Is “All the World a Stage?”

As I see many of you at AISL this week, you may notice two things about me. First, I take a lot of notes. I’m someone for whom the process of learning is greatly assisted by the practice of writing things down, even if I never return to the specific notes again. Though AISL conferences are so full of information that is relevant to me, I keep my AISL notebook in the drawer to the immediate left of my chair. So even if a presenter says the entire presentation will be online, I’ll probably still have my pencil in hand. Second, I’m generally pretty quiet in group situations. Like many introverts I’m listening and I may seek you out to continue a conversation on the bus but I would literally hide behind a pole rather than belly dance in an airport. (Just a little reminder of what a multi-talented group we librarians are.)

So it came as a surprise to me this spring when my advisees, who know me pretty well as far as students go, asked why I hadn’t yet given a chapel speech.

Me-“Guys, I hate speaking in public. There’s no way…”
First student-“What are you talking about? You love it. Pause. Right?”
Second student-“Right! You talk like all the time.”
First student-“Yeah in our classes. You talk a lot.”
(Cue sad face for student-centered classroom failure…)

And so that brings me to my main thought of today, particularly for those of you with flexible scheduling who depend on teachers to invite you into their classes for co-taught units. Many people harbor a stereotype of a silent librarian, but are we all, secretly, theatre people? At least in one way, my answer is assuredly yes. I follow improv’s “rule of yes” whenever I can. With both students and teachers, I think it’s important to think about why you’re saying no.

 “Oh, interesting that you can’t write 1750 words on Nazi propaganda because there’s not enough out there? NO, here’s a 257 page book entirely on your topic.”

But for many questions, consciously thinking about learning goals rather than tradition might move a no to a yes or at least a let’s think about how this could work.

 “I know it’s not really history, but I don’t understand Brexit, and I want to know if it’s really about refugees. Can I research it?” YES.

“I know you want us to have a website, but I found this really interesting podcast and it’s led by doctors. Can I use it? YES.

“I have to read a fantasy book and this one takes place in the real world except that ghosts are real. My friend recommended it, and I want to know if it can count for the assignment.” YES.

“I want to include an appendix with a picture of “Guernica” so my readers can see it for themselves.” WHY NOT?

Formal research is a tough process for our kids in today’s “infobese” culture. This is especially true for perfectionists who want to get everything right the first time. Keeping foremost the learning goals for an assignment, why not challenge yourself to say yes when there isn’t a contradicting reason to say no? As my mom says…

Along with this idea, when I’m collaborating I try to focus on the things within my control. This includes my interactions with my school community and my management of my library. For many of us, we can’t control our colleagues, their assignments, the work ethic of the students, or delays due to weather, illness or alternate schedules that pop up out of nowhere. I attend classes at the invitation of the teacher. They know their class dynamics and they are the ones creating and grading assignments. Since I ultimately want to provide support to the teacher, I try to think carefully before “correcting” a teacher, particularly in front of students. Not every project is going to meet both my research goals and the classroom teacher’s subject-specific goals. That said, it’s often possible to start tweaking a project to improve it for next year even as you’re assisting with the current version. I’ve found a variety of ideas can help as I try to link these projects to the learning goals I’d like the students to attain. Take the long view and suggest some “adaptations” for next time. Or ask if a project can be used to help you “test a database’s effectiveness.” Offer to grade the annotated bibliographies you fought so hard to include. I’ve found this comes easier the longer one’s tenure at a school. So breathe easy, continually do your best in promoting your library’s resources and leave your feedback below.


How Do You Throw Like a Girl?

This summer our history department chair shared a collaborative document of resources for teaching Social Justice and Multicultural Understanding. I was immediately drawn to the link for Spike Lee’s short documentary, Throw Like a Girl about Mo’Ne Davis. In the summer of 2014, Mo’Ne became the first girl to ever pitch a shutout in the Little League World series. She was the first American girl to play in the Little League World Series since 2004. Even if you never plan to use the film in the classroom, I emphatically encourage everyone to watch the 16 minute profile of this incredibly talented, eloquent, and humble young role model!

