library resolutions for 2015

Normally I make work-related goals at the beginning of each school year (and not calendar year), but more resolutions never hurt anybody. Here they are:

1. Take more photographs

I can’t post student snapshots here on this blog, but we have plenty of gallery options in our physical library space as well as our school’s intranet. Since I am known for forgetting to take photographs when really exciting events occur, I’m taking one of our library’s cameras and giving it a special space, out in the open. Kids will be encouraged to pick it up and take a photograph of learning in action should they be inspired.

2. Bring in the experts

I resolve to reach out to my colleagues, neighbors, and contacts who happen to be serving or working in positions that relate to my students’ investigations. I’ve really been slacking on the author visits too, and I hope to make up for lost time and help students learn from the experts directly, through Skype, interviews, or in-person visits.

3. Get out of the library more

We’re four months into our first-ever flex schedule, and so far so good. I’ve had many successful collaborative opportunities (some of which I’ll probably write about later) but most of these involved extension visits to our library. I want to do more visits to the classrooms, where I can connect with teachers and students on their own turf. I’ve found these co-teaching opportunities to be the most valuable and exciting for the children.

4. Less fluff, more professional learning

Social media makes me a better teacher-librarian, but it also impacts my work-life balance because I spend a lot of time on links, pictures, and tweets that relate to the field but don’t encourage deep thinking. I’m not necessarily going to do less interneting, but I’m going to make a concerted effort to focus on substance with what I read, “like,” and post.


makin’ stuff

We’ve rolled out our Kits! They’ve been added to our catalog, promoted through our parent newsletter, and housed in this cabinet, which is near one of our library entrances:

IMG_0376This cabinet also contains our collection of pre-loaded Nook devices. As you might imagine, this once-ignored space has been seeing a lot of student love recently. Given this extra attention, the blank doors across from the cabinet seemed like as good a place as any for our newest library project.

We posted a simple picture and a prompt  (“Help us make it!“) and put some supplies together in a bin. When community members have an extra few minutes, they are invited to work on the communal creation. After two days, here’s what our space (dubbed “the wall”) looks like now:


I know we are going to have a lot more fun this year, but I think we’ll need more door/wall space.


Like hundreds of libraries around the country, my school library hosts an annual Pumpkin Parade. In early October, we post a letter on our intranet inviting everyone to participate. We describe the activity as “an opportunity for children to celebrate the fall season, stretch their creative muscles, and share a favorite book with our learning community.”

Interested families choose a beloved book and decorate a pumpkin to look like a character or important object from that title. Some children bring their pumpkins to life with paint, glitter, accessories, and more. Families can be as creative as they want, as long as the pumpkins connect to a book in some way and are not carved. Starting two weeks before Halloween, children bring their creations into the library. We end up with a delightful display.


This at-home project is completely optional. Some children work independently, while others prefer to receive help from a babysitter or sibling. Because it is not a contest, it’s all good!

Having the display in our library gives our non-regulars a reason to pop in and visit. This project also encourages children to learn through the library because the librarians are prompting at-home reading, learning, and creating. The pumpkins on parade support passive reader’s advisory, too. Children see what their peers are recommending and they can’t wait to check out those titles.

To me, traditions like this serve as a reminder that you don’t always have to be doing something new or different to make an impact on your community. Our Pumpkin Parade is always highly anticipated, and every year I see innovation in the projects that my students work so hard to create.

information > ignorance

Ahh, late September-early October. It’s a common time to study apples, trees, fall, and Christopher Columbus. Yep, yep, yep, and…really?

We have a regular school day on October 13, and the children don’t celebrate the Columbus myth, but our 2nd graders are researching explorers (land, sea, and sky) right now. Their teachers felt a responsibility to set some time aside to help them come to new understandings about Columbus as well as their lives as young researchers.

I can’t share anything related to Columbus without linking to this amazing book. Using it as a springboard, we developed a library experience that teaches research through the content. Our goal was to have students consider how learners can better understand their subjects when they have more information. Important also was the idea that every researcher must follow her conscience to decide which information should be included in a report in order to tell a fair history.

So, how did we do this with a bunch of 2nd graders? First, we scheduled special library visits and made sure that any interested adults in our community were invited to be there during the sessions. Then we selected three excerpts from three separate Christopher Columbus books that were in our library. The excerpts were chosen because they had three varying levels of detail. We had giant organizer sheets that we used to document changes in thinking and new questions that came out of our reading and discussions.

When students first came into the library, we told them that we were going to do some research as a team. We asked, “What do we think we know about Columbus?” We recorded all of their comments, even the ones that contained inaccuracies or misconceptions. Then we read the first excerpt and had the children think, “Do we have any changes or updates? Do we have any more questions?” We did the same for the following two excerpts. Here is an example of what one group’s notes looked like:

2014-09-29 10.29.50

2014-09-29 10.30.03
Carpenter, Eric, and John Himmelman. Young Christopher Columbus: Discoverer of New Worlds. Mahwah, NJ: Troll Associates, 1992. Print.


