2018 Student Book Budget: First Steps

It’s time for one of my favorite projects of the year: Student Book Budget. Every year, I reserve a part of the library budget that is under complete control by students. This budget comes from many places.  Sometimes it’s a grant and other times it is part of our regular budget.  This year their budget comes from the profit we made from book fair.  The book budget is their chance to make sure that books are added to our library that represent their interests.  They go through a long process to make sure that many voices are represented in their purchases.  Over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing their process.  Here are some of the steps that are already happening.

First, I created a Google form application for students to apply to be in the group.  The form was available for one week for students in grade 3-5.  Every student who applied and had a genuine reason for being in the group was accepted.  Our group this year is 40 students strong and has a great mix of boys and girls.

Next, we held our 1st meetings. I met with each grade level group separately and answered all of their questions about the group. Then, in small groups or pairs, they brainstormed things that they thought we should ask on a reading interest survey for the whole school.

Then, I took their ideas and put them into a Google form survey.

I sent the survey to all of the students on the book budget team so that they could review it and decide if it matched their comments.  We made some minor adjustments and were ready for the school to be surveyed.

I sent the survey via email to our 3rd-5th grade students who each have their on device. The Student Book Budget Team was responsible for surveying Prek-2nd grade. On our 2nd meeting, we scanned QR codes to get to the survey on an iPad and went to recess and lunch to survey as many people as possible.

The students were so professional and I loved standing back and watching them work.  It truly was their project and they were taking it very seriously.

In just one day, we have already surveyed 216 students.  We will continue this process and then take the next step of looking at the results.  I love how we can check along the way to see which grades need to be surveyed more so that we have a somewhat even distribution of voices.

Be on the lookout for our next steps.  We are off to a great start.

Reader’s Advisory: Quirky Questions and Crowdsourcing Ideas

readers-advisory-4This year, I’m really trying to think of ways to support students’ reading lives.  Recently, Ms. Hicks, 3rd grade collaborator, came to me with an idea. She wondered if I would meet with small groups of students in 3rd grade who needed some suggestions of books to read.  These students are all readers but some might be stuck in their reading, abandon many of the books they choose, need a nudge to try something new, etc.

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When I recommend books in the library, it’s always a very informal process.  I ask what students like, what they’ve read, what they are hoping to find, etc, but I’ve never formally made a list of questions to pull from.  I started thinking about Will Walton at Avid Bookshop and how he manages the Avid book subscription program.  In this program, someone buys a 6 or 12-month subscription and the recipient gets a new book in the mail specifically tailored to the recipient’s interests. I sent Will a message to see if he had a formal process and learned that he just loves to talk and chats with the person all about things they love. His questions aren’t always specific to reading, so it really got me thinking about quirky questions that I might ask to students that would help me connect them to a book.

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I initially started making a list on my own, but then I sent the Google doc to all of the media specialists in our district as well as posted to Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

There were many suggestions about book related questions but some interesting thoughts started to emerge.  Our list started to grow.  (Feel free to add to this document!)

  • What do you like to do after school?
  • What are some of your favorite movies or television shows?
  • What are some of your hobbies?
  • What is a book that you couldn’t stand to read?  What was it about that book that you didn’t like?
  • What kind of music do you listen to?
  • Where do you like to eat?
  • What kind of games do you enjoy playing?
  • Would you rather fly a kite (sit by a river, etc.) on a nice day or go to a big party?
  • Who is your favorite superhero?
  • Do you have a favorite series?  Genre?
  • Do you like “just the facts” or “a far out story”?
  • What are 3 books you’ve read that you loved?
  • Do you like realistic stuff or imaginary stuff?
  • Why do you read (to escape, entertainment, learn new things)?
  • What is your preferred length of book? (short & sweet, long & detailed, depends on the book)
  • If you could visit any place or time in history, where would you go?
  • Is there anything you would avoid when choosing a book? (bad language, violence, ghosts, death, etc)
  • When you come to the library, where you usually go first when looking for your next book?
  • If you could be someone else for a day, who would it be and why?
  • Who are some of your favorite celebrities?
  • What is your favorite subject in school?

Then, I took those questions and turned them into a Google form to use with students.

I decided that if 6-8 students came at a time, I could have them start filling out the form while I started having 1-on-1 conversations with them.  We settled on a 30 minute session for this survey process.  I took over the typing as I talked with them and added to what they had already written or finished the questions they hadn’t gotten to.

