Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Happy Holidays from BRiMS and Bookmarked

I run two book groups at Patrick Taylor. My high school book group, Bookmarked, was created in the fall of 2007 which was my second year as librarian at the school. The students really wanted a library club, but the square footage of the library was so small that I could not imagine how any students could do any actual library work. Instead I created a book discussion group. Not only did we meet to talk books, but I tapped these students to help me with fundraisers and special programming like Teen Read Week. Helping me with these special activities seemed to appease the members. I waited until February of 2009 to institute a book discussion group for my middle school students called BRiMS, or Books Rule in Middle School. Both of the groups meet during lunch, and this year, the school added a third lunch. Now BRiMS is made up of only 6th and 7th graders. Bookmarked has 8th-12th grade students. This has actually worked well because in 2014 and 2015, Bookmarked lost a lot of members who graduated. We needed to recruit new members, and the many 8th graders who are into books have blended just fine into the club. 

I try to do some special activities with both groups that revolve around reading but might be a little outside of the box. When BRiMS met for their last meeting of the year, we wanted to create a video that celebrated the new year. 

This is what we came up with:

BRiMS wishes you Seasons Readings 2015 from Elizabeth Kahn on Vimeo.

Not to be outdone, members of Bookmarked, decided to create a holiday video, too:

Bookmarked wishes you Happy Holidays 2015 from Elizabeth Kahn on Vimeo.

In October, I got an email from the author, Chris Grabenstein. He was asking for kids to send him short video clips to be included in the book trailer for his newest book, Mr. Lemoncello's Library Olympics. BRiMS filmed their run outside, and we sent it to the author. It seems that we did not make the final cut. Grabenstein did, however, make a slightly longer trailer with the out takes. It is still less than two minutes. BRiMS can be seen in blue shirts running in front of a bunch of trees.

I do wish everyone a loving, peaceful, and happy new year. I can't wait to see what 2016 brings to us in all things book related. Who knows, the next Harry Potter could be on its way to  the publishers right now. 

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Sharing Resources for a Conference Presentation

When I go to a conference, I hate when someone hands me a sheet of paper with a list of links. What do I do with that paper? Usually, during the presentation, I will mark the sites on the paper that might be useful to me, my teachers, or my students. Then I have to bring the sheet of paper back home or to school and sit and type out all the URLs so that I can see if the sites really do interest me as something that I want to save. If I like what I see, then I save them in Diigo  and add lots of tags to each site so that I can find them again  at a later date. This is time consuming, and I have found that it may take me months to find the time to sit and go through all the websites. What a waste of time for me. I appreciate when you walk in to a conference session and are handed a paper or card with a link or QR code that points you to a website with all the resources that the presenter will discuss during their talk. I can open the resource site on my iPad during the session and decide their and then what sites are worth saving. I also know that I can go back to the link that the presenter shared with the audience. I save the presenter's resource list in my Diigo, and it is easy to go back and view and review at any time.

I have used Wikispaces many times to post my contact info and all the electronic resources that I share during a presentation. It is easy to create a wiki, but I never really use it fully. Though it is easy to make, it takes some time to flesh out and add the text.

Wiki I created in 2012
I have also used Slideshare successfully as a tool to house all the links for a presentation. By using Slideshare, attendees will get my presentation slides along with my links to resources. The downside to Slideshare is that you cannot add any links until the fourth slide.

This past October, I presented at a state conference for school librarians. I decided to submit the same presentation for our state conference for computer using educators called LACUE which is an affiliate of ISTE. On Tuesday, I will again be presenting: "Where Reading and the Web Collide." I reviewed my PowerPoint presentation and added a couple of new slides because I was short about 5 minutes when I initially made this presentation. Most of the 51 slides in this PowerPoint are screenshots of the various websites that I selected that support or enhance reading for students grades K-12. Instead of using Wikispaces for links to these resources, I created a Symbaloo. It was a breeze to edit the Symbaloo and add the links for the additional resources that I put in my presentation yesterday. It was so much faster to build a Symbaloo than  a wiki. Symbaloo doesn't allow any text, so all I need to do is put in the URL. It does take some work to make it look pretty with pictures, but I can get that done fairly quickly now that I have built so many different Symbaloos.

