Banned Books Week is coming to a close…

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I am only a month into my first ever position as an ELEMENTARY educator.  And as most educators know, at least in the literacy realm, this week is Banned Books Week.  I really wanted to make sure I included this “holiday” into at least some of my classes’ curriculum, so I decided to test the waters with my fourth and six graders (about 200 students), and it went wonderfully!  We started off using Mentimeter, which is a wonderful online instant survey tool–I highly recommend it!  I laid out various banned books onto the tables, but did not tell them why they were there and that they were banned.  My Mentimeter question was “What do all of these books have in common?”  Of course, all of them at once gave me and each other puzzled looks because they couldn’t see a connection between a picture book like And Tango Makes Three and a very popular series like Harry Potter.  I encouraged them to discuss with their groups and get creative with their answers.  The end product was interesting to see because they stated things such as “fiction,” “hard cover,” and “illustrations.”

Once we did that I told them their answers were great, but unfortunately none of them was the one answer I was looking for.  And once again, I got puzzled looks across the board.  When I explained to them that the one major commonality of all of these books was that they were banned, the students immediately started calling out questions and groaning.  I loved it!  This meant they were questioning that idea, and were curious to learn more.

We then segued into it being Banned Books Week and the celebration of literacy and the First Amendment.  Some may think that free speech may be too complicated of an issue for children that are only no more than eleven or twelve years old, but it most certainly was not.  Some classes sparked debates about the validity of banning a book, while others wanted to learn the reasoning behind each banning.  It was such a spectacular moment as an educator to witness.  And I truly couldn’t have been more pleased by how the lessons played out!

To wrap up the lesson, I allowed my students to take “mugshots” to celebrate Banned Books Week, and I had more than enough volunteers.  As you can see (below), they got very creative and had a fun time producing their own representation of what banning a book means to them.  It has been a wonderful week, and I plan on spreading the wealth to the third and fifth graders next year!

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To GAFE? Or not to GAFE?

GAFE:  Google Apps for Education

Many school districts are jumping onto this bandwagon.  They want to be a part of the technological evolution that is occurring across the world.  Google, as anyone who is even remotely in the know already uses, began as a search engine, but now, is SO much more!  They are Microsoft’s arch nemesis–a competition among suites.

GAFE has so many features:  classroom, sheets, slides, forms…the list goes on for a bit!  But they are also user friendly and compatible with pretty much any electronic device and other popular tools out there, such as YouTube.  And, if you already have a gmail account, you have access!

I, myself, have been a gmail account holder for over a decade, and I’ve never wanted to part.  Gmail is easy to use, never has never issues, and I’ve never been hacked.  It simply makes sense.  And with access to so many of Google’s services, the deal is sweetened up a bit more.  So when my district offered workshops on GAFE, I did not hesitate to sign up.

We spent three long days doing a lightning introduction and review of everything, and today, we are given the opportunity to take the certification exam.  If my experiences and (short) training did its part, then I will be a Google Certified Teacher by the end of today!

Honestly, in terms of tactile rewards, the certification doesn’t give much.  (You can print out the digital certificate they email you.)  But, it does allow you a lot as an educator in this tech-driven world.  As we spent our days practicing, I was brainstorming lesson ideas in my mind.  I feel energized and excited to tackle the school year ahead!

My district is lucky enough go one-to-one with Chromebooks this school year, so we are most definitely supported to infuse as much technology as possible into our lessons.  And slowly, but surely, I am feeling equipped to take on that challenge!

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Bringing the Library Media Center into THIS Century!

I recently took on a new position as the media specialist at an elementary school.  During the interview process, the administration made it very clear that they wanted to bring not only the space but the entire LMC program into a more tegg-infused realm, which is why I gravitated to this school when selecting a job.

But the task is daunting.  They still use the old school print card catalog!  During these next few weeks of summer (and BEYOND!), I will be doing my best to slowly bring things up to date.  Today was my first day in the space after I was hired and I quickly got to work!

