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Thanks for visiting my blog – I’m a Jack of All Trades,  so it goes in all kinds of directions. I’m a librarian, so it goes in that direction quite a bit! Scroll down to see my most recent posts.

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Guided Reading and the Leveled Library

Screen Shot 2018-03-25 at 11.40.32 AMMy principal wants me to level our school library. What’s the best way to do this?

I see this question way more often than I should. I want to share my views on why leveling isn’t the answer to any academic woe. Before I start, I do understand the reasons to level a library. I just don’t think they are any good. I understand how intense pressure from administrators can be for increased test scores and programs (like AR) in which they’ve invested a boatload of money. With that said, the rest is my thoughtful opinion on the why it’s not a good idea to level any library.

The number one argument I hear in support of leveled libraries (classroom and the main one) is that children become better readers when they read in a range close to their current reading levels. Why do we even have levels? For years, we had readers (at grade level) and trade books. While it’s true they were simpler for younger grades and more complex for older ones, they were not leveled.

Levels were developed as an analytical tool to help teachers in reading instruction. In addition, multiple leveling devices are available, and no two place books with exactly the same criteria. I’m not sure when or how the shift was made to leveling everything in which children come in contact. But Fountas and Pinnell have clearly stated that students and their parents should not even know what levels students are at, much less use that level as a guide for books outside of reading instruction. It was never intended as a guide for book arrangement. F&P state that libraries should be arranged by genre or topic, not by level. (See here  – leveling class libraries, and here – leveling libraries.) In addition, the American Association of Libraries has stated that the adding of leveled labels restricts access to the wealth of materials that should be available to everyone. This is basic intellectual freedom. It’s not anyone’s business what I choose to read or why I choose to read it. Of course parents should be involved in this process with elementary children, but I should never see a child saddened because the book he/she wants is not at the his/her level, much less hear teachers (and at times students) instructing children that a book is not appropriate for check out due to it’s difficulty or lack there of.

Fewer people read like they used to, so students aren’t seeing reading modeled the way it was in generations past. Why is this? The main culprit way too many things vie for our attention. I don’t read like I used to. Not only is there a full slate of channel choices on cable, but I also have Netflix, Amazon, and the internet. I read on my tablet a lot. If a text comes through. I see it, I hear it, I answer it. Before I know it, I’ve stopped reading, and I’ve moved on to something else. The answer to this problem is to limit the distractions themselves. We need to teach children how to do this.

But there is  also the leveling itself. IMHO, leveling everything has aided increasing numbers of students who can’t/don;t read. Instead of choosing something they’d like to read. They have to check that it’s on the correct level (or in a range of levels) first. Oh but, the book he wants is not at his level. Too bad! Read this one instead. Sorry it’s not what you want.

The school library concept should be built around choice. The place itself should be designed to help children find something they want to read. When I go to the library, I may well browse for a book that looks interesting. I may browse in a specific section because I have a hankering to read about the Romanovs or pre-colonial America or confirm or refute something I read on facebook. I may want to read about an animal and can’t decide which one, so I start meandering around in the animals and end up in the biomes, but the choice is mine.  Even when I’m writing a paper, I’m free to choose and discard resources as I see fit. If one is too difficult for me, and it’s what I want, then I struggle with it. If it’s too easy, well, I scan it quickly for pertinent information and move on.

In the elementary school there is a large range of reading skills. That means in the elementary library there are materials in a large range of reading levels – board books to some at the middle school level. How do students know which ones work for them? We learn skills to determine if a book is a good fit (like the five-finger rule), but there are other (and IMHO, more important) factors involved. Is the book about something that interests me? Do I have someone who can help me read it if it’s way too hard? Does the topic interest me enough that it’s worth the struggle even if I have help?

A 5th grader who wants to read a princess book. Most of those are picture books. Can a 5th grader check out a picture book? Of course! If a 2nd grader wants to read about wrestlers (Oh, Mrs. Griffin! Here’s one about John Cena!), and it’s written at at 4th grade level, what’s the child to do? Check it out and enjoy it!

School libraries exist to support the school curriculum. That’s a valuable function they serve. BUT they also exist so children can grow in a love of reading. That will only happen with choice – choice that is dictated by nothing more than interest.

This leads me to another reason children can’t/don’t read. They don’t like it. They don’t like it because it’s no fun. Reading is always work. It almost always comes with stipulations and barriers. There is little choice. There are unrealistic expectations (like it must have so many pages). They aren’t allowed time to read for pleasure and just set the book down and leave it. They aren’t allowed time to explore genres on their own or talk with their friends about what they are reading. Reading comes with a cost, and they don’t like the pressure. They are caught in a vicious cycle. I don’t like to read because it’s not enjoyable, I can’t read because I don’t read. I don’t like to read because I can’t read.

The good news is there is an easy fix to this – return leveling to it’s proper place as an instructional tool, and let children choose books they’d like to read!

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Want to know more? Here are some good books on the subject (all available on Amazon):

  • No more reading for junk
  • The book whisperer
  • Reading in the wild
  • Readicide 

Fountas and Pinnell have a great website where they share a blog and a discussion group.

Read the AASL position statement on leveling.

When tech works!

I went to NCTIES last week. Every workshop I went to was fantastic! And I could talk for hours about those workshops, but I’ve started looking at conferences in a new light. That’s probably for a couple of reasons. 1) I’ve gone to so many this year. This alone is incredible. The more you go to, the more you learn how to conference. And 2) I’m planning the conference for NCSLMA for October of 2018. (Just in case you hadn’t heard!) So I’m looking at the things I like, and then thinking about the how in making those my own.