Symbaloo for Where Reading and the Web Collide
One downside of using Symbaloo is that there is no place for me to insert my contact info. That is an important piece because I have been contacted after speaking at conferences numerous times. I decided that by creating a personal page using I could list all my contact info and social media connections that I want to share with those attending my talk. I could add the link to the Symbaloo just like I added all the other links. Creating that page and adding it to the Symbaloo solved a problem, and now I have a personal page that I can share in my email and in other presentations that I might make in the future.

My AboutMe Page

I just love technology. I like it for how it can teach problem solving and creativity. I like it because it means I can keep all learning in one place rather than have numerous paper files saved in a file cabinet that I will never open. By tagging all resources in Diigo, I can go back again and again to see what was shared with me at past conferences and conventions.

Let the learning begin! I am looking forward to finding new tidbits that I can incorporate into my school and library after attending LACUE next week,

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

December Holiday Decorating in a Public School

Tree of Peace & Love
I work in southern Louisiana where many people working in public schools don't understand the separation of church and state. Thirty years ago I remember being horrified when the principal read a Christian prayer over the intercom right before the holidays. I didn't say anything because I was young and was not going to antagonize my principal, but I did not think that it was appropriate. Many of the public schools where I have worked have had Christmas trees gracing the halls. Those were usually decorated with ornaments created by the students. The halls of many of these schools had other Christmas style decorations, too.

I would compensate by bringing in a menorah for the library. I would also have dreidels available with instructions on how to play. The students loved playing the game even if they didn't win any chocolate.

The librarian in this library (not mine) found a way to make an inclusive holiday display 
Finally, I decided that having a few Chanukah symbols didn't really compensate, and I never brought anything in representing Kwanzaa. There are a significant number of Islamic children at my school now, and there is nothing comparable for them during the December holiday season that I know of.

Still, I like the idea of having some sort of decoration to mark the season since everyone celebrates the new year. A friend of mine brings a small artificial tree into her high school library. She provides various colors of chenille stems. She asks the students to decorate the tree with peace or love symbols. Okay, that would be a way to make the holiday season inclusive. For a couple of years, I have wanted to do something similar, but I didn't want to buy a tree, nor did I really have space for it in my library. 

This is how the process began

I had an idea light bulb go off when I created a make-shift bulletin board on a wall using post-it notes. I realized that I could use post-its for my holiday decorating. On the Friday before Thanksgiving, I put a sign in post-its on  a wall saying: A Tree of Peace & Love. The students would use Sharpie pens to design a peace or love symbol on one square of a green post-it note. With these designs, the students would build a paper tree. 

Students start adding their symbols

One of the eighth graders who practices Islam at home asked what I was making. I explained to her that it was a tree of peace and love for the holidays, and then I asked her if she thought that would offend anyone. She didn't answer me right away and after some thought finally said that she really liked the idea. She believes that so many Muslims get a bad rap because of ISIS and this would be a way to include everyone in the decorating. I was thrilled to hear that from her. 

I am excited to share my students' creations with you. As you can see, there is definitely a way to get creative even on a piece of paper that is only three inches by three inches.

The finished product
Happy Holidays (no matter what you celebrate) 
Season's Readings! 

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Finding Time to Manage the School Library

When I was in library school, I had to take a course called school library management. It was a very straight forward course in terms of what school library management actually meant. What they didn't teach us was how to juggle getting all the management tasks done in between teaching classes, fielding research questions, readers' advisory, running clubs, dealing with technology issues, helping with whatever problem walked through the door, etc. 

Download your own copy of this sign

I have a sign in front of the circulation desk that encourages all who enter to interrupt me. Yes, I really do mean for the students, teachers, administrators, staff, and parents who walk through the doors to talk to me and ask me for help or assistance. That is a big part of my job--to be a support to all members of the school community. Also, a part of my job is to deal with all library resources including print and electronic materials as well as hardware that gets checked in and out of the library. This means that often I am in the midst of trying to complete a task when someone approaches me at my desk. 

On Friday the 20th, I decided to concentrate on getting some of the library management tasks done before the holiday break which began on the 23rd. I was able to get the school set of 30 iPad Mini devices into the library circulation system. I had been planning to do that for weeks. Luckily, I had a student worker helping me on Friday because I gave him the job of renaming the iPads to reflect their barcode number. The renaming took seconds, but I also asked him to update the operating system which was a long and tedious proposition. He will have to finish that after the holidays. I have been working on a book order for several months. I have the money, but I always agonize over my list because money is in short supply. I worry that I might make some bad purchases or miss something important. I finally decided to go with the order that I had, and I have already started a new list so that I can order books in late February, too. I actually think that it is nice to have new books trickle in. That way students will visit the library often looking to see what is new on the shelves. I also like to wait until the ALA book award lists are out so that I can add those to my collection if I don't already have them. After I placed my order, I realized that School Library Journal just announced their top picks for the year. When I looked at the top tens for 2015, I saw that I had some of the titles in my collection, but I would need to add some to my next order. Finally, I wanted to work out the kinks with MackinVIA so that I can share it with my students. 

