My time with the upper elementary students at Nathan Hale was unfortunately, a little uneven due to holidays, standardized testing, snow days, and schedule changes, but we still managed to get some great learning done.
We began with a biography project focusing on famous African Americans in honor of Black History Month (3rd grade), and a general selection of famous personalities for the older grades. 3rd graders used Glogster to express their learning, while the older kids created "scrapbook pages" of their work. Unfortunately, I neglected to take photos of their work, but I do have a video showing the 3rd graders' work:
Though my tenure at Nathan Hale ended in late May, I've shamefully neglected this blog all summer. However, with school (and work) starting in mere weeks (where did the summer go?!), I thought it best to get myself back into "school mode" and update. What better place to start than with a quick overview of the major units we did in the Nathan Hale Library?
The main focus of the spring was preparing for our author visit by Joseph Bruchac. Thanks to my local public library, I borrowed a stack of his books and introduced them to students in all grades, though K1-3 heard the most stories.
Almost a month ago, I had the pleasure of welcoming author/storyteller Joseph Bruchac to the Nathan Hale School. Mr. Bruchac, who came to us through the fantastic Foundation for Children's Books, came to perform and tell us stories. Though we'd been worried about the weather, the day dawned bright and clear, allowing the entire school to participate in the assembly, which was wonderful.
He began by welcoming us to the circle by singing a traditional Abenaki song, which allowed him to demonstrate his drum playing and flute playing abilities as well. Then, he began to tell his stories. If you've never been in the presence of a professional storyteller, someone who is truly a master at their craft, you don't know what you've been missing. It was an incredible experience to hear and watch as he told his stories, utilizing every part of his body - movement, voice, pitch - to draw us in and spellbind us. I found myself completely captivated by his retelling of Racoon's last race, even though I had read it aloud four times to different classes. It was honestly like hearing it for the first time, and in the way it was meant to be told. The students were so absorbed in the story that they had to be prompted to respond to him as asked. As an extra treat, we got a second story, one new to all of us, about Gluskabe and the stone giants. A perceptive fifth grader later told me that a version of this story had appeared on last year's standardized test, and since his book of plays, Pushing Up the Sky, appears in the third grade curriculum, it made for a nice, if unintentional, curricular connection.
As part of his visit, the FCB donated several of his books to our library, increasing our collection of folktales, which is always welcome. I am deeply grateful to the FCB and to Jen Cusack, who helped coordinate this visit, because we didn't pay a cent for Mr. Bruchac's visit since he had come to visit the Park School (a private institution) earlier in the day, and to participate in the FCB's semi-annual conference the following morning. The FCB is a remarkable organization, one that is committed to bringing authors and illustrators (who cost money) to underserved, underprivileged urban schools. Mr. Bruchac's visit is, I hope, the first in a long, ongoing collaboration between the FCB and the Nathan Hale. Teachers and students alike thoroughly enjoyed the performance, and I am proud to have had the chance to provide my students with this kind of opportunity.
Thank you, FCB and Joe!
Posting this entry earlier got derailed by the Marathon bombings and the subsequent lockdown and then a return to school, but I did want to record how I organized the fair. If I had to point to any one reason the book fair was as big a success as it was, I would say it was the time and effort I put into organizing it.
I began laying the groundwork more than a month in advance with a letter home to parents giving them an overview of the fair, the dates, and the parent night event. I also gave this information to the science teacher, who makes the monthly school calendars, so that the dates were on more than one piece of paper. If memory serves, I wound up sending home at least two more notices - one explaining how the book fair would work, the other soliciting volunteers. Each was on brightly colored paper and repeated the dates and times of the fair.
Next, I began to generate excitement amongst the students. I talked up the fair during library and did a 100,000 minute reading challenge. Due to various unforeseen interruptions, the challenge is actually still ongoing, but the kids got really jazzed up about it. I updated the chart (in a high visibility area) weekly, and communicated the progress during morning announcements. If the kids reach 100,000 minutes, the prize will be a teacher-student quiz show, so I'm hoping I can pull if off before I leave. I also postered the school with the posters Scholastic supplied.
