Are We Doing Enough? Library Leaders As Extracurricular Learning

Last year, my 5th grade students volunteered 10 minutes after school to help in the library mainly shelving books, but also with other needs as they arose, including labeling and stamping books, sharpening pencils, straightening the books on the shelves etc. Most of the students in the class regularly volunteered throughout the school year. While my initial purpose was to fill my selfish need for help, I quickly realized that the students profited from this work as well.

This year, I decided to take things up a notch. I distributed an application form to both 3rd and 4th grade students (at only half the size of last year’s class, this year’s 5th grade is too small to volunteer in the library on top of their carpool duties) calling for Library Leaders. Students had to commit to any or all of the four school quarters and were required to answer three questions:

  • Why do you want to become a member of the Library Leaders team?
  • What qualities should a member of the Library Leaders team have?
  • What do you think will be the most important thing you do as a member of the Library Leaders team?

The application had to be signed by the student, a parent, and the classroom teacher.


There were 12 applicants for this first quarter (our K-8 student population totals less than 130) and I already have several more lined up for the next quarter. Because there are so many volunteers, each student is able to work only one afternoon a week.

We spent our first week in-training. The students each practiced shelving skills using the Order in the Library game produced by the University of Texas.


It was quickly apparent that we need to work on alphabetical order! So for these first weeks, I’ve assisted all my Library Leaders shelving books. I’ve been gradually releasing some students as they are becoming more independent. But especially some of the 3rd graders still need a lot of help.

So, you may wonder, how is this helping me when I have to do the work with the students? I guess I realized that as students are volunteering, I am still teaching. And that’s wonderful. As students are “digging deeper” into library organization, they are taking ownership and becoming independent users of the library. From my experience with last year’s group, I learned that eventually these 3rd and 4th grade students become role models, able to assist other students. For now, I am amazed how seriously some of the kids and their families are taking the Library Leader role. For example, one family filmed (!) and cheered their student as he entered the library on his first day of volunteering. Another parent told me that her daughter was “so proud” to be shelving books. Here is what surprises me: Despite how meager a programming effort this really is and the very little time it actually takes me, students and their parents really latched on to it. It shows that our young kids are hungry for opportunities to distinguish themselves and raises the serious question: are we providing enough of these opportunities and should we develop more?




International Dot Day 2014


It’s been a busy week in our school library! Students in Kindergarten through Grade 5 celebrated International Dot Day. Originally launched by a teacher in Iowa when he introduced Peter H. Reynolds’ book, The Dot, on September 15, 2009, this event is now celebrated annually around September 15. This year, almost 2 million teachers and their students were expected to participate.

Here at the MJGDS Library we had several fun events planned. All classes watched a retelling of The Dot. It tells the story of Vashti, a little girl who believes she cannot draw. But when her teacher tells her to “make her mark and see where it takes you”, the single dot she draws and the paper she signs and then finds hanging framed on the wall inspire Vashti to be creative. Eventually, she has an art show of her dot creations and pays it forward by inspiring a little boy to be creative.

Kindergarten: Dot Art!

Our Kindergarten students just let their imaginations run wild by creating dot art using a template I created. The rhyme is from the Magic Dot Paintings by Julie Burns. Also, Ms. Gutterman, our art teacher, is working with the students on a fantastic Kandinsky-style art project making concentric circles.!


1st Grade: Trading Cards!

Our first grade students collaborated with a class at Isaac Dickson Elementary School in Asheville, North Carolina. Their librarian, Crystal Hendrix, and I asked our students to create trading cards, challenging their new friends in the other class “You Should Try…”. This was a three-step process. First we met virtually to introduce the classes to each other. Then we created our trading cards before we concluded with another virtual visit, complimenting student creativity and exploring differences and similarities about each other’s schools and cities.



2nd Grade: Dot Photo Scavenger Hunt!

