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!

 

Genrefication Reactions and FAQs

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We are almost one week into our newly organized library. Each class has been coming for a library orientation. In the past, I’ve done a high-tech orientation with QR codes and videos, but this year, we went low-tech with a picture scavenger hunt of the library signs and sections in order to give students a chance to explore their new library and its organization by genre.

Our new genres are still sorted out into a picture book area, a chapter book area, and a nonfiction area, so I made 3 separate scavenger hunts and slid them into clear protectors so that students could us a Vis-a-vis pen to mark sections as they found them.  The trickiest part was trying to keep students focused on one section at a time because they wanted to explore it all.

What I have noticed:

  • Students were buzzing with excitement as I talked about the new genre sections and as they wandered around searching for them
  • I spent much less time walking students around to search for all the princess, scary, football, etc.  The conversations about books that I got to have with students were more about recommendations within sections or learning where favorite series of books had been moved to.
  • Since I don’t have a full-time assistant in the library, check out time can be a bit frantic with kids asking about books, asking for help on the computer, and asking for help checking out or in.  With every class regardless of grade level, I didn’t feel the frantic feelings of the past. Students were very independent within the sections they were excited about, which allowed me to focus on students who really needed to have conversation.
  • Almost no students went to the computer to look up books. In the past, many students would sit at the computer during the entire library time and then have no time to actually select a book.  They would just grab something on the way out. I talked with the few students who did go to the computer to ask what they were searching for. In many cases, I directed them to one of the genre sections because they were looking up football or ghosts or something like that. For students that truly needed to look up a title, I showed them how they could see which genre section it was located in.

  • Students who discovered that their favorite book was already checked out tended to choose something else from that genre section. For example, a student was so excited to learn we had Isle of the Lost: A Descendants Novel. It was checked out, but I told her it was in the fantasy section. She went to fantasy and found 2 series that she had never explored before and was genuinely excited about her find. This is what I hope to see more and more, especially from students who have their one or two comfort books in the library. I hope the genre sections continue to support their comforts but also nudge them to try new things.

Reactions

Students, teachers, and families have been extremely positive with the new organization of the library.

I encouraged people to record their thoughts on the new organization using Flipgrid.  Here are a few of the reactions.

 

Frequently Asked Questions:

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  • Did you put all books into genres or just the fiction section?  Every book is in a new section.  I started with fiction and then moved to picture books followed by nonfiction.  Picture books was the hardest section for me to sort, but so far the categories are supporting our readers.

 

  • What are your categories?  Here’s a link to my Google doc of categories.  This doc will change if I decide to modify any sections.

 

  • How did you decide which section to put books in?  I read the summaries, used my own knowledge, looked at the Library of Congress subjects on the copyright page, and used Novelist K-8.  I used the great advice of Tiffany Whitehead to really think about the reader during the process and consider what kind of reader would most enjoy each book. I tried not to get stuck on a book for too long, but I did make a pile of books I was unsure of and came back to them later.

 

  • What did you do in your catalog to indicate genres?  I created subcategories in Destiny. Once I sorted books into genre sections, I updated each copy by scanning it into its new subcategory. Now, if someone searches for a book, the call number of the book remains unchanged, but the location indicates which genre section the book is located in.  The library can always be put back into Dewey order if needed.

 

  • How are books arranged on the shelf?  For now, the books are still arranged in order by call number on the shelf within each genre section. In fiction and everybody, that means that books are sorted by author’s last name within each genre.  In nonfiction, that means that the Dewey call number is still used to put books within order in the section.  This may change as we go because the sections are being heavily browsed. It makes it hard to keep things in perfect order.  The graphic novels and sports are already not in any kind of order because of the heavy use of those sections.

 

  • What labels did you add to each book? Every book still has its same call number and barcode.  My wife designed genre labels using Publisher and these were printed on spine label sheets from Demco. We added the genre label either above or below the call number on the spine in an attempt to not cover up the title.  I also plan to add numbers to the series so that students know which books is 1st, 2nd, 3rd, but we haven’t done that yet.  Fiction Labels      Picture Book Labels      Nonfiction labels

 

  • How long did it take?  It’s really hard to add up the time. I can say that I’ve thought about it for a long time. This summer I spent some time reading about other libraries and also listening to webinars. I wanted to hit the ground running at the beginning of this year, so many volunteers helped out with the project. The actual work of sorting, labeling, and shelving was done in about 15 days working from 8:00-3:00.

