a reflection paragraph that discussed the following:

  • design principles used in their poster
  • design challenges and how they solved the challenge
  • slogan to encourage creative submissions to the literary magazine
  • intended audience for the poster (whether to hang the poster in the lower school or the middle school)

Resulting posters, like the snowflakes themselves, were uniquely persuasive in their ad messages.  After an animated discussion, students voted whether the posters should be hung in the lower or middle school, and students posted their ads strategically in the two buildings.  As a confirmation of the effectiveness of their ad designs, I had one teacher approach me immediately after we hung the posters with an armful of concrete poetry by her fourth grade students.  Here is a video featuring some of the student poster designs.

Follow-up Activities
In keeping with the theme of the importance of creativity, I shared the story of Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin.  Bentley devoted his life to photographing snowflakes, feeling that his work gave people something just as valuable as a “practical” occupation like raising cows.

To emphasize the importance of design decisions, I showed students the “turquoise belt” scene from The Devil Wears Prada in which the fashion magazine editor, Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep), gives a tongue lashing to a young intern (Anne Hathaway) while putting together a fashionable outfit from a vibrantly-colored dress. I had students point out the design decisions that Miranda makes very quickly: 1) color (complimentary colors of orange-red dress with turquoise belt); 2) scale (proportion contrast of the short jacket with the long dress); and 3) bright-colored yellow hat to compliment warm tones of the dress.  One big idea of this scene is that design decisions are not accidental, they are well thought out and follow principles of design.  You can view a clip from the scene and a debate on design industry in this Huffington Post article

Additional Resources

Media Literacy:

AISL blog, “Messages in the Media”

Center for Media Literacy

ACRL Standards
See discussion of “metaliteracy,”  collaborative learning with emerging technologies with an emphasis to “collaborate, produce, and share.”






The Rule of Three: Making Stories Memorable


Suppose you were an idiot,
and suppose you were a member of Congress;
but I repeat myself.    Mark Twain



Don’t be mislead by the Mark Twain quote; this article is not a commentary about political elections, but rather, musings on how writers (and poets) make stories memorable. In particular, how does an author create emphasis (humorous or dramatic) and make an idea memorable through choice of language and use of the Rule of Three? And how can librarians invite young readers to look closely for these patterns in poems and stories so that students can create their own memorable storytelling?

I first heard of the Rule of Three while preparing a folk tale in a storytelling workshop hosted by Judith Black (see her Stories Alive website). 
In an intensive, energetic week, the fledgling storytellers were challenged to create a story and perform it before a group of children.  As workshop attendees paired up to practice our stories for each other, I began a version of the tale, “Why Frog and Snake Cannot Be Friends”:

frogDeep in the forest,
the rain dripped from the
tall tree canopy,
    Cascaded over the bromeliads’
long, red leaves,
And pooled around
a tiny, green tree frog.

My listening partner stopped me and said, “You know what you just did? That’s the Rule of Three!”  My partner had experience in writing humorous songs, and comedians often use the Rule of Three to

1) set up a pattern,
2) create a predictable rhythm, and
3) jolt the listener with the third line that contains a twist or surprise.  

Sometimes the surprise is created by a very short third line, as in Twain’s quote, “but I repeat myself.”  The surprise can also be created by a contrast in images, such as the tall trees and long leaves of the bromeliads contrasting with the tiny, green tree frog.

I recently shared this idea of The Rule of Three with a class of 5th graders who were writing poems.  Using poems from Insectlopedia by Douglas Florian, I showed how
The Rule of Three pattern could be created by repeating
nouns, as in the poem “The Mosquitoes,


or by a sequence of verbs, as in this excerpt from the poem “The Inchworm,”




Or by a string of adjectives, as in this selection from the poem “The Tick.”



In each of these examples, a predictable pattern is created with the first two lines, but the last line is longer and creates a surprising and humorous reflection.

Using more sophisticated examples of The Rule of Three from the book The Death of the Hat: A Brief History of Poetry in 50 Objects, we looked closely at Alfred Lloyd Tennyson’s poem “The Eagle”;  students observed how the poet contrasts the slow river with the powerful might of the eagle:


Finally, we analyzed an excerpt from the poem “Grainfield” by Ibn’Iyad (from the book The Death of the Hat). The poet focuses the attention of the viewer on wheat swaying in the wind and poppies growing in the field; then, the poet uses three phrases to build an analogy and create a new startling image:


This last poem inspired me to write a Nature poem. I combined the Rule of Three with an analogy of a tightrope to describe a spiderweb swaying in the wind:

Fifth and sixth graders, with the guidance of their creative writing teacher, Marian Rosse, composed their own poems, using the Rule of Three to produce a dramatic or humorous effect.  As you read a few samples of their poems, perhaps you will be inspired to experiment with The Rule of Three!

by Cooper

See the fish
Jumping in the lake,
Twisting and turning like shiny acrobats.

