A year of change begins #tlchat #tlelem #vsla #vted

The library media center at my school, Richmond Elementary in Richmond Vermont, has received an enormous gift: a pilot year with an entirely flexible schedule. This is the Holy Grail of elementary school library work: an opportunity for collaborative teaching and creative learning far beyond what fits into a fixed schedule of once-a-week library classes.

I’m thrilled and honored to be trusted with this pilot year in 2015-2016. As much as possible I’ll be sharing the planning and results of this year of change, in the hope that something I post here can help other librarians advocate for more collaborative schedules at their schools. Please join me for the journey.

Beth Redford


Passion Projects for the Elementary Student – Dynamic Landscapes 2015

On May 21, 2015, Darcie Rankin @darcierankin and I gave this presentation on passion projects for elementary students at the Dynamic Landscapes Conference in Burlington, Vermont. The direct link for the presentation is Direct Link. Feel free to contact me with any questions through my Twitter account: @bethredford, and thank you for visiting!

Free music from YouTube – Dynamic Landscapes Sharing #vted #vsla #tlchat

The information below is from my slide in the Dynamic Landscapes 2014 Smackdown. It was accurate as of May 20, 2014, but Google changes things a lot so it may look different in a month!


YouTube provides royalty-free music for videos. This is a great option for teachers making videos or slideshows, and also for students who want to add their favorite copyrighted popular songs to videos. Instead of telling students “you can’t do that,” this royalty-free music gives teachers an opportunity to show there is music freely available to reuse. Sound too good to be true? The information is below:


how to find it

The music can be a little tricky to find. Here are the steps I’ve used:

  • Sign in to Google
  • Go to YouTube. Find this button at the top of the screen
  • upload
  • Click the gear on the right
  • Pick Video Manager
  • On the left of the screen, pick Creation Tools
  • Pick Audio Library. It should look like this


audio library

Have fun creating!




“Mermaids are real” (Critical thinking and the Internet)

I was reminded today why it’s so important to teach critical thinking skills and Internet savvy to our students, even the very young ones. A third grader told me she was having trouble finding nonfiction books about mermaids in my PreK-4 school library. I tried to direct her to chapter books or folktales with mermaids in them, but she wasn’t having any of that. “Mermaids are real,” she told me. “I’ve seen their bones.”

It was a great opportunity for a conversation. I asked her where she had found that information, and she told me she had Googled “real mermaids.” We tried it together and found lots of images and links from the Animal Planet website about mermaids, not clearly labeled as fiction. In fact, the bottom of the website says “Copyright © 2013 Discovery Communications, LLC. The World’s #1 Nonfiction Media Company.” I could see why she was confused! This kind of deceptively labeled fiction isn’t new (Dear America Diaries series, anyone? Which I just had a conversation with a student about last week…but that’s another story). But the difference is that, in the year 2013, a nine year old with home Internet access can find all kinds of misinformation and an adult may not always be nearby as a fact checker. That’s why it’s so crucial for students to learn to be critical thinkers and thoughtful media consumers at an early age. They need to be able to ask, does this information agree with my background knowledge? Who are the people making these claims? And for sure they need to see some examples of hoax sites so they realize how easy it is to make up convincing-looking stuff and post it online.

As part of our conversation, my student and I looked at the excellent teaching hoax site The Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus. If we’d had more time we might have also looked at allaboutexplorers.com (highlight: Samuel de Champlain owned an NHL hockey franchise) or The Jackalope Conspiracy website (best claim: the ancients called them “deerbunnies”). We talked a little about who can put information on the Internet (Anyone!) and why someone might put misinformation online. And then we found some great chapter books with mermaids in them.

A Different Approach (“Don’t Worry!”)

I see my elementary school library classes for 40 minutes once a week, and it never seems like enough time for everything…finding great books, sharing great stories or lessons on finding information, making personal connections with the awesome young people I’m privileged to work with. My tendency in the past had been to try maximize those 40 minutes by transitioning students into the library and getting down to the business of library class as fast as possible, regardless of what the students might have on their minds when they walked in the library door. If they tried to talk to me about their overdue books or ask me about a change in the library space or routine, I would ask them to hold onto their comments and questions until later so we could get the lesson or story started.

