Saturday, September 13, 2014

President of Boomarkded is Selected to Blog for YALSA

I am very proud that this year's president of Bookmarked (the high school book group), Destiny Burnett, is both a big reader and big writer. This summer she applied to be a guest teen blogger on the YALSA blog, The Hub, during Teen Read Week in October. We knew a while ago that she was selected as one of the bloggers, but just a few days ago ALA made it official. Open here to read all about it. I also want to share Destiny's book review blog. She doesn't post on a regular basis, but I find her book reviews extremely well thought out and insightful.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Caught Reading Campaign on Facebook

I caught this student and three others reading from the Amulet series by Kazu Kibuishi

I am creative, but I often get some of my best ideas for the library from others in the field. When I "borrow" an idea from another librarian, I usually adapt, modify or change it to fit my school population. Librarians are so good at sharing, and I know others don't mind if I take their idea and run with it. I am happy to share. If I wasn't into sharing, then I wouldn't use this blog to spread the word about some of my most successful and least successful activities, too. I feel honored to have someone else adapt, modify or change something that I have done to fit their needs in their library. So I have been quite full of myself with my new campaign this year because I figured it out all on my own. I did not see someone else's version before I created my own. 

This student is rereading all his favorite series, but I convinced him to give Ashfall by Mike Mullin a try

This is a campaign to help spread the love of reading in my school. I am using Facebook to broadcast the fact that students at Patrick Taylor do read and seem to love it. I am calling this campaign, "Caught Reading." When I see a student reading in the library, (well it could be anywhere on campus, but I spend the majority of my time in the library) I grab my iPad and take a quick picture. I don't ask the students to pose. I want to catch them in the act. It doesn't matter what they are reading. I haven't caught anyone yet reading on a device, but I am not opposed to doing so. 

She found a comfortable spot to finish her book

I know the campaign is having an effect because a parent commented on a post and wondered when their child will be caught reading in the library. You can visit the library's Facebook page to see all the students caught so far. Feel free to like the page if you want to continue seeing these pictures as the year progresses. 

Graphic novels are very popular for all ages in my library
If you want to try this in your library, feel free. Let me know how you adapt, modify or change it to fit your needs. I see endless possibilities of getting the word out that kids are reading. 

Sunday, September 7, 2014

It is the Little Things ...

I have said it before in this space, and I will say it again. It really is the little things that make life sweet. In August of 2013, we opened the doors to our new school building which included a brand new library. The library wasn't quite ready when school opened, and I was okay with that because I thought it would be finished in a few weeks or a month or two. Little did I know that I would spend a year with a storage room full of boxes that could not be emptied. I had a great storage space and really, the only storage space in the whole library except for my office. Every time a new punch list was created, I added the need for shelving to it. All the other storage closets in the building got shelving. I kept waiting. 

This is what I have had in the closet since August of 2013
(the shelf you see on the right was borrowed from the cafeteria)
It is not easy to find what you are looking for when all you see are boxes

On Friday, about six workers trooped through the library with wood in tow. Beautiful wood that was trimmed out that was going to be installed in my storage closet. Finally! One of the great things about emptying boxes of stuff that you haven't seen in almost 15 months is that you find some treasures. I had what I thought was a box of random books, but when I started unpacking the box, I found several the books that I thought were lost from the collection. That put a smile on my face. I hate lost library books.

Everything is out of the closet waiting to go back in when shelves are installed

Two sets of shelving like this were installed in the closet

Now, the door to the small room has a window, and I don't really like seeing boxes through that window. I may have to buy containers for my stuff, but I can live with that. 

Everything fits neatly on the shelves, even my microwave

I really don't like seeing the boxes on the shelves, I will need new containers

Monday, September 1, 2014

Putting a Little Color on the Walls of the New Library

I am not sure if the year old school and school library count as new anymore, but the teachers were not allowed to put any holes in the wall or hang any posters or art last school year. The school had a year warranty with the construction company, and the principal did not want to void that warranty by any damage caused by one of us. Actually, I did not mind the restriction because I was busy enough trying to organize the new library and figure out how I was going to make it work for my program. 

The large empty wall that I see from the circulation desk

The other day as I was looking at photos to use on the library website, I realized that the wall I see from the circulation desk was immense and void of anything. I knew that I needed to figure out how to dress it up. I was making a DEMCO order, and as I perused the online catalog, I found some wall decals that I thought would suit my purpose very well. 