Hey, I wonder if I can catch one for dinner!

by Isabelle

See the powerful  freight train
Chasing around the track
Like a blackbird
Flying over the shivering leaves of the great woods,
It weaves swiftly around the trees.

The Chase
by Wade

See the dog
Chasing the cat around the field
Like a police chase rampaging on the road
Running around and around

Over the bushes
Around the tree
Through the fountain

Sprinting around the field,  the dog chasing the cat.

The Black Book
by Merry

See the Big Black Book
Holding and storing all treasures, memories from years past,
Hiding in the shelf,
Waiting for me to make more memories.

Like a keepsake box,
I treasure it with great love
The memories it will hold,
Will bring great joy and bring back memories,
To all.

The Book
by Katherine

See the book opened
and waiting to be read
like a person wanting to speak to someone.

The Lava
by Dylan

See the lava burning on the volcanic rock,
like a flame that cannot be put out,
bubbling on top of the destruction it has caused,  

Like a fiery demon ready to strike,
consuming everything in sight,
a piece of the sun in rage.

by Janie

See the wind dancing by the barn,
Like a soft whisper of encouragement,
Lifting the dandelions, the seed heads depart
To begin a new generation.

by Ryan

See the geyser,
spraying its mineral waters into the hot springs
like a humpback whale,
Spouting the freezing Pacific Ocean,
the water is pulled up above into the fluffy clouds.

By Jack

See the rain
Pouring around the world.
Like unlimited buckets
Of water falling on us,
Creating a wash of water
Falling from the fountains
Of heaven.

by Caroline

They come and go
They stay by your side
They never leave

Unless you tell someone.
The worries leave,
Say goodbye to those crazy, scary worries.

The Tree
by Logan

See the majestic oak tree,
it’s branches hosting the endless races of the squirrels.

Like a Roman Arena with chariot racers competing
beside the roaring crowd on their feet,
the racers compete for glory.

Nouns & Sounds
by Ava

dogs go ROOF
cars go HONK
feet go STOMP
hands go CLAP
pages go SWISH
waves go CRASH
birds go CHIRP
pans go CRASH, CLANG
wind goes HISS
water goes DRIP, DROP, DRIP, DROP
mouths goes BLAH, BLAH, BLAH
lions go ROAR

librarians go SHHHHHHHHH listen to my poem!

Works Cited

Aedes aegypti MosquitoBritannica ImageQuest. Encyclopædia      
    Britannica, Inc.  quest.eb.com/search/139_1948498/1/139_1948498/cite.
    Accessed 8 Oct 2016.

American Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) in flight. Britannica ImageQuest.   Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. quest.eb.com/search/167_4017998/1/167_4017998/cite.     Accessed 18 Oct 2016.

Death of the Hat: A Brief History of Poetry in 50 Objects. Candlewick Press, 2015.

Florian, Douglas. Insectlopedia: Poems and Paintings. Harcourt Brace, 1998.

Lange, Joan.  Frog and Snake Shadow Puppets. 2013.

Spring Wheat. Britannica ImageQuest. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

    quest.eb.com/search/165_3343964/1/165_3343964/cite. Accessed 18 Oct 2016.

Striped InchwormBritannica ImageQuest. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.
    quest.eb.com/search/139_1931243/1/139_1931243/cite. Accessed 8 Oct 2016.

Tick. Britannica ImageQuest. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.
   quest.eb.com/search/149_2042755/1/149_2042755/cite. Accessed 18 Oct 2016.





“Escape the Room” with Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

screen-shot-2016-09-11-at-12-15-53-amLike a happy reunion with a childhood friend, re-reading a classic children’s book provides an opportunity to celebrate fond memories while also making new connections. An opportunity arose to reconnect with the 1968 Newbery winner, From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, as I planned for a summer reading book discussion with a group of fifth graders.

In E.L. Konigsburg’s humorous tale, two siblings, Claudia and Jamie, decide to run away from home and hide in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. While there, the children discover a mystery surrounding an angel statue that could possibly be the creation of Renaissance artist Michelangelo.

