Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Second Person in the Room

That's me, Ms. Kahn, looking at a student's work on Easybib
Collaborating with the teachers in my building is one of my priorities. It is a waste of time to teach skills in isolation because in most cases what you are trying to teach just won't stick. By planning lessons with my teachers to meet the specific needs of their teaching and classrooms means that the students will immediately use what I am sharing with them. It also means that the students will be assessed on what I am teaching because the teachers require an end product. 

Another type of collaboration that I do is help teachers follow through with the activities which I introduced in the library and is what I call, the second person in the room. This means I serve as an extra pair of hands, eyes, and mouth. I have been the second person during skype visits when the teacher felt uncomfortable with the technology or they wanted help to make sure the conversation with the expert on skype went smoothly. I visited a 6th grade science class when the teacher had asked teams of two to create an infographic in illustrating their experiments in physical and chemical change. In this case, I walked around the room helping students in need, while the teacher helped with the experiments. I also started trying something this year that I haven't really done before. I first visited an English I class while they were researching for a major paper. The classes had already visited the library for a lesson, but the teacher was giving them plenty of time in class to conduct their research. By going to the classroom, I was able to meet with every student within 20 minutes. I was checking their citations on to make sure that they were using appropriate sources for their research. I also looked at the notes that they were taking using the notebook feature of Easybib to see if they were paraphrasing in bullets or fragments. I commended the students doing a good job, and I gave helpful advice to those who needed to be steered in the right direction.

Yesterday, I spent three periods visiting the English II classes. Last week I had presented information on how to write a persuasive essay. I know that these students were not as up to speed with Easybib and the electronic note taking as the students in English I. It took me over an hour for each class, but I was able to conference with every student to make sure that they were on track with what I had taught them the week before. The teacher moved around the room also. It was exhausting, but I think well worth it.

Even if teachers are not open to collaborating with the librarian, as librarian, you can offer your services to help with lessons where an extra person in the room will make a big difference to student learning. I don't like to give up so much time in a classroom because it means that the library is closed while I am out of the room, but sometimes, me moving rather than the students works best. 

Mr. Curran, the English II teacher, conferring with his students

Monday, January 19, 2015

Preparing English II for a Persuasive Essay

Tomorrow is my first collaborative lesson with one of our new English teachers. This semester he began teaching all of the English II students, as our school is on a block schedule and classes are held for 90 minutes a day for only one semester. I have worked with these students in science, but in English I hold them to a higher standard in following correct citation format for both works cited and in-text citations. Also, there are many of these students who are new to our school and haven't heard my spiel on research and MLA very often. I wanted to be well prepared, and I wanted to set them up not to fail. In order to do that, I created a tool that I could use to teach a lesson, but also, that they could refer to as they research, take notes, and write. Below is the presentation that I created with links to useful resources on creating a persuasive essay, links to resources to use for research, and detailed explanations of ways to use Easybib correctly for note taking and citing. I feel confident that this tool will help the students. I have embedded the power point below. Feel free to use any pieces or parts of it that may help your students. Please note: to use Easybib for notes and parenthetical citations, you must have the paid version.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Teen Review of Stine's New Book for Young Adults

One of my students wrote a great review of Stine's book, Don't Stay Up Late, that is due out in April of 2015. She was so excited to find a favorite author from elementary school writing books for older kids, but she is a more discerning reader now and is quite insightful. 

Here is her review:
"R.L. Stine, always the wizard of suspense, is known for his tales that chill readers and non-readers alike. As an avid reader of the Goosebumps series when I was younger, I fell in love with his compelling, page-turning novels. Now, six years later, I eagerly scooped up Mr. Stine's newest novel, Don't Stay Up Late, for I had outgrown Goosebumps, and this new novel seemed much more age appropriate. In the true essence of Stine, the novel is as gripping as ever. Stine knows precisely how to captivate his readers. Personally, I think it is near impossible to put down this novel midway. After finishing a chapter, I cannot seem to turn the page fast enough to continue.

