This post includes the information I’ll be presenting at the Dynamic Landscapes conference on May 17, 2013. Thanks for reading!
Thanks to Matthew Winner @MatthewWinner aka The Busy Librarian I have finally finished a project that’s needed doing for…well…a Googolplex of years? Is that what Carl Sagan would say? For my #ShelfChallenge I evaluated the Space section (the 520′s) at my K-4 school library. I’m not sure I followed Matthew’s definition of the Shelf Challenge exactly because I didn’t read each of the 74 books cover to cover, but I did at least skim each one so I’m going to count it. I put this section on my to-do list because a classroom teacher correctly pointed out that the reading levels of many of the library’s space books were not a good match for the grade levels that study the moon and the solar system as classroom units.
I found 29 books that I needed to remove from the collection for three main reasons: outdated information about Pluto, confusing information about half and quarter moons, or reading levels too high to be useful at my K-4 school.
Quite a few books with this kind of information about Pluto. I removed the outdated books specifically about Pluto a few years ago, but the older books about the solar system as a whole need replacing too.
Reading Level Mismatch:
These all have pretty dense chunks of text, long sentences, lots of vocabulary words that are not well defined. Fortunately the library does have some other series about the planets at more appropriate reading levels.
Half Moon? Quarter Moon?
So what is that letter D shaped phase of the moon really called? Both NASA and the U.S. Navy call it a quarter moon, so I guess I’ll go with that. Time to look for some more recent books about the moon.
So now I have a space section where the books are accurate and better matched to student reading levels:
And I also have a collection development plan for the 520s: new books about the moon, the planets and the solar system, at appropriate reading levels for my students.
Thanks, Matthew! I needed the #ShelfChallenge to finally finish this project!
Last week I was fortunate enough to visit the Mission Hill School in Boston. Mission Hill is the focus of the current video series A Year at Mission Hill, which documents the learning and growth of the children and adults at this progressive pilot school within the Boston Public School system. The first video in the series offers a good introduction to this excellent school:
As a teacher librarian, I’m very aware of the benefits collaboration can bring to our students. When librarians and classroom teachers plan a lesson together, we each bring different knowledge of content, resources, search skills, learning tools — and these differences are our strength. Numerous studies have shown that this type of collaboration raises reading test scores, but beyond that we know that when we work together, we build learning opportunities for our students that are both richer and deeper than what we could offer on our own. Part of my interest in the Mission Hill School stems from the fact that the entire teaching staff works together to build a schoolwide curriculum. Teachers choose a theme, design lessons, and participate in peer review “Curriculum Shares” to strengthen their work before they use it with students. This is a model that would fit so well with the collaborative work teacher librarians strive to do.
I came home from Mission Hill asking myself what this kind of collaborative culture requires. Time to plan, for sure; the Mission Hill teachers spend a full week before school starts plus several hours each week on shared professional development. Also strong, trusting relationships between coworkers; one Mission Hill staff member told me “we like each other as a staff,” which seems like a prerequisite for the type of peer sharing the Mission Hill teachers do with their newly planned lessons. While I recognize I can’t provide these things at the level they exist at Mission Hill, I can continue to work to build strong relationships with my classroom teachers, and to provide them time to plan and teach with me. My visit to Mission Hill was a new dose of inspiration for this collaborative work, and I feel very lucky to have been able to visit the school in person. I would recommend the video series and a recent book about the school titled Democratic Education in Practice to any teacher librarian wanting to learn more about the collaborative culture of the Mission Hill School.
This year I have been teaching a combined fourth grade Enrichment/Library class with Enrichment Teacher Darcie Rankin (see some posts about this class here and here). Over the past few weeks, our students have been working in groups to film book trailers (commercials) as a culminating project for a unit on media literacy. The students have been using the iMovie app on iPads to film and edit their trailers.
Before the filming started, Darcie and I noticed that some of the groups were struggling with the process of planning their trailers. We had based the number of groups on the number of iPads available; with two teacher iPads and two iPads from the library, we had groups of four to six students working together on each trailer. We were concerned that these groups might be too large for effective collaboration between the students, but without additional devices we weren’t able to make the groups any smaller.
Instead we decided to teach some student behaviors that would lead to more effective group work. Our district has been focusing on student engagement, so we made a list of behaviors of students who were engaged with their groups:
- Bodies close together
- Faces turned toward the group
- Take turns to talk
- Only one person talks at a time
- Everyone has a chance to talk
- Active listening, even if you disagree
- Face the speaker
- Think only about what the speaker is saying
We wanted to show students what these engaged behaviors looked and sounded like, so we searched online for some good video examples. We found several videos of older students (middle, high, and college ages) but nothing we thought would work for our fourth graders. In the end we made our own short video using examples from our classes of groups that were modeling the engaged behaviors. We showed the video at the beginning of each class the next week, and referred back to the video and the expected behaviors when we saw groups start to struggle. The disengaged behavior I noticed the most was students “checking out” by walking away from their groups or turning their faces away from a discussion. When that happened I was able to say to the students, “I notice you are…what should this look like for you to be working with your group?” and the students were able to get back on task quickly.
