This year marks year 7 (!), and I want to approach this year with more intentionality when it comes to getting diverse books into the hands of my kids. My collection is steadily reaching a place where I am happy with the relative diversity of voices and topics and identities being represented, but the problem always remains how to get those books into kids hands.
As I tried to figure out what I wanted to do for my opening lessons with my classes, I came across a reference to a lesson by Andy Plemmons, so I tracked down the original. I loved Andy's idea of having the kids explore genres and different bookshelves, but I knew I didn't have the space to have them sit and read, so I modified the activity slightly. I gave the kids two minutes to explore the three shelves in front of them, and I told them they could set aside books they thought they might want to check out on the top of the shelves to save for later. After a slightly awkward start due to logistics (kids lost track of moving in sequential order, so I abandoned that and just told them to move to a new bookcase), they got really into the activity. My fourth graders were completely silent (nothing short of its own miracle!) and best of all, DOZENS of books got checked out that had been overlooked in the past. It was such a hit that I adapted it down for my 2nd and 3rd graders, having them explore the picture book section, and they also loved it, and it's continued. My picture book section is getting steadily more foot traffic and circulation than it ever has before, and that's WONDERFUL to see. I loved this experience so much, I think we'll do it again before vacations to get kids to find books to take home with them.
So kids started exploring the collection and discovering new titles, which was great, but it didn't fulfill my intention of starting to try and get more diverse titles into their hands. Then it hit me: let's do a read-aloud. I ran around my stacks collecting 20-30 books, and set them out in front of my rocking chair. When students returned for their 2nd library class of the year, I told them that my goal was to read the first few paragraphs or pages of a book to get them interested, and if they liked any of the books, they were welcome to check them out at the end.
And I began.
By the end of it, I had kids creeping down my story steps trying to be the first ones to get their hands on a book. Kids put books on hold that have been steadily ignored, they've recommended them to their friends, and it was just generally wonderful and everything you'd hope for as a librarian. This is another activity I plan to repeat at regular intervals, maybe as we transition from project to project (she says, optimistically, in September).
It's been the best possible start to my year, and it's set the tone for how excited and motivated I feel to continue trying to share books with my kids over the course of the year to come. And it was as easy as taking them into the stacks and then reading the books out loud to them. Rules can wait. Expectations can wait. Projects can wait. Reading can and should hook them straight off the bat.
It's that time of the year where I have a lot of blog posts running around in my brain, but I never seem to get around to writing them down. It's also the time of year that the due date for the bulk of my teacher evidence is looming, which means I'm spending a lot of time reflecting on what I've accomplished so far this year, and what is still left to do. I'm lucky in that my district is not onerous in the demands it places upon us in terms of the amount of evidence required, but at the same time am mindful that this is my opportunity to showcase the many different activities happening that my administrators might not be aware of.
This year, one standard in particular is resonating in my brain - a safe learning environment. To quote the indicator, [the proficient teacher] "Uses rituals, routines, and appropriate responses that create and maintain a safe physical and intellectual environment where students take academic risks and most behaviors that interfere with learning are prevented." The standard refers to classroom management and culture, but since the library is a different space than a classroom, I think about it in those terms, of the space.
So how do I can create a library that is a safe, welcoming space? How can I make every student who walks through my doors feel welcomed, like they belong, and that the space meets their needs? It's daunting, and a lot to think about, but it doesn't have to be big.
Part of it is signage. As you walk in my doors, there are signs welcoming you in Spanish and Chinese, and Hafuboti's amazing "libraries are for everyone" artwork. There are also signs declaring the library an LGBTQ+ safe space. Part of it is the book collection - not just purchasing diverse books, but putting them out on display, reading them, and sharing them (either through book talks or via Instagram) - and not just focusing on race/ethnicity, but mental health, family situations, gender and sexual identity, and socioeconomics. Part of it is keeping in mind the words of Jason Reynolds at AASL Phoenix, where he spoke about the importance of making children feel seen by greeting them. I now strive to welcome by name each kid who drifts in over the course of the day, saying their name and letting them know I'm aware they are there. It allows me to offer my help, builds a relationship, and fosters a sense of trust.
And sometimes, it's just about creating a space for them to be. A little over a month ago, one of my students died in a tragic accident. He happened to be a third grader, and the third grade classrooms are the closest ones to the library in the whole school.