This year, I’d really (really, really) like to go paperless at conference. NCSLMA is 100% volunteer. When new leadership comes in, we have to decide what to do with old stuff. So I’ve been thinking more and more about that stuff. We’ve got it down to amazingly small pile for the number of members, but still, there is stuff.

One of the things I wanted to tame this year was the collecting of CEU papers,  along with it’s evil twin – the handing out of certificates of completion. School districts are funny in their requirements. Many insist on that certificate. And yet, I hadn’t seen or found a way to do this yet that I found satisfactorily paper free. That is until I ran across a little google add-on called autoCrat. And now I can say, fill out a google form to document your CEUs, and I’ll email you a certificate!

AutoCrat lets you prebuild a certificate with empty fields and populate it from a form with matching fields. You can set the certificates to be mailed out immediately or you can send them out periodically.

Below is what I found (from Jeffrey Bradbury) in my search for generating a certificate from a google form. AutoCrat has been updated since this was made, but it got me through. Now that I know what autoCrat is, I’ve found lots of newer videos.

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My plan for educational reform

I am a strong proponent of public education, but I’ll be the first to say I don’t like the track we are on. What I see is heavily prescribed learning with little choice for students. We can debate which schools have the better teachers and which schools have the best opportunities. But what we need desperately is for every single school to be place where children flourish.  We don’t need a choice of school. This just opens up a whole different set of problems. We need consistency in all schools.

ALL schools need to offer

  • high quality reading materials
  • time to be curious
  • a variety topics to explore
  • meaningful techniques of expression
  • other learners, teachers, experts outside of their school wall
  • opportunities to fail
  • instruction in how to write personalized action plans
  • to hear viewpoints that are different from their own
  • a community with shared ideas and plans
  • time for thinking and reading and exploring
  • independence and some choice.

We don’t need armed teachers. We need places where students are valued – not artificially valued, but where they develop their own sense of worth through hard work and the ability to to set their own learning agenda. The amazing thing is that most schools already have the mechanism to get this started – the library and librarian. All the things listed above can start in the library and with the librarian. Want to radically change education? Ask your school librarian where to start!

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2018 Librarian to Librarian Networking Summit

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Yesterday, I spent the day at East Carolina University at the Librarian to Librarian Networking Summit! This was the first one I’ve attended (thanks to Sedley Abercrombie). I’ve looked at it every year for the past six years thinking I should go, but just haven’t made the commitment. Thanks to Alan Bailey and his team at ECU for putting on this great event!

Pros:

  • Quality sessions led by NC librarians.
  • Food – breakfast, lunch, and snacks (and it was all really good!)
  • Networking – this was actually easier than at larger conferences
  • Cost – $30 covered opening session with John Claude Bemis, three sessions, door prizes and more food than I could eat.
  • Location – we were all over Joyner Library. (I love being at my alma mater!)

Cons:

  • Location – don’t laugh. It’s a long haul on Friday afternoon from Winston Salem to Greenville. Although not as long because Sedley and I travelled together. Traffic is never as bad when you have someone to talk to.

So next year, be on the lookout for 2019 Librarian to Librarian Networking Summit!

By any other name . . .

am I still a librarian?

Periodically, I see districts, schools, and other groups trying to come up with a new name that exactly portrays what we do. I get it. Librarians do EVERYTHING. We want a title (other than super hero) that clearly portrays our job to the world.

Most every profession has changed. Most every professional in most every field has had to take on new and different responsibilities, grow in their technological awareness, and move in directions that just a few years ago, they had no idea would exist. And yet, we still call teachers, principals, salesmen, doctors, lawyers, etc. by the titles they have gone by for years, and everyone understands that their jobs, roles, responsibilities have evolved.

AND here’s what I think has happened in all this effort finding the perfect title in the school library world – no one knows what we do. This pursuit of constantly seeking just the right title has diminished our profession. While people are trying to figure out what to call us, they aren’t thinking about what we do and who we reach. While people are trying to understand the relationship between the media and the library, they assume we no longer have books. Instead of having the opportunity to advocate for libraries in every school, I’m explaining why a school librarian they know is called an information specialist.

I would dearly love for us as a profession to embrace the title of school librarian. Let’s own it. Let’s educate people about what we do. Let’s tell everyone who will listen about the difference school librarian make for students and faculty.

No matter the title, I am a school librarian.

 

 

Preconferences & School Librarians

If you’ve never been to a preconference, find one and GO! Conferences usually have sessions that are go, go, go, run, run, run! But a preconference is longer and gives you the chance to really engage with the speaker, topic, and attendees.

So, if you could request any preconference that would be the most beneficial to you as a school librarian, what would it be?

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My Google Drive FAIL

files-1633406_640.jpgThis morning, I’ve been going through my google files. What a mess! I’m a fairly organized person, but keeping up with digital papers is apparently a ridiculous task for someone who touches so many areas of the curriculum. And I’m a jack of all trades with interests in soooo many things. And this is not a problem I have with items I can hold in my hand. Those I can evaluate and toss.

When I taught math and the occasional science course, I could divide things up in courses and then units. There was overlap, but not like this. I had created an archeologist nightmare. I could dig for days to find related files in multiple folders.Virtually identical files were everywhere. Folders were in folders that were in folders. I felt like Alice exploring Wonderland looking at the baffling and unexplainable.

Some decisions have to be made. Topical, seasonal, type of lesson? What made me think I could do all three? Why do I have five copies of this same file? Is this a library skill or a literary skill? Have I ever used this? Will I ever use this? Why in the world did I keep it?

*sigh*

Well, muchis gone now – at least for this moment. But this is truly a digital problem – maybe just mine, but I suspect I’m not alone. I can easily keep it, so I do. At what point will my drive resemble the internet?

I guess I should confess I have the same problem with pictures, but that will have to be tackled another day.
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