Shaking up the PD game

I could swim in a sea of professional development for librarians and never tire of it, and yet last spring I felt I needed a change, so decided to take a 2nd-year university statistics course to better support our AP Research students. I liked stats in grad school and it would exercise some neglected grey matter – how bad could it be? (TL;DR bad then not bad).

By week 3, I had learned what I came for which was unfortunate as there were 9 weeks left to go. However, this spoke to one of the most valuable takeaways: 

It was very helpful for me to re-live the student experience.

As Courtney noted in her most recent blog post, “it’s important to place ourselves in the shoes of our students”. Taking one little course reminded me of the deft juggling required to manage a full course load. Managing one’s time, seeking extra help, pushing through dense material and continued stepping up to the plate while regularly striking out – I had seriously forgotten what this all felt like from a student perspective.

Online asynchronous learning is not a vibe for me.

Online is one thing, but asynchronous is a whole other, and the combination was not conducive to good learning in my case – but this may just be me. I’d love to ‘hear’ a comment from someone who’s had a different experience.

I am definitely the turtle, not the hare.

Slow and steady wins the race for me. Bombing most of the timed tests was balanced out by thoroughly completing weekly assignments; knowing this, I’m curious how I can apply it other areas of my life.

I can do hard things.

Despite there being many, many moments when I may not want to.

I’m glad I tried something different; it felt great to exercise some long-dormant brain cells. And while I struggled mightily (including failing a midterm), I finished stronger than I thought possible. More importantly, I developed much empathy for our students in the process.

Give them Choices??? and Pray !!!!!

It all started this summer, June 2, the day after school ended for the summer. Our curricululm dean forwarded me the results of a survey she made and that she sent to the classroom teachers regarding their library schedule. Granted that the media center was closed all last year due to COVID, I was not surprised at the results. I also was not aware that a survey was even being conducted??? You can imagine my surprise reaction, but I do want to share the replies:

*Visit each classrrom once a month to share a book with the children

*Visit the media center every other week instead of weekly check-out

*Afternoon classes for 30 minutes with story time and check out

*Integrate into ELA/Book Clubs

*Visit each classrrom once a month to share a book with the children

*Visit the media center every other week instead of weekly check-out

*Afternoon classes for 30 minutes with story time an dcheck out

*Integrate into ELA/Book Clubs*Weekly visits (like we have done before COVID)

*Classes scheduled right after lunch or recess to cut down travel time

*Allowing the students to openly visit the library (sending them during reading time)

*Library is not the best use of time – it would be great for actual instructional time (how to identify text features, how to identify reliable sources, choosing books for research, etc.)

*Books need to be leveled with the GRL on the spine so children can easily identify the Just-right-book

*Meet with groups that need more support (perhaps during Reading Workshop time)

*More time for the media specialist to spend with small groups of students for book recommendations

Before I tried to wrap my head around all of these comments, I need to let the reader know the number of classes I would be teaching weekly and the duties assigned to me. There are 25 classes of students weekly from Alpha (3 years old) to grade 4. I have a daily AM and PM duty for the entire year and 2 lunch duties a week. There are only volunteer parents who help with the shelving and check out.

I prayed all summer about this dilemma – how can I be everything to everybody and meet all their wishes while still staying calm and professional?

Through divine intervention, I came up with the idea of giving the teachers chocies! As in the past, they could choose the time they would like to visit the media center, but this year they could use their slot of time in 3 ways:

(1) They could bring their entire class to the media center

(2) They could send small groups of students and I would meet them at the door

(3) They could invite me to their classroom to work with PBL (Project Based Learning or reading or ????)

I asked for a 3 day notice if they wanted me to teach a lesson in their classroom so I could have time to plan.

I start classes next Tuesday, since we had volunteer training this week….so I will keep you posted.

However, I will leave you with a smile on your face with this last comment. Today, at the weekly meeting by the flagpole, a teacher approached me and asked, “Since we are off Monday (Labor Day) we will miss our first library class. Is there anytime during the 4 day week you can make it up?”

As you can see…….I have a long year ahead of me and I definitely need to keep on praying!

What do we want students to know about our databases?

It has been just over a year since I emailed the AISL list, looking for a truly representational news database aimed at the K-12 market. The push for such a product is ongoing, and I hope to be able to update you more on that process soon (and please contact me if you would like to get involved in the campaign to drive change).

In the meantime, our library decided to assure that students would see themselves and each other in our digital resources, even if it did require accessing multiple databases to do so.

