Gamify Media Literacy

Imagine this…

  • A set of biodegradable building bricks for sustainable building designs.
  • An ecology doll with its own binoculars, kayak, nature journal, and packet of native plant seeds.
  • A board game in which you advance ahead not by acquiring the most money or property, but instead by performing actions that help the environment.

Are these the latest educational toys in your local store? No, at least, not yet.
These are just some of the imaginative toys and games envisioned by sixth graders during a media literacy project. As a culminating activity in a Literacy Skills class, students used design techniques to create their own marketing ad for a proposed educational game or toy.

Students began the project by looking closely at Media Messages to evaluate how media uses a special language (special techniques) to persuade an audience.
Iconic ads such as
Wolverine “Got Milk” and
McDonald’s “You So Want One”
provided discussions of camera angles,
text placement,  slogans, color choices,
as well as use of celebrities.

Subliminal messages (underlying messages) were examined in the video commercials for Door Dash “The Neighborhood” and Sodastream. Door Dash’s message suggested that they keep neighborhood businesses thriving while Sodastream’s message projected that their customers would save the Earth’s environment.

Students also examined Barbie and Lego marketing campaigns; in a webquest they compared and contrasted how each company was targeting a particular audience. Barbie ads sought to empower young girls to explore careers with the “You Can Be Anything” campaign, and their “Fashionistas” line of dolls widened their appeal to diverse individuals as well as different body types. Lego marketing ads promoted imagination and creativity and suggested that building with Legos encouraged problem solving and resiliency, preparing youth for careers in engineering and science. After viewing these examples of marketing ads and evaluating how these ads target audiences, students were challenged to create their own marketing ad to be pitched to a professional client.

The G.R.A.S.P.S. Performance Task Assessment tool was used to set up the Marketing Ad design challenge. (G.R.A.S.P.S. was recommended in a Jay McTighe workshop that I had previously attended–McTighe is known for collaboration with Grant Wiggins on “Backward Design.”)

G–Goal: Create a persuasive marketing ad to promote an educational toy or game

R–Role: Marketing Ad Designer

A–Target Audience:
Choice A: Individuals interested in ecology or caring for the environment
Choice B: Individuals interested in Creative Writing

S–Situation:
Choice A:
In a marketing ad presentation (through Zoom) you need to convince an Ecologist that your toy/game will promote a career in ecology or heighten interest in caring for the environment. (I arranged for Ecologist Suzanne Simpson, Director of the Bayou Land Conservancy in Houston to Zoom with students to be our expert Ecologist client.)

Choice B:
In a marketing ad presentation (through Zoom) you need to convince a published poet your toy/game will promote a career in writing or heighten an interest in poetry. (I arranged for poet Allan Wolf to Zoom with students to be our expert Poet client.)

P–Performance and purpose:
Use media language techniques to create a marketing ad to persuade an expert that your educational toy/game will promote career interest or heighten interest in the topic of the toy/game.

S–Standards and Criteria for success:
Marketing ad effectively uses images, color design, layout design, slogan, and additional text, celebrity, or media to make a persuasive ad. The design should feature a front box design with image and slogan and the design should also show a back of the box design that discusses the educational goal of the game or toy.

Oral presentation through Zoom to a professional expert. The presentation should clearly present the merits of your envisioned toy/game and its educational goal.

Creating a prototype of the toy/game is an option (but not required). The marketing ad and the oral presentation should clearly present the vision of the product.

The Market Ad designs showed a wide range of creative ideas.
Here is a comparison of two doll ad designs, one for an ecology client and one for a poet client:

Feedback from Clients
Ecologist Suzanne Simpson gave the following observation as she viewed students’ ecology games and toys:

“I never wanted to play with dolls when I was young. I was interested in nature. I wish I had these ecology-themed games and toys when I was growing up to encourage me in the career of being an ecologist.”

Poet Allan Wolf was impressed by the choice of Amanda Gorman as a featured doll and the theme of “dreaming big” to achieve her goal to be a poet. These students envisioned a line of Dream Dolls that were “imperfectly perfect.” He also enjoyed other students’ ideas for a creative writing poetry kit and a poetry trivia game–students even stumped poet Allan Wolf on one of the poetry trivia questions.

Not all student groups were able to present to the professional clients; however, all groups presented their marketing ads to their fellow classmates. The follow-up questions and suggestions from their peers provided thoughtful discussions on how the prototype ideas could be improved. This project was a fascinating opportunity for students to use their media literacy skills to design a persuasive Marketing Ad. The presentations to a targeted audience honed their communication skills and encouraged students to be receptive to feedback on their designs. Looking closely and evaluating media messages is a valuable 21st century skill, and this Marketing Ad project provided a challenging way to explore these goals.

Image Bibliography:
Amanda Gorman photo from
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from Washington D.C, United States, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Very Important Summer To-Do List

My last day of the (epic, crazy, stressful, pandemic, pivot) school year was June 8th. Like most of the year, that feels like months and yet only seconds ago. I’ve complied a few items on my Very Important Summer To-Do List, and I’d like to share them with you.

created using Canva

Yes, I’ve already taken a nap! A few actually, so I’d like to consider myself an advanced napper. In fact, just today, I decided to listen to my body and take that nap rather than stress over an errand I can just as easily take care of tomorrow. Speaking of listening to my body, that brings me to my second Very Important Summer To-Do List accomplishment…

created using Canva

Let’s not pretend we don’t know EXACTLY what I’m talking about here. (And if you actually don’t, please let us in on your secret.) You can see that I’m setting a really high bar for myself here, but I decided that simple is good after this past year we survived. Sometimes just relearning (and ACCEPTING) the basics is where we need to begin in order to reset.

Now here’s one that I’ve never been able to accomplish in the summer, especially not last summer. (Who else was on a million Covid task force committees?) However, a very trusted colleague suggested that I try it. She said that instead of worrying about things I could not control over the summer I should instead focus on “self-care” and the fact that there wasn’t anything that couldn’t be addressed in the fall.

created using Canva

I plan on adding to my Very Important Summer To-Do List, especially if I find myself falling into old behaviors. For example, I plan on actually eating lunch sitting down and not at a desk. (I know, weird.) What are some things you’d include on a lighthearted Very Important Summer To-Do List?

