Author Visits: Pandemic Edition

It is no secret that the 2020-2021 school year was painful. Teachers, students, parents, everyone was in a survival daze. Just get through this year. I have seen a lot of discussions about the many safety procedures and protocols that we hope to never need again. I don’t plan to add to this growing list but as we end summer 2021 and head into this next school year, I would like to offer some of the positives that came out of the response to the pandemic, specifically our virtual author visits.

Our school year had both on-campus and remote students in 5th grade through 12th grades. We had limited movement between the grade levels and no large in-person group gatherings such as assemblies. Our campus also restricted visitors for the year. The inability to host a visiting author this past year as we do annually was initially frustrating. Yet the frustration gave way to excitement once I realized that our budget for visiting authors, which covers the visit stipend, hotel, food, and travel fees, could now be split between multiple virtual visit fees.

Our first virtual visit of the school year was with graphic novelist Grace Ellis. This visit was hosted over Zoom as a webinar for our whole middle school. In preparation for this visit, I asked students to make short videos (Tiktok-like) to share with Grace of their questions; unfortunately, I didn’t garner any excitement to make such videos. The day of the visit was conducted just like our in-person presentations except now on a virtual platform; I introduced Grace and she spoke to the students. Her presentation was wonderful and the students filled the chat feature Q&A during the visit. Reflecting on the visit, Grace and I found the webinar platform was awkward for a school author visit as I was the only audience she had to interact with. While Grace’s visit was loved by my middle and upper school students, I wanted more connection between the author and students.

Our next visit was with Supriya Kelkar. For this visit, I changed the format from a presentation to an interview, which was conducted mainly by a panel of my middle school students. Based on students’ reading interests I selected and invited specific students to be on the panel. They were given the opportunity to read the author’s books and then we met to practice on Zoom. Using Google Docs, one student wrote the introduction, each student wrote two questions, and together we created a script that included time for other students to type into the Q&A. Before the actual Zoom visit, we met again on Zoom to practice interview manners, Zoom manners, and even facial reactions as the student panel would act as interviewer and audience. We had a mix of remote and on-campus students so I also coordinate separate safe spaces for on-campus students to remove their masks if they wanted. While I wasn’t sure how this format would work, I should have never doubted my students; these middle school interviewers hit the mark and did an amazing job! Each student took pride in their spot on the interview panel. One student panelist said of the experience, “It was amazing to learn how she made all of her dreams come true.”

Adapting our second visit and moving away from the traditional presentation was a huge success for the participation and interest of our students. The third virtual visit was with author and founder of We Need Diverse Books Ellen Oh. With the success of our middle school interview panel, I kept the format and preparation similar inviting new middle school students and adding an upper school panel for a second Zoom presentation. During the practice sessions, the students suggested that while one student would write the introduction, they would split the speaking roles between the panel so it was more equal. These students again impressed me with their professionalism and pride in being part of the interview.

For this visit, I also coordinated with Ellen to allow the student panelists to stay on the Zoom call with the author after the group interview. The students enjoyed this personal time with Ellen to talk candidly with her.

Before our final virtual author visit of the school year, I asked for feedback from the homeroom teachers about student audience engagement during the visit. The idea to reimagine our author visits again emerged. With our students not on-campus full-time, I believed creating a One Book One Grade activity with this visit would be a wonderful community builder. While our assemblies remain, now virtually, the absence of community is noticeable and dearly missed. Creating a One Book One Grade activity allowed our school to reimagine the important value of community building during assemblies in addition to the student interview panels.

In coordination with our parent association, we purchased every student in 5-12th grades a book by author Nnedi Okorafor before her visit. Her middle-grade novel Ikenga was gifted to the fifth and sixth grades. The young adult award-winning novel Akata Witch was read by the seventh and eighth graders, as well as the freshmen. The first book in the novella Binti was purchased for the tenth graders. The eleventh grade received the novel Who Fears Death, which was awarded the 2011 World Fantasy Award for Best Novel, as well as the 2010 Carl Brandon Kindred Award for an outstanding work of speculative fiction dealing with race and ethnicity. Finally, her 2021 newly release novella Remote Control was gifted to the twelfth grade. Connecting each grade with a single book and both divisions with a single author created a significant bond for our students during this time apart. As a result, students were able to create new connections with each other through virtual book clubs and conversations hosted by the library that allowed for space to share and create community.