Find out more about MackinVIA
Sometimes, it is just impossible to get any project fully completed in the library. It is just me serving 550 students and a faculty of 35, though I have one student worker scheduled during 3rd period every day. Very rarely do I have parent volunteers. So it is no surprise that over a year ago I researched creating a MackinVIA account as a portal for all my library resources, but the account had never been opened. I finally did it, and you know--it really didn't take that long. MackinVIA is a free resource from Mackin that provides a portal to all the digital content that the library owns. I understood the process, but I didn't realize how easy it was to get it set up. I had to send in a list of all my library's databases with user names and passwords. I had that list for a sign that I post by the computers in the library. Getting that information took minutes. Then I needed to submit the MARC records for my eBooks of which I have close to 600. I thought that was going to be a difficult chore, but it wasn't. We use Follett's Destiny as our library management software. In Destiny I searched the catalog for all my electronic books, then I just added them to a new resources list. You can easily export the MARC records in a resource list. Mackin houses the links to your resources for free. Mackin migrates your resources to VIA for free the first time. The next time that you add resources, Mackin will charge a fee.The students have a user name and password that they use to access the portal and from there the students can open any of the databases without needing to input user names and passwords again for the various databases. 

The PFTSTA Library MackinVIA

I want to explain the impetus for finally creating the MackinVIA for my library. After the holidays, there is a scheduled librarian meeting for the district. At this meeting a rep from Follett is going to explain Universal Search. When I went to explore Universal Search, I got excited because I thought it could do exactly what MackinVIA does. In theory, you can add all your electronic resources to the search function and access all content right in Destiny. I was unable to do that, so my students can use the Universal Search, but the results will not include all the library's resources. Let me explain the issues. 

 This is a regular search conducted in Destiny
I like the fact that I can add my databases to Universal Search by myself. You open the Catalog tab and open the Search Setup listed on the left. From there, you open the Enriched Content Searches tab. Under this tab are listed all the possible databases that you can add to Universal Search. There are even some great free database sites to add. The biggest problem is that some of the databases that my library subscribes to are not listed. I have purchased Britannica Encyclopedia Academic Edition. It is not available. The district has purchased a set of databases from Gale. Some of the databases that we own are listed but not all of them. This means that my students cannot use Universal Search as a one stop shop. I called Follett to find out if those databases could be added. I was told that if the resources is not listed, then it cannot be added to Universal Search. That truly bummed me out. 
A Universal Search in Destiny

If I want a true one stop shop for all digital resources, the students have to use MackinVIA. Now it is ready to share with my students and the rest of the librarians in my district. We shall see if the students like the idea of the portal or if they continue to use the set up that we have had in place for years. 

Monday, November 9, 2015

Channeling Hogwarts during Homecoming Week

I am not that big on wearing costumes. Okay, you need to understand that I am a New Orleans native, and I grew up wearing costumes for Mardi Gras. Half of the closet in my guest bedroom is devoted to costumes. I just am not interested anymore in getting into uncomfortable and unbecoming attire. For homecoming week this year, the students developed a theme of the day and wore clothes that fit the theme. Teachers were encouraged to join in the fun. I skipped all but Friday. On Friday, students were asked to select a favorite character from a book, movie, or tv show. As librarian, I felt that the gauntlet was thrown, and I needed to become a character from one of my favorite series for the day. 

I dug through my closet and found that Professor Trewlawney and I could work together. The outfit is one that is in my closet, not the costume closet, but it was the wig that made the whole ensemble work. I had round glasses to wear over my real ones that also helped make the transformation. I was pleased that so many students could guess who I was. Some knew that I was a professor from Hogwarts but wasn't sure of my name. Others knew immediately my name. That made for a very entertaining day. There were Hogwarts' students wandering the halls of PFTSTA on Friday, too. Find more pics from the day below.
Friends from the Gryffindor and Ravenclaw Houses at Hogwarts

Trying to get to class on time

Dueling with our wands in the library
Madam Pince was none to happy with us

Thursday, November 5, 2015

The Book Fair is Coming!!