Whenever your school year ends, I wish you a restful, happy, safe, and healthy summer. We did it!

The campsite rule for libraries

Well, it’s the end of the year. I think. Like everything else this year, the end of the school year doesn’t feel quite normal. Adding to my sense of disequilbrium is the fact that I’m leaving my school this year (for another independent school library job – I’m not going that far!). So in addition to wrapping up this year (as well as a few things that never really got wrapped up at the end of last year…), I’m getting my library ready for a new director to take over.

This is my fourth library job, and walking into a new library is always… an experience. Sometimes you find detailed notes and information, and sometimes all you have to go on are a bunch of unlabeled keys (why are there always so many unlabeled keys?). We all know the ins and out of our libraries well, but all of our libraries will outlive us. What will someone else discover when they come into your library? Will they be able to take it over, or will they be doing a scavenger hunt? Will they sing your praises or curse your name?

Luckily I have two kindred spirits, Laura Pearle and Courtney Lewis, who enjoy thinking and talking about this almost as much as I do. A few years ago I joked with Laura that I wanted to do a presentation called “You’ve Inherited a Dumpster Fire. Now What?” While I haven’t presented that exact program, Laura, Courtney and I have presented a few times (including at AISL Boston) about the “What If Scenario” and recently recoded our presentation as a webinar for the Independent School Section of AASL (it’s free!). You can also find links to everything we presented here.

I try and follow the campsite rule when leaving a library: leave it better than I found it. And the beauty of many of these things is that they make the campsite a lot nicer while you’re still in it. As I’ve gone through and organized files for this transition, I’ve been reflecting on how helpful some of these documents have been – and kicking myself for not keeping some of them in better shape. But I know that the new library director will have what she needs to quickly get her bearings, and will also have some historical context for the program she’s taking over.

Setting all this step up is one of those big tasks that is easily broken down into small tasks. It may be that you can put some of these things into place as you wrap up this year or start next year. At the very least, start by labeling some of those keys.

Gratitude through Graphics

This is officially my first day of summer. My well of words is fairly dry, but I wanted to use this time to ink out a few reflections as all of us embark on a summer of new possibilities. This is the most exhausted and exhilarated I have ever felt at the end of a school year. End-of-the-year meetings, honors nights, and graduation ceremonies in which we begin to gather again closer in form to our former ways; they seemed more poignant, present, and precious. The themes for my year were gratitude and grit while I recognize for many it may have been grief. As we grinded through the year starting with fear, anxiety, and uncertainty it gave way to gratitude and extraordinary grace due to my colleagues and friends weathering the year together. I am forever grateful for all the camaraderie, advice and wisdom we have all exchanged during this time. I wanted to create a summer send off through images as I am tongue-tied at the moment.

The following images I created on Canva. I know many of us use it for library promotion, but I stumbled across a new feature I noticed that I wanted to share. So before we get to the whimsical I also want to share one practical tool. There is now a section of Canva that is for education https://www.canva.com/education/. Signing up for an educator’s account instead of using a personal account allows you to create a class in which you share a code with your students or import through google classroom. Now students can use the design features without having to make their own accounts and you can see their work. One limitation is that it looks like you can make only one class, but the system does allow you to make groups, so if you want to share this with teachers, and they want each of their classes to have a space, making groups for each class is the way to go. I am always looking for ways that students can be creative with projects. Canva for education gives students another angle to make stylish graphics for projects without just google image searching everything.

 And now some crazy canva fun as a collective card to all for finishing the year-

A jarring year. What I want to keep to show my gratitude and what I want to fade in the background.

Wishing everyone a relaxing and restorative summer. Only screen time is sunscreen.
Enjoy your journeys through books and safe travels wherever you go this summer.
A wishing all a wonderful walk, hike, or stroll outside finessing your flaneur instincts.
May you spend many hours browsing in bookstores.
Let your creative juices flow.

I look forward to learning about all your summer adventures.

Squeezing in a beloved annual project

Honestly, I have infographics on the brain right now. Welcome.

This year has been surprisingly busy and fulfilling on the instructional front, though nothing like past years or on almost any expected topics. I was thrilled, then, when our wonderful 7th grade History teacher reached out to ask me to help her wrap up the year with a lengthy infographics project we usually do in November.

Initially, when this collaboration began nine years ago (and before I came to this school, and shepherded by the wonderful Jole Seroff), the idea was to follow the unit on African empires with a look at positive aspects of life in African countries today. Time has taught us, sadly, that statistics do not give rise to seventh graders focusing on encouraging analysis. The project has endured nonetheless and continues morphing in the way good collaborations can sometimes do.

The way we teach this unit has streamlined over the years to make it easier for students, though it might have a bit of a fools rush in… aspect to it, as well. I’ll admit my desire to refresh it each year makes for a tremendous amount of work for me. It is also a big leap for students, and asks them to embrace some really new ways of thinking. But it is worth the growing pains — while high school students look back on it with some exaggerated shudders, there also exists some great love, and a handful of skills for which they voice deep appreciation in those later years.

Overall, I would argue that this is a process-based project: if you look at the final infographics they don’t tell the actual story. The insights offered in student presentations are much more telling. And the conversations we have over the course of this unit are varied and deep: Can we use data from different years in different graphs? Why doesn’t Rwanda have statistical data on prevalence of certain genetic diseases within its population the way the US does? Why doesn’t the US have an official literacy rate the way other countries do? Can we trust China’s numbers on incarceration? Explain that GDP thing again? What is “primary education”? This year brings: My hypothesis is that Russia has fewer women in prison than the US, but all my data shows that predictors of imprisonment are higher in Russia…. Do I need to change my thesis? (So many interesting conversations there.) And, hearing a roomful of seventh graders recommending that a classmate use “per capita” data in her graph instead of gross numbers, and explaining why… well, it is certainly a high point in my time as an educator.