Packaging for the dots, each package holds 18 decals
I ordered two packages of the decals, and  I would be receiving 36 different circles in various colors and sizes. When the order arrived, I asked my student worker, Jazmine Wells, if she would draw out the design for placement of the circles. She took out paper and pencil and came up with this. 

Original design for the dots
She works with me during third period, and I was worried that we would not be able to finish in an hour and a half. So, earlier in the day, I took my blue tape and marked off the swirl that we were going to use as our guide. 

I begin the process of marking the wall

The wall is ready
As we started to place the circles, we made adjustments to the shape of our design. When we finished the initial design, we had circles left over and had to make a plan as to where they would be placed. We attached them to the wall without a guide, and we were happy with the placement until we got to the last circle. It took us a couple of tries to find a home for it. The nice thing about these decals is that they are easy to lift off and re-position. Knowing how forgiving these decals are made it much easier to begin. I knew that I wouldn't be stuck with a circle in the wrong place. (Pun intended.)

Jazmine helps to place the circles
The wall in process of getting decorated

Some students helped with the placement of the circles

The wall is completed

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Remembering Katrina Nine Years Later

Yesterday was the ninth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. I also happened to finish Julie Lamana's book, Upside Down in the Middle of Nowhere. Now in retrospect, it seemed to be a fitting way to commemorate the occasion. This work is an outstanding middle grade novel. Our seventh graders have read Jewell Parker Rhodes' Ninth Ward over the past several years, and Lamana's book is equally as gripping.   Lemana follows a family from the Ninth Ward that has to escape the rising waters by climbing into their attic and eventually onto their roof. Death faces them square in the face and when they finally get rescued off the roof, the family also gets separated. It was a hard book to read and took me longer than it should have considering its intended audience. I think that it was due to the subject matter. The one thing that bothered me about the story was at the end when Armani gets a ride into New Orleans on the 2nd of September to try and find her missing family members. There is no way that they could have traveled anywhere near the Ninth Ward on that day. The water had not yet receded. When she finds someone cleaning up their property and a fan going, I knew the author had played with history. I live in an area that was not flooded and did not have electricity until the middle of October, and it took a lot longer for those in the Ninth Ward to get their services back. I know that is a little thing to quibble about, but I do wish that the author had been more accurate with the history. Otherwise, it is excellent story telling from this first time author. 

Though my life was not turned quite as upside down as Armani's in the book, I certainly felt like I was adrift during the weeks that followed the storm. I had gone to stay with family in New Iberia, LA. It also happened that  a colleague of mine from the elementary school where I used to teach had evacuated to the same house as I did. There were also several families who had attended that same school who evacuated in the area. A little one room school house was created by Paul Reynaud for these students. As a true librarian, I took it upon my job to offer story time everyday to the group of about a dozen kids. The students would walk down to Bayou Teche for lunch and recess. Afterwards, before returning to class, I would hold a story time. My greyhound, Mitzi, would always join the group and listen to me weave my tales. 

We were staying down the street from the New Iberia public library. When I went in to check out books, they gave me a temporary card and told me that I could only check out two books at a time. On every visit, I would explain that I am reading to a group of young evacuees and needed more books. They would tell me that I could check out the ten books that I wanted, but that they could only allow it this one time. When I went back a couple of days later, I gave the same story and was told the same thing. It seemed that I luckily got a different staff member on each visit who granted me permission to take out a pile of books. This lasted only three weeks because when Hurricane Rita blew into town, I evacuated from New Iberia and headed east to Atlanta. In November, after my return to New Orleans, the little one room school house had moved from New Iberia to New Orleans and grew in size to about 40 students. For several months I would visit the school several times a week to tell stories. For these occasions, I would visit the elementary school which was not opened to students yet and retrieve books that I could use in my lessons. It was a way to keep me grounded and busy until I found a full time job again. (All public school teachers in Orleans Parish were let go, and I did not return to work until the middle of December, 2005 and finally back into a library after the first of the year in 2006.)

