Friday, May 8, 2020

Happy Teacher Appreciation Week Covid-19 Edition

Found on the sidewalk on one of my daily walks in uptown New Orleans

It's that time again when we celebrate teachers, and the hard work that they do in classrooms across the United States. So, I say to all you teachers out there: YOU ARE APPRECIATED!!

My school is trying its best to give us little treats each and every day over the course of the week even though we are at home and not at school. The first gift was a sign for our yard, and lucky me, my sign was delivered by one of my very favorite students. I couldn't get a picture with her, but I did get one with me and the sign. 

Then on Thursday, a truly wonderful treat arrived in my inbox. A thank you with quotes from different students. I love hearing what is important to them among the many things that I do at school. I think this sums it up nicely. 

Click the image above to enlarge it

I received something else in my email inbox from a seventh grader who created this meme just for me. Thanks, Jude, I really do appreciate it. 

Besides being librarian at Patrick Taylor, I serve as the faculty advisor for the school's chapter of the National Honor Society. I really love this position because I get to spend some quality time with the juniors and seniors, many of whom I have known since 6th grade. Once the state lockdown began, it was hard for the students to complete their required community service hours. One of my suggestions to them was to write a letter of gratitude to one or more of their teachers during teacher appreciation week. I knew those would be a hit. Surprisingly, I got three letters sent to me. I have shared them with you below. 

Dear Ms. Kahn,
How have you been? Thank you for your compliment. It means a lot to me. I was going to write to you shortly after lunch, but you emailed me first. I just wanted to thank you as well for all your help ever since I came to Patrick Taylor. You were a part of my every school year because I ate in the library nearly everyday. You also helped me and other students find resources for research projects, prepare for special events, and welcome us to the library. You made going to the library fun because you always had activities that brightened our day. I am also very glad to be a part of Bookmarked this year, which made me regret not joining years ago. I was glad to help out at the library before school closed because I would have missed it a lot if I hadn't. Thank you for all the fun years I had at Patrick Taylor, Ms. Kahn. I'll miss you a lot and I hope I can thank you personally whenever I have the chance.
Sincerely, L. H.

Hello Ms. Kahn,
I want to write you a thank you email for being a great librarian. You are always trying your best to help others in the library and make reading fun for everyone. I appreciate the effort you put into planning entertaining activities for library events and into organizing author visits for our school. Apart from books, you also provide us with very helpful online resources for school research and keep us informed about the library through your blog. Not only do you work very hard in the library but you also run NHS and organize volunteer opportunities for the club. You always do so much for the school, and I am very glad that you are our school librarian.
N. N.

Dear Ms. Kanh,
Thank you for all of the dedication and hard work you've put into our school. All the resources you've compiled for us students to guide us in our research have been helpful; the symbaloo has been a wonderful way to access all of the information we need for our research papers. I appreciate the library's spirit, with the many events that you host encouraging a healthy environment. Thank you for ensuring that us students have the resources we need to be successful at Patrick Taylor.
A. L. 

Though we are all at home, we are all still trying to do our best to provide for our students. It is not easy, but it is what teachers do, no matter what the situation or what four walls are surrounding us. Kudos to all you do! 
Happy Teacher Appreciation Week!

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

My Story about the Library During the Covid-19 Pandemic

I have been gearing myself up to writing a blog post for the last couple of weeks. I think that it is important for me to document now what I have been going through in the library because in a few years this will hopefully be just a faded memory. 

Email from the school district
(click to enlarge it)

On Friday, March 13th at about 1:15PM I opened an email from the district to see that our schools would be closed for a month. This is about the time that our high school students were finishing lunch, and I saw a strange excitement in the students outside the day at 2:40PM, so I had just over an hour to get kids into the library to check out books to take home. I sent an email to all teachers to let them know that I was open for business. Students kept coming in to check out books until the end of the day, and I kept loading them down with books. I have no clue how many I checked out that afternoon. Last week, I got an email from a student asking me how he could return his books. The other day I created this graphic to post on social media to let him know as well as all our other students that they could hold on to them. Thank you Shannon M. Miller for the idea from Van Meter Schools

When I posted the above graphic on the school's Facebook page, there were several parents who added comments. I was and am truly touched by what they said. Below are comments from three different parents.

Back to March and the early days of being at home. First, my email inboxes for all three of my email accounts and my social media accounts were being inundated with information from vendors, educators, and librarians about what you could do for free with your students due to the pandemic. It was so much noise that I kept running away from the screen. I couldn't handle it. I live in New Orleans and was working for Orleans Parish Schools during the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. Many of the memories of that crisis kept flooding back to me. I became paralyzed with all the information and didn't really know how to help the teachers or the students. I would see so many posts from librarians seeming to accomplish things that sounded like climbing Mt. Everest to me. 

