My Command Central

Just a quick one to show another one of my organization stations, my command central if you will.

I got the vertical file holder last year from Amazon. I have the folders labeled with the days of the week since I see my classes on a Monday-Friday schedule. Inside each folder, I keep the class lists for the classes I’ll see that day (I like to put my seating charts right at the bottom of the class lists), in the order I’ll see them that day. The folders expand a bit so I can usually fit any and all copies I’ll need for that day in the folder as well. I use the see-through pocket on the bottom to hold my clipboard.

My clipboard always has a copy of my schedule on it. Since I’m on a fixed/flex schedule it changes from week to week and I don’t like the pressure of remembering all those start and end times in my head so I print off a copy each week. On the back of my clipboard, I have two of those little square laminated adhesive pockets you can get at Target’s Dollar Deals section in August. I use them to hold my nurse’s office passes and my Chance Cards. I don’t send kids to the nurse’s office often but when I do, I find taking a quick second to fill out one of these notes really helps her out. Chance cards are a reward system we use at our school as part of PBIS. When you “catch” a kid exemplifying one of our core tenets, you can reward them with a chance card. They then can turn them in for rewards in their classrooms.

Every morning, I grab that days folder and put it on my clipboard, on top of my schedule. Before a class comes in, I’ll pull their class list out and clip it on top of the folder, on my clipboard. Now, I have my class list so I can take attendance if need be, my seating chart, a means of rewarding students, and any handouts I need, all in one place. When the class ends, I put their list back in the folder and get the next list out. At the end of the day, the folder goes back up in the file and the clipboard goes in its pocket!

I’d love attach a pocket or hook or something to the back of the Happy/Sad Board for my clipboard to make it a little easier to carry both of them when we’re transitioning around the library but other than that, it’s been a pretty great, easy to setup organization station!


Reading Resolutions & the Read Harder Challenge

Earlier in the year, I saw another librarian post on Instagram that they were having their students create reading goals for the year. I loved the idea and thought it would pair great with an introduction to our new Snapshot Wall where I had a spot for my reading goals. But…somehow it was suddenly December break and I still hadn’t done the lesson. I was all set to write it off as something to try next year when it occurred to me, reading goals are pretty much the same thing as reading resolutions! So, when we came back in January, we eased back into the swing of things by reading Giraffes Can’t Dance and having a lesson on goal setting, the difference between “I can’t” and “I can’t yet” and, set some reading resolutions for ourselves!

In the spirit of complete transparency, this was not quite as fun and lighthearted a lesson as I had envisioned! To begin with, several of the classroom teachers had also had their students come up with resolutions for the new year, including our art teacher who had them create goals for themselves as artists. How do I know this? Because. In. Every. Single. Class. There was at least one kid who complained that they had already done this. However, despite multiple exposures to the concept of resolutions and goal setting as well as some class discussion on how to set good, reachable goals, I had quite a few students writing “goals” that weren’t goals (I like to play Fort Night with my brother) or were too difficult (I want to read 500 books by the end of the year, I want to read 25 books every day).

But, at the end of the day, some of them did come up with honest, attainable goals and I do think I’d do it again with some changes. I liked to find a better story about setting goals to use next time that might make it easier for them to understand the difference between a goal that is a comfortable stretch for you and a goal that is setting you up for failure. I also think I’d jump right to asking them to come up with some goals during our guided instruction and NOT share my reading goals with them first. In hindsight, I think sharing my goals with them first might have skewed some of their ideas on how many books they “should” try to read.

On a related note: to help me keep up with my reading resolutions (which, full disclosure: I’m doing just okay with this year) I bought myself this fantastic reading journal from Book Riot. I’ve long loved the idea of keeping a reading journal but hadn’t found one I really liked yet. One of the things I like about this one is that it can serve multiple purposes. There’s plenty of space to record what you’re reading and save notes for each book. There’s also a place to record what you want to read next. And Book Riot built their reading challenges right into the journal-complete with book suggestions to help you reach those challenges! I also like that it’s small enough to easily carry around with me to take notes wherever I’m reading but large enough that I’ll be able to record my reading adventures for years to come.

Have you set reading goals or resolutions with students? Do you have a great picture book on setting goals? Do you keep a reading journal? I’d love to hear other people’s ideas and experiences!

Introducing Dawson the Deer!

I can’t believe I forgot to introduce you guys to the library’s newest friend: Dawson the Deer!

I know Christmas is over and by the time we go back to school it will be January but he’s just too cute not to mention-maybe someone will remember this come next year and try out a Dawson of their own.

Some people in my building do the Elf on the Shelf in their classrooms but, and apologies if you have one in your classroom or home, I find the Elf creepy and have never been tempted to have one for our library. However, I did like the idea of having some kind of magical creature we could move around during this time of year. When my mom emailed me the link to my youngest brother’s fall Scentsy fundraiser I saw Dawson Deer and knew I’d found our new magical friend!

So, the backstory I gave Dawson is that we meet years ago when he got a new iPad and needed help figuring out how to use it and do things like set up his email. Every year, around December 1st, he comes back to the library to help keep an eye on the students and see who is remembering their expectations at school.