  1. Weeded out redundant or duplicate titles
  2. Contacted the companies about digital catalog quotes
  3. Started brainstorming about possible digital encyclopedias and other resources
  4. Began curriculum mapping and integrated technology into EVERY lesson–no matter how big or small

The list seems endless because the minute I think of one thing, fifteen others come in its tracks, but it’s exciting!  I hope with each small change, the LMC will make a huge transformation.  It will be great to see how this following school year goes with every adjustment that’s made, and I look forward to keeping track of them here!

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Book Club Meets Movie Night

For my final Book Club title of the school year, I had selected Jojo Moyes’ Me Before You.  I thought our end-of-May meeting would correspond perfectly with the June release date for the movie.  Not only did this get my “loyal members” a little more excitement than usual for our discussion, but it also had new students gravitate towards the club.  I even have some of them asking if we can all see the movie together!

Some die-hard book lovers argue that the movie almost always ruins the book and completely alters the story.  Now, that may just be the case, however, I say use that movie to your advantage.  Our students, especially teenagers, generally enjoy going to the movies.  So why not use that to propel them to read?  Why not use the new release as a tool to inspire a student to pick up a book and read for leisure?

I am thrilled to see that all of my Book Club members, both old and new, are excited to read the book and then compare it to the movie.  It will be enjoyable for all, and the best part is that it inspires literacy!

In addition to our monthly Book Club meetings, I also host a Page-to-Screen monthly movie night in the library.  Since the beginning of the school year, once a month I selected a movie that was based off of a book, and I invited students to purchase a ticket (only $2!).  I would pull out my projector screen, pop in the DVD to my projector, and make some popcorn.  Then we would all sit around and enjoy the film depiction of a beloved book.  This, too, is a form of literacy.  Quite a few times I’ve had a student want to read the book AFTER watching the movie!

Sometimes as educators it is easy to grumble and point fingers at something or someone else for the apathy our students feel towards reading.  But why not DO SOMETHING to fight against it?  Use something that already interests them to inspire them to pick up a book.  Even if only a couple students out of a huge group start to read, it is a victory!

I once saw a cartoon that had the caption, “Why did you become a school librarian?” and the answer read, “To avenge the decline of literacy.”  Even though it gave me a chuckle, I couldn’t agree more–whether you call yourself a librarian, a media specialist, a cybarian, et cetera,  one of your main duties is promoting literacy.  And, I believe you must do anything you can to ensure that.

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What does a one-to-one shift mean for a school library?

My district is slowly making the shift with a one-to-one initiative.  This year the middle school provided laptops for every student in the building, with the plan that the high school will follow within a year or two.  What does this mean for the high school library and for my role as its librarian?

Currently, the library is known as a hub for computers, among its many roles.  Many times throughout the day students are coming in to use a computer, teachers are scheduling classes for computer time, and testing is done for the new technological requirements.  The list seems endless…

One may ask, what if teachers no longer schedule lessons in the library because they no longer need computers?  Of course there are times when a teacher does not want or need any of my assistance or input, in which the class is solely in the library for internet and computers.  But, there are also times where they need my assistance and instruction.  Almost every class, if not all, does some kind of research paper/project, and for this they need the library and/or its resources.  Many of our students need instruction and demonstrations on how to properly conduct online research, how to identify a reliable resource, and how to best utilize our databases at their disposal.  This is when my role comes in.  Even if the classes do not visit the library once they have their own laptops, that does not mean my role is irrelevant.  I plan on “visiting” classrooms and conducting my lessons there, which may actually optimize student concentration.

So when every student is provided with their own laptop, what does this leave for the library?  (Teachers already have their own laptop to use.)  I would be lying if I said my first thought was not panic when I heard of the digital shift.  But once I had a moment to process, I realized the library’s value does not solely live within the restraints of “computer lab.”

