The Story of Our Names: A Grandparent’s Day Experience

Last year, our PTA started hosting a Grandparent’s Day coffee hour at our school. Grandparents gather in the cafeteria for coffee and donuts, chat with their grandchildren, and listen to a short program. Following the program, there are opportunities for photos and school tours.

I love being a part of this special event. Both years, I’ve read a grandparent-related story during the program. Last year, it was Last Stop on Market Street. This year, I read Alma and How She Got Her Name by Juana Martinez-Neal. It is a story of a girl who thinks her name is way too long, but then her dad tells her the story of each part of her name. Alma realizes that she has connections to every part of her name and no longer feels like it doesn’t fit. I loved that when I read this special story about where a name comes from that the cafeteria filled with hundreds of grandparents and grandchildren got silent and attentive.

At the close of the book, I shared the author note at the back which ends with a question: “What is the story of your name? What story would you like to tell?” With that question, I invited grandparents to stop by the library to chat with their grandchild about family names and where they came from. We tried to capture a few of these stories on video, but the more important thing was just having the conversation.

I also selected several books to place on tables for grandparents and grandchildren to read together. It was so special to look around and see families huddled together around books reading. Even though it was crowded an bustling in the library, families were having special moments all around the library.

So many people came up to me to tell me how special the book Alma was to them. I loved that we all made our own connections around this story and the importance of names. I hope this created a spark for many families and they will continue to talk about family traditions and names with even more members of the family.

Celebrating International Dot Day 2018

September 15(ish) is International Dot Day. This day celebrates The Dot by Peter Reynolds and the idea that we are all creative and unique and can all make our mark on the world. Every year, we use this week to make Skype connections with classes around the country, share dot-related stories, and realize that we are all connected to each other.

Some years I try to host many dot-making activities in the library.

This year, we are doing creativity challenges every week as a whole school, so I asked my principal if we could make this week’s challenge dot-related. At the beginning of the week on our morning broadcast, I explained the purpose of Dot Day and challenged all classes to see what they could make out of dots. They could create something as a class, create individual ideas on post-its or index cards, or anything else. Each class was encouraged to hang their work outside their door for all to see. They were also encouraged to bring their creations to Skype sessions to share with our connecting classes.

I really loved this new addition because I feel like more people jumped into celebrating Dot Day. On Friday, we invited everyone to wear dots, and I was surprised to see how many students created their own shirts at home with dots.  One student even hid a Mo Willems pigeon in his dots on his shirt.

For our Skypes we connected with:

  • Donna MacDonald at Orchard School in South Burlington Vermont to read Little Elliot by Mike Curato.
  • Craig Seasholes in Seattle, Washington to read Yo! Yes! and The Dot
  • Shannon Miller at Van Meter Elementary in Van Meter, Iowa to read Ish
  • Mrs. Shekleton at Howard Winneshiek School District in Iowa to read Say Zoop by Herve Tullet
  • Mrs. Guardiola at Caldwell Elementary School in Round Rock, Texas to read I Don’t Draw I Color by Adam Lehrhaupt
  • Mrs. Snead at Central Elementary in Carrollton, Texas to read Say Zoop by Herve Tullet
  • Mrs. Schnurr in Dallas, Texas to read I Don’t Draw I Color by Adam Lehrhaupt

As usual, every connection was filled with special moments. One of my favorites was reading Say Zoop with so many students. It’s a book that puts you a bit out of your comfort zone, but the kids had a blast making all of the noises.

I also loved seeing all of the creativity of dots from place to place and hearing students ask questions and share with one another. These Skype connections always remind us how we are sometimes stuck in our routines and forget that there’s a whole world of people out there doing some of the same things we are. It just takes reaching out and having a conversation to connect yourself to one another.

Thank you to everyone who connected with us and to all educators and students who reached out, tried something new, and connected the dots around the world.

Makerspace Begins: Themes and Options

Our makerspace has once again cranked up for the 2018-19 school year. Once again, I’m collaborating with Gretchen Thomas and her class of over 30 undergraduates from the University of Georgia. Every year, Gretchen and I meet to think about what our open makerspace time might look like, ,and every time we make some changes and try something new.

Our idea for this year is offer specific themes around materials or tools rather than try to squeeze in so many different things in a short amount of time.

For September, we’ve chosen cardboard as our material.  Across 3 weeks, we hope to offer 3 short-term challenges using cardboard.  One of those challenges will be a “making with a cause” challenge.

