01 October 2015

Fixed vs Flexible Scheduling: Try a Combo

Here's that rant. Let me start with a little background.

For my first two years as a school librarian, I was a big cheerleader for flexible scheduling. And why not? I'd been told throughout my time earning my master's degree that flexible scheduling was the thing. Plus, I was part of a specials rotation on a fixed schedule provided to me by my administration. I saw all the downsides to operating a school library under a fixed schedule. But then I changed schools and I was free of fixed scheduling. I also started to change my thinking. I started to question whether flexible scheduling is really all it's cracked up to be. 

Given the freedom to decide what sort of schedule I wanted to have in my new library, I finally gave some real thought to the issue. I knew about librarians who used a flexible schedule and loved it. And these were people I had a lot of respect for. But I also knew about other librarians who saw every student every week and also loved their schedule. These librarians made their own schedule and were not part of a specials rotation. Is it really fair to call these types of schedules fixed? Some refer to these schedules as flexi-fixed. And since I can't think of a better term, that's what I'll use for the rest of this post rant. I ultimately decided to go with a flexi-fixed schedule*. And I'm convinced I made the right decision. For me. And my school. And my students. That doesn't mean it's right for everyone (obviously). But this is a rant, so I'll continue with why I think my way is better than your way.

* I should mention now that I'm fortunate enough to work in a small school. We have about 400 students and 25 classes (PK - 5). I can see every student each week and I still have time to wear my other hats.

The precipitant of this rant was hearing (for the umpteenth time) a librarian mentioning that it is a requirement that schools operate under a flexible schedule. And I just wonder if all these people are wanting a flexible schedule for the right reasons. Are they planning to do amazing projects with their students over the course of several consecutive days? To work on multi-day collaborative lessons with other schools through the powers of the internets? To have just as many, if not more, visitors than under their current fixed schedule? Or will fewer students come to the library after this glittery flexible schedule is enthroned? That's my fear. Will some classes be "too busy" to make it to the library? How long might their absence last? 

Students at my school don't always have the freedom to come to the library for an individual visit. The morning is a busy time and some students have just enough time to make it to breakfast and then to their classroom. The academic day operates under a rigid schedule and there's plenty to accomplish. The afternoon is the same as the morning: just enough time to make it to the bus or car rider line or to walk home. If I depended on individual visits alone, my library might grow cobwebs. There are lots of school libraries who live with this reality. I do have my regular customers who come on individual visits several times a week. But I want every student to visit the library every week. And that's what my flexi-fixed schedule allows. 

So, what is this flexi-fixed schedule of which I speak? It's fixed in the sense that I see every class every week on a set day and at a set time. BUT... there are several factors that make this different from I've been describing as a fixed schedule. Librarians and teachers don't get a say in fixed schedules. They do with flexi-fixed. I meet with teachers at the beginning of each year to determine a convenient day/time. We take into account collaborative teachers, when students might be pulled out of class, and what sorts of lessons we might do in the library to make up for missed time in the classroom. There's no flexibility in fixed schedules. Classroom teachers have to have their planning time, so there's no room for negotiation. Under my flexi-fixed schedule, if I have a meeting or other obligation, I can reschedule a class. I like having the ability to talk to a teacher and work out an alternative if needed. 

Another advantage of flexi-fixed over fixed is that teachers stay in the library for my lessons. Not only do they know I'm teaching valuable lessons, they also help teach and manage. And having teachers in the library is the primary way I help spread tech tools throughout my school. When teachers see how easy it is to use Flipgrid to respond to a book, they start asking how they might use it in the classroom. Having teachers in the library means they discover new books from my read-alouds. It means they actually have time to use the library themselves. It means there is a connection between the library and the classroom. So, co-teaching is just as easy under flexi-fixed as it is with flexible scheduling. 

I can see the advantages of a flexible schedule. But I can also envision some possible downsides. And I think we can all agree that a fixed schedule provided by an administration is the absolute worst. School librarians under fixed schedules and part of a specials rotation, I encourage you to continue to fight for your freedom to make your own schedule. And when you make that schedule, I hope you'll consider using a flexi-fixed model. You'll ensure every student in your school visits the library on a weekly basis. The teachers in your school will be aware of how awesome you are and can collaborate with you on lessons. And, I suppose most importantly, the world will not stop spinning. It's okay to not want a flexible schedule. It's oh-kay. 

I'll leave you with a little chart to help you keep score:

15 September 2015

Stroud Night at the Library

September is Library Card Sign Up Month and the elementary schools in my district are partnering with our local public library to host A Night at the Library for each elementary school. Our night was Tuesday, September 8 and it was a big success. Despite a rainy afternoon, we had several families come out. 

