…and More Library Gratitude!

Ellen and I, and probably many of you, are feeling particularly thankful at this time of year for the wonderful profession we are privileged to work in. While some individual class periods, days, weeks, months, and even whole school years can feel like not our best, there are powerful things to love about each day in our world. There are many things in my life for which I’m grateful, but in my professional life, I am so grateful for:

  • good work to do that engages my mind and heart and is different every day, and a stunningly beautiful space in which to do it.
  • colleagues who care about our students and their learning and are open to doing this good work together.
  • awesome students who amaze me every day with their creativity, curiosity, intelligence, drive, compassion, empathy, humor, and courage.
  • supportive administrators.
  • books and the authors who write them, especially for young people.
  • apps, websites, and tools that make our work easier and more effective.
  • coffee/lunch.
  • a free press and journalists with high standards.
  • other librarians in public and independent schools who are so willing and eager to share their brilliant ideas and challenge me to do a better job (whether they mean to or not), and who speak my language and share my questions and professional values.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Librarians as Vocab Teachers

Following a revelation I had last year regarding serving ELLs and international students at my school comes another, courtesy of my ESL teacher colleagues.  At the beginning of this year, they led a best practices session for faculty in which they emphasized that we all, no matter our disciplines or the language levels of the students we teach, need to be teaching vocabulary. They presented the three tiers of vocabulary development among other resources (mentioned below) and asked for our support in helping all students learn words in the second and third tiers, which become progressively more academic and domain-specific.

As an educator whose lessons can be jargon-heavy and full of words that have meanings specific to the library context (catalog, database, call number, collection) or the research process (authority, operator), this struck a chord. I often explain these terms during the course of an orientation or lesson, but I don’t directly teach them. In the month or so since that in-service day, I have been seeking tools and strategies to help me in my journey toward becoming a library and research process vocabulary teacher.

Maniotes & Cellucci have written in Teacher Librarian about how being a researcher and following an inquiry process leads students to develop domain-specific vocabulary related to an academic discipline or their research topic. However, at the moment I am more focused on the domain-specific vocabulary related to learning to use libraries and do research. I have started my own word bank of Tier 2 and Tier 3 words that appear in my own teaching, are found in places we might take for granted such as NoodleTools and the OPAC, and on guides for international students from academic libraries. I’ve taken a stab at categorizing them as Tier 2 (general academic words) or Tier 3 (library and research specific), tricky since “research words” do cross academic disciplines. Anyway, here’s a sample:

Tier 2:

  • Source
  • Resource
  • Publisher
  • Author
  • Title
  • Subject
  • Original
  • Journal
  • Academic
  • Keyword
  • Topic
  • Process
  • Electronic
  • Purpose
  • Content
  • Copyright

Tier 3:

  • Call number
  • Primary source
  • Scholarly
  • Database
  • Periodical
  • Reference
  • Archive
  • Dissertation
  • Thesis
  • Relevant
  • Collection
  • Accurate
  • Multi-volume
  • Catalog
  • Full text
  • Citation
  • Peer-reviewed

As a new researcher, let alone a new researcher working in their second or third language, these terms are not easily understood or may not make sense out of their previously known context.  Figuring out the appropriate word list for a research unit would depend on the level of the class and the input of the classroom teacher.

My toolbox for direct vocabulary instruction is growing as well.

  • In Vocab Rehab, Marilee Sprenger offers vocabulary instruction techniques that can be used in a class period with limited time. These could be handy during library orientations or one-shot lessons, provided there is opportunity for continued practice and reinforcement.
  • As new words come up, they could be added to a library word wall. Then a few minutes each inquiry session could be dedicated to engaging vocabulary review.
  • The Frayer Model could be used to help students understand the terms represented by the acronymic CRAAP test, for example.
  • Academic Word Finder identifies Tier 2 words for a certain grade level within a text, sometimes with surprising results.

I can’t wait to put some of these ideas to use as the year moves ahead and our ESL classes begin research projects. Building Tier 2 and Tier 3 word lists will be a wonderful opportunity for furthering collaboration with ESL teachers, and will benefit all student researchers too.

