My experiences as a high school librarian interested in engaging instruction, edtech, combating poverty, creating lifelong readers and a safe place for all students.
Wednesday, August 24, 2011
Thanks for the Spotlight
Big thanks to the Library Games website for highlighting the work of librarians. Here is a link to my interview for this week's Spotlight. While you are there take a look at the library activities, free things including some funky signs and book markers, and all of the fabulous "Funbrarians" the site has interviewed. You will be sure to find a new idea or two for your own library on the Easy Ideas page. If you have an idea you would like to add go to the Share page. This is definitely a site you will want to add to your arsenal.
Sunday, August 21, 2011
That's What's Up in the Library
Check out this post from the creative and amazing Library Girl, Jennifer LaGarde. I am definitely going to create a board so that I can highlight programs and data about the library. I want to put up pictures of our lessons and activities, the top ten fiction and nonfiction books, top students, new titles, book club updates and class visits. I create a monthly report for my principals, but I have been struggling to think of a creative way of sharing our activities with the rest of the school. I am hoping this board will help others understand what goes on in the library. How do you communicate your events to the rest of the school?
The Librarian's Role in Overcoming Poverty
Job loss, recession, foreclosures, and poverty are highlighted in the news every night. The number of American children living in poverty now is surpassed only by those that lived through the Great Depression. Residents of my district are no exception. Check out this poverty infographic that shows where America's poor are most concentrated. We're a dark red county. The families in my area are facing these realities every day, which means my students must deal with obstacles that I can only imagine. In my school we have a 68% poverty rate. That translates to almost 7 out of 10 of our students living at or below the poverty line. What does that mean for me? How does the services of the library need to change to meet their needs? What can our school do to help the students rise above these challenges?
This is our focus as a faculty this year and I've been thinking and researching ways that librarians and libraries can help students in poverty. Research supports the following goals:
- Increase access to books
- Wide variety including magazines, comics & anime
- Build support for Silent Sustained Reading
- Build relationships
- Eating and reading in the library
- Plan a summer outreach
1. Children in poverty have limited or no access to books at home. Access to books increases reading which positively influences writing, grammar, spelling, and vocabulary. This connection makes access a huge priority. Our community and many others have no book store; therefore, the public and school library provide the only access to books. Unfortunately some of the same areas of high poverty are also on the map of library closures. Luckily, our district has been very supportive of our school libraries by maintaining our budgets and keeping a certified school librarian in each school. A few practical steps I take to increase student access to books is opening early before school and staying open after school. The library stays open during lunch unless I have scheduled classes. Yes, that means I do not get a "lunch break" because I do not have a library assistant, but I feel like remaining open is more important. This gives students opportunities to visit the library often. Our ELA teachers have all agreed to biweekly visits for check out and I have already planned "book cart" visits. Last year we had two book swaps which were very successful in getting books into our students' hands. I hope to repeat that event this year. The library hosted two book fairs and plan more this year. Other than the limited selection at the pharmacy or grocery store this is the only time our students can purchase books without traveling at least 20 minutes to a larger town. Classroom libraries are also important and I have shared suggestions with our teachers (4 of whom are 1st year ELA teachers) on how to build a classroom library on limited funds.
2. Stephen Krashen discusses the impact of reading comics and the concept of "home run" books in his articles. When students were asked about their favorite books the answers are widely varied. This means that I need to have a collection that appeals to many interests and levels. I have increased our selection of anime by purchasing 10 additional series, added to our popular supernatural and cars sections, and I buy popular titles, not just the award winners. I completely changed our magazine subscriptions. I dumped the "educational" magazines that collected dust and ordered titles that the students requested. Maintaining a collection that appeals to my students will help all readers find something that interests them. As is often the case, our boys usually score lower on reading assessments, especially low income boys. This year I am organizing a book club just for this population. I selected four low level, high interest books for the group to read. I will write more when all the details are decided.
3. I am so grateful to have administrators that allow for 15 minutes of Silent Sustained Reading (SSR) each day in our schedule. Carving out time for students to read for pleasure at school is so important and supported by the research. I understand the important of SSR, but I do not feel that everyone on our faculty feels the same way. For SSR to have the highest impact it must be supported by all of the teachers and students must see the teacher reading during this time. I am afraid that this time has become a time for reading emails, grading papers or catching up on other work. I need to do a better job of communicating the importance of the program to our teachers and making them aware of the influence they have on students in regards to reading. Unfortunately there are teachers that do not like to read and some even share this opinion with our students both in speech and action. I hope to share research at faculty meetings about SSR and possibly change their minds. I created signs for each classroom and office that read "Mr/Mrs. ____ is currently reading ____". I hope these signs will spark conversations about reading and give our students reading role models.
4. Building relationships is vital for students living in poverty. They need role models and mentors that can show them an alternative to their current situation. It is often recommended that teachers loop with their students in order to deepen relationships. We do not currently loop at my school, but having a relationship with the librarian is a long lasting one. It is important for me to learn names as quickly as I can, make students feel welcome and safe in the library, and be as involved in their learning as much as possible. Collaborating with teachers and teaching in the library and in the classroom furthers this connection. Showing up for performances and games and expressing interest in the students' lives is another component of connecting. Librarians have a unique opportunity to create relationships that last more than one academic year.