There was a guided tour of the children's department, a raffle to win a goodie bag, opportunities to sign up for a library card, and time to explore and have fun with friends and family. We had several families who got their first library card and checked out books. It was great to see students of all ages bonding over their love of reading, tinkering with gears and puzzles in the play area, or exploring educational games on the computer. 

One of my goals this year is to do a better job at promoting activities hosted at our local library. There's a LEGO group, chess, bedtime stories, puppet shows, and much more. Plus, my students were excited to learn they weren't limited to checking out just 2 books at a time like they are at school. At our local library, the limit is 50! And they were excited to learn that it's not just books that can be checked out, but also DVDs, books on tapes, and even ukuleles. 

What are some ways you partner with your local library? Share ideas in our comments.

10 September 2015

The Day Drew Daywalt Came to Visit

Drew Daywalt visited my school last week. And it was awesome. Drew is the author of The Day the Crayons Quit and The Day the Crayons Came Home. If you're not familiar with the books, they're about a bunch of crayons who write letters and postcards to a little boy named Duncan. Some of the crayons are fed-up with their workload, others are frustrated at being ignored, and one has really bad map skills. There's even a naked crayon and another crayon who complains about being used to draw bear poop. You can see how these books would appeal to young children, right? My students absolutely love his books; they can't hold their laughter in when we talk about the naked crayon. So, when I heard about a chance to have Drew visit my school, I jumped on it. 

We prepared for the visit by reading both of Drew's books and doing a few related activities. Kindergarten and first grade students drew pictures and wrote sentences about their favorite parts of the books. Second grade students wrote a letter to Drew asking him a question or sharing their thoughts on the book. Some even pretended to be one of the crayons when writing their letter. We decorated our library with giant crayons and put up the students' work on all the walls. Drawing seven foot crayons took a minute, so even though Drew is gone, those decorations are staying up all year long. 

Drew was great with the students. He brought along a few crayon "characters" to share with the students and much to my students' delight, he had the naked crayon with him. After reading both of his books, he answered questions from students. One question that many students had was about future books and we were all happy to hear that there are plans to continue the crayons' adventures. Will you favorite crayon character be in the sequels? Perhaps. Word on the street is that at least crayon from the first book and at least one crayon from the second book will be in the next adventure. He also talked about the process of writing a book, how long it can take to go from the idea stage to being published, and where he came up with the idea of the naked crayon. 

The really nice thing about Drew's visit is that it was so easy to pull off. And that's thanks entirely to the absolutely amazing people at Avid Bookshop, our local independent book seller here in Athens, GA. I don't know all the details of what happens behind the scenes, but I'm thankful to have such an awesome resource in my town. If you get a chance to have Drew come speak at your school, GO FOR IT! You won't regret it. 

Here are some more photos from the visit:

Drew signing books

Drew talking to the students before reading his books

Green and Blue Crayon welcoming visitors to our library

Purple and Red Crayons are pals

25 August 2015

Books Can Bite: Tips For Keeping Library Shelves Organized

Keeping library shelves neat and tidy is a neverending job. I don't have a perfect solution that keeps them looking how they do after we finish inventory when everything is in the right spot, but I do have some tips that might make life a wee bit easier in that department. Let's tackle each issue individually.

Books Falling Over

This one isn't an easy (or free) fix, but it works wonders. Our library was renovated four years ago and the main thing I asked for was built in dividers on my shelves. I'd seen them at another library a few years earlier and had been dreaming about them ever since. Luckily, that request was approved and 90% of my shelves have dividers now. Each shelf has a series of small holes drilled into them and there are V shaped dividers that fit into the holes. The nice thing about these dividers is that I can place them wherever I want or remove them altogether if need be. I generally have 4 dividers on each shelf, with one spot left empty for a front facing book. This allows me to space the books out a bit, which is a big improvement over having them all crunched tightly together. And it also prevents the domino effect of a whole shelf of books starting to lean, then crash onto the floor. 

But you don't have to order your shelves with pre-drilled holes. The first time I saw this done, a local carpenter had drilled the holes. He made wooden dividers with two pegs attached to the bottom. Like mine, these dividers were removable, but you could easily make them more permanent by adding a touch of wood glue.