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If you have additional questions, add them in the comment section and I’ll try to update the post with new answers.  I’m very happy with the impact of this project so far, and I know that I will continue to see things that I love as well as things that need to be adjusted. It’s all about the readers.

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A Sneak Peek of Our Finished Genrefication Project

 

 

Genrefication (4)

Around the Barrow Media Center we “expect the miraculous”. After 15 intense days, dozens of volunteers, ten thousand genre labels and protectors, and lots of weight lifting, our collection of 10,000 books is sorted by genre. When we started this project, I tried to set a realistic goal of being done by Labor Day. However, in my heart, I wanted to be done much sooner for the sake of our readers. Thanks to all of the volunteers from families, the community, and UGA, we took what seemed impossible in this amount of time and made it happen.

When I really thought about it, we are opening just one week later than we usually do in the school year.  Week 1 is usually computers and week 2 is library orientations. We’ll be start orientations at the end of week 2 and all of week 3. Pretty miraculous!

The final steps happened this week:

  • The genre labels were turned into signs and printed to put into picture frames

Genrefication (3)

  • Books continued to be shuffled around on the shelves until they fit in a mostly logical arrangement
  • Each genre had to be put into order. Up until this point, we were just sticking the books in their sections in any random order
  • The rest of the library had to be put back together from all of our moving around
  • Videos had to be made to support volunteers and readers
  • Plus lots of other minor housekeeping items

Today, to thank the teachers for their patience, we held a sneak peek of the genrefied library. After school, we had refreshments and a chance to check out the newly organized collection.

teacher preview (1)

Teachers had a chance to get familiar with where things are, check out books, and ask questions. Some even started thinking about their own classroom libraries and how they might mirror the organization of the school library in their classrooms.

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I put together a picture scavenger hunt to use with kids, so I put those out for teachers to try as well. My son was in charge of inviting guests to try out the scavenger hunt.

teacher preview (2)

I also asked teachers to post a short Flipgrid video of their reactions to the new organization.  It was so much fun to listen to people’s reactions. I had so many compliments in conversations with teachers who visited, but it was great to be able to go back and hear reactions that I missed during the preview.

For their efforts, I had a stack of free books to choose from. My daughter was in charge of inviting people to record and reminding them to pick up their book.

teacher preview (4)

Thank you to every person who helped with this project.  It’s so hard to list them all, but I want to give a special thanks to my wife Denise Plemmons for designing some amazing genre stickers and signs. I also want to thank Janice Flory for rounding up a great team of volunteers to hit the ground running on the first day of pre-planning. Some of them stayed for 3-4 hours at a time.  Thank you to Gretchen Thomas for bringing in an entire class of UGA students to knock out some of the final pieces of the project.  Finally, thank you to my administrators Ellen Sabatini and Jennifer Leahy for believing in our library program and trying something new in the interest of kids and literacy.

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Now, it’s time to see what the students think and get our regular volunteers ready to support our readers through keeping the library organized and directing readers to books.  The big part of the project is done, but a project like this doesn’t really end. Books will move from section to section if needed and each new order of books will need to be labeled. However, we won’t have to do the project at this magnitude again. Here we go!

 

 

American Symbol Research in Kindergarten

Students in 2 Kindergarten classes have been hard at work researching American symbols as part of their social studies standards. Doing research projects with the youngest learners in our school doesn’t look like it does in the upper grades. We think about what some of the biggest barriers might be for our young creators and put pieces in places to support students in getting over those barriers.

First, students chose one of four American symbols to research: American flag, statue of liberty, liberty bell, and bald eagle.  In the library, we introduced students to a graphic organizer for collecting 3 facts about their chosen symbol. I learned from another Kindergarten teacher a few years ago during research to set an expectation that allows all students to succeed or exceed during the first research session. We asked students to have a goal of writing at least one fact during the first work session, but if they still had time, they should keep going.

research 1

Students used Capstone’s PebbleGo for their research. We love this database for many reasons but mostly because it breaks information down into manageable pieces and reads the text in a human voice for students. I modeled for students how to listen to a portion of the text and then think about what they had learned by listening. Then, we talked about what we would write on our organizer. This modeling was done with a different American symbol than the one students were researching.

