Putting Students at the Center of Learning: Student Blogs

“If students do not develop a valuable relationship to the things they study in school,
their relationship with their teacher will not have accomplished its full purpose.
This challenges (teachers) to resist the desire to be the center of the story….”
Doug Lemov in Teach Like a Champion 3.0 (Jossey-Bass, 2021, pp. 103-104)

How do you measure student success as a learner? The AASL Standards for Learners echo Doug Lemov’s comments: “Put the learner at the center, focus on growth…and enable learner voice, choice, and agency” (AASL, National School Library Standards for Learners, School Librarians, and School Libraries. ALA, 2018, p. 124). Educators provide a variety of learning experiences that offer opportunities for student inquiry, exploration, and growth as a communicator; however, student blogs have the potential to engage students with personal choice, critical and creative thinking, and decision-making skills through the creation and sharing of digital content for an authentic audience. In addition, student blogs offer librarians exciting ways to guide students in developing skills as ethical communicators and digital citizens.

Video Bloggers Characters Flat Set. Britannica ImageQuest, Encyclopædia Britannica, 2 Nov 2020.
quest.eb.com/search/186_3417278/1/186_3417278/cite. Accessed 28 Jul 2022.

Several years ago I challenged sixth graders to create their own mock-up of a blog. In this article I will share some details from that early exploration with student blogs, and then I will share additional ideas on how to expand the project, inspired by a summer conference presentation by educator Allyson Spires, Principia Middle School.

The Martha Payne Story and Digital Citizenship
Sixth graders were introduced to blogs through the story of nine-year-old blogger, Martha Payne, and her blog Never Seconds. This news show video and Guardian article provided the background story of Martha Payne’s blog. Students viewed the global response to Martha’s blog on this blog page, which shows photos of school lunches shared by students in Japan, Israel, Brazil, Spain, and Chicago. As students viewed the video and read the article, they were asked to think about the following:

  • How Martha identified her passion (Love for journalism and interest in writing about
    school lunches. She planned to post photos of her daily lunches and rate them.)
  • How Martha’s father helped her to ethically set up the blog (Discussed idea with the
    school for their permission before setting up the blog.)
  • How Martha safely set up the blog (Father set up the blog and she used the name VEG to protect her identity.)
  • How Martha reacted to public response (Excited response from community, even globally, as other students emailed Martha photos of their school lunches. Later, Martha’s school demanded that she shut down her blog because of critical reaction to the quality of the school lunches. After a strong reaction from the community in Martha’s defense, the school backed down and allowed Martha to continue her blog.)
  • How Martha used her “brand”–the popularity of her blog (Over 10 million “hits” to her blog website. Martha set up a “JustGiving” page for Mary’s Meals–a kitchen to serve free breakfast to students in Malawi. Donations raised £131,666.79.)

After reflecting on the success of Martha Payne’s blog and the charitable donations to provide nutritious meals to children, students also viewed the STEM Kids Rock website. These teen articles describe how members promote science discovery and outreach to the community. The mission of STEM Kids Rock: “We’re inspiring the next generation of STEM leaders through our Free Mobile Science Centre that is powered by kids.”

Creating Your Own Brand
Both Martha Payne and the teens of STEM Kids Rock created a memorable brand for themselves by following their passions and expanding outward in efforts to benefit others. For the blog project, students were asked to consider the following: What could be your brand? What passion could you share to engage the interest of an audience? Using Google Slides, students were challenged to create their own mock-up of a blog. (See slides for a template and a sample “Book Ends” blog–note that links are not active in this sample template mock-up.) The resulting student blogs reflected an array of interests: food recipes, sports highlights, car models, pet tips, superhero movie reviews (including an article “Most Anticipated Sequels that Never Came Out”), and art blogs (featuring an article “There’s No Such Thing as Too Much Art!”). These sixth grade students commented that creating a blog was one of their favorite projects. Because of a short time-frame (four class periods) for the project, a community outreach aspect of the blogs was not explored.