Spines Out, Not In

Another problem is that students often put books back on the shelf with the spine facing in, not out. The way I've tackled that is through FEAR (just kidding...mostly). I like to read The Book That Eats People by John Perry. After reading the book, we talk about how books have mouths, just like animals. And sometimes books get hungry. I usually snap the book closed a few times for effect. We talk about how holding the book by its mouth is dangerous (plus, it means you put the book in backwards). I teach my students to hold the book by its spine so that it goes on the shelf correctly AND they keep all their fingers. It doesn't work 100% of the time, but I often hear students reminding their friends not to touch the book's mouth, so it does help. So, next time you're teaching your students about the spine, tell them about the book's mouth too.

Close Enough

I love when books are in the right spot, but ever since I lost my parapro, I've had to adjust my expectations. Right now, I'm fine if books are on the right shelf, even if the order is a bit off. It helps that we've moved away from the Dewey Decimal System. All my books have spine stickers that indicate where they should go. So, all my picture books by authors whose last name starts with an M are together, even though they're not all in perfect ABC order. Generally, the sections are small enough to shelf browse. A few letters have bigger sections (i.e. B and S), but for the most part it's a manageable system. In chapter books, we're organized by genre. So, if the mystery books are all together, that's close enough. And the spine stickers make it pretty obvious when something is in the wrong place (see if you can find the misplaced book in the photo below). I ordered different colors for all my ABC stickers (As are pink, Bs are blue, Cs are orange, etc). So, if there's a B book in the C section, it's pretty easy to spot. I teach my students to look for books like that and help them make it home if they find one.

Can you spot which book is in the wrong place?
Do you have any tips for keeping your shelves neat and organized? If so, leave me a comment and I'll add it to this post. 

29 April 2015

My Path to the School Library

April is School Library Month and several librarians have chosen this month to share their path to the library world. I've enjoyed reading these stories and felt inspired to join in. So, here's mine. 
[Interesting note: I started this post in April of 2014, but never got around to finishing it. And barely made it in under the wire this year.] 

Libraries have always been an important part of my life. I remember going to my local public library as a child. I remember spending hours in libraries on the campus of the University of Georgia while my mom worked on campus. The science library had an awesome sabertooth tiger skeleton out front and it fascinated me. I was even a library intern in high school. But for some reason, being a librarian never really occurred to me when I was considering what I wanted to be. I just saw libraries as a nice sanctuary for a shy, inquisitive kid. And they were. I could have done something else with my time while my mom was working at the university, but I didn't want to. Any time she worked on campus, I'd end up on some random floor at the main library, learning about who knows what. I could have gone to lunch in high school, but I preferred to eat in the library workroom and shelf books. Looking back now, I can't believe I didn't realize then that I should be a librarian. 

As a college student, I worked at my public library, listening to public radio while shelving books. Not a bad gig, eh? I liked it. I especially liked the part where I could sometimes steal a few minutes to just browse through a particularly interesting book on the cart. I always tried to avoid shelving the picture books though, as you could fit about 3,000,000 on a cart. No thanks, I thought. The irony

The shelving job eventually led to a job behind the desk in the Young Adult department, which I also enjoyed. Meanwhile, I was wrapping up my college career and preparing to graduate with a degree* in Middle School Education. That asterisk is there because while I graduated with that degree, I wasn't certified to teach. Why? I didn't student teach. After a short practicum at a local middle school, I felt like maybe teaching wasn't for me. So, I kept working in the Young Adult department while also working overnight stocking at KMart. It was a glamorous life, full of patrolling the web browsing of teenagers and sometimes napping in the KMart toys' aisle in the wee hours of the morning. Fortunately, that slump was brief.

After realizing I needed a "real" job, I turned back to teaching. But I sought out jobs on the lower end of my certification; I wasn't at all interested in working in a middle school. It was a noble goal, I decided, to work with students during the most difficult years of their educational life, but it wasn't one that interested me. I'm still glad I was a middle school major, because I took some great content classes tied to my two focuses: social studies and language arts. After my first interview, I got exactly what I was looking for. I was lucky enough to land a job as a fourth grade teacher here in Athens.

That first year as a teacher, it was tough. I had 29 students and I didn't really know what I was doing. Teachers will understand what I mean. Your first year is almost always a doozy. I survived in that job for two years. I say I survived, because it was really my teacher training. Looking back, I wasn't half the educator I am today. Fortunately, I'm passionate about what I do. That helped make up for my lack of skill. So, I survived and I learned a lot during those first two years as a teacher. 

