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.


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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!



Creating a Community of Readers

As part of an effort to promote reading and to build a community of lifelong readers, I asked my colleagues to demonstrate to our students that teachers are readers too. We created poster collages and prominently displayed book covers of books read throughout the year. This year, together with my colleagues Andrea Hernandez, Edith Horovitz, and Stephanie Teitelbaum, we’ve elevated the reading community idea to a whole new level. With the A to Z Reading Challenge, we are challenging our students to read through the alphabet. Feel free to read more about this challenge in our blog post recently published on Edutopia.

Acknowledging the fact that every reader has different reading preferences, students are participating in a more personalized reading experience, allowing them a choice of titles they find most interesting and meaningful. In all, we’ve designed four different challenges: bronze, silver, gold, and platinum–each requiring a minimum number of books and genres read depending on grade level. Students will earn a badge for their reading efforts.


Only three weeks into the new school year, we are off to a fabulous start. The following image shows a mere snapshot of one student’s reading completed since June 2014. At the rate she is going, we may have to create a Double or Triple Platinum badge!


To continue the theme of building a community of readers, we are also challenging our colleagues to participate in a variation of the student challenge. Faculty must read at least two professional development books in order to earn a bronze badge. Reading five professional development books plus at least two books for each of the 26 letters in the alphabet will earn a faculty a platinum badge.


The first faculty reading posters are up and quickly filling out! We are checking out each other’s posters and inquiring about books read. Informal conversations ensue–and community is enhanced! I’ve observed students and parents doing the same and asking about various titles. The reading community at our school is alive and well!