5. Children of poverty are often food insecure. Either they are undernourished and hungry or they have a fear that they may be hungry in the near future. You may wonder how this is related to libraries, but there is a connection. I allow students to eat in the library. As long as they clean up any crumbs or paper I do not mind food and drink in the library. In the cooler months I sell hot chocolate. The cost is $.50 and I basically break even, but the students enjoy the cafe atmosphere. In an interview of Stephen Krashen he mentions the benefits of oatmeal cookies and apple juice. This has me thinking about bringing these items into the library. I believe I could find them packaged individually at our local wholesale store and offer them in the library.
6. Summer slide is another concern of mine. Children of poverty suffer the most because they lack access to books. This summer we organized a summer reading program. It ends this month so I am not sure of the participation yet, but I feel that there is more I can do to reach out to our low income students. I know some schools have summer hours and allow students to check out books during summer months. This is a possibility for next year. I have even heard of some schools operating a summer book mobile program. I am going to contact the elementary librarians in my district and find out if they would be interested in working together to do something like that next year. Our school already has a Meals on Wheels route so possibly we could combine efforts to bring books to those same neighborhoods.
Some of our school wide initiatives, both new and continuing, include a school food pantry, a school-run market for clothes, school supplies and toiletries, tutoring before and after school, lunch time learning, breakfast in the classroom, neighborhood bus tours for teachers and a poverty simulation professional development. I would love to hear from other librarians and educators on how they reach out to students in poverty. What does your school or library do for these students?
Almost anything by Stephen Krashen: http://www.sdkrashen.com/articles/protecting_students.pdf http://www.sdkrashen.com/articles/decline_of_reading/all.html
Interview with expert, Stephen Krashen: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jLcootlU9lc
Children's Access to Print Materials and Education-Related Outcomes: http://www.rif.org/assets/documents/RIFandLearningPointMeta-FullReport.pdf
Jim Trelease on Summer Setback: http://www.trelease-on-reading.com/summer-setback.html
Trelease on Teachers that do not read: http://www.trelease-on-reading.com/whatsnu_morrie.html
Ruby Payne's lecture on poverty: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cRs24PCVjA0
Friday, August 19, 2011
Librarians Represent as Teachers of the Year
I was very excited and honored to be selected by my school as the Teacher of the Year. Each year our faculty votes on the award and we represent our schools during district teacher forum meetings with our superintendent. I was thrilled to be chosen, especially since it was my first year as librarian. The District Teacher of the Year was named at our opening assembly. This year it is my fellow middle school librarian, Kristen Hearne. I am so proud of her. I was lucky enough to intern with her as part of my Masters program and we collaborate and share ideas often. Just a few years ago my other middle school librarian colleague, Monique German, was named District Teacher of the Year. I am happy to be in a district that values librarians. Now I'm keeping my fingers crossed for Kristen as she competes for the South Carolina Teacher of the Year.
Tuesday, August 16, 2011
Dewey Free Update
This summer I decided to change my nonfiction from Dewey to Subject category. You can read why here. I wanted to update you on student reaction. We have been in school for just over a week and I've seen most of the students in the school for orientation and first check out. Student reaction has been difficult to measure. I asked each 6th grade class if they remembered the Dewey Decimal system from elementary school and most of them raised their hands. I asked how many did not like that system or found it confusing and almost all of them would keep their hands up. I explained our subject category system and pointed out the different areas and signs. No one leapt out of the chair to celebrate, but I did notice that more browsed the nonfiction area and they seemed to navigate easily and independently. Usually I have to show them how to search the catalog for the subject they want. No more. Now they walk around and look at the signs and help themselves. I was able to spend time helping students choose books instead of showing them where to find their favorite topics. Several of my female students noticed and complimented the Wordfoto signs. The boys thought it was "cool" that War books have their own area. My library helpers have been able to shelve books with less help from me. The most vocal supporters of the change have been teachers. One negative that I have encountered is when completing our annual library survey for our state department of education it asked for average age of the collection by Dewey 100. Luckily I had last year's collection analysis to use for now, but in the future these numbers will not be accurate. I am looking forward to seeing if there is any change in the frequency of nonfiction check outs and any long term effects of the switch.
Series Are Under Control, Maybe
A few posts ago I mentioned that I will be using FictFact.com to keep up with new releases in our series books and that I wanted to label my series. I am happy to report that I finished that project. Woohoo!! Well, I can't really say finished because as we get more books I will need to keep the labels updated and I'm sure there are a few that I overlooked. We had almost 100 series in our pretty humble collection so there are yellow labels everywhere. Between the Fictfact site and Fantastic Fiction I was able to find almost every series online. I ordered a bright yellow spine label and typed the series name and number for each book. This was a great opportunity for me to make note of books that I am missing in a series so that I can add those to my first order. A few teachers have asked about the yellow labels and the students are excited about it.
My first official classes come tomorrow and for the next week I'll see every student in the school so I will let you know what they think of our new nonfiction arrangement.
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