Then, I got married and left my hometown for the big metropolis of Atlanta. While there, I worked on a failed Senate campaign and spent the rest of that year remodeling houses. I'm sad to say that this was a fairly library-free year for me. I didn't even get a library card in our new town. Our little adventure in the big city was short lived and we returned to Athens a year later. My luck continued when I was hired as a fifth grade teacher back in the Clarke County School District. And it was during this time as a fifth grade teacher that I finally realized what I wanted to do. I wanted to be a school librarian. I think part of it was that after a few years of teaching, I'd become much better at read alouds. That may sound a little silly, but it's true. When I first started teaching, I wasn't very good. I wasn't using different voices for different characters, I doubt I was reading with real emotion and inflection, and I wasn't reading the right books. But by this point, in my third year of teaching, I was reading Roald Dahl books to my students and they were hooked! As a classroom teacher, I taught all subjects, but I started realizing that teaching reading was my favorite. Plus, the librarian at my school was a few years away from retirement. Everything sort of just fell together for me.

I enrolled in a master's program at The University of Georgia and started the fall of 2006. I'll be the first to say that I don't know how some of my fellow students did it. Many were working full time, had kids of their own, and were still giving 100% to grad school. I couldn't hack being a teacher and a student at the same time. So, after completing my first year of classes, I took a break from grad school. After one more year as a fifth grade teacher, I took a year off from teaching and went back to grad school full time. It was a great year and it really enabled me to give all my attention to my studies. I loved the program at UGA and especially its leader at the time, MaryAnn Fitzgerald. I learned a lot, made great friends, and truly felt prepared to go out and find a library home of my own.

And I was fortunate. My first job as a school librarian was at Oglethorpe County Primary School and I loved it there. The only downside was the drive, plus I missed working in Athens. So, after two years as a school librarian in Oglethorpe County, I returned to the Clarke County School District as the librarian here at Stroud Elementary School. After four years here, I'm happy to say that I'm proud to be Stroud. 

I love being a librarian. I have so much freedom to teach, I get to know every single student in my building, I get to see kids get excited about reading every single day, and I have gadgets galore. What more could I ask for, right? 

Actually, I do need some benches for our courtyard. 

13 April 2015

Poetry Month at Stroud Elementary School

I love April for several reasons. It means that summer vacation is right around the corner. It means flowers are blooming. But most importantly, it means it's Poetry Month! Most classes will get five poetry lessons in the library this month and that still feels like not enough.

In the past, I've done poetry with grades 2 and up. Poetry isn't a standard for K and 1 (although rhyming words are), but this year I decided to include everyone. It's funny; most second grade students have a basic understanding of what poetry is. We usually just jump right in. But this year, starting with kindergarten students, I tried to figure out a good way to explain it to them. And I couldn't. How do you explain poetry to a five year old? If you have any great ideas, share them in the comments. I ended up deciding to show them what it was instead. So, we read poems from some of my favorite poets: Jack Prelutsky, Shel Silverstein, Judith Viorst, just to name a few. We read funny poems, poems that rhyme and poems that don't rhyme, poems in strange shapes, and poems that require two readers. That's how we started. I still don't know how to sum up poetry in a nice little description, but maybe that's okay.

We're not just reading poetry. We're also writing all sorts of poetry this month. Our younger students wrote shape poems last week and this week they're writing list poems. Older students have been learning about haiku and acrostic poems. You can read some of our poems at the bottom of this post. This week, we're trying blackout poetry. And we still have spine poems and limericks to go. 

This what the students will use to create their blackout poems.
I'm especially excited about doing blackout poetry. I was inspired to give it a go after reading a blog post from another Clarke County School District librarian. Andy Plemmons wrote a post about blackout poetry last week and I thought it sounded like a swell idea. So, I emailed the second grade teachers to find out what the students had been learning about lately, and we decided to go with life cycles. After looking up the standards, I saw that students are learning about the life cycles of local animals and plants and they're also learning about fungi during this unit. Then, I chose five books from our collection and copied some pages. The students will use the text on their sheet to create their poems. They'll start by selecting words they want to include in the poem and drawing a box around the words. Some words that were initially boxed in may be taken out and other words that were skipped might be added as the process continues. After the students are sure they have their poem ready, they will use a black crayon to cover up everything else. 

Here are a few haiku and acrostic poems second grade students wrote last week:

Sunny outside
Party inside
Really beautiful
It's so fun
Now it's spring
Go have fun

"Spring" -- D'asia

All pretty
Musically talented
Over the lights
Right sometimes

"Name Poem" -- Amora

Bee in my room
Run fast
Up in the light
Not good

"Bee" -- Bryshun

I love gummy worms.
They are so sticky and good.
Give me gummy worms.

"Gummy Worms" -- Harrison

I love you daddy,
because you are nice to me.
You are the best man.