Do you do direct library vocabulary instruction? How and when? What words would you add? Any Middle or Upper School librarians with a word wall in the library (who would like to share pictures?)

References

Maniotes, L., & Cellucci, A. (2017). Doubling up: Authentic vocabulary
development through the inquiry process. Teacher Librarian, 44(3), 16-20.
Retrieved from http://teacherlibrarian.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/
4B-maniotes.pdf

Sprenger, M. (2014). Vocab rehab: How do I teach vocabulary effectively with
limited time? Alexandria, Va.: ASCD.

Further reading:

Bernadowski, C., & Kolencik, P. L. (2010). Research-based reading strategies in
the library for adolescent learners. Santa Barbara, Calif.: Libraries
Unlimited.

Lehman, C. (2012). Energize research reading and writing: Fresh strategies to
spark interest, develop independence, and meet key common core standards,
grades 4-8. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Student Achievement Partners. (n.d.). Selecting and using academic vocabulary in
instruction [Guide document]. Retrieved September 18, 2018, from
Achievethecore.org website: https://achievethecore.org/content/upload/
Selecting%20and%20Using%20Academic%20Vocabulary%20in%20Instruction.pdf

Teaching Research With Stories

Back in April at our conference, Carmen Agra Deedy inspired us to contemplate the power of stories and storytelling as teaching tools. I found a line in my notebook from that day – “Storytelling – (inc. into teaching research?)”

As a school librarians, we teach the research process. I have been wondering about how stories and storytelling might improve and spice up the teaching of this process, connecting inquiry to human experience in ways that feel relevant and vital to students. I’d love to help them progress through a research process using story to engage and illuminate, and in so doing, revealing to students that they, as researchers, are creators and storytellers. How to do this? I’m sharing ideas here that are still baking in the summer sun, so I hope you’ll consider and comment freely especially if this reminds you of something you already do or know about. While I’m inspired to learn more about storytelling and to begin to practice it, I’m not quite there yet. So far, I’ve thought of two texts that might help serve as stepping stones to engaging students in the process through story.

This summer I picked up The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin, which had been on my list for some time but until now had remained unread (yay, summer!). Benjamin begins each part of the novel with a quotation from the main character’s science teacher, Mrs. Turton; each part of the story relating to a section of a scientific paper and lending the novel that sense of structure:

“Background: Your background provides the context for your scientific quest. What do we already know? What don’t we know? Why does it matter – Mrs. Turton” (63).

How about a collaborative research unit with Middle School English and Science teachers, beginning a research process with a study of this novel? Has anyone done this or something like it? A summer idea to mull over!

Another book that could work to incorporate visual storytelling into teaching and supporting students through the research process is Grant Snider’s relatable and adorable The Shape of Ideas: An Illustrated Exploration of Creativity. While meant to relate to artistic creation, I think that parts of this simple book in the graphic format are wonderful illustrations for students identifying research topics, exploring information, formulating research questions, making connections between ideas, struggling with originality and procrastination, and reflecting on the process.

If you have this book in your collection, I recommend taking a look at its application to high school researchers as an illustrative guide to and validation of their process and feelings. It also helped me feel better about not knowing what this post would be about until pretty recently.

Benjamin, A. (2017). The thing about jellyfish. New York, NY: Little, Brown and
Company.

Snider, G. (2017). The shape of ideas: An illustrated exploration of creativity.
New York: Abram Comicarts.

Snider, G. (2015). Asking questions [Comic strip]. Retrieved from
http://www.incidentalcomics.com/2015/08/asking-questions.html

Culture and Approachability in the “Heart of the School”

Last week I was preparing for the first meeting of a new book club that had been reading  The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups by Daniel Coyle. I hadn’t (and still haven’t) read the whole thing, but I did open up the table of contents a few hours before the meeting to select a chapter or two I could consume before then. Chapter 11 in the section entitled “Share Vulnerability;” is called “How to Create Cooperation with Individuals.” Like I’m sure many of you have found, I find that my best interactions with students engaged in a research process are in one-to-one research meetings, so I opened up this chapter. Either I picked exactly the right one, or I ought to read the whole book.

