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.  

Friday, May 17, 2019

End of the School Year Always Bittersweet

When May rolls around I gird up to do what is needed at my school. Most of those tasks do not really relate to the library. The seniors graduated this year on May 11th. I coordinate senior awards night, plan graduation, and help the students with their val and sal speeches for the graduation. For a long time, I was also AP coordinator, and that was a total nightmare because all of these tasks fell within the same few weeks. I would finish school totally wiped out needing my months off to regroup. 

Tyler speaking to the YALSA BFYA committee at ALA Annual in 2018 
During senior awards night, I give out something special to all graduating members of the high school book group, Bookmarked. Actually, over the last few years, there have been no seniors in book group. Students would join early in their high school career, but by the time that they became a senior, they would chose to get involved in other organizations. I understand, but I have come to realize that the students who do remain in Bookmarked until they graduate are pretty special kids, to me anyway. 

Standing in the stacks and ready to say good-bye
I want to tell you about one member of Bookmarked who just graduated but has spent all four of his high school years having lunch in the library on Mondays. He usually ate lunch in the library every day, but I was guaranteed to see Tyler every Monday. Since Monday was scheduled for the Bookmarked meeting, I always had time to talk to him. It took me awhile to really get to know him, and it took me a year or two to realize how deeply he thought about the books that he read. He was always a big participant in our discussions during Bookmarked, but it wasn't until we started talking one on one about what each of us was reading that I realized that Tyler really took what he read to heart. He wanted the good guy to always win, and he wanted a resolution for all the loose ends at the end of series that he had read and loved. He liked many of the books that I did including the Arc of a Scythe series by Shusterman. I am sorry that he won't be around when the third book in the series is released. Tyler had the good fortune to go with me and other members of Bookmarked to ALA last summer when it was in New Orleans. He was overwhelmed. of course, but he had the opportunity to talk to Neal Shusterman in person and many other others authors as well as bring home bags and bags of books. This is someone who will read those books if they look appealing to him. 

Tyler talks about diversity in books during a Bookmarked meeting

I always enjoyed talking books with Tyler, and we would recommend titles and series to each other all the time. I can tell you what many of the recent graduates plan to major in at college, but Tyler and I had so many other things to talk about that I never did ask him what he plans to do. He did win a POSSE scholarship and is heading to Case Western Reserve University in the fall, and I am sure that he will succeed as he was named a National Merit Scholar.

Tyler happened to be one person who always read this blog. He made many comments to me about it over the years and always got my jokes. I am sure that he will read this entry too.

To Tyler: 
I am really going to miss you next year, but I know that you are going to have many new experiences and opportunities that you have never had before. It might be that you do not think about us back at Taylor very often, but do know that I will remember you and all your amazing contributions to the many discussions that we had together and in Bookmarked. 
All my best, Ms. Kahn

Updated on May 18th: 
I sent an email to Tyler sharing this blog post. He was so touched that he wrote me a very long thank you note for all that I had done for him while he was at Patrick Taylor. I am going to keep his letter to myself, but I did want to share a bit here with you because it shows the importance of what librarians do everyday for their patrons:
"Without your club, I doubt I would have had the confidence to own my opinions as proudly as I do today, whether it's in reflection of a novel or in a debate in World History.  Your recommendations and willingness to listen really has helped me to grow as a person and as a reader, and I again cannot thank you enough." TB
I am a happy librarian right now. Though I feel that I am getting a little long in the tooth because I have been in this profession so many years, it does my heart good to know that I can still make a difference in a young person's life. Of course, they have made such an impression on me too!

Friday, April 5, 2019

Celebrating National Poetry Month

I like to celebrate Black History Month, Women's History Month, and National Poetry Month in the school library. April has arrived, and it is time for poetry. 

Click on the picture to enlarge it, the poem in the middle was written by a sophomore
One of the things that I used to do was send an email blast out to all students and staff with a poem every day of the week. The poem would be the body of the email. I would occasionally get replies back with comments about the poems, so I know that they were being read. Now, instead of the email blast, I find a poem that I like that is posted on the web and add the link to the daily Paw Prints that is sent to all students and teachers and parents who have signed up for it. I decided that I didn't want to flood in boxes with email that wouldn't get read. Anyway, I use poems from the Poetry Foundation or or even link to one of the poem generators that I have listed in this Symbaloo. Then I print out the poem and post it on the door of the library. By the end of the month, the doors are filled with poems. Sometimes students send me poems that they want me to post or even write poems for me to post. 

At a conference that I attended a couple of years ago, my librarian friends at St. Thomas More in Lafayette, LA talked about how they had students read poems to them to help erase overdue fines. When I first heard about this, I just thought that it was an amazing idea, and I think that this is the third year that I have done it. I give the students at least two weeks to visit the library to read poetry to me. If they find a poem online or pick one out of a book, they can reduce their fine by five cents for every line that they read. If they write a poem, then they can reduce their fine by ten cents. It still boggles my mind that students will pay me during this period rather than read poetry to me. It is their choice. I have students reading lines to knock out two and three dollars worth of fines. I love this idea, and I love the idea of giving students a way to work off what they owe. 

Last year, I made a station at a table where students could create black out poetry. I haven't done it yet, but I think that I will cut up some of the book pages that we used for the craft for Teen Tech Week and have students create poems from the words. That is a task for next week. If you want to know what we have done over the years for Poetry Month, check out this Wakelet that I made. (By the way, Wakelet is my newest favorite curation tool.)

Monday, April 1, 2019

Teen TECH Week 19 is Now Over

Birds of a Feather Flock to the Library
Teen Tech Week @ PFTSTA Library
March 25-29

I know that Teen Tech Week (TTW) and Teen Read Week (TRW) may not be long for this world. Both of these initiatives have been sponsored by YALSA for years, and I can hardly remember a time when I did not celebrate them in my library. In the future, it seems that YALSA wants to promote more activities for teens year round rather than just for two weeks every year. In my library, I serve tweens and teens all school year long. I like the idea of having a special week in the fall and one in the spring to highlight what the library has to offer. Even if these weeks are no longer sanctioned by YALSA, I expect to plan and execute a week's worth of fun twice a year anyway. Certainly, I can do that, but without other libraries doing the same across the US, sharing on social media does not have as big an impact when I am the only one sharing.

TTW had a national roll out on March 9th, but that week I was out of the building for a state conference. I needed a week to prep for all my activities which is why TTW was this past week. We always start the week with animated shorts and try to show the ones that are nominated for an Oscar. I had a link to all those nominated, but after the Academy Awards ceremony, free access to those shorts was eliminated. I did some searching and found seven videos that I thought the students might like with several of them centered around birds since that was our theme for this year. Since students visit for TTW during their lunch period, they do not arrive all at the same time. By showing so many short videos, everyone who visited the library that day had a chance to see some of what we viewed.

I like to use the same template every year for the planning of these special weeks. It just makes my life easier, and I can build on the successful activities that we have had the previous years. Last year, we borrowed Rubik's Cubes from You Can Co the Cube. We get to keep the cubes for several weeks, so we roll them out with TTW. Then, they remain out for a few weeks so that we can do many mosaics over the time that we have them. This time I borrowed 225 cubes. So far we have used all the cubes for Albert Einstein. It took them a few days. Currently, they are working on Abraham Lincoln. I have not made my own mosaic yet with Twist the Web, but I intend to. The downside of creating my own is the large quantity of paper that it takes to print out the pattern.

Quiver in action

Merge cube

I attended my state conference on the 14th and 15th of March and received a Merge Cube as a prize at one of the sessions that I attended. That gave me the idea to do augmented reality for one of the days of TTW. I purchased five more cubes cheap on eBay. I also printed out some of the free sheets from Quiver Vision to use too. A handful of students owned their own cube but most had never seen one before. I downloaded five different apps to use with the Merge all for free except one. Once TTW was over, the Cubes were added to our makerspace to be used any time.

There is always a craft for TTW, and actually it was the craft that help me come up with our theme for this year. I wanted to make something out of old library books. I found the directions for this bird in a blog post. I made one for myself to see how it easy it would be, and it was fast and easy. That is always a plus because these activities are all done during lunch. Sometimes students will only have 15 minutes to complete whatever we are doing from start to finish. I adapted the instructions in the blog to this. This was a craft enjoyed by all ages, and everyone made their own spin to what was given. Some older students ditched the template and made their birds smaller. One of the middle school students wanted their bird to be more three dimensional so they added wings to the back side, and then everyone added more wings,even me. There were a few who did not like the fact that I had cut up a book, but I was planning to discard the book anyway. It was free paper. Actually, this craft cost nothing because I had the paper for the bird, string to hang it, glue for the five glue guns, glitter glue which was purchased for a different project but never used, cardboard for the templates, and pencils and scissors. When I can design a craft project this popular without costing a dime, that is a real win.

We ended the week with an Internet scavenger hunt that I called Game of Phones. Though most of the students used the library iPads rather then their own phone. The students were given a list of pictures to find on the Internet. If they could find 15 pictures on the list in 15 minutes they won a prize. The middle school really got excited by this one but not so the older students. If I was going to do a scavenger hunt again, I would need to come up with something a bit more interesting.

Google form used for the quiz
I had an online quiz that students could play once during the week. I created the quiz in a Google form and designed it to determine the correct answers which saved me a lot of time. The students were shown the cover a book, and had to give the call number as the answer. I gave them the link to the library OPAC to find the call numbers. I wanted the students to practice using the catalog and finding exact call numbers. If they could answer 25 correctly, then they could select their own prize from the basket. If they finished with 15 answers correct, they received a miniature Rubik's Cube. Most kids tried for the 25 and made it, but a total of only 21 students completed the quiz. That was disappointing considering that the quiz was so easy.

I really like the idea of a week of special activities in the library. It highlights what choices the students have when they visit the library. It gets students to walk in voluntarily who don't usually choose to do so. For the regulars, it gives them a chance to find out something new about the library that they didn't know before. Visit the library website for more pictures of the week
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