Takeaways from a look back — and a look forward to ALA: Chicago!

One of the end-of-the-school year things we tend to do is to go through files to toss those items that need to go, review others, and create a semblance of organization for a new year. This activity is especially poignant when one is not returning to a school site. Getting things cleaned out for a new person to come in means that those standby files need special scrutiny for usefulness by someone else. I did this the other day and discovered a file marked “librarian’s archive,” which automatically meant extra time to linger, ponder, and remember. Three items specifically stood out in this file that I’d like to share:

1. A stack of pictures taken in 1994 of a school visit with Avi. As a site librarian at the junior high, I also taught one class called “YAL” or Young Adult Literature. This class was a required class for all 7th graders, taken in addition to their English class. It was solely a course in reading. Designed by my colleague who had been a remedial reading teacher, this class centered on free choice reading, project building, and book discussion. Noticing that her reading-challenged students were not getting any better with their reading after weeks of direct instruction, nor caring to ever read again, she re-vamped the course to encourage students to read widely and generate interest by sharing their book discoveries. It was a hit. Students were required to read 5 books of their choice within the semester-long class. Each book included a project that was shared, a 3-minute book talk (to entice, not to inform(, and an explanation of theme, setting, conflict, and characters. As the librarian, I brought in authors for visits who encouraged active engagement by their very presence. Avi, Will Hobbs, Neal Shusterman, and Gary Soto to name a few dropped in to share their stories, characters, and their own paths to storytelling and writing. Parents wrote glowing letters to this colleague on how their children developed a love of reading because of this class. While the class supported free-choice reading, when I taught the class, I had two instances where I directed them towards a particular genre or book: we did a “one book one class” book group reading the book Downriver by Will Hobbs, in anticipation of his visit. The project for this was a full class mural of the river adventure that is the portrayed in the book. The result was a wonderful mural that hung outside the library for weeks, with students from all over the school commenting and the creators sharing their insights. This rambunctious class needed the activity that mural creating allowed, and let loose a period of cooperation that wasn’t often seen with this class. The other time I gave a reading directive it was: “to read a book with a character, setting, time period, or other characteristic that is not like you.” The projects for this book selection required students to create something that compared themselves to their character. For example, one boy reading the book A Girl Named Disaster (Nancy Farmer) discovered that not only were girls and women treated differently in other countries, there was overwhelming poverty in other parts of the world, and the persistence needed to survive was an important quality in the main character. He focused on the strengths of the main character and wrote a diary from her point of view. The booktalks that came out of these experiences were eye opening for us all as students discovered that we really are more alike than we are different. If you’re coming to ALA this year, be sure to catch up with Gene Luan Yang on Saturday June 24th. His “Reading without Walls” program does this very thing: encourages young readers to step out of their usual box and read differently – catch a comic book, a diary, a character of a different race, age, or location.

Takeaway: keep urging teachers, administrators, and parents to allow and encourage free choice reading…to create a school where reading is central and book talks, book sharing, and reading in all formats is celebrated – all the time.

2. A picture of a bulletin board:

This was the slogan of the week when I attended the Library of Congress summer teacher program. The best professional development changes teaching and learning, and this program was one of the best. Besides working alongside interesting teachers from all subjects from all states, participants were urged by Master Teachers and Librarians to dig deeper into how to create for ourselves and our students new ways to see, reflect, and question those artifacts, articles, and other information sources

Don’t miss Carla Hayden, Librarian of Congress on Sunday June 25th, at the East Event Gallery!

Takeaway: Remembering to take advantage of opportunities to work with others learning new things. Stepping out of the library world and into the classroom world can help us to reconnect with the 6-period classroom perspective. Also, checking back in with the subject matter that brought us to teaching with can revitalize our passion for those topics that we enjoy.

3. A picture of students in the computer lab. In the late 1990s a company called ZapMe offered free computer labs to schools. In exchange, students logged in with an ID number, a zip code, and gender designation. In exchange, those schools who were able to obtain a lab were given administrative help, educational professional development, and access to vetted educational sites. My library was chosen as one of these sites, and we were able to turn an older faculty lounge attached to the library into an up-to-date computer lab. Because of this opportunity, we were able to hire a library Assistant (after 10 years of solo librarianship!) and begin offering classes to students in how to use this new thing called “the Internet.” What a wonderful thing this was. I worked side by side with a TOSA who taught how to use applications (word processing, early power point-like slide shows, etc.) while I taught search strategies, citation, and research skills. What fun it was to help kids work a little ahead of the curve with these new tools. Talk about a learning curve – for us all!

There are so many sessions at ALA that highlight the many ways that students, teachers, and administrators can utilize the tools to locate, analyze, and create with information. Check out the sessions dealing with Internet privacy, data, and the tools of online creation.

Takeaway: Keep taking teaching risks – whether it is learning new technology, new lesson design, or new collaborations. While the ZapMe computer labs were taken down across the nation because of the way they were collecting student information, they provided our school with a much-needed boost. And what a difference time makes! Data collection is far more ubiquitous now than anything we might have imagined in the early 1990s. Time may have changed the amount of data that floats around the Internet, but we continue to make sure that our students know and understand the risks and consequences of an open online life.

Enjoy your summer…
And… see you in Chicago!

Connie Williams is the newly retired Teacher Librarian from Petaluma High School.

Author: Connie Williams

NBCTeacher Librarian and author of “Understanding Government Information: a Teaching Strategy Toolkit for grades 7-12”. Member of the CA State Library Services Board, and History Room Librarian at the Petaluma Regional Library [Sonoma County Library]. She welcomes all conversation.. give a holler!

Categories: Blog Topics, Collection Development, Community/Teacher Collaboration, Professional Development

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