Two weeks before the fair, I handed out the preview flyers to the older kids, and one week in advance for the younger ones. I then showed them the preview DVD during library time. This took nearly the entire period, but it was worth it. Many of the highlighted books were my best sellers, and kids definitely remembered books from the flyer and DVDs when they came to make their wish lists. Finally, when students had library the week of the fair, I reminded them of the parent night event, talked up the fun and games and food, and encouraged them to dress up as their favorite book characters.
Lastly, I sent out an email to the entire parent listserv (not a comprehensive list, but a decent percentage) to solicit volunteers, but also to remind people about the book fair and the parent night in particular.
I'll write a separate post detailing how I kept the actual fair organized, but I think laying the groundwork far in advance with both parents and students was essential especially since many had never experienced a book fair before. Credit must go to my principal for knowing her audience, because she told me how to strategize my waves of publicity, and it worked.
When all was said and done, we raised more than $2000 in sales, so more than $1000 in new books for the library. Given that we will not have a budget this year, this is a tremendous amount of money to have on hand, and will go a long way. This is why I did it.
Wow. Just, wow. Even though it's been more than a week since the parent event, I've still been in book fair mode all week wrapping up the paperwork and distributing ordered books, and I still can't quite believe what happened. I want to pinch myself.
Not only did everything magically come together at the last moment for the parent night event, the event was an unqualified success. Everyone had a fantastic time, and the kids are STILL talking about the book fair, asking if they can still buy books (which I regretfully have to say no to). The fair and the parent night event came together despite my being sick and having no voice, despite being uncertain of if and when I would have volunteers, despite the disruption of standardized testing - it all worked.
Thursday morning dawned with my voice slightly returned, and fifth graders coming down to purchase books. We'd managed to scrounge up two more tables in preparation for the parent night, and so as soon as students were gone, I began rearranging the entire fair. My desk got cleared to hold excess books, and a heavy wooden table got put up against it (my desk is really high) to serve as the cashier's table. Next, I moved the long row of tables in the back so that they didn't spill into the narrow alcove, but allowed instead for easy browsing. Another long table got moved into the hallway opposite the stairs, and one of my two round tables got put outside as well, at the bottom of the stairs.
As soon as dismissal occurred at 2:30, I got to work in earnest. Each table was temporarily cleared to put down colorful plastic tablecloths from iParty. I then began to rearrange books by rough grade/interest level - YA in the back, chapter books on one table, picture books outside, and miscellaneous on the round table by the door. Next, I dashed up to the computer lab to print out new price tags (my handwritten ones had taken a beating), to print "last book - please don't take me" notices to attach to popular books, a form for books that needed to be reordered, and signs for different cases saying "YOUNG ADULT FICTION," "CHAPTER BOOKS," and "LIBROS EN ESPANOL." I also took this opportunity to take all the books out of the closet so that every copy was on display or stacked on my table, something I hadn't been able to do earlier.
It would have been overwhelming and stressful to manage on my own, but thankfully parent and community volunteers began to materialize one by one, and by 4 p.m. the library was filled with people hard at work. While they dealt with the book displays, cutting papers, and sticking price tags on cases, I set up the stations - food in the cafeteria, a candy estimation/author matching game, the photo booth (inspiration from the fabulous Cari Young, who found it on Pinterest), and our face-painter, Ione, who did a phenomenal job.
And suddenly, there were people. An endless stream of people. I didn't get a chance to eat (a kind parent made me a plate) or sit because I was kept busy processing orders until the very last moment, when my principal finally had to drag me away from the table after first telling me to take a deep breath. I got away just in time to see the fashion show of book characters who had come dressed up, with such illustrious visitors as Ramona Quimby, Rue, Katniss Everdeen, Frankie Stein, and a beautiful purple fairy princess.
By the time the night was over, we had raised over $2000. Two. Thousand. Dollars. This translates into something like $1140 in Scholastic dollars, which is simply amazing. Astounding. I nearly cried when I told the Scholastic consultant how much we'd earned - she said that the last book fair, held in 2009, raised a mere $300.
This money is going to have profound implications for the Nathan Hale School Library. I've only got a month left at school, but if a revamped non-fiction collection is my legacy to the school, I will be extraordinarily proud. Knowing that I have helped to make a difference, and seeing the sheer delight on my students' faces as they got their books - those are the two priceless things that made this whole crazy endeavor worthwhile.