Some students and I worked together to create a short video promoting some of the books that we will have at next week's book fair. It was fun and very easy to put together. I made the pictures in PowerPoint, and then I downloaded them individually in a jpeg format. That way the pictures were easy to add to the video. I used Windows Live MovieMaker to piece together the pictures and the video clips. I was able to edit the clips within MovieMaker, too. I am happy with the four and a half minute outcome. I have asked the middle school study hall teachers to show the video on Friday.

In the video you will hear the students talk about A Night Divided by Jennifer Nielsen, This Side of Home by Renee Watson, and The Zodiac Legacy by Stan Lee. 

Book Fair 2015 Student Book Talks from Elizabeth Kahn on Vimeo.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Bookmarked and Geoff Herbach Share Some Laughs

On Monday, October 26th, the members of Bookmarked were treated to a skype visit with author Geoff Herbach. He, like Jen Calonita, is published by Sourcebooks. I took advantage of the publisher's offer of free skype visits for libraries and classrooms as long as you purchase some of the authors' books. I chose Geoff Herbach for the high school book group because we seem to have so many female authors at school. Though the group is made up of a majority of girls, I figured all of the students would enjoy talking to Geoff. I was right. 

He speaks without a filter, and the students loved his humor and willingness to address anything that they threw at him. Since he began the skype visit with a story about his son and puberty, one of the older girls asked him if he had difficulties during his own puberty. He told them that being a teenager was not easy for him. All agreed that it is not easy for anyone. 

Another student asked him what was up with two of his books: Fat Boy vs. the Cheerleaders and Gabe Johnson Takes Over. They seemed the same, but they weren't. It just so happened that his publisher made an executive decision. Because some librarians complained that students wouldn't want to be caught reading a book with a title that begins with fat boy, the publisher changed the title for the paperback edition. In very teeny tiny print on the Gabe Johnson edition, you can see that it says the book is also known by another name. Geoff has had readers who were angry because they bought both books when they thought the books were different. It seems that Geoff likes the original title best, and in this case, it was out of the author's hands. The students liked the original title best, too. 

It was a fast-paced thirty minutes filled with lots of laughter. You can't beat that in the library. I want to thank Geoff for sharing some of his time with us, and Sourcebooks for making it all possible. Visit the library website for more pictures and information about the day. 

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Highlights for Teen READ Week 2015

When the 2015-16 school year opened, PFTSTA had a growth spurt of 100 more students than last year. These additional students meant that the cafeteria could no longer fit the students in two lunch periods. Now there are three separate lunches. The library opens for the 6th and 7th graders lunch period at 11:00 and concludes at 1:07 when the 8th graders report to fourth period. I wasn't sure how this would play out for Teen READ Week (TRW) because the members of the high school book group always ran the events held during both lunches. The high school students are in third period when the little ones have their lunch. I decided that it was important for me to simplify this year, and in the end, I had helpers from both the middle school book group and the high school book group.It worked out that I did have the extra pairs of hands that I sorely needed. Also, I lost  a day of celebration when the students had no school on Monday due to the day of professional development and parent conferences. Even with these limitations, it was a busy and fun-filled week with lots of visitors in the library. 

The theme this year was Get Away at your library. We took that to mean books about characters who had to travel. We always start off the week with some kind of video. This year we saw episode 20 from the first season of The Twilight Zone. It seemed appropriate because it was about three astronauts who ended up on an asteroid when their ship malfunctioned. All they want to do is go back home to Earth. There is a twist at the end, per usual, that the students did not predict. With the outer space theme, the treats served for the day were Milky Way bars and Starburst candies for those who don't eat chocolate. 

The next day the students played the guessing game that we have every year. The questions are always tweaked to fit the theme of TRW. Usually, we play the game every day. I have students who run the game, while I supervise the other scheduled activity. Instead for this year, I scheduled the game for only two days. On Wednesday, we called it Winning Wednesday. Students could ask a friend for help in answering the question. All winners won a small candy as a prize. On Friday, we called it Two-fer Friday. Students who could not answer the first question could pick a second one in hopes that they could answer that one. This game is always a favorite, and students will continue pulling clues even though they have already won their prize. 

