Getting started

crayonsI am now officially an Elementary School Librarian! I was fortunate to find myself to be an early hire, with a job secured before the 2009-2010 school year was out. This gave me the opportunity to get a jump-start on creating my program. Creating an inviting and easily accessible physical space was my first challenge this summer. Assembling volunteers was at the top of the to-do list as well. With the support of a few dedicated school-parent volunteers and my amazing mentor teacher from Willamette Primary School the physical space is just about ready for students. The digital space is a huge work-in-progress! (I just obtained access to the school web page yesterday.) There is much to do to make the library homepage an attractive and useful resource. I did find the following web resources to help me with this task:

From Resources for School Librarians: http://www.sldirectory.com/libsf/resf/wpages.html
From the University of NC School of Ed: http://www.learnnc.org/lp/pages/969
From Joyce Valenza: http://www.sdst.org/shs/library/evallib.html

Now on to another extremely important task – planning my curriculum!

Window and Door

doorwayThe library is a window to the outside world. That was the sentiment of one teacher-librarian at a recent West Linn-Wilsonville School District teacher-librarian meeting. He talked about playing a loop of a slide show about the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in the library for the students and staff at the school. They would come by and watch for a few moments or several minutes throughout the day. Imagine what would happen if the students were able to connect with other students their age in those areas directly affected by this tragedy? Or discuss this event with students from another country? This further step shows the library as a window and a door.

The school library is a place for students, staff, and family members to come for information and connections to the outside world through print and digital means. This can be in the form of viewing news on current events, exposure to different cultures through factual and fictionalized stories, and written and verbal discussions with classes outside of the community.

A library collection of current local newspapers, web links to age appropriate news sources, and a wide variety of print books and magazines is integral to creating this vision. Providing open access to these library resources in addition to support from the school librarian will enable students to become more aware and information literate global citizens.

Some tools that will be useful in making this happen are Skype to facilitate virtual face-to-face discussions, a student school newspaper, and something such as the Epson Brightlink 450Wi to serve as an interactive bulletin board. Partnering my training as a teacher and librarian with these resources and tools will support the journey of making my own school library both a window and a door.

Image attribution: “Tsaravets – Veliko Turnovo, Bulgaria” by Jennifer Scypinski

Communication Helps

CommunicationImagine this scenario: I am teaching a class of 1st graders in the lab. I tell the students to be sure to leave their headsets off while I am giving them instructions. A couple of students do not follow instructions and have their headsets on (of course). I give them gentle personal reminders, one listens and the other completely ignores me. I continue with my lesson and give another, private reminder to the one student to remove his headset. He puts his hands over his headset-covered ears. I continue, and then privately tell him that if he does not remove his headset I will have to unplug the headset and hold onto it until it is time to use them.  I walk away and continue. He keeps his headset on. I walk over again and while I am talking to the class I take the headset off of his head, unplug it, and take it with me.  At this point he practically yells “Why did you do that?” “You’re mean!” “Give it back!” There is no more privacy. The classroom teacher quickly walks over to him to attempt to calm him down. I find out, a bit too late, that he has special needs and is on an Individualized Education Plan (IEP).

Had I known that he has special needs, I would still have given the second private reminder to remove the headset, but would have left it there. He would still have been able to participate in the learning exercise with the rest of the class. As it was, because of his distress he was not able to continue for some time and missed out on a large part of the lesson. This outburst also distressed some of the other students, although by this late in the school year they are used to his behavior.

As a student teacher I can understand why the special needs of individual students has not been discussed with me. However, I find that the special needs of this and other exceptional students has not been communicated with my mentor teacher – the teacher-librarian, nor the library assistant either. I have found this lack of communication concerning special needs outside of the IEP team to be quite common. The elementary school where I was employed last year, the high school where I student taught, and the other schools that I have visited seem to lack an effective means of communication regarding this important issue.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, “Every individual involved in providing services to the student should know and understand his or her responsibilities for carrying out the IEP.” This includes those outside the immediate IEP team. This communication would enable more effective implementation of the IEP, more successful students, and less stressed out classroom teachers.

