Saturday, December 16, 2017

Find Out What Has Been Happening in the PFTSTA Library

I have taken a short break from posting in this blog, but that does not mean that I have been negligent in the library. October and November saw many classes in all grade levels visiting the library for research for a social studies paper. Our students must submit a paper to receive honors' credit for any social studies course. I also spent $375 of library funds on new materials for our library makerspace. I will probably do a separate post about those new items, but I am definitely going to write about the new green screen. It was up in the library less than 24 hours before students started using it. I will write a post just on that. 

For now, I thought it would be fun to post a bunch of pictures so that you can see what my students have been up to. 

We are a 1:1 school but when laptops break down, students use the library computers

This student is focused on building a bridge with K'Nex. It is still in the works, 
The Keva Planks were a real hit and students began building as soon as they hit the shelf

We may have lots going on in our library, but books still play a major role

Students collaborating on a project with K'Nex

There was a very short learning curve for figuring out how to work Bloxels

Students made origami "balloons" to cover the ligths decorating the doors

This is a close up of the decorated lights on the doors

Students set up for a photo with the green screen

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

A School Librarian's Reading Life

My Reading Life 

Sign I created for the door to my office
I was inspired to write this blog post after seeing the infographic created by Library Girl Jennifer LaGarde called, When Adults Don't Read, Kids Lose. I remember years ago when I was an elementary school librarian talking to a fourth grade teacher who admitted that she never read. I couldn't imagine that and was horrified. Reading feeds my soul and though my reading habits have changed over the last 25 years that I have been a librarian, I still really value reading in my life. I think everyone should. How can we expect our students to value reading if we don't read? 

I have a motto for my library: All Readers Welcome. I tell my students that I chose that because unlike an English teacher who wants you to read specific books, I don't care what you read. I want you to read what brings you pleasure. It is important for these young people to find what types of reading brings them enjoyment now before they begin to believe that they don't like to read. 

I got to meet author, Jeff Zentner, in October
I am a huge fan of his work!
I began my library career working in an elementary school. Then, for school, I would read lots of picture books which took about 10 to 15 minutes to read to myself and middle grade chapter books which usually took a couple of hours to read. Most of my reading time was spent on books written for adults. I am a big fan of mysteries, but I would read other genres too but almost always fiction titles. I always had a book on the nightstand and would often spend hours and hours on the weekends curled up with a book After twelve years with younger students, I made the move to a grade 7th-12th school. I had taken adolescent lit, but I was way behind in my exposure to the depth of young adult (YA) literature. To catch up with the students I was teaching, I read less and less adult fiction and more and more YA. This was all before social media became big, and the Internet did not do much to entice me away from the reading that I so loved. 

My reading habits have definitely changed due to social media and smartphones. I don't find myself reading for hours and hours on the weekends. As I have gotten older it just seems that it takes me longer to get my weekend chores done. If I get a two hour block on a Sunday for reading, that is a real gift. Also, if I want to relax, instead of picking up a book, I very often pick up my phone and start reading Facebook or looking at pictures on Instagram. When I do that for any length of time, I start to feel guilty and try to regroup and pick up the book that is on my nightstand. There is always a print book that I am reading. Nowadays, I have either a YA or middle grade book to read. I just don't have time for adult books as I need to keep up with the students. 

I keep a record of all the books that I read 

It does seem to take me at least a week if not more to get through most YA books. I don't think that I am a slow reader, just a distracted one. This is probably very much like the students who I teach. In 2013, my school moved to a new facility and instead of a 30 minute round trip commute, I now have an hour round trip every day. At first, I continued to listen to NPR or the occasional podcast on my way to and from school. Then I realized that that hour could be utilized in a better way. I could be listening to audio books. By downloading audio books from the library on my smartphone, I could listen during my commute and my exercise walks. This was a breakthrough in my reading. My local library does not add enough YA titles that interest me. Eventually, I needed to subscribe to Audible so I could find books that I wanted to read/hear. This has been really helpful when it comes to getting through a whole series that I want to read.