Some students read before the visit, some decided to start once they “met” the author, some took the book home for their TBR shelf. I loved that each student had a physical connection to the virtual author. Nnedi’s visit was wonderful! The student panelists were wonderful in their presentation of their questions and the teachers reported that the student audience was engaged throughout the conversation and the Q&A. I also tried my audio editing skills at our first author visit podcast. I whittled the two 40 minute presentations into one 30 minute podcast with permission from the author’s agent to be posted to our school Spotify account.

The unfortunate situation of remote school was a difficult one, and it forced us to pivot, reimagine, and create a new normal. I’m excited to bring over some of these new ideas into our future in-person author visits.

The impact of connection

A connection is the key to unlocking the power of the library.  Through collaboration between teachers, authors, and public libraries, I find that we can make strong connections for our students. Last September (before COVID-19 impacted our schedule), I expanded my circle and collaborated with an amazing organization, Cleveland Hearing and Speech Center.

It started as a small idea to share with our students about some of my identifiers. As a person who wears a hearing aid and is dyslexic, I personally connect with two of the recent national months September being deaf awareness and October being learning disability awareness. Teaming up with my amazing Learning Specialist, Alex Franceschini, we created an announcement for our regular middle school morning meeting. Our goal was to celebrate diversity through learning disabilities and disabilities.

Alex reiterated the importance of this presentation in an email to our faculty, “With regards to deafness [and learning disabilities], I think it’s important for kids to understand that it’s an invisible disability, and to dig into what that means and make connections, esp. for our students who may themselves have invisible disabilities. There’s a lot [teachers] can do there with identity, first impressions, making judgments using only visual cues, etc.” (Franceschini, 2019)

As part of an announcement to celebrate disabilities and learning disabilities, Timothy Thomas, the Director of Interpreting Services at the Cleveland Hearing and Speech Center, provided a look at ASL interpretation and introduced the importance of providing ASL services throughout Cuyahoga County for the deaf and hard of hearing.

Mr. Thomas gave our students a wonderful first look at ASL interpretation up close.

We also wanted to present the importance of learning strategies, the use of accommodations, and the equity created when services are provided and used.

*Franceschini, Alex. “Easy study strategies”. 5 November 2019.

We also included two inspirational authors: Cece Bell, who is deaf and wears a hearing aid, and Dav Pilkey, who has ADHD and dyslexia.

The presentation was a hit! After I had some students who were comfortable verbalizing that we shared a connection, some walked by while making made the ASL sign for “SAME” (a common sign at our school), some contacted me later on. Representation of characters is extremely important to collection development, but also the representation of authors, and even teachers, is extremely important, too. Our students connect with teachers individually, and sometimes unique shared experience is a connection that is missed. Sharing my experience as an HOH person with dyslexia made me feel vulnerable; I was nervous, but the benefits for my students outweighed this fleeting discomfort. 

As September and October roll around again, I’m reimagining how I can again present and collaborate to highlight the experiences of the deaf/hard of hearing and those with learning disabilities through hybrid learning. 

Wishing you all the best as we reimagine this school year.


Some ideas for virtual connections for Deaf/HOH awareness

As I learn more about my own place in Deaf/HOH culture, I have found that we need to be aware that within Deaf Culture there are sections.

  1. Not all American deaf people sign and if they do, they might sign ASL or SEE or PSE (Video about signing culture). 
  2. Deaf not Dumb performed in British SL
  3. Deaf Singer on AGT
  4. Deaf Dancer
  5. Deaf Artist’s installation “The world is sound”
  6. Black Deaf Culture (Black dialect in ASL)Celebrate Black Deaf History Month (Interviewee from Cleveland)
  7. Four Deaf Actors to Watch on Netflix Right Now A wonderful suggestion from my Learning Specialist Alex Franceschini.