Re-Imagining Student Blogs: Choice and Voice
This summer I attended the STLinSTL summer conference, and a presentation by Allyson Spires, “Choice and Voice,” reawakened my interest in student blogs. Allyson Spires, a language arts teacher at Principia Middle School, developed a blog unit over a five-week period. She began the unit by challenging students to think about their knowledge and passion: What are your interests outside of the classroom? How would you share those with others? Students used Wix templates (wix.com) to create their blogs, and every aspect of the site was password protected (sites were shared through a link with the teacher and students could also choose to share the link with family and friends). Allyson Spires also used this Blog Evaluation so that peers could appraise the blogs and offer helpful comments for the bloggers. Students also considered how a blog could be a vehicle to spur positive action. View the Teen Activist resource list compiled by Allyson Spires (note that some titles are appropriate for high school readers).

Student Blogs: Next Steps
This Fall I plan to revive the student blog project with a seventh grade Creative Writing class. If possible, students will use Google Sites to create a private website for their blog and share the link with the teacher as well as family (if they wish). Students will have their choice of creating a blog that features an Indelible Moment or a blog that explores a Personal Passion. This criteria will be used to evaluate student blogs.  Beyond the creation of these blogs, students might choose to share their Indelible Moment or Passion article with the school community during their Language Arts class or during our weekly assemblies (each seventh and eighth grade student develops a personal essay that is shared during the assembly).

Final Thoughts on Blogs: Four Pitfalls to Avoid 

  1. Whose Blog is This? Student agency should drive the blog (not teacher-driven).
  2. Just Another Wiki? The blog should not be an info dump; instead, the blog reflects critical thinking and careful curation; the discussion of ideas shows new connections. 
  3. It’s All About Me? Blogs should illustrate (with a touch of humility) what has surprised the writer in the learning process AND what still needs to be explored or learned (new questions that arise). How has this experience or passion affected your life, your attitudes, and how have you grown as a learner? 
  4. You Said What? The blogger should be open to a lively exchange of ideas and allow the conversation to clarify ideas and enlarge perspectives. Remember that some commenters may criticize, but be thoughtful in your own responses. Dialog with ideas, don’t attack the person.

The goal of this re-envisioned blog project is to immerse students in a thoughtful use of digital tools to communicate to a wider audience. Empowering student choice and voice builds skills that will help students to become critical thinkers, creative problem solvers, engaging writers, and respectful, ethical communicators. And who knows, for some bloggers this experience may be the beginning of positive action in the community.

For further reading and viewing:
Melly, Christina. “Can We Blog about This? Amplifying Student Voice in Secondary
Language Arts.” English Journal, vol. 107, no. 3, 2018. Accessed 25 July 2022.

“Oversharing and Your Digital Footprint.” Common Sense Education,
commonsense.org/education/videos/teen-voices-oversharing-and-your-digital-footprint.
Accessed 25 July 2022.

“Profiles of Generation M2.” YouTube, uploaded by Kaiser Family Foundation,
youtu.be/rUOOAbTu07A. Accessed 25 July 2022.

“What’s in Your Digital Footprint.” YouTube, uploaded by Common Sense Education,
youtu.be/4P_gj3oRn8s. Accessed 25 July 2022.

Classroom Management

Last year I spent a lot of time thinking about classroom management as we welcomed students (a large number of whom had not set foot in our library, or any library, for a few years…) into our school building. The trouble was, I don’t have a classroom. I have a revolving door of 9th-12th grade students each period, each day, that can include all 500+ students throughout the year, and as many as 150 any period. So, all the classroom management advice about community creation of norms and setting expectations in the syllabus and the like that are standard fare for teachers with classrooms and classes of students that are indeed a classroom community day in and day out just doesn’t fit. I suspect I’m not alone.