  • Week 1: Design a hat. This can be interpreted however students want.
  • Week 2: Making with a Cause. Make an award. Students will choose someone who deserves an award. Make the award. Give the award to that person with an explanation of why they deserve the award.
  • Week 3: Make a puppet. Use cardboard tubes to create unique puppets and hopefully begin storytelling with them.

For the second open makerspace, we know that there will be students who aren’t interested in the short-term options and want to branch out to their own projects that take longer than 1 or 2 sessions. For these students, we will offer them a space to plan, design, and create their own inventions that have a purpose.  We wanted to keep this option open ended, but encourage students to develop something using cardboard that actually has some sort of function/purpose.

In each Tuesday/Thursday session, groups of UGA students come to work alongside students. They come in 30-minutes waves so that each round of students has me and UGA students to support them. I’ve put a bit more structure on the front end of makerspace this year. Students check-in with a UGA student and then sit on the carpet. I offer a quick intro to what we are making and connect it to a book. For cardboard, we used Cardboard Kingdom by Chad Sell. Then, students move to tables to do some planning before they start grabbing cardboard and cutting.

This week, we launched into the first challenge of making a hat. Students had access to cardboard, Makedo safe saws, scissors, duct tape, and coloring supplies. Students sketched hats onto cardboard and started sawing.  There was a learning curve on the best strategies for sawing. Some students were more patient than others with the cutting process. Be warned! It was very loud and very messy. All adults circulated around to support as many students as possible.

At the end of session 1, students labeled all of their pieces of cardboard and we stored them in the makerspace.

For session 2, we spread all of the pieces out so that students could locate their cardboard to start again.

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Our hats continue. #makerspace #barrowbuddies

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I loved seeing the hats that students came up with in such a short amount of time. At dismissal, I could see the cardboard hats parading down the halls and lots of students were curious about where they came from. Many students needed more than 2 sessions to finish. Some chose to take the materials with them to finish at home. Others left their hats behind to continue working on next week.

I have a lot of questions about how this is all going to work. It’s fast-paced and a challenge to get one group finished and cleaned up before the next group comes in. It’s also a mess of cardboard dust and bits, and I hate leaving that for our custodians. However, we’re pressing forward, expecting the miraculous, and making changes as needed along the way.

Wolf in the Snow Puppets and Storytelling

In just 2 weeks, we will welcome author/illustrator Matthew Cordell to our school. Small groups of our Kindergarten students have been coming to the library to work on a special project. This project came about because our Kindergarten classes are unable to attend our regularly scheduled makerspace times. I wanted to offer them some special opportunities throughout the year because of this. Thankfully, I now have a high school intern, Andrea Arumburo, who is collaborating with me in the library most afternoons. Her focus is art, so I knew she would align perfectly with Kindergarten makerspace opportunities.

For this first round of classes, groups of 5 students from each Kindergarten class came to the library to create puppets based on Matthew Cordell’s Wolf in the Snow.  We began by refreshing students’ memories on what happened in the story with a quick flip through the book. Then, Andrea talked with the students about creating characters on paper plate circles. She offered that they could replicate the characters in the story, or they could design a character that looked more like themselves.  She had several examples to show them.

Next, students moved to tables and sketched out their characters on paper plate circles and colored them. We placed examples on each table as well as a copy of the book. As students finished a puppet, they glued a tongue depressor stick onto the circle to create the puppet. Most students chose to make a 2nd character so that they had one human and one wolf.

Once students finished, we sent them to spots around the library to practice retelling the story. Kindergarten talks a lot about 3 ways to read a book: read the words, read the pictures, retell the story. This was a great opportunity to practice retelling.  Some students referred back to the book. Others remembered every detail. Others used their artistic license to completely change the story and make it their own.

After practicing, they found a partner and shared their puppet show story with a partner.  For many, this was the stopping point in our time limit of 40 minutes.  However, a few students were able to come over to the green screen and practice retelling their story in front of the camera.

In one session, we decided we didn’t have enough time to film anyone so instead, we all sat on the carpet with our puppets and we walked back through the pages of the book together. I told the story and students used their puppets to act out the story.  I loved watching them hide puppets behind their backs when that character wasn’t in a scene.  This unexpected closing was actually something I wish I had done with the other groups because it made a connection between the puppets and the story.  I think it would have helped students in making their own puppet shows.

Our hope is that Andrea and I can continue to offer these opportunities throughout the year. Some will be low-tech, high-tech, or a mix of it all.