In this chapter, Coyle meets an IDEO designer named Roshi Givechi, who is prized by her colleagues for her ability to help others solve problems. She is described as a relatively quiet person who puts others at ease with her air of serene competence and approachability. When a design team is facing a sticking point in their process, Givechi is able to help them discover new approaches by “asking the right questions the right way” (151). Coyle is impressed by her term for when this happens – “surfacing.” By making people feel comfortable, listening fully and taking interest in their interests, and asking good questions, Givechi doesn’t offer answers but creates a situation in which the problem solvers can make connections that reveal solutions. In reading about Givechi’s talent, I thought “this is just a super deluxe reference interview!” 

These are some basic elements at the core of our profession that I think we generally internalize, but it doesn’t hurt to give them some extra thought sometimes. Simple but important, “approachability” is listed first among RUSA’s Guidelines for Behavioral Performance of Reference and Information Service Providers.

Steven Bell at Temple University, who was the keynote speaker at the 2016 Summer Institute, blogged last year about the basic importance of being friendly, approachable and trustworthy in library services (https://tinyurl.com/y8x8xb7y). Our Marsha Hawkins in her great conference presentation last month on the “Boy-Friendly Library” talked about this simple idea too, when she said that she greets every student every day by name. Making ourselves accessible and approachable creates the shared vulnerability that builds trust in a community.

I don’t really have an office; I work at the 105-year-old reference and circulation desk in the middle of the library. From my workstation, this is what I see:

The Front Door

When students come in this door, whether to come to the library or go to class, this is the first thing they see: 

Just imagine the pumpkin is me.

Working at a computer at the desk, it is way too easy for me to, as Steven Bell writes, “fail to quickly and adequately acknowledge another person’s presence.” My monitor and the desk itself are physical and psychological barriers between the students and me, and it’s my job to break them. I want to make eye contact, say hello, “happy birthday” and “good luck at the game today” to students as they walk in the door, giving them the cue that they are welcome and in the right place, and usually/often I do. But sometimes when engrossed in a task, I find that I haven’t looked up in a while. Maybe a student will say hello to me and draw me out of that place, making me feel sheepish for failing to greet her and acknowledge her presence. On the other hand, maybe I’ve greeted her enough times that the relationship is there and her greeting can remind me of why I’m standing in the middle of this room in the first place – to be approached, to be open to what the students need and help their ideas surface, and to be at the heart of a school culture that supports and gently pushes at the same time.   

References

Bell, S. (2017, August 21). There’s a reason why eye contact and smiling improve the experience [Blog post]. Retrieved from Designing Better Libraries website: http://dbl.lishost.org/blog/2017/08/21/theres-a-reason-why-eye-contact-and-smiling-improve-the-experience/#.WvtlCGbMzVo

Coyle, D. (2018). The culture code: The secrets of highly successful groups. New York: Bantam Books.

“Guidelines for Behavioral Performance of Reference and Information Service Providers”, American Library Association, September 29, 2008. http://www.ala.org/rusa/resources/guidelines/guidelinesbehavioral (Accessed May 15, 2018) Document ID: ce1dea7f-f77b-c194-2967-b53adb4b40ed

Hawkins, M. (Presenter). (2018, April 17). The fundamentals of a boy-friendly library: Practice and research instruction. Presentation given at AISL annual conference, The Lovett School, Atlanta, GA.