Last Year

Last year, as we welcomed our students into the building we knew there was going to be a major adjustment for these students. I started the year with grace, gently addressing behavior violations (noise, cell phones, food, etc.) without formal discipline in the expectation that students would learn the ropes, and, grateful for the grace, adjust their behavior. Alas, that was not what happened. By the end of the first term my assistant and I were so fed up with rearranging disarrayed furniture, picking up trash (orange peels, half-eaten bananas!) and gym shoes, silencing serial chatters on the quiet floor, and picking up books knocked to the floor by students who sat in the aisles of the stacks, we decided to crack down. We collected cell phones–our policy for phones visible in the building–assigned demerits, and called in the Dean of Students to do extra walk-throughs during troublesome times. And it worked, sort of, for a while. We rolled through cycles of this throughout the rest of the year and vowed to find a better way. 

But what is the better way? I’ve read enough in the past year to know that I’m not alone, that what I’ve termed the squirrliness of our students was a fairly universal issue for educators in the past year as we navigated the effects of the pandemic with our students. That said, traditional classroom management advice doesn’t apply well to the library. The context just isn’t the same.  Fortunately, one of the joys of being an educator is that every fall we get to try again. So, here is my plan for library management. 

Next Year

1) Make expectations incredibly clear from the very start.

Lots of folks get the chance to talk in our opening assemblies, but the librarian was never one of them. I successfully convinced my administrators of the importance of sharing library rules directly and in person with our students within the first few days of school.  This will certainly undercut the students’ ability to tell me “I didn’t know” or “I thought the library was the exception” to schoolwide policies about phone use, eating, and the like. I know students don’t read the handbook, so the best way to assure that they are clear on the expectations for the library is to have a genuine opportunity to tell them.

2) Start strong, then ease up.

Clear expectations need to be followed with consistent consequences. I am aware that a good part of my troubles last year came from the grace I gave at the start of the year. As a parent of young children I’m well aware how important clear boundaries and consistent discipline are for developing brains, and yet somehow I let my sympathy for students get in the way of what would help them, and me, best long-term. Aside from being firm and consistent from the very start, I’m toying with a riff on the OSHA workplace accident signs as we start off the school year. I’m curious if noting daily violations in the space, with a hint of humor, will show both that the community rules are enforced and also demonstrate improvement over time.

3) Use space to my advantage.

The unexpected amount of time I spend considering space as a librarian is a post all its own. Space is absolutely related to student behavior, and I need mine to support students in utilizing library space. I learned the lesson in my first year not to have couches with the back to a wall, for example, something I always keep in mind now. I don’t expect students to scan the room and immediately think, “oh, it’s arranged this way so Dr. Gamble can walk around and see what we are up to,” but they are also less likely to start streaming Netflix when their screen faces towards a path I regularly walk. 

I keep seating on our quiet floor spaced out–mostly carrels and smaller tables with fewer chairs to discourage clumping–which leads to chatter, while on our collaborative floor I have seating spaced in ways that groups of various sizes can readily find the right place to work. This year I’m fortunate to have some new furniture pieces added to my space (see point 4) which I hope will help keep students from resorting to the aisles of the stacks for places to sit and will include some small portable C-tables that will make our couches and soft seating more conducive to schoolwork. Space matters, and I aim to harness it to support our library expectations as best I can.

4) Advocate, advocate, advocate.

Some of the things I’m excited to add this year, like addressing the whole student body in the first week of school, and adding additional seating, are products of extensive advocacy over the last year or more. As behavior issues and annoyances came up throughout the year, rather than simply handle them myself, I handled them and then shared those challenges with the dean of students. By having those frequent conversations, inviting him to come by during the busiest periods, and letting him know what I needed, I was able to secure face-time with the student body. Our furniture additions also were made possible by showing the right folks how crowded we were, the head counts from busy periods against the number of seats we had, and noting it frequently. We all know what they say about squeaky wheels, and I’m going to keep squeaking when I need to.