Fine Tuning Genrefication with Custom Signs

One of the things I’ve loved the most about organizing our library by genre has been the ability to customize the experience for readers. If a section of books isn’t working for how readers find books, then it can be changed. If kids keep asking for a kind of book that is mixed into lots of sections, they you could pull those books into a new section.  I’m always watching and listening to the words I’m having to repeat over and over as well as the questions that readers are asking about where books are located.

One noticing this past year was how I was always having to explain that the “E” section or “Everybody” section is where picture books live.  The “F” or the “Fiction” section is where chapter books live.  Students would search the library catalog and see that something was located in “Sports Fiction”, but that didn’t really translate to the sports chapter book area to them.  I decided to fine tune this in Destiny to make searching more user-friendly for readers.

I simply went into each subcategory in Destiny and changed it so that it specifically said “chapter”, “picture”, or “information” next to each genre category. Now, when a student searches, they will see a book like Ghost by Jason Reynolds is in the “Sports Chapter” section.

I also wanted to improve the signs in the library to help students see which sections of the library are “chapter”, “picture”, and “information”.  I started browsing around online looking for existing signs or even custom signs that would be helpful and appealing in the library, but I didn’t really see anything I liked. Then, I had the idea that some custom signs could be made using fabric designed by illustrators. I looked at Mo Willems, Eric Carle, and other illustrator fabric, but the fabric that I kept coming back to was the fabric designed by illustrator Christian Robinson.

He visited our school a few years ago to celebrate the release of School’s First Day of School, so we have a special connection with him. His fabric also features a diverse group of individuals which represents both our school, our community, and the books we strive to have in our collection.

I reached out on social media to see if anyone had any connections with someone who would be willing to work on custom signs for our library using Christian Robinson’s fabric. Several people gave helpful information to think about in designing the signs, but then I got a wonderful email from Barrow parent, Amy Norris, offering to help.

This began a string of emails and conversations to design the 3 signs. Amy offered her design expertise as well as her sewing talents to create the signs. We met in person and sketched out what the signs might look like as 3 rectangular hanging quilts. Then, she went home and created a mock up of several options.  I was amazed at her attention to detail and thoughts about maximizing the fabric to cut down on cost. I picked out the design that I thought would work best and ordered the fabric.

Amy jumped right into designing the signs. She was so enthusiastic about this project, and I couldn’t have asked for a better person to create our signs. She sent little progress updates all along the way and even helped me think through how the signs would hang. I originally was going to use a quilt or curtain rod, but we decided that it was light enough to just use a wooden dowel.

As soon as Amy had the signs finished, she delivered them to school and they were absolutely beautiful. Each section’s word was created in a different color and the Christian Robinson fabric stood out beautifully. Now it was my turn to get the signs installed. I went to Lowes and purchased eye screws, wooden dowels, chain, and s hooks. I cut down the dowels to the length of each sign, and put each quilt onto its rod using the sleeve on the back.

Now, each sign is flying high in our library to help kids see where our 3 main areas of the library are. Since they hang by a single chain, they freely rotate with the gentle air currents. It’s a simple change that I really should have done much sooner, but the library is always evolving, and sometimes a small change is just the thing that was needed to make the collection easier to navigate for readers. I’m so thankful for the many talents that exist in our community, and this project once again reminded me that so many people are out there waiting to support the work happening in schools, but many times we have to put our work and requests out there to help them connect to those opportunities. A huge “Thank You” goes out to Amy Norris for taking the time to create these beautiful signs that we will enjoy for years to come.

 

The Power of First Lines: Another New Library Orientation

School is back in session in Georgia, and I’m once again reorganizing what happens in the first visit to the library. I’ve tried to steer away from a traditional orientation where students hear the do’s and don’ts in the library. It’s not that they aren’t important, but is that really the message I want to send about reading with the first words that come out of my mouth?

The message that I really want students to hear is about the joy of reading. I want them to hear about how readers talk about books to one another. I want them to hear how books can be windows into other worlds and other perspectives. I want them to hear how books can be mirrors that reflect a part of ourselves back to us.

I also wanted to tackle a problem that bothered me last year. I saw so many students continue to come to the library and spend their whole time standing at the computer typing out topics in the library catalog instead of actually looking at books in our various genre sections. I had hoped that genres would eliminate this, but it hasn’t. I decided to start with something that wasn’t intimidating to most readers: the first lines of a book.