 

Serving International Students

This year I’ve been looking at a couple of “big picture” issues at our library, squeezing in my investigations around the edges of everyday library life: user experience, especially of our online presence, and examining those new AASL standards with an eye toward linking them with other school priorities, including cross-walking with other sets of standards (a whole other post!). Among other things, these projects are leading me to another big question that I have begun to think about in a new way; how best to serve our international students and English Language Learners (ELLs). In my consideration of these students and their needs, I have tended to focus on the second part of this description – service to ELLs. In collection development, class visits, one-on-one instruction and summer reading selections, I have tried to accommodate and learn how to provide accessible, interesting, and useful materials and information. However, I have felt slightly at sea when trying to learn more about school library service to ELLs – much of what I find, rightfully and crucially so, addresses the multifaceted and diverse needs of young students from immigrant or refugee families or those growing up in the U.S. who speak a language other than English in the home. For the most part, these just aren’t my students – our ELLs are international boarding school students in middle and upper school enrolled here in order to learn and build on English skills, and usually to prepare for the TOEFL and study in an American college or university. These students and the way to approach serving them, I have recently realized, may have more in common with international student experiences in academic libraries. While I have found almost nothing specifically about serving international students in independent K-12 school libraries, plenty of academic librarians have researched, written about, and created resources to support international students coming to their institutions.

This now seems so obvious, but my focus on the age group we serve in K-12 schools has often kept me out of diving very deep into practices common to academic librarians. Well, no longer. While my students needs and backgrounds are also diverse and multifaceted, perhaps I should begin to balance my investigation of library services to younger ELLs with strategies tested by our colleagues in higher education to support international students as readers and researchers.

In chapters he wrote for two books: International Students and Academic Libraries: Initiatives for Success (ACRL, 2011) and Practical Pedagogy for Library Instructors: 17 Innovative Strategies to Improve Student Learning (ACRL, 2008), John Hickok relays the importance of understanding students’ prior experiences of libraries in their home countries and previous schools. He then recommends incorporating comparisons into library orientation sessions for international students, so that students may understand that notions they may have about libraries and librarians do not necessarily match what is offered in their school. This matches what I have gleaned from interactions with students over the years, but reading this in such plain terms was kind of revelatory. Based on Hickock’s strategies, I am eager to try a few new ideas to engage and support our students:

  1. Interview faculty members who are from or who have lived overseas, especially those countries from which our students are coming.
  2. Have casual conversations with international students to get a sense of what their perceptions are about the library and the role of the librarian.
  3. Connect with young alumni who have matriculated at institutions whose libraries have made specific efforts to reach out or offer special programs to international students.
  4. Collaborate with ESL faculty members to include more hands-on library time at the beginning of the year, introducing myself and the physical and virtual spaces, and ideally embedding library instruction into summer camp or new student orientation.

I’m not sure whether creating a resource guide specifically geared toward international students is the way to go, though many college and university libraries have done so. (A search for LibGuides for international students retrieved pages of results from universities; none from a school in the first four pages of Google results, anyway.) However, I am awakened to the need to learn from the powerful wisdom of my ESL teacher colleagues and academic librarians in not only collection development and appropriate information literacy scaffolding, but also user experience. A lot more articles just got added to my professional reading list!

If you have discovered useful resources, UX design ideas, or effective ways of providing library services including information literacy instruction to international and ESL students in middle and high school, please comment!

References

Hickock, J. (2008). Bringing them into the community: Innovative library instructional strategies for international and ESL students. In D. Cook & R. L. Sittler (Eds.), Practical pedagogy for library instructors: 17 innovative strategies to improve student learning (pp. 159-167).

Hickock, J. (2011). Knowing their background first: Understanding prior library experiences of international students. In P. A. Jackson & P. Sullivan (Eds.), International students and academic libraries: Initiatives for success (pp. 1-17). Chicago, Ill.: Association of College and Research Libraries.

 

 

 

 

Following Through on Book Clubs, Part 2

In a post back in November, I shared my hopes for a new Windows & Mirrors book club that was kicking off that month at our school, with The Hate U Give as our first read. I am happy to share now that it was a success! We opened the library and provided pizza during both lunch periods, and had eighteen participants in total. While readers munched on their pizza, I played a video featuring Angie Thomas talking about her inspiration for the book, and then read aloud a lengthier piece on the same. I had the publisher’s discussion guide with me, but really didn’t need it. After eating lunch the readers enjoyed casually talking about the characters and moments that resonated with them, the parts that made them angriest, the book’s humor, and how they identified with the relationships among characters. In both meetings conversation spread to memories of learning about Emmett Till in Middle School and viewing that particular image for the first time.