The museum purchased the statue for a few hundred dollars from the estate of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, and a trail of clues leads the children to her home. Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler challenges the children to solve the mystery by finding proof in her extensive file cabinets; she sets a time limit of one hour to find the correct file, while secreting herself away to observe their attempts.

img_1810-1As I read this scene, it reminded me of the popular “Escape the Room” games and recent initiatives by libraries and educators to adapt this format—see Derek Murphy’s blog
describing the Escape Room created at the State Library of Western Australia as well as School Library Journal’s article, “Breakout EDU Brings ‘Escape Room’ Strategy to the Classroom.”  I decided to immerse the students in their own “Escape the Room” challenge: students would locate clues to solve an art mystery surrounding Michelangelo’s rival, the Renaissance genius Leonardo da Vinci.

img_1807Before beginning the mystery game, the students and I read together the section describing Claudia’s and Jamie’s strategies for searching (From the Mixed-up Files, 140-146). Jamie starts frantically pulling open file drawers, but Claudia stops him, saying there is a better way.

We discussed how Claudia’s approach–thinking about how information is organized and making a list of possible words for the search–are techniques used by effective library researchers.


Leonardo da Vinci “mirror writing.” Students used a mirror to read reverse writing and find the combination number for the lock.

Divided into three groups and given a time limit of 15 minutes, students

1) read their art masterpiece clue
2) listed keywords for searching
3) looked in one corresponding drawer
(drawers labeled alphabetically)

Each group could only retrieve a file folder if it was labeled as matching their art masterpiece clue. (Interestingly, all three groups were frustrated by their first search attempt—students showed persistence in re-reading their clues and evaluating potential keywords).  If the correct file folder was located, it provided one number, part of a combination to a lock on the file cabinet drawer.

Once all three mysteries were solved, the students used their numbers to open the combination lock to find the missing Mona Lisa painting. I placed an iPad in this drawer for extra gamification. An art puzzle app on the iPad challenged students to put together the mixed-up image of the Mona Lisa.

Students enthusiastically collaborated on this activity, problem-solving and trying new strategies as first attempts floundered.
This GoogleDoc provides the art images and clues, if you would like to sample an “Escape the Room” adventure.  Let the Games Begin!

Physical Space + Thinking = Cultures of Learning

Creating Cultures of Thinking

At the STLinSTL summer institute hosted by MICDS, I attended a fascinating session by Ron Ritchhart, co-author of Making Thinking Visible.  Ritchhart’s recent book, Creating Cultures of Thinking: The 8 Forces We Must Master to Truly Transform Our Schools, provided many thinking routines to incorporate in teaching, but what impressed me most was a chapter on the physical environment of the classroom.  Ritchhart contends that the physical environment should reflect the type of learning that is occurring. The learning environment shifts from the model of teachers passing on knowledge to students to a collaborative model in which students and teachers both engage in an interactive exploration of learning. Here are a few highlights from Creating Cultures of Learning and suggestions of how libraries can adapt spaces to become conducive to creativity and collaborative learning.

Provide a Variety of Spaces as a Catalyst for Learning
Ritchhart cites David Thornburg’s book, From the Campfire to the Holodeck,
and identifies 3 types of spaces: caves (quiet areas for individual thought);
watering holes (spaces for discussions with peers); and campfires (large group
gatherings led by a “storyteller”).

For an assortment of ideas on creating a variety of learning spaces, see AISL wiki discussion board “Learning Commons.” 

Document Student Learning
Are students engaged in chart talks, concept mapping, poster presentations, model building, or Readers Theater presentations?  Consider displaying samples of work, photos of group interactions, as well as dialogue excerpts from student conversations so that the school community can view the process of thinking. Set aside a space for an interactive idea wall by using post-it notes or paint a wall with Idea Paint for use with dry erase markers.  See David Wee’s blog for photos of library spaces converted to active, collaborative learning.

Author Ritchhart further contends that educators need to “stop hiding learning and thinking by keeping it private” and that by making thinking visible, transparent, it can energize that school learning community across all grade levels.

Incorporate Surprise or Humor
An advantageous pairing of the latest Harry Potter publication with students’ summer reading inspired a whimsical display at my middle school library.  A Harry Potter-themed display and essay contest challenges students to put on their “sorting hats” and decide if a character from their summer reading would be a good fit for the Gryffindor or Slytherin House.

Gryffindor or Slytherin? Book Display and Contest

As students brainstorm character traits like friendship or rivalry, the interactive Visual Thesaurus is a handy tool for pondering how individual traits set characters in conflict or, sometimes, provide characters a moment of epiphany and empathy as they discover shared character traits.

