Student Voice & Student Choice in Our Annual Student Book Budget Project

Since 2010, Barrow students have been a part of a project called our “student book budget”. It’s had a few different names over the years but the idea has remained the same: students having total control over how a portion of the budget is spent to buy books for the library.

This school year provided us with extra challenges. We have been virtual for most of this year with just a few weeks in person in November, December, and March-May. I had to figure out how we would take so many of the pieces that we do in person in the library and throughout the school and transition them to online. Here’s a look at how our project went this year.

In January, students in grades 3-5 had the opportunity to apply to be in the book budget group by filling out a simple Google form. They had to include their name & teacher plus answer some questions about their commitment to meeting online and making decisions for the whole school rather than just for themselves. Finally, students wrote a short explanation about why they wanted to be in the group. As usual, I took every student who answered all the questions and had a genuine interest in the group. This year’s group had 15 students.

I created a Google Classroom where I could share links to our resources and Zoom as well as communicate with families. We met each Monday on Zoom to talk about our ideas for each step of the project. One of the first parts of the project is always to survey the whole school about reading interests. In our first Zoom, we looked at past Google form surveys to see what we wanted to keep, change, or add. Based on their discussion, I made a copy of the previous year’s Google form and made edits. The book budget team wanted students to pick 2 genre categories in picture books, chapter books, and informational books that they thought needed more books. They also gave space for specific suggestions.

Normally, students in grades 3-5 answer the survey via email. The book budget students go into the lunchroom, classrooms, and recess to survey PreK-2nd grade on iPads. This year, we still sent the survey to 3rd-5th graders in email. Then, we assigned each student in book budget to follow up with a Prek-2nd grade teacher via email to ask if they could share the survey with their students or if a book budget student could come to their class Zoom to talk about the survey. Overall, our number of completed surveys went way down this year but we still had a good representation of voices at each grade level.

Once the survey results came in, the book budget students set some purchasing goals. This year, they decided to focus on graphic novels, humor, ghosts, fun facts, gaming, and a few transportation books. Normally our budget comes from our fall book fair. However, this year our fall book fair was online and only made about $400 in Scholastic Dollars. Luckily, I was conservative in my spending last year with book fair profits so we still were able to have a budget of $2,000.

One vendor we always work with is Jim Boon at Capstone. Jim has always taken the student goals and curated a selection of books to bring in for students to look through. He also gives each student a catalog and shows them how to scan into a list. This year, Jim met with students on Zoom. Amy Cox at Capstone also helped us think through how we might easily put together a list. We decided to create a new account on the Capstone site that students could login to and collaborate on a list without messing with any of my regular Capstone account. I shared Capstone’s online catalogs with students in Google Classroom and they quickly discovered that they could click on a book in the catalog to get to the book on the website and add it to the list. Jim showed students how to navigate the catalog and also pointed out books that matched the student goals.

Another vendor we use is our local bookstore, Avid Bookshop. We usually walk to Avid and select books in person. This year Avid is closed to in-person shopping, so instead, I linked the website in our Google Classroom and created a Google form where students could submit the title, author, price, ISBN number, and link of the book. We took a Zoom session to go over all this and then students added books on their own. This book list went into a spreadsheet that I could easily share with Ian McCord at Avid Bookshop for ordering.

We took about 2 weeks to add books to the list and then we were able to have one in-person meeting just as in-person school started back up.

We used this meeting to look over our lists together and see what was missing. Normally, we have to cut lots of books from the list, but this time we were actually able to add more because students hadn’t spent all the money yet. It was more difficult for us to add books to our lists during virtual. Once the budget was met, I placed our orders.

When the books come in, we usually meet to unpack, add genre labels, and scan books into Destiny subcategories. With state testing, safety precautions, and the end of the year looming, I had to do some of this myself and use only a few of the book budget team to help.