This project has a lot of quirky methods and rules that have developed over the years, but they seem to help us get the project running smoothly. I’ve outlined the 3-4 week lesson plan below, for those who want to dig in. As always, very open to feedback and suggestions! Would love to hear in the comments if you do infographics or other data projects and what your objectives are.

Library’s data literacy objectives:
1. Develop a sense for the kinds of topics on which official statistics are collected and some of the specialized language used by statisticians.
2. Understand the difference between description and interpretation of a visualization. Be able to identify and produce both.
3. Understand that different visualizations are good for different types of data. Be able to select/produce the right kind.
4. Understand that evidence does not always have your topic mentioned in it. Broaden individual understanding of what can count as evidence.

Day 1:
1. What is an infographic? (Slides 1-2)
2. Virtual gallery walk of good and bad infographics (This year, rest of slides; most years we have a lot of infographics we hang around the room for the gallery walk.)
A. Have students list characteristics they see of different infographics, and then keep track of every time they saw that characteristic used, categorizing them into:
i. thesis, evidence, graphs, and design and
ii. helpful or unhelpful
B. Build class rubric (adapts to project rubric)

Day 2:
1. Look at different data visualizations, discuss the difference between description and interpretation of a visualization. Practice with the Banana Timeline.
A. Students start at their assigned slide and follow directions on slide 10.
i.Interpretation: This graph shows THAT…
ii. When can you use this type of visualization?
iii.Tips
B. Pair and share: introduce your graph to your partner, sharing what you wrote. Ask your partner a question about their graph.
C. As a class, build “Tips for graphing” so you will know how and when to use different data visualizations.
2. Read this quick summary of topic areas and pick one.

Day 3:
1. Childhood obesity practice:
A. Explain “working thesis/hypothesis” – can change
B. Your working thesis should have a comparison (across time, gender, place)
C. Example: “Over the past 20 years, childhood obesity has been a growing
problem in the United States.”
i. Identify the comparison.
ii. Brainstorm possible “subtopics.” Subtopics are related topics which, in this project, may not repeat words/ideas from your thesis (except time, gender, or place names). Students often come up with ideas like:
a. Hours of screen time
b. Percentage of schools with PE classes
c. Percentage of families who eat dinner together
d. Average distance to closest supermarket
e. Hours of homework
f. Participation in athletics
g. Cost of healthy food, like product
h. etc.
2. Students read background portfolios on their topic area:
A. Practice stepping stones as a class, then together look for stepping stones (No
pandemic? Do this in groups.)
C. Look at starting graphs and draft a working thesis.
NOTES:
1. Over the years, we have found it works best for us to provide them with graphs from which they chose one and write an interpretive statement communicating some of the information shown as their hypothesis, which can change as they develop their infographic.
2.This year, I was able to create these background reading documents, which I stuffed with references to indicators related to their topic. They used these background readings as stepping stone sources to plan the next round of research. For example, one of our topics was global female imprisonment, and the background reading included this passage:

…I learned that crime is not what really brought these women to prison. Far from it. It started with a lack of education, whose supply and quality is not equal for all. It starts with a lack of economic opportunities, which pushes these women to the petty survival crimes. The broken health system, the broken criminal system, the broken social-justice system. If any of these poor women fall through any of these cracks, the bottom of that chasm is a prison.

From this passage, they can note that indicators related to imprisonment include: education, economic opportunities, healthcare, etc.

Homework: Write a working thesis, complete noting potential subtopics mentioned in the background reading.

Day 4:
1. Introduce acceptable data sets. We provide all data. This is still hard and messy, to navigate, but just sending them to online databases (go look at UN Data!) is waaay too hard. So we give them this TOC (mostly links to spreadsheets I have downloaded and cleaned up).
2. Take out list of subtopics gleaned from the background reading and look through the TOC (we have them read the *whole* thing, saves arguments later!).
3. Pick a data set that covers a topic that will help contextualize your thesis (we talk quite a bit about how this is not really “evidence” since neither causation nor directionality is assured).

Homework: Draft your first graph.

NOTES:
1. We spend a *lot* of time demonstrating imperfect circles, terrible stick figures, and sloppy handwriting. They hear not to spend more than 10 minutes on the draft. We compliment students on the “draftiness” of their drafts.
2. We ask for screenshots of the data and the citation because the number of ways students find to lose track of their data as this project continues defies the imagination. Also, always better to build your citations as you go!

Next several classes:
Independent work. Each night, for four nights, students sketch a rough draft on paper of a visualization of one data set they planned to use as evidence. Each day, in class, we select five visualizations and discuss them as a class–each student has a chance to have one visualization complemented and critiqued. She tells the class her working thesis, describes her data visualization (projected on the screen), and tells us how it helps explain a systematic factor impacting her thesis. Then, she got three compliments, three questions, and three kinds of constructive feedback. We encourage student to take notes/jot down new ideas based on peer work and/or critiques.

When they do the fourth graph, we also ask them to write four “statistical statements” – a bit more data or other interpretive information to help flesh out the story their infographic tells.

Day 8:
1. Students get a piece of paper and post-its to do a mock up (wireframe) of their infographic.
2. When students turn in their bibliography and show their paper wireframe, they get their code for Pictochart and learn to set it up.

Day 9:
Assemble infographic on Pictochart

Day 10:
Prepare to present your infographic. You will tell us:
Explain your main argument or thesis statement. What do you intend for your infographic to convey? Explain why you were interested in this topic, and the information you were thinking you’d find when you started this project.
Explain 2 of your 4 graphs and how they relate to your thesis.
Explain 2 pieces of your additional evidence, and how they add to your argument
What was one aspect of your infographic that was difficult for you? How did you resolve this difficulty?
What information did you wish you had found that you were unable to find?
If you were to start this project again with the same topic, how would you approach your infographic differently?

Day 11-12:

Presentations (eight per day)

Personal Pan Pizza & Reading

Do you (or your kids) remember participating in the Pizza Hut reading programs? As I look at the book covers decorating my windows, it occurs to me that I would have earned a boatload of pepperoni.

The reasoning behind this decor is two-fold:

  1. Inspire students to to find new books and see what other people are reading
  2. To remind me what I’ve read (seriously, I cannot keep it straight, nor can I remember who wrote what).