Since we tried this approach, we have seen more successful communication and cooperation among our students. The group in the picture at the top of this post had been struggling to plan and film their book trailer together, but by the end of the second class they had produced an iMovie they were all proud of. Darcie captured the moment when I started watching their finished trailer, and I’m sure you can see from their body language how eager they were to share their work. And Darcie and I were proud that a project that started with concerns about scarcity of resources became a chance for our students to practice an essential 21st century skill: collaboration.
More information about 21st Century Skills and collaboration is available from the Partnership for 21st Century Skills.
Today I attended a workshop sponsored by the Champlain Valley Educator Development Center and the Vermont Department of Education on short research projects and the Common Core State Standards. Here are some of my big takeaways from the meeting:
Narrow the question: Narrowing the focus/narrowing the research question is an essential part of this process, whether it’s done by the teacher ahead of time or by students doing individual research projects.
Notes aren’t just words on an index card: Speaker Diana Leddy presented a model research project for K-1 students about the phases of the moon. She called notes “recording information.” Her students took “notes” on precut circles of black constructions paper, using chalk to draw what each phase of the moon looked like. Then they used these manipulative notes to demonstrate their understanding of the sequence of phases. This idea really expanded my thinking about what student notetaking might look like. Diana’s excellent presentation is available on the Vermont Education Exchange (ve2) website, but you will have to log in to ve2 to view it. If you haven’t yet created an account at ve2.vermont.gov I highly recommend it!
Writing standards: While ELA Writing standard 7 calls for research projects, ELA Writing standards 1 and 2 define what the writing should look like.
Shared projects and modeling: the CCSS for younger grades allow for “shared projects.” These are a good way to model the process of reading, writing, and doing research.
Speaking and Listening Standards and social skills instruction: At the K-2 levels in particular, Speaking and Listening Standard 1 (Comprehension and Collaboration) has many connections to explicit social skills instruction: from the second grade standard “Follow agreed-upon rules for discussions (e.g., gaining the floor in respectful ways, listening to others with care, speaking one at a time about the topics and texts under discussion).”
I picked up Goblin Secrets when it won the National Book Award for young people’s literature, partly because of articles like this one from School Library Journal that pointed out how unusual it is for this award to go to a science fiction or fantasy title. As I always do, I read it with an eye to its appropriateness for my PreK-4 school library as well as its quality and child appeal.
Goblin Secrets tells the story of the orphan Rownie, who lives with the witch Graba in her movable house. Graba has collected many such unfortunate children, and she uses them to run her errands and spy for her. Her “grandchildren” used to include Rownie’s adored older brother, but he has vanished while working as an actor — a forbidden profession in the city of Zombay. Rownie joins a troop of mask-wearing goblin actors and begins to learn the dark secrets behind Graba’s power, his brother’s disappearance, and the city of Zombay itself. The book should appeal to readers in fourth grade and up who enjoyed the Magic Thief books by Sarah Prineas, although Goblin Secrets leaves many more of its mysteries unexplained than the Prineas trilogy does. Graceful prose and skillful world building add to the quality of the novel. More information about Goblin Secrets, Zombay, and masks is available at goblinsecrets.com
image from goblinsecrets.com
One of my professional goals for this school year has been to learn more about the Common Core State Standards and how I can begin to integrate them into my elementary school library classes. I see my students on a fixed schedule, for 40 minute class visits once a week, and half that time is devoted to book selection and checkouts. I’ve been looking for ways to encourage the critical thinking about texts mandated by the Common Core without overrunning my 15-20 minutes of teaching time. Here are some of the early ideas I’ve been using:
Short readaloud followed by questions and discussion: what’s your evidence from the text and illustrations? (CC ELA Anchor Standard for Reading #1: Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text)
My first graders learn about fairy tales in their library classes. After each readaloud, students go through a list of characteristics of fairy tales and find evidence in the words and pictures to see if that story contains those characteristics. For instance, is there magic in Goldilocks and the Three Bears? What’s your evidence? (words explain that the bears can talk, pictures show the bears making breakfast). The link to a blog post about this unit is here.
My first graders also learn about communities around the world. After each readaloud of a nonfiction book, I ask students what they can tell about the climate and geography from the words and pictures in the book. What evidence in the text and illustrations tells you about the weather and the land where these books take place? The link to a blog post about this unit is here.
My second graders learn about folk tales. Once I’ve finished reading a traditional story out loud, I ask students what they can tell about the climate and geography of the country where the story takes place. What evidence in the text and illustrations tells if a country is hot or cold, desert or mountains? Along with One Grain of Rice from India, which I highlighted in a blog post here, we also shared The Boy of the Three Year Nap from Japan, Only One Cowry from Benin, and The Silver Cow from Wales.
As these units progress, my students are getting more adept at looking closely at the illustrations and listening closely to the text as I read it aloud. They know I’m going to be asking them, “What do you know? What’s your evidence?”
image from www.corestandards.org