Deaf History Month in April

  1. Deaf History Month Important Dates (Why it is celebrated)
  2. DHM Explanation Youtube Playlist

Recreate the cover

Inspired by the Getty museum’s challenge to recreate a masterpiece, I challenged my students to recreate book covers with things found in their homes while in quarantine. They could use their physical or digital talents to create a favorite cover. These recreations gave us so much joy during this reimagined school year. I love how they came out and I am excited to share each with you.

EDIT to include instructions for students:

Recreate a book cover with things from your home! Choose any book cover of your choice! The Middle School will vote on the top recreation from each grade who will earn an Amazon Gift Card!

I also offered this to 3rd and 4th grade without the gift card prize as an optional assignment. I included a “Making Of” time-lapse video of my own cover recreation and some examples I found online.


First up are the art pieces by our 3rd and 4th graders.

Be impressed by our 5th and 6th grade makers!

Now take a moment to enjoy our 7th and 8th grade creaters.

While I miss them immensely, being home has sparked a creativity bug in my students that has impressed me. My hope for the future of learning is that play and creativity are part of learning, too. Each student had to problem-solve for this activity. What would make the best recreation? Do I use myself or my sibling as a model? Do I create or reuse other objects to make the cover? Each student took the time to really think through their cover and this is what school needs to include, too.

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

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

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

But I know that librarians are tough!

We are motivated!

We are problem-solvers!

We are book worms and information dragons!

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

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

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

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

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

Some background information on my specific experience:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Offer faculty social-emotional support

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

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


Librarian of the Day: Leadership in 5th grade

In line with our school theme last year, The Power of You in Community, we start our introduction to the library catalog with an activity for 5th grade. They walk through the OPAC on their iPads and find the books that they have read over the summer. We work on leaving quality comments and reviews on these books.

Emphasizing that a book review should include:

  • The book’s title and author
  • A brief summary of the plot that doesn’t give away too much
  • Comments on the book’s strengths and weaknesses
  • The reviewer’s personal response to the book with specific examples to support praise or criticism

Keep in mind while writing the review:

  • Does the book fit into a genre, like mystery or romance, and why?
  • When and where does the action in the book take place? Does the author do a good job of making you feel like you are there? How?
  • Are the main characters believable? Do you know anyone like them? Does the author adequately describe them?
  • What do you like or dislike about the author’s writing style? That is, do you like the way the author uses words? 
  • Use concrete examples to back up your points, such as describing a scene that really moved you or using a couple of short quotes from the book.
  • Don’t forget to include your opinion of the book, whether you liked or disliked it.

As the students grow throughout the year, they are encouraged to be part of our 5th grade Reading Community by reading and reviewing books in our OPAC. we added some encouragement through a point system with two achievements. Once students are an active participant in our community (about 3 reviews in a trimester) they achieve status as a Reading Community member and earn a pin to wear on their badge lanyard.

The second achievement is earned when a student goes above and beyond with their participation in the Reading Community. They reach the status of Librarian of the Day! As librarians, they give a Booktalk to the entire middle school, facilitate the Mobile Library at lunchtime, send a whole school email with their reviews compiled, and process circulation at class time. Once a Librarian, these students are welcomed into the Library Leaders program which plans activities and is responsible for the library.

I have found that this is a great program to get students actively involved in reading. What are your programs that work in your library?

Advocating Public Library Resources in Schools

With September as National Library Card sign up month, I like to send out an email to our teachers, students, and parents about all the neat resources our public libraries have. What other unique resources do your public libraries provide?

September is National Library Card Sign Up Month! Library Cards open you to many many FREE resources! Is your library card collecting dust? Here are some great ways to RENEW your use of local libraries! 