Go on a Ghost Walk
A final suggestion from Ritchhart’s book is go on a “ghost walk.”  Schedule a time with fellow educators to step into their classrooms when rooms are not occupied and note the “spirit” based on physical space arrangement, display of student work, inspirational messages, etc.  How is this empty room energized by the type of learning that occurs in the space?  What ideas can you glean from other professionals in how they create cultures of learning?

As a new school year launches, I look forward to assessing how the library can provide an exciting environment for student learning and energize the school community of learners. Please share your ideas on how library environments can make thinking visible!

Creating Presentations That Resonate

A Closeup of Handblown Glass. Photograph. Encyclopædia Britannica ImageQuest. Web. 19 May 2016.

A Closeup of Handblown Glass. Photograph. Encyclopædia Britannica ImageQuest. Web. 19 May 2016.

Are you zombified by student PowerPoint presentations and a bit dizzy after viewing spinning Prezis? This year I have been rethinking the librarian’s role as literacy expert.  Whether you use the term media literacy, digital literacy, data literacy, or New Literacies—all of these concepts have in common an emerging need:  librarians guiding students to grapple with meaning, communicate their insights in multi-modal formats, and, potentially, share and publish their work digitally.

This article suggests books and online resources to more effectively plan and animate presentations, thereby creating messages that will resonate with your audiences.

Nancy Duarte is a persuasive presentation expert who maps the structure of effective communicators (see her TED talk comparing the structure of great speeches by Steve Jobs and Martin Luther King). Duarte presents her strategies in two books Slide:ology and

Duarte, Nancy. Slide:ology: The Art and Science of Creating Great Presentations. http://www.duarte.com/book/slideology/.

Duarte, Nancy. Slide:ology: The Art and Science of Creating Great Presentations. http://www.duarte.com/book/slideology/.

In Slide:ology, Duarte estimates that an effective  presentation requires 36 or more hours to research; evaluate audience; brainstorm ideas; organize; solicit feedback; storyboard; build slides; and rehearse.  Tips include brain-storming with sticky notes and by sketching diagrams; highlighting data; designing with color and selective choice of text; and crafting a story flow through animations and slide transitions. Though 36 hours may seem unrealistic with demanding class  schedules, sharing tips will aid students in message making.


I was able to demonstrate some of these techniques in a serendipitous teaching opportunity; a freshman physics teacher asked me to advise students on incorporating their science experiment data into slides. I rented a Kindle version of Slide:ology and projected on a large screen examples of data graphs and charts, inviting freshmen to evaluate ineffective/effective design and to keep in mind Duarte’s mantra: “Data slides are not really about the data. They are about the meaning of data” (64).  Visually highlighting or emphasizing a part of the data can show an emerging trend or complication–a moment when data results challenge assumptions and cause a rethinking for the student scientists. As students discuss the highlighted data, they begin to show the audience the meaning behind the data.

Duarte, Nancy. Resonate. http://www.duarte.com/book/resonate-legacy/.

Duarte, Nancy. Resonate. http://www.duarte.com/book/resonate-legacy/.

In Resonate, Duarte  explores the power of stories to connect with audiences and to deepen under-standing.  I adapted a suggestion from the book, “amplify the signal, minimize the noise,” to aid freshmen in reading and assessing a quote by Adolph Hitler on the power of persuasive media messages (170).  In the slide example below, the quote was first read and then a series of animated graphics appeared in an equation format to distill meaning of Hitler’s message:

(All images from Britannica Image Quest.)

(All images from Britannica Image Quest.)

If you desire to share an example of how we perceive images based on entry into a slide (scene), show this movie clip from Hitchcock’s thriller, Strangers on a Train. Notice which direction the “good” character enters the scene versus the “bad” character’s entrance.  Since Westerners’ eyes are use to a left to right movement, entries from the right are viewed as disconcerting.  Students can consider this as they animate visuals or text appearances on their slides (left to right and top to bottom are more familiar ways of reading messages).

Hitchcock, Alfred. Strangers on a Train. 1951. Photography. Encyclopedia Britannica ImageQuest. Web. 19 May 2016.

Hitchcock, Alfred. Strangers on a Train. 1951. Photography. Encyclopedia Britannica ImageQuest. Web. 19 May 2016.

Explore more ideas on storytelling and making meaning from data in this archived webinar, “Storytelling with Infographics,” presented by Debbie Abilock and Connie Williams.  Abilock and Williams will also be presenters in an upcoming conference:
Virtual Conference on Data Literacy: Creating Data Literate Students hosted by the University of Michigan School of Information and University Library (see website for free registration to this virtual conference).