Our Upper School readers loved this book. It was a strong first choice to start things off, being a pretty new book that has generated plenty of buzz with relevance to students and a movie on the horizon. It didn’t hurt that we had some readers ready to go – The Hate U Give was one of our Upper School Summer Reading options in 2017, and it is on this year’s county Reading Olympics list, so when it came to extracurricular reading time busy Upper Schoolers could cover more than one base with this book.

Since this book club is a collaboration between the library and our Global Diversity Council, the GDC faculty leader and I talk over book choices and logistics. We agree that student input on book choices would be a good thing, but to keep the ball rolling and get a few copies of the next book before winter break we chose the second book ourselves. This month we’re reading Outrun the Moon by Stacey Lee. This choice allows us to open up this session to Middle School students and reveal new windows and mirrors.

Things that seem important so far:

  • Collaboration with another campus group. Many of the readers are also involved in the GDC, so they are able to maximize and diversify their participation in that as well as help publicize the book club.
  • We have been fortunate to be able to order a few copies of the books to circulate among interested readers over school breaks and leading up to the meetings. All copies of Outrun the Moon, including the library’s hardcover, eBook, and audiobook copies, were claimed within the first two days of the announcement and a few have come back and gone out again. Being able to provide access to a few copies is simple but important.
  • One of our ESL teachers has offered extra credit for participating!
  • I tend to err on the side of over-ordering when it comes to food, but it turned out two slices of pizza per person was enough.

Last week a student asked how she could get on the “selection committee” for the book club, so students are engaged in this concept and thinking of titles themselves. I created a Google Form to get the GDC members’ input on a selection with an LGBTQ focus to coincide with Day of Silence in April.

This morning I overheard a student tour guide in the library telling prospective families about the club, and while writing this post, two faculty members have emailed me with book ideas. I will really feel like this new try at an old idea is a success if our next meeting goes as well as the first and if the excitement can continue at least until the end of the year, or for a few more books. So far, so good!   

Please feel free to leave book suggestions in the comments. All advice welcome!

Following Through on Book Clubs, and, Windows & Mirrors

Over the last few years, avid and ambitious readers among the students and staff have pitched their book club desires to me. Naturally I’m game, but as our clubs and organizations already are challenged by finding time to meet I admit I’ve been pessimistic about book club success. A handful of times such an effort would result in one meeting and then fizzle out. This year I’m giving it another go, inspired by two things. First is our newly formed Global Diversity Council, comprising students and faculty members and tasked with ensuring “effective diversity engagement, inclusive excellent practices, a multicultural environment and curriculum, equitable activities, and social justice actions.”

The second was a recent well-timed article from Teaching Tolerance, in which Chelsea Tornetto writes:

“A story is often the most effective way to create personal connections between very different people. Reading a novel allows us to see the world through someone else’s eyes, remove the context we are used to and replace it with something new. We are more prepared to accept things beyond our own experiences because we know we are reading a ‘story,’ and yet we also actively search for similarities between our own lives and the lives of the characters. A novel can begin to open students’ minds and shape their hearts, without doing battle against their sense of self.”

While this is something we all know already, evoking Rudine Sims Bishop’s often referenced “windows, sliding doors, and mirrors” metaphor, I read it at the right time. This past summer our faculty and staff read Global Dexterity by Andy Molinsky, and the last line of this quotation points beautifully to the concept of this title; that we can find and should seek ways to effectively engage, identify with, and relate to people who are culturally different from ourselves without compromising our own identities and values. Reading about a fictional yet realistic character’s experiences is a safe way to practice this, which our school community wants and needs to do.

This article reminded me how simple yet powerful a program this could be, and with the right book, the right group to participate in and promote it, and enough (widely publicized) pizza, it could be a success.