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I was actually amazed by some of the responses that I got from students and the insight it gave me into ways I might connect them to a book.  Some snippets of responses included:

If you could be someone else for a day, who would it be and why?

  • Mal from Descendants because she’s pretty and has purple hair. I like what she wears.
  • a wolf to howl at the moon
  • a cheetah because I want to run fast

Is there anything you would avoid when choosing a book? (bad language, violence, ghosts, death, etc)

  • kissing….love story
  • princesses
  • main character dies

 

I looked at all of the results for each student and wrote key words from the answers onto a post-it note for each student.

This helped me walk around the library and pull books into stacks for each student for a second trip to the library.  The purpose of the second 30-minute segment was to look at the stack of books that were chosen specifically for each student and really spend some time with them. Students were so eager to get their hands on their stacks that they started asking me for a sneak peek before it was even time.  My fear was that students wouldn’t connect with any book, but once again the miraculous happened.

Each student had a strategy.  Some spread all the books out and looked at the covers.  Some started reading one book and didn’t want to move to another book in the stack.  Some flipped over and read the back of each book.  Some read the beginning page of each book. What happened is that every student found more than one book in their stack of 7-8 books that they wanted to read and they were genuinely excited about their choices.

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We decided that each student would choose the “first read” from the pile and we would create a list of all of the other titles so that we didn’t forget about the “future reads”.  For all of the books that weren’t chosen, we just pushed them aside in a big stack. Something else miraculous happened.  Students who were coming into the library to check out books saw all of my small group looking at that pile of books and they wanted to check something out from the pile. Several students who always have trouble finding something actually picked something from the pile of leftover books from the small group.

This gave me a lot to think about in terms of how to support various readers.  This was a very personalized experience.  It was time consuming on my part, but it was a way that I connected with students that’s hard to do when they are rushing in and out to get a book while I’m teaching a class.  I won’t to continue to explore this and see how it can be fine tuned.

Our next step is for students to read their books during “read to self” time in the classroom and we will meet again to chat about the books.  It will be like a book club. We won’t focus on naming the characters, setting, problem, solution, etc.  Instead we’ll talk about connections we had to the characters, what surprised us, what made us laugh, what we think will happen next. It will be “real talk” about books rather than just academic talk.  I can’t wait to see how this evolves.

If you have a favorite reader’s advisory question, add it to our doc or leave it in the comments.

Home Libraries and Summer Reading

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We are quickly approaching summer at our school, so we have been winding down activities in the library and looking ahead to what we might read this summer. There are many pieces that go into encouraging students to read over the summer, and I love that we are always trying new ideas to encourage our students to read.

Our family engagement specialist, some teachers, and the Junior League of Athens went into the community center of one of the communities we serve to host a family literacy workshop. Families decorated book boxes, learned some reading strategies, and talked about the importance of a home library. The Junior League will be putting 6 books in each of those boxes to go to families who participated.

Our Athens Clarke County Public Library came into the school and met with Kindergarten, 1st grade, and 2nd grade to talk about the summer reading program. Evan Bush, head children’s librarian, sang songs, told stories, and highlighted the numerous events happening at the public library this summer.

library summer reading

Those include puppet shows, Minecraft crafts, live animals, a real life mermaid and pirate, and more. For the summer reading incentive, students earn a button for every 10 books or 5 hours that they read. Each button corresponds with a different land that students imagine traveling to over the summer such as the Hundred Acre Wood, Wonderland, and Hogwarts.

 

Those buttons will go onto a lanyard as students earn them.  Also, the elementary school with the most students to complete the summer reading challenge will earn a trophy to keep at the school for the year.

Another project I’ve been working on is proving books to an additional community within our school to build up home libraries. This project was funded through a grant from First Book UGA and donations from a GoFundMe campaign I created.  Approximately 78 students are a part of this project, I surveyed the students to learn more about their reading interests and then ordered books through First Book to give them for summer reading.

home library 1

The students came to the library in small groups to decorate a box to put their books in. The boxes were reused boxes that I found at our local recycling facility and spray painted. Students chose from a variety of stickers to personalize their boxes.

