Helping Students Own the Space Through Shelf Talkers

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A few weeks ago Ms. Tesler, a fourth grade teacher, dropped by the library and started talking about a wish for her students to have ways to share the books that they are reading.  I love impromptu brainstorming sessions because I never know where they will lead.  So often, they lead to miraculous things.

Before she left, we had decided to assign her class an area of the library to be their recommendation space.  As a part of their leadership in the school, they would find ways to share with others about the books that they were reading.  We didn’t want to decide too much for them, so we just got some initial ideas to begin sharing with the class.

We held a book tasting where students started selecting books for independent reading and we planted the seed that students would have an area in the library to share their book recommendations.  During that session, the students and I talked about ideas such as a digital display using Flipgrid to share book talks.  We talked about space to create art projects to spark interest in a book.  We also briefly talked about shelf talkers.  At the time, we just talked about putting “signs” on the shelf to tell about the book, but I knew that students were really talking about shelf talkers.

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I immediately thought of Avid Bookshop and the wonderful shelf talkers that their book sellers put on the shelves of the shop to connect readers with books, so I emailed Janet Geddis at Avid to see about the possibility of Skyping into the shop to see the shelf talkers, hear a few, and get some tips on writing them.

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Will Walton, bookseller and author extraordinaire, agreed to Skype with us.  Students came to the library and we connected with Will.  He walked us around the shop to actually see the shelf talkers on the shelves.  The first one he showed us was for Anne of Green Gables.  He pointed out that the text was written in green to go along with the book. We saw that the handwriting was inviting and legible and the shelf talker gave a lot of description about the book.

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Will pointed out to us that it’s important to include the title and author on the shelf talker because sometimes the books get moved down the shelf or even the shelf talker gets moved.  Having the title an author helps customers still learn about the book even if it gets moved.  We connected this to the idea that books in our library will most likely get checked out, but the shelf talker will remain to inform readers about a book they might consider in the future.

Avid Shelf Talker (1)

I also loved that Will pointed out the language that was used in the shelf talker.  He specifically said that they don’t say that a book would be good for boys or girls.  Instead, they connect the book to the kinds of things readers might enjoy reading about.  For example, this book would be a good choice for middle grade readers who like magic and horses.

Will was sure to show us many shelf talker and how each was in the handwriting of the person who created it.  They were fun, inviting, and even had personal touches like sketches.

I loved that Avid customers were just as interested in what was going on during our Skype with Will.

Students also got to meet Janet, bookshop owner, as well as hear the names of several other booksellers at the store.

Before students disconnected, they shared some things they were taking away from Will’s Skype.  After we disconnected, students continued to talk and even started talking about the book they wanted to write a shelf talker for.

We are already planning a time for them to return and create the shelf talkers and begin constructing their space in the library to be leaders in our school for recommending books for others.

I hope many of these students will visit Avid and see the shelf talkers in person and continue to ask Will and Janet questions about the shop. Some of them were asking how close it was to the school, so I know there is curiosity brewing. I’m so thankful to have a bookshop in our community that reaches out and supports our schools.

Barrow Students are Banishing Boredom with Wandoo Planet

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Back in early February, a group of 5th graders became beta testers for a new tool from Evanced Kids called Wandoo Planet.  It is a kid-powered interest genome project similar to Spotify, Pandora, or Netflix.  Through a visually-stunning, game-like interface, students train the system to understand what their interests are and Wandoo Planet offers book and movie recommendations.

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Since our beta testing began, Evanced has released the beta version to anyone who wants to register for an account.  The polished version will be released in summer or early fall.  I thought this would be the perfect launch to summer reading.  In the past, I’ve tried to get students to think about their interests and begin making lists of possible reading topics, but I felt like it was difficult to carry those initial plans into the summer.  With Wandoo Planet, kids can start thinking about their interests and continue to grow and develop their interests throughout the summer and beyond.  They can take the books and movies that are recommended to the public library or bookstores and gather their summer reading materials.

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Lindsey Hill at Evanced began brainstorming with me on Twitter and email to plan a virtual visit right before we leave for the summer.  She mailed me bookmarks, username/password cards, and buttons to give to all of the students.

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We thought through which classes would come, a schedule that made sense, how to structure the virtual components, and how to best use student time in the library.  We decided on having 2 classes for 45 minute intervals with a 10 minute cushion of time in between sessions.  This allowed us to see all 2nd-5th grade classes.

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Lindsey agreed to Skype with each group and explain Wandoo.  She used this time to explain how Wandoo works as well as how to setup an account.

She also agreed to stay online all day so that students could give her feedback about Wandoo and ask questions.  I loved watching students walk up and have genuine conversations with her.

