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.

 

 

 

Books for Keeps: It’s Time for Summer Reading!

I am so excited to share that this was the very first year our school was served by an amazing program called Books for Keeps. This non-profit group was founded by Melaney Smith and gives 12 new books to every student in 12 of our 14 elementary schools in Clarke County. They also serve schools outside of Athens as well. It takes a massive effort in fundraising, grant writing, and volunteer hours to make this happen in each school.

I’ve had several questions on social media about this program and how it works, so I’ll try to explain it here.

Before the event:

  • Year-round Books for Keeps is fundraising, grant writing, and ordering books to deliver to their warehouse. Volunteers spend many hours sorting and boxing books grouped by grade levels and themes and sorted into stacks for delivery to schools in April & May.
  • I send a master schedule to Books for Keeps which includes the number of kids in each class. They create a draft schedule that I send to teachers for feedback.
  • During the year, Books for Keeps checks in to see if numbers need to be adjusted in each class and the schedule is finalized.
  • Boxes of books are delivered to the school and sorted into areas for quick distribution to tables.
  • Bags and tags arrive for every student. Bags & tags have to be counted out and delivered to each class. Teachers/students write student names on tags.
  • Since this was the first year, I did an introduction to Books for Keeps via Youtube Live.

  • I did a presentation to our whole faculty at a staff meeting so they were comfortable with the process and understood the purpose of BFK. The biggest things to go over were the importance of student choice and the importance of making sure every child got to participate.
  • I also sent home info to families in the my monthly newsletter.
  • A volunteer signup went out from Books for Keeps to help with distribution.
  • Right before distribution day, I arranged tables in the middle of the library.

Distribution Days May 14 & 15

  • Volunteers arrived for a morning shift and an afternoon shift

  • Leslie Hale & Justin Bray from Books for Keeps handed out aprons, clipboards and questionnaires as well as gave volunteers and overview of what to expect during each visit from classes.

  •  Leslie and Justin also unboxed books for each class session and volunteers stocked the tables.
  • As classes arrived, Leslie or Justin gave an intro to each class on choosing 12 books, the importance of summer reading, and the process for checking out with a volunteer.
  • Students carried their bags to the tables and self selected 12 new books. Volunteers were encouraged to hold back and let students look. We wanted students to self select books because that’s a huge predictor of whether kids will actually read during the summer.  If a student was having trouble making selections, then volunteers would step in to have conversations and make suggestions.

  • When students had 12 books, they visited a volunteer to count their books. Some students had too many and needed to make decisions. Others didn’t have enough and went back for more. Volunteers also asked students about which book they were most excited about as well as what was missing from the selections. This helps Books for Keeps make purchases for next year.
  • When a class left, new books came out of boxes and onto tables and the process repeated again.
  • Each class had 20-30 minutes depending on the number of students.

I’ve been hoping Books for Keeps would come to our school for several years.  There have been many initiatives where I’ve tried to get some extra books in student hands for the summer, but none as large as this one. A few things I’ve tried include:

  • Giving Middle School the Worst Years of My Life to all of our 5th graders for World Book Night. https://expectmiraculous.com/2013/04/23/world-book-night-2013/
  • Giving all 3rd and 4th graders a copy of Pie. https://expectmiraculous.com/2015/03/26/give-our-students-some-pie-by-sarah-weeks/
  • Creating summer reading buckets (home libraries) for 100 students in multiple grades. https://expectmiraculous.com/2016/05/04/home-libraries-and-summer-reading/ and https://expectmiraculous.com/2016/04/12/building-home-libraries-a-community-collaboration/

Books for Keeps takes approximately $15,000 per school which means about $30 per child. They rely heavily on donations, so if this program speaks you to, check out their site and make a donation. http://booksforkeeps.org/ 

These 2 days were amazing and filled with smiles, squeals, and students jumping straight into a book to read.  I’ve gotten messages from families who said that their child got such a great mix of books that were truly of interest. I’ve also gotten thank you notes to send to Books for Keeps with lots of great feedback from students. I can’t wait to see how this grows across the years and how students’ excitement and expectations develop.

Seeing every student in the school right before summer began also surfaced some dilemmas and questions for me. A handful of students didn’t want books to take home and weren’t afraid to say that they had no plans to read during the summer because it was their time off. Those comments bothered me, but they also gave me information about work that needs to be done ahead.  Just handing books to them isn’t going to resolve that dilemma. I’m diving into some professional reading to help me begin to think more about this.

I can’t thank Books for Keeps enough for continuing to work tirelessly to get books into kids’ hands. Even with some bumps in the road, it’s an amazing program that was overwhelmingly welcomed by teachers, families, and students. Thank you to every donor who made the funding available to purchase books and thank you to the many volunteers who put in countless hours to prepare for these 2 days.

Happy summer reading!