That being said, I am running out of room.

And I’m definitely starting to have trouble seeing out.

You may be asking, why are you using up all your laminating and blocking your view of the library? Well, I want to model reading for pleasure for my students in the hopes that they ALL become enthusiastic readers. (Dream big, amirite?) As I am looking towards next year, I wonder if this is the most effective way to share the books I’ve read. I have seen students standing outside my window with their heads tipped back as if they are attending an air show, so I know it’s being used. I’ve also encouraged fellow faculty and staff to display what they are reading as well. The most frequent question I get is, “Is it okay if it’s not YA?” YES! Sometimes it’s even more meaningful for students to see teachers and staff reading from all genres and age-groups.

How do you share what you are reading with your community? And perhaps more urgently, what do you think I should do when I run out of room?

Adjust Accordingly

Remember Marie Kondo? I don’t know about you, but it seems like a lifetime ago when I watched her Netflix series and then bought her book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, and then actually tried to KonMari my life. I think fondly back to that pile of clothes I collected, holding up each item waiting to determine if this sweater or that pair of pants “sparked joy” and boy, in retrospect, the days when those were my biggest concerns seems unrecognizable. Even my husband got into the act, and we spent several days embracing our clothing, blissfully unaware of what the future held for all of us. 

Adjust Accordingly

Some of you may be familiar with the author and illustrator Dallas Clayton—he’s a big hit with the elementary school crowd—his biggest super-power seeming to be the ability to affirm children and spark joy during school visits.

I came to know about him from my days as an elementary school librarian and while I’m a good number of years and several thousand teens away from the lovely Shepaug River Valley and Rumsey Hall School, I still have a poster of his on my wall with this simple message. I believe I’m pretty good at the first three parts—it’s the adjust accordingly that I still need to work on.

Farewell to the 2021 School Year

Due to a fortuitous decision by our Head of School to power through Winter and Spring terms without any breaks, our school year is over, our seniors have graduated, our end-of-year meetings are complete, and most of our faculty have headed off for a well-deserved break. I have several more weeks of work before my summer vacation starts and will spend some of that in housekeeping activities—the behind-the-scenes tasks that might not spark joy, but are necessary to keep a library running smoothly and ensure a smooth opening in the fall: shelving books, cleaning study carrels, removing old signage, doing inventory. 

Once these tasks are finished, I’ll turn my attention to thinking about what I consider the heart of my work here as a librarian and that I personally get the most satisfaction from: how might I connect more fully with my community, what lessons can I change or adapt to make my New Student Seminar (NSS) more relevant to and meaningful for my students, and how can I create and nurture collaborative relationships with our faculty?

“Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast”

From emails on our listserv and posts on our blog, plus conversations with AISL colleagues, I’ve realized most of us expend a good deal of our time and energy strategizing how to forge connections with our faculty, especially those of us in middle and secondary schools where formally scheduled visits to the library are no longer part of the academic day. We middle and secondary school librarians need to make connections with faculty who are willing to collaborate with us on projects big and small and who allow us the opportunity to work with their students on critical thinking skills and the nuances of research. 

Although “show don’t tell” is frequently associated with writing, I see its application in the teacher/librarian relationship. There’s a distinct difference, I believe, between teachers telling their students to come see us vs. showing students our value by inviting us into the classroom. Without an invitation, we must rely on students reaching out to us for support on their own or planning optional programming that we know will not reach every student—and often not reach the students who need us the most. I recognize that the ability to self-advocate is an important skill for our students to develop, but I believe that sometimes students don’t know what they don’t know, especially in regards to understanding the myriad types of information they encounter on the internet. Management consultant Peter Drucker posits that “Culture eats strategy for breakfast,” and from my vantage point this highlights precisely why we need to incorporate embedded librarians into the culture of the school as one of the best ways to support the mastery of core competencies associated with information literacy and research skills. 

What Sparked Joy?

Now that my school year is over, I’m starting the process of looking back, seeing what I accomplished, what I didn’t accomplish that I wanted to, what I’m willing to let go of, and what I would like to hold onto as we reset for the fall.

Curating new resources to support our DEI initiatives
I am fortunate to have been able to work closely with our Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion on a number of initiatives and resources to support social justice. This work and my relationship with our DEI Director cemented my belief that while much of the work of the library happens within its four walls, we also need to reach beyond those walls if we want to be relevant in the life of the school. The resources in our LibGuide on Race, Racism, and Anti-Racism are used as a shared foundation for discussion on race in our Courageous Conversations among faculty and staff. As a living document, additional resources were added in response to the violence against the AAPI community. There is a tremendous value in this resource to our community as its pages have been accessed over 14,000 times since it was published last summer. I’m a numbers geek, so for me I see a great return on the investment I and two of my colleagues put into the creation of this guide. The Lunar New Year guide was created to support the joyful aspects of AAPI culture and the Black American Studies guide provides useful links to resource for a new course offering.

Working with our peer tutors
A value-added program that isn’t directly library related but is sponsored by our library is Peer Tutoring. Normally our 30+ peer tutors work out of the library during the 8-10PM study hall block Sunday – Friday evening. Due to COVID restrictions limiting one student per table, we had to completely rethink how we would offer tutoring. Student-driven suggestions resulted in a successful program offered over Zoom, in dorm common rooms, and toward the end of the year once again in the library when a change in restrictions allowed two students per table. Peer tutors who were studying remotely joined on Zoom from as far afield as China, Egypt, and South Korea. It was a wild year and scheduling was a challenge, but one the tutors met with grace and enthusiasm. It was an honor to coordinate the program and work with this committed group of young people to meet the challenges presented by COVID. Each week they collectively devoted over 50 hours in service to their peers and the school while juggling their own school work, sports, and other commitments. Three cheers for youthful energy and their ability and willingness to think outside the box!

Our Spring Peer Tutoring Schedule, a combination of online, in-library, and in-dorm locations.