Our second graders made an international connection to celebrate Dot Day! They connected with Natalia Vergara’s class at The Graded School in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Each class went on a photo scavenger hunt using iPads. Amazing how many dots one can find in the library and in the students’ classroom! When we met our new friends in Brazil, we talked all about the many things we noticed in each classroom’s videos, for example the fact that each class has dot-shaped ceiling speakers and our library books have dot-shaped labels and there was a girl wearing a dot-dress in each class! But our class also noticed that we forgot to take photos of the eye-dots on the stuffed animals in the library. We hope to hook up again with our new friends in Brazil soon to continue learning about their school, city, and country.


IMG_2196 IMG_2194


3rd Grade: Book Characters Make Their Marks!

With our third graders I tried something completely new. We focused our discussion on how Vashti made her mark in the story. There is of course the literal meaning of her jabbing the pen on the paper creating a dot. And then there is the figurative meaning of how her new-found creativity sparked an art show and eventually inspired another child to make his mark. For our lesson, I wanted the students to think of book characters who’ve made their mark. This was a very quick but fun lesson. Students first completed a template. In pairs, they then recorded each other using an iPad telling how their chosen book characters have made a mark. The results were amazing!


 4th and 5th Grades: Augmented Reality Dots!

I introduced our fourth and fifth grade students to the colAR Mix app for iPad to get their creative juices flowing! This app allows students to view their drawings augmented by computer-generated graphics in 3D format. I downloaded the Dot Day coloring page from Fablevision’s site and the kids began creating. Amazing!



Books by their Covers: Book Sharing with Personal Collages

Edith's PosterWhile there are certainly advantages to sharing one’s reading experiences globally using Goodreads or a similar social platform, to show my students that teachers are readers too, I purposefully chose the old-fashioned route: poster collages. My initial goal was to create a visual record of my and my colleagues’ reading in order to model for our students that their teachers embrace their roles as readers. Moreover, based on the premise that reading is social, I also wanted to foster a community of readers within our small school. The poster collages are a quick analog way to identify, inform, and share information about the books in our lives.

So at the beginning of the school year, I invited my colleagues to participate simply by emailing me the title and author of books (professional and pleasure) read during the course of the school year. I printed the images of those book covers and glued them to posters I had created for each participating reader. Since many of my library walls are floor-to-ceiling glass, they lend themselves perfectly for display. On their way to lunch or PE, our students would regularly walk past those book posters. I noticed them looking, pointing to different book covers, and commenting that their teachers were reading a lot. In fact, one boy seemed to think that our Vice Principal and I were in a competition–one I was quickly losing as Morah Eta read at least two books weekend after weekend.

Andrea's Poster

Arlene's Poster

While the posters provided a fun way to see how quickly a list of books read can grow, it also became clear that many of our students liked to stop and look at the book covers to find recommendations for reading. In fact, not only were students connected with books, but parents asked about titles and faculty discussed books they had read. I found myself discussing adult books among colleagues with whom I had not discussed books before. The posters helped create a connection between faculty and students who share an interest in reading. They also helped our students see that reading is not just something they have to do for school, but rather is embraced by their teachers for pleasure.

My Poster

Liquid Learning: Using Subtext as a Digital Learning Enhancement

I was very fortunate to spend some valuable reading time every week during our third quarter with seven 5th grade students. Their language arts teacher, Andrea Hernandez, wanted to provide these students with a more personalized approach to close reading instruction. All seven students are excellent readers and we decided to challenge them with an unabridged classic, Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne. Since these students are in our pilot 1:1 iPad classroom and because I’ve been looking for a reason to give it a try, I decided to immerse our little group in a digital reading experience of this classic novel via Subtext for iPad app.


Subtext is a product of Renaissance Learning company (yes, of Accelerated Reader software fame), designed as a “collaborative ereading experience for K12 classrooms.” I chose to use the free, basic version of the app, which provided us with enough functionality. Alternatively, for a fee, users can upgrade to the premium features, offering access to CCSS-aligned assignments, text-to-speech option, and access to leveled nonfiction and informational texts. The only premium feature I would have liked to try out is the ability to track student progress. But since my group consisted of only seven students, it probably would not have made a difference. The basic version provided us with enough adequate functionality to upgrade our novel study to a new form of a social reading experience.

