Banned Books Week is here! Intellectual freedom is one of my favorite things to discuss with students, so I've really started to look forward to this yearly event. I definitely take unrestricted access to reading materials for granted, but I have to remind myself that young people especially aren't always so lucky.
This year I was looking for a new way to pique student interest in frequently challenged books. I came across an idea (thank goodness for Pinterest) and ran with it: I covered frequently challenged books with black paper, then wrote the reasons for their challenge on the fronts with silver marker. I even used some direct quotes from published challenges--those were the highlights! Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is "frustrating garbage," while Salinger's Catcher in the Rye has morphed into "a dreadful, dreary recital of sickness, sordidness, and sadism." These types of claims about books in a school library are simply irresistible for students; circulation has skyrocketed this week, and most of the books leaving the shelves are indeed frequently challenged titles.
I also used Banned Books Week to partner with a classroom teacher for my reading enrichment unit (Task 1). These students had recently finished their discussion of The Giver, so it was a great time to tie in the topics of challenges, censorship, and unrestricted access to ideas. Most students were surprised to discover that The Giver is frequently challenged and even banned in some school libraries. We discussed the reasons for the challenges, why/if "mature" content has a place in the school curriculum, and why restricting access is so controversial. I wrapped up the lesson by recommending a few additional frequently challenged titles, then concluded with a book talk of Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451. When I got back to the media center later after all of my lessons, my library assistant told me two students had been by already to check it out. Now that's what I call a successful book talk!
Such moments are a bright spot for me because I feel like fostering a love of reading in my patrons is by far my biggest challenge as a media specialist. So many of these kids are just not interested, or they claim they don't have time to read; they're taking too many AP courses, or they're too wrapped up in athletics, or band consumes their life. Of course, I have my die-hard readers who can't live without a book, but this mindset seems to be the exception. Lack of interest in reading is a problem I'm actively trying to address.
This week I spent two days at Harmony Elementary School with their media specialist, Rachel Peters. What a whirlwind experience! Harmony has about 730 students, but Rachel is the only person in the media center. She has no additional staff--not even a part-time parapro! She relies heavily on parent and community volunteers to help cross items off her to-do list. Not only is she the only person in the media center, but she's also in charge of Harmony's computer labs, iPad carts, Chromebooks, AND the teacher workroom (!!!). She takes photos of school events, runs the morning announcements show, helps teachers out with technology... the list goes on. She maybe sat down for twenty minutes the entire day, and that was during her lunch period. MAD RESPECT.
The Harmony media center operates on a fixed schedule. Every class visits the media center during a set time once per week. Some classes are split to make sure every student gets a chance to check out a book, so sometimes we had a class of 25+ kids in the media center at one time. Rachel occasionally used part of the time to squeeze in some computer-based skills practice, to read a story to the class, or to guide students through an activity that related to what their teachers were covering this week. When students were in the media center, I helped out with simple tasks like checking in/checking out books (though students are pretty self-sufficient at this activity), helping students find books on the shelves, and general crowd control. I also got to lead story time for the kindergartners on both days... such a highlight! I read Drum Dream Girl by Margarita Engle since Harmony is currently celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month. We even played bongo drums after the story, and students loved it. While in the computer lab, I helped students get logged in and helped them navigate their programs (like iRead). I also pulled books for teachers based on request lists, delivered books to classrooms, prepared materials (colored strips of paper for rainbows) for upcoming media center lessons, and reshelved like crazy. The hours passed very quickly. We did find a few minutes to chat throughout the day, and I learned quite a bit about Harmony's media program and how Rachel manages to juggle it all. She was incredibly helpful and forthcoming.
