Digital Book Talks and Exploring How We Belong for #WRAD16

Belonging Week (8)Ms. Tesler’s 4th grade class has been exploring how they can be leaders within our school community.  Back in the fall, they started writing shelf talkers and displaying them on shelves at the front of our library. After all of their suggested books were quickly checked out, they are looking for ways to expand their leadership.  They have decided to take the “7 Strengths of Reading” challenge leading up to World Read Aloud Day and explore each week’s question.  They have also decided to take their shelf talkers and make them digital.

Belonging Week (7)

Across 2 days, the class came to the library to work on their next steps of this project.  We began by talking about our memories of being read aloud to.  I shared about my 2nd grade teacher, Ms. Deloache, and how she read Brer Rabbit stories to us with so many voices that I can still hear in my head today.  Ms. Tesler shared an experience of being read aloud to in college and how that stuck with her even as an adult.  Many other students began to share their own memories of being read aloud to.

We used this to launch into a new purpose of exploring the read aloud.  We are thinking about books that others might enjoy reading aloud.  We are also thinking about books we might read aloud to our buddies in other classrooms. Along with this, we started discussing how reading aloud builds community and how certain books help us feel connected with a community. To close, I shared my own example of a book talk and a reflection on the #belongingweek #wrad16 question on Flipgrid.

Belonging Week (15)

The first task was for students to select a book or books to read.  We wanted them to choose a picture book for this first book talk and question.  I pre-selected some books that had a theme of belonging, but students were welcome to choose any picture book.  Once students chose a book, they sat down to read it.  If they finished, they could start writing their shelf talker or their reflection on this week’s #WRAD16 question: “When has reading helped you feel like you belong to a community?”

Belonging Week (13)

In class, students continued to work on their reflections and they returned to the library with their completed writing.  I’ve been sharing the belonging week Flipgrid a lot on social media in the hopes that other schools would contribute.  When the students arrived to record their own, I was happy to share with them that Donna MacDonald in Vermont and Kathy Schmidt in Georgia had students who contributed to the Flipgrid.  We started by taking time to listen to them.

We used these contributions to consider pieces that were included as well as what we needed to do when we recorded our own.  Students pointed out things like speaking clearly and loud enough to hear.  They pointed out how there wasn’t a lot of movement behind the students who were recording, and that they introduced themselves.

Students spread out all over our library and recorded two Flipgrids.  One Flipgrid was a digital book talk sharing a new book.  This set of answers will be displayed on a monitor in the library and put in slideshow mode.  This will cause the videos to constantly scroll through and advertise books in our library.  We also hope that other schools will contribute their own book talks.  Renee Cunningham in North Carolina is already planning to do this with her students. 

Finally, our students reflected on the belonging week question for World Read Aloud Day.  I loved hearing students make connections to their own lives and the sense of belonging.  I also loved hearing students pick out parts of a book and how a character felt like he belonged to a community.  It was a natural way to collect some analysis of text from students.

I hope you will take a moment to listen to some of their thoughts.

We are just getting started, but I hope to see many more schools contribute to both our book talk Flipgrid as well as our weekly 7 Strengths of Reading grids.  If you are interested, feel free to add your students’ voices!

2015 Student Book Budgets: First Steps

survey production (2)

We are a little late this year, but our student book budget group has finally started.  Each year, I reserve a portion of our library funding and allow students to make the decisions about how that money is spent.  This is more than just having a wish list for students to contribute to.  This is giving them complete control in every part of the decision making process.

survey production (6)

Each year, the groups are chosen in different ways.  This year, I made a video to show to our 4th and 5th graders to explain the project.

Then, I created a Google form that was shared with all of our 4th and 5th graders to tell why they would want to be in the student book budget group.

Aziz Coleman, 4th grade teacher, really wanted his ELT group of 12 fourth graders to be a part of the project, so all of them filled out the form along with about 30 other students.  After reading through the responses, it really seemed like everyone who signed up was genuinely interested in being in the project, so I took them all!

I created a schedule for our meetings along with a timeline of where we are going.  Over the years, I’ve fine tuned the steps that we go through, but student voice and student choice always stays at the center of what we do.

During our 1st two days together, we have focused on creating our survey about reading interests.  I made a contact group with all of the students in my gmail.  That makes it easy for me to invite the entire group as collaborators on docs that we use.  I made 2 docs.  One was a brainstorm doc for us to brainstorm possible things to ask about on the survey.  I thought it would be easier to brainstorm on a doc rather than try to do it all on the Google form.

It was amazing to see so many students working together toward one common cause.

After some brainstorming started, I gave them editing rights to our 2nd doc which was our Google form survey.  We made a copy of last year’s form, and then started using our brainstorming list to make changes.

This was the 1st time I’ve tried collaborating on the Google form.  Usually we just put it up on the board and work together whole group.  I liked seeing every student involved at once, but it was definitely messy.