The app offers access to a large collection of ebooks, some for a fee and some are free. Since our classic is available in the public domain, we all downloaded a free version of Around the World in 80 Days directly into the app. I then created a “5th Grade Reading” group, inviting all seven members to join. Instructors have the ability to “enable student restrictions”, effectively preventing students from navigating the Web and sharing notes. I am not sure what the point of such restrictions is in an ereading environment, so opted to not turn them on.


Mostly students read outside of our limited class time. To ensure students were reading more deeply and to assess understanding, I built discussion questions, multiple choice assessments, and polls directly into the text. These features allowed me to view and assess student responses prior to our next meeting in order to then focus on those parts of the text that needed clarification. As the teacher, I had the option to hide all responses until students submitted their answers.




Another value-added feature of Subtext is the ability to embed links to websites, images, or videos. To help build background knowledge, I linked to information about the author, the Suez canal, a map of the British colonies and another of colonial India, an image of a cow catcher mounted to the front of the old American locomotives, and more. Students also were able to embed links into their comments.


While reading, students highlighted words or entire passages and added notes. They then had the option to share the notes with the group. Simply tabbing a word pulled up a built-in dictionary, complete with audio pronunciation of the word and links to search both the Google search engine as well as Wikipedia.


The last feature we used is Subtext’s build-in link to Google Drive. Since our school uses Google Apps for Education, all our students have Gmail accounts and access to Google Drive. We shared a Google Doc of our schedule and this build-in link allowed us seamless access.

Would I use Subtext again? Yes! Using the app as a tool allowed students a different way of connecting with our text. Reading in groups is a social activity where students are learning with their peers. But using this digital tool elevated our small-group reading to a more inclusionary/participatory level by giving even those students who are usually not very vocal an equal voice. The lesson also demonstrates the power of liquid learning–most of the work was done outside of class. Also, the ability to build-in questions and to embed links facilitated active reading–although some students complained that the “the discussion questions…got in the way when there was a good part.” Most importantly, liquid resources like Subtext enable teachers to transcend the classroom and even school boundaries. Spending time together with a good book can include students across the room or literally across the world!

Expressing Emotions With Sensory Poems

My 2nd grade students celebrated National Poetry Month by showing off their poetry writing skills. I already wrote about their Haiku Passover poetry using the BookCreator app. This week, they finished sensory poems using the Haiku Deck app for iPad.

We began by talking about the five senses, reading some examples of sensory poems, and discussing their format (consists of six lines, emotion is stated in the first line and described by a color, uses lots of adjectives). We then brainstormed a long list of emotions and chose the word “surprised” to write a sensory poem together. When it was the students’ turn, they each used a template for drafting.

Template- My Sensory Poem

My Grade 2 students LOVE to write. They used lots of great adjectives and metaphors in their poems. While I don’t expect perfect spelling, I wanted to at least encourage the students to check the spelling of those “harder” words they used. So before moving on to the final phase, the students used dictionaries to look up words they themselves had identified as possibly misspelled.


To create a final product, I chose Haiku Deck for iPad. Not only is this app very user-friendly, but it also provides access to high-resolution, Creative Commons licensed photographs–the perfect match for our sensory poems!


I showed the students a couple of examples I had created and then very briefly demonstrated the steps to find an image (we searched by our chosen color), to select the best text layout for our purposes, and then to share the final product.

In all, we spent two 40-minute lessons writing and creating our sensory poems. The students are incredible writers–but their products speak for themselves!

Sophias Poem-1


[Slides created with Haiku Deck app for iPad. Lavender image by Scott 1346 CC. Yellow image by EssjayNZ CC-NC-SA. Green image by Preneur d’Image CC. Light green image by sodaro,k CC-NC.]