On the library website

Finally, I took some deep breaths and got it together to see what my priorities should be. First, it was wonderful that so many ed tech companies were offering free access to their paid subscription tools, but it takes time to learn new tools. I figured all my teachers were stressed out and weren't looking to add something new that they were not familiar with to their arsenal. I did start to collect some of the databases that were offering free access and shared those with teachers and students. The other thing that I tried to collect were ways to access books online for free. I figured reading and books was the direct milieu of the librarian. So I created a google doc to share with all my teachers and students with links to finding books online. Of course, this means that the students need access to a device to get the books which some of them don't have. Also, I know there are students who hate reading a book for pleasure on a screen, and I don't blame them. I like print books best myself. I created this document on Google because I could easily edit as needed without having to re-share it, but I could also keep it private to my school so that I could add the school specific passwords needed  to access the books. I also shared the links with the librarians in my district that I thought they could use with their students, but since I don't work with elementary students, I only listed ways to find books that were age appropriate for my school (6th-12th grade). I just needed to keep editing the noise, and that was an easy filter for me.

Looking at the calendar, I saw that my regularly scheduled meeting with my middle school book group, BRiMS, was set for March 25th. I offered to have a Zoom meeting with them to keep book group going through our time away from school. They jumped at the chance. Today was my fifth meeting with this group as we decided to meet weekly rather than our usual once a month. I have six members of the 30 that come every Wednesday. Meetings last 45 minutes and have been great ways to check in and share about books and how we are feeling. This has been as much for me as for them, and Wednesdays at 11AM are the highlight of my week. 

BRiMS meets on Zoom
I also have a high school book group, Bookmarked, which is meeting once a week. Though there are many members of this group including seniors who have been in book group with me since 6th grade, they are not as diligent about attending as the middle school. They want to attend only if their friends are attending too, and I get that. They are under a lot of stress, and book group is not on their minds. I do miss them, though. 

In past years, our school has celebrated the YALSA sponsored Teen Tech Week (TTW) every March. For 2019, YALSA changed its yearly celebrations. Instead of two with Teen Read Week in October and TTW in March, there would be one celebration that would be scheduled by a library some time during the month of October and be called, TeenTober. We did that in 2019, but I wanted to do something in March, too. I liked having two celebrations a year. I decided to call my special March event Batteries Not Included. It was originally scheduled to begin March 17th, and I have all the prizes, treats, and supplies in the library ready to go for this event. I regrouped once I was home and altered all the activities so that they could be held online for the week of April 6th. Okay, there wasn't enough participation, but I did try. The one event that was truly fun was our watch party on Zoom. For TTW every year, we always watched animated shorts to kick off the week, and I would show as many of the shorts nominated for an Academy Award as I could. This year we watched Hair Love which won the 2020 Academy Award as well as four other shorts that had received some type of award. I think the favorite video of day was Hair Love.

Here was another of our activities:

Book Face photos
I can tell you that if we had done book face pictures in the library, I would have dozens and dozens of pictures to share with you. It is an activity that is way more fun in person. 

Now, school is closed for the rest of the year. What I want to remember most about this time is that I tried to engage the library's stakeholders the best that I could while still keeping my own sanity. No, I am not the best librarian that I can be right now, but then, nobody is asking me to be that. I need to remind myself that the positive feedback that I have received from teachers, parents, and students means that I must be on the right track. 

Also, I am going to truly miss the class of 2020 and being able to send them off in the way that I would want to do so. There are 16 members of the class who are also members of my high school book group. I have gifts for all of them ready to go in my library. I will try to find a way to give them their gift, but it won't be the same without the senior awards night that we have for each class every year. 

We say that this is the new normal, but I hope this normal will end soon and that we will be able to start the 2020-21 year as we did this year with so much promise and so many things to look forward to. 

This is my new normal

Monday, December 30, 2019

Scheduling Virtual Visits with Authors

Joy McCullough, author of Blood Water Paint

Putting authors in front of my students at Taylor has always been a goal of mine, and I have been lucky over the years to have had many authors visit our school since 2008. Getting authors to visit in house is not always possible for many reasons, so I have supplemented face to face visits with virtual visits. Skype use to be my method of choice until my school district blocked it. Since then, we have been using FaceTime quite effectively. So far everyone who I have scheduled for a virtual visit has some Apple device that allows us to use FaceTime. 