As I struggled with my own grief, I wondered how I could best support his friends in their time of need, and so I offered up my space. The back corner of my library has long been the "teen corner" for my middle school students, but it is rarely used by them anymore. So I designated it the quiet zone, put out some Zentangle coloring sheets, the sandbox and the puzzles I'd bought for the middle schoolers in the fall that never got used. The third grade teachers let their students know that the space was available for them if they needed it, and they came. Some came to read. Some came to color, or just to spend a few moments decompressing with friends. Some came immediately, some took a week to show up. Some just sat in quiet. Some stopped coming after a few days, others continued to come for recess for several weeks. All I did was smile and acknowledge their presence.
I'm grateful that my space could be there for my students in a time of grief. I also strongly believe that they came because of all those other pieces of the puzzle, because they've learned over time that it is a space where they are welcomed, where they feel safe and comfortable. I wish with all my heart that I'd never had to offer my space up in this fashion, but I'm thankful that it helped.
Two years ago, I saw a post by Jen Reed where she had her students pick a famous person to interview and then they drew themselves with that person. I tried the unit with my then third graders, and was generally pleased with how it went.
However, my third grade curriculum has grown and changed, and I always find myself at a loss for what to teach my 2nd graders, so I decided this fall to move the unit down a grade and see what happened. I am really pleased with the results.
My first challenge was how to pick the subjects. I wanted there to be a balance of personalities, genders, and racial backgrounds, so I started by looking through PebbleGo to see who I wanted to pick out. Initially, I had thought about at some stage having the kids use picture book biographies to do at least some of their research (the way I did the first time I taught this unit), but circumstances changed and I had to abandon that plan. Still, I developed a solid list of personalities, identified potential book titles, and then tried to figure out how to "market" the personalities involved to my students.
At first, I had planned to set out the books and have the kids browse, but the more I thought about that idea, the more I worried that kids would pick solely based on artwork instead of interest, and I wanted to avoid that scenario. And then, inspiration struck. I would make the process "blind," so to speak. Each personality would have an index card with a factoid about them on it, but no other information. In some instances, it was easy to figure out who the person was (like Rosa Parks), but on the whole, I think my student teacher and I did a good job "disguising" the people involved.
Going blind was absolutely the right decision. Kids picked someone who they were genuinely interested in, and they didn't get hung up on gender or appearances. I also got a far wider range of people picked than I might otherwise have done: Susan B. Anthony, Muhammad Ali, Marian Anderson, Gandhi, Malala - the list goes on and on.
The next step was for kids to use PebbleGo to research their person. Kids had to write down three facts, but we explained that these facts would help them generate their interview questions, so they should avoid simple questions like where were you born, etc. Some students wrote down facts first, others went straight to writing their questions, but everyone did a great job.
Finally came illustrating their meeting and then recording in Chatterpix. I chose Chatterpix because despite knowing about it for years, I'd never really entertained it as a good fit for my curriculum until I taught a class on app smashing last winter. I loved what one of my students did with it, and it got me thinking about how to use it in my own curriculum. When I settled on teaching this biography project, I knew Chatterpix would be the perfect fit. It allowed me to add in student voices in a fun, entertaining way, and it kept the students engaged as well -they got a huge kick out of seeing their "mouths" move! This unit is definitely a keeper.
This semester, I have a student teacher working with me. As we've begun to talk and have him learn the ropes of my program it's been an interesting experience looking back and realizing how many things I've learned and absorbed over time, things that have become second nature to me but that I now have to be cognizant about in order to teach him. As I reflected on our first two weeks together, I realized that while he can easily observe me teach, there is a lot to my job that happens behind the scenes, in short conversations in the hallway or over lunch, or via email, and that's harder to get a sense for, but they are still vital parts of my job. They're also a large part of why I'm so busy and have such a hard time focusing on and finishing tasks (at least, that's what I tell myself!), but it's good, because it means I have an active, engaged library program. So, on a whim, I decided to write up a summary of my day on Thursday (he isn't with me that day) in order to give him the full picture of a day in my life. It turned into a pretty fascinating exercise, and I'm glad I did it, so I figure, why not share it here?
9:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m.
12 p.m. - 3 p.m.
So there you have it. One snapshot of a busy, exciting, normal day in my library.
And I still haven't finished the hold slips...
At the end of the school year, my good friend Laura Gardner posted on Instagram and Twitter about how last year, she and her colleagues did a 30 book (or however many felt reasonable) challenge to read more middle grade/young adult books to better recommend them to students. It was such a success, they were repeating it this year, and she encouraged others to join in the fun. I made a post on Facebook, and encouraged by the response I got, sent out a staff-wide email. Before I knew it, 18 colleagues were participating. I created a Padlet for us to share our reading, and we were off.