  • Did you know your Cuyahoga County Public Library card is good at any Cleveland Public Library and CLEVNET Library (including Shaker Hts PL)?
  • Libraries have resources beyond reading!
    • TechCentral MakerSpace at Cleveland PL and Innovation Centers at the Cuyahoga County PL in Mayfield, Garfield, Parma, and South Euclid have 3-D printers, LEGO® robots, cameras, audio recorders, audio / video studios, Cricut crafting machines, t-shirt presses, Adobe Creative Cloud software, and much more.
    • South Euclid-Lyndhurst Branch CCPL has The Memory Lab, a “do-it-yourself” space to learn how to access, digitize, and share old videos, audio recordings, photographs, and slides.
    • Cleveland PL has over 1 million photos in their Photograph Collection, as well as, unique Chess and Checkers Collections, Folklore, Gypsies and Orientalia collections, a Miniature Books collection, a Tobacco Collection, and Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards- the only American book award designed to recognize works addressing issues of racism and diversity.
    • CLENET patrons have access to Rosetta Stone.
    • Access to digital resources: Hoopla (video), Freegal (music), Flipster (magazines)
  • Ever been on Amazon, Goodreads, Google Books and wondered “Hey, does my local library have this book?” but you never followed through to check? Not anymore! The Chrome Library Extension appears on the right side of the screen and tells you if your local library owns the book. You can even place a hold on the library book right from Amazon!
  • Meet Libby! The new and improved eBook and audiobook library app from Overdrive. If you thought Overdrive was a bit too clunky for use, then the user-friendly app Libby will be your new best friend!
  • Cuyahoga County Public Library app: search the catalog, read reviews, check out, use Overdrive, stream videos via Hoopla, scan a book ISBN to find in the library, register for events, and much much more!
  • Shaker Heights Public Library has a dedicated Local History Librarian who can help homeowners research their homes and a Career Transition Center offers resume and interview help. SHPL also has wifi hotspots for cardholders over 18yo. 
  • Fines got you down? Often times libraries have food drives or other activities to lessen your fines. Be on the lookout!

Author Visit: Tricia Springstubb

This National Library Week we were lucky enough to host two authors! Janet Stevens and Tricia Springstubb shared their talents with our Prime and Middle schools.

I really enjoy coordinating programs that bring in people passionate about reading and creating reading materials. Our Prime librarian Kristen organized programs for the Prime with Janet, author and illustrator, where each group created their own characters. Tricia, author and reviewer, shared her passion and talents for linking the written word with the Middle School.

Our MS students were a buzz with ideas; wanting to write about what they knew and what they connected with in the world. As Tricia said in her workshops, the best ideas hatch like baby chicks- pecking from both the inside and outside.

Tricia also joined our book club students for a lunch filled with book recommendations, writing advice, and of course, signed bookmarks!

I love connecting with students after they meet authors to hear their ideas bloom. What great author visits have you had?

Reading creates community

Sorry for the delayed posting; last week was Book Fair week!

“She’s quiet, shy, and always has her nose in a book.”

“She needs to connect with those around her.”

“She isn’t learning how to navigate the real world.”

“She reads so quickly; I don’t think she understands what she is reading.”

These are often comments I hear from concerned parents about their child reader. I want to rephrase these statements.

Books allow us to travel the world, meet amazing people, and try experiences we never thought were possible. I believe that reading is the foundation of lifelong learning. Every subject requires reading and understanding, by creating a passion for reading we create better scholars, engineers, scientists, and artists. This is the goal of silent sustained reading times. Yet, we are seeing that sitting and silently reading for 50 minutes is difficult, and students are not benefiting from the designated reading time, even when the time is dedicated to books that students choose for themselves.

Recently, I proposed to reframe our 5th/6th grade SSR: Silent Sustained Reading class. Moving from a SILENT sustained reading model to a STRUCTURED sustained reading model. My goal for this change would be to provide the opportunity to create discussion and evaluation around books for students in a relaxed format. While pleasure reading can be an individual activity, structured sustained reading creates the expectation of community. “Research has shown that reading ability is positively correlated with the extent to which students [independently] read recreationally,” according to the “Reading and Writing Habits of Students” section of The Condition of Education 1997, published by the National Center for Education Statistics (Hopkins). However, 20 years later, we know that silent independent reading is not enough. “Reading comprehension is not a single ability,” as the title of Hugh W. Catts and Alan G. Kamhi 2017 article states. Catts and Kamhi conclude that “the multidimensionality of reading comprehension means that instruction will be more effective when tailored to student performance with specific texts and tasks.” Our students need to be mentored through the pleasure reading process and when we provide the opportunity to discuss their personal reading, reading comprehension will grow.