Students enjoying time to read in the library
I still review books for School Library Journal and School Library Connection. With those reviews, I don't get to choose what I want to read, and there are deadlines. Sometimes this can be a burden, and I have thought about dropping both of them, but I can't bring myself to do it. I also have books to read along with my library book groups or because we have a scheduled author visit. There are deadlines for those books too, but usually, I have enough lead time to get all the pages read in time for the meeting or the visit.

On Instagram, I saw a display that a librarian had created to showcase the books that she was reading. I decided that I could do that too. On the door to my office, I am putting up pictures of book covers of all the books that I have read since school started. I am also giving each book a star rating so the students get an idea of what I have really liked. You can see below where I am so far this year, and I believe this is a way to truly model by example.

All the books that I have read since school began in August
I worry that my students are not spending enough time reading for pleasure. Though, I may always feel like that, I am going to continue to find ways to let them know the importance of reading. 

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Teen Read Week 2017 has Come and Gone

Teen Read Week (TRW) happens during lunch in the school library. Since there are three lunch periods, we celebrated from 11AM to 1:10PM every day. In years previous, we had two lunches, and  it was so much easier to schedule students to help run the activities, but now it is just more difficult to manage multiple activities on one day like we did in the past. Also, with the number of students growing to 700 this year, it means that I have to simplify the plan for TRW to make it work and keep my sanity. 

The theme of TRW this year was "Unleash your Story." We put the focus on character through all our activities. We started the week with a showing of a Twilight Zone episode. This year we showed "100 Yards to the Rim." This episode is all about the main character who travels in time from 1847 to 1961. All he wants is to find a new home out west for his family. His travel through time allows him to do just that. It was a hit. We also showed an animated German short called Cats & Dogs. If you find it, it is a delightfully simple animation that takes place entirely within the pages of a book.

For two days, we played a guessing game that we called, Who am I? We always play some sort of version of this game. All I had to do with the questions was use the ones from last year and switch them around so that every answer was a character's name either from a book, movie, or television show. I also tapped the members of the high school book groups to help create some new questions for the game. Students love to help run the game, and we set it up at the table situated right where you enter the library. This means that almost every person who enters stopped to play the game. 

For our craft activity, I chose something that needed few supplies--a mini origami book. It was super easy to set up. I had instructions displayed on the interactive white board, but I also put iPads out at each table so the students could see the instructions up close. In this activity the paper has to be cut in half, and though I have plenty of scissors, I chose to cut all the paper ahead to save some time. Students visit during the 40 minute lunch, but some get here with only 15 or 20 minutes left in the period so speed is important. I loved watching the creativity that the students employed choosing certain colors, folding the paper in the opposite direction, or making patterns where none was necessary. Whatever they did, the books that they designed were amazing. 

For the photo op activity, I thought of a way that students could weigh in their feelings about books that they have read. I found some emoji paper plates. I glued a stick on each plate. The kids selected a book from the shelves or the book covers of favorite series that I printed out ahead of time (so many popular books were checked out already); then they selected an emoji plate to match. They could show their face or cover it with the emoji. The photos were simply awesome, and so many kids participated at all of the grade levels. 

The book fair was scheduled the week before Teen Read Week. One thing that I did this year to lessen my stress was to order all of the supplies that I needed on Amazon two weeks ahead of time. Not only did this save me from having to physically shop, but I didn't have to schlep all the items from the car to the library. The boxes arrived in the school office, and someone would deliver them to the library. i don;t think that I spent any more than I usually do for this event. I had to buy candy for prizes, candy for the guess the number of lifesavers in the jar game, origami paper, glue sticks, emoji plates, and craft sticks for plates. I ended up having to make a Michael's run because I misplaced the solid sheets of origami paper that I had ordered. I now have a ton of origami paper, and I will probably add it to the library makerspace next week. 

Guess the number of Lifesavers in the Jar
The only part of TRW that is not completed is the book mark contest. The forms are not due until the 24th. I will make a blog post with the winners later in the month. If you want to see more pictures of the week check out the library website.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Teen Read Week 2017

If it is mid-October, then that means Teen Read Week must have arrived. We have been celebrating TRW at PFTSTA in some fashion since I became librarian there in 2006. Every year, I tap the library book groups in high school to help me plan. We take the activities we did the year before and fit them into the theme that YALSA has set for the year. There is always a video showing of an episode from the Tiwlight Zone, a guessing game, a craft activity, photo op, and guess the number of candies in a jar. It makes my life easier to have programs that work repeated every year, and the kids have something to look forward to that has generated some excitement the year before.