Teaching New Student Seminar to a cohort of 4th Formers (10th grade)
Over the summer I took the Design Bootcamp course at Global Online Academy and adapted the curriculum of my NSS course to accommodate our newly hybrid learning environment. I designed as many lessons as I could to be self-paced with choice boards that encouraged engagement and student agency – a kinder, gentler curriculum. Using a combination of traditional formats and ed tech tools for assessment, I discovered my students were more engaged with the material and enjoyed sharing their thoughts and ideas with each other. Moving forward my focus will be on the social and emotional well-being of my students as they learn the skills this course covers to help them get off to a solid start.

A Choice Board for students to explore resources on time management prior to posting on a discussion board.

Supporting U.S. History Research
This is one of my favorite activities—collaborating with teachers to support our 5th Formers as they do a deep dive into a topic of their choosing for their long-form research paper. This year I worked with a number of U.S. History teachers and provided a range of instruction. Often I’m asked to meet with a class once at the start of a research project to cover the resources and skills students need to write this graduation requirement. These one-shot lessons—or research bootcamp as I have come to think of them—generally provide the least return on investment. I feel pressured to cover too much information in too short of a time and end up feeling that I have overwhelmed students. I’m sure they’re overwhelmed—I’m overwhelmed just thinking about it. I recall reading a post by Dave Wee where he wrote about no longer offering this as an option to teachers and I believe that if I “adjust accordingly” that’s where I’m headed next year.

On the opposite end of the spectrum I also teach the research process by scaffolding multiple lessons. This year I was fortunate to work with two teachers who chose to use this approach. One teacher brought both of his U.S. History classes in for 5-6 sessions over the course of the Winter Term affording me the time to break down the research process into manageable chunks. For these I gave a quick instructional session at the start of class and worked individually with students for the remainder of the block. Students had a week or more between each session giving them enough time to complete tasks and come for additional help if needed.

I’m also fortunate to have worked with one of our APUSH teachers on a fairly consistent basis throughout my three years at Kent, and we frequently collaborate on unique project-based assignments which are great fun for me and engaging for his students. This year we collaborated on three projects: for the first project, students focused on mining a bibliography to determine the author’s bias and present their findings that they supported with additional research; for the second project I joined the two APUSH sections he taught each day they met during our two week remote period in December. I followed the same scaffolded approach described above—the main difference being this was accomplished remotely on Zoom and was the only project the students worked on for that two-week period. Again, this allowed for in-depth instruction introducing more nuanced skills required for advanced research; for the third project students chose images from nine distinct eras aligning with those on the AP U.S. History exam that reflected a self-selected theme. I love this project as students learned how to analyze, interpret, and think deeply and expansively about primary source images. Plus, it culminated in terrific end-of-term presentations using Adobe Spark, which are alway great to explore. Needless to say, the return on investment for these types of projects is high, not only for the skills students are able to master and the opportunity to develop a deeper understanding of their topic, but also for the solid relationships I’m able to develop with students that only comes from actively engaging with them.

My AISL Colleagues
I would be remiss if I didn’t include being part of this wonderfully knowledgeable group of AISL librarians. This group has been a life-saver: from our first Zoom sessions in March and throughout the summer where we shared our lemons and lemonade (thank you to Claire for your calm presence and tech abilities) to our annual conference to our book groups. We learned to be as kind to ourselves as we were to each other. We kept reminding each other of how hard it was to deal with shifting spaces, quarantining books, keeping programs going, and students coming to the library. Amazingly, with Past President Christina Pommer’s guidance we were able to pull off our first virtual conference – no small accomplishment in a year filled with firsts. I can’t stress enough, AISL has been a life-saver.

Final Thoughts

It’s going to take quite some time to process all of the mixed emotions and experiences I’ve had over the past nine months that we’ve been back at school. When I look back on all that we’ve been through and all that we’ve accomplished, when I put all of these experiences in a pile and hold each one up to see if it sparks joy, it’s hard to believe all of this was possible while living through a pandemic. I admit, I was terrified about returning to school in-person, but the view from the other side gives me an incredible sense of accomplishment and feelings of gratitude for everyone who worked tirelessly to make it happen. At the end of the day, when comparing the lists of things that are under my control, I must say there aren’t too many things I need to adjust accordingly. Oh, and yes, when holding them up to see how they make me feel, most of them have sparked joy!

With a Little Help From My Friends: Practicing Gratitude in Challenging Times

This past year has been full of personal and professional challenges, yet I continue to practice an “attitude of gratitude.”  

I have been fortunate to benefit from good health, stable employment, and increased time with my teen daughters and my fluffy dog, Bunny.  And while I should have received a medal for “Most Frequent Asker of Questions on the AISL Listserv,” I am instead the proud and grateful recipient of the AISL Vision to Reality Award for the 2020-21 school year.  

When we had to abruptly close our library doors last spring, our library team brainstormed the ways in which we could deliver instruction and services to our students in Grades K-12.  In an effort to “bring the library to our patrons,” we decided to offer several virtual author visits on Zoom to keep student spirits high.  We were able to accomplish this by programming four virtual events, including presentations from picture book illustrator Barney Saltzberg, novelist Karen Tei Yamashita, and the graphic novelists and illustrators Maris Wicks, Jim Ottaviani, and Lila Quintero Weaver, all in May of 2021.

Yet while the world seemed to stand still in a quarantine fog, this was not the case. The murder of George Floyd and the worldwide protests for social justice required us to take action in some capacity.  The outpouring of anti-racism resources and support from AISL colleagues helped to connect our independent school library community, and ultimately planted the seed that propelled me to apply for the AISL award.

Viewpoint School’s English curriculum includes graphic novels taught across Grades 6-12.  This, combined with the voracious graphic novel-reading habits of our younger readers inspired me to apply with the proposed topic: Every Picture Tells a Story.  The award description read, “This collaborative project will create a year of celebration around the connections between graphic novels, comics, reading, art, and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.”

In retrospect, there are so many ways that our libraries have benefited from receiving the $1,000 in funds.  The AISL Vision to Reality Award encouraged me to:

Move Forward with Confidence

I had grand plans for a full campus-wide program, yet coordinating during a year when teachers and administrators were trying to keep the school afloat proved to be a challenge.  Luckily our remote schedule and supportive climate provided the time and opportunity to program virtual author events, and we hosted nine authors during the 2020-21 school year, with a total of 14 “visits.”  Having the AISL grant kept us motivated to program even when we had to put in extra effort to find space in our busy school calendar.