Over the summer, we collectively read more than 100 books - a mixture of everything from picture books to adult and everything in between. I loved logging onto the Padlet and seeing what had been added and by whom, and the ensuing conversations, whether in person or via FB messenger. It was so much fun, we all grew as readers, and I got some stellar suggestions for my collection and ideas for my own reading (and vice-versa!). I cannot wait to do this again next summer, but I've promised to keep the Padlet going for whoever wants to keep posting over the course of the year. Hopefully I won't be alone!
If you want to see what people read, you can check out the hashtag on Instagram or on Twitter.
And how did I do? Well, I have set myself a yearly goal each year for the last 7 or 8 - I usually aim for 50. As a result of the summer reading challenge (21 kid/middle/young adult books, 7 grown up) , I blew straight through that goal, and hit my second goal of 75, so onwards to 100 I go! All my kid-appropriate books were reviewed on my work Instagram.
Over the past four years, I have attempted (in various ways) to teach immigration to my 4th graders, but I've never quite been satisfied with my lessons, and have never felt like I've adequately struck a balance between the past and the present.
And then 2016 happened, and the conversation shifted and everything felt more urgent and personal. Now the challenge became how to address the topic of immigration in all its complexity and nuance. At the heart of it all, I wanted my students to have some kind of empathy for the decisions that prompt people to immigrate (legally or otherwise) and the struggles immigrants have faced along their journeys.
This past winter, I took a course on Guided Inquiry Design, and I decided that even if I couldn't implement it 100% faithfully, I would borrow elements from it to help shape my unit. To start, I created poster-sized primary source images from different periods of immigration. I divided students into groups and asked them to write down their observations and thoughts on stickies. It was fascinating to listen to them and to read their observations - some were outright shocked at the blatant racism of the posters, others were not sure what they were looking at, but it got them thinking and wondering.
The next step was to debrief what we had looked at and to examine some statistics/charts/maps as a group. I would have liked to give the kids more time to dig in independently, but we were fast up against the end of the year. I put each of the images on a Padlet (free to copy and adapt!) along with some other questions for us to consider. I was really impressed with some of the thoughts kids came up with, especially as the context of some of the pictures became clearer to them. They wondered what might happen to the migrants riding on top of the trains if there were a thunderstorm, what it must be like to walk for miles and miles across Turkey and Europe. We talked about legal immigration and what barriers may exist for people who wish to immigrate legally, we talked about leaving behind everyone and everything you know to start a new life, and we talked about the risks involved.
The next step was to look at two excellent data sources from
At the start of this year, I posted about how I'd realized that my hybrid Dewey system wasn't quite working out the way I'd hoped. I don't regret my decision to hack my Dewey, but in my efforts to be precise, I made things overly complicated. Worse, my over-precision made it difficult for students, parents, and teachers alike to quickly and easily locate books, which was the whole reason for pursuing this insanity in the first place. I wanted to have my cake and eat it too - not shelve in strict Dewey order, but still retain a focus on the number and its importance, and that wasn't happening.
When I made that post, I had initially thought that we would still maintain subcategories but simplify them, so ANIMALS - Sea Mammals - Dolphins 599.53 ABC would becomes ANIMALS - Dolphins 599.53 ABC. Upon further reflection, this still seemed too complicated, so I decided to just use the category header and the Dewey number, but all numbers would be standardized to ensure they were located next to each other. As a result, all my books on Ancient Egypt now have a standard call number (932), allowing mummies, pyramids, daily life, and technology to all be shelved together. Furthermore, in an effort to be as kid-friendly as possible, we would avoid going past the tenths place unless absolutely necessary (for instance, in sports), and even then, we would stop at the hundredths place.
I also decided to split some sections and rename others. What this means is that my giant ELA section is now broken into separate sections on Fairytales, Folktales, Myths/Legends, Poetry and Writing. My animals section no longer has the dozen or so subcategories we'd been using (mammals, reptiles, amphibians, birds, rodents, sea mammals, big cats, primates, etc). Countries/Cultures + Continent + Country Name is now just Countries - DDN.
It is an incredible amount of work and relabeling, but I have a feeling it's going to pay off in a big way. I can already perceive a difference in how much easier it is to shelve and locate books because now there are only three pieces of information, category, DDN, and author's last name. I'm really excited to share this with students when we come back in the fall, and I truly think this will help strike the necessary balance between the hybrid and standard versions of Dewey. Other libraries may need more detail, but I think this will work for us.