Having a larger number of databases is a challenge, as we all know, and we need to take a multi-pronged approach to ease adoption. Among our strategies are:

1. Recruiting student “Database Ambassadors.” Our students have grade-wide, homework-related group texts and so the Ambassadors will be on the scene when homework is hard to complete. They will remind classmates to reach out to librarians for help. I set out to have a few ambassadors in each grade, but students started asking if they could join the cadre and fully 10% of our 8th-12th grade students have asked to volunteer for this project.

Training starts today, and I am trying to figure out the few ideas I have to drive home. No use trying to familiarize them with a substantial number of databases during a study hall! My Research TAs tell me that the bare bones of the class I taught our Juniors are a critical part of the lesson….

2. The lesson/lecture for all 11th grade US History classes was an introduction to working with primary sources. The theme was “database business models as systemic injustice.” Some colleagues have asked me to share the slides from that class. Though they are not at all pretty, you can find them here. Honestly, I never thought to get emails with words like “moving” and “fascinating” related to a database lesson!

To be frank: none of the systemic issues with databases were news to students who have aspects of their identity that have been minoritized. It has been painful for me to realize of the substantial number of students who have felt alienated by our collection for so long.

Nonetheless, we move forward with anticipation. We believe that our students can both thrive on our more inclusive collection and simultaneously look at it with a critical eye. It is our job to help them do so.

If such a lesson feels like a bit more than you can bite off, check out Rebecca Hall’s graphic novel, Wake: The Hidden History of Women-Led Slave Revolts. Actually, read it whatever the case. In addition to history I never learned, it talks about silences in sources and how they impact our understanding of historical events.

Have a lovely week!

NOTE: This database work is a group effort that currently involves Sarah Levin (Urban School), Alea Stokes (Thayer Academy), and Sara Kelley-Mudie (Beaver Day School). Also, my awesome Library Director, Jole Seroff, who is supporting this work as an integral part of the program we provide our school. I’m just the only one who cannot stop talking about it. It is how I roll. 😉

Speed Book Dating in a Small(er) Library

What do you do when you are bursting with ideas but lack space? I find myself considering this issue in my new position. There are three libraries at my school, and I am the middle school librarian. The middle school is a separate campus housed in what used to be a church. In fact, I just realized today that my library is situated in the narthex. Doesn’t that sound totally sci-fi?! (Well, the narthex or vestibule, but I like narthex better.)

If you’d like to see the entire article, click here.

But I digress. Since starting in August, I’ve added comfy furniture and reorganized the collection- which was not easy given the ladders (see previous post, lol). The students who regularly use the library come in to READ and find books. They self-police themselves and do the shushing, too. (I’ve tweeted several photos of students reading making use of the new comfy furniture, because wow.) Needless to say, I love my new space.

That being said, I wanted to jump right in to Speed Book Dating at the beginning of the year to ensure that every student could find a book. I knew the physical library was out, so I loaded up my books, made some amazing genre signs using Canva, and trucked into the chapel.

While the stained glass windows were stunning, it was a little difficult for the students to fill out their “Dating Cards.” It was also a tad awkward for them to peruse the books, essentially, single file. But, we made it work for the first few classes.

Then we tried the cafeteria which was a bit of a pain when we had to pack up and reset for lunches, etc. Finally, and now I feel like Goldilocks, we ended up in the teachers’ classrooms with a tour of the library after the activity.

The reality is that it all worked out. I could bring my laptop and scanner to check out books immediately, and the students still had the opportunity to come to the library. (For some of them it was the first time they had seen it as newcomers to the campus. I also felt like I was getting more familiar with the campus as I rolled my book truck around.) My colleagues were supportive as we tried to figure out what worked best for our campus, and our circulation jumped by almost 140%!

I’ll call that a win.

And in case you wanted to see and/or use the Dating Card, I’m including it as a download below:

Why We (Should) Write

I’m always surprised when wonderful librarians who are so erudite and thoughtful speaking on some area of their practice recoil when I suggest they write an article. Lack of confidence (which I don’t understand because they have so much knowledge) or the reason lack of time (which I completely understand) usually predominate as excuses.

But as David McCullough says, “Writing is thinking. To write well is to think clearly. That’s why it’s so hard.” To sit down and write out what you do or your accumulated knowledge about a given topic or book means organizing your thoughts and making connections for others which compels you to be a stronger librarian and more intentional in your work. As school librarians, it’s important to place ourselves in the shoes of our students. Seeing my article bibliographies when I open Noodletools or discussing how I organize my notes for a paper lets students know that I use the tools I’m asking them to use in their research and writing process (although they are mystified that I do it voluntarily).

Writing is thinking. To write well is to think clearly. That’s why it’s so hard

David mccullough

Consider also the benefit to your relationship with teachers and administrators. When we complain that few of our colleagues and division administrators understand what we do, writing an article that demonstrates our pedagogical understanding of some aspect of our job draws the curtain back on what happens in the library and they are suitably dazzled. Getting the school’s name out in the form of your bio at the bottom of an article or in discussing what the school does well places librarians in a position of being seen as a positive advocate for the school, never a bad thing.

The connections I’ve made to other librarians through my writing have been invaluable. I’m a big believer that you get back what you put into the universe and writing is sharing a part of yourself. In everything I have written, someone has reached out to let me know how I helped them or sent an email that inspired an exchange that offered me more knowledge about my topic. Writing offers school librarians a chance to step out of our relative isolation and make contact with our compatriots outside of our school campus, an important aspect when we don’t always have a chance to mingle daily with someone who knows our job. 

What to Write About

School librarianship suffers from the fact that the majority of us spend our day putting out fires, ordering materials, navigating databases, and delivering amazing information literacy instruction in our library…and rarely mingle with other librarians. We assume everyone else does these activities like we do, and therefore don’t recognize when we are being innovative. I have never visited a single library (and pre-COVID I made a point of doing best practices visits to three to nine libraries a year) where I didn’t come away with a tip or practice idea that made me look like a goddess when I returned to my school.

While a little dated at this point, several chapters continue to have wonderful advice to offer new writers

Walt Crawford in his book, First Have Something to Say: Writing for the Library Profession, encourages writers to think of themselves as an expert rather than as an authority, a term which has a lot more baggage. An expert has attained some level of mastery (which we all have done) whereas an authority exudes a judgemental gravitas that the majority of school librarians thankfully don’t possess. You are an expert on a host of different topics relating to your work and people would benefit from reading about your perspective. If you’ve ever presented at a conference, write up your presentation into an article or blog post and share it with a wider audience. Publishing means your print article will be more findable in scholarly databases, or your blog article on an established website will be indexed more readily in search engines, so you would reach a wider audience than the 40 people in the ballroom of your conference session by also publishing an account of your work.

Think about what you love about being a librarian. Is it children’s or YA literature? Be a book reviewer or write articles about themes you’re seeing. Information literacy? Tons of magazines, both commercial and organization-specific publications, want to see writing on instruction. Professional development geared towards teachers? Now you’ve branched out from librarian-focused magazines and journals to broader educational organizations like ISTE and ASCD. Copyright and intellectual freedom are hot topics that affect our work and they are frustrating areas where people always need advice. And kudos to you if you have an area of “cross-pollination”; management, technology, engineering, higher education are all areas of expertise you might have from non-school librarian work you’ve done. Making connections between those areas and our work with school libraries could be of enormous help to the profession. 

Finding a Venue for Your Writing

Full disclosure, the vast majority of my writing opportunities came directly or indirectly from my volunteer work. My first writing opportunity was for the KQ Blog in 2004 after someone had heard me complain at an ALA conference (probably at the ISS Section table back when we would meet by section and committee at tables in a gigantic, cacophonous ballroom) that you couldn’t apply for National Board Certification without being state-certified. My momentary rant led to an offer to write the “anti” position for a pair of blog posts about whether state certification should be necessary for independent school librarians (Lewis 2004).

If you think that serving on a committee is out of your financial or time grasp, consider that many regional and state organizations (as well as ALA, AASL, and ISTE) now offer virtual committees rather than requiring that you shoulder the expense of travel to distant conferences. Offering to write for your membership organization’s blog or journal is a wonderful way to dip a toe into the writing waters and often gives a less intense introduction to the editing process than if you started with a more national journal or book chapter for an academic press. Remember that writing often comes from connections, but it also fosters connections. Considering that we have jobs dependent on fostering relationships and collaborating, seeing writing as an extension of that role should make this activity feel more natural.

Before you choose a potential publication, you need to decide which audience you’re aiming for. I separate this into “the choir” and “has no idea what we do.” “The choir” refers to the publications and blogs you read right now for your work which are squarely aimed at librarians. You can write assuming certain background knowledge and your content is usually more practice-focused. “The choir” also encompasses the weightier peer-reviewed journals where you might publish action research or ethnographic studies (I’m assuming you aren’t doing long-term statistical analysis as a practicing librarian but if I’m wrong, go, you! And write an article about that balance, please.)

“Has no idea what we do” probably triggers the faces of quite a few people you know; think about what roles they have. Independent School, the magazine of the National Association of Independent Schools, has been – along with their elusive and exclusive conference committee – the Holy Grail of librarians hoping to make our work more visible to the NAIS audience. Several years ago, an independent school librarian actually managed to co-author an article for Independent School that referred to the role of the independent school librarian and – I swear to you – it was the scene in Sorcerer’s Stone when Voldemort is “killed” by the infant Harry Potter, with ecstatic witches were setting off fireworks and shaking the hands of strange muggles because of their happiness. Independent school librarians sent congratulatory texts and “did you see??!!” emails across every known listserv as this glass ceiling shattered. ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) and ASCD (Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development) also have excellent periodicals that administrators frequently read and have even broader audiences. Getting the school librarian role in front of them and emphasizing how we increase student achievement is crucial work that can be accomplished through writing articles about our impact.

A fantastic anthology of short articles covering a broad spectrum of writing-related topics

So practically, where should you look for writing opportunities? First, I’d hit up your databases or walk into the nearest academic library which usually lets you do a search on-site using their resources. Take a look at what has been written about your topic and consider where there are gaps you could fill or if the information needs updating. Look at the length and tone of articles for individual publications to get a sense of their preferences. The below list links to the “writing for publication” page of each of the following venues where you can find their query and length requirements as well as formatting guidelines. Since many of them have themes for each issue and are looking for features or supporting articles on that theme, it pays to ask if your proposed idea could fit into a future issue if you’re not sure. Carol Smallwood’s anthology, Writing and Publishing: The Librarian’s Handbook is a treasure trove of infinitely readable short articles on a variety of topics related to writing for publication, including how to handle the query process.

On September 14, 2021, AISL hosted an informational webinar on writing for publication featuring Meg Featheringham, AASL’s editor of Knowledge Quest, the KQ Blog, and AASL’s e-newsletter, and Rebecca Morris, co-editor at School Library Connection. These knowledgeable editors had valuable information to offer to librarians considering writing, with great behind-the-scenes considerations they take into account when choosing manuscripts. Definitely check it out, not only for the great information but to see how lovely and not scary editors are.

Here is a list of potential markets for your articles, in absolutely no alphabetical order:

An Altruistic Approach

I’m assuming some readers might still feel reluctant about writing an article. Since librarians skew to an altruistic personality type, I’m going to take advantage of that tendency and connect writing to helping others. Has there been a librarian whose work meant a lot to you? Writing an article that demonstrates how you apply their work to your practice gets more people aware of them. You might have a wonderful teacher or librarian at your school who you want to help develop professionally and bring attention to their work; writing an article together helps you both. Finally, thinking about what articles would benefit someone new to the profession allows you to create work that helps your colleagues. 

Consider also that writing for publication can be a wonderful PD group to offer at your school. The power of faculty members coming together and being a little vulnerable speaking about what they do in the classroom and worries they have about writing can’t be overestimated. Your school librarian role helps you as a facilitator for this type of work, since you can help teachers brainstorm ideas, highlight your databases for searching for potential subject-specific publications they could target, and edit one another’s work (having a second set of eyes compare a manuscript to the publication guidelines is worth its weight in gold). Teachers will not forget your helping them promote themselves and the work they do while you strengthen relationships. You may help someone so well with their APA citation that they have you come in to teach their class the same skill!

Hopefully, you’ve found a few good reasons to consider writing, as well as an inspiration or two that gives you some idea of what you might want to share. Please consider the below list of committee members as your personal pep rally and don’t hesitate to reach out with questions. Librarians who write build community and a powerful practice, so make the library world a better place and share a piece of yourself. 

Want more help and advice? Please feel free to reach out to AISL’s Publications Committee members:

Debbie Abilock: dabilock@gmail.com 

Tasha Bergson-Michelson: tbergsonmichelson@castilleja.org 

Sarah Davis Sarah.Davis@viewpoint.org 

Christina Karvounis: KarvounisC@bolles.org 

Cathy Leverkus cathyl@thewillows.org 

Courtney Lewis cllewis@st.catherines.org 

Alyssa Mandel amandel@oda.edu 

References

Crawford, W. (2003). First Have Something to Say: Writing for the Library Profession. American Library Association.

Lewis, C. L. (2004), January/February). Independent School Library Media Specialists: State Certification Unnecessary. Knowledge Quest on the Web. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org.sapl.sat.lib.tx.us/ala/mgrps/ divs/aasl/aaslpubsandjournals/knowledgequest/kqwebarchives/kqwebarchives.cfm. (Totally not the link anymore – I have no idea if you can even find this outdated initial writing piece.)

Smallwood, C. (2010). Writing and Publishing: The Librarian’s Handbook (ALA guides for the busy librarian). American Library Association.

on SIFTing, SIFTing, and SIFTing…

I’m feeling a little self-conscious about the how much I know I have become “one-note Davey” when it comes to talking about what we’re focusing on instructionally in the information literacy, media literacy, research instruction space. To be completely honest it is literally almost all we’ve done instructionally since we started our ’21-’22 school year in the second week of August.

Apologies in advance if you’ve read previous things I’ve shared about Michael Caulfield’s SIFT methodology for checking online sources. If you have, you might want to skip down a few paragraphs.

What is SIFT?Michael Caulfield, Director of Blended and Networked Learning at Washington State University Vancouver, developed a magically simple four-step process for quickly evaluating and contextualizing online sources. The SIFT method, takes techniques and strategies commonly used by professional fact checkers and puts them together in a format simple enough that my 9th graders to learn and successfully apply in a 45-60 minute stand-alone lesson!

Never Waste a Good Crisis – Misinformation/Disinformation has always been with us, but events and the discourse of the last few years seems to have made teachers i work with acutely aware of the need to explicitly teach students skills, strategies, and dispositions needed to discern reputable sources from their less reputable cousins. Living in a new golden age of misinformation isn’t exactly something any of us would wish for but the reality on the ground is that, this is where we are so as librarians it would be a tragedy to waste a crisis foisted upon us.

During the first week of school, I sent versions of the following email to every teacher in our science department.

For the time being SIFT has, temporarily, become the entirety of our high school research curriculum. We have now introduced SIFT to almost every 9th grader through their science classes, and we’ve also had a chance to introduce SIFT to 6 or 7 jr/sr science classes as well (we piloted SIFT for the first time at the end of last year so our older students never got it). If you are just beginning your school year, DON’T WAIT!!!! Approach your science teachers before they get too deep into their content! The storm of misinformation around vaccines and masking has made science teachers very willing partners on infolit instruction! We’ve also found that working with these classes on SIFT has helped us to start collaborative conversations with teachers on other projects and skills they’d like to work together on!

Science teacher: “I really wish our kids could learn APA for science. Why do we have to use MLA?”

Me: “Uh… We don’t only have to use MLA! Nobody ever asked. LET’S DO IT!”

Science teacher: “And when we do that, can you help us with how to use databases?”

What Does all this SIFTing Instruction Look Like? – I use 4 introductory videos that Michael Caulfield created for CIVIX, a non-partisan group based in Canada, and posted to the Ctrl-F channel on Youtube. They’re embedded in a Libguides page and we watch the first two (very short) videos. We give students a sample sources to SIFT and simply have students try the strategies and techniques that have been introduced. When student(s) come to a conclusion we debrief and share the methods and strategies the students tried that helped them find success.

When it seems like the class is comfortable with the tools and strategies, we watch the second two videos and continue with practice samples.

Keep if Fast. Keep it Simple! – The sample sources that we have kids SIFT are meant to be easy to investigate, but I’ve tried to pick examples of sources that let us raise issues and strategies that I want kids to remember.

This sample using the publication Undark is a good starting point that says, “See, you can do this. It’s easy and it’s fast, but it works so it’s worth the investment of 90 seconds BEFORE you read the article!”

This sample using Goop allows us to talk about expertise. “So Gwyneth Paltrow is an Academy Award winning actor, if you were looking for information about becoming a successful actor would she probably be a well qualified source? Does expertise apply across different fields or domains? What do you think of this?”

Interestingly, I’ve had three different students talk about Dr. Fauci being an expert in diseases and vaccines, but maybe not baseball… Hahaha!!!

Being Transparent and a Little Humble Doesn’t Hurt – In the midst of teaching this lesson news broke about the owner of the Snopes site admitting to committing plagiarism. As Michael Caulfield recommends Snopes as a source for reliable, fact-checking, I decided to bring the issue up head on and have honest conversations with students about citation, attribution, and trust. I tell them honestly that I still use and trust Snopes because I have a long history with the site and I’ve checked enough of their stories over time that continue to believe in the integrity of their work as a whole, yet it is frustrating that i now feel the need to have this conversation with students when talking about using Snopes–and that if they don’t feel comfortable with the recommendation that, that is very legitimate and they should use other sites instead.

When students look at the Wikipedia article on the New York Post, they tend to conclude that it is a less than credible tabloid and therefore the story itself must be misinformation. I find that this is a good opportunity to show students the Google News tab where they quickly see that multiple news outlets that they know have reported the same story. This allows us to talk about how the SIFT process often actually doesn’t give us a black and white answer and THAT’S OK because what we are actually seeking as we SIFT is how to place this source IN CONTEXT. Understanding and using what a source has to offer in an appropriate context is also why we typically don’t want to rely too heavily on any single source.

SIFT is a Start, Not an End — Our juniors and seniors pick up on SIFT very quickly. We do some of the same exercises and cover the same ground as with our 9th graders, but with the juniors and seniors we use it as an opportunity to point out how better online journalism or open web sources typically link to the scholarly work that supports claims being made. “Trace those sources as close to their original context as you can get and typically try to cite the source that is the furthest up the chain.”

Reception from Kids — Feedback from students has been amazingly positive. Where there used to be a lot of frustrated eye rolling and heavy sighing from the last row (and sometimes the middle and first rows, too. LOL!!!). I’ve had students tell me, “I can use this!” As I see it, we can teach perfect techniques and strategies for source evaluation, citation, and annotation, but if kids just won’t use them unless they’re coerced to do so for points, we’re not really teaching source evaluation for a real world and for kids’ real lives.

When they leave us as graduates, I want my kids to have the information literacy knowledge, skills, dispositions, and habits necessary for them to thrive in a world of networked information.

  • How do I weigh the risks and benefits of a vaccine?
  • What are the costs and benefits of this policy on greenhouse gas emissions?
  • Is this policy change likely to do what its proponents say it will do and whose hypothesis is more likely to be correct based on their experience and/or expertise?
  • Which candidate running in the next election is most likely to represent the positions that I value?

In the highly complex world of networked information that we now finder ourselves navigating, two of the most valuable “commodities” individuals have to invest are our attention and our trust. Until recently, I feel like I haven’t been able to find a way to very effectively help students understand how to discern where and how to invest their attention and their trust. With our work on SIFT I am starting to feel like the pieces are coming together. We certainly have a way to go, but SIFT feels, to me, like we’ve taken a solid first step in the right direction! I hope you’ll give it some consideration in the work that you’re doing!

Happy new school year, everyone!

The Real Power of Primary Sources (or in Math Terms: Primary ≠ Best)

I’ve been thinking for quite a while about writing a post regarding primary sources. They are something we teach our students about every year because they are incredibly important. But sometimes our students think that they are almost omniscient, and really, in a sense, they’re the opposite. They’re a snapshot of limited, contemporary knowledge. They often need to be combined with a more distant vantage point to get a complete picture.

So, since this post is in the moment, prepare it to take quite the turn. First, though, here’s a conversation with students leading into primary sources.

LAST SEPTEMBER, During an 8th grade research lesson about primary sources and the perspectives they provide

Me: What was school like last spring?
Student A: We were sent home.
Me: When did you think you’d be back?
Student A: August.
Me: Didn’t you think you’d be back after spring break?
Student A: No. Me: Before the end of the year?
Student A: No, we knew it was all year.
Me (feeling analogy falling apart): Anyone else have a different experience?
WHOLE CLASS: No, we knew it in March.
Me (facepalm): Well, I’m glad to see you this year. About primary sources…

And pivot.

First the abridged version: A tree fell on my old house and while stressful, it was covered by insurance and ultimately fixed.

Our neighbors are my favorite! But still imagine getting these texts 1000 miles away.

Or the TLDR variety: During a lightning storm this summer a tree fell on my house, a 97 year old bungalow. We were traveling, and our neighbors noticed the next morning. There were three large puncture wounds and some structural damage, but repairs were covered by insurance. We were able to get someone to remove the limbs the next day. Unfortunately, a miscommunication with the roofing company meant that they didn’t come to tarp the roof for five days. In the Florida summer storm season. We had major water damage to our living room ceiling, though magically the water poured and pooled neatly into the two couches we were replacing upon returning to Florida. During reroofing, however, there was a wire splice and we learned our electricity wasn’t up to code. How convenient to be lacking a ceiling for easy access to the wiring! We still need to replace the broken patio tiles, crushed fence, and flattened plants, but we’re fine. The cats are fine. The house is mainly fine. This is just to say there’s been a lot on my mind since returning to school last month.

As a distraction, I walked into a craft store with my mom the night this happened and found this gem of a magnet that has made its way into my life and onto my fridge.

Which is why I’ve been thinking about an essay our AP Lang students are writing based on their summer reading of Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods. There’s more to the assignment, but the gist is this. Take a walk and “Like Bryson, you will write an essay that both tells the story of a true experience you’ve had, describes the setting of that experience in detail, and incorporates outside research that helps to communicate your purpose to the reader. In order to do this, you must HAVE an experience—or take a walk.” The immediate response by one student was whether they could use a walk they took in the summer. It was in the Grand Canyon. It was apparently spectacular. Eye-opening.

And I’m sitting there, probably distracted by knowing that I wake each morning to a snowy dusting of insulation on the hardwood, feeling like this student doesn’t get this assignment. It’s about experience, about presence, about the uncertainty of the moments beyond now.

Or to put it in literary terms, it’s fundamentally different to describe a book you’ve finished to one where you’re still immersed in the plot! Yes, I’ve tread in this territory before, but that’s the unique power of primary sources.

I keep saying it’s all where I focus my attention…

And here’s the addendum for eagle-eyed readers – this roof stuff was happening while I was staying unexpectedly in my childhood bedroom because of previously referenced “camper maintenance issues.” This spring we fueled up with watered-down diesel, and the fuel system replacement we got was incomplete. So en route to long-planned camping adventures, we instead got a second fuel system replacement, this one complete with fuel tank. (Note to all, especially me from 6 months ago: watered-down diesel is a really really REALLY big deal.) But wait, you say, didn’t you take that trip to Ithaca’s waterfalls?

Yes, two weeks later, writing on this blog about the experience as a planner of travelling with less than a plan. Because primary sources are immediate. They are personal. And of course they are biased. At that point, it was too close, too open. At the time, it felt too sad. (But it was just stuff, people!)  Now it’s a crazy story after a crazy year, and I have a whole new vocabulary for home and vehicle repairs. And, fingers crossed Friday, a drywall-dust-free beautiful new living room with my new favorite couches anchoring the house.

Please tell me I’m not alone in setting up fake boxes to see if my cats take the bait?

Still with me this Labor Day Monday? This is important because all you superstitious folks, I hear to expect things in threes. Camper, House, ???

Last Friday, just before lunch, I was grabbing a binder from the library’s Reading Room and heard a suspicious “plink, plink, plink.” Right in the spot where the AC had overflowed this summer and dripped straight onto two half shelves of books. Being the beginning of the year, the aptly descriptive “decide moldy books” went on my to-do list, as I was determining which of the approximately 30 books were salvageable, which were weedable, and which I wanted to repurchase.

Look at that mighty trash can! And pay no attention to the books from the previous leak on the left…

My library monitor set up a trash can; I called Facilities and headed to my lunch meeting. At the final bell of the school day, thinking of this very 3 day weekend, I walked down to facilities and asked if I should get trash bags to cover books on nearby shelves in case the entire tile collapsed. Slow dripping is one issue, tile-size splatter discovered three days later quite another.

Foreshadowing: “Dry Thinking Ahead Me” writing this post at 3:20pm Friday would have quite a different account to the “Damp What Next Me” writing at 3:30pm.

Somehow, after removing the ceiling tile to get at the splash pan, the bottom gave way. (Those of my generation—remember when people were slimed on Nickelodeon?) In planning to dryvac out the source of my worry, spray hit books from Isaac Asimov to Stephen King. I’ve never been so grateful for laminated book covers. Many were totally dry, a few were soaked through, and the rest had a few droplets along the heads or spines. We briefly discussed using the lunchroom freezers to store books, but instead went with the home remedy method of flipping them upside down on the floor, fanning the pages, and setting up large fans nearby. (The University of Michigan backs me up starting at step 6.)

Cue spotlight on the primary source through line of this post.

Well, right now I know I’m walking into this…

We are all doing our best!

And who knows what the day will bring next. I want to tell my students there’s no #adulting class that really prepares you. Know that uncertainties aside, I wish you all working transportation, solid roofs, and dry books going into this new school year!

It is Good to Be A School Librarian!

Patricia deWinter

I love my job for a variety of reasons, so here’s my top ten!