You can find a list of all the activities that we have planned on the library website. When the week is over, I will post pictures from TRW on the same link.

Happy Teen Read Week!

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Time to Celebrate our Freedom to Read, Students Weigh In

Every year, I conduct a lesson for the English I students to celebrate ALA's Banned Book Week. This lesson has grown over the years, and I am very proud with what the English teachers and I have done with the topic.

I will introduce the lesson using the slide presentation below. Please feel free to make a copy and adapt it for your own library. 

We want the students to take a stance by writing a well constructed paragraph using the resources that I pulled together for them as concrete evidence to support their stand. We also want this to be a real world experience. Meaning we want their responses to be published on the web for anyone to read. Last year, we had the students post their paragraph in the comment section of the BBW post on this blog. This proved to be an issue because some of the students' comments were posted immediately while others were sent to me to be moderated before posting. Students were frustrated not knowing where their paragraph had gone so some submitted multiple times. On the positive side, all comments are time stamped so the teachers knew if the students completed the task by the deadline. This time around the students will post on a Padlet created for the period in which they have English. The posts will not have a time stamp, but I can stop accepting anymore entries when the deadline hits. See the padlets below. I hope that you enjoy reading the students paragraphs and feel free to add a comment  of your own in the comments section of the blog or even the Padlet if it is still accepting comments. . 
Made with Padlet
Made with Padlet
Made with Padlet
Made with Padlet

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Nancy Cavanaugh Gets Students Excited about Historical Fiction

On Monday, September 25th, we had our first author visit of the school year. Author and former 3rd grade teacher and librarian, Nancy Cavanaugh, came to talk about her newest book, Elsie Mae has Something to Say. The book is set in 1933 in the Okefenokee Swamp in Georgia. Nancy explained to the students how she was inspired to write the story--a television documentary. However, it was a trip that she took to the swamp 20 years ago that gave her the push to write a book about a place and time that doesn't exist anymore. 

It took her a long time to get the story right because she started her research two decades ago, and the book was published in early September 2017. At first, she was going to try and write a non-fiction picture book about the swamp because her inspiration began with a documentary and book called Okefenokee Album by Francis Harper. When that didn't work she tried her hand at a book called. Henry James and the Hog Bandits. That never got published either. When she created Elsie Mae, she hit on a character with such spunk and sassiness that she became the main character in her book about the swamp. Henry James made it into the book, too, as Elsie's cousin. Yes, there are hog bandits on the loose, too. This is a book filled with adventure, mystery, and humor. The author's attention to detail about the swampers' lives paint a picture in your mind that made all of us want to take a trip to see the alligators of the Okefenokee.

After her visit, the students had lots to say about the program. They didn't know that it took so much effort to get a book written including both research and experience. They really liked hearing about her trip to the swamp to see it in person and how what she experienced there made it directly into the book. Much of the action takes place on the front porch of Elsie Mae's grandparents' house and that porch looks just like the front porches of the cabins that Cavanaugh saw on her visit. Also, some of the swamp is made up of islands that are dry land where the swampers built their homes, but there is also lots of boggy land that has to be tread on carefully. Swampers would use the pole that helped propel the boat as a plank to walk on when they encountered marshland. Cavanaugh explained how this trick worked when Elsie Mae did it in the book. Not only did she write a good story, but she also gives the readers a glimpse into what life was like almost a 100 years ago on the islands of the Okefenokee. 

You can visit the PFTSTA Library to check out the book or your own local school or public library. We want to thank local booksellers Octavia Books and the publisher Source Books for making this author visit possible. You can find lots more pictures of Cavanaugh's trip to PFTSTA on the library website.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Need a Tech Tool for Formative Assessment?