And for something totally different, listen to NPR’s interview with artist/rocker David Byrne as his explains his use of PowerPoint as Art.  Wising you a summer filled with stimulating reading and rethinking the tools we use to communicate meaning.

Putting the “I” in Books: Students Innovating iBooks

A summer conference session on iBooks at Lausanne Learning Institute inspired a collaborative challenge between our high school library and Chelsy Hooper, the technology integrator of a middle school: How could students at Pope John Paul II High School creatively teach a 6th grade Latin class at Ensworth Middle using the multimodal tools in iBook Author? This article shows a glimpse of the creative process and reflects on students as entrepreneurs who became writers, designers, and teachers– thereby putting the I, their innovations, in iBooks.

Pitching the idea
In a brainstorming session with our high school Latin teacher, Bozena Lawson, I suggested using the city of Pompeii and the dramatic event of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius as the theme of the book. The book Ashen Sky, illustrated by Barry Moser, showed how we might combine the writings of Ancient Romans to highlight culture and events of Pompeii.  I created a few sample iBook pages to demonstrate dynamic features of the iBook, such as scrolling gallery view of images, target widgets (close up view and text boxes as you click on areas of an image), and a sample embedded video about the eruption. See Mount Vesuvius video and following screenshot of Memento Mori page and puzzle widget.

Memento Mori. Remember that You Must Die, mosaic. By Unknown [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Memento_mori_MAN_Napoli_Inv109982.jpg” Excerpt From: “Latin iBook Pompeii.” iBooks.

Memento Mori. Remember that You Must Die, mosaic. By Unknown [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Excerpt From: “Latin iBook Pompeii.” iBooks.

Memento Mor

This sample iBook was shown to all of the Latin students and interested students were invited to attend a brainstorming luncheon. At the luncheon, students viewed curriculum standards for 6th grade Latin and suggested topics that interested them. Three teams (of two students each) emerged:

  • Develop understanding of Roman social structure and religion
  • Develop understanding of Gladiator games as entertainment and political tool
  • Connect to 6th grade Earth Science curriculum by presenting the science behind the eruption of Mount Vesuvius

Screenshot below shows Contents page. Bottom shows individual pages that can be selected and expanded for view. (Note that interactivity of book pages can be previewed through iBooks Author on a Mac or exported to view as a PDF.)

Pompeii, Mt. Vesuvius behind, Campania, Italy, Europe. Photography. Encyclopædia 
 Britannica ImageQuest. Web. 21 Feb 2016. 

Pompeii, Mt. Vesuvius behind, Campania, Italy, Europe. Photography. Encyclopædia 
 Britannica ImageQuest. Web. 21 Feb 2016. 

Looking Closely at Primary Sources
The three student teams arranged times to meet outside of class and researched facts, but each team was challenged to find primary source images and identify writings of ancient Romans to add depth to their understanding of Roman life. Students used the Loeb Classical Library for primary source writings.

Team One: Two girls found a serendipitous pairing of ideas: one student was fascinated by altars in the home while the other student discovered a poem by Ovid, written while in exile, that solicited the “birthday god” and mentioned ceremonial altar practices. They developed a chapter on Lares et Penates (household gods of protection).

Engage with Activities. As the iBook was shared in Latin classes, students engaged in following activities:

  1. Read aloud stanzas from Ovid’s poem to the birthday god and 1) evaluate tone of the poem (Ovid was angry and “wretched” because he was in exile and each birthday added to the despair of his separation from friends and family) and 2) detail three ways of ceremonially honoring the birthday god.
  1. Select a god or goddess from the Gallery View widget based on attributes that match your personal interests (athletics, music, etc.)and type a poem to the “birthday god” using the Wipeboard widget: persuade with flattery while also requesting a special gift/talent from the god and illuminate the poem with drawings.

Team Two: Both of the boys had a flair for the dramatic and a fascination for gladiator games. Dressed in togas, they supplied a spirited play-by-play account of unfolding action at a gladiator game—a 59 A.D. Pompeii game that ended in a riot (and deaths) among the spectators of the rival gladiator teams. Students used writings of Juvenal to describe political meaning behind the phrase “Panem et Circenses” (Bread and Circuses).
See Gladiator Riot screencast video on LibGuide.

Riot at the amphitheater, detail, from Italy, Campania, Pompeii, painting on plaster,
 55-79 A.D. Photography. Encyclopedia Britannica Image Quest. .

Riot at the amphitheater, detail, from Italy, Campania, Pompeii, painting on plaster,
 55-79 A.D. Photography. Encyclopedia Britannica Image Quest. <http://quest.eb.com/search/126_3731385/1/126_3731385/cite>.