Bookmarked and Girl Up
(High School with Joy McCullough)

I was early on the bandwagon for skyping with authors, and I could always find an author who had time to talk. Now, it has gotten more difficult as more librarians and teachers are asking for these virtual visits. I have such a small budget that I would rather spend library money on purchasing the author's books for my students to read than for paying the author. Not that I don't think their time is worth something, but my budget is so very small. 

BRiMS with Nikki Loftin
(Middle School)
The last couple of years I have used a program through Source Books to find authors willing to give us 30 minutes of their time. This worked great for us as the only monetary requirement for me was to purchase some of the author's books. I had difficulty connecting with Source Books this year, and I was on my own to find the authors. 

Asking Nikki a question

I did a search of the Internet for links to authors who Skype (for free) and also used Skype in the Classroom to find authors. After many emails went out, I made a connection with Nikki Loftin for my middle school book group and Joy McCullough for my high school book group. We made these visits in early December. Both were excellent. You can read more about these authors and what they had to say on the links above to the library website. 

All I can say is that it is important for students to meet the people who write the books that they read and love, and it is our job as librarians to help make this happen. With social media and the Internet we can make these connections. Even without a live visit, students can meet authors through You Tube videos and their personal websites. 

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Banned Book Week 2019

Every year, I do a lesson for Banned Book Week with 8th graders. They read Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson around the same time, and of course, BBW fits nicely with that book. I created a slide show for this activity years ago that I edit and update yearly. I wanted to share the lesson if anyone would care to use it. After my presentation with some great videos (there are four  videos embedded in the slide show) and lots of discussion, the students are put into seven groups. Each member of the group will read the same three articles about the freedom to read. I found the articles on the Gale Databases and the Internet. I have put all the folders with the articles in Google Drive so that the students could make a copy of each article and annotate each article individually. Last year, I made paper copies for annotation, and that was truly a nightmare. The students' job is to find four key facts that support the idea of  the importance of the freedom to read. They begin reading in the library, but they will finish the articles at home and then return to school to make posters with their groups listing their key facts while in the classroom not the library.

The objective of this lesson is for the students to find support for the author's' claim with four pieces of evidence found in the articles. 

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Creating a Newsletter for the Library the Easy Way

My school has an additional 75 more students than it had last year. With 800 students at the school and only one librarian, me, it is hard to spread the word about what is happening day to day in the library. I have signs and book displays around the library. I put notices about the library in our daily Paw Prints that is read out loud in study hall and emailed to students and parents. I also send email blasts about the library to faculty and students.

The problem with an email or a notice in Paw Prints is that once it is published, I can't update it. Then when I have more info, I have to write another notice. I certainly can do that, and really try to say something about the library everyday in Paw Prints and every month in the school's newsletter for parents. But I want to limit my email blasts because I would like the stakeholders to actually read what I send. I get emails from companies and causes daily in my in box, and I ignore most of them because they send sooooo many.

This year, I was on the AASL Best Websites Committee. Being on that committee was a great learning experience, and I hope to write more about giving back to the profession in another post. Here, I want to highlight one of my favorite tools on the Best Websites list, Wakelet. I love using a variety of curation tools and some of the ones that I use in my library are Symbaloo, Livebinders, Diigo, and Padlet.

I was thinking about all the things that I wanted to share about the library for the new school year and thought about how I could best present it. I haven't used Smore or  Adobe Spark to create an online newsletter but have seen what others have created with those tools. I just wasn't interested in the learning curve it might be to design what I wanted. Then, I realized that Wakelet would do the job nicely, and there would be little learning curve because I was familiar with the platform. With Wakelet, you can add URLs, text, images, videos, PDFs, and even docs from your Google Drive. With each entry you can customize. When you pull in a URL, Wakelet captures text for you, but it is easy to edit and change that text. Also, for any text entry you can add your own photo or pull from free to use photos on Wakelet. You can also change any of the photos that Wakelet pulls that you don't like. 

Add to a Wakelet here

It is super easy to add and delete entries, and easy is what I really needed. I set up an email to go to all 800 of our students for the next day with the link to my Wakelet about the library. After I set that up, I realized that I needed to add a couple of more things. The email didn't need to be edited, just the Wakelet. You can share a link like I did above or embed like I did below. 

In this back to school edition I added the following items: a link to the library OPAC, a link to the Symbaloo for students, pictures of the two new items that were added to the library makerspace, a Google form for students to recommend new materials to the library, two links for YALSA's Teen's Top Teen including a video for the nominated books and the voting page, and a link to a Listly that has some of the books just added to the library's collection.