This will be brief because it's 11:30 and I have to be up in mere hours for the fourth day of the fair and the parent night, but I wanted to capture some of what I've been through the last two days.
As providence would have it, despite having a severe case of laryngitis that only got worse on Tuesday (to the point where I could barely whisper), I had a dynamic duo of a grandmother and a mother from my first grade class working all day in the library, and for a few hours, a third mother as well. Thank goodness for them, because they made a huge difference to my stress levels and to help me communicate. There've been some rough patches, miscommunications, things I could have done better, a book that was taken without being paid for and written in, students in tears, and trying to juggle teaching with the book fair and having no voice, but overall, I'm astounded.
I'm astounded because everything has come together - well, the parent night remains to be seen, but I think it'll be grand. I'm grateful that my help materialized when I most needed it. And I'm beyond astounded to the point of wanting to cry with sheer gratitude that we've raised a phenomenal sum of money for our library, and the number of new books we're going to be able to buy is filling me with indescribable joy.
For the last two years, my predecessor had a modest (and by modest, I do mean modest) budget of a few hundred dollars, which gets you next to nothing in the book vendor market. She built the library mainly through resourcefulness, hard work, grants, donations, and research. When you consider that fact in conjunction with the fact that 80% of my students are on free/reduced lunches (meaning their families meet the federal indicators for living in poverty), it becomes even more astonishing and remarkable that in two days, TWO DAYS, we have raised just short of $900. And I still have a group of eager fifth graders who have to purchase tomorrow, and the parent night. Sure, there've been some really large orders - parents who are prioritizing buying books, and a handful of kids who've walked in proudly with saved up allowances/birthday/Christmas money, but it's really the little purchases that have made the difference. $5 here, $4 there - it adds up.
I'm hopeful the book fair will end with a huge success tomorrow night at the parent event, but even if it doesn't, my kids have had the best time ever, and the delight on their faces when they hand over their money and the fact that there's going to be HEAPS of new books to hand them when they ask "Ms. Bery, have you gotten any new books recently?" makes every moment of sore feet, stress, worry, and effort worth it. A million times over.
It's never a good time to lose your voice when you're a teacher, but do you know whats' a really BAD day for it to happen? Yeah, the first day of your book fair. But, this whole crazy venture rests on my shoulders, so in I went.
At about midnight last night, I decided to email all the teachers again and tell them that I was going to take their classes in groups of 7 (roughly a third of a class at a time) instead of the originally planned half, since the space wouldn't allow for it. I have to say, despite not having a voice, and without the help of two of the paras who would usually be there (one was out sick, the other had to supervise lunch/recess because we got way behind schedule), we made it, and the day was a relative success.
It helped tremendously that I had two mothers and a grandmother show up for the craziest part of the day. They took care of the kids (the youngest ones, who can't fill in their own sheets), and I got to finish putting the price tags on my book displays (more on that in a future post). I do worry that it's going to take some time for the message to get across that the kids need to bring in money to pay for the books, but I'm hoping that since we did previews on Monday and I'll be in all week, that eventually we'll hit decent sales as the kids get the idea that they can bring in money any day this week.
Even my parent night event is coming together - after an urgent plea sent out over the weekend, I got three parents saying they could help with stations for part of the evening, which is better than no parents. I even managed to wrangle a face painter/balloon artist for the low price of $100 for two hours, and my principal OK'd the idea. Dinner might not materialize in the form of pizza as hoped since none of the local pizza joints seem to have general managers who work five days a week, but I think between parents bringing some food, popcorn and cookies, we'll have enough nibbles to go around.
I keep reminding myself that other than Thursday, today was the most stressful day. It's downhill from here, and for that my mind and my voice are truly grateful.
One of the main struggles I have had to contend with in my library since beginning is the state of utter disarray the library is usually in at the end of a Wednesday, when I teach K-1, K-2, and special needs throughout the day. The little kids are excited about book checkout, and in their rush to find the perfect book, they have an unfortunate tendency of leaving books strewn about all over the floor and the shelves, leaving me or one of my student workers to clean up after them. I've tried talking to them and reminding them as they search to put books back, but it never seems to sink in.