This feels a little hard to say, but one of the stumbling blocks our book clubs have faced in the past is perhaps too much student ownership. I think my belief in wanting to give students voice and choice in this type of activity may have deprived them of a valuable experience. Of course I would like student voices heard and student ownership of our selections and discussions, but well-intentioned as our students may be, they, like all of us, just don’t always have time to do “extra” things like prepare, make posters, and successfully book talk an extracurricular novel. Reminder to self – reading promotion, awareness of current publications, and facilitating discussions about literature are my job. Those things aren’t “extra” for me. So maybe, for the students to have a great experience, a little adult (read: librarian) ownership is not such a bad thing.

I went to a GDC meeting last week and shared this idea. Rather than asking for book suggestions from the students, I said “The first book will be The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, and first meeting will be during lunch on December 13 in the library with pizza. I hope that if we decide to continue the book club that you folks will have some suggestions.” An interested buzz made its way around the room, so that’s good enough to forge ahead.

Then I sent this poster to Upper School students, faculty, and staff:
Window and Mirrors Book Club

With interest and partnership from the GDC, I think this will go very well. Our library collection holds copies of this particular title in three formats, and the GDC was able to purchase a few copies for students, faculty, and staff to bring home over Thanksgiving break. The books came in yesterday and three copies had already been claimed by 8:30 this morning. I’ll spring for the pizza.

I would love to hear about others’ Windows and Mirrors Book Club successes, stumbles, and book choices. My hypothesis is that we will need to choose very current titles representing diverse identities and experiences, personally invite some folks who might not be paying attention to emails and announcements, and make sure everyone knows about the food.

When will I finally…

I don’t know about all of you, but I do not feel I have fully mastered the whole getting-it-all-done-and-with-flair-too thing. With every new school year, I feel that sense of excitement and promise and opportunity, and then, “How is it already Banned Books Week!?!”

As much as I am fascinated by time management strategies and tools (really, in spite of myself, I am), it’s still something I feel that I struggle with. I don’t think I’m alone considering all of the time management webinars, apps, conference presentations, articles, and books I’ve come across geared specifically toward librarians, even school librarians. Peter Bregman, author of 18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Right Things Done (Business Plus, 2011) spoke at AASL four years ago. All of this is reassuring and disheartening at the same time. Has anyone figured this out? If they haven’t, how will I? Or, if they haven’t, can I stop worrying and just get on with it?

In searching my tags and folders for the many resources I’ve collected and bookmarked on this topic, I found two things, one of which I remembered writing, the other I did not. About three years ago, I was feeling that I had multiple competing priorities at school and, except for those tasks that called for my immediate attention, I was feeling overwhelmed and unsure of where to start.  I sketched out a general plan for figuring out what to work on when, and it still helps if I’m feeling a little adrift during the day in between students’ questions. (I would REALLY like to know how all of you out there have handled this.)

Well, here it is:

  • Monday: Curriculum, lesson planning
  • Tuesday: LibGuides/curation
  • Wednesday: Professional development
  • Thursday: Collection management, book reviews
  • Friday: catch-up, yearbook, peer tutoring, Cum Laude Society, etc.

The other thing I found was a draft of a blog post (for a now defunct blog) I wrote on this topic — five years ago! And guess what; the guilt and frustration and specific items that I feel are so important but get brushed aside by daily business – they were all the same. I can’t tick off the little “done!” box on any of them. That didn’t help the old imposter syndrome too much. However, it also served as a real eye-opener, and, in a weird way, reassured me. My professional values and philosophy have not changed a whit, and that makes me feel that re-centering my focus on these is true to my practice.

I returned to this 1.5 year-old blog post from one of our heroes, Joyce Valenza, to help me get over myself: http://blogs.slj.com/neverendingsearch/2016/03/26/a-belated-confession/, and this one, which you’ll remember from our own David Wee: https://aislnews.org/?p=4219. Both still make me feel grateful as well as empowered to choose a focus, and to see that achieving balance and mastery of the different hats we all wear in terms of a year, or even a whole career, rather than a day, week, or month is the ultimate goal. Really, the ultimate daily and career-wide goal is to serve and teach the students as best we can, and that happens in large and small ways.

