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,

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,

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,                                                 

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,


doorsTomorrow is the beginning of a new semester and the continuation of various library projects. It has been a relaxing three week winter break with family and friends, sleeping late, and reading “cotton candy” books. This week I will meet with a group of middle school students to work on the K12 Web Archiving Program, I will attempt to find a class partner for the 5th grade E23 Growing Together project, connect with my teacher-librarian student teaching supervisor, and begin my winter term of classes at Portland State University.