Embedded in the document shared by our department chair were resources for utilizing the many links in the classroom. I scoured the internet for other ideas and found the Philadelphia Chapter of the Anti-Defamation League’s unit for teaching about gender stereotypes along with this film.

This idea for a new unit to share with my Fifth Grade students also got me thinking about ways in which I could creatively incorporate the theme of our school’s core values which we were rolling-out for this academic year. The core values are: Be Brave, Authentic, Compassionate, Curious, and Spirited. I had created resource lists of books in our library catalog for our teachers to use that showcase a core value within the theme of each book. And after researching more about Mo’Ne Davis, it was clear that she illustrated each of the core values in all that she has accomplished and embodies. In the film there are many references to Mo’Ne’s attendance at an independent school in Philadelphia, which is a great connection for our girls as well.

We began the unit by drawing pictures of baseball players. You can see from the students work below that not all of them chose to illustrate a male player! We displayed the pictures which were anonymous and then captured the commonalities and differences in our drawn characterizations of the players. This activity helped situate our current understanding and where we had areas to grow our learning.

IMG_0738IMG_0740The Fifth Grade students complete a capstone research project at the end of the year which culminates in a five-minute speech for the Lower School. I am fully integrated in this project, and work with the homeroom teachers to prepare the students for their research. As part of this unit on Mo’Ne Davis I sought to actively incorporate the skills students will use later in the year. To that end, I selected articles from the New York Times, CNN, and Time magazine to read and summarize for the class. Resources used for the Fifth Grade speech process typically include multiple formats and this lesson gave students exposure to the news articles most students would use as a source in their speech project. By sharing my rationale for using news articles to learn more about Mo’Ne Davis, I was thrilled to see the students understand my logic and dive in to the readings!

We discussed vocabulary related to the readings and used throughout the film such as stereotype, gender, discrimination, and role model. Our discussions were spirited and we will conclude the unit by viewing Spike Lee’s film: Throw Like a Girl, along with the video: #Likeagirl. The final step in our learning is to throw a baseball and see if we can “throw like a girl” and approximate this young athlete’s incredible speed and location!

Studying Baseball in October

Since it’s October and the most exciting part of the baseball season is in full swing, I want to share and welcome your advice on, a new unit I have started with my fourth grade students. This summer my husband and I took a trip to Cooperstown to visit the Baseball Hall of Fame. Visiting the Hall of Fame rekindled my own love of baseball and the passion I have for teaching students about this sport. This is a topic I have tried to inspire my students to learn about in the past, but it never took off with the enthusiasm I had hoped for. Below are some of the sources and strategies I am using to make this unit a homerun. I also have a unique advantage this fall with the opportunity to leverage our home team’s inclusion in post-season play! Keep in mind that I am working in an all-girls setting.

To begin our unit I engaged in some of the practices for questioning based on Warren Berger’s A More Beautiful Question: the power of inquiry to spark breakthrough ideas. This activity is equivalent to engaging student with a K-W-L before starting a unit of study. Three or four students were grouped together and asked to write down any questions they had about baseball. I allotted 10 minutes for this activity and then the students were asked to go back and review the questions, identifying the three most important questions. From a group of students who self-identified as not knowing much about the sport, they came up with some great questions! Below are images of their work and collaboration questioning.

Example of student questions generating during brainstorming.

Example of student questions generated during brainstorming.


The PBS site for Ken Burns’ series on Baseball  is a wonderful resource for teaching baseball in the classroom. We used the timeline and Baseball for Beginners sections to gain a quick overview of the sport and answer some of the basic questions the students had crafted.

Moving forward, the picture books we will read are Dirt on their skirts: the story of the young women who won the world championship by Doreen Rappaport, Mighty Jackie: the strike-out queen by Marissa Moss, and Girl Wonder: a baseball story in nine innings by Deborah Hopkinson. To make this topic relevant to my students and in response to their own questions about gender limitations in major league baseball, I wanted to include stories that focus on women in the sport. These titles also tie in nicely to the current story of Mo’ne Davis making history as an outstanding contributor in the 2014 Little League World Series. Voice of America wrote a very accessible profile of this incredible, poised young athlete.