I write regularly here on this blog, but several times a year I write a post for the Whooo's Reading Blog. Every post on their blog consists of lists of apps or websites that teachers can use to assist in their teaching or aid in student learning. They have a section just for librarians, but this time around you will find my post in the edtech section. If you use other tools that could be used for assessment, please list them in the comment section below. 

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Dealing with Stresses in the School Library that are out of your Control

Middle School Lunch 
Running the library last year was extremely stressful for me. There were a number of factors that made it so. None of those factors were in my control, though how I handled the stress certainly was. I was dreading getting ready for the new school year a few weeks ago because I considered that little had changed for this year. I have to give a big shout out to my principal because she has figured out a way to make my job in the library a bit easier this year. I want to let you know that the year has gotten off to a very good start. 

The first problem that made teaching extremely difficult in the library occurred right at the beginning of the 2016-17 school year, and it had to do with the furniture. We moved into the new building in August of 2013. We had only about 400 students then, and there were many empty classrooms. The library had been outfitted with only four rectangular tables which was certainly not enough when a class of 32 students arrived in the library for a lesson. Since there were so many empty classrooms, I just took tables and chairs from one of those rooms. Then in 2016, we opened with 580 students and every classroom was in use. The tables and chairs in the library needed to be in a classroom. Now what was I going to do. I tried to have the students bring in a chair from the classroom when they came to the library, but there was a concern that the floors would get scratched. That was not going to work. I borrowed a couple of folding tables from my mother, but she only had two. Then around the middle of November I found eight tables stored under the steps in the PE pod. We do not have a gym, so the PE teachers are using three classrooms. One of the PE teachers said that she only needed the tables when she was teaching health for one quarter otherwise I could use them in the library. She also had stacks of chairs. She was moved to a classroom for health, and I got to keep the tables for the rest of the year. Then we started school this year with 680 students and no tables and chairs in sight. Then my prinicipal came to me last week to say that the furniture vendor would be visiting school, and I should make a plan as to what I wanted for the library. It took 12 months, but the district finally heeded my prinicpal's request for money to buy more furniture for the school. Currently, I have tables and chairs only because teachers are moving tables from classroom to classroom as needed depending on the sizes of their classes. I am excited about what I have ordered. It will look different from the rest of the school. The tables are on wheels and nest together allowing for lots of flexibility. 

High School Lunch

Another issue that was not an everyday problem was the scheduling of students taking online classes in the library. We run on a 4 X 4 block system and have four academic periods a day each semester. I had students scheduled in the library for three periods. During the other period, I ate lunch for half the time and had middle school in the library during their lunch the other half. When I scheduled classes in the library for lessons there was plenty of room for the online students and the class that was not the stress. The online students would talk and make so much noise that I had to constantly stop my teaching and ask them to be quiet. I heard that this year because the class sizes were growing that there would be many more students taking online courses. I was dreading what would happen. Then I found out that at 3rd and 4th period there were so many students that a teacher is scheduled to sit with them in a classroom. Actually, at 4th period, students with transportation are allowed to leave school. My schedule has 6 students at 1st period and 5 at 2nd. I can deal with that. If the students are noisy when I have classes, I have space to separate them. 

Then there was my job as AP coordinator for the school. I have been handling all the AP tests for about six years. At first, it was easy because the school was small, and I had time to complete all the duties required for the job and be an effective librarian. Last year, there were 50 more students taking tests than the year before. AP tests are given in May, and I also am the coordinator for senior awards night and graduation as well as the resident speech editor for students speaking at graduation which also happens in mid-May. April and May were so hectic that I totally neglected the library. Library circulation was down for 2016-2017, and I attribute it to the fact that I had to keep closing the library at lunch so I could deal with AP. At the end of the summer, I emailed my principal explaining in a very nice way that I had too many responsibilities in May and that I couldn't be AP coordinator any longer. She understood, but she did not have a ready replacement. Then on the first day of school, the district assigned a dean of discipline to our school. A week ago, my principal told me that the new dean would take over AP. Unfortunately, he has never done it before and knows little about the program. I will serve as his guide this year, but he will be doing the brunt of the work. That is a huge load off of my plate. 