So, here’s what a first library visit looked like for 3rd-5th grade this year.

What are you reading?

We started with a question, but instead of asking students to share their own reading, I showed them what I just finished and what I was reading now.

I promised them that all year long I would post what I’m reading on the door of the library so they can always see, even if I’m with a class.  I told them that my hope was that anyone in the school could ask anyone else in the school what they are reading and both of them would have an answer. One of the best ways to find a new book is to see what others are reading, so we are giving ourselves permission to freely ask each other throughout the year about books. I also hope that several teachers will begin to post their reading outside their classrooms too.  In most classes, a few students said what they were reading now, and I loved how it immediately felt like a connection between us.

Next, I showed students some of my summer reading. I did book talks of Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed, Front Desk by Kelly Yang, and the Track Series by Jason ReynoldsAs soon as I finished book talks, I showed students a picture of a window and a mirror and asked them about their purpose. Then, students brainstormed how a book could be like a window and a mirror. It was a conversation we’ve never had in such an public manner, but so many of them added amazing contributions to the conversation. One standout comment was how a window keeps you safe from things going on outside and a book lets you explore dangerous situations without getting hurt.  I let students know that I intentionally chose books this summer that would most likely be windows for me. I wanted to read about people whose lives were very different from my own.

Power of First Lines

This became our invitation to step into the books in the library and begin to look for windows and mirrors for each of us.  Ahead of time, I put chairs at each section of our chapter book section: scary, realistic fiction, historical fiction, humor, fantasy, sports, mystery, science fiction, and adventure.

I shared with students how one more great way to discover new books is to visit sections you love and try out the very first lines of several books. Some of my favorite books hooked me with the very first line. I shared Barbara O’Connor’s first line from How to Steal a Dog.

“The day I decided to steal a dog was the same day my best friend, Luanne Godfrey, found out I lived in a car.”

That line has so much story packed into it. Why did she steal a dog? What’s her situation that she lives in a car? What does Luanne think about all this?  You can’t help but read on to find out.

I placed students into random chairs in the chapter books and invited them to try as many first lines as possible in about 90 seconds.

Then, they moved to the right to the next chair and had 90 seconds in that section. We continued this process for as many rounds as we could squeeze in.

Students did not take any books with them, but I told them to make mental notes of what books caught their attention.  Some students thrived in this experience.  Others weren’t happy that they were in a section that they didn’t usually visit. Still others read first lines in one section but not in another.  The teacher and I circulated and gently encouraged students to keep giving the books a try. Sometimes that even meant jumping in with a student and reading some first lines for them.

Reminders

Back on the carpet, I asked if anyone found a book that grabbed their attention, and it was amazing to see how many people raised their hands. We used this brief moment to go over some reminders before exploring the whole library to checkout books.

  • Enjoy reading as much as you can while you’re here
  • Choose what you love, but push yourself too
  • Spend less time at the computers, and more time at the shelves
  • Respect other learners
  • Borrow what you need (limits are different for every reader)
  • Honor the line at check out

What happened next is what encouraged me the most. Students could hardly contain themselves as they rushed to the shelves to find their first check outs of the year. Almost none of the students went to the computers and instead went straight to shelves and started opening up books. As students have returned for their 2nd rounds of check outs, they have continued to visit the shelves more than the computers.  I can’t wait to see how our momentum builds during the year, and I want to immediately start asking “What are you reading?”

What about K-2?

For the younger grades I did something very similar, but I book talked several picture books including Drawn Together by Minh Li, The Very Last Castle by Travis Jonker, and Hansel & Gretel by Bethan Woolvin. After talking about windows and mirrors, we read aloud All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold. I wanted students to see and hear the message that all are welcome at our school and in our library. We used the book to talk about the windows and mirrors we saw within the book and our own school.

This group did the book sampling at the picture book section. Some classes rotated chairs and other classes just stayed in one seat to practice using shelf markers and sampling books.

The Pitfall

Overall, this new orientation experience did everything I hoped it would do, and only time will tell if it got us kicked off in the right way. The one big pitfall of this was that the shelves started to look like a tornado had gone through. Books were pushed back behind other books. Books were on the floor. Books were turned upside down and backwards. I had to pause and take some deep breaths every once in awhile, but when you look at the grand scheme of things, the messy shelves are evidence of excited readers, so it’s hard to complain too much about the mess.

Onward we go to search for the windows and mirrors in our library collection. Onward we go to becoming a school community that shares our reading lives with one another.