Advocacy with my students is also important, and an area I know I need to work more with this year. One small step last year showed how a bit of up-front work can go a long way. Mid-morning snacks from our dining services led to a parade of food into the library. Realizing this, I was on alert at snack time–it was a lot easier to catch kids coming in with  snacks and say “thanks for not eating that in here,” than to clean up the messes left behind later. This approach reminded them of the rule while reinforcing their ability to make the right choice. It also let them know that I saw they had food, and those students were much less likely to be sneaky about eating than ones I hadn’t addressed. Furthermore, it made the norm more visible, such that after a while students who walked in with snacks or bagged muffins from the coffee shop would hold it up as they passed me and say “Don’t worry, it’s for later,” or “I’m just grabbing a friend and heading outside.”

My students NEVER push in their chairs, they move furniture around and leave it, even with just-in-time reminders like stopping by a few minutes before the bell to tell them to put things back in place. One morning I asked my regular morning crew–regular culprits in leaving the furniture akimbo–how I might rearrange things so that they could sit the ways they wanted but also not leave me to clear furniture out of pathways every time they left. With the utmost honesty, one student said “bolt the chairs to the floor.” I’m more optimistic that this student, I still hope there’s another way. 

Please feel free to share your classroom library management tips in the comments!

An easy introduction to your library’s online resources

It’s still July, and way too early to be thinking about a new school year! But perhaps a lesson from our summer Kickstart program will be a useful first library research experience for your students.

Each summer my school holds a class for a few incoming freshmen who need some summer enrichment to prepare them for the rigors of the high school curriculum. The library typically has a minimal role in this program – we give students a tour, make sure everyone is enrolled in our patron database, and encourage students to check out whatever books they would like to read. Three years ago, the Kickstart history teacher (who is also the history department chair) decided it would be helpful for these students to have some basic research instruction as well, and she asked me if we could create a kind of glossary of our most accessible online databases. And thus the Database Notetaker was born.

We all know it – introducing students to a collection of online resources is boring. It’s also hard to give an overview covering a number of resources when the students don’t have any immediate application for that knowledge. We sold this idea to the students by describing it as a tool – something they would use right away for a quick project, and then would have as a reference all year long for future research projects. We spend a good deal of time during the school year teaching our freshmen how to organize their work by keeping assignments and readings in a binder, and this database tool was designed to live in front of their research projects where it could be consulted as needed. We told these Kickstart students that they would hear all of this information again with each research project but that they would have an easier time remembering because they had this reference page.

The actual lesson that year was pretty short, with a quick introduction to several primary and tertiary source databases, along with JSTOR for secondary sources. We explained the concept of primary, secondary and tertiary but not in depth – again the point of this lesson was to create the tool, not to conduct actual research. Students filled out the form by hand (more on that below), describing the database content in their own words plus indicating which types of sources could be found there. They turned in their completed form for the teacher to look over, then filed it in their history binder where it could be referred to during each research project.

When we began our first freshman Modern World History research project that fall we quickly realized that ALL students would benefit from using this reference page, so the same overview lesson was used (Kickstart students were advised to see if they could add any new information). Since that time a new version for sophomore US History students has been created, and several “unofficial” versions have popped up. A couple of those versions included databases we longer subscribe to, so I linked the current versions on our research databases page for everyone to use. This guide has developed into tool that is often referred to by faculty as we begin a research project, and I’ve enjoyed seeing teachers adapt it for their electives.

Regarding the “write it out by hand” concept: it’s a real challenge to balance the digital doc/sustainability issue with the perception that students retain information better if they write it out by hand or read a physical paper. I’m very committed to the idea of using less paper, but I’ve seen a decline in writing quality as we moved our docs online, and I’m not the only one at my school to comment on this. Of course as they say “correlation isn’t necessarily causation,” and there are studies on both sides of the paper vs digital reading comprehension issue, but for now we are sticking with our belief that having freshmen write out their notes on paper and file the page in a physical binder is the most effective approach. It’s also much easier to find when needed, as Google docs have a way of disappearing into a black hole of uncategorized documents.

I hope you are enjoying your last days/weeks of summer!

(In)visible Libraries?