Engage with Activities.  As the iBook was shared in Latin classes, students engaged in following activities:

  1. As classmates view the Gladiator Riot screencast, sportscasters request the audience to stand as they recite together the gladiator oath. Sportscasters also direct the audience to look at specific details of a painting depicting a historic riot at a gladiator game, using close up view and pointers (circles, arrows, lines).
  1. Read descriptions of types of gladiators and use Wipeboard widget to draw gladiator with weaponry specific to that gladiator. Discuss fighting strategy this gladiator would use.  (For example, the Retiarius Gladiator, who had armored protection only on one upper arm and shoulder, would use long pole of trident to keep attacker at bay while also using his large net to ensnare the opponent.)

Team Three: The boy and girl in this team were both students in our Earth Systems class, so they investigated the science behind the eruption of Mount Vesuvius and detailed the three characteristics of this devastating volcano eruption using the first-hand account of Pliny the Younger. View screen cast video of Mount Vesuvius eruption on LibGuide.

Eruption of Mt Vesuvius. 1872. Photo. Photograph. Encyclopædia Britannica 
 ImageQuest. Web. 27 Feb 2016. 

Eruption of Mt Vesuvius. 1872. Photograph. Encyclopædia Britannica 
 ImageQuest. Web. 27 Feb 2016. 

Engage with Activities.  As the iBook was shared in Latin classes, students engaged in following activities:

  1. Recite aloud the Latin phrases from Pliny’s description of the eruption.
  2. Name the three characteristics of the volcanic eruption (as described by Pliny the Younger).
  3. Use the matching widget to review famous writers and events connected to these writers.

The final portion of the iBook highlighted poems written by Latin students. Since each of these poems was inspired by a Latin phrase (motto) or mythological character, an extension activity invites students to choose one of the mottoes presented in the book or a mythological character to write their own poem.

Multimodal Learning
The Latin iBook project explored mulitmodal learning (aural, visual, gestural, spatial, and linguistic elements). I encourage you to read Writer/Designer: A Guide to Making Multimodal Projects to learn more about incorporating diverse learning in your own projects. Wishing you success as you explore student publications. Please share comments of creative projects.

A brief word on respecting copyright with iBook publications: we used Wikimedia Commons public domain images and rights-cleared images from Britannica Image Quest.  However, a fuller copyright discussion will be presented in future AISL blogs.




Reanimating Frankenstein (through Art): An Ekphrastic Writing Workshop

To write a poem is to explore the unknown capacities of the mind and the heart; it is emotive, empathetic exercise and, like being struck by lightning, it will probably leave you stunned, singed, but also a bit brighter. (Young 1)

The Ancient of Days 19th C. William Blake (1757-1827/British) British Museum, London

The Ancient of Days 19th C. William  Blake (1757-1827/British) British Museum, London         (Britannica Image Quest)

Dean Young’s quote from The Art of Recklessness: Poetry as Assertive Force and Contradiction suggests a poet has the ability to bring vitality to life experiences by startling the mind and senses into a deeper reflection. How appropriate then to take the classic tale of animating life, Frankenstein, and try to reanimate it, breathe new life into it, through a poetry-writing workshop.  And, with a flourish that Romantic poets would appreciate, spark this poetic process by viewing artwork and describing sensory and emotional reactions to the art, thereby enhancing comprehension of themes and the emotive and psychological drama of Frankenstein.

Combining art viewing with writing, an ekphrastic process, is a “vivid description of a scene or, more commonly, a work of art. Through the imaginative act of narrating and reflecting on the ‘action’ of a painting or sculpture, the poet may amplify and expand its meaning” (Poetry Foundation).  An example of Romantic ekphrastic poetry would be “Ode to a Grecian Urn,” in which describing the figures on the urn becomes a jumping off point for John Keats to ruminate that the scene of pipes and timbrels, maidens and gods, is a “cold Pastoral” that will outlast man (Keats).   This joining of reading, viewing artwork, and writing becomes a triple strength: 

  1. Slowing down to look closely at both text and artworks
  2. Identifying imagery that has special meaning
  3. Describing that meaning through figurative language

Incorporating writing as a pre-reading strategy to deepen analysis is supported by research of Tierney and Shanahan, who conclude that  “writing, together with reading, prompted more thoughtful consideration of ideas than writing alone,” and the combination of writing and reading is “more likely to induce learners to be more engaged” (cited in Smith 24-25).