But this year I’ve been focusing much more on the students’ view of the library, trying to make my space and program truly welcoming for everyone. So I’ve been giving my students a structured chance to check in with me about anything that might be worrying or distracting them before we start the activities for the day. I let them know what the activities for the day will be, and then say, “Before we start, does anyone want to ask me about anything? Anything you notice in the library, anything about your library books?” This almost always elicits at least one response from a concerned student telling me that s/he forgot his/her books. Over these first six weeks of school, we’ve developed a call-and-response where I say to the class, “This student forgot her books. What’s the first thing she should do?” And all together we say, “Don’t worry!” Then I ask the student to tell me what he is going to do during book selection time. By now they all know the answer: pick out books anyway, read them for the rest of library class time, Mrs. Redford will save them for me until I bring the old ones back.” Just acknowledging these concerns up front, letting students see that I’m not upset at all (hey, we all forget stuff sometimes, right?) and reminding students what to do next seems to go a long way toward starting class on the right foot. It’s been well worth the few minutes of time it takes for the more focused behavior during the stories and lessons.

The most rewarding moment for me came last week when a somewhat reserved student raised her hand and said, “I forgot my books. But I’m not worried!” Then she told me exactly what was going to happen next (picking out books, saving them, bringing in the overdue books and swapping them). That let me know my message had sunk in…the library and the librarian welcome you, whether your books are overdue or not. And don’t worry…we can solve this problem together.

Happy first six weeks, everyone!

One more reason to have a classroom blog (for yourself!)

SmileLooking at five days worth of smiles is a great way to wrap up the week

This year I have begun to make more of an effort to post regularly on my classroom blog, the RES Library News. I was inspired by a new colleague, Brian Godfrey, who posts a “This Week in PE” slideshow or video every Friday on his excellent blog for my school’s Physical Education program. I’ve always taken a lot of pictures in my PreK-4 library, but I this year I’ve started sitting down every Friday afternoon, putting the best photos into a blog post, and writing up a short summary of the past week. My original intention was to help make the library a more welcoming place by sharing more of what goes on in the library with my school community (families and other teachers). What I didn’t expect was what a positive effect this small investment of time has had on my enjoyment of my job.

I’m a perfectionist, and I find it way too easy to focus on things that didn’t go as well as I would have liked: the lesson where I ran out of time, the technology breakdown in the middle of a busy class, the conversation where I could have been a better listener. This focus is useful when it prompts me to make some changes for the next time around…but sometimes it has left me feeling discouraged at the end of the week. I’ve been finding that writing these blog posts that focus instead on the positives of the last five days has been a big boost to my teacher morale. By the time I’ve finished adding pictures of my students smiling and enjoying themselves in my classroom, and completed writing up a quick description of all the learning that went on, I’m already looking forward to coming back the next Monday so we can do it all again. This is one new practice I am going to try my hardest to keep up with, no matter how busy the school year gets.

3 Reasons to Bookstorize Your Nonfiction


For years I’ve read other school librarians’ posts about rearranging their nonfiction collections so they look more like a bookstore: books arranged by student-friendly subjects rather than strict Dewey order. This summer I finally had the time and motivation to try this approach in my PreK-4 library. I was prompted in part by the Common Core’s increasing emphasis on nonfiction; if I’m going to to urge my young readers to try out the “true books,” I should make them more accessible, right? In my library that meant removing a lot of old, yellowing, noncirculating, way-too-hard books from the way-too-tight shelves, and then moving the remaining books down. Now my highest shelves are only for displays, and even my kindergartners can reach everything.

I borrowed the fabulous ideas of Donna Sullivan-Macdonald at Orchard School in South Burlington, Vermont and added objects like the bat above to my displays to help students orient themselves among the many shelves of nonfiction books. I also added Dewey-free shelf labels with pictures like the one below to help guide students to the most popular areas. The books are still in Dewey order, but now there are mini-sections for snakes, LEGO, horses, and other perennially popular topics.


My students came back to school on Wednesday and in those three days I’ve already seen my hard work (100.5 hours, I counted!) paid back many times over. Here are the highlights, and the reasons I think you should bookstorize your nonfiction too!

1. Easier for prereaders and new readers to find what they’re looking for independently. My first graders figured out right away where to look for the books about pets…under the stuffed dog, of course! And I heard them pointing out the pictures on the shelf labels as they looked for the LEGO books.

2. Easier for small hands to get books on and off the shelves. The nonfiction shelves used to be overcrowded and tight with too many books; now there is nothing to discourage my more tentative nonfiction readers from trying something new. It’s also easier for them to put the books back in the right places if they change their minds. Less librarian time spent reordering the shelves means more librarian time spent improving the library’s resources and lessons.

3. More appealing, less cluttered presentation means more students selecting nonfiction. The students and I spent our first library classes touring the library and noticing what was different. It was super gratifying when at least one student in each class pointed out there were new books now! In fact there are fewer books than before, and no new ones at all since last year (that’s the next part of my ongoing nonfiction project). But the culling, decluttering, rearranging, and labeling made the remaining books so much more accessible that students were finding titles they had never been able to find before.


Thanks to everyone who has posted pictures and summaries of their own bookstorizing projects over the last few years…it was great inspiration and it’s already been great for my students.