A recent conversation about work with a family member prompted her to ask about the “essential duties” in my role. I paused. Most of what came to my mind was fuzzy. Saying yes to people. Answering questions. Searching. More searching. Searching again. Commiserating. Ideally making people’s days better. But not the technical services of library management. (Want to weed my collection or figure out some integration questions with our school’s LMS?)

An administrator recommended NAIS’s New View Edu podcast on school innovation, and as a bit of a podcast fiend, I’ve been catching up quickly. As our school grows its library department this year and I step into a newly-created role, this idea from Sanyin Siang in Schools for Developing Superpowers jumped out to me. I hit rewind when I heard her say that as roles change, “you have to let go of some of the things that you used to do, that you are really great at, and instead develop others.” This was the podcast equivalent of the librarian’s right book at the right time. I tend to add and add until I’m overwhelmed. If you’re like me and you needed to hear those words from a management professor, what’s one thing you can let go of this year? One.

But for now, her next lines are where I want to turn my attention. When librarians talk, a common conversation is about the invisibility of libraries. Whether in larger educational organizations or our own schools, operating efficiently sometimes feels like it’s supposed to seem seamless. And that can too quickly drift towards…

Yes, schools can function without libraries. But well-utilized libraries add so much value to schools. Returning to Siang, the next few minutes of the podcast spoke to me even more as she shared her theories about the roles of leadership, both the functional roles and the invisible roles that lead to organizational success. To a bit of the podcast transcript!

Sanyin Siang: Let’s play with that a little bit, because I think, you know, there’s functional roles, but then there’s also hidden roles that different people assume, right? … this has not been in an article yet, but an idea I’ve been playing with, is this idea of the four invisible roles that led to organizational continuity.

… One is the MENTOR or the coach, right? Because that’s a, you know, mentors are not just only imparting knowledge … they just can’t help but share out knowledge and the norms … basically they create that continuity.

The second type of person is the EMOTIONAL GLUE. We all know these people, this can be the executive assistant, or it can be the principal, you know, but this type of person, the emotional glue, the team is better when they’re on the court, but they’re, they’re great at assists, right? We don’t record assists. Uh, why not? You know, when assists are just as important …

And then a third type is the CATALYST … where they either are great at asking those questions that make us take a step wise leap in imagining, or they could be skeptics … But they pose something on the table that made us rethink.

Right. And then the last type I think about is the INTEGRATORS. So we know the importance of diversity on our teams, but given how busy everyone is, we also need that person who loves going around learning what everyone is working on. You know, and then they just, they just pollinate. They’re integrators. Great. Now intellectual cross pollinators. And these, I call them invisible roles because these roles exist sort of, we don’t intentionally create them in our organizations, but when they exist, at least they better chances of organizational continuity, but they’re not often that recognized.

Mentors. Emotional glue. Catalysts. Integrators. At first, I thought this would be like the Harry Potter houses where we can’t help but self identify. (Shout out to my fellow Ravenclaws!) But then I realized these four roles might be the most essential pieces of a librarian job description that I’ve never seen articulated. Who supports the community, asks meaningful questions, and “cross pollinates?” Your librarian. Thank you, Sanyin Siang for thinking about those intangibles and communicating to administration about why it might be worth building more intention into supporting these roles that make our schools better.

Urge your state school library association to join School Librarians Learning Networks

One of the greatest joys for me is learning with and from other librarians. It is one of the features that makes AISL so wonderful!

Presumably Steve Tetreault, a librarian with a career in New Jersey public schools, feels the same way. He is working to get the School Librarian Learning Network (SLLN) up and running.

The intent of SLLN is to scale the PD that is taking place in different state school librarian associations. Tetreault aims to have different state associations share their online professional development trainings across the SLLN’s entire membership. A new collaboration across states could provide “virtual professional development opportunities on a regular, rotating basis.” (From their homepage.)

Because it is summer, and I am a bit slow, I now have a bit more information to add: Steve reports that his goal is to get as many state organizations as possible working together in a coordinated effort to offer several PD opportunities a month, every month, to school librarians across the country; with some coordination, that would make it so each state org would only have to figure out a small number of PD offerings each year, while being able to take advantage of a whole lot more. At the moment, joining SLLN is pretty straight-forward – anyone can visit the site to see free learning opportunities he has come across and use the links to sign up.

