Lower School: You can find it anyplace–even in the Middle School

Scene 1: It’s a Tuesday in the Middle School library, and Sophie–a 5th grader–is arriving for library class. She has her iPad in her hands, and has evidently walked all the way from the Middle School building (close to 100 yards, admittedly across mostly open grass) holding it in front of her face, playing a game that the ever-resourceful tween population has been able to get to despite the firewall.

Having made it all the way across campus, up the wide concrete-and-steel stairway (I tried not to imagine that part), across the lobby and through the library doors, Sophie is headed straight for the massive column that separates the circulation area from the seating area.

Surely she sees that column?

Surely she’ll stop before she–

“Sophie!”

She looks up and does a last-second course correction before placidly making her way to the chairs where her class meets (back at the game, of course).

Scene 2: On another library-class day, I tell the 5th grade that we will be using their iPads to access our library catalog.  Several of them do not have the catalog app downloaded on their iPads, and their school-controlled App Manager doesn’t have it as an installation option either.  Frantic swiping through home pages ensues.

“What does it look like?!”

“Mine doesn’t have it!”

“I can’t find it!”

“That’s okay,” I say, “I’ll show you how to make a shortcut for your home screen.”  They are still staring at their screens, swiping and yelping and talking to one another about how they do or do not have the app installed.

“Guys,” I say.  Swipe, swipe, yelp, yelp.

“Boys and girls.”  Swipe, yelp, swipe.

“People!”  They stop.  “It’s okay. I’ll walk you through it step by step.  Go to your home screen and open Safari.  Now type this address: heathwood dot–”

“It’s not working!”

“How do you spell heathwood?”

“Mrs. Falvey, it’s not working!”

(Meanwhile those who did have the app already installed are back to playing a game.)

Breathe. Breathe. Breathe.

Of course it all works out all right, but scenes like these underscore the fact that we may be in  the middle school library, but this isn’t middle school.  In all but geography, these are still Lower School students.

I don’t know how many schools have moved their 5th grade classes up to the middle school.  Our school did it a number of years ago as a response to running out of room in the Lower School classrooms, and overall it has worked very well; our middle school is divided, with the first floor limited to 7th- and 8th-grade classrooms, and the second floor to 5th and 6th.  Day-to-day procedures and teaching methods are different for each section, even 5th grade compared to 6th, and these accommodations work well.  As I’m sure all of us have noticed, there is a world of difference between a 5th grader and an 8th-grader!  Fifth-graders may have shot up over the summer–especially the girls–but they are still, as our counsellor says, much more like little kids than teenagers.

In the library, as well, we make distinctions between 5th graders and the rest of the middle school.

For example, I have found that I need to introduce new concepts gradually, especially involving tech.  Our 5th graders may be digital natives, but they do need guidance in approaching tech as an academic tool (and in being willing to stop and listen to directions!).  At the beginning of the year, especially, when we are not actively using the iPads we put them down out of reach.  Impulse control–the struggle is real!

Also, our collection has to be carefully managed.  The Middle/Upper School library serves students in the 5th through 12th grades.  While I hope we will one day have a new building with separate space for the middle-school collection, in the meantime I have to manage two very different collections catering to a wide range of tastes and interests.  My predecessor handled this by choosing to skew the collection to the middle-school level; while this avoided any potential problems of inappropriate checkouts, the result was an entire group of students who were left without a collection.  This year, I am developing a YA collection separate from the general fiction collection.  These books have a different spine label, as well as a silvery holographic dot just above the spine label as a way to try and prevent “mistake” checkouts.  These books are also in a separate area of the library where I can easily see who is browsing.  While I do not plan to be a martinet about letting students browse that area, I do plan to limit checkouts to Upper School students.  We’ll see how it works out!

Finally, I have found that I have to be careful about seating for my 5th (okay, 6th too) graders.  I purchased some awesome beanbags (stuffed with foam pieces, not polystyrene beads–highly recommended, with reservations as noted next) from Ultimate Sack (http://www.ultimatesack.com/) this fall.  The students love them–mostly because they are actually big enough to take a nap in and therefore nearly impossible to move (hence the conditional recommendation as mentioned above).  Did I mention that I bombed the spatial reasoning section on my high school career-skills test?

Exhibit A:

It’s the size of a small car!

Yep, these are very popular.  So we began the year spending anywhere from 5-10 minutes at the beginning of every class discussing where the beanbags were (Upper Schoolers take them to the back to nap on), how to move them (roll them like you’re a dung beetle), who should to sit on them this week, who got to sit on them last week, and who can do the best parkour pattern using *all* of the beanbags.  (Mrs.Falvey = facepalm). Needless to say we had to lay some ground rules for the beanbags!

All this to say that even though they may be located in the middle school, 5th grade is still very much still in the Lower School for most of the year.  And that is okay!  iPads and pillar-obstacles and beanbags and keyword searches are all learning opportunities in their own right.  I try to keep in mind that early-middle school students are still learning a lot about navigating life, and overall they are a joy to work with. I love their wide-open enthusiasm, the fact that they still love to read and be read to, and the fact that they will still speak to me when I see them on campus!  But oh, how I wish I had measured those beanbags ahead of time!

 

 

 

My (renewed) middle school focus

This is my first post in over a year. I’ve been away on maternity leave since July 2014, and although I’m pleased to be back, let’s just say that actually coming back to work has been quite an adjustment. At the time of writing (Labor Day), school *still* hasn’t started, so this is more of a ‘this is what’s coming this year’ post. Although I teach grades one through twelve, this year I was asked to blog about the middle division; they are a group I know well! I am also a grade seven homeroom advisor, so I definitely have a renewed middle school focus for this academic session. At my school, middle school refers to grades seven, eight and nine, skewing somewhat older than most US ‘middle schools’. Although we have grades one through twelve in the same building, the jump from grade six (junior school) to seven (middle school) is perceived as huge by the students, even though the students simply move upstairs to the next floor. It’s probably the biggest transition in the school. Grade seven and nine are also key intake years, so the focus in these years for us in the libary is the re-teaching and reinforcing of research and library skills.

During the year I was on leave, grade seven and eight students at my school started an Integrated Studies program. As this continues this year, I am really looking forward to working with these teachers and new curriculum. The middle school curriculum has always been very cross-disciplinary, and this new approach lends itself particularly well to inquiry and  21st century learning.  I’ve had already had some great conversations about assignments and learning opportunities with my colleagues, and my assistant librarian is reading zombie YA fiction in preparation for a unit about settlements. Who could fail to be inspired?

This year we also have dedicated library periods for most of our middle school students, to focus on literacy, reading promotion, and book selection. I will be offering some great opportunities to our middle schoolers, such as the chance to participate in Kids’ Lit Quiz (a worldwide competition which tests participants on their knowledge of children’s literature), and Red Reads, our annual books and reading contest, similar to Battle of the Books (watch this space for more on this later in the year). I’m the staff advisor for Anime Club, a co-curricular group that’s popular with middle schoolers. We will also participate in Red Maple, which is a province-wide reading award for students in grades seven through nine, showcasing the best of Canadian fiction and non-fiction for younger teens. We’ll also be bringing the pop-up library (aka the library cart and an iPad) along to the middle school floor at lunchtime for book sign out and reading promotion. It promises to be a busy year!

 

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!