Every student needs time to read for self-improvement. Structured sustained reading is a time to create positive relationships with mentoring teachers over personal reading. Such a model, as described by Michelle Gabriel, ED. M. in her 2017 presentation “Structured Independent Reading”, would include:

  • conferencing with students during reading time
  • discussing book choices for independent reading that will yield more successful reading experiences.
  • informally checking for understanding as students read
  • group discussions to make connections to what students have learned to capitalize on the teachable moment.
  • set expectations for students’ reading behaviors and habits
  • exploring a variety of genres.

The goal of the course is to create lifelong readers that set goals, discuss their reading, and build reading comprehension skills. Creating motivated readers increases facetime with texts and develops key reading comprehension skills.

“She reads so quickly; she understands what she is reading.

She is learning how to navigate the real world

and connect with those around her

because she’s quiet, shy, and always has her nose in a book”

Mentoring teachers and I will be prepping with Teacher Resources:

  • No More Independent Reading Without Support (Not This But That) by Debbie Miller and Barbara Moss
  • Creating Lifelong Readers Through Independent Reading by Barbara Moss

I’m interested to share experiences with other middle school librarians who have implemented similar changes to their reading programs.

Work Cited
Catts, Hugh W. and Alan G. Kamhi. “Reading Comprehension Is Not a Single Ability.” Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, April 2017, Vol. 48, 73-76. doi:10.1044/2017_LSHSS-16-0033.
Gabriel, Michelle and Maria Acero-Castillo. “Structured Independent Reading.” 2017, Microsoft Powerpoint online file.
Hopkins, Gary. “Sustained Silent Reading” Helps Develop Independent Readers (and Writers).” Education World, 19 November 1997,

#freedomforgirls: a Library and Dance collaboration

Something real is happening in our 6th-grade dance classes. Inspired by the hashtag #freedomforgirls and Beyonce’s Facebook post sharing Global Goals’ new music video to her own song “Freedom”, our girls have taken real-world issues and turned their paraphrased research into paraphrased dance.

The end of the music video challenges the viewer to help in fighting for a series of “global goals” by the year 2030 and our girls jumped and pirouetted at the chance to try. Working in groups to create pieces that raise awareness about an issue, the girls are using their dances as a call to action.

The International Day of the Girl music video cycles through many shocking facts that surprised and confused the girls.

Are these facts true?

How did we not know this was happening?

How can we spread this information?

The first question was one that prompted the dance teacher, Lisa Yanofsky, to ask for my help to co-teach two of her classes, and we held our first ever dance/research class in the dance studio. The librarian’s presence in the dance studio was met with some confused and concerned faces; but as I reminded the students of our digital resource tools, it was great to watch their faces as they made the connection that they could use the tools in ANY subject or situation, not just history or science research.

As they delved into our databases, researching injustice against girls, our girls began to ask and answer more and more questions. Learning that girls who are forced into marriage as a child don’t have beautiful elegant white dress weddings as they imagined but instead are overpowered and not free to have thought or education (“Is this the beginning”). Discovering that, at least, one member of their group of four could experience domestic violence in her lifetime (Cloos).


Realizing that the gender wage gap affects everyone, even female soccer teams (Das). Attempting to understand the difference between education as a right and as a privilege and who is helping protect the right (“Girls Education Network Launch”). Primarily using Gale databases, our girls collected facts and figures they believe would be impactful to their audience. All ideas that they never imagined researching in “dance class”.

During our next dance/research session, they worked independently to paraphrase their facts and develop an opinion based on each fact. The next step was to take that research directly into the creation of their movements. Literally moving the paraphrased fact into a paraphrased motion. Listening to them plan out their movements was really wonderful and seeing facts of 1 in 4 become visual ideas and movements was fascinating. The girls connecting that they could show the weakness of policy changes by becoming weak in their movements was something I have never experience in a research paper.