At tables, I setup computers for students to use in pairs. We chose pairs because it gave students one more source of support as they worked. Also at each table, we tried to place an adult for support. The teacher, classroom paraprofessional, and me all worked at tables. If a parent volunteer or student teacher was available, they stayed at the 4th table. Otherwise, the adults took turns checking between tables.  We found that we had to continue modeling for students how to listen, ponder, and then write rather than just copying a sentence off the screen. However, some students still chose a sentence to copy.  All students left with at least one fact but many left with 3 or more.

research 2

After this initial work session, students continued their research in centers in the classroom.  Then, they returned to the library for another work session in small groups. Each group came for 15-20 minutes. We did a short tinkering session with Chatterpix Kids to see how you can take a picture of something, draw a mouth on it, and then record that picture talking. Ahead of time, I chose creative commons images of the symbols for kids to use for their pictures. Rather than having every student create their own Chatterpix, each group created one Chatterpix video with the iPads. Each student chose one fact from their research to read.

Before recording, students chose their fact. We decided the order students would read and practiced a few times. Students helped take the picture of the symbol and draw the mouth. Then, we pressed record and passed the iPad to record. If we needed to record a few times, we did. Then, we uploaded our videos to Youtube and created a playlist to share with the class, families, and you.  I hope you will take a moment to listen to their work.

I love building foundations of research in our early grades and seeing where these students end up by the time they are in 5th grade. We have a lot of work to do, but we celebrate the work of these Kindergarten students and what they have created.

Ms. Lauren’s American Symbols:

Ms. Boyle’s American Symbols:

Celebrating Read Across America, Dr. Seuss, and Our Community

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March 2nd is always a special day for our school. We have a long tradition of having guest readers for all classrooms in honor of Read Across America and the birthday of Dr. Seuss.  The goal is to have two readers for every classroom. This allows more connections to the community, more books to be heard, and also more people in case we have people who are unable to come.

Courtney Tobin is a parent volunteer at our school who organizes my library volunteers. She also creates a Signup Genius for events like this one.  She puts 2 slots for every class, and we start sending it out asking for readers. The link is put in my library newsletter, library facebook page, and grade level parent representatives send it out to lists of parents.  I invite district leadership including our superintendent, public relations, and board of education members.

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As the event nears, we always have empty spaces still left, so we repeat sending out the link and send it to additional places like the UGA Athletic Association. Usually be the day of the event, the list is full and we have people who show up who didn’t even get to sign up.

It takes a whole community to pull off 2 readers in every class.

We gather in the library, and readers check in with Kim Ness, another wonderful parent volunteer. She does this while I’m helping with morning broadcast. Readers select a Seuss book from our library collection and my personal collection and socialize and practice reading. We gather for a group picture and a huge thank you for taking time to celebrate reading with our students.

Seuss Readers Crop

It’s always fun to race around the school to try to catch a glimpse of the smiling faces in every class and the community readers having such a great time sharing stories.

For the remainder of the day, we continue our Skype connections with other schools around the country. This is a continuation of our World Read Aloud Skypes.

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Today, we connected with:

  • Shannon Hyman in Glen Allen, VA and her 3rd grade students to read Be a Friend and Mother Bruce. Their teacher was a big UGA fan!
  • Lisa Lindeman in Babylon, NY and her 5th grade students to read Snappsy the Alligator
  • Terry Freyou in Coppell, TX and her 5th grade students to read Be a Friend
  • Sarah Staudt in Mason City, IA to read Mother Bruce
  • Donna MacDonald in South Burlington, VT and her 1st grade to read Snappsy the Alligator
  • Dana Susko in Santa Barbara, CA and her Prek to read The Day the Crayons Came Home
  • Carol Scrimgeour in Essex, VT and her Kindergarten to read Snappsy the Alligator

It is always a magical day connecting on Skype because the kids share a story across the miles and make connections with another school. I love pulling up a map and talking about how technology not only lets us see and talk to people in other places, but it helps us literally connect the dots between our locations and know in real-time how long it would take us to get there. We’ve talked about tolls, traffic accidents, construction zones, megabus, and alternative routes along with our celebration of great stories.