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It was great to see that students of every age got excited about using stickers to personalize their box. My hope is that a personal touch will create a connection to the box and encourage them to use it to store books.

home library 2

 

When the books arrived, Camilla Bracewell, volunteer extraordinaire, came and helped me unbox them all onto tables. I printed out the spreadsheets I had created with each student’s personal order.

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Since I was more familiar with what the books looked liked, Camilla helped read off names of students and filled the boxes as I pointed out the books or handed them to her. Because of the wonderful prices through First Book, I was able to give each student 7 books for summer reading. I even have a few books left over that teachers will use to give to additional students who might need some books for the summer.

home library 6 home library 7

 

Next week, I’m hosting two sessions for families to stop by and pick up the book boxes, but any remaining boxes will go home with students throughout the week.

home library 8

Thanks to Get Georgia Reading, all students in Georgia also have access to MyOn from Capstone for the summer. I’m taking time to show this to families, individual students, small groups, and whole classes. This is a great way to have unlimited access to thousands of books for summer reading and they are never checked out.

Summer reading is a special time because it’s a chance for students to read things that really interest them. It’s a chance to take a break from the “requirements” of school and just read for the fun of it. I hope that we have shown students and families enough options as well as provided some tangible materials that all readers in our school have an idea of the reading they will do over the summer.

Happy reading!

 

Student Book Budgets 2015-16: Getting Started

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For several years, I have dedicated a portion of our library budget to be completely controlled by students.  This project has come to be one of my favorite ways of empowering the voices of the students in our school.  It’s so much more than just asking students what they think I should buy for the library.  It gives students a voice in every aspect of the decision making and purchasing process.  Each year is a bit different, so here’s a look at how we started the project this year.

Where did we get the money?

Some years our budget comes straight from my state budget.  Some years it’s part of book fair profits.  Some years it’s a grant. This past spring, I applied for the James Patterson Partnership grant where he gave $1.75 million dollars to school libraries.  I was one of the lucky libraries to receive this grant in the amount of $5,000.  This will be our budget this year along with rewards dollars that I have collected through Capstone Rewards.

How did I choose students?

This year I created a Google form and emailed it to students.  I primarily pull students from 3rd-5th grade for this project and these students regularly check their email.  I kept the form open for 5 days for students to apply.  The beginning of the form included some details about book budgets followed by a video intro.

For students who marked that they might be willing to give up some recess time to participate, I followed up with individual emails and conversations.  I accepted every student into the group unless they decided they didn’t want to do it.  I created a group of all of the students in my email contacts so that I could easily send messages to them all.  On my initial emails to the group, I included the teachers so that they were in the loop with what they were doing and why they were coming to the library instead of recess.

First Week

On Monday, students came to the library at 11, 11:30, and 12:00 depending on their grade level.  I did a quick overview of the purpose of the book budget group and the steps that we would most likely go through across the course of the project.  They also had a chance to ask questions.  Then, we jumped into the work.

Our first goal was to gather reading interests from every grade level in the school.  We made a copy of last year’s Google form.

Then, students talked about each question and whether or not they wanted to make changes to the wording from last year.  Each grade level added to and revised the form until it was ready.

They made several changes, including asking students about their preferences in types of books such as picture book, chapter book, and informational books.  They added some new categories of books and revised the language to be more clear.

During the 5th grade group, we went ahead and emailed the form out to students to begin collecting responses.  We also created a QR code so that students who were surveying younger grades with iPads could easily pull up the form.

I emailed an update to the entire group to let them know that surveying needed to begin, and they started coming in before school, during lunch, during recess, and during any extra moments of the day to start surveying.  All along the way, we could check our progress.

 

Throughout the week, I emailed updates to the group as well as sent reminders to teachers to let students fill out the survey.  We will meet one more time this week to examine our results so far and decide if we have enough data to set goals or if we need to survey more people.

I’m very proud of this year’s group already and I know they are going to do miraculous things this year!

Honoring Student Voices through Student Book Budgets with Capstone Press

Student Book Survey 2013 2014For the past several years, I have reserved a portion of our library funding to be completely controlled by students.  Over time, I’ve seen student-selected books be among some of the most popular books in the collection.  The library collection is mainly for our students, so why not let their voice be heard in the collection development process.  Part of our library funding comes from the state, and another part comes from fundraisers such as our fall and spring book fair.  Since students and their families shop at our book fairs to build their home libraries while supporting our school library, I see student book budgets as being one small way of giving back to our community.