Last year, I collaborated with my art teacher and engineering aideto do an interdisciplinary zoo project. Our first graders learned how to do research on habitats in the library using PebbleGo and BrainPop Jr., then they moved to the art room to begin learning about zoos, and finally we went to the engineering room to construct our habitats. It was a huge success, and we were excited to do it again this year. We kept the project the same with the caveat of only having one class in the engineering room at a time (instead of two) and during the presentation, decided to use the library as a space as well to ease up on the crowds.
The other innovation we added (post-production, as it were) was to incorporate stop motion into the project. I learned about the app KomaKoma at the EdTech Boston conference and introduced it to coworkers through a class I taught on video in the classroom. Rachel thought that it would be fun to add a stop motion component to the zoo project so that the students could move their animals around the habitat. It was time consuming but fun, and the kids LOVED the experience (even if the adults were the ones in control of the iPads).
Welcome to the Carlisle Zoo!
For the last three years, I've done book trailers with my 3rd graders. Before getting the iPads, we used Animoto, and I'd originally planned to just transfer the project to the Animoto app this year. And then I went to ISTE, where I learned about Adobe Spark Video. Intrigued, I played around with it, liked what I saw, and decided to take the plunge. Now that the project is done, I wanted to compare the two programs.
Hindsight is always 20/20, and in retrospect, assigning the kids computers and having them save their Animoto logins would have saved me a lot of time and effort. Since I didn't, it meant I was continually scrambling to log kids into their accounts, then locating their projects and loading them so that kids could get to work immediately. With Spark Video, I did have to create user accounts, but once an account was logged in, I didn't have to do anything else, and so kids could just grab their iPad, open the app, and get to work. Both sites allow you to register with a "fake" Gmail address (i.e. the teacher controls the main account and then creates endless +1, +2, etc accounts), which makes it easy for the teacher to control the process.
Adding Images to a Project:
Spark Video was a huge improvement for me on this front, though with a few trade-offs. On Animoto, kids had to use Google Images to search (we tried a few kid friendly image sites, but they didn't play nice with our browsers), drag the image to their desktop, then upload it into Animoto. This was a lot of steps for them to handle, and it also made it basically impossible for them to track URLs for citation purposes. As a librarian, I couldn't let this happen in good conscience, so I went in after the fact to recreate the citations through Tin Eye, which was about as much fun as you might imagine. Furthermore, there was no guarantee that the images being used were licensed for fair use, and the vastness of Google meant that a kid doing a book like Harry Potter could basically rip off stills from the movie, leaving little room for imagination.
With Spark Video, there is no immediate access to Google (the process would be Safari --> Google Images --> Camera Roll --> Spark Video --> Import image), which is a huge plus. The app has a built-in image search that looks at images tagged for fair use on Flickr, and kids simply tap an image they want to insert it into their video. The only quibbles I have are that there were a few inappropriate pictures that popped up (there were definitely some boobs!) and that keyword searches can be kind of unpredictable. However, the vast majority of kids were able to independently find images they wanted to use, and they took my chat about reporting inappropriate pictures to me seriously, which in turn allowed me to contact Spark support to flag and remove them from searches. The best part though, is that the app automatically generates citations for all images used. Oh, happy day.
While Animoto offers more options for backgrounds, I always had two issues with their layout. The first was that without fail, some of the most enticing backgrounds were only available to paid subscribers. As I recall, last year Animoto had done a better job of clearly labeling the 'pro' choices, but there were a number of kids who got frustrated and upset that their background of choice wasn't actually available to use. The other issue was that depending on the background chosen, the formatting of your images and text could change drastically. This led to some presentations having their images cropped weirdly, or zooming in unpredictably, and I didn't like the aesthetic.
Spark has a much smaller gallery of options to choose from, and only some of the backgrounds are actually customizable by color. This led to a few kids picking backgrounds where they had hoped to change the color, only to find they couldn't, but on the whole, it made it a lot easier for kids to pick their background and get to work instead of drowning in options. Huge plus for me. Layouts are also customizable by slide, with five basic options to choose from, which allows for a more standard presentation across backgrounds (though some templates will format images as circles rather than squares, for example). There is also no weird zooming. The length of each slide is customizable as well, which is nice.
Animoto has a more extensive music gallery, which is a definite plus, but I found that it was sometimes so large that most kids wound up using the same few tunes over and over again. Spark has a much smaller built-in collection, but it gets the job done.