We met one final time in person to take the books out of the boxes, double check that everything was here, and display the books on tables in the library. The book budget students got to pick 3 books to checkout and then the rest were available for anyone to checkout. Each class that visited the library immediately went to look at the new books and it didn’t take long for them to disappear into the hands of readers.

We do our best to expect the miraculous, and it definitely took the miraculous to pull this project off this year. Overall, I think it was still a great experience that still gave students a voice in the decision making of the library. While I love technology and virtual connections, I can’t wait to get this project back to in-person soon.

Library Orientation for Kindergarten through Second Grade

elliot

Each year I ponder what to do for the first of the year library orientation.  Once again, it’s a time where you want to talk about procedures, expectations, etc, but I think more and more about what message I really want students to take away.

This year we are fortunate to have author and illustrator Mike Curato coming to visit our school in October.  His book Little Elliot, Big City has so many positive messages for students to start off their year.  I decided to use this book as a conversation starter about problem solving, helping one another, being a good friend, and feeling welcome in such a big place.

As students entered the library, I played the book trailer.

Then, we opened with the story. Little Elliot, Big City has very few words on a page, but the discussions that can blossom from those simple words and powerful illustrations are priceless. Over the course of reading the book to students, there were certain pages that started to stand out as the pages I wanted to pause on in order to connect the book with the first visit to the library.

First, we paused here:

elliot 2

Students imagined an elephant in their mind based on what they had seen in a book, movie, or real life. Then, they talked with a partner about all of the differences. We could connect this to all kinds of library ideas such as how different we all are as readers: our interests, our stamina, our favorite authors, and more.

Next, we paused here:

elliot 3

I loved hearing students talk about this page and how Little Elliot was a problem solver.  Even though things were challenging, he found ways to persevere.  Again, there were so many was to connect to the library and school.  We talked about the importance of not giving up, taking a deep breath, trying what seemed impossible, and the more classes I talked to the more ideas surfaced that I hadn’t even thought of.

Probably the most powerful page to talk about was here:

elliot 4

We saw Elliot struggle to be noticed as he went into the city to buy a cupcake. Students came up with all kinds of ways that Elliot could get his cupcake, but then he leaves with nothing.  We pondered the question, “Why was Elliot able to be a problem solver at home, but not in the bakery?”  Students amazed me with what they said.  At home, Elliot was alone and could be brave. In the city, he was shy and scared.  Students also talked about how he knew how to use all the tools at his house like his chair, his books, and his broom. However, in the city, he didn’t know how to use things, so he felt helpless.  Wow!  The conversations just kept coming and each class had a statement that stood out.  I wish I had captured the brilliance.  It really made me think about all the tools students really need in order to use the library and how that can be a little scary even though I have no intention for it to feel that way.  It reminded me of the importance of smiling and patience as students ask over and over how to do things like check out their own books.

Our library really is a massive place, especially for a Kindergarten through second grade student. I don’t want them to ever feel like Elliot did in the cupcake store, so we had some honest conversation about what we could all do to make sure that happened.  I was honest with them about how I work alone in the library so there are times that I can’t leave a class to come over and help them.  I truly want to, but sometimes it’s just hard for me to do.

Suddenly, those rules and procedures for using a shelf marker had a purpose.  I wasn’t just giving students a rule for the library during orientation.  I was giving them a tool just like Elliot had his broom.  The shelf marker was a strategy for those times that students were unsure.  We talked about going to a section of the library and really examining the books on the shelf with a shelf marker rather than searching on the computer.

We also talked about how Elliot was a helper to mouse in the story and that we really all have to be like Elliot at some point.  We have to help one another.  We can’t wait on one person to be the person to help us.  Whether it’s another adult roaming the library, a student from another class, or a volunteer, we can ask anyone in the library to help us access what we want.

I really didn’t plan for Elliot to have so many connections to library orientation, but he did.  It just evolved.  Students left with a positive story, a strategy for finding books, and I hope a sense that the library is a welcoming place where we all take responsibility to help one another.