Why did I tell you all about this? Because we all have to deal with issues beyond our control. I have been a school librarian a very long time and have been asked to shoulder burdens or take on tasks to which I would like to say no. I just can't. Being a team player is paramount to getting along with your administration and your teachers. I have always had good relationships with my principals. I don't always agree with their decisions, but I always abide by them. My principal realized that some things needed to change in the library, and she made that happen for me. I had to wait longer than I wanted to, but it did happen. I appreciate so much that she had my back, and so I will always have hers. 

Watch how you treat those around you. It is often best to just grin and bear it. Usually, if you wait long enough, whatever the issue it will turn around in your favor. I really love my job. There are great kids at my school, and I enjoy the teachers with whom I work. My principal and assistant principal are easy to work for because both of them are extremely kind. After 33 years working in public schools, I can say that I have good and bad years, but the good definitely wins out. 

Sunday, August 20, 2017

What a New School Librarian Needs to Know Part 2

As I reflected on my last post, I realized that I had more to say about being a new school librarian. First, I want to talk about technology. I remember many years ago (in the 90's) one of my colleagues in my district told me that she did not need to learn how to use technology in her library. The building that she was in was built around the early 1900's, and she had only one electrical outlet in her library. At that time, my library was computerized. I still had the old card catalog card system, but circulation was all done by computer. I thought she was crazy because technology was changing my world. If I wanted to prepare students for the next step after they left me, I had to embrace the technology.

If you are a techno-phobe, I don't think that you can be a good school librarian. You don't have to know all the answers, and you don't have to know everything there is to know about computers and programs. You do have to be a risk taker and willing to try technology. We are preparing our students for a future that we cannot imagine. It is important to model for our students and teach them that you don't have to know everything about the capability of any device to use it. You can have students use Animoto to make videos or Swift Playgrounds to code robots even if you don't know how to use those programs. Let's show our students that we are life long learners. 

As librarians we have always been curators of information. I spend a lot of time curating the resources that my students need for particular assignments by creating digital tools for them. This is very similar to the old days when a librarian would pull books off the shelf and find magazine articles about a particular subject only now it is in a digital format. When the alumni come back to visit me after their first year of college, almost all of them want to explain how much they are using the databases at their university for research papers. Most tell me that they spend little time in the college library, but they make use of its many, many resources. If we don't give our middle and high students many opportunities to access digital databases and other electronic resources, they will be at a real disadvantage in their later education.

As the only librarian in my school, I am the only teacher in the school who serves every single student in an academic capacity. Of course we have others on staff who work with all students including the administration, counselor, and PE teachers, but  I am the only one who assists directly with the curriculum being taught in the classroom. As such, I believe that I have a responsibility to set up parameters for the whole school in regards to research, note taking, creating citations, and following MLA guidelines. When students visit the library for lessons on information literacy, I expect the teachers to listen too because both of us need to have the same expectations of the students. The same holds true in an elementary school only the librarian will focus on the beginning steps of information literacy. This is one of the aspects that I like best about being a librarian because I get to build on the skills that I begin with the 6th graders until they reach 12th grade, and I am making sure that they are ready for college. 

One of the very reasons that I created this blog back in 2009 was for advocacy. What happens in the library is usually the process not the product. Unless we blow our own horns, no one will know what we are doing for the students in our schools. You have got to let all your stakeholders know about the exciting things happening in your library on a daily basis and that includes parents, teachers, and administrators, and depending on where you are that could be community members also. My principal knows about my blog, but I don't think that she reads it very often. So when I say something that I think she needs to hear, I send her the link to the post. We have daily announcements that are read to the students and emailed to parents, and I try to post something from the library every day. I always write an article for the school's monthly newsletter. I also have a Facebook and Instagram account for the library and post there regularly. I know that parents and the community see those posts. Then I have a twitter account for me, but I use it professionally to share what is happening in my library. You need to find your comfort zone in spreading the word about what you do, but consider it a critical part of your job. 