So, here it is – this year I will focus on redesigning and improving our LibGuides and further embedding the library in our LMP. Maybe I won’t do more book-talking, or design/choose the perfect research framework for my school, but I can make some progress in those areas while really getting one part of our house in the order our students need it to be in. Luckily, I can do it with a little help from my friends; namely, all of you!

Beyond Read-Alike: A Read-Within

As I’m sure many of us are, I am taking advantage of summer’s looser schedule to fit many more books a week into my reading time than I normally am able to. A delight, of course. But, even more delightful – twice in the past week I have had one of my favorite experiences when reading a novel. I don’t know about you, but I get a little frisson of geeky excitement when I am reading a book and the characters read or make reference to a book that I also love, or that I selected for the library collection hoping for a clamorous reception. This doesn’t happen with any old book name-drop. I don’t get a thrill when characters are reading Lord of the Flies in their fictional English class, for example, even though such a reference could help a reader relate to a character. I’m talking about books that are less ubiquitous reads, that a reader might have picked up on their own and now they get to reap the rewards of that choice again. Or, perhaps, something they’ve never heard of but now might be persuaded to pick up after reading the referencing book to get new insight into a character and stay with them longer.  I want my students to experience that same feeling of recognition in a character when a shared taste in literature is revealed. I want them to have that feeling of inclusion, or at least get the joke. If a reader loves one book or the other, its partner could become an easy sell! Anyway, I think it would make a cool display.  I have started making a list of examples when I run across or remember them. Here are a few I have gathered so far, in no particular order:

       

Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven / We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

In Holding Up the Universe, Libby, formerly housebound, identifies with the main character of her favorite book. After her house is demolished to rescue her, an unknown person sends one of her own copies of the book to the hospital with a life-changing message written inside: “I’m rooting for you.”

       

Two for The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath: And Then Things Fall Apart by Arlaina Tibensky and Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer

In these two books, The Bell Jar is not just casually mentioned; the characters’ engagement with the text plays a central role in the story. Readers may get more from these two novels after or before reading The Bell Jar.

   

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead/A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

Plenty of middle schoolers love When You Reach Me, but may not have read or otherwise heard of A Wrinkle in Time. The Hope Larsen graphic novel adaptation and upcoming film could help this out the door, too.

  

The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner/Just Kids by Patti Smith

The three main characters in The Serpent King are shopping in a local bookstore. One of them buys a copy of her favorite book, Patti Smith’s Just Kids, which presumably she already has, just to pretend she’s about to read it for the first time. 

    

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell / Watchmen by Alan Moore

Eleanor and Park bond over this classic comic book. When I read Eleanor & Park, I also happened to be reading Watchmen for the first time, through sheer coincidence. What?!?

They spoiled the end.

 

Buck: a Memoir by M. K. Asante / Howl by Allen Ginsburg and On the Road by Jack Kerouac

In his memoir, M. K. Asante relates a story of a teacher who gave him these two books and thereby a voracious love of reading. He mentions several more works and authors that he read next including James Baldwin and Zora Neale Hurston. Asante visited our school, and students lined up for his book and autograph in droves. If he loved these I think a few students will be more interested in them too. 

Displaying books side-by-side with a well-placed note could bring new attention to some overlooked titles. “Loved The Serpent King? Read Lydia’s favorite book!”

The same interest can be piqued in music, movies, TV shows – any other work of art. I HOPE my students look up unfamiliar songs that are mentioned in books they read. What a wonderful window into the world of a favorite book and sensibility of a favorite character.

What would you add to the list? I know I’m missing some good match-ups!

The Gift of Summer Reading

There has been no shortage of discussion on the topic of summer reading, but as ’tis the season, here’s another piece! As the end of the year approaches and a flurry of school events come and go, it seems to be the library-mission related topic that is most visible and most on the minds of school community members at the moment.

This will be our third year of using a student-driven summer reading model first inspired by a presentation from a fellow independent school librarian at our state affiliate organization conference several years ago. I know many schools have been approaching summer reading in similar ways and each school whose summer reading process I’ve taken note of “does” summer reading a little differently to fit their own school mission and reading community. I’ve learned a few things about summer reading at our school over the last two years and I’m sure I have more to learn this year as things come together.