Taking up the challenge to ignite high school students’ poetic muse with encounters of art, I collaborated with two high school English teachers, Patrick Connolly and Jennifer Smith, and a poet and creative writing teacher, Kyle Martindale, to create an Ekphrasis Writing Workshop.  The process included the following:

  1. Gathering art images (sources included Web Gallery of Art, Britannica Image Quest, Artstor, and National Institute of Health—view Bibliography of Images)
  2. Preparing students with a Mary Shelly webquest
  3. Modeling the ekphrastic approach during the writing workshop led by Kyle Martindale 

These samples of student poems, paired with artworks that inspired them, illustrate how students gave a voice to Frankenstein, the “mad creator,”  and the Monster, his tortured creation.

Andreas Vesalius

(Hamman, Edouard. Andreas Vesalius. 1848. National Library of Medicine. Bethseda. Frankenstein: Penetrating the Secrets of Nature. NIH. 9 July 2015. Web. 6 Sept. 2015.)

Poem by Jeffrey

In one hand, I felt the warmness
Of the yellow skin.
But in the other, I felt the coldness
Of the skull.
My left hand was filled with hope,
And my right hand was filled with death.
I am great and full of Knowledge.
It is shown in my book of Creation.
I stare upon the Crucifix and laugh.
He was said to be so great
And the Son of God.
But I hold his brother in my left arm.
I created him.
Therefore, I am God.

Screen Shot 2016-01-21 at 6.09.51 AM

(Beatrizet, Nicholas. Progressive Dissection of a Standing Man. 1560. Anitomia del Corpo Humano. National Library of Medicine. Bethseda. Historical Anatomies on the Web. NIH. 5 June 2012. Web. 6 Sept. 2015.)

Poem by Julie

Enclosed by another’s misery,
I dangle loosely by a thread,
Left to wonder how much
I would give to be dead,
Escaping my own despair.
My disfigurement only makes my pain
Grow stronger.
Stronger am I because of how I was structured?
Leaving me nothing but a brain to wonder.
Is my imagination even my own
Or the man before me
Perhaps the man who laid the foundation
Of my being?
My thoughts aren’t my thoughts,
My words aren’t my words,
My everything is another man’s nothing.
I am bound by a wild desire to cure
My illness inflicted by another.
It is as though I am captive to
His own predetermined mutations,
That is why I am disfigured and dangling—
Enclosed by another’s misery.

As a librarian who has a passion for words and a background in Fine Arts, I encountered powerful connections between words and images in assembling artwork for the workshop: artists’ deliberate choices of design elements (color, shape, texture, space, etc.) have parallels in writing.  One student in the workshop described poetry as “compressed language,” and artworks have similar multiple layers to communicate meaning.  One way to expand the ekphrastic writing experience would be a class trip to an art gallery to view the artworks and create poetic reflections.  Also, exhibiting student writing alongside the artworks that inspired them would be a thought-provoking way to show the interaction of word and image.  In February, at our library-sponsored Writers Café, students will read a selection of these poems accompanied by slides of the artworks.

This workshop was an opportunity for students to enliven their senses and stir up thoughts as they connected to an artwork and dramatized the experience, while also deepening insights into the emotive and psychological dimensions of Frankenstein. Through a deliberate choice of words and imagery, both the original artwork and the newly created poem became supercharged in the experience as students created an expanded dialogue of images and ideas.  Poet and scientist Jacob Bronowski said, “There is no picture and no poem unless you yourself enter it and fill it out” (cited in Moorman 46).  Students took the challenge to enter into the dialogue with art, and they filled the conversation with memorable ekphrastic poetry.  

Works Cited

Keats, John. “Ode to a Grecian Urn.” 1820. The Poetry Foundation. Web. 6 Sept. 2015.

Moorman, Honor. “Backing into Ekphrasis: Reading and Writing Poetry about Visual Art.” English Journal 96.1 (2006): 46-53. PDF file.

Smith, Jennifer. Creative Writing for Empowered Reading. Nashville: Aquinas College, 2015. Print.

Young, Dean. The Art of Recklessness: Poetry as Assertive Force and Contradiction. Minneapolis: Grey Wolf, 2010. Print.


Innovating Book Talks

The December 15th issue of Booklist features an article: “Sure Bets for Book Discussions.” The article is part of an upcoming book by Brad Hooper, The Librarian’s Guide to Book Programs and Author Events . I think a similar list can be made of “sure bets” for library book talks, not a list of books that will be successful with any young adult audience, but a list of approaches that can add depth and engage interest in reading books. My aim in presenting the following ideas is to spark further discussion among AISL librarians so that we can exchange techniques to add innovation to our book talks.