Lastly, I want to talk about leadership. When I said earlier that you need to set the tone for teaching research skills at your school, you must do so with confidence. If your teachers are going to listen to you, they will need to view you as a teacher leader. Some of you will take on this leadership role with ease, others will shy away from it. You are teaching every student in your school. You have expertise because of this--make sure your faculty sees this expertise. Don't worry about assuming this role on day one, that is not possible. You have to grow into, but you need to see that you can grow into it.

Just remember to breathe and take one day at a time. I will never be able to finish everything that I want to do in my library, my school, for my patrons, and for myself professionally. Realize that is normal, and that if doesn't get done now, it will at a later date. 

Thursday, August 3, 2017

What a New School Librarian Needs to Know

This was taken in the 1990's in my first library job at Lusher Elementary
If you are embarking on your first job as a school librarian, I can give you some tips based on my over 25 years in the biz having served students in grades kindergarten through 12th. This year I have had several newbies approach me for assistance. I love serving as a mentor, but just like you as a newbie, I have lots to do to prepare for a new school year. So first piece of advice, a librarian's job never ends. That means you should not sweat, just breathe, and try to take one day at a time. There is always something to be done in a library. I mean that literally. This will be my twelfth year at Patrick Taylor, but that doesn't mean that I get to sit back and let the library carry on as it did last year. I have new ideas, new projects, new students, new teachers, and every year I want to see improvement in my library program. 

This was taken in 2009 with Mai Vu who was salutatorian of the first graduating class 
Second bit of advice--Take the time to get to know your collection. When I moved from the elementary setting to middle and high, I had lots of books to read. I had taken adolescent lit in grad school, but I was way behind in my reading to keep up with the kids. If your collection is heavy in electronic resources and less in print, you still need to get to know the collection. I believe it takes about three years to settle in. For you, it will be a journey to get to know the expectations of your administration, the needs of your teachers as you strive to support the curriculum, and the interests of the students who you will serve. I believe that every school library collection will look different depending on the patron. So you can look at my collection, and I can make suggestions to you, but only you will know exactly what you need to buy to work best at your school. 

Thirdly, find teachers who are excited to work with you. Being a librarian is all about collaboration. I cannot do my job effectively if I work in isolation. When I collaborate with teachers, I want to plan lessons to teach skills that the students will be using immediately in the classroom. Anyway, co-teaching is a whole lot of fun, and it helps to have another adult in the room, and I wrote a blog post about the second person in the room here. There will always be some teachers who will not find your services useful. Don't worry about them, and spend your time planning and co-teaching with those who want to use the library. Their students will truly benefit from your input. 

In my current library circa 2016

This last one is truly important: Don't be afraid to ask for help or advice. I believe in life long learning, It is what makes my job interesting. I know that even with my many years of experience and Master's degree plus 30 hours that I have more to learn to be the best librarian that I can be. In August of 1991 I took my first library position after teaching in a classroom for 10 years. This was also before the Internet and social media. I had/still have two friends working as librarians whom I consider mentors. Whenever I was in doubt of what to do next, I would call on them for advice. Their experience helped me tremendously. I also had some awesome teachers in graduate school who gave very sage advice. You are so lucky now to have librarians across the globe who can be there to offer you suggestions and ideas. Twitter is invaluable to me. Try the hashtag #tlchat or #libchat. Follow me @Taylorlibrarian. I began to use Facebook personally, but over the years, I have been blown away by the librarian groups where you can post a problem or question and get so many wonderful ideas from thousands of librarians to help you solve that problem. My favorite librarian groups are Future Ready Librarians and The School Librarian Workshop, but there are many more Facebook groups for school librarians or the ALA Think Tank for all librarians. Then there are the blogs like this one. There are many, many amazing librarians out there who share all their wisdom in a blog. There are none that I follow regularly, but there are many that I read on and off over the school year. Try Librarian Lisa's list of 50 best librarian blogs. Or this list of 50 of the best school librarian blogs from Teacher Certification Degrees.

Good luck in the new year! Remember I can't tell you everything you need to know to be a librarian. That is what getting your degree is all about. I can be of assistance when you have a particular issue, lesson, or problem. If you have a great suggestion for new librarians, please add it to the comments below. I would be interested to hear what I might have missed.

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