Is your state a member? So far New Jersey; Louisiana; Washington, DC; and Nebraska have joined. I have contacted California School Library Association and requested they join.

I urge AISL members to reach out to your state TL organizations and request that they join SLLN, as well. Together, we can continue to update, grow, and learn as a profession!

Not only is this network a cool idea, but as we are seeing a lot of threats to libraries that we need to be discussing across state lines. These threats both make use of local laws and government structures and of anti-library groups are coordinating more fully across different states with the goal of impacting how libraries function in each location.

In other words, we need a national network to help us tackle local issues. I’ve been chatting with TLs around the country and am discovering that a librarian who is very deeply educated about anti-database legislation in their own state may not have any idea what the organizations and conversations are on the national stage.

We need to talk to each other, learn together – and from each other.

I was thinking of Cathy Leverkus’ AISL publishing group and her point that AISL members need to reach out and share our wealth of experience with others in our profession. So, not only can we request that our state teacher librarian associations join this nationwide endeavor, we can also offer to lead AP that our states can offer as their contributions to SLLN.

Please join me in supporting this wonderful national initiative!

Summertime reading hits different

We’re in Illinois for the next several weeks, in my childhood home in a small town in the middle of the state. Shifting gears from Los Angeles means there is an abundance of time and space and quietude. There is nothing to do here, really. Oh, there are plenty of pleasant, quiet, serene outings that take up a morning or an hour – the Abraham Lincoln New Salem village, the tiny zoo, a walk around the duck pond, a trip to the drive-thru coffee shop. I can drive my son past my old high school and show him where I played in the park as a kid. There are scrambled eggs in the morning, sandwiches at lunch, dinners made by my mother in the evening. It’s an absolute retreat from the world of Los Angeles, and my parents’ house is a house designed for reading. Every chair with a lamp and a side table and a foot stool. Every table with a pile of books and magazines. Trips to the well-appointed public library happen every other day, at least.

For me, reading in the summertime just hits different. I read more, for one. I may read three or four books a week, because I can read for several hours a day. I read more indiscriminately because my purpose has shifted. During the school year, I most often read for business. I keep up with trends, I vet books for the collection, I read teacher or student recommendations, I re-read a book that’s going back into the curriculum, I skim, I assess, I “librarian”. Summertime reading, however, is just for me. The activity itself is the purpose. The long, lazy mornings on the patio or the sofa with coffee. The heat-induced siestas where my eyes close for a few minutes and that drowsy, timeless feeling blurs the lines between my book and my dreams. The quiet nights where I read long past my bedtime because I don’t have a bedtime, for now.

If you looked through my goodreads ratings and isolated the summertime books, you’d see a whole lot of five stars! Five stars! FIVE STARS! That’s because I also like books more in the summertime. I like books more because I’m not judging them or studying them. I’m just enjoying them. In summertime, a five star book is a book I had a great time reading. A book that swept me away, or kept me guessing, or just filled the time pleasantly. Maybe the ending was too tidy or too swift, and maybe there are holes in the plot, and maybe this character wasn’t so well developed. Who cares? It’s summertime! Did I enjoy reading it? FIVE STARS!

I can’t help but wonder if my students get to experience this transformation in summertime. I suspect some do, if they aren’t over-scheduled by summer school, internships, camps, sports, etc. If their summers include empty time, do they fill it with murder mysteries and romance novels? Perhaps. For many of them, their required summer reading is likely to be looming over them, making summertime reading bliss harder to achieve. Do any of them read those books first, to get them out of the way so they can relax into their library books? I doubt it. They wait to read them until late summer (if they read them at all) to make sure the book is fresh in their minds for the first days of school when they’ll need to retrieve details for discussions and essays and possibly even quizzes. With Jane Eyre sitting on the bedside table, lurking, can they sink into a cozy fantasy novel without guilt? Do they lose themselves in a random bestseller if 1984 is just sitting there, daring them to start annotating it?