Image attribution: “Can Somebody Get The Phone!!” by canonsnapper, http://www.flickr.com/photos/canonsnapper/3554665820/

Capes are optional

comicsComics and graphic novels are in vogue right now. It is a genre of literature that has finally come into its own and is widely accepted. I have been working with a kindergarten teacher to plan a unit using comics in the classroom. The class is getting ready to begin a unit on insects, so the students will be creating their own comics using insect characters.

Last fall I attended the Oregon Association of School Libraries (OASL) fall conference. The theme of this conference was comics and graphic novels – it was titled Get Graphic. While I have been aware of the popularity of comics and graphic novels for elementary through high school students for some time now, I had not done much of my own exploring of this genre.

As early as 2004 the Maryland State Department of Education has been planning their comic book initiative beginning with third and fourth grade materials. Phase 1 of the project includes lessons and supplemental materials for first through fourth grades. The overall goal of the program extends to all school levels, elementary through secondary, and includes adult and correctional education as well. They offer a terrific bibliography of resources for comics.

The Comic Book Project is another terrific resource that I uncovered. It was founded in 2001 as an after-school program in New York City which has since then spread to other parts of the country. The goals of this program are right in line with the goals of most schools: literacy, social and character development, and community building.  Using this program the entire process of creating comic books, from planning to finished product, is scaffolded.

Finally, I recently listened to a webinar through Booklist Online called Let’s Get Graphic: Kids’ Comics in Classrooms and Libraries. The featured guests were representatives from Toon Books, Rosen Publishing – Rosen Graphica, Scholastic Graphix, and First Second.  Each of the publishers’ websites offers resources for teachers and librarians.

Comics are terrific to use with reluctant readers as well as mid- and high-level readers. They promote rereading, help with sequencing for earlier readers, and are great for introducing new vocabulary. They are also perfect to use with students who are English Language Learners. There are so many ways to use comics for reading and writing. I can’t wait to get started!

Image attribution: “Comics” by richardmasoner, http://www.flickr.com/photos/bike/2712178265/

Global Competence

birds on wireGlobal competence is an issue in education that is incredibly important for students at all levels. The world has become such an interconnected global society that it is crucial that our students are educated in a manner that reflects this. Just this last month the National Education Association published a policy brief on the importance of this issue titled “Global Competence Is a 21st Century Imperative.” This policy brief stresses that “…students be educated to develop habits of the mind that embrace respect for others, a commitment to cooperation, an appreciation of our common humanity, and a sense of responsibility…” We live in an interconnected world which demands an appreciation and understanding for cultural diversity and an ability to collaborate within the global community.

The American Association of School Librarians (AASL) “Standards for the 21st-Century Learner” reflects the importance of this global competence issue as well. Throughout this document collaboration is stressed as a way for students to create and share knowledge with respect to a global perspective; the learning community is within the classroom, school, and the world at large. In order for students to participate and collaborate ethically and to inquire and think critically they must develop global competencies. School librarians are skilled at collaborating with classroom teachers in order to cultivate differentiated learning experiences to develop this global competence.

As a specialist in 21st-century teaching and learning school librarians assist students and teachers in connecting learning to real-world issues and in the exchange of ideas in a global context. In fostering collaboration that extends to learning communities in the wider world we may more easily connect with a common ground. This appreciation for commonalities will enable students to embrace diversity and connect with a global perspective. By using the knowledge gained through studies and experiences as an educator and information specialist school librarians will be able to promote these global relationships.

Image attribution: untitled by .Jennifer Leigh., http://www.flickr.com/photos/45206157@N00/168200539

Connections

train station2It is time to bring the global partner project to a close. We did accomplish some of our goals – the Sherwood students are more aware of students in the wider global community, they learned a bit about Thailand and Thai culture, they learned about their own cultural ancestry and were able to connect that with some students at the International School Bangkok, and they also came to be more aware of the diverse cultural history of the United States. We did make a connection with another school outside of our country, but we did not make a lasting or deep connection.