Match a Book for Every Reader

Ensuring diverse reading choices becomes the foundation of assembling a successful book talk. Diversity entails both reading levels and genres (fiction and nonfiction). Not every student will tackle the 500-page Pulitzer Prize winner All the Light We Cannot See, but students can be immersed in historic fiction books with complex characters and challenging conflicts in young adult books, such as Wicked Girls (Salem Witchcraft Trials) and The Watch that Ends the Night (Sinking of the Titanic). In addition to various reading levels, presenting a range of genres gives readers a sampling of types of books they may not have tried. In a recent book talk themed to tales of suspense, the book talk titles included historic fiction, novels in verse, contemporary humor, contemporary thriller, fantasy, science fiction, and biography. All of these books included suspense elements, but the range of genre was broad. (See Book Talk GoogleSlides for books used in suspense book talk.)

Create the Hook

Essential to any classroom presentation is the hook, and this suggestion uses technology to capture audience interest. Using a formative assessment app called Plickers (https://plickers.com/), I collected a quick snapshot of student interest in types of books at the beginning of the book talk. Students were given a QR code card to hold up in response to a multiple choice prompt. The direction of holding the card indicates either an “A,” “B,” “C,” or “D” response. The app is free, but I purchased a more durable set of laminated cards (you can also print out a free set of Plicker cards through their website). An iPad (or Smartphone) scanned the roomful of students holding the Plicker cards (oriented to their A/B/C/D response choice). Plicker quickly posted the responses on the device and grouped student choices in a graph.

Library Book Talk


Here is a Plicker graph of 39 students who responded to the query “What is your idea of suspense?” Read the four descriptive book teasers and decide which book you would most like to read:


(Book answers: A. Wicked Girls by Stephanie Hemphill; B. All the Truth That’s In Me by Julie Berry; C. The Art of Secrets by James Klise; D. The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson.)


Explore Close Analysis with Book Trailers

Book trailers are not a new idea, and there are many wonderful examples posted to YouTube, but creating your own book trailer allows you to focus on particular book elements to spur a discussion on how authors make decisions in the writing process.   For instance, author Stephanie Hemphill shared in an interview that she visited the town of Salem on a wintry day so that she could match the mood in her writing of Wicked Girls. She intended to show that the austere life and limited freedom for the young Puritan girls led to their using “visions” of witches and the devil to increase their own voice and power in this restrictive society. This Wicked Girls book trailer used text from the book’s first chapter that described the wintry setting; students can discuss how the words and imagery create analogies to the stern Puritan society (such as the bare limbs of trees like fingers pointing accusingly). Also, in a second viewing of the video, you can freeze the video frame to examine how image selection matches text, such as an image of the Devil pamphlet written by Cotton Mather that coincides with the text line “there are rules to follow here.”

The Watch That Ends the Night, a novel in verse that described the sinking of the Titanic, combined researched details into a riveting read. View this Titanic book trailer and experience how author Allan Wolf personified the voice of the Iceberg fated to collide with the ship (the iceberg “marks time with creaks, and cracks, and hiss”); Wolf also included authentic SOS messages from the sinking Titanic ship. Primary source photos from Britannica Image Quest helped dramatize the book trailer and can be a point of further student discussion into the historic connections behind the book.

Design Interactive Read-Alouds

We have all experienced the power of reading aloud from books, and selecting a dramatic passage that portrays conflicted characters can be a moment for an “interactive read-aloud,” as described by educator Cheryl L. Wozniak in her article “Reading and Talking about Books: A Critical Foundation for Intervention.”  Wozniak described how during a read-aloud, “teachers stopped periodically for students to discuss their ideas about the characters’ traits and motivations” (19).  For example, during my suspense book talk, I selected “The Silencer” chapter from The Fifth Wave, which dramatized the growing dilemma and hesitation of the alien “Silencer,” who had been sent to track down and kill the character Cassie. Cassie’s decision to face the killer and refusal to run provoked a surprising reaction from the Stalker. Author Yancey provided several clues in this passage that students can ponder to unravel motivations of “the Silencer” as well as Cassie’s decision not to run.

In the Wozniak article about read-alouds, findings from the research study showed that educators participating in the read-alouds and book talks developed a more positive attitude toward students and the teacher’s role in motivating readers (20).  This is familiar ground for librarians; re-invigorating book talks with innovative approaches will ensure that librarians successfully encourage young adult readers.

Looking forward to hearing from AISL librarians on your approaches to book talks.