Our final goal is to read In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson by Bette Boa Lord. This is one of my favorite books to share with my fourth grade students. There are so many lessons that can be taught in conjunction with the book that help build an understanding of immigration, use rich vocabulary to teach idioms, similes, and metaphors, and to discuss dealing with bullies. And what student doesn’t love the humor found in the writing?

To help differentiate the lesson, I have more material on hand for my students who are interested in digging deeper into the topic. These are some of my favorite books about baseball that will be available for students to read on their own:

We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball by Kadir Nelson

Baseball Saved Us by Ken Michizuki

Lou Gehrig: the luckiest man by David Adler

The Longest Season: the story of the Orioles’ 1988 losing streak by Cal Ripken, Jr.

A Strong Right Arm: the story of Mamie “Peanut” Johnson by Michelle Green

Miracle Mud: Lena Blackburne and the secret mud that changed baseball by David Kelly

Please contribute any suggestions that you have for bringing great baseball stories to our students. And best of luck to all of those teams making their way to the World Series!

O Say Can You Sing?

In June, the American Academy of Pediatrics announced a new policy recommending that physicians instruct parents to read aloud to their children from birth. The policy states that parents should be “reading together as a daily fun family activity.” Reading aloud is another important aspect of a child’s life to help support vocabulary development and aligns with all we know about brain development. As librarians, we also know the value of instilling a love of reading at a young age and how that skill can position a young child for future academic success.

What I found noteworthy in The New York Times’ coverage of the new policy was the statement that reading, talking, and singing is viewed as important in increasing the number of words children hear in their first few years. I am certain that most librarians incorporate multiple modalities into our teaching. My experience is that activities outside of reading – especially singing – provide some of the most serious fun I have in class!

For several years, I have used the song “There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly” as a year-long theme in my Pre-K classes. I kick off the unit by singing along with the original (using Simms Taback’s 1998 book) and then sing and read other versions throughout the year. The students enjoy the melody alongside the texts’ rhyme scheme. Because the books share the same repetitive structure, each time students hear a new version they utilize their background knowledge from prior versions to determine how the narrative will resolve itself. The students also draw comparisons and contrasts among the versions.

Lucille Colandro has authored numerous versions of the original “Fly”, including crowd-pleasing seasonally themed editions. Another of my other favorites is Charise Mericle Harper’s There Was a Bold Lady Who Wanted a Star. This year I am looking forward to incorporating a new version of the story titled There Was an Old Sailor written by Claire Saxby and gorgeously illustrated by Cassandra Allen.

 There Was an Old SailorThere Was an Old Man who swallowed krill

I cannot say that I have a wonderful singing voice. Once I saw how much my students enjoyed singing in class, however, I quickly got over my concerns about singing in public. Armed with more knowledge about why reading, conversing, and singing are all so vitally important to our students, I cannot wait to incorporate even more music into my classes this year!

Please share any ideas you have for adding song in any way in the Library classroom! We can all benefit from these shared ideas. And to read the New York Times article follow this link:

Pediatrics Group to Recommend Reading Aloud to Children from Birth. The New York Times. June 24, 2014.


What Type of Labrador Are You? How Will That Affect Your Collaboration Partners?

Have you been trying to collaborate and it just isn’t working?  Afraid it is too involved? Are you actively collaborating and need a fresh new approach?  If you have had any of these questions, you might want to considering thinking about labradors.

That’s right.  Labrador retrievers.  Collaboration is as easy as thinking about what kind of lab you are yellow, chocolate or black.

Yellow Labs

Now, the legend goes that yellow labs are known for their docility.  Calm strength in the face of adversity, these labs deal with a multitude of strange and bewildering audiences with a straight face and placid demeanor. Never one to let a small child go without a lick, or let a a tail or ear tug happen without turning and giving a kiss in return.  This dog has the patience of Job.

If you were to count yourself a yellow lab type, you would be the one who would ask that grumpy teacher to try a new technology and when they snapped and said, “Are you out of your freaking mind?” You would smile and say, “Think about it. Perhaps we could talk after spring break.  When things calm down for you.  Here’s a cookie.”