 

Star Wars Day: May the Fourth Be With You

I’ve wanted to hold a Star Wars Day in the library for a long time, but it seems like every year something comes up that prevents me from doing it. However, this year, I put it on the library calendar early and crossed my fingers. By the time May 4th arrived, I had protected five 45-minute slots on the library calendar to host classes.

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Use the force #starwarsday

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The signup was open to any classes. Three 5th grade classes, one Kindergarten, and one 2nd grade class signed up. We opened each session with Star Wars music and a reading of Chewie and the Porgs by Kevin Shinick. As students were seated, they selected one of four cards: porgs, jedi, storm troopers, and wookies. This sorted them into 4 groups to move into centers.

I knew our time would disappear quickly, so I wanted helpers at each rotation. I made a signup genius to send out to families, but I also invited 4th and 5th grade students to sign up.

Origami Yoda

This station was inspired by the Origami Yoda series by Tom Angleberger.  Students saw the book series and then followed either a Youtube video (more difficulty) or printed visual instructions (easier) to create their own origami Yoda. The finishing touch was using black marker to add eyes, mouth, and any other details.

For the Kindergarten class, this station adjusted to making a Yoda headband since their fine motor skills aren’t as great for creating origami. They traced Yoda ears on green paper and added them to paper headbands.

Star Wars Name

This station was combined with origami. Students used a formula to create a new name for themselves. For the first name, they used the first 3 letters of their last name combined with the first 2 letters of their last name.  For the last name, they used the first 2 letters of someone’s last name and the first 3 letters of city where they were born. This name was written onto a “hello my name is…” tag and taped on their shirt. I loved to watch the concentration it took to figure out the correct letters and then the laughs as people tried to read one another’s name. It was a great lesson in spelling and phonics.

 

Tiny Light Sabers

This station was a hit. We used finger lights that I purchased on Amazon and put straws over the LED light. Students cut the straws to the length they wanted and used washi tape and feathers to jazz them up. We loved watching the tiny light saber battles that ensued. I put book at this station that featured light saber duels on the cover.

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Tiny light saber battle #starwarsday

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Chewbacca Puppets

Students used brown paper lunch bags with white & black construction paper to create a Chewie puppet. I didn’t use stencils for this station. I simply made an example and let them cut out teeth, eyes, and a nose in their own style. We did offer the Kindergarten class a few pre-cut objects to choose from.

Star Wars Doodles

At this station, students finished partial Star Wars drawings by adding their own creative details and coloring. I loved the impromptu storytelling that happened as students created their scenes.

Next year, I want to think about how I can expand this opportunity to more classes. I also want to think about more stations that connect with various areas of the curriculum. Each of these stations connected with a book, writing, or storytelling, but I would love to weave in some space science and some math. I’ll think on that, but overall, I loved seeing the enthusiasm of students especially in the Kindergarten and 2nd grade classes.

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Star Wars creativity. #starwarsday

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May the Fourth be with you!

 

Using Objects from Nature to Inspire Creativity

As we near the end of the year, I’m collaborating with Natalie Hicks, one our gifted teachers, to create a project with the entire 3rd grade. In science, 3rd grade studies habitats and human impact on them. Our school is also a “Green School” which offers many opportunities throughout the year for students to explore how we care for our planet.

Each 3rd grade class is coming to the library for 2 one-hour sessions. The purpose is to use found objects from nature to create letters. Those letters are photographed so they can be used to spell various words and also inspire writing. Ms. Hicks and I both gathered as many objects as we could from outside the school and our own yards. Our original plan was for students to bring in objects to use for the project, but that piece didn’t happen this time.

Session 1:

As students were seated, they saw a clip from a Rose Bowl Parade video.

The purpose was to get them thinking about real-world examples of people using objects from nature to create. Another purpose was to think about the time and planning that went into the floats. Our students had a connection to the Rose Bowl since UGA played there this year.

Next, I segued into a book called Our World of Food: Discover Magical Lands Made of Things You Can Eat. Each page features a scene made with foods of a similar color and poetry that brings the scene to life. Again, we talked about how each object was intentionally placed into the scene.

Finally, I gave students their challenge. They could choose up to 5 objects from our nature tables to create one of their initials. I asked them to think about the shape of their letter and which objects might be the best choices to form that shape. We looked at some pictures of fonts as well as some letters found in nature for inspiration.

I covered our library tables with colorful tablecloths to use as backgrounds and building spaces.  Students sat in groups of 5 and waited for their turn to collect objects. It was wonderful to have Ms. Hicks, the classroom teacher, and Ms. Em (EIP teacher) as support during this project. Ms. Hicks had conversations with students about their selections, while the classroom teacher and I supported students with questions about how to build their letters.

When letters were made, students used iPads to take a photograph and then bring the iPad to me to upload the picture in Google Drive.

Then, students returned their nature objects for the next class to use and went to Ms. Em to select nature poetry to read while others finished. My hope was that reading lots of nature poems would serve as a mentor text for the work we will do in session 2.