Passover Haiku Poetry

My 2nd grade students wrote and illustrated Haiku poems! In celebration of National Poetry Month, I chose to expose my students to Haiku poetry–mainly to reinforce syllabication with words. We recently created I SPY riddles, which are written in a 4-beats per line rhythm, requiring parsing of words into syllables. As some students found this difficult, writing Haiku poems seemed the perfect reinforcement activity. While traditional Haiku is about nature, I’ve changed our topic up a little bit. Since I teach at a Jewish day school and Passover is right around the corner, I wanted my students to write Haiku poems about Passover.

Introduction to Haiku

We began by reading lots of examples and counting the syllables in each line (traditional Haiku consist of 17 syllables–five in the first line, seven in the second line, and again five in the third line, are non-rhyming, and written in the present tense). Using the topic “Spring” as a whole group activity, we brainstormed any related words and recorded them in a web organizer. My original plan was to then write a Spring Haiku together, but the students were eager to get started and work on their Passover poems. So we did.

Creating Passover Haiku Poems

Armed with a graphic organizer, the students began brainstorming and then drafting their poems. They did a wonderful job incorporating everything they have learned about Passover in their Jewish Studies classes.

Template- Haiku

The next lesson, we used the BookCreator app for iPad to type the poems and draw an image to illustrate them.


Check out some of their beautiful creations!




Retelling Stories of Author Chris Van Allsburg

My 4th grade students have been working on “retelling.” Their language arts teacher, Andrea Hernandez, asked me to work with the kids on this project after reading my post about retelling in 1st grade. The students began by watching some examples of 1st grade students retelling The Paper Bag Princess. They noticed that retelling is about telling a story again, emphasizing the various story elements, and speaking fluently and with expression. Since they had just learned about writing summaries in language arts class, they also noted it was okay to give away the ending of a book when retelling. When summarizing, however, one should “not give away any spoilers”.

For their retelling project, my group of ten 4th grade students focused on books by Chris Van Allsburg. This was a practical decision based on the fact that our school library owns several of his books, most are on my kids’ reading levels, and none of the kids were familiar with Van Allsburg’s work. Students began by finding a comfy spot in the library to read the book, study the illustrations, and then discuss the story.



The students then used a graphic organizer to help identify their story’s elements. Agreeing on the main events was challenging for some of the students, forcing them to convince their partners of their opinions. It was great listening to the kids digging deep into the stories!


Once the graphic organizers were completed, students began practicing retelling the stories to their partners. This was much harder than they had expected. The fact that I meet the students only once weekly for 40 minutes did not help. For some of the kids, at least, it seemed they needed a bit of time to get back into the story either by re-reading the book or carefully studying their organizer. I strive to let my students be as independent and self-directed as possible. So for this project I wanted the partners to coach each other’s story retelling by providing constructive feedback. Of course the added plus was that this also allowed the students to learn from each other. To aid in this process, I created a checklist.


Once students felt ready, the next step was to video record each other retelling the story. Some times it was camera shyness, other times it was lack of preparedness, and in some cases it was a matter of fluency–but for all students the recording stage consisted of multiple takes. In a couple of instances, students edited their own retellings, requiring a reminder that edited versions were not the point of retelling.


The last step was for students to embed the retelling video and write a brief post on their student blogfolios. Please watch some of their retellings, read their posts, and leave a comment!

Abigail Retelling from MJGDS Classrooms on Vimeo.

Isa’s Retelling from MJGDS Classrooms on Vimeo.

English-to-English Translation Challenges


On Tuesdays, our middle school rotation students are in the library for study hall. Most of them typically work on their current event assignments, which are due on Wednesdays. The students have to find a news story of national or international impact and summarize it in their own words. This week, I worked with one of our 6th grade students, who had chosen a story about the current Russia-EU/US standoff over the Ukraine. Aside from the fact that she was clearly lacking any background knowledge on the shared history of the Ukraine and Russia, the student also had an extremely difficult time comprehending the text due to a lack of vocabulary knowledge. For example, what are “political, diplomatic, and economic sanctions”? What does it mean when “Putin says he thinks the West is provoking Russia”?