I checked in with students periodically and gave them some focus.  At times, we broke the tasks up into groups.  For example, one group worked on fine tuning the brainstorm list.  Another group added questions to the survey.  Another group looked carefully at the checklist on the survey to see what needed to be added or changed.

Students worked during their recess, extended learning time, and even left to get lunch and come back.  They were excited and very focused.  There were a few students who started getting off task, so I offered that they might want to go back to recess if they felt like they had contributed their part for the day.  This was totally in their hands, and some of them took me up on the offer.

We are now in the survey process. We want to survey students at every grade level.  We will email the survey to our 3rd-5th graders since they all have a computer and we will use iPads to survey the lower grades.


Click here to view this year’s survey.

Since our meeting time is during a prime lunch time, we have been taking over the lunchroom with iPads to survey students.

Once we have results from the survey we will set goals based on those results and start meeting with our vendors such as Capstone and Avid Bookshop.

World Read Aloud Day Blogging Challenge #3: Snapshot of My Reading Life

World-Read-Aloud-Day-2014For the next 3 weeks, I’m participating in the World Read Aloud Day blogging challenge.  Each week, I will respond to a question along with many other bloggers participating in this global celebration of reading aloud.  Our students, teachers, and families will also be involved with these questions each week as I invite them to respond through Flipgrids, Thinglinks, and more.

For week 3, I’m asking students, teachers, and families to take pictures of their reading lives.  They will send these photos to our Flickr account via email.  Those photos will appear in the Flickr stream on our blog,

but I’ll also use them to create a slideshow of our reading lives.

Here’s a little snapshot of my reading life.  It was hard to take just one picture, so I cheated and took a few!

My bookshelf

My bookshelf

This is my bookshelf in our living room at home.  Looks messy doesn’t it?  That’s because my kids are constantly putting things on it and pulling things off.  At the very top of the shelf you’ll find a few of my autographed books.  I have so many that I had to put some in a boxes.  Many more are sprinkled throughout the books on my son and daughter’s shelves.  You’ll find books by Kate DiCamillo, Barbara O’Connor, Patricia Polacco, Jerry Pinkney, Aaron Becker, and Carmen Deedy (just to name a few).  I love reading books aloud that have been signed by the author because I somehow feel a connection with the author knowing that their pen has actually touched the pages I’m reading.  The signatures and dedications also hold stories of their own.  When I hold an autographed book, I’m reminded of the story connected with meeting and hearing from that author.

Alora & DiCamillo

My daughter, Alora, with her autographed copy of Mercy Watson

About 4 years ago, I met Kate DiCamillo at the Decatur Book Festival.  My wife and I were expecting our first child in December of that year and we wanted to get a special book signed to her.  At the time no one knew the name that we had chosen for our daughter.  As I handed Kate DiCamillo a copy of Mercy Watson, I said Alora’s name to another person besides my wife for the very first time.  The name became very real at that point.  Kate DiCamillo stared at the name on the yellow post-it note and said, “Tell Alora what a beautiful name she has and welcome to the world.”  When Alora was reading this book the other day, she saw that her name was on the title page.  I shared the story of getting the book signed and what Kate DiCamillo said, and Alora said, “Wow!  Thank you!  That is so kind of her.”  I love how our reading lives are filled with wonderful stories, but that those wonderful stories lead us to memories and stories of our own.

Alora's bookshelf, age 4

Alora’s bookshelf, age 4

This is my daughter’s bookshelf.  It is filled with books about Disney princesses and Dora the Explorer, but it also has so much more.  I love that we can share these Disney favorites with one another, but that we can also sit down and read books together like Creepy Carrots, Epossumondas, and Mercy Watson.  Seeing stories come alive through her eyes makes me enjoy and appreciate them even more.  Most of my reading life is spent reading picture books to my kids or reading books to share with students at school.

Anderson's bookshelf (age 20 months)

Anderson’s bookshelf (age 20 months)

Books often make their way from Alora’s room to my son Anderson’s room and back.  Right now, I read with Anderson every night while my wife Denise reads with Alora or tells stories aloud.  Anderson loves nursery rhymes like Hey Diddle Diddle and Jack & Jill.  He also loves Goodnight Moon and Babies.  Any books that are short, repetitive, with lots of pictures are the ones he likes to read.  We often spend time reading the same book over and over each night until he moves on to something new.  He has also stretched me to tune up my singing voice because he loves books that are songs.  We are still reading/singing Little Drummer Boy, It’s a Small World, and He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands several nights each week.

Our school library is filled with so many different kinds of books, and this is another very important part of my reading life.  It’s impossible for me to read every book on these shelves myself, but students bring these books to life for me in my own reading life by sharing what they are reading and enjoying.

shelving cart

A few books that our Barrow kids enjoyed!

I love that every day I spend time reading with someone whether it’s my own children or my children at school.

For more information on World Read Aloud Day visit 

To connect with other libraries and classrooms, visit our shared Google Doc.