Open it here

In the meantime, I got an email from Wakelet telling me about a new feature. You can easily create a video within your Wakelet. I wanted to try it and immediately made a 90 second video recommending some books. This feature just launched and is very cool.

Wakelet uses the Flipgrid platform for its embedded videos

Today, I got an email from a teacher who was looking for resources about the various ethnic groups that have settled in Louisiana. She sent me a list of links that she was sharing with her students. I put those in a Wakelet and then did a search for more. Below is what I created for that social studies class this morning.

Open it here

If you aren't a fan of Wakelet yet, you will be. 

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Creating a Digital Breakout for Library Orientation

Students show that they have broken out of the library

Last year I used Google forms to create my first digital breakout for a lesson on finding copyright free images. I had wanted to blog about it but never had a chance to do so. I decided to start off the new year with another digital breakout for my annual library orientation with 6th and 7th graders. I think that this could easily be adapted for younger or older students. It was a great success and so easy because I did not have to drag out boxes and locks that needed to be set up for each class. All the students needed was an iPad. 

I gave my usual introduction to the library with a slide presentation. The last slide had the URL and a QR code for the breakout. I explained that the students would work with a partner and one iPad to complete the breakout. Many did not know that the camera app can be used to read a QR code. You don't take a picture of the QR code; you just frame the code in the camera and a window will appear with the link. You tap that window for the URL to open in Safari. I know that this works on all Apple devices. 
Last slide with the QR code and URL

Each question in the breakout related to something that I discussed in my slide presentation. In Google forms you can set up the questions in sections so that the students cannot go to the next section without answering correctly. You are allowed to add a custom message to appear when the wrong answer is given. In those error messages, I gave some hints. 

Double click on the picture to enlarge it

For the first question, I ask the students what time the library opens in the morning. The only correct answer is 7:00am. If they write AM, it is wrong. To set this up, you click the three small dots in the lower right section of the question and select "response validation." Then I selected text in the drop down menu on the lower left then contains, and then I typed in 7:00am. Then in the box where it says "Custom Error Text" I wrote, "Did you write the time in this format 11:32pm?" If the student types in a wrong answer, the custom error text pops up with the hint. Some students didn't understand and thought that the 11:32 was the correct answer. I just kept telling them to follow the example format. For the most part everyone figured it out. 

This was an interesting question. The library motto, "All Readers Welcome," was on my opening slide for my presentation. In the question above, you should see that I have the link to the library website: When you open the library website, the motto is the first thing that appears. Many of the groups didn't notice that the link was there and others opened the link and didn't know where to find the motto. They were looking for the word motto, I think. Anyway, in the custom error text, I told them to write the motto in all caps. That is how it is written on the website. Even that threw some  of them for a loop. 

This question was so easy, but I wanted to make sure that the new students understood that they were allowed to visit the library on their own. These types of questions are simple to set up. You start with a new section and next to the correct answer, you select "Continue to the next section" in the drop down menu on the right. For all the wrong answers, you select "Go to section (whichever one is the section with this question). In my case here it was section 2. When students got stuck on these types of questions, they did not understand why they couldn't move on. I just explained that the correct answer must be given before they can advance. 

You can see in the above question that there are two wrong answers and two possible correct ones. Some students were confused because they could not select both of the correct answers, but I didn't see that as an issue. I just asked them to select one and see if they could move on to the next question. 

The above question was another multiple choice where there were two wrong answers and five possible correct ones. 

For the Library Activities question, I used checkboxes rather than multiple choice. Here the students had to check a minimum of four boxes to get it correct and move on to the next section. Actually here, all of the choices are correct, but I wanted to make sure that they selected several. 

This was another question where I inserted a URL in the description for the students to use. I wanted them to spend some time in the library OPAC. I really didn't care what book they found just that they knew where to find the call number in the catalog. So I had them find a fiction book because all of the call numbers are 5 characters in length. When I set the correct answer, I did it by length. Yes, maybe some of them didn't get the right answer, but if they looked in the OPAC, then the students did what I wanted of them. 

For this blog post, I looked at the answers for section 5 for the first time. I can see that less than half actually got the call number correct. Many had the barcode number or some other random text. Now I know that I need to teach them about call numbers. Really, isn't that something students should learn in elementary school. I always taught it when I was an elementary librarian. Something to add to my to teach list. 

The question above and the one below only have one correct answer. 