Voice and Text
Animoto limits students to 140 characters per slide, but then subdivides that to a certain number of characters per line if you're doing a text slide. While this is a good idea in theory, it proved to be a really big challenge for third graders, who don't have the vocabulary to make good substitutions. Spark allows a fairly decent amount of text per slide, but what's even better is that it allows you to record voice as well. For some of my students who don't love to write, this was a huge bonus - they could still participate in the project and share what they knew without the hassle of writing. Win-win.
Cross Platform Compatibility
Both apps are accessible both from an iPad or from a desktop or laptop computer, which is awesome. Hooray for work being saved in the cloud!
So there you have it. I love Adobe Spark and won't be looking back. I'm really delighted with the final products and with how much more depth the projects had this year. The kids also loved using the app, and a number have told me that they're now using it at home as well, which is just awesome to know. Check out their great work!
My student/professional goal for this year is all about utilizing the new library iPads as creation (rather than consumption) tools. One of the projects I identified was teaching my 1st graders how to use Scratch Jr, a coding app designed for students who are pre-literate.
Scratch Jr. works by giving kids a built-in library of characters and backgrounds (though these can be edited or created by students) and simple blocks that use symbols in order to code their characters to create movement, action and sound. It's not as sophisticated as regular Scratch, but it does allow for a great deal of creativity at an age-appropriate level.
The premise of this unit was that students would create an original story following our group study of the beginning, middle and end of the story. I began by teaching them a few tutorials that introduced the different controls of the app (which I found here) and a few of the features they might want to use (we stopped at lesson 5 ). This part (which took about 3 weeks) was...frustrating for all concerned.
The biggest reason for this frustration was my assumption that students knew how to use the iPads confidently - after all, they use them in their classrooms. What I didn't consider was that when they use them, it's not for creation purposes, it's for skill practice, so there's little independent use of the devices involved. As a result, they were initially overwhelmed with all the functions of the Scratch Jr. app, and even struggled with how to apply the appropriate amount of pressure to the screen to delete or move characters around. I modeled, I used the ActivBoard, I handed out printed guides - but it was tricky getting them over the learning curves necessary to use the app successfully.
A student demonstrates their completion of the first Scratch Jr. tutorial, getting a car to move across a cityscape scene.
Just when I started to despair that this project was doomed to failure, I decided to stop the tutorials and see what happened. Students first had to plan out their story with basic storyboarding and get their story approved by me before they got an iPad. I did, however, allow them to use an iPad to look at the different backgrounds and characters for inspiration purposes.
And then, I just let them go.
The results were much better than I'd expected. Some kids figured out extremely sophisticated coding combinations, edited their characters or created original ones, added conversations, and used commands I never taught them. The majority of kids eventually found their feet and become more independent and comfortable using the app. The stories were fairly basic in terms of what happened on the screen, but the goal was to get them creating original projects, so from that standpoint, I'm pleased.
The next step was figuring out how to share their projects - Scratch Jr. is a fairly locked down app, which makes sharing difficult. And then I realized that I had the perfect solution - app smashing! It was a bit of a multi-step process, but it did the trick.
First, I used the Reflector app to broadcast the iPads to my laptop, then used the built-in recorder to film a video. Next, I used AirDrop to send the files to my iPad, then used iMovie to lengthen the videos. The exported videos were then added to Book Creator. This worked beautifully, because it allowed kids to record a verbal explanation of their story, exercise some editorial control over the title, font, and color, and have the video of their story play on the same page. Even better, Book Creator allows files to be exported as videos, so once they were done, I simply added the videos to my YouTube channel, then shared the link in each student's Seesaw folder.
We're still working our way through the recording process, and I have a few kiddos that are still working on their stories, but on the whole, I am pleased with how this project turned itself around. I surveyed two of my three classes to gauge their opinions on Scratch Jr., and the majority said they feel they can now use the app without much adult support and they would love to use the app for fun and for other curricular purposes in the future. Some even shared that they are now using the app at home, which was really great to hear.
Check out the stories that have been shared so far - more coming at a later date!
My name is Ms. Bery. I am a PK-8 library media specialist in the Boston area. In addition to being a certified school librarian, I am also certified in instructional technology, and have a strong interest in exploring and integrating technology in new and exciting ways in the classroom.
I am also a 2016 PBS LearningMedia Local Digital Innovator, and a 2015 recipient of the Massachusetts School Library Association's President's Award.
Check out the Sandbox for apps and websites I've found useful in supporting student learning and creativity. I also review children's, middle grade, and young adult books on Instagram.
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