World Read Aloud Day Blogging Challenge #2: Adult & Child

World-Read-Aloud-Day-2014For the next 3 weeks, I’m participating in the World Read Aloud Day blogging challenge.  Each week, I will respond to a question along with many other bloggers participating in this global celebration of reading aloud.  Our students, teachers, and families will also be involved with these questions each week as I invite them to respond through Flipgrids, Thinglinks, and more.

Last week, the students and I, along with students from Van Meter Iowa & Okle Miller in Tampla FL, added to a Flipgrid to share our favorite read aloud memories.  You can watch and listen to those here:

The challenge for Week 2 is to have conversations between adults and children.  To give my students, teachers, and families a voice, I created a Google Form to respond to this week’s question.  Each Barrow student who fills out the form will have a chance to win a new book to read aloud to someone!

Because of the icy week we had last week, I spent a lot of time at home.  I took time to have a conversation about these questions with my 4 year old daughter, Alora.  I’ve expanded on my answers a bit in this post, but these are the topics that Alora and I discussed together.

daddy daughter

Daddy & Daughter

1. I think everyone in the world should read…

Me:  books that speak to their hearts.  I think that we all have common connections to why we all read, but I love that we all enjoy different kinds of books.  We don’t all have to love Diary of a Wimpy Kid or Harry Potter or Princess books, but each of those books speaks to different readers in different ways.  It’s no secret that my favorite author is Kate DiCamillo, but the reason she is my favorite author is that there’s something about her voice in her writing that connects with my heart.  From a little girl befriending a dog and hearing the stories of a community to a rabbit trying to find his way home to a tiny mouse looking for the light in the world to a miraculous superhero squirrel, Kate DiCamillo’s books are filled with words that seem like magic on a page to me.

Child:  Peter Pan and princesses because I like those.  I like princesses and Tinker Bell.  Everybody likes princess books.

2. If I could listen to anyone in the world read aloud to me it would be…

Me:  It’s hard to pick just one!  My second grade teacher Mrs. DeLoach (whose name has changed to Mrs. McKinney) would be one.  She brought the characters of the Uncle Remus stories to life and a beautiful southern accent.  Those voices were ones that I wanted to imitate in my own reading.  Now, I love to hear Carmen Agra Deedy read stories and tell stories.  The tones, rhythms, movements, and volumes of her voice keep me hooked into every detail of the story.  I think I could listen to her tell stories for hours.

Child:  Mommy and Daddy because I don’t know how to read until I get bigger.

3. When I read aloud, my favorite character to impersonate is…

Me:  So many people love to hear me read southern stories and create the voices for those characters.  I love to make the voices for the characters in Epossumondas.  Both Mama and Eppossumondas are such fun to bring to life.  I also love to hear how the voices that I create are different that the voices that other readers create for those same characters.

Child:  Tinker Bell because she just rings a bell and doesn’t say anything.

4. The genre or author that takes up the most room on my bookshelf (or e-reader) is…

Me:  Books by Kate DiCamillo.  I have every book that she has written and most of them are signed.  Of course now they aren’t all in one place on the bookshelf because they are spread between the living room and both kids’ rooms.  That’s a good sign of being well-loved.

Child:  Fairytales like Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, Pinocchio….Dora went to a fairytale one time too.

5. My favorite part about reading aloud or being read to is…

Me:  It allows me to escape into the story in a different way than if I was reading it myself.  When a story is read aloud, the words seem to transform the space around everyone listening to the story.  For just a few moments, the busy world disappears and I get to step into a time machine that allows me to escape and experience the world through different eyes.  When I’m read aloud to, I don’t have to think about saying the words just right.  I can just listen and imagine.

Child:  hearing the different voices that you and Mommy make.

For more information on World Read Aloud Day visit 

To connect with other libraries and classrooms, visit our shared Google Doc.

IPICK: Choosing a Just Right Book

Every year at the beginning of the year, teachers ask me to do lessons on choosing a “just right book”.  While sometimes the focus is just on finding words that you know using the “five finger rule”, I like using the IPICK model because it is more inclusive of all of the pieces it takes to find a just right book.  IPICK stands for:

  • I=I choose my books
  • P=Purpose
  • I=Interest
  • C=Comprehend
  • K=Know most of the words  (this is really where the five finger rule fits)

Each year, I show videos of students singing a song about IPICK.  There are several examples on Youtube.  However, I know that our students are using this strategy in various classes, so when I heard a 3rd grade teacher reminding her students to use IPICK, I asked her if she had some students who might be interested in making a video.  Of course, they were very interested!

For about 45 minutes, 3 students and I met together.  We planned what we might do during the video.  Then, we started recording with an iPad.  After we filmed one take, we watched it and thought about what we needed to change.  Each time, the students made more and more suggestions and their video improved every time.  Here’s the video they created during our time together.


This year, I want to continue to listen for opportunities for students to participate in creating content in our library and be a bridge builder to get that content to a global audience for our students.