However fast-paced and exciting the novel may be, it failed to meet my expectations. I had hopes that this novel would be more sophisticated than R.L. Stine's previous works. But no, this novel consists of the same flat characters, unimaginative monster, and hackneyed plot as any other Goosebumps story I have ever read. Make no mistake, I loved Goosebumps, and millions of children across America love Goosebumps. And that style of writing worked for Goosebumps. But if Stine is targeting young adults, he'll need to innovate. When I was younger, the shocks and twists terrified me every time. But now that I am older, the shock value is infinitely less effective. One last note: Stine clearly attempted to direct this novel for an older audience. He incorporated more mature concepts such as gruesome deaths and teenage love. Yet these concepts couldn't mask the  immature plot. And also, the violence was upsetting and the teenage characters were stereotypical and underdeveloped. I know I am being critical, and maybe some teenagers will enjoy this novel, yet Stine should consider change the next time he writes for young adults."
Michaela B., sophomore

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Is it Too Late to Talk about the New Year?

On January 1st I was scrolling through Facebook and read a post from a middle school librarian, I know, who said that she had already finished two books in 2015. Geez, I would love to say that in 2015 I will read at least one book a week if not more, but it will be a rare day indeed when I read multiple books in one day. It is now the 11th, and I have finished two books in print. I started another one today, and I am in the middle of an audio book which I should finish this week. I feel like the kids with the iPhone, iPad and computer so tempting that I am not spending as much time reading. If I am going to promote reading to my students, then I need to walk the walk myself. Anyway, one of my favorite tasks as librarian is to discuss books with kids. I am not calling it a resolution, but I will try to keep up my reading in 2015. I do hate the commute to work that began in August of 2013, but I do like the opportunity to listen to books that I don't have time to read. The audio books have given me a chance to finish series which is really a great way to keep up with my students. 

I read this article on The Digital Shift tying high school students' exposure to a school librarian to future college success. I sent the link out to all the teachers at my school, and I told them that one of my resolutions for 2015 was to plan at least one collaborative lesson with every high school content area teacher this semester. Patrick Taylor serves students in 6th - 12th grade, and I am always planning activities with the middle school English teachers, but the high school students are in need of library services too. I think one of the biggest road blocks for the high school teachers is lack of time. They all teach a 4 X 4 block schedule. When you try to get as much content in as possible in one semester, you don't want to give up time for the library, no matter how important you think it is. The middle school students all take English for 90 minutes a day for a full year. Already, I have plans with English II to help write a persuasive essay and the chemistry teacher for the students Independent Research Project. That will keep me on track.

For this school year I have already instituted some innovations last fall which I will carry through 2015. Middle school book group was a problem because I didn't have multiple copies of the books that we read each month. I wrote two Donor's Choose grants that were funded, and we now have enough copies of the 3 books that we will read in the first half of 2015. I started a reading challenge in the fall for which 47 students completed. Tomorrow wraps up the WINTER Reading Challenge. So far 40 students have completed the challenge, but I am hoping that more students will complete the form by noon tomorrow. I will come up with some type of spring challenge too, but I don't know exactly what it will look like. I am going to get input from some of my major readers in middle school to help me on that one. On the library Facebook page, I started a series called Caught Reading in the Library. I don't pose kids; I only take candid shots. It is wonderful to see so many kids curling up in the library with a book. If you want to see some of those pics, friend the library here

I am always looking for ways to make the library more interesting, innovative, and appealing to my students. That means that I need to keep my brain cells energized. Right now, I think that I will finish this blog post and curl up with the book that I was asked to review for School Library Journal by February 10th. 

Have a Happy New Year, and I hope that you will be able to fulfill all your new year's resolutions in 2015. 

Friday, December 19, 2014

I am a Rocking Librarian

Click the image above to enlarge and read
Today I received one of the best presents that a teacher could receive. A sixth grader gave me a note expressing her love for books, and the things that I do for her and all the students in the library. She calls me "hands-on," and I agree. I work very hard to be hands-on---how did she know that? However, I believe that I do what I do because it is my job; it is not special to me, but I am sure glad that Julia thinks so. 

This is what I do to create a quality library program in my school for Julia and the other 449 students at Patrick Taylor. I want to figure out ways to get my students to love books and reading as much as I do. That is hard to do with 11-18 year olds who would prefer interacting with their many electronics and gadgets rather than books. I understand; I like tech, too. I want the kids to be successful when they begin a research project. I want kids to use information in an ethical manner. I want kids to visit the library by choice because it is an active and fun place to hang out. I want the library to be a safe place where students treat each other with respect. I want to have a library stocked with all the resources a student needs to complete an assignment. I want to be a collaborator who the teachers can count on to help support the curriculum. I could continue, but I don't think that I need to because I think that you get the idea. 