Obviously, her biggest issue is staffing. There are simply not enough hours in the day to get everything done. She does an amazing job given this very big limitation; she's very efficient in her instruction and never wastes a minute. She has also tried to streamline the check in/check out process so that students can do it themselves, and third graders even help her keep the shelves clean by "adopting" a shelf they tidy up periodically. Very innovative! I might take some of these ideas back to my media center. Another issue is fixed scheduling, which is new for her this year. Students are not allowed to come check out or return books except during their scheduled library time, and sometimes students get pulled from their library slot for special programs like CHAMPS or 4-H. While fixed scheduling does ensure that every class visits the media center, it's not ideal in terms of allowing students unrestricted access to books or for allowing collaboration between teachers and the media specialist. Still, she makes the best of it and has a very good relationship with both students and teachers.
I really loved my time at Harmony. Little ones are very different from my older students; I received plenty of sweet hugs and smiles! Rachel graciously offered to serve as a resource if I have questions in the future, and I'm sure I'll be taking her up on that offer.
Secondary site visit at Harmony Elementary: 16 hours.
This past Wednesday, I attended a live webinar on edWeb.net about open educational resources. I truly believe that OER is a big part of the school library's future, along with digital texts and other digital resources. I was excited to see what Andrew Marcinek had to say on this topic and where he saw K12 schools fitting into the OER picture.
First of all, I loved the live features. I've watched plenty of recorded webinars and webcasts, but I don't think I've ever attended one live, as it actually happened. I participated in the chat with the other attendees, I sent the moderators a question (that they actually addressed!), and I was able to take advantage of the resources attendees were sharing. It was awesome, and I'll definitely make more of an effort to attend live webinars in the future.
This webinar also gave me a lot to consider. OER is a huge topic with many moving parts, and its implementation within any context will be a time-consuming and arduous process. Right now it seems that school districts who are pursuing OER in favor of traditional text books are asking their teachers to be responsible for curating content and vetting its quality. I think there are big pros and also big cons to that approach. But however districts get started with OER, it's nice to hear that Andrew Marcinek envisions media specialists playing an important role, especially when it comes to finding information, curation, and quality. I agree that the SLMS is definitely prepared to step into that role.
We'll see how this topic evolves over the next few years. I'm excited to step up!
This week found me working on a few major upcoming initiatives for the media center. It’s hard to believe that we’re finishing up our fifth week of classes! The school year always runs away from me in the fall. Suddenly the first day of school turns into the first day of final exams, and I’m left wondering where the time has gone. I’ve already taught a number of great lessons and collaborated with several teachers for combined units of study. I have a few more classes planned for the weeks ahead—as well as my secondary and tertiary site visits—so I don’t think the days will slow down any time soon.
Digital portfolios are well underway. I spent some time this past Tuesday talking with Ms. Crowell, the advanced composition teacher, and we considered both short-term and long-term approaches. We decided that fully integrating digital portfolios would really mean a reworking of the entire composition curriculum to include not only multimodal assignments but also digital citizenship concepts and information literacy. That’s just not possible at this point in the year, but it’s something we’d like to pursue for next year. However, we do want to go ahead and test Weebly as a possible platform and start the process of incorporating multimodal assignments. So we’re going to use what Ms. Crowell calls a “remix” approach to pilot digital portfolios this semester: Students will take several essays they’ve written and transform them into different forms of content using a Web 2.0 creation tool, then embed those elements in a Weebly-based digital portfolio. To get the comp teachers started with Weebly, I taught them an introductory session on Thursday after school. I’m actually going to use this training session for tasks 6, 7, and 8—so stay tuned for more details.
I also started working on my plan for Banned Books Week. I want to make BBW fun and give teachers and students several opportunities to participate, but I also don’t want to disrupt students’ class schedule. I also like to design my own promotional graphics, although I know the American Library Association always provides great options for Banned Books Week through their graphics shop. I’m going to ask my library department personnel to decide on a final design from the choices above, or to make suggestions for revision. I used Lucidpress to create these fliers, a tool that’s new for me. I have pretty good ideas for displays, in-house activities, and a few suggestions for teachers, so I’ll spend much of next week getting feedback and finalizing plans.
I chose the following objective for this practice:
Students will be able to make a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich.