Moving on Up

“Moving Up Day.” The vocabulary might be unique to our school, but the idea is common. 

For us, it’s the day shortly before contracts go out when we invite students to proactively “move up” to their next grade. For our younger Falcons, this is about 30 minutes of their morning. Teachers read a book with the class, talk up highlights of the year, and tour their classrooms. The domino cascade stops after grade eight, which is a half-day adventure to the Upper School. When the 8th graders move up, they join a high school already full of our regularly-scheduled 9th-12th graders. We just add six sections of 8th graders rotating through eight twenty minutes sessions, an Upper School Spirit Activity, and the long-awaited morning cookie break. (When I interviewed, I thought this was a euphemism for a snack break. It is not. Our Upper Schoolers can purchase freshly-based Otis Spunkmeyer cookies each morning at 10am. Unless you are an 8th grader, in which case cookies just appear mid-morning, no purchase necessary.)  

one of the cookie tubs

It speaks well for the profile of our library that we are included in one of the time slots, along with academic subjects and college counseling. This is my first year with another librarian leading the activities. Planning together made me review what I had done in the past.

Keeping in mind that the ultimate purpose of the day is to get students excited about the year to come by giving them a preview of highlights, I can say now that I completely missed the mark in my early years. This is not the time to teach the intricacies of EBSCO or how to cite sources for a non-existent project. I allowed them to check out books one year, something they can do any study hall any day of the week. There was potential in the library orientation scavenger hunt. Except that it was 19 questions that spanned the print and digital collections and students don’t attend the day with technology. Luckily since it was an activity far too long for the time allotted, we could limit to the print portions.  

For two years we joined forces with student representatives of the Honor Council. They talked about teachers’ expectations for the Honor Code and broke into small groups for activities. There were a variety of potential “gray zone” infractions that groups had to order from least problematic to worst, justifying their reasoning. I love that this was a student-led activity, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted the library to be students’ first thought when they heard the phrase “Honor Council” rather than the variety of resources the library provides to all students.  Since the Honor Council had a dedicated presentation to the 8th grade later in the spring, we amicably parted ways here.  

Middle schoolers really REALLY hate “helpful Susan.”

In winter of 2021 the entire Moving Up Day was a brief walking tour of Upper School hallways. No one wants to revisit that year. Moving on…. 

Because we have a really strong research program that encourages student autonomy, some years we have adapted an activity we use with our Upper Schoolers that’s intended to get them thinking more generatively about potential topics. We preselect books on all manner of odd subjects and students grab one that looks intriguing. They have two minutes to look anywhere in that book to find the craziest piece of trivia. Then each student pairs off with a classmate to decide whose is more interesting. Winners move on to compete against other winners until we have the class vote on the final champion.

Toilet facts vs. ambergris origins – some popular choices for this activity

We tend to think of the library as the metaphorical heart of the Upper School, and as a combined Middle and Upper library, it should be one of the places Middle Schoolers feel most comfortable in the Upper School already. The last few years we have added the Visible Thinking Routine of a Compass activity with anonymous post-it notes on posterboard. What better ways to tailor time than to hear directly from 8th graders their perceptions about 9th grade?

North (N): Need to know              
Ex. How exactly does block schedule work?                      
Is there more or less homework?                      
How do you get selected for May trips?
East (E): Excitements              
Ex. Advisor doesn’t collect phone!              
Studying in the library!
West (W): Worries              
Ex. More homework                   
Keeping track of schedule                  
Getting into college
South (S): Suggestions                  
Ex. More manga in the library                  
Let you have your phones in every class                  
Start a trading card game club

When I graduated from library school, I felt like I had to manufacture a learning opportunity each time I engaged with students. Hence those content-driven early years. Now I think about building connections with people and strengthening the association of the library as a generally friendly, helpful space. Thinking back to their Compass questions, most will be answered naturally weeks into 9th grade, just by virtue of being a 9th grader. But as with ancient Roman toilets and medieval library cats from the trivia game, they don’t know what they don’t know about our library either.

While the slides used this year are simple, they reinforced the conversation taking place. This is your library. Study anywhere. Play chess at the back table. Put a piece in the endless 2000 piece Pixar puzzle. (Please do that—it’s been out for close to three months now and still isn’t complete.) Record your podcast in the Pod. Print. Hang out after school. The book poetry provided an immediate energetic exploration of our collection, along with setting the tone that this is not a library of silence. The slides, along with the Upper Schoolers using the library, demonstrated the variety of ways students can use the library as a space or as a resource. The Compass activity gave students a voice from day one.  

Turns out we excel at puzzles up to 1500 pieces. Not 2000.

I spent so much time when I was younger trying to maximize every minute. Thinking through years past, while some activities have been better than others, there’s no one right answer, no one ideal use of this time. I would love thoughts from others on how your instruction has changed over time or ideas you’ve used to get people feeling welcome in the library.

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