Reading a clue for the guessing game

Student worker running the guessing game

There is always a craft day planned during TRW. With the Get Away theme, I found wrapping paper with maps on them. The students created woven bookmarks out of the paper or woven bracelets. There was a bit of a learning curve, but there were several students who figured out the pattern quickly, and I tapped them to help the others. We ended up spending two days on this because the kids enjoyed it so much. I had plenty of supplies, so it was not an issue. 

Students followed printed instructions
One of the helpers
The cart kept all materials and supplies organized

Students were asked to guess the number of Earth covered chocolates. Some used the mathematical formulas for volume to calculate the number, others weighed the jar, and others just took a shot in the dark. There were 533 candies in the jar, and the winner got to take home a third of the chocolate. 

Guess the number of candies

Taking a guess

I do charge fines for overdue books, though there is a two day grace period. During TRW, I forgive fines for all overdue books returned during the week. Having the fines erased is a good incentive to return the books. I didn't count the number of books returned that were overdue, but it was a significant number--probably around fifty. 

During the week, I asked students to recommend a book for their classmates. 

I also have a bookmark contest during TRW where the entries must fit the theme for the year. All entries are not due until the middle of next week. I give students over two weeks to work on their entries. Though, I don't get a large number of entries, what I don't get in quantity, I get in quality.

Finished woven bracelet 

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Presentation on the Research Process for Middle and High School Students

Early this past week, one of our science teachers, who was suffering with a terrible case of laryngitis, talked to me about a presentation that she was suppose to make to the faculty at a local Catholic school on Monday, the 19th. She initially agreed because she thought that she was just talking to the science department about preparing students for the engineering and science fair, but then they asked her to talk to the whole faculty about the research process. She knew that I would be a better fit than she would for that. Also, she really did not have a voice to be able to speak to an entire faculty. With her help, I was able to put together this presentation in two days. That is a record for me because I always agonize over how to organize the information and what exactly needs to be included. When you go through the slides, you will find that I have inserted live links on the slides with screenshots, so you can see the actual resources that I created for the students. I have even included a link to the MLA rubric. I wanted this presentation to be able to stand on its own. I am proud of what I have created, and now I have another presentation under my belt that I can share at a conference. 

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Snapshot of PFTSTA Library in Animoto

PFTSTA holds an open house for prospective students every fall. I like to have a special video running in the library for this event. 

I use the same background every year. I just update the pictures and make sure that all students in the pictures are still attending PFTSTA. I created a PowerPoint with the background, text and images. When I select save as, I save the slides all at once as jpeg images. PowerPoint automatically downloads all the pictures into one file folder. That means it only takes a few clicks to upload the pictures into Animoto to create the videos. It is easy to get an educator account in Animoto to make videos that are longer than 90 seconds. As an educator you can create student accounts under your teacher account so the students can make longer videos, also. With the educator account, users won't get the Animoto watermark on each picture, just a logo at the end of the video. So easy and fast to do. I like the results.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Teen Read Week 2015 is Around the Corner

You too can TRAVEL to unknown lands through books
Teen Read Week October 20th—23th

Text Box: Look What’s Happening @ PFTSTA Library for TRW 2015
1. Annual Library Book Mark Contest: Two winners, one from middle school and one from high school, will receive a $20 Barnes and Noble gift card, and their bookmark reproduced to give away to the PFTSTA community. You can visit the library for a hard copy or open here: to print out from the web.
All bookmarks are due in the library by Wednesday, October 29th at 2:30PM. 

2. Now showing in your libraryVisit the common area outside the library at lunch on Tuesday the 20th to watch “Elegy,” an episode of the television show The Twilight Zone. In this episode, three astronauts find that their rocket has landed on a very strange but Earth-like planet. A treat will be served.

3. Travel Guessing GameOn Wednesday the 21st and Friday the 23rd during Teen Read Week, you can visit the library to get a clue about a character from a book or movie who has traveled far from home. If you answer correctly you will receive a prize. If you miss one, you will have a chance to try again.

4. Get Crafty: When you visit the library on Thursday the 22nd. Create a woven paper bracelet: or bookmark: out of maps. The instructions and materials will be provided for you.

5. Fine Forgiveness Week: You may return any overdue book/s during Teen Read Week without having to pay a fine. 

6. Guess the Number in the Jar: See if you can figure out how many chocolate Earth balls are in the jar. To win, your answer must be closest to the correct number without going over. Guess the correct number of chocolates in the jar and win a coloring book and colored pencils and some of the candy. The second and third place winners will each win an Earth ball and some of the candy.