Every summer I think about this. Every summer I think that maybe I should create a summer reading challenge, or a summer reading book club, or a summer reading incentive for my students. But then, wouldn’t my own summertime reading become business again? I haven’t been able to make that sacrifice for my students. It means too much to me to have this retreat from my professional life. Perhaps if my school’s campus and library were open all year, it would be different. I know for some of you, you’re working right now, and summer reading programs are part of your school culture. At my school, everything goes quiet. There’s a little summer school, and then the campus empties. If I built it, would they come? Maybe. But for now, I’m going to go make another cup of coffee and pick up my next book.

What does summertime reading mean for you? Did you just go to ALA and pick up a new stack of ARCs? Do you use your summer to binge watch all the shows you missed during the year? I’d love to hear!

My most recent reads: Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus, The Woman in the Library by Sulari Gentill, Beneath the Stairs by Jennifer Fawcett, Search by Michelle Huneven.

Visually Thinking with Sketchnotes

Leonardo da Vinci is noted for many accomplishments in the fields of art, science, and invention, but he was also a master in the art of sketching. His notebooks filled with drawings and observations about the world around him reveal a mind that was insatiably curious and adept at making connections. This image from one of his notebooks exemplifies how his mind leapt from one observation to another. The flowing drapery of the pictured old man is mirrored in similar energetic linework on the facing page that depicts swirling water.

Leonardo. Whirlpool and Old Man. Britannica ImageQuest, Encyclopædia Britannica, 25 May 2016.
quest.eb.com/search/109_225206/1/109_225206/cite. Accessed 20 Jun 2022.

Though visually thinking with sketches is nothing new, educators and businesses have been exploring the merits of Sketchnotes as a way to communicate ideas in a graphical format. Sketchnotes can take a variety of forms, from simple infographics, to stick figures, to complex representations of processes (such as cell division).  A book by Tanny McGregor, Ink and Ideas: Sketchnotes for Engagement, Comprehension and Thinking (Heinemann, 2019) provides several examples of introducing Sketchnotes in the classroom and using this technique to spark student thinking. I took a dive into Sketchnotes after reading Ink and Ideas, and the following examples and reflections show how Sketchnotes can be used to enhance discussions of books. 

Book: The Magnolia Sword by Sherry Thomas

Reflection:
The first two chapters of The Magnolia Sword by Sherry Thomas are a master class in writing: introducing compelling characters, setting up conflict, and suggesting a trajectory (quest) that will set these characters on a future collision course. 

Specific details from the chapters were first annotated in a journal and certain words circled that would be emphasized in the Sketchnote (such as “Fated to Clash”). As I sketched in pencil the preparatory drawing, I decided to group textual quotes by the two characters, shown separated in the sketch by the Great Wall of China (denoting the location of the story). The textual quotes highlighted in the sketch show the fierce martial arts skill of each adversary while also suggesting their mutual attraction to each other (Mulan faces her opponent with both trepidation and thrill while Yuan Kai muses that if circumstances had been different, they might have met as friends). Transferring my journal annotations into this graphical format helped me to compare these two characters while also hinting at future conflicts (Mulan’s father bent on pursuing this feud and the looming threat of the Rouran Invaders).

Book: Jennifer Chan is Not Alone by Tae Keller

Reflection:
I read Tae Keller’s book as an ebook, so my journaling notes were added in the notes section of the ebook. I discovered that these reflection notes were not as detailed as when I read a print copy and took pen and paper notes.

For my Sketchnotes design, I chose a basic template so that I could plot story events  highlighting major moments in the book. I represented events around a quote by the main character, Jennifer Chan: “We pull each other close, we push each other away.” The pictured events show this tension, some frames denoting hurtful actions and some frames denoting moments of healing.