Collaborate with My Library Team

We could not have programmed author visits across four divisions without the help of a communicative and collaborative library staff.  While remote learning made “finding each other” more challenging, in many ways we were more committed to working together than ever.  I am grateful for my team’s enthusiasm and their support.  I am also grateful to my school, for providing us the opportunity and resources to run a fully staffed library program during an uncertain year.

Hone My Programming Skills

While there are many fabulous graphic novels, finding authors and artists who are affordable, available, and willing to “speak” on Zoom can be a delicate balancing act. With author fees ranging from $300 to $10,000, we spent many hours researching author availability, watching YouTube interviews, attending virtual book fests, and reading articles to support the theme.  The Vision to Reality dollars helped us to pad the overall program budget, as well as seek out affordable authors who in the end, turned out to be incredibly generous with their time.  The funds also made it possible to buy copies of books for book raffles and book clubbers.

Find a Little Help from My Friends

Thanks to my connections through the AISL listserv, I was able to discover illustrator Ana Aranda (who presented during our school’s World Language Week), we were able to book Grace Lin, based on AISL member reviews, and I connected with new comic book artists at the Schomburg Center’s Black Comic Book Festival.  These shared suggestions allowed me to build collaborative efforts with our teachers as well as our parent community.

Connect with Our Community

We have long wanted to offer family programming related to the library.  Thanks to our school’s active Parent Partners for Diversity and Inclusion, we were able to collaborate with parent volunteers to plan author visits, an in-store and online book fair, and four virtual Pajama Storytimes. 

Additionally, the DEI themes of the graphic novel authors and illustrators we hosted supported the efforts of our faculty Diversity Coordinators.  As a result, this year our libraries have offered community programming to celebrate the Jewish holidays, Hispanic Heritage Month, Diwali, Black History Month, and Asian Pacifc American Heritage Month.

Increase Library Visibility

Creating programming that evolved throughout the year offered new opportunities for me to weave a story to present out to our greater school community.  I combined my author research with our programming success and wrote an article on the importance of graphic novels in the curriculum for our school magazine.  

When we noticed that other departments were presenting at our monthly parent meetings, we volunteered to present as well, highlighting the ways we kept the library visible and active throughout the year.

Open New Windows

Introducing children to new books with diverse characters and themes helps them to better understand and embrace the world around them, and the greatest joy of hosting virtual author visits has been the opportunity to “open windows” for our students.  Not only have our students “visited” the studios and homes of Victoria Jamieson, Robin Ha, Tricia Elam Walker, Anna Aranda, Jennifer Holm, Julie Berry, Henry Lien, Grace Lin, and Lila Quintero Weaver during the school year, they have learned about the importance of crafting and publishing books that tell stories that deserve to be told.  

Serving as a librarian in a school can be a lonely enterprise unless you actively seek out partners and support.  My 22 years in the profession have been deeply rewarding, and I cannot imagine this time without my AISL colleagues. The organization has been a lifeline, connecting me to outstanding mentors and role models, and helping me to “deepen my practice” along the way.

In a time when our schools are seeking ways to demonstrate value,  I encourage all AISL members to actively seek out partners, and to consider applying for the Vision to Reality Award as a way to solidify the importance of the library and the librarian in the school community. 

on my love affair with libguides, but feeling the need to have a wandering eye…

I’ve been a Libguides user for YEARS and I must say…

I ❤️ Libguides

I also know that I’m not alone. WAY BACK in 2014, CD McLean posted Libguides: My Most Favorite Tool.

I think the folks over at their parent company, Springshare, call them, “Lib [like liberty] guides,” but I don’t care and with my kids I’ve always referred to them “L-eye-b guides” since they’re guides to the library. I’ve heard other librarians argue that we should call them “research guides” since the platform branding really isn’t the concept we’re shooting for in our information skills instruction and that makes TOTAL SENSE, but I don’t care so I still call them “L-eye-b guides.”

Really, though, you know it’s been a long year. Let’s just all smile and agree to say it my way… Thanks for your cooperation! LOL!

If you’re not a Libguides user, no worries, it’s not all that complicated. At its most basic the Libguides platform is really just a really good and rather elegant web authoring and hosting platform. I think the reason that I’ve been so taken with Libguides over the years, though, is that it’s web authoring software that behaves like it was designed by librarians for librarians–the tools are tailored for librarians to very quickly and IMHO pretty intuitively organize content and resources the way that librarians want to organize content and resources.

A week or two ago librarian extraordinaire, Matt Ball, asked how people organized their database offerings to help students select the most appropriate database for their information need. The thread that transpired led to an interesting discussion that surfaced some really fascinating factors that librarians consider when creating the digital portal to their library’s resources and services. Things that people appeared to weigh as they organized resources for their students seemed to include:

  • What is your student population like?
  • At what grades or age groups is your site aimed?
  • Are all of your students Academic Search Complete or JSTOR power researchers or do you need to meet a broader range of research needs?
  • Are you a laptop school? iPad school? Other?
  • Is your curriculum structured and consistent where you know that middle ages primary source project is going to be launching in February so you can plan or are your students’ projects completely different from year-to-year?

Clearly, there were many more, but you get the idea. What I found fascinating was that librarians in the discussion indicated that they were having a lot of success with the A to Z database list feature in Libguides. As a librarian, I find this feature so freaking elegant! I LOVE it! But, alas, after I set it up, my kids found it bewildering and just wouldn’t use it.

We ended up using a more graphic approach to organizing our databases. Kids generally just wouldn’t read the scope notes and other text so I just got rid of all of it. It looks like here at Mid-Pacific we will be returning to all face-to-face instruction next fall so we’ll probably stick with our current database organization, but our icon only format only works if you have in-class face time with kids so they’ve been introduced to searching in Gale in Context: High School–otherwise known as that “pretty purple icon that’s probably a pretty good place to start almost any search” ahead of time.