Running a library means lots of multi-tasking. I love that about my job. I am looking forward to the winter break that begins in a couple of hours when I can sleep past 5:30AM and read for hours every day. Have a great holiday, and I hope that you are a rocking librarian too or at least someone who knows a rocking librarian they can count on when needed. 

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Senior Project with a Focus on YA Authors

Senior, Destiny Burnett and her mentor, Susan Larson
I am writing this post to brag about the president of Bookmarked and share some links showcasing her wonderful writing skills and ability to offer insightful reviews for the books she reads. Destiny has been in the high school book group since she was a freshman, and she is an avid reader and reviewer. Bookmarked members have been writing reviews and nominating books for YALSA's Teen's Top Ten since 2010. The group also reviewed books over an 18 month period for SLJTeen. During that time Destiny had six book reviews published as well as an author interview which you can read here

When I heard that Destiny was looking for a mentor for senior project, I knew just the person, but there was a problem. Destiny wanted an internship with an anthropologist. Lucky for her we couldn't find someone like that to mentor her. I have known Susan Larson a long time, and I knew that the two of them would make a connection. Susan was the long time book editor for the local paper and currently has a radio show about books on a local station. Susan is the most well-read person I know and has interviewed more authors than anyone that I know. As I predicated they hit it off spectacularly, and I think that both of them would agree.

For her senior project, Destiny made an exploration of several YA authors to find out what influenced them the most in their writing. Her mentor made some book recommendations, and then the two of them made a decision on which authors would be best to interview. After each interview Destiny posted what she learned on her blog. 
Follow these links to read her wonderful posts: 
1. Interview with John Ed Bradley author of Call Me by My Name
2. Interview with mystery writer Julie Smith who's YA novel is Curse Busters
3. Interview with Adi Alsaid who's debut novel is Let's Get Lost. Review of Alsaid's book.
4. Interview with Greg Herren author of the YA novel, Dark Tide 
5. Interview with M. H. Herlong who wrote the middle grade novel, Buddy

If you enjoy reading Destiny's interviews, please post a comment on her blog. I think that Destiny would love knowing that her writing had an impact on you. (By the way Destiny did an awesome job on her senior project presentation last week. She really nailed it.)

Monday, December 1, 2014

Making a Livebinder Interactive

I have designed several tools for students in Mrs. Higgins' science classes to use for a specific project. When Mrs. Higgins and I sat down to talk about the balloon car project for her 9th grade physical science class, I knew that a Livebinder would be the best way to collate the tools for the students. Usually, there is a link to the library OPAC as the first tab in any tool used for research. This time I decided to create a bibliography of all the print material and just insert the bibliography in a tab. I also pulled the books and had them ready for the students on a cart, but with the bibliography I really didn't need to do that. I always thought of Livebinders as a take only resource, not a give and take. I happened upon a blog post from Livebinders with a link showing how to create interactive tab/s. I loved the idea of adding a padlet inside my binder. It is super easy to use an embed code in one of your tabs. 

For the balloon car project, the students had to conduct research and then design their car. The cars had to run at least five meters. We asked the students to use the padlet tab to list what materials they planned to use to create their car. Since each student would get points for posting, we made a padlet for each period to make it easier for the teacher to grade. Find the Livebinder here for the balloon car project

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Taking Thanksgiving Week Off

All the teachers at school received these before the holiday
I am always working. Even at home I am constantly thinking about ways to improve library programming, and I usually have an electronic device - iPhone or iPad - at hand reading posts on twitter and seeing what is the latest and greatest in ed tech in the classroom. Sometimes we just need to stop, clear our minds and interact with family and friends without work on our minds. 