To wrap up the project Kindra, the classroom teacher, is going to have the students make a short video for her in-coming class in the fall. This will give the students an authentic audience and purpose for the project. They will begin with a journal write to reflect on the project. In this reflection the students will think about their learning and include tips and suggestions for next year. After this reflection Kindra will have a small group of the students create a storyboard and script in order to produce the video.

In order to facilitate a deeper and lasting connection for the next partner project we need to be clearer in our focus and purpose. We also need to be sure to find a partner earlier in the school year, preferably just before the students start school at the end of the summer. Finally, we need to ensure less lag between active times on the project. This project helped the students to connect learning to real-world issues and they considered the exchange of ideas in a global context. This is definitely a project that will be revisited in the coming school years as a way to promote these global relationships.

Image attribute: Washington D.C. Metro Station, by peterlfrench, http://www.flickr.com/photos/57822052@N00/3514051110

Verse with Verve

poetryApril is National Poetry Month. Willamette Primary School has started off this month-long homage to verse with verve. One of the third grade teachers had the terrific idea to start off each morning this month with a student or staff member reciting a poem to the student body during their daily morning assemblage. Just today after school I attended a meeting with five other teachers to brainstorm ideas on the best way to implement Poem In Your Pocket Day. This is a fun day that I implemented while working in the library at Archer Glen Elementary School last year. Last year we went low-key: we talked it up all month long with teachers and other school staff, students, and parents as a great way to conclude the month long celebration of poetry. All the students, staff, and volunteers in the building were highly encouraged to carry a poem in their pocket all day long that they could trade, read, or share. Almost everyone in the building participated and it was a great success. This year at Willamette it will be even bigger. Some classes are sewing pockets onto shirts for their poems, their will be bulletin boards with pockets of poems, an open mic session in the library, buddy classes sharing poems, and poems in chalk on the sidewalks outside.

This week and for the next two weeks afterwards I will be doing short poetry lessons in almost every grade level. In 1st grade I will share some poems about weather for their weather unit and then they will explore some poetry websites. 2nd grade will hear Everybody Needs a Rock and write haiku’s about their own rocks. 3rd grade will develop a class definition of poetry and write acrostic, haiku, and concrete poems. 4th and 5th grade will be writing poetry to music. I am still working on kindergarten – maybe a Stone Soup recipe list poem. How will you celebrate National Poetry Month?

Image attribution: “Day 020/365 – Losing Focus” by Angel Malachite,                                                           http://www.flickr.com/photos/26937667@N02/4294319578

In Collaboration We Trust

wind turbinesCollaboration is something that is frequently on my mind. If not for teachers that have been willing and welcoming my input none of the projects that I have worked on so far this school year would have been successful. This level of collaboration first and foremost requires trust: the teacher’s trust in my abilities, knowledge, and motivations, my trust in the teacher to allow and value my input, and the student’s trust in me and in the classroom teacher-librarian partnership.

I am two days into student teaching in an elementary school library and I have experienced the importance of collaboration and trust yet again. The teachers feel completely comfortable coming to the school librarian (my cooperating teacher) and asking for input and partnerships on various projects. I find myself being a bit overeager at the prospect of getting in on these collaborations. Yesterday a first grade teacher mentioned getting her students more acquainted with the available print and electronic resources and I immediately jumped in on a scavenger hunt idea. Then today when a 2/3 grade teacher asked for help with a project on frog habitats I was all over it – maybe a little too much. I compiled a list of about eight web links and was instantly forming a mini-lesson in my head on those sources as well as the sources available on the library website. (Was I thinking that I would have the class for half the day?) Fortunately, I realized that I was going overboard and scaled it back to three web links and two resources from the library site. Two classes ended up coming to the library for froggy help, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. The librarian started out with a video on habitats from BrainPop Jr., then she and the classroom teachers graciously allowed me to do a little piece on introducing the sources. It worked out really well, but I definitely need to be more patient and build up the trust.