That's when I decided I would experiment with shelf markers. The librarian I worked with for my elementary practicum used them to mixed results, but I figured something would be better than nothing. Using tips gleaned from Cari at The Centered School Library, I asked for paint stirrers at Home Depot (they handed over an armful), bought a $3 tin of trial paint in a vibrant shade of orange, and snagged some cute back-to-school themed cardstock and Modge Podge at Michael's. I started by painting the sticks on both sides, two coats each. I learned the hard way that unless you're careful, you're going to get newspaper stuck to your sticks, but I managed to get the worst of it off.
Next, I modge-podged the cardstock onto the top of each stick for decorative purposes - one layer on the wood, then another over the paper. Once they dried, they looked really nice. And best of all, after incorporating a short demonstration on how to use them, the kids managed to use them more or less as intended, and when the day was done, I had about a 95% improvement in tidiness - I still had to put away a few books, but it was a much easier task than the massive cleanups I'd been doing at the end of the day before. I will definitely be using these again (but first I have to remember I have them!), because the time it took to make them is a small investment compared to how much time (and stress) is saved by using them.
I came across this idea ages ago on Mrs. Lodge's Library Blog, and immediately fell in love with the concept. Common sight words are glued to building blocks, which students can then use to form poetry. I thought it offered a fun twist on the idea of magnetic poetry, and would incorporate the idea of play and learning nicely, and so I purchased a bag of 90 blocks from Amazon for about $10, printed out the Dolch sight words, and set to work with my jar of Modge Podge.
As I worked, my roommate couldn't resist using the blocks to make poems, which encouraged me - if a 27-year old found enjoyment in using this center, surely it would prove a hit with my students.
I experimented first by introducing it to my first grade and PTC class (special needs). The results were less than stellar. While the students had a blast playing with the blocks, the concept of using the blocks to make poetry did not sink in. The library centers are meant to incorporate play and learning together, which was clearly not happening, so I regretfully made the decision to make this an older student center only. I tried again with fifth grade, and this time, the center proved to be a huge success. The students definitely need more words (which means I'll be buying another set of blocks and adding in some more advanced vocabulary), but they had a great time making poems. The only thing I will note is that some of the words have already started to come off, with minimal use. I don't know if the solution is to use more modge podge or figure out a stronger adhesive, but I'll have to investigate further.
Yes, the book fair is coming - in a month, to be precise. Now, I've never run a book fair before, and my school hasn't had one in over five years, so there's no precedent to rely on. I'm starting from scratch and flying solo, which is both exhilarating and a little terrifying.
Though Scholastic is wonderful at providing everything you need, my situation is complicated by the fact that I'm only at school two days a week. That means I have about six days of actual work time (in between teaching a full load) to get everything off the ground and organized. Throw in standardized testing and organizing a parent night, and there's a lot to be nervous about, but I have to hope for the best. I've resigned myself to the fact that I may well have to put in unpaid time to get this off the ground, but I'm committed to making this a success for my students. The ones who know we're having a fair are SO excited, and I owe it to them to make this a great experience.
I plan to make full use of Google Docs to engender collaboration between myself and the members of my committee, which should hopefully help (and cut down on the number of emails I have to send my principal). I'm also grateful for the help of the 5th grade homeroom teacher, who has volunteered to give up part of his planning time to help me.
The fun part of the book fair is that it allows my creative side to run wild. Pictured are the 100,000 reading minutes challenge bookmarks from Scholastic's website. I'm challenging our students to read (the equivalent of 20 minutes/student/day), and if they reach 75% of the total (though they're being told 100% for obvious reasons), there will be a teacher vs. student quiz show. I also plan to work some math skills in by asking students to estimate the final tally and maybe some other guessing games. There will be a 'match the teacher to their favorite book' display on the bulletin board, and I plan to utilize a third bulletin board that's gone untouched since my predecessor left to have kids do a "periodical table" of books read (another Scholastic idea).
The day of parent night, kids will dress up as their favorite book character. At the parent event that night, I'm running with a "fair" theme - popcorn, light dinner, games like a beanbag toss, face painting, a photo booth (idea shamelessly stolen from The Centered School Library), a costume show by the kids, and maybe a talent show. It'll be a lot of work, but if I can pull this off, I think it'll be an exciting, memorable event for the entire community.
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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