Though plotting story events is a helpful exercise, this type of Sketchnote would need to be supported by questioning to reveal the richness of the message of this story and the dynamics of the the characters’ grappling with the worries, pain, and hopes. Question prompts might include Which character would you befriend? or, Which characters’ actions were hurtful and how would you respond to that character? 

Creating these Sketchnotes was a fun exercise in making visual the ideas that surfaced as I read these books. The process of reflecting on the sketches helped to clarify connections and prompt questioning for book discussions. Though these Sketchnote examples are not Leonardo masterpieces, this process was a fun and thought-provoking experience. I invite you to take pen and paper and try your hand at Sketchnotes.

Great PD next week! Global Factcheck 9

Last October I had the great good luck to attend a conference for professional fact checkers organized by the International Fact-Checking Network at the Poynter Institute. It was cool enough to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and — as they vowed to be back in-person for 2022 — I thought for sure it would be just that.

Happily, I received an email just this week telling me that the conference will be hybrid this year. Next week (June 22-June 25) it will take place in Norway, but will also be offered virtually. You can find more information here.

At this very global conference you can hear panels, such as the one involving journalists from Brazil, Kenya, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the Phillippines, discussing fact-checking during elections. Another multinational panel discusses media information literacy from the point of view of professional fact-checkers. There will be sessions on conspiracy theorists and on the relationship between research findings in the field and practical applications. It looks pretty great, to be frank.

So, if you are looking for a taste of PD for the summer, and want to engage with a field that is both familiar and unfamiliar, check out Global FactCheck 9! If you need a bit more flexibility on timing, I also recommend viewing recordings of sessions from past years of the conference on the International Fact-Checking Network’s YouTube channel.

Being the go-to for need-to-know

Credible information, scholarly information, our libraries are the source of it all, right? But what about the non-academic yet timely and critical stuff that many in our community need to know?

(Time to get vulnerable. These are clearly original, un-retouched photos – I figured authenticity was more important than perfection.)

At our main desk, we post the schedule (whichever is relevant that day) by our fruit basket. While yes, most get into the swing of things by October, it’s referenced often throughout the year:

When there is a special schedule, such as end-of-term term photos, we put that up on either side of our front door (and if we don’t have time to print out an update, we make the change quickly, if not beautifully):

This year was the first year since 2019 that we had our all-school photo. Getting 700+ people organized on our front lawn was a bit of a feat when most had no prior experience doing so. Although a photocopier issue prevented us from making the grade-organized plan bigger, having it at the bottom of the library stairs in our Commons helped some people figure out where they were heading.

Although far from glamorous, posting schedules for what’s going on in your community can help cement your reputation as the source of all good information.

Unstuck in time

I went through a phase where I tried every online task manager I could find. I tried multiple apps, different systems of task organization, and almost every categorization scheme I could think of. And finally, after trying all that, the system I’ve found that really, truly works for me is a notebook that I turn into a weekly planner. I get to see my whole week laid out in front of me, and I have columns on either side of the two-page spread – one for tasks to do this week, one for tasks that I want to keep on my radar for next week(s). And, at the top of the page, I list my top three priorities for the week. This week, one of those priorities was “AISL blog.”

And here I am at 9:00pm, after an 11-hour day at school, just sitting down to start writing it. It is that time of year when I get a little unstuck in time so even though I knew my blog post was due Thursday, and that today was Thursday, I somehow did not connect that this meant that I needed to post my blog today.

It’s also that time in the school year when the year isn’t over yet (one week to go!), but it definitely feels over. Classes are winding down, schedules are changing, and special events abound. It’s very easy not to know when you are.

I’m also looking ahead to summer. I almost have my first year at this job under my belt and I have So. Many. Projects I want to work on this summer. I’m rethinking the library space, and also doing some big curriculum planning with teachers. I have a bunch of tech tools I want to learn and tutorials to make. And, so far, I am keeping track of all my ideas for summer projects by jotting them on post-its and sticking them in my planner. Maybe I haven’t found the perfect organization system quite yet.

Here’s hoping the end of the year is wrapping up well for all of you, and that we all get some time where it’s okay to forget what day it is.