We’ve also encountered technical difficulties.  One school had to cancel due to the internet being out in their school, but it was a life lesson that when something doesn’t work, you just carry on.  When we connected with Lisa Lindeman, we could not get Skype to connect us.  We tried multiple times but communicated in the chat. We finally decided to give Google Hangouts a try.  She had never used it, but she was willing to try.  It worked like a charm, but more importantly it showed our students and teachers in both states that we weren’t afraid to fail, back up, and try something else. Life isn’t smooth, and things don’t always work out, but we can’t just give up easily when something is frustrating or hard.

Thank you to everyone who read in our classrooms and connected with us. Happy Read Across America Week and Happy Connecting!

Polar Express 2015

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Our school is filled with tradition, and one of the favorite ones every single year is Polar Express Day.  It takes a huge team of volunteers to pull off this schoolwide event, but it is always a magical day for our students.  Every student hears The Polar Express read aloud while sipping hot chocolate in their pajamas.  Every child receives a bell with the message of “always believe” whispered in their ears.  Each child also receives a candy cane on the way back to class.

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Ahead of the event, volunteers purchase supplies to make bells for 600 students.  They spend a morning stringing the bells and prepping them for quick delivery to students on event day.  Another volunteer list is created to help on the day of the event as we have every class in the school come through the library.  A schedule is created and approved by the teachers.  This year, that schedule was very tight due to our increasing size.  Some sessions had 3 classes in them.

The day before the event, the lunchroom gets the hot chocolate so that it is prepped and ready to go.  A special spirit committee meets late at night and transforms the school into the north pole with train tracks, crackling fires, ornaments, and lights.  It is a magical arrival to school.

The first team of volunteers pick up the hot chocolate and start getting it ready for the first group.  At that point, things repeat every 30 minutes.  Music is played as students enter. Hot chocolate is passed out during the hot chocolate song by a team of 3-6 volunteers.

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We listen to the story while a teacher holds the book.  Then, the same team of volunteers put the bells around all the students’ necks.  Immediately, there is a chorus of bells ringing around the room as students check to see if their bells actually ring.  As always, there were special moments such as a former Barrow buddy returning to hold the book for a grade level.

This year, we even had a spontaneous sing along of Jingle Bells.

Thank you to each and every person who made the 2015 Polar Express day another great success.

 

 

 

Dr. Seuss Day: Our Read Across America Celebration

Barrow Seuss 2015 crop

Today was the beginning of a very exciting week in the Barrow Media Center.  Each year on March 2nd, we schedule guest readers for every classroom in the school.  These readers select favorite Dr. Seuss books to share with our students.  It is amazing to see our community come together for this event.  Each time we celebrate, there are new faces that join our readers.

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Courtney Tobin helped me this year to organize readers.  She created a Signup Genius and parent leaders in each grade level began sharing the signup.  It was also shared with our regular library volunteers and on our library and PTA Facebook pages.  By this morning, we had almost 2 readers for every classroom.

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Readers gathered in the library, chose their books, and socialized before we took a group picture.

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Then, students escorted them to their classrooms to read.  I quickly ran around to as many classrooms as I could snapping pictures.  It was so special to see students circled up on the floor listening to the words of Seuss spoken into the air.  There were also special memories shared as readers brought in their own copies of books that they had read to their children or had even owned as a child.  My wife, Denise Plemmons, shared a copy of Green Eggs and Ham with my daughter’s PreK class and she was able to show them where she had written her name in the book when she was a child.

These are the kinds of things that can’t be replaced by technology.  While I’m a huge advocate of using technology to share our voice, it doesn’t replace the shared experience of sitting around a book, hearing the pages turn, and losing yourself in the illustrations.  Thank you to all of the readers who took time to share stories with our Barrow readers.

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This was just a warm-up to the 38 skype and Google hangout sessions that we have schedule this week for Read Across America and World Read Aloud week!