I would love to do more projects that move researching outside of the core subject and into passion-based projects. If it wasn’t for Lisa’s project ideas and invitation into her dance studio, I would not have experienced this amazing project. The girls are still working hard to perfect and complete their dance but I hope you enjoy this short sneak peek of their #freedomforgirls dances.


Work cited
Cloos, Rhonda. “Domestic Abuse.” The Gale Encyclopedia of Public Health, edited by Laurie J. Fundukian, vol. 1, Gale, 2013, pp. 256-258. Global Issues in Accessed 1 Dec. 2017.
Das, Andrew. “Female stars accuse U.S. Soccer of unfair pay; 5 players file suit, saying women’s team earns less despite a better record.” International New York Times, 1 Apr. 2016. Global Issues in Accessed 1 Dec. 2017.
“Girls’ Education Network Launched [press release].” Africa News Service, 12 June 2017. Global Issues in Accessed 1 Dec. 2017.
“Is this the beginning of the end of child marriage?” CNN Wire, 16 June 2015. Kids Accessed 1 Dec. 2017.

A Day in the Life of a Middle School Librarian

We all know that librarians wear many hats. For some this can be a bit confusing; however, I love all of the hats that I get to wear during a day in my library.


I start my morning in a “circulation” cap as our girls use the library to finish last minute homework, catch up on last night’s Netflix binge, or attempt to wake up with some breakfast from our in-house café. Our book drop fills up and the day begins in our 5th-12th grade library and learning commons.


Time to don the “research ranch” hat and “digital literacy” derby. My 6th-grade research workshop course can be a bit like taming wild horses. It is an opportunity for my students to discuss upcoming research projects, evaluate sources, argue the importance of acknowledgment and citation, as well as, dip their toes into some digital literacy activities. I enjoy helping to guide their reins as they learn to jump through the hoops of navigating research.


During their rotating free period, my 5th-8th grade Library Leaders can be seen in the library. Beyond wearing the “point-person” pillbox myself, my Leaders dress in the hats of responsibility. They reshelve and organize books, pick up and clean the learning commons space, and even design library displays and announcements. This week’s announcement was about Library Card Sign Up month, which had me wearing a Wonder Woman headdress- concealing my true identity!


Thankfully, there is lunch in this story. Of course, it is accompanied by the Pop-Up Library pom-pom hat! Themed for each month- this week the Pop-Up includes books that follow our school theme of Courage, Character, and Kindness. I set up the Pop-Up just outside the dining hall so that students can browse after eating.


My middle schoolers do not have scheduled library classes. So after buckling on my “brainstorming” hat, I have found monthly times to meet with each grade for Book Talks or themed activities to promote circulation and reading for fun. Today, I coordinated some Musical Books for my 5th graders. They enjoyed reading for three minutes, then when the music played passing the books until the music stopped, and they had a new book to read. Almost all of the 5th graders checked out a book afterward.


While I love all of my hats, I’m lucky to be able to show off my “secret talent” sombrero during my Book Art course.

We discussed the great importance of the crane in Japanese culture and introduced the belief that one thousand paper cranes can grant the heart’s deepest wish. The first cranes they made were crumpled, lumpy, and not at all resembling the graceful bird. One student even frustratedly suggested that we make seagulls instead because clearly, that is what she had created. But these girls encouraged, helped, and coached each other through the instructions and one by one paper cranes began to emerge from the recycled book pages.

Our paper crane making project was coupled with the sound of the audiobook Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes by Eleanor Coerr. As the story took its course, my students were becoming more proficient at paper crane making and commented about feeling as if they too were helping Sadako create cranes. Although the story was a sad one, my students talked with each other about how making the cranes allowed them to feel at peace.


Time to go home! Just kidding- today after school I sport my athletics cap as JV Golf coach!

While from time to time I don’t have to quick-change into all of my hats, I really enjoy how busy my life as a Middle School Book Wizard- I mean- Librarian can be!