To sum up our method: starting in the winter, I recruit Summer Reading Leaders (SRLs) from the ranks of returning students in grades 9-11 (rising sophomores-seniors). I make announcements, send out visually appealing emails, and speak face-to-face with students.

Together we select a book for each of them to put forth as an Upper School summer reading option. Some of these students know a book they’d like to share immediately, others need suggestions to choose from or a little re-direction. Once the list is final, the rest of the students rising to grades 9-12 fill out a Google form asking for their top three favorites from the list. I arrange the students into reading groups based on these preferences. Nearly everyone is assigned to their first choice reading group.

When we return to school, a one-hour Summer Reading Group session is built into the orientation/pre-season sports days. The SRLs are in charge of leading discussions, or, for the more ambitious, activities during this time.

I am always thrilled to see which students might volunteer to be SRLs and to see positive responses from those who are so happy to be asked. I am often tickled by their book choices, too.

The benefits of this approach:

  • More choice means more student buy-in and excitement around summer reading. The peer-chosen factor is a big one here.
  • We start the year on a positive note around reading. The idea is that everyone is reading something of their choice which ideally they also enjoyed.
  • Through their choices, I get to know the students better as readers; especially those who don’t read for pleasure as much or new students who need to be welcomed into the library.
  • When a SRL needs help choosing a book, I get a chance to promote something that deserves more readers, or else provide overlap with Reading Olympics or the PA Young Readers Choice Award.

Of course there are also The Challenges

  • When it comes to recruiting SRLs, it’s easy to think first of the students you know to be voracious readers. However, other students want to be involved too. They might just need to be asked. They are likely to bring great additions to the list. (I aim for enough SRLs to have reading groups of about ten students and to provide enough diversity in the book options.) 
  • Relatedly, balancing the list takes careful consideration, as Christina Pommer posted a few years ago. The list has to appeal to many different reading preferences.
  • There are some students who don’t read the summer reading book. I survey the students anonymously after the groups meet, with one of the questions being “Did you read the book?” Most have either responded “Yes” or “I read most of it.”

Lessons learned

  • Last year we had a couple of repeated books from the year before led by new SRLs. I was happy that I still had the previous year’s reading group rosters, as some students wanted to sign up for the book they had already read the previous year. While I was pleased they had enjoyed it so much the first time, I could refer to the old roster and assign them to their second choice.
  • Keep Admissions informed of the process. Make book selection easy and friendly for new students. Seeing their book choices come in during the summer is a great entry to getting to know them before the year starts.
  • It may be that the students who initially resist assigned Summer Reading will make great SRLs because it’s the SRLs who have the most choice in their Summer Reading selection. 
  • Check that the books are easily available; internationally, if applicable. A book fair can really help with this, or hold a book downloading help session before the end of the year.

Through most of the school year, I worry that Upper School students generally don’t seem to be reading for pleasure very much. Though we put together physical and virtual book displays, promote new and seasonal titles through email and social media, set up pop-up libraries in different spots around campus, participate in Reading Olympics and book talk for classes and clubs, often it seems that this dynamic collection of super-awesome books is going unnoticed, spines in near-perfect condition with nary a stamp on the date due slip. I wonder whether I am promoting the collection enough, or selecting and purchasing books the students want to read. Maybe students are just not interested in reading library books, preferring to watch TV shows or read on Wattpad when their hearts and minds need a story.

While these are important things to evaluate, I often forget about the simple and real factor of time. Like many of us, our busy college-prepping students just don’t have that much time during the school year to curl up with a good book that they love. Some make the time, but it’s hard to do. When a break rolls around, I am delighted by the reading that is all of a sudden part of the imagery of “how I will spend my summer vacation.” That’s when many students are ready to have a book put in their hands. When given the chance and an enticing array of  choices many will welcome summer reading as the gift a good book is.

There are a lot of great summer reading ideas to be found on the AISL wiki, listserv, and other places. I’d love to see a comprehensive database of different summer reading approaches in our schools, so we can see others’ ideas and lessons learned. Anyone with me?