7. Vote for Teen’s Top Ten: Members of Bookmarked helped nominate books for Teen’s Top Ten. Now you can help select the top ten. Vote for up to 3 of your favorite books from 2014 here: Voting ends Oct 24th.

By Mouh2jijel (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Where Reading and the Web Collide

I presented twice
This past Saturday I traveled to Lafayette, LA to present at the first ever LASL Fall Summit. In the past, the Louisiana school librarians had a mid-winter conference. It was always scheduled in late January or February every other year, but even in Louisiana, the weather could get in the way during the winter. Fog and ice could make it difficult for people to travel the state to attend a one day conference. In 2014, I got half-way to Lafayette and had to turn around because the fog made it impossible to cross the Atchafalaya Basin that lay between me and my destination. 
Why did Susan cut off my hand? I do have another one.

The attendees in the first session
My presentation was entitled, "Where Reading and the Web Collide." My focus was to give websites and apps that librarians, teachers, parents, and students could use to enhance the reading experience. Even though I only serve students in grades 6th-12th, I tailored this talk to K-12 because there are always more elementary librarians at these conferences than those who serve older kids. Many of the sites could be used for all ages, but I did sprinkle in some sites that are age specific, You do not need to be in a school to find these sites helpful, public librarians could use them too.  I also tried something a little different this time. I like to use Wikispaces to create my resources page for my presentations because I can add links with text. Since I was only going to share links for this presentation, I decided to use Symbaloo. I have embedded the Symbaloo for you below. I grouped the links in the Symbaloo by the main topics that I covered in my talk: book recommendations, series help, connecting readers on social media, connecting with authors, apps for reading, and lastly, sharing and creating book trailers. 

I hope that you can find these sites helpful to you with your students in your library. If you have any questions, leave a comment below, and I will get back to you. 

Thursday, October 1, 2015

BRiMS Shares Lunchtime with Author, Jen Calonita

Early this past summer, I received an email from Sourcebooks publishers explaining a new skype with an author program that the publisher had just started. The thirty minute skype visits would be free as long as you ordered a certain number of books written by that author. I think that I had to spend $50 on books for a group of 30 to attend the skype, and you can spend less if the group is smaller.They have some guidelines set that are easy to meet. I have done many author skypes over the years and never had to pay for them. Since I wanted the students to read the books of these authors anyway, I figured that purchasing a set of books from the publisher at a discount was really a good deal. I immediately set up a skype for the middle school book group, and once done, I selected an author for the high school book group also. The list of authors is so long that I am sure you can find one that fits the age group that you teach. 

On the last Wednesday of every month the 6th and 7th grade book group called BRiMS (Books Rule in Middle School) meets in the library during lunch to eat and talk books. This month the students were asked to read Flunked by Jen Calonita. For our meeting we connected with the author via skype. If the students weren't fans at the beginning of the half hour chat, they were at the end. You can read more about this visit on the library website here.

Thank you Jen for a terrific chat. You made our monthly meeting for BRiMS truly awesome. Thank you Sourcebooks for helping us make it happen. 

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Need this Blog to Jog my Memory and Poor Bandwidth

As I was getting ready to plan for the teaching of the research process to our 6th grade students, I remembered that I had changed my game plan last year. Since my brain has been aging, it is harder for me to know what I did last week much less how I taught something last year. I did remember that I had written a detailed account of what I did with this lesson on this blog. So I conducted a search to find the post, and you can read about it here. By reading my blog entry from last year, I saw that we had deconstructed the research process to start with the bibliography. The teachers and I decided to get that out of the way first.

Before the day of the lesson, I reviewed my slide show that you can see below. I did some editing and took out tasks that I thought weren't necessary and added some slides at the end to be more specific about explaining how to create a word document out of the bibliography that was created in Easy.bib. I have found that I never redo a lesson exactly as I did it the year before. I always try to reflect on how it went and try to make improvements for the students. Also, in a year's time the technology could change, and I have to change my game plan accordingly.