No, I did not go cold turkey on electronic devices over the nine day break. I still checked my email and made a few Facebook posts for school and the library, but I didn't post here or to the library website or plan the lessons that I will be teaching next week. I just needed some time away. While away I read two and a half books in print and finished an audio book. You could say that those were work because I was reading books that my middle book group will be reading. I just find such great pleasure in reading well written literature that it didn't seem like work to me. Just so you know I finished listening to Rick Yancey's The Fifth Wave, I finished reading Dovey Coe by Frances O'Roark Dowell and The Paperboy by Vince Vawter, and I began The Real Boy by Anne Ursu. 

I received the turkey that you see at the top of this post on the last day before the break. The whole staff at PFTSTA received one. The students were given the task of writing on the feathers and describing what each staff member does that they are thankful for. Our principal instigated it. Her boss who is called the Network Executive Director (NED) asked her to have students complete the slips of papers of thankfulness which were inserted in a letter that he wrote to all faculty members in his NED. It was a great way to begin the holiday, and neither my principal or NED knew that the other had planned a similar activity. 

Tomorrow it is back to work, and the final push to the end of the semester. We are on a block 4 by 4 schedule, so most classes will be done for the year in just three weeks. 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Downside of Being a School Librarian

I have spent the last 30 years working in public schools in Louisiana. I have to say, except when I taught in a classroom that was federally funded, that I never had the funding that I needed to run my program. When I became a librarian in 1991, I knew immediately that the budget from the district and the state would not be enough to maintain and improve the collection. There were some block grants and some school money that helped in the early years, but I knew from the first time that I stepped into a library that I would have to hold fundraisers if I wanted to provide my students with a vibrant program. You can't run a library on nothing though I wish that you could. 

When I arrived at PFTSTA eight years ago, the district gave me a budget to match our student body of 175 students. I was starting a library from scratch at a new school. I needed funding. The principal, at the time, had received grant monies to outfit the school, and luckily, she was generous with the library. You may think that $40,000 is a lot of money, but when a library has nothing, this money does not go far. I began to write grants and found funding to build a collection. This was just after Hurricane Katrina, and there was money flowing into southern Louisiana. Most of those sources now require schools to show high poverty with 85% or higher free or reduced lunch. My students are not wealthy, but our percentage is much lower than that making us ineligible for many grants. 

Gearing the middle school up for the library fundraiser
Running a fundraiser is one way that I ask for support from our community and raise money to stock the shelves and have money for programming. This was the first year that we held a book fair because we didn't have the space until we moved into our new facility. I was happy with the results of the fair, but our profit of $1000 does not go far when buying books or electronic resources. On November 10th we kicked off the fundraiser for the middle school students. We work with Great American Opportunities (GA) and have done so for many years. A few years ago the sales rep asked if I wanted to try a special program with GA. It is kind of crazy, but we earn a profit of 50%, so it is well worth it. The students sell out of a catalog that changes each year. Family, friends and neighbors place orders in the catalog, and I have to submit the orders before the Thanksgiving holidays. The items are not shipped until early February. The students do not collect the money until the items arrive at school. It is a long wait from ordering in November and receiving the items three months later, and sometimes, people forget what they ordered. Since I always make a tidy profit, this fundraiser is a necessary evil. I really hate to ask students to sell for me. It just doesn't feel right, but without fundraisers, there would not be enough money to keep the library up to date. 

I usually love my job, but this is one aspect that I wish would go away. I wish that every library could have the funding needed to provide quality services to our students. High quality libraries are libraries that students want to use because they are attractive, have new books, have resources needed for class assignments and offer programs that make the library a fun and vibrant place to visit. I talked to a colleague who recently went to work at a private school. There are two libraries in the school with one budget but that budget of $35,000 a year is extremely sweet. My total budget in a good year is about $4000. Before you say that is crazy for a school serving 6th-12th grades, I need to tell you that the district pays for a couple of databases (Gale and World Book) and the library management software (Destiny). The school pays for another database (Britannica Online) and  a couple of other electronic resources including Turnitin, Easybib and Britannica Image Quest. If my budget had to fund those wonderful resources, I don't know how we would make it. 

I know that other libraries have fewer resources than we do, but I also know that there are many libraries with lots more resources. Though fundraisers are not something I enjoy, I do what I think is necessary. In my dreams I imagine a library with a large budget, but for now, I am staying here and using my problem solving skills to figure out how to buy the latest reads for my students who never want their favorite series to end. 

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