2014-09-29 10.30.19
Adler, David A., John Wallner, and Alexandra Wallner. A Picture Book of Christopher Columbus. New York: Holiday House, 1991. Print.
2014-09-29 10.30.31
Larkin, Tanya. Christopher Columbus. New York: PowerKids, 2001. Print.

After we read all three pieces, we looked back at our notes and asked,”What if we had only used one of these sources? What wouldn’t we know?” This is where our discussion really took offWe talked about how our ideas can change and grow as we learn more, and how helpful it can be to seek out information from a variety of sources with a variety of audiences, authors, and perspectives.

The children definitely left with more questions than answers, and we assured them that this is normal. We reminded them that they mustn’t feel pressure to answer every single question in their school projects, but that their questions can guide them as they do further research and exploration in school, at home, and in-between.

déjà vu

Do you see what I see?

A page from: THREE BEARS IN A BOAT by David Soman
A page from: THE LONG, LONG LINE by Tomoko Ohmura

It’s just something I’ve noticed. (My students would be excited that I’m sharing text-to-text connections!) 🙂

trying to turn (everything to the positive)

When I was in elementary school, I spent a lot of time learning about letter writing and envelope addressing. I had a few pen pals, but my personal interest in snail mail communication exploded when I noticed a consumer contact address on the back of a bottle of my favorite hair conditioner. (Seriously. I couldn’t make this up.) I really did love how my moisturizing conditioner got all of the knots out of my hair, so I sent a letter of appreciation to Salon Selectives. A few months later, a response with a bunch of coupons arrived in my family’s mailbox. This set me on a roll. I remember writing to actresses, authors, newspapers, and maybe even the Pop-Tarts people.

When American Girl Magazine had its premier issue, I noticed that there was a call for kids looking for advice for their “Help!” column. I wanted in, but this was a challenge. Writing gushy letters was one thing, but writing about my own problems was another. Was there anything with which I could use Help?

I remember brainstorming and considering all of my weaknesses-those that I felt I could publicly print (even with a pseudonym) and those that I’d rather keep under my hat. I ended up writing about my lack of cartwheeling ability. As soon as I dropped my note in the mailbox, I waited for the next magazine to be printed. Scanning the Help! section for my letter became part of my new-magazine-reading routine. My piece was never printed in the magazine, but at that point I was used to only receiving responses for every few letters I mailed out. I didn’t mind too much.

A few years later, I saw in a bookstore that Pleasant Company/American Girl printed an entire book of Help! questions and answers. Of course, I had to flip through it. When I arrived at pages 12 and 13, there were my words. THERE WERE MY WORDS!!! Scott Nash had even illustrated them and included my “Trying to Turn” signature in my own handwriting and everything. I had pretty much outgrown AG at that point, but I. was. psyched.

I’m writing about this now because I just found the book in my house, and that sense of accomplishment-as well as all that went into the writing in and waiting and reflecting on what I could ask in the first place-came flooding back. I am still so proud about this little thing. Why?

I feel that vulnerability gets a bad rap sometimes. People might be scared to show/admit/address weaknesses or mistakes out of fear that it’ll change others’ perceptions, get in the way of potential opportunities, or worse. I’ve tried to embrace the opposite, and I think the cartwheel reflection is probably one of the first times I was able to do that. Sure, there are things I don’t want to point out to the wider world, but it’s important to think about those and work on them privately too. If I can own my mistakes or weaknesses, I can actively work to change them. And even if I can’t change or improve on them (heck, I still can’t do a straight cartwheel), I can find pride in the knowing of them and maybe even discover ways to celebrate them as they are.


Citing the book:
Holyoke, Nancy. Help!: An Absolutely Indispensable Guide to Life for Girls! Middleton, WI: Pleasant Company, 1995. Print.

try this at home

My school just got a vinyl cutter! Better yet, my school’s Ed Tech director gave a vinyl cutter demonstration last week and let me take the machine home to test it out. I love this idea of at-home experimentation. It’s low-stress, open-ended, and just really fun. I was able to learn by doing, experience first-hand the challenges that others using the tool might face, and brainstorm how the vinyl cutter might be used. I was also able to create this demo video (in case others want to see how it works):

[CORRECTION: I said Symphony when I meant Silhouette!]

The best news here is that the machine is SUPER EASY to use and the materials aren’t too costly. I stuck to regular vinyl this time around, but there are so many other options and even more library possibilities. I could use the cutter to make bulletin board shapes, labels for materials, upcycled book crafts, rubber stamps, new signage, and more. And that’s not even considering how students might use it to cut out their own bookmarks, greeting cards, stickers, T-shirt transfers, temporary tattoos…I could go on forever.

Simply put, this machine rocks. Do you have a vinyl cutter in your school or library? How have you used it to enhance your classroom or your library space? I’d love to hear about what you all are doing.

doing and thinking – routines matter

Talk to any teacher and you’ll learn how important it is to establish procedures and routines from the first day of school. When kids learn early (and are reminded often) of expectations, and especially when they have a voice in creating and maintaining them, they often exceed them with flying colors.