The first time he appeared I hid him in the entry way of the library and acted surprised and excited like I had just spotted him when the kids were lining up to wait for their teacher. That’s when I explained who Dawson was and what he “job” was in the library. We also discussed “magical creature etiquette” like using your quiet voice so you don’t frighten them and respecting their personal space and not touching them.

I repeated this act every day until all the primary classes had met him making sure to move him to a slightly different spot in the library entryway each time so kids who’d already heard about him wouldn’t get suspicious. After that, I moved him every morning when I got to work and there were no kids around to see me. I tried to pick a spot near where we’d be learning that day that was also somewhat hidden so they wouldn’t immediately spot him.

I jokingly told one class that since Dawson knew how to use an iPad he just might email their teacher to report on how they did in the library. But then I realized, he could actually do just that! I created a Gmail account for Dawson the Deer, sent my colleagues a heads up email so they didn’t think it was spam, and Dawson started sending them emails to share with their classes about all the great things he saw when their class was at the library!

I had so much fun with Dawson the Deer this year-I miss him already!

Welcome to the Buccaneer Bistro and Poetry Cafe

Oh man guys! This was a good one! Kids loved, the teachers loved it, my principal even popped in was impressed! So what are we waiting for, let’s dive into the details!

This all started when I asked the 4th grade team if they’d like to do some kind of poetry tasing to kick of their ELA unit on poetry. The idea behind a poetry tasting, much like a book tasting, is to give kids the opportunity to sample a variety of poetry types (rather than book genres) in a short amount of time. The teachers were down with the idea but also asked if we could collaborate on some lessons on poetic devices as well. Even more collaboration? Please and thank you!

Each teacher came down with their class every day for a week during their ELA time (which is 60 minutes), throughout the month of December. Here’s how we broke down the lessons/activities each day:

Day 1: Poetry Tasting-Based on a book tasting I read about here and modeled after the “supplies” in this Book Tasting unit I bought on Teachers Pay Teachers, my clerk and I turned the library into a poetry cafe for the day. I brought in tablecloths, vases, fake flowers and, battery operated candles from home to set the scene.

Students rotated from table to table “sampling” different forms/types of poetry and completing short activities with each poem type.

Table 1: Rhyming Poetry

Table 2: Concrete (Shape) Poetry

Table 3: List Poetry

Table 4: Acrostic Poetry

Table 5: Non-Rhyming Poetry

Table 6: Reverso Poetry  

The teacher, myself, my clerk and any TA’s assigned to the classroom for ELA time each manned and ran a sampling station. When there wasn’t enough adults for each table we tried to leave the rhyming station and acrostic station as self guided (they’ve done acrostics in the past and have some familiarity with them already).

With the exception of the reverso poetry table, all the tables had a simple lesson and activity for the poem type taken from years worth of Shel Silverstein Poetry Month activity packets I’ve collected. As such, those tables also each had a Shel Silverstein poem book or two, for any potential early finishers to look at. The reverso poem station was based on a lesson I did when I was student teaching. First, we looked at  examples from Marilyn Singer’s book Mirror, Mirror. Then, I gave each student in the group a set of index cards. Each index card has 1 or 2 words on it and can be arranged to create a simple reverso poem. After completing that activity, they were given time to look at Mirror, Mirror  and Follow, Follow (Singer’s other reverso poetry book we have in the library) on their own. Each station lasted approximately 8 minutes. At the end, we had students fill out and hand in a comment card reflecting on what they did and didn’t like about learning this way.

Day 2 & Day 3: One of the 4th-grade teachers had found and purchased this Christmas Poet-Trees Unit on Teachers Pay Teachers so we used those lessons and activities for the next two days (sans fully decorated cafe atmosphere). We focused on hyperbole, onomatopoeia and, alliteration on day one and simile, metaphor and, personification during day two.

Day 4: Students were given time to reexamine the activities they had worked on the past two days and try to turn some of their practice lines into full poems (choosing any of the 6 poem types they had learned on Monday).

Day 5: We turned the library back into a poetry cafe, complete with low lighting and a spot light, and students took turns presenting their poems. I even put on jazz music in the background and we did the whole snap instead of clap thing. Almost every student in every class finished a poem that they wanted to present! They had so much fun and the teachers loved teaching them the necessary background knowledge for their ELA unit in a fun, engaging way. I think we’ll definitely be repeating this one again next year!

Bulletin Board Update-Winter Edition!

It’s time to say goodbye to our turkey and hello to my clerk’s winter-themed bulletin board! I love how she made it 3-dimensional. I also love that once again, she’s made it a participatory bulletin board. This time, she cut out a bunch of snowflakes and is asking people to write their favorite book on the snowflake. Pretty soon, our snowmen are going to be in a blizzard of book suggestions!

Note Taking Lessons for the Primary Set

Earlier this month, I was discussion with our 3rd grade team how they wanted to tackle their annual Christmas around the world unit when one of them expressed concern with their students’ abilities to digest information and take notes. That particular teacher asked if we could try teaming up to do an intensive unit on note taking before we got to the December research project and I said, “Of course! Let’s do it!”.

However, when I went back to my office and began pulling resources and lesson ideas, I realized I really didn’t have a note taking lesson that I was thrilled with-and certainly not enough pieces of lessons I liked to do a true deep dive like the teacher was