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The goal for students during the work session portion of the 45-minute segments was to view the “squirrel parade” on Wandoo planet and begin teaching Wandoo what they like, dislike, and love.  After about 5-10 minutes, they setup an account and begin building their Wandoo tree.  The tree gives students recommendations for books.  If they mark a book to keep, it puts a bud on their virtual tree.  After they read and rate the book, the bud turns into leaves on the tree.  Students can also add interest branches to their tree by revisiting the squirrel parade or typing a topic directly onto a branch.  Students had a small amount of time to do this today.  I put a sheet on every table to remind students about all of the steps.

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Students brought their classroom computers with them, but for 2nd grade we had to use the library laptop cart and other library computers.  It was interesting to look around and see all of the ways that students were accessing Wandoo.

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While students were working, we had quite an extensive team of helpers during the day. For the most part, students were independent.  We scheduled helpers to assist students with typing, following directions, and thinking of feedback to go to the camera and give to Lindsey at Evanced.

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During our 1st two session, we had Gretchen Thomas’s maymester EDIT2000 class.  These students were extremely helpful in getting extra computers setup for 2nd grade and having individual conversations with students.  Even if they didn’t feel like they “helped”, their conversations pushed students’ thinking about reading interests.  I loved that these students used Flipgrid to reflect on their visit to Barrow.

Flipgrid. Relax and discuss.

We also had fantastic parent volunteers during the day that helped us as well.  Having these parents seeing how kids are using technology and how we encourage continued connection over the summer was so valuable to our school and library program.

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Finally, we had a great team of student ambassadors to help throughout the day.  These students included my original beta testers as well as members of my student book budget group.  Each student had already created an account in Wandoo and tried it out for themselves.  I loved seeing their leadership as they setup computers, gently nudged peers to stay focused, and problem-solved technical difficulties.

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Hosting this many students in one day in the library was exhausting, but the help of all of these UGA students, parents, and student ambassadors made all the difference in the world.

We closed each session by connecting once again with Lindsey.  She encouraged students to use Wandoo all summer long and each group had a special visit from Winston, the Wandoo Planet mascot.  We all had fun watching Winston’s dance moves and joining in.

After saying goodbye to Lindsey, I showed students how they can continue to connect with our library all summer long by using our digital resources.  I also created a Padlet for them to post to throughout the summer.  Lindsey and Winston are going to add to the Padlet too!

Barrow Elementary Media Center Summer Reading

I also gave students a strongly worded statement that there’s not really an excuse to not access books and digital resources during the summer.  We have an incredible public library system that is within walking distance of most of our students. I hope they will take advantage of our public library’s many resources this summer.

Thank you Evanced Kids for creating a great tool for kids to think about their reading interests and for listening to kids in order to improve your system.  I can’t wait to see what our kids experience this summer!

Our Staff Recommends: A Participatory Idea for Picture Book Month

November is Picture Book Month.  This is the 2nd year of the event, and we kicked things off on day one by starting a reading incentive.  Students & teachers are trying to see how many picture books they can read during the month of November.  To encourage their participation, each student and teacher received a sheet explaining the incentive with blanks for writing down each picture book read this month.  Each grade level had their own number of books with smaller numbers for lower grades and 25 picture books for upper grades.  All students who finish their sheet will receive a cool bookmark:  Scaredy Squirrel, Ladybug Girl, Elephant & Pigge, Babymouse, or Duck for President.  Students will also receive a certificate and be entered into a drawing to win autographed books by:  Kevin Henkes, Suzanne Bloom, Eric Litwin & James Dean, and Meghan McCarthy.  These incentives really inspired students because we have several sheets already turned in on this mid-way point of November.

On the Picture Book Month website, there are multiple resources for celebrating picture book month.  One of the tools is a shelf talker that says, “Our Staff Recommends”.  These can be displayed along a shelf for library staff to place books that they recommend to students.  At first, I wanted the shelf talkers to say something besides “library staff”, but the more I thought about it the more I realized that as part of the participatory culture of our library, I really consider every person who enters our library a part of our staff.  I ask students to be accountable for checking books in and out, placing books in the reshelving area, teaching other students how to use technology, etc, so why not consider everyone staff?

So….I made a quick video with iMovie and advertised to the school that anyone could put books on the shelf talkers just inside the library doors.

The shelf sat empty the first day, but it didn’t take long for people to start recommending picture books to one another.  Several students have checked out books from this area and several have replaced the books that they have selected.  It’s a small thing, but it gives one more opportunity for our school community to participate in our library.

Happy Picture Book Month!