Students from Sugar Cane Academy enjoy story time 
With the anniversary of the storm there have been some resurrections of old articles written in 2005 that I want to share with you if you are interested in reading more about this impromptu school. Michael Tisserand is an author and father of two of the students who attended. Open here for his article about Sugarcane Academy. Michael also wrote a book about the school, and you can open here to find out more about that title. The school was highlighted in the news on television and in newspapers. This next article comes from CBS News. I started my very first blog with my husband, Inside the Bowl, in November of 2005. It was about returning to New Orleans in the fall of 2005. I can share the archived link because it is not posted online anymore, and you can only view the text here because the pictures will not load

There was a wonderful series posted online on August 26th from our local paper that took photos taken in 2005 and superimposed today's look of the same images. You can find this cool interactive article here

There are other well written middle grade books about Hurricane Katrina that include Paul Volpani's Hurricane Song and M. H. Herlong's Buddy. I have to admit that I have not read Buddy yet, but it is on my list of books to read. It along with Lemana's work have been nominated for the 2015 Louisiana Young Reader's Choice Awards for grades 6-8. At PFTSTA, we used that list for summer reading for our 6th and 7th graders. I have purchased all the books on the list, and the students have time to read all ten titles before they need to cast their vote for their favorite. 

If it weren't for Katrina, I don't believe that I would have ever looked for a job in Jefferson Parish and found Patrick Taylor Academy. I just started my ninth year teaching there, and it truly is a wonderful place to be. I have had enough reminiscing, next time I will get back to more current topics. 

Monday, August 25, 2014

Encouraging Reading

I have noticed the circulation statistics of the book collection has dropped over the last couple of years. This concerns me. So one of my goals for this school year is to get more kids reading. I hope to help them learn how to find books that they love and for them to keep searching for titles that speak to them. It is hard these days to get a handle on what the students are actually reading. Some are reading, but not books found in the PFTSTA library. When I quiz the students, I discover that they are buying books, checking books out from the public library, downloading books onto their devices and even listening to audio books that they download from the public library. Yes, I know that students are reading, and I am happy that they are finding good books, but not all of the students are choosing to read for pleasure. Okay, I know that I will never win over 100% of the student body, and I know the older students feel inundated with reading for their AP courses, but I have decided that I at least need to try and instill the reading bug in as many of them as possible. Whether they check out books from me or find them in other places, well whatever works, I can be content with that.

Caught Reading in the library: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by JK Rowling
Last spring, I found librarian Tiffany Whitehead's post on running a reading challenge in her library. I thought that it sounded like a great idea, but I wasn't ready to put one in place at the time. I decided to start the new school year off with a fall reading challenge. I want to make it doable for a lot of the students. I really liked the challenges that could be tailored to each student so that I could run one challenge that would be suitable to both middle school and high school students and even staff members. You can see my challenge below.

The students have a little over five weeks to read five books. I do have a prize for all who finish the challenge. They will get one of the spirit sticks by Spirit Monkey declaring them a book-a-holic. When they complete the challenge, they will complete a google form with the titles and authors of the five books. I have told them that I am not giving a test or asking them to write about the books that they read. I am doing this on the honor system. I am not an English teacher, nor do I want to be. I don't even view texts in the same way that an English teacher does. I want the kids to read for enjoyment. Though some do find pleasure pulling a text apart to its core, and learning how to analyze texts is an important aspect of the Common Core State Standards, but we also need to read just for the sake of reading with no other purpose than loving the characters, getting swept up in the plot, or learning how to knit a scarf. I have an idea of how to spice up my winter challenge, but I will leave that to after the completion of this challenge. 

Caught Reading in the library: Artemis Fowl the Lost Colony by Eoin Colfer
My goal is for 50 students out of the 450 in the school to read five books in five weeks. I will certainly let you know the outcome. Let the reading begin!!!

Sunday, August 24, 2014

New Year, New Computers and Finally, Stools

This year, the students will be using Windows 7 on their school issued laptops rather than XP. The students new log in credentials will only work on computers running 7, and the library computers could not be upgraded. I will be getting some brand new desktops for the library, but until then, I have two computers set up for students. 


Last year after arriving in the new building, I set up the computers on the counter, but the students had to stand to use them. No stools were purchased to use at the counter. I waited a year and decided that stools were a necessity. The pictures above and below show some happy students using the library's resources. 

New 6th graders

Sunday, August 17, 2014

New School Year Begins With a Focus on Collaboration

The students first day of school was August 8th. Last year we had moved into the new building, and the library wasn't ready for prime time. I didn't open until August 22nd, three weeks after the start of school. This year, I had students in the library on the first day.  It was a soft opening, so the library wasn't over run with kids, but it was nice to have a functioning library on the first day of school.  