Yellow labs are never thwarted.  They preserver. They have alternative plans.  As my mother-in-law used to say, they have something saved away for a rainy day.  In other words, you are very, very sneaky and hide those plans with a very calm exterior.  Good work, yellow lab!

Chocolate Labs

The chocolate lab is known for his craziness.  Rarely slowing down, they go, go, go until they collapse.  These labs will often dress in costume and are famous for crazy antics. They are the ones who concoct grand schemes and run out on the bleeding edge.  Does any of this sound familiar to you?  You might be a chocolate lab.

The danger for chocolate labs is in getting caught up in the toys (technology) and becoming obsessive. Librarians who might be chocolate labs could  lose focus on the collaboration. The joy is working on project with a partner who loves the technology as much as you do, but who wants to create a unit and an assessment that makes sense for the students. The technology is only a tool. Start slow chocolate labs, you may be overwhelming to some shy souls. Let your successes speak for themselves.  Let your partners sing your praises.  Perhaps, take up the suggestion of our blogger Katie Archambault in her post Marketing 101 and create a digital newsletter to announce what is going on in your library.

Black Lab

Now, the black lab is supposedly the most versatile of the labs.  Calm, yet able to mix it up when she wants.  This lab may have it all: the ability to manage technology to run with the tech dogs and still have the calm demeanor to pacify the rough crowd. Black labs are able to see the forest for the trees.  They are both zany and solemn.

And yet, at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter the color. If I have discovered anything in my five years as a puppy raiser for Southeastern Guide Dogs, it is that each dog is an individual.  Just like each one of you.  You may think you are shy or no good at playacting, but it simply isn’t true.  You may think that only certain types of people are good at collaboration and you aren’t, and that it isn’t true either.  Everyone CAN be good at collaboration.  Collaboration is like a marriage. It takes work.

And just like that first date, it might be rocky and you might think, “He is not going to work out.” And then suddenly, there you are at a national conference presenting together.  True collaboration in action!

Collaboration Models

How did I get from labs to collaboration models?  That started when I began reading AISL member Joan Lange’s book on collaboration, Collaborative Models for Librarian and Teacher Partnerships, and I learned that collaboration is a more rich process than I ever imagined.  The highest level of collaboration is, in fact, where the librarian works with her colleague to jointly plan, teach and assess the unit (Kymes, Gillean).  I’ve had that experience a couple of times, but it is not the usual one.  And I imagine it is also not your usual experience either.  That’s why I was heartened to find out that collaboration included:

  • Coordination: Minimal involvement, little to no preplanning.  For example, this would be like the blogs I helped the French teachers set up for the classes so that they could have online journals. Very last minute and quick, and I have no further involvement.
  • Cooperation: Teacher requests involvement, but limited; separate and independent objectives/teaching.  For example, this would be similar to having a request in advance from the freshman biology teacher to teach her how to use Libguides.  In addition to teaching her how to use and set up a class site, she also asked for a resource page on wolves in Yellowstone.  I gathered all the online resources and directions to print resources and put the page together for her on her site.
  • Integrated instruction: Teacher and librarian formally plan and integrate lesson together. For example, this would be like the one unit class I developed with the AP Language, AP Government teachers on Media Bias in the 24 News Cycle.  We developed the curriculum, the objectives and the assessments together.  It was lovely.
  • Integrated curriculum: Administration gives time and support to a scaffold that encourages integrated curriculum and lesson planning across all grade levels (Horman, Glampe, Sanken, et al.) I haven’t seen this, but now that our school has an assistant headmaster who will be in charge of curriculum across the divisions, this is the goal.  If you have this currently happening at your school, please comment!

It all counts. Whether you are there in the classroom with the teacher teaching or whether you helped gather the resources, it counts as collaboration.  Think of it as stair steps, without necessarily being hierarcical.  What I mean by that is that providing resource assistance is not demeaning.  It is useful and helpful and you should do it.  Working with faculty on integrated instruction is amazing.  Can you do that for every class?  No.  Pick and choose what you want to do.

If you are interested, I can talk next month about how to choose a collaboration partner.  Let me know!

And by the way, I’m a reformed chocolate lab!