I supposed this is all just a very long winded way of explaining, that as much as I love Libguides, I’m not really sure that I’m using enough of their elegantly powerful tools to justify my annual subscription costs. My program is decently funded, but I don’t have the luxury of a bottomless budget bucket and I’m finding that emerging digital resources like Sora for our eBooks and digital streaming databases that I’m think are becoming a new necessity are really forcing me to find efficiencies in my spending so I can stretching my budget as far as it can possibly go. Over the past two or three years I’ve thought long and hard about whether I can do what we’re doing on Libguides with Google Sites, Weebly, or other service. Each year, I’ve chosen to stay with my Libguides, but I’m finding it harder and harder.

Factors I’ve weighed in deciding to stay with Libguides or head off in a new direction:

I work with an younger librarian who is an amazing, talented, excellent, and hugely creative partner in the library, but I’m also a huge control freak. Our Libguides templates give us each flexibility to build research guides for classes with our own style, but keeps the look and feel on our site as a whole, consistent enough that no matter where you are on our site, you know you’re at the Mid-Pacific Library. .

We originally created “admin guides” that housed all of our main resources. When we were building project-specific research guides, we placed “linked boxes” on the new research guide. That new offspring box continued to be live linked to its parent on our admin page. When a database icon or URL got updated, replacing the new icon on the admin guide parent box automatically updates the icon on all of the offspring boxes everywhere else on our site. It’s elegant and saved us time which was hugely helpful when you’re a 2 librarian department in a PK-12 school with 1500+ students.

That being said, as time went on I found that as a 1:1 iPad school, our students seem to prefer a single long page that they scroll with most of the information in fewer boxes (Libguides boxes rearranged themselves and move around a page in a way that can be confusing when on a mobile device). That, combined with our move toward more icon and graphics dependent design lead to me doing far more “copying” of database buttons than use of linked boxes. I’m guessing there are better work flows to achieve what I do, but the result is that my work flow has negated the elegant linked box, parent box/offspring box capability of Libguides. When I last had to do a global update of some URLs, I was able to make do with a find/replace search from the admin page, but even now, I’m not super sure that I caught ALL of the necessary URLs that needed updating.

If I really had to, I know I could put together a simplified and probably a little more static web presence for my library. I’m just barely comfortable enough with HTML that I can make minor tweaks and get a page to do what I want it to do. That said, I think it would take more time and there would be some trade offs that wouldn’t kill me, but that I just really would prefer to not have to deal with if possible.

In the end, I think that I’ve continued to ante up the pretty significant subscription renewal because I am comfortable with the platform and I can get resources put together quickly with minimal thinking/learning as far as the authoring platform is concerned. I, honestly, don’t think that that is a wrong or a poor decision. It just, however, troubles me because those extra few hundred dollars mean fewer print books that get added to our K-2 collection or our MS/HS collection. Maybe I just need to get over the guilt and say, “It costs more, but I’m worth it! It’s OK to spend money on myself once in a while!” #LOL but also #Sigh

So that’s it… I’m still in love with Libguides, but I have wandering eye just to be sure it continues to be the right tool for my particular school’s needs.

How to you build your library’s web presence? If you’ve got a cost effective way to make stuff look good that you find works well, I’d REALLY love to hear (and see, so please share links to your library pages) about how you’re handling things! I love my Libguides, but I’ve got wandering eyes! 😉

PS–I’d love to see links to any and all Libguides alternatives, but if you’re a Libguides user, I’d love to see how you organize your resources too! Please hit reply and share a link to your site below!

Why I *SOMETIMES* Pull Books

Past Me wrote this post just over a month ago while on spring break. This isn’t the first time where I’ve looked at Past Me and said, “Whoa—you have no idea what lies ahead.” (See accepting AISL presidency while a pandemic loomed on the horizon.)

On Friday, the day of RISE, the half-day senior research symposium I coordinate, I received this email from the teacher who leads the Global Issues project:

On Fri, Apr 30, 2021 at 9:33 AM Chris wrote: I know its cray cray time of year, maybe we streamline it a bit…Chalk it up to crazy Covid and us creating an internal conference but I’d love to pop up there next week Wed. Thursday to get the kids resources and then we can focus on writing and revision the last week before IQ.  If you can swing that let me know, if not, no judgment!  Just honestly let me know what you think you can swing.

Yes, it’s possible for an email to both induce panic and reduce stress. For all my Type A planning, he is as equally Go With The Flow. I found him and confirmed that I could lower my involvement this month and it wouldn’t be placed on my permanent record. Considering I’ve been involved with this project since this year’s seniors were sixth graders and I was doubly involved last year while virtual, why do I feel like I’m losing my library cred? He knows exactly what I normally teach and can supplement accordingly, and the students still have two days of classes in the library, the only two days the library is open to students between AP Spanish and senior exams. They’ll search together for digital resources, supplemented by books as feels natural based on our conversations about their topics.

I have talked with a lot of people this year about being our own harshest critics. In the AISL  Libraries IRL session, we focused on the difference between factors we can control and those we cannot. And mindset fits here as well. In addition to my general eagerness to pull books this time of year…

  • The school moved up graduation by a week since it will be outdoors, and we want to avoid the Florida heat as much as possible. (You are correct to sense a domino effect on the exam schedule…)
  • Virtual students will take exams on campus, one student supervised by one proctor, almost doubling the number of proctors needed. I’m expecting five sessions rather than two. (Could this optimistically mean 10 hours of quiet work time?)
  • I am Lead Advisor for the Class of 2021 and Baccalaureate speaker the following week. (Yes I have a draft of my speech, but I’m reminded it’s not where I want it to be. Proctoring revisions?)
  • I am getting on an airplane for the first time since 2019 to fly to Maryland for Mother’s Day, causing me to miss a day and a half of school when I’d usually be working with the 6th grade. (This is the ultimate seesaw of guilt and gratefulness based on what I’ve learned about my own values in the pandemic. Family is key.)
  • In brainstorming for this year’s Global Issues project this winter, we planned an all-day “Coping with COVID” conference in conjunction with the Health Department, our global sister schools, and all 6th grade subject teachers for this Wednesday! The students are going to be so much more prepared for research the following week after watching experts talk about COVID responses from a variety of perspectives, in a format that models our approach to organizing their papers. (So instead of feeling like a delinquent, why isn’t this accomplishment where I’m focusing my attention?)