Let’s begin with the basics–the actual room itself.  The library offers a central location for students and staff alike to come together and work on a common goal.  Students, who have no intention of using a computer, visit the library all day long.  When a student needs space on a larger table to work creatively, they come to the library.  Staff meetings are held in the library.  Make-up work is finished in the library.  Once again, the list seems endless…

This simple fact brought peace of mind.  Additionally, the library hosts after school activities:  staff meetings, club meetings/events, library events, etc.  This is on top of the special events I host during unique times of the school year, such as Banned Book Week, Teen Read Week, etc.

I realized that there is no need to panic or worry–the library’s sole value is not its computers.  The one-to-one shift will be happily welcomed, not feared.

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Inspire Reading–Cure National Epidemic…?

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I work in a New Jersey public high school.  As many educators of American children, I unfortunately, along with my peers, battle our students when it comes to reading.  For whatever reason–there seem to be an endless amount of theories–children in this country do not gravitate towards reading for pleasure.  It simply is not an activity considered for leisure.

However, last year, a new student arrived…from England.  For those of you who have traveled to the United Kingdom, you may have noticed how almost EVERYONE seems to read–all the time!  I remember while I did my study abroad there, I would get onto the tube in London, and find myself surrounded by open books and newspapers.  It was spectacular!  That culture, that love for the written word, was a norm in England.

This British student came into the library on his very first day of school and introduced himself, and he soon became one of my (few) regulars.  He would pop in at least a couple times a week, check out a book, and we would chat about various titles.  Our conversations though would inevitably lead back to how we are both saddened by Americans’ lack of enthusiasm for reading.

This begs the question:  why isn’t this a trend in America as well?  Why do our children practically despise reading?

I’m not quite sure.  However, thanks to my few, regular readers, I have hope that this will turn around.  I respect when a student of mine recommends I add a certain book to the collection.  It doesn’t matter what genre or format, I try to support all reading!  That is why, when my British student ecstatically recommended the Cherub series to me, I just had to follow through!  It was equally fun to add some international writers to our modest collection.

And today, when he came into the library for the first time of this school year, I proudly showed the Cherub series books on display–along with all the other new titles.  He was thrilled and shocked to see that I had listened and purchased them for the library.  He even gushed to his English teacher in the hallway how happy he was to see the Cherub series in the school.  It filled my heart with joy!

This made me think…maybe it isn’t a cultural thing.  Maybe it is simply because we, as adults, have not realized it is more about fostering, than forcing, when it comes to reading and our children.  Maybe it simply comes down to finding the right book, magazine, or newspaper to get our children to WANT to read.  We need to ignite that spark in all of them.  And, I think a good way to do that is to simply LISTEN.

Hear them out when they discuss interests…that may be a perfect place to start in terms of picking the right title for them.  Support reading for the younger generations.  We don’t want the written word dying with them.

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YAL to Movies: The Maze Runner

It seems that every hit young adult novel is being adapted for the silver screen these days. The Maze Runner is the latest to join this widespread trend. However, even though these books and films prove to be quite popular on both fronts, the literature does not always translate very well in the eyes of the reader. The go to complaint of “the book was so much better” tends to ring out again and again after watching the film version of a beloved novel. Many times, the issue seems to be the screenplay and editing of the movie itself. It is nearly impossible to fit every detail into a two-hour time slot, but this is still a tough pill to swallow for many readers.  They find that so much of the essence of the book they adore has been completely ignored when transitioned onto the big screen.  This can leave a feeling of disappointment.

Yet, readers go again and again to watch the movie versions of their favorite books.  Personally, I like to see if what I imagined while reading alone will be a shared image when sitting in a crowded theatre.  In recent times it seems like every other movie that is being released has been adapted from a young adult novel:  The Giver, If I Stay, Mockingjay and the list goes on and on…

So tell me…are you a supporter of these films or not?  What makes you want to see them or avoid them at all costs?

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