I am currently meeting twice weekly with a small group of 5th grade students who are reading Verne’s classic (original, unabridged version) Around the World in 80 Days. Written in the 1880s, the novel’s old British English presents my seven students with a completely new language and style. We are using Subtext for iPad (there’ll be a post on this app some time in the near future), which allows me to pose queries for the students directly within the text. One challenge I like to pose is: “Please rewrite this sentence in contemporary English”–oftentimes resulting in a number of varied interpretations. Examples include: “A room was engaged for the young woman, and Mr. Fogg, after seeing that she wanted for nothing, set out in search of her cousin Jeejeeh.” Or, “He acquitted his task with characteristic serenity, and invariably replied to the remonstrances of his fair companion, who was confused by his patience and generosity.”

Whether reading for information as in the current event assignment or reading for entertainment as in our classics reading group, students must show comprehension. Both types of assignments are requiring students to read deeply, i.e. forcing students to stop and think about meaning. Deep reading is challenging. It is easy to read one Rick Riordan or Margaret Haddix or JK Rowling book after another, following a highly engaging story. But it is an entirely different proposition to read deeply, interpreting style nuances and translating vocabulary. But it is in facing these challenges that readers gain maturity and depth. Both our social studies teacher’s current event assignments and the reading of a true classic promote just that: enhanced literacy.

Biography and Authentic Literacy

I’ve been struck in recent weeks by student responsiveness to three heartwarming projects, Book Tasting, Retelling, and the Book Minute.  In Book Tasting, students have three minutes to examine a number of books, evaluating each according to their own entirely personal and subjective assessment of “what matters.”  In Retelling, students take it a step further by personally narrating the summary elements of a story (character, setting, problem, solution, etc) to their peers and in their own words. In the Book Minute, students choose a favorite book and try to “sell it” to their classmates in a one-minute presentation. In all cases, I’ve been struck by how students engage with the material in their own unique ways–interpreting, evaluating, emphasizing, ignoring or celebrating aspects of their reading in ways completely informed by their unique personalities.


In being privileged to sit with students as they negotiate various reading materials–involving both content that they “love” and self-selected as well as assigned reading–I’ve realized (again) how important literacy is to the formation of identity and biography.  I’ve often heard the statement “you are what you eat,” but I see how it becomes even more true that “you are what you read.” What I found particularly revealing were the presentations students made about their reading during the Retelling (here and here and here) and Book Minute sessions. In each case, the unique personalities of each little soul came shining through!

As a librarian, I live to connect people with the content that they seek. In whatever format, print, digital, audio, or video–my role is to help make the connections. In doing so, I have the privilege of helping to shape students’ personal reading biographies. I have come to realize (again) how it is my personal mission to help young people become who they are, in the most supportive and caring ways possible. Participating in authentic literacy activities is one of the most enjoyable aspects of my job.

Book Tasting

One challenge I face as a school librarian is to make sure my students are exposed to a wide variety of books. So when I read Andy Plemmons’ post about book tasting (who was inspired by Buffy Hamilton), I knew it was something I wanted to try with my students. For my 3rd grade class of 20 kids, I piled a stack of books on each of our four library tables, making sure to include various fiction genres as well as nonfiction and biography titles, all covering a range of reading levels.

We began with a brief review of how to select a book: read the blurb on the back, the inside flap, and several of the pages. For the book tasting event, students selected a book, recorded its title and call number, took brief notes, and rated each book anywhere from 1 to 5 stars on a form I created.

Book Tasting Template

Students were allowed three minutes per book. I used a timer, projected on a large screen, to alert students to move on to another book. The large assortment of book choices as well as the time limit really helped student motivation. I was impressed that my typically chatty 3rd grade students fell silent whenever the clock started it’s 3-minute countdown.




In all, each student “tasted” 10 books. I loved seeing them excited about their 5-star “finds”. When a student discovered one of the I Survived series books, he told me that he planned on reading all of them. In fact, every student found at least one book to check out, but most students found several so that I decided to ignore the usual checkout limit of three books. What a perfect way to start our winter break!

Please watch Eliana and May explaining the book tasting process.