Kim Cofino, in her blog “Always Learning,” talks of the Collaboration Cycle in her post from August 2008 called “Going Full Circle.”  She writes of collaboration in terms of mentorship, coaching, and professional development. While that is an extremely important part of teacher collaboration, it seems to me that there is even more to it. When professionals come together to share their ideas there is the potential for a metamorphosis of those individual ideas into something far more superior.

Image attribution: “wind turbines” by the russians are here, http://www.flickr.com/photos/21160932@N05/3349867013

It’s a wrap

ribbonThis school year I have had the opportunity to work on some amazing collaborative projects. Some of the projects that I have written about are the K12 Web Archiving Program, the Exquisite Prompt Writing Challenge, and the Global Partners project with the 5th grade teacher, Kindra DeGregorio. After Spring Break I begin my full-time student teaching at Willamette Primary School and will not be able to devote much more time to these enriching projects.

The archiving program is about wrapped up for this school year; just a survey, party, and one more web/tele-conference to go. The students have learned so much about the importance of preserving their digital heritage and the transient nature of it as well. They have also learned a bit about copyright and how to work with each other as a group.

The Exquisite Prompt will be completed by the students and classroom teachers. My final contribution to that project will be to help scan and send off the writing. I have learned much about how to break down the writing mini-lessons into further mini pieces for the 1st graders. The 1st graders learned about using webs for brainstorming and the importance of rough drafts and editing.

The Global Partners project is well on its way. The 5th grade class in Thailand posted some great videos of themselves saying “hello” in their native language — Kindra’s students had the opportunity to learn some bits of new languages. Just this past week I helped Kindra’s students record their own introductions. As a class we brainstormed some different ideas of what to use to introduce the Edy Ridge Elementary School students to the International School Bangkok (ISB) students. It was decided to have the students interview their parents and grandparents to find out their ancestry. Kindra and I thought this would be a great way for her students to make a connection with the students in Thailand. The hope is that in finding similarities through ancestry, or just making the discovery that their backgrounds are varied as well, they will start to form a better understanding of the world as one global community.

The experience, understanding, and knowledge that I have gained while collaborating with the teachers and students on these projects has been invaluable. I absolutely plan to continue with these types of projects in the future. I am excited to begin my next chapter of learning.

Image attribution: “ribbon,” by Anders Ljungberg http://www.flickr.com/photos/45803937@N00/2099980359

Declare it a success

monopoly go“Declare it a success and move on.” Those are the very wise words of one of my professors, Dr. Ken Peterson, at Portland State University. Initially when he said that he was speaking of the importance to always have a back-up plan for lessons that may go awry and he was also stressing the importance of certainty in a teacher.  At that time we all kind of chuckled as we found it a little humorous that instead of honestly admitting failure to the students that we would actually tell a fib – to make us look better? No, I get it now.

This past Thursday I did lesson #2 for the 1st grade class for the Exquisite Prompt Writing Challenge. I decided to work on the idea of the rough draft and also introduced a mind map for brainstorming. They all got the idea of the rough draft, but the mind map concept was lost on about 85% of the class. As I was modeling the mind map/brainstorm process I could almost hear, “Wah wah wah.” Would they have benefitted from me stopping and saying something like, “Well, that didn’t work.” Definitely not. I powered through, cut it short, and we moved on – all with certainty. (Thanks Ken!) The students taught me so much: the need to break it down to the simplest form, model a process, walk them through the process step-by-step, and still expect most to not completely get it. …and it is okay. At first I wondered if my time in the classroom benefitted any other than myself. The answer is most assuredly yes. They were exposed to new concepts, they are writing, and they will continue to write.

I certainly appreciate the classroom teacher, Mrs. Nelson, for inviting me back to her class and allowing me to take up some of her teaching time. Just the simple act of allowing me into her classroom to teach a mini-lesson takes a great amount of trust on her part.  My sincerest thanks!

Image attribution: Monopoly Cowboy by therichbrooks, http://www.flickr.com/photos/therichbrooks/4040172828/in/set-72157622628840232/