This year, our book budget process has gone through some changes.  In order to involve a few more students at various stages, I broke the process into parts.  Part 1 was to gather data from the school.  Every Tuesday and Thursday I have a group of five 5th grade boys who work in the library as a service project.  Together, we developed a Google form to gather information from the school.  We wanted to track the number of students we surveyed at each grade level, the number of boys and girls, specific reading interests, and specific requests.

Once the survey was created, we generated a QR code so that they could quickly scan the code and go out into the school to survey students with iPads.  This was mainly needed with our youngest students.  For older students, I emailed the survey to them to fill out.

Each year, we tend to see similar results with our data, but I told the students that we can’t assume that we know what people are wanting in the library because it can change.  Here’s a look at the main data they collected.

Student Book Survey 2013 2014   Google Drive

Next, I blocked off some library time during 4th and 5th grade’s recess time and asked for students who would like to participate in an alternative recess for a few days to spend money on books.  I’ve tried doing this during lunch and it is just too complicated to juggle food, catalogs, vendor websites, etc.  I didn’t get as big of a response from students this year, so we’ll see if we return to this model next year.

On day 1, the 4th and 5th grade book budget students came to look at the survey results.  They made some decisions to inform how much money should be dedicated to various categories.  I printed the specific requests of students and Savannah and Isaiah spent time highlighting some specific titles that students were asking for.  It was a tedious process for them!  The even got down to searching the library catalog to see how many copies of books we had like Diary of a Wimpy Kid and discussing if there was justification to order even more copies of existing titles.  We finally all agreed on some overall categories of:  Comics/Graphic novels, sports, humor, scary, world records, and action/adventure.

tough decisions

Even on this 1st day, they started having some tough conversation.  For example, they saw that World Records was a highly requested category, but from experience, they know that students are mostly talking about Guinness World Records.  They decided that instead of dividing the budget and giving this category several hundred dollars, they would just buy 2 new copies of the 2014 World Records for about $60.  It’s always fascinating to see how quickly students realize how a budget works and how hard it is to make decisions for the library.  One of them said, “Mr. Plemmons, I know this is only a small part of your job, but it sure is hard!”

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On day 2, we welcomed Jim Boon, Capstone Press Sales Rep.  I love working with Jim because he treats the students like young professionals.  I also love that Jim listens to what students are asking for and tailors his talk and display to the goals that they have.  He setup displays of books that matched their goal categories with a few books that connected to their themes in different ways.  He gave every student a new Capstone catalog and a pen.  As he proceeded to show students various books, he invited students to turn through the catalog, circle books of interest, and fold down the corners of pages.  After he shared some specific books, students came up and started browsing through the books on display.  Jim and I proceeded to have individual conversations with students about the books in the catalogs and help them see where prices could be found.  We also mentioned to students that Capstone offers Capstone Rewards and various incentives.  For example, if we spend $1750 on our order, we get 30% back in Capstone Rewards, but if we spend less than that we get 10% back.  I love the math that comes into this project each year because it is real world application of an important life skill.

I also love that in our individual conversations there are stories that emerge.  Jim had a great conversation with one of our students, Ember.  She consistently asked Jim about the prices of every book.  The budget was weighing heavy on her mind and she was thinking hard about how to get the most books for our money.  In their conversations, there were a few books that Ember desperately wanted in our collection, and I loved that Jim made sure to leave one of those books that she requested for us to add to our collection!  I know Ember will greatly appreciate it.

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Students were having so much fun that they decided to take their catalogs with them to continue marking titles of interest.  I’m a little scared of seeing what they come back with!  It’s such a hard process to cross books off of the wish list, but it is an important process to choose the very best books for our collection at the current time with the funds that we have.

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This process is beneficial to me as the librarian too because I get to see books that students are getting excited about.  For the purposes of the project, I remind students to focus on their goals and only purchase what matches the requests.  However, I’m over to the side writing down titles to put on my own ordering list for this year or the beginning of next year knowing that the titles already have a group of readers waiting on them.

Thank you to Capstone Press for your tremendous customer service, your professional relationship with all of your users including students, and for giving our students a voice in collection development.  You are superstars!

Our next step will be to look at one more vendor to fill in some holes in our wish list, and the we will start the tedious process of cutting books from our list until we have our final order.