There are some changes in our district this year, and some of our schools are changing grade configurations.  That means librarians who are entrenched in elementary school now must serve middle school students in their libraries.  That is an issue because the library's resources were developed for grades K-5. It costs money to upgrade the resources for the additional grade levels. The other issue is how will these librarians serve the older students.  I got an email today asking me to share lessons that I teach to my middle school students. That is an interesting question. The librarian was hoping that I had lessons written out or worksheets or some program put together that I could send her for her new 6th and 7th grade students. 

6th Graders visit the library for orientation
You know, I just don't have a packaged program to send her. The reason I don't is because I collaborate with the classroom teachers on all my lessons that I teach. I want the students to have a purpose to use all the tools and resources that I demonstrate and share with them. If I teach them how to use a database, and then they never use it, my teaching is a waste of time.

At first, I thought that I had nothing to share with her. Then I realized that I document many of my lessons that I teach here in my blog, and I also have a page on the library website with classroom connections that has links to all the tools that I created for specific research projects. 

This is what I told her: 

"When I teach lessons to the middle school students, I always collaborate with the teachers. I do not teach anything in isolation. I see what the teachers need in terms of help with research, writing citations or using electronic tools to find and produce information. You can find links to some of the things that I created for classes hereUnfortunately, I don't have lesson plans or packets of activities for these students. 

Here is a blog post that I wrote about working with middle school studentsIf you put middle school or research into the search box on my blog you will find more posts where I talk about different lessons that I have taught over the years. 

I strongly believe that you need to work with the teachers so the students will have a chance to use in the classrooms what you teach in the library."

There are lots of great things that a librarian can do to support the academic program, but they need to work in a partnership with their teachers. If they do that, the students will benefit and become better seekers, users and producers of information. 

Monday, August 4, 2014

Why I Love Teaching

Tomorrow I start my 34th year of teaching. Wow, that is a looooong time. You know what? I still love what I do. Part of the reason is because I have worked in several different schools at several different grade levels. By making these moves I have been able to stay fresh and interested, and I have also had to do a lot of learning along the way which to me has been energizing. 

Years ago when I told my principal of the elementary school where I had worked for 12 years that I was leaving and moving to a library position serving middle and high school, she asked me why. She said that she believed working with younger students was so much more rewarding for the teacher, and that teachers of younger students made a bigger impact on those students' lives than teachers of older students. 

I beg to differ on that point. 

This will be my 9th year at Patrick Taylor Academy, and over my time teaching there, I have served as a mentor for a number of students. Students who still call, text or Facebook me to ask my advice or tell me about the wonderful things that they are doing. I love having these lasting connections. 

The class of 2014 was a very special one. It was our first class to start in 6th grade and then graduate from 12th grade. Many of the members of the class were library kids who spent a lot of time with me over those seven years that they attended PFTSTA. I lost twelve members of the high school library book group, Bookmarked, with their graduation. At our back to school BBQ over the weekend, two of my very favorite alums from that class paid a visit. I hugged them and cried and told them how much they will be missed. I hope they believe me because it is true.

I also got something from them in return. I got two lovely notes expressing thanks and appreciation for what I did to help them through their career at PFTSTA. I hope that they don't mind if I share the notes here. These notes are why I wake up each morning and go to work. They give my job meaning and also lots of pleasure. 
To read the image above, you can enlarge it by clicking twice
Even though I have been teaching for more than three decades, I still feel that I have a lot to offer my students. I also have a lot more to learn because in the library every day is a new day. Here is to a new year, and I can't wait to see what new and exciting learning it brings to me and all of my students. 

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Processing BLC14: Building Learning Communities Conference

Bordelon, Kahn, Simpson and Valence visit Boston Museum of Fine Arts before the conference begins
In April, we found out that our team of five won a Fund for Teachers grant that would send us to November Learning's Building Learning Communities Conference in Boston in July. Well, I am just back from the conference. I attended this conference three years ago with one teacher from PFTSTA, but it was even more exciting to attend with a team of teachers and the principal, Jaime Zapico. Only the teachers were able to apply for the grant but having our principal with us meant that we could make some solid plans for the 2014-15 school year. 