6th grade ELA Easybib project for Flush from Taylorlibrarian

I love using the technology to create and share a lesson because then it is saved for future use, but I can also easily update and edit the lesson but still use the same link that I shared with teachers and students in years past. Also, if I make a mistake and need to edit immediately (which happens to me frequently), I don't need to resend the presentation to everyone. I can just edit and upload the edited slide show into Slideshare using the same link. This also works well if I am using a different tool like Wikispaces or Livebinders to create my lesson. 

Let me tell you how the lesson went this year. Not so great. This wasn't a librarian or teacher or even student error. It was an issue with the Internet and bandwidth and speed of loading the technology. I like this lesson because I can explain and demonstrate relatively quickly what the students need to do. Then the students are given the task of creating a bibliography with six sources, formatting the bibliography in Word and submitting the final product to the teacher. The students should be able to do this  by the end of the period. All of our classes are on a block schedule, so we had 90 minutes to get this completed. We did it last year, and I thought it was doable this year. As I tried to demonstrate to the students what they needed to do, we were waiting and waiting and waiting for the Gale databases to load. I was losing the class. Finally, when it was their turn, they experienced the same loading issues. Of the six sources that the students needed to find, two were in print. Those were easy. The online sources were torture for me and for the members of the class. The teacher asked the students to finish the activity for homework. She said that they did a good job with the assignment, but I was disappointed that it wasn't completed in class. I was also disappointed that I had to stand there and wait for the sites to slowly load--it wastes so much time. 

I worry about what will happen when I teach a lesson tomorrow to the English I students. In that lesson, I have selected the articles and chapter pages in Gale for the students to read. They will not be doing any independent research. I am hoping that what happened last week was an anomaly and that tomorrow we can move through the teaching portion of the lesson quickly and that the students will have plenty of time to read the articles that I have selected for them. 

Update added on October 1st: I was able to repeat this lesson yesterday, and it went so smoothly that the students completed their bibliography with 30 minutes left in the period. That meant that they had time to check in and check out books. I was so happy to know that the slow Internet was an anomaly. 

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Banned Book Week: Students Make Comments Pro & Con Censorship

This blog post is being designed as a lesson for the English I students at PFTSTA. The teachers and I have collaborated on an activity to celebrate Banned Book Week (BBW). Many times in the past during BBW, I have invited the 8th graders into the library to discuss the banning and challenging of books in schools and libraries. I usually show some videos and share books owned by our library that have been banned or challenged somewhere in the US. This activity always spurs great discussion among the students and teachers. This year we wanted the students to create a written response to the presentation. We thought there was a real world connection if we had the students post their opinion online as a comment to someone writing about censorship in schools. The teachers and I want the students to learn how to compose a well thought out comment that is supported by evidence and concrete details. How more real world could it be than having the students comment directly on their librarian's blog? 

Together, the teachers and I created the lesson that you will find in the slides shown below:

Censorship of books in schools is a very hot topic. There are individuals and groups on both sides, who feel very strongly about  the need for censorship or the need for the freedom to read. When discussing this issue, you can look at it in terms of ethos, logos, or pathos. Now that you have heard my presentation and read several documents that support your stance on censorship, it is your turn to take a stand. Tell us in a paragraph why students should either have the option to read what they want or why schools should keep some books off the shelves of the library or out of the curriculum in English. You will need to support your stance with at least two concrete details. Please follow the rubric and post anonymously and follow the directions on how the teachers expect you to sign your paragraph. 

I am excited to hear what you have to say. Ms. Kahn

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Why the Louisiana Teacher Evaluation System is Flawed

For about four years, the state of Louisiana has been using a system called Compass for the annual teacher evaluations.It is composed of three parts. First, the teacher must write a professional growth plan and submit it. I have been writing one of these plans ever since I began teaching in the public school system, so that is nothing new. I always set some new goals for myself each school year anyway, and I really don't mind putting that down in writing. See below for an example. 

My professional growth plan for 2012-2013
click the picture above to enlarge it

The second part of the evaluation is the observation. I am suppose to conference with my principal about a lesson that I am going to be teaching, and then she observes it. The administrator must make two formal observations a year. I have always done very well on these observations. You know, I should have learned something about the best way to present material to students with 35 years of teaching under my belt. You can find the rubric here that the principal uses when she makes an observation of a librarian. The librarians have only been using this rubric for the last two years. When Compass launched, the librarians were observed with a checklist created for classroom teachers. That was totally ridiculous because it did not take into  account all the things a librarian did besides teach. It was the members of the state school librarian organization, LASL, who took it upon themselves to create a rubric specific for librarians. Not all districts in Louisiana use the rubric, but mine does. I think that to promote professionalism of librarians across the state, LASL needs to work towards getting the rubric in place for everyone. That is why if you open the rubric link above, it is housed on the Jefferson Parish website, not the state department of education website. When the two observations are completed, you are given a score from 1 to 4 based on how well you hit all the points in the rubric. For the 2014-2015 year, my score was a 4, the highest. This score is subjective based on your evaluator's understanding of the librarian rubric as it differs from the one for the teachers. In some schools, the librarian is not always judged fairly. 