And we now transition from an honest assessment about how I’m feeling this weekend, compared with my feelings the first week of April, a week I camped near the beach far from school. I need to remind myself that this year can be a reset, and the post below will better reflect what’s happening in my library May of 2022.

While I feel like I’m backing down, I have a new “Coping with COVID” conference and a day in the classroom this week, 2 days in the library next week, and access to files on Google Classroom. Even if it’s not embedded librarianship, it’s not nothing. Anyone have tips on being your own best friend and not your own toughest critic?


Earlier this spring, a colleague and I presented at a summit on Teaching Global Writers. I’m officially the librarian for grades 7-12, but we’ve developed a transition project for World Cultures that we teach to the sixth graders in May. As we brainstormed about how we wanted to organize our presentation, focusing on our values, our goals, and our process, we had a slide about “items to consider.” This could also have been called, “what you might be concerned about,” but hey, positive language. Obviously, time was number one – for him, me, and the class. Also practicalities like how much scaffolding to offer and how to best help 12 year olds build long-term independent time management skills. But, we had this conversation more than once:

Me: I have to mention I pull books.
Chris: It’s fine. No one will notice
Me: There’s a photo of it.
Chris: Will librarians even notice?

First question after our presentation: “How do you find the time to pull the books?” First, remember we’re a smaller school with a print collection under 20,000 and only about 60 students in the sixth grade. So the scope isn’t what you might be picturing. It actually goes pretty fast. I have a million colored sticky notes in a drawer. I assign each class a color and pull out a bunch of tabs and write a student’s name from the roster on each one. Since the project is on “global issues,” a lot of the books are located near each other. So that one endangered animals book might have four tabs at the top.  I have a strong spacial memory, and I can pull a fair number based on a general recollection of where I saw them last and the shape of the spine. Until restrictions on campus guests this year, I have benefitted from a few long-term parent volunteers who I trust with the task. When in doubt, they’ll pull a few or put an asterisk by a student’s name, greatly streamlining my time.

Stacks of global issues books

I’m posting this because I think that as independent school librarians, we all have procedures that might work well for our own school but not for others. This post isn’t a push for others to implement this practice. It’s actually an apology because in the presentation, I answered the how but not the why. And whys are important for figuring out if there’s a reason for the how.  Here’s why I pull books for our sixth graders.

  • This is their official introduction to me. We have one day in the classroom brainstorming project ideas, and then the students walk across campus for their first time in the Sunshine Library as budding “Middle School researchers.” They’re both excited and intimidated by that walk, and that when they arrive; there might be seniors at a neighboring table. This is my chance to make them feel a little more comfortable, an immediate sense of belonging. It’s also a pretty good introduction to me as a person who will help support their research in this project and for the next six years.
  • I present it as a present just for them. Here’s a gift to get your project launched. As with the previous point, it helps to make a good first impression.
  • Do you all work with sixth graders? I hadn’t before this project. I hadn’t even worked with Middle Schoolers before starting at Saint Stephen’s. Newsflash: they need more guidance than 9th graders! Their projects can address any global issue, meaning there’s a lot of variability. Chris and I are most productive in individual research consultations with each student, especially because many students choose topics that are personally very meaningful to them. This gives everyone somewhere to start gathering background knowledge as we talk with others.
  • By this point, you’re probably asking why I don’t have them search the catalog for their own books. This actually started because we had some turnover in the library a few years back. We had a few months without a librarian, and I wasn’t sure what was being taught or when.
    • Necessity is the mother of invention. But it’s continued because…
    • We have limited time to complete this project, and it’s basically organized on top of my daily schedule with the Middle and Upper divisions to be shoehorned into when I’m likely to be freest. This is generally when students are already reviewing for exams but before they take exams in the library. I could spend a day teaching the catalog, a skill some know and some don’t, or I could move them towards higher-level skills of source analysis. There are three days total for research before they move back to the classrooms (hello exam library!) to begin creating their paper.
    • Even when students know how to use the catalog, we have two libraries. Sixth and seventh grade materials are often interchangeable and could be found in either. We don’t allow students to cross campus without supervision, so this ensures the books are in one place ready to be used.
    • Students have chosen global issues ranging from endangered rhinos to ebola to teen depression. Needless to say, as a k-12 collection, some materials are better suited to sixth graders than others. For this project, I’d rather they have success with a book in their hands than choose a book for which they are not the intended audience. I find small successes build research confidence, which I’d argue is an essential research skill.
  • By having books in their hands within a minute of entering “their new library,” class time is spent on reading, thinking, note-taking, and analyzing. I do want to note, also, that we don’t require books for this assignment. This isn’t about giving them a place to start.
  • We try to complete the project during class time so the work is fully the student’s. The books move from the cart to the children’s hands and back again. I would like to have more accurate circulation numbers, and while I could just check out the entire collection to a “Grade 6” account, this is almost as fast and much more representative of collection use. In checking the books out, I’m getting a reminder of each student’s name and photograph.
  • Which brings me to what is probably the main reason this is worth it for me.
  • The sticky notes have their names! I love our school’s promise. “Every student is known and every student is valued.” I crisscross campus past their playground multiple times each day and I pop into Lower School classes. Even though they generally know my name, I don’t know these kids. I have yet to have a kid piece together that I know their name because of a sticky tab poking out from the top of their book rather than because I actually know them. Virtually, Google Docs and Google Classroom is also a savior for this.
Pre-pandemic research time

In foreshadowing for a future post, I will share that I am not the person you should ask about work-life balance. I frequently stay late, and I have trouble moving to “non-work” mode even when I’m home. Taking my email off my phone was an incredibly smart decision for me. But this hasn’t been something that’s taken a lot of time, and I’ve noticed a lot of benefits.

Does this ring any bells? Is there anything that someone new to your library might be surprised you do? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.