I had originally designed the question above with a Flipgrid. I wanted each pair to make a 45 second video recommending a book. I had this all set up for my 6th graders. Then when they tried to go to Flipgrid, they did not know their school email address so were having trouble signing in. This was going to be too difficult to manage. For the next group, I took out the video. My 7th graders could have done it, but I didn't want to create another breakout because I would have had to make a slide with a different URL and QR code. So no Flipgrid for this activity. Oh, well. Instead, I just asked them to recommend a book. I set the answer to have a length of five characters or more. 

Below are some of the books that they recommended. Many of these books were on their summer reading list.

Once done, the students checked out books. This was just the right activity to begin the new year and so engaging. 

Friday, July 26, 2019

A Good School Library Program is Critical to all Students

I am about to embark on a new school year. It will be my 29th year in a school library. Moving from a classroom teacher to the library was the best thing that I ever did. First, I love working with every student in a school; next, I get to design a program that I know builds on the skills that I have taught the year before that the students were with me; and by the time that they leave my school, the students are prepared for their next step whatever that may be.

Writing about why a library program is critical to my students is not because I need to justify what I do everyday, but it is because not everyone in education believes that libraries serve a need. Some believe that since English teachers teach literature and literacy, it is not important for a librarian to do the same. Well, I was not a very good student in elementary school or high school. I loved literature and learning new things just not in the confines of a classroom. With access to a school library and a public library, I was able to read what intrigued me, find answers to the questions that I had, and find solace in a place that fed my soul. Being able to self select reading material and read about what the students think is important cannot happen without access to a good school library. Public libraries are great but not all of our students get a chance to visit the public library. In a school, the librarian will purchase materials that meet the needs of their specific patrons and know the students well enough to recommend the books that will appeal. The books read in English or reading class do not equal what it means being able to walk into a library and choose a book on the shelf that speaks to you. 

Others say that students don't need to be taught how to research because they can just go to the Internet and google the answer. That is an absurd rationale to justify getting rid of a librarian or library program. My district subscribes to a number of databases. How will my students learn how to use these resources without instruction? They can't. For that matter, how will the teachers know that the databases are available for their students without being taught? We want our students to become critical thinkers. To do that we need to teach them how to evaluate the sources that they use for information. This is true whether we have databases for them to use or whether we are giving them free reign on the Internet. Once students find the information, there needs to be instruction on how to deal with it be it citing the sources or how to summarize and paraphrase and integrating the information into the end product. I just don't think that classroom teachers ever spend enough time on these particular skills. Though the way we access information is very different when I was in school, the skills that we need to evaluate and utilize that information is not different at all. These are skills that need to be taught, and one of the best persons in any building to do that is the librarian. 

Now, I want to talk about safe spaces. In a classroom, students are constantly being evaluated and assessed. That is not true of the library. Yes, I am offering instruction and assistance with classroom assignments, but I am not the one who assigns grades. I can have a very different relationship with  my students, and because I am there year after year, students know that I have an open ear and am willing to listen and share the library with them. I work very hard to make my library welcoming to all students whether they are readers or not. I do have expectations and treating each other with respect in the library is one of the major ones. The library can become a place where students who don't have a comfortable place to be in the school can be comfortable. Part of the reason I expand my offerings of games and makerspace materials every year is because those are materials that draw students to the library. If I hear students say that the library is their favorite place in the school, then I know that I have done my job right. I serve students in grades 6th-12th, and I have kids who have spent every lunch period in the library from the time that they enter Taylor until the time that they graduate. 

Stake holders generally view test scores as an appropriate way to evaluate a school program. I don't exactly agree, but I do see test data as a way to paint a partial picture of whether a school is achieving its goals. When you look at the library program and test data in one particular school, it is very hard for the individual librarian to show correlation. That is because there is usually only one of us in the building, and our face to face time teaching the students is just a fraction of the time that a classroom teacher spends. I get to provide instruction to my students over seven years of their schooling. Over seven years, I think that I have made a huge impact. Unfortunately, it still is difficult to get data for that. I do hear from students after they graduate who tell me how what I had done for them helped them get through college. However, there have been many studies over the years that have evaluated the contribution of school libraries to our students' growth. These studies have compiled significant data across multiple schools in the U.S. that illustrate how school libraries and librarians contribute to student success. 

If you don't believe my anecdotal evidence, here are some links that explain the results of these studies:

Of course, we all want to matter, but I strongly believe that librarians have an impact in every school. Without them, our students are missing a major part of their education that cannot be replaced by a computer or e-reader full of books or someone who says libraries and librarians are old school and no longer necessary.  

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