I was certainly pleased with that 4; except, I still had to survive the completion of the third part of the evaluation which is the most arduous. It is solely dependent on how your students perform on a test. This part is called the SLTs or Student Learning Targets. SLTs are a measurable goal for student achievement over a given period of time. Most of the teachers use the standardized tests given by the district and the state to show achievement. There is no standardized testing program for the library. The librarians must create two tests of their own to give as a pre-test and post-test, and then with the baseline results from the pre-test, you create a goal demonstrating growth of the students.

It is a very time consuming process to create two tests for the two SLTs measuring students' understanding of research and information literacy skills. I decided that I would use the TRAILS program from Kent State University for my tests. TRAILS offers two different tests for grades 3, 6, 9 and 12. The tests are difficult. When you look at the benchmark data for 2014-15 in Louisiana for TRAILS, of the 2164 six graders tested, the median score was 49.7%. Of the 1104 9th graders tested, the median score was 47.9%. This test is hard!

After giving the 6th graders a pre-test, these were the results: 38% (or 21 of 56 students) in my class(es) passed the pre-assessment with a score of 67% or better. Not very good, but it gave them room to grow. The district provided me with the following SLT: 80% of students in the 6th grade ELA classes will achieve a score of 85% or higher  on the post-assessment. Okay, maybe that is doable, but there were only 20 questions on the test. Eighty percent of the students had to miss three or less for me to meet the target. Not going to happen. It didn't. I got a 1, the poorest score. It was worse for the 9th graders because 90% of the students had to achieve a score of 95% or higher, and the students had to miss two or less for me to achieve my goals which I did not

Problems with the SLT program:
1. I was using a test that I did not design and was not created as an evaluation tool for librarians. 
Though it is a well written test covering a wide breadth of information literacy skills, the amount of material in the test is so far reaching that I am unable to cover it in the amount of time that I have.
2. Unlike teachers who see their students daily, I had only a handful of face to face teaching lessons with the students that I tested. 
3. If you look at the benchmark median scores at the state level which were below the 50th percentile and just a few percentile points higher at the national level, it is unrealistic for a majority of my students to reach an 85% or a 95%. 

It was decided at the state level that the two scores including the observation and the SLTs would be averaged together to create the teacher's overall score with one exception. If a teacher scored a 1 on either section, the teacher would receive a 1 on their evaluation thereby branding them as ineffective. 

Ineffective!!!!! I work very hard for my students and my teachers. I have won several awards at the national and state level. In my district of 70 librarians, I am one of the ones who is called on to assist others. I have made many presentations to educators across the state including the keynote speech for 300 librarians on the LAMP tour in 2011. I am not trying to brag about my accomplishments. I have had many and ineffective is not one of them. 

Now my ineffective is part of the statistics for my school and my district. I just don't believe that is fair considering all that I do. In July, I was able to go to the district with a grievance to have my SLTs amended. My case was denied. 

The whole process has begun anew for the 2015-2016 school year. I have taken apart the four online TRAILS tests and edited them for my students. I inserted the language that I use when I teach and the language that reflects my school library rather than a generic one, and I took out some of the ambiguity found in both questions and answers. Also, the state in its infinite wisdom has changed the exception. No longer does a one get trumped. Teachers' scores will be determined by an average of the two parts of the evaluation process. If that was done for me last year, I would not be ineffective. Who knew, it was so easy to change that moniker.

Why have I written this post? I am not proud of what happened, but I don't believe that it is a reflection of what I do day in and day out as an educator. The general population needs to realize that not all statistics paint an accurate picture of what is happening in our schools. Tests are not the answer.

To me, it is the students who come back after graduation and tell me that what I did for them helped prepare them for college, and that research was a breeze because of the assistance and guidance that I gave to them. I know that I am providing what my students need for future readiness. Now I wish the state of Louisiana did, too.

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