"My Daddy" -- Tyler

And these are list poems from kindergarten and first grade classrooms:

My classroom is special.
It has movie star dress-up clothes,
triangle blocks,
LEGO people,
a square board,
pots and pans,
computers with games,
beans in a bucket,
a telephone for calling people,
a door that opens and closes,
chairs for sitting,
and books for reading.
My classroom is special.

"My Classroom" -- Mrs. Linston-Jones’s Class

I love food.
Juicy watermelon,
Tasty strawberries,
Fresh oranges,
Crispy chicken,
Amazing bananas,
Yummy bread,
Great apples,
Waffles with syrup,
Big hamburgers,
Sweet ice cream,
Delicious cornbread,
Hot bacon,
And good cake.
I love food!

"I Love Food" -- Mrs. Floyd’s Class

09 March 2015

Women's History Month in the Library

March is Women's History Month and we started it all off with a lesson about female athletes. Last week, students in K-2 read a book called Players in Pigtails by Shana Corey. It tells the fictional story of Katie Casey and the true story of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. It also has the lyrics to the song Take Me Out to the Ball Game and I realized that I've never heard the full song before. The song is all about a girl named Katie Casey, who tells her beau that she'd much prefer going to a ball game than a show. Several students were familiar with the chorus, but it was a nice tie-in to the protagonist in our book.

Players in Pigtails provides a great opportunity to talk about how society has tried to box women in throughout history. Katie's parents try to talk her out of baseball. The boys in her town try to talk her out of baseball. Even after she makes it to the league, she's forced to attend classes on good manners and posture, and to wear a skirt. We talked about how silly all that is and how it all has nothing to do with baseball. And I made it a point to emphasize that girls, just like boys, can do whatever they please. Many students were surprised to learn that there are girl football players and no one seemed to know that there was once an all female professional baseball league. At one point, a character in the book makes the claim that girls don't like sports. We talked about that, too. Lots of girls like sports and some don't. The same is true for boys, some like sports and some don't. 

After reading the book, we listened to the full song of Take Me Out to the Ball Game and watched a video of an interview with a real-life AAGPBL player, Wilma Briggs. 

Next week, I want to do a lesson on stereotypes. I'm still forming it in my mind, but I want to talk to the students about "girl things" and "boy things." Our discussion from last week laid a good foundation. Our talk about girls not liking sports is exactly the kind of thing I want to talk more about next week. If you have ideas on how to talk about stereotypes with students in grades K-2, please share. And do you have any suggestions for other good picture books for Women's History Month? Leave a comment or tweet to me @stroudlibrary

26 January 2015

What is YOUR dream?

Last week, students in K-2 learned about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during their trip to the library. We've been practicing how to make videos on Flipgrid for the past two weeks, so I was interested to see how the students did when they were given more flexibility in how to respond. They didn't have to remember to mention the title of a book this time, which was a relief for lots of students. 

We began our lesson by exploring the PebbleGo article on Dr. King. We listened to the computer read the article, pausing to have discussions at several points. We talked about what segregation means and what does it mean to march for a cause.

After learning some facts about Dr. King, we watched a two minute excerpt of his I Have a Dream speech. We paused the video a few times to talk about Dr. King's dream for the future. 

Then, students chose from three options on Flipgrid. The choices were:
  1. What did you learn about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.?
  2. Why is Dr. King's dream still important today?
  3. What is your dream?
We talked about the difference between a dream you have a night and a dream you have for the future. I was hoping to avoid videos about swimming pools full of ice-cream or monsters that chase you in the night. There are lots of great videos already posted and I hope there will be others added in the coming weeks, as we celebrate Black History Month. 

Here are a few highlights:


Take a moment to watch the rest of the videos and if you see one you like, click the heart at the bottom of the video. 

19 January 2015

Using Flipgrid for Book Responses

I'm loving that Flipgrid now allows the creation of video questions. The addition of this feature has made it a lot easier for younger students to successfully use the app. We've been making some video responses in the library for the past two weeks. I give the students four options.

  1. What is a question you have about our book?
  2. What is something you learned in our book?
  3. What was your favorite part of the book?
  4. What is a connection you have?
I ask them to be sure to mention the name of the book and to not stick out their tongue when they take their picture. Other than that, I just wanted students to become comfortable using the app. There are several steps in creating a video, but even our Kindergarten students were able to post a video independently. 

You can view all the responses at flipgrid.com/#hbsbkrsp, but here are some highlights:


It's clear that we need to work on adding more substance and references to the text, but our goal these past two weeks was to master the steps in using the app and we were definitely successful in that.

I've had success in the past having students interview one another for video responses. I might try that again soon. It means only half of the class is speaking at one time and it also helps students remember everything they need to say.