I was very impressed by how efficient students were. They selected objects, experimented with combining them in different ways, and moved through all the areas of the lesson with the help of adults. Adults were all able to circulate and have conversations with students about their selections, creations, and reading. I wonder how things would have been different if we had time for students to actually collect the objects themselves.

Before session 2, I’ll print the pictures so students can use them in their writing and recording.  We can’t wait to see how all of this comes together.

2018 Barrow Maker Fest

In addition to having regular makerspace sessions every Tuesday and Thursday in the spring, students also have the opportunity to work on an individual project to showcase at our annual maker fest.  To participate, students fill out a Google form sharing their possible project topics and whether they will complete the project at home or in our makerspace during school hours.  They also have the option of working alone or having a UGA mentor to help them.

I collaborate with Gretchen Thomas at UGA College of Education. I love seeing the relationships that my students develop with the UGA students, and they thrive knowing that they have a mentor to visit with and work with while they make their creations.  In the spring, she divides part of her UGA students to support our Tuesday/Thursday makerspace sessions while the other part supports students working on individual projects. My maker students don’t always meet with the same UGA student, but they have someone every Tuesday/Thursday who can support their work.

When students begin preparing for Maker Fest, we meet with them individually to see what type of project they are thinking about.

This year, I offered several categories for them to think about:

  • robots
  • cardboard
  • makey makey
  • littlebits invention
  • duct tape creation
  • 3d design
  • Scratch program
  • finger knitting
  • origami
  • strawbees structure
  • stop motion video
  • magic tricks
  • puppet/puppet show
  • magic tricks
  • something else! (This category meant students might explore our many craft books for ideas on projects to create)

Once students decided, we gathered the materials they needed and stored each project on the shelves in our makerspace storage room. This part is hard to manage and it feels a bit chaotic until we have the materials that each student needs.  Each Tuesday/Thursday they come for a 30-minute work session, gather their materials from the shelves, and work with me or a UGA student.  Some students complete their projects at home.

During the actual Barrow Maker Fest, we created a schedule so that every student who made something had two 30-minute windows to showcase their work.  There was also a schedule for classes to sign up and come to view the projects.  The entire UGA class came as well so that they could view the final projects as well as help students at tables.

In the end, 26 students showcased creations on a variety of topics which included:

  • a cardboard Earth robot
  • mason jar lights
  • a robotic arm
  • a cardboard pirate game with secret codes and a spyglass
  • a Python computer program similar to Google Translate which translated English to Pig Latin
  • a shadow puppet theater
  • a Littlebits throwing arm and car
  • Lego scenes and building station
  • 3D slinkies, Rubik’s cube, and Minecraft swords made with 3D pens
  • 3D action figure designed in Tinkercad
  • a cardboard robot suit
  • a cardboard tower
  • a car made from a mail tube
  • a stackable jewelry holder
  • magic tricks
  • Merge cubes
  • Osmo

They were so excited to share their work, have an authentic audience to entertain and ask questions, and see that their work inspired other makers.  Several students who came said they wanted to make something next year.

You can see many of these projects along with projects from other K-12 schools in the Clarke County School District at our CCSD Maker Fest.  It will be Saturday April 14 2-4PM at Clarke Central High School.  It is free and open to the public.  We hope to see you there.

 

Join Us for the 2018 Poem In Your Pocket Poetry Readings

Each year, we celebrate poetry month by hosting Poem In Your Pocket days in the library.  Across 2 days, every class comes to the library to read aloud original and favorite poems into an open microphone.  We broadcast these readings over Youtube Live so that families, community, and beyond can enjoy our poetry too.

Our readings will take place from 8:00AM-2:30PM EST on April 12 and 13, 2018.

All the links to the Youtube events can be found at our 2018 Poem In Your Pocket Smore. https://www.smore.com/p9qbk

You can also view the schedule here:

Thursday April 12

8:00 2nd – VanderWall
8:30 2nd – Woodring
9:00 2nd-  B. Douglas
9:30 3rd-Morman
10:00 1st-Cunningham
10:30 1st Skinner
11:00 PreK-Trina
11:20 PreK-Heather
12:00 Lunch
12:30 1st Stuckey
1:00 K-Clarke
1:30 4th Coleman
2:00 4th Weaver

 

Friday April 13

8:00 2nd – Brink
8:30 K-Hocking
9:00 2nd-Boyle
9:30 3rd-Thompson
10:00 5th grade class 1 Freeman
10:30 1st Wyatt
11:00 5th grade class 2 Freeman
11:30 3rd-Haley
12:00 3rd-Arnold
12:30 K- Sandifer
1:00 5th grade class 3 Freeman
1:30 K- Lauren
2:00 4th Monroe

If you choose to watch our videos live or watch the archives, we encourage you to tweet comments to our students using the hashtag #barrowpoems  We’ll share your comments with students as they come in.  Happy Poetry Month!