Each day began with a continental breakfast where we could network with other educators attending the conference. I would find a table with empty chairs that had several people in an active discussion. I really found it to be an invigorating way to start the day. One of the teachers I met at breakfast was an English teacher who explained that she records all comments orally on the papers that she grades. She does no written comments. She uses server space provided by the district to house her audio comments. We have a subscription to When a teacher is in Grademark, they can record comments on a written assignment. This is a technique that Cheryl Bordelon plans to use in her English classes this fall. 

At 8:30 the whole team headed to the ballroom for each day's keynote speech. The best presentation was by Alec Couros. If you are not familiar with this university professor from Canada, you need to follow him on twitter and check out all the resources that he shares. He is teaching future teachers how to use edtech in the classroom to further student learning. Here is his link on digital storytelling. Telling stories and sharing our lives is how we can learn as students and as adults. What we share online will always be there. Be mindful of the stories that you share. I found a link to this sad story on Alec's blog and had not seen it before--check it out here. He also talked about using a number of Chrome extensions to improve your browser experience. I just tried to download One Tab and couldn't. I will have to work on that one. 

One of the keynote sessions, was a set of Ted-like talks with four presenters. Shannon Miller, librarian from Van Meter, IA and one of the four, is always inspiring. I first met her at BLC in 2011, and I have been following her ever since. She mentioned that she had ditched Dewey in her library, and yes, I know that it is a now thing to do, I just can't bring myself to rearrange a library that to me, works. Her talk was about student voice, and the importance for educators to let the students use whatever voice they might have even when it might not fit into our lesson plan. Someone new to me was Darren Kuropatwa. He is a district curriculum coordinator in Winnipeg, Canada. I was so impressed with his message that I attended three of his sessions as well as his keynote. He has a similar take on educational technology that Couros has. Using technology appropriately can be a way to enhance student learning. Isn't that what it is all about--getting our students motivated to learn?

During this conference, I wasn't so focused on new tech tools or using new tech tools but more on the pedagogy. Why do we need to provide these tech experiences for our students? This is sort of a rhetorical question, but if we are to prepare our students for college and careers, then we need to provide them with a myriad of tech experiences that allow them to communicate in lots of different ways, to be creative, collaborate and think critically. This is certainly not new to me, but I like being reminded and being given suggestions on how to make this happen in the classroom. 

Lunch time meeting on the last day of conference
A lunch time meeting was scheduled each day for our team. We wanted to debrief and make plans for the coming school year. The first day it was hard to focus, and we spent some time discussing philosophy, but by the third day, we had a new teacher orientation ready to go and ideas to get all the teachers collaborating and sharing. I found this to be a major theme of the whole conference. When teachers collaborate within the building and across the globe, the students benefit. Yes, it can be hard at times, but it is truly necessary for us to model good collaboration for our students and allow them to learn from many. 

Working on iPad or napkin, whatever it takes to get the job done

Besides the daily keynote speeches, I attended three other sessions a day. Some I attended with my colleagues, others alone. No matter who was presenting I always got some little tidbit as a take away. Most of the attendees at the session on copyright were librarians like me. I really liked this presentation because Kristin Hokanson and Teryl Magee explained that copyrighted work can be used by students if done correctly. You can find a link to their resources here. Amy Burvall is all about letting students be creative. Her presentation was beautiful, so she definitely practices what she preaches. Open here to see the slide presentation that I got to see. One of my favorite sessions was the last session of the day on Thursday when I walked into Darren Kuropatwa's iPad scavenger hunt. All of the 75 attendees at this session were expected to join a group, use their device and play along. It was fun because it was hands on. We got to meet new people and were expected to collaborate with them to complete the scavenger hunt. It proved to be extremely engaging, and I imagine kids would be as taken with it as me. Kelly Maher, who works with our 6th graders first semester, plans to redesign this activity for her classes to complete. 

We also got some time to actually see a little bit of Boston: North End, Cambridge and Copley Square.

walking the cobblestone streets of the North End near Paul Revere's house

photo of all the BLC attendees 

Attending BLC was a wonderful opportunity for all of us. I believe that our students will be reaping the benefits of our attendance for years to come. It would not have been possible without the grant from Fund for Teachers. Fund for Teachers provides grants to educators singly or in teams for summer professional development. The cool thing is that you can create your own PD and travel the world or attend a conference like our team. Thank you FFT for helping us strive to be better educators. 

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