Routines exist for lots of reasons. They save time. They can lower the need for behavioral interventions. They can make students more comfortable and able to learn. They also teach kids transferable skills. Learning to whisper in a busy hallway teaches kids to be mindful of their volume in public spaces. When children color-code folders or write assignments in homework notebooks, they are practicing positive organizational patterns.

This year, while I am working with students to set routines and norms for classroom sharing, listening, checkout, and more, I am also establishing thinking routines. Thinking routines are sets of questions or prompts that encourage learners to follow a pattern in thinking deeply about whatever concepts or questions are being explored. I’ve been a fan of thinking routines for some time, but only recently did I realize the benefit of introducing TRs alongside other beginning-of-year procedures and using the same routines often throughout the school year. (The repetition is what makes it a routine-*Duh!*) I’ll admit that I used to worry about using the same routine over and over with students: Wouldn’t it get boring? Aren’t I supposed to use a variety of strategies? But mixing things up only goes so far. The process of participating in a thinking routine-whether it’s taking a different perspective, looking at something up-close, or just engaging in metacognition-can be internalized with practice. Just like learning to line up for the bathroom or how best to ask for help from a teacher, thinking deeply can become habitual.

At Project Zero Classroom this summer, Mark Church said something that I just can’t get off my mind. I’m paraphrasing here, but he talked about the flood of “Is this right?” or “Do you like this?” questions teachers are often asked. He suggested that this phenomenon is a result of years and years of teachers telling students to “Go back to your desk and THINK about it.” How is a six-year-old supposed to know what that means? Perhaps in asking questions with more simple (yes or no) answers, students are stepping away from the more difficult challenge of being vaguely told to “think” without being given the process or tools to do so meaningfully. If instead, I can say to a child, “I’d like for you to engage in a Think Puzzle Explore about your topic,” and that is a routine the child knows well, expectations will be clear. The child can skip the guesswork and step right into the thinking.

In establishing TRs, I believe I am giving students the ability to think about their thinking and also to make their thoughts known to others in our community.  It is only after one’s thinking is made visible that we can know it, celebrate it, and grow from it together.


new media webinar takeaways

Before I leave for ALA in Vegas (and then take an almost month-long vacation from the internet), I wanted to share my notes from a free webinar I participated in through the Erikson Institute’s TEC Center earlier this month. It was called “Young Children and New Media: Librarians Reframing the Discussion” and it was led by librarian superstars Cen Campbell and Amy Koester. Specific slides and notes can be found on Amy’s blog, so I won’t repeat everything that’s already there. (It’s good stuff.)

Here are just a few random thoughts that rang true for me:

  • There is no one way to implement new media (be open and reflect often)
  • New media should support the development of a relationship (it should connect people)
  • New media in education is intended for creation and interaction, not passive consumption
  • Technology should be fulfilling a need, not just replacing something you are already doing well (it is a tool, not a learning goal)
  • Librarians need to recognize what they bring to the table and value passion where it is found (competencies vary, but people need to be aware of their strengths, weaknesses, and biases so that they know when to ask for help, when to offer it, and how to focus on meaningful conversations and positive outcomes)
  • Librarians have to respect caregivers as the experts on their own children
  • Services are just as important as collections (it’s not always what you have, but how you use it)
  • Overarching recommendations can create roadblocks, because every child is different, every device is different, and every situation is different (that’s why it is important to talk with people, learn from experts, follow research, and serve as ‘media mentors’)

Although the links and tips shared were great, what struck me the most was how Cen and Amy opened their presentation.They featured a medley of opinion pieces that could easily stir up emotions and arguments about technology and its place in early childhood education, and they took them all off the table right away, saying that these arguments are divisive and distracting. They get in the way of real discussions, and librarians should be reframing these debates so that conversations are collaborative, respectful, and child-focused. I appreciated that a bunch and felt as if the entire webinar experience was “safer” and more encouraging because of it.





slideshow sounds

And here, in no particular order, are some tunes I’ve recently added to my library:

Tegan and Sara-Everything is AWESOME!!! (feat. The Lonely Island)
Sugarland-Stuck Like Glue
Avicii-Wake Me Up
Sara Bareilles-Brave
American Authors-Best Day of My Life
The Beatles-Here Comes the Sun
Jackson 5-Rockin’ Robin
Selena Gomez-Who Says
Jackson 5-ABC
Michael Franti-Sound of Sunshine
Bruno Mars-Count on Me
Flo Rida-Good Feeling
Pharrell Williams-Happy
Avett Brothers-Kick Drum Heart
Imagine Dragons-Top of the World
Plus, almost anything FROZEN. 🙂

I should also mention that Common Sense Media has recommended music lists for families. This is one of the resources I explored when picking the songs here.

Copyright & Fair Use:
Fair Use from the US Copyright Office
“Copyright Flowchart: Can I Use It? Yes? No? If This…Then…” by Silvia Tolisano
“The Educator’s Guide to Copyright and Fair Use” from Education World