  1.  Sharing a favorite book with a class is magic.  Kate DiCamillo’s Tale of Despereaux, (or anything by Di’Camillo, LOVE Raymie Nightingale), There’s a Boy in the Girl’s Bathroom by Louis Sachar, For Every One by Jason Reynolds, Loser by Jerry Spinelli, From the Desk of Zoe Washington by Janae Marks, Ms. Bixby’s Last Day by John David Anderson, Save Me a Seat by Sarah Weeks and Larger than Life Lara by Dandi Mackall are books I describe as life changing. Experiencing an exceptional book as a group creates a unique bond.  “When we read together, we connect. Together, we see the world. Together, we see one another” (Kate DiCamillo).
  1. I get to share really hilarious books with my students.   I Really Like Slop by Mo Willems, The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors by Drew Daywalt, Creepy Pair of Underwear by Aaron Reynolds, Exclamation Mark by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, Humpty Dumpty Falls Again by Dave Horowitz, Pssst! by Adam Rex, and Seventeen Things I’m Not Allowed to Do Anymore by Jenny Offill are guaranteed to fill your space with giggling students. That’s a pretty nice way to spend your day.
  1.  Books such as Wilma Unlimited by Kathleen Krull, The Two Bobbies by Kibby Larson, Adrian Simcox Does Not Have a Horse by Marcy Campbell, Henry’s Freedom Box by Ellen Levine,  The Yellow Star: The Legend of King Christian X of Denmark by Carmen Agra Deedy,  Love by Matt de la Pena, My Secret Bully by Trudy Ludwig, and Ida, Always by Caron Levis are some of many inspiring reads that foster empathy. And I’ve placed a few powerful read alouds in their own category- must reads.  This group includes:  Rumplestiltskin retold by Paul O. Zelinski, Flotsam by David Wiesner, The Wall in the Middle of the Book by Jon Agee, Drawn Together by Minh Le, and Sam and Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett. “When we read together – we are taken out of our aloneness. The story opens doors for us; and we, in turn, open the doors of our hearts to each other. When we read together, we welcome each other in” (Kate DiCamillo).
  1. I learn so much from our collection of books, and enjoy showing off my knowledge about sharks, giant squids, tsunamis, the Middle Ages, pirates, hero dogs, Greek mythology, and Bigfoot to my friends! This has definitely improved my skills at trivia games 🙂
  1.  Getting new books feels like your birthday, every time.
  1.  When working with Upper School English students, I revisit incredible novels such as Beloved, The Handmaid’s Tale, The Great Gatsby, The Poisonwood Bible, Fahrenheit 451, and The Joy Luck Club; this makes me happy!  It’s a joy to take this journey with them and connect over literature with really bright, invested students. 
  1.  I am the head librarian at a prek-12 grade school; the sole librarian for students age 3 to 18. I watch these students grow and hopefully support them along the way.
  1. Our school hosts incredible guest authors like Sarah Weeks,  Nathan Hale, Jerry Pallotta, Aaron Reynolds, and Chris Grabenstein.
  2. It’s a privilege to be the person students come to for book recommedations, because they trust me, my knowlege about literature, and my understanding of what they like. A good part of my week is helping students find the perfect read, and then finding out how they felt about the book.
  3. My homework is reading!

Still getting into the swing of things…

Besides getting used to “school during a pandemic combined with a battle of the face mask (I am in Florida),” I also changed jobs this year. I moved from one private 6-12 school to a K4-12 private school. The exciting thing is that not only do I get to specialize in the middle school, but I get to be a part of a library TEAM. There are three of us at my new school in each of our respective libraries.

As evidenced by the fact that my blog entry is pretty much a week late, I am clearly still wading into this new school year. In addition to getting used to a brand new school, new co-workers, HUNDREDS of new students, and new procedures, I am realizing how much work I had put into my previous position of defining library expectations and procedures.

Which, if you think about it, is pretty cool. There’s nothing like being faced with the fact that you made a difference in a reading/library community. Now, the goal is to forge ahead in my new middle school library.

I’m getting used to a new collection, new students, new teachers, and new tools. I’m gathering up all the knowledge I learned from my fellow librarians and working on putting it to good use. My new library has ladders, did I mention that? I can pretend to be Belle from Beauty and the Beast whenever I want.

So, for all the newbies and folks starting in a new position, I’m reaching out to our seasoned librarians asking for your advice and helpful hints and tricks since we are a community who shares best practices. What has worked for you with students and teachers alike? What are your favorite programs to promote reading? How have you gotten new faculty to adopt citation strategies and database usage? You know, just some simple questions. (Lol)

Here’s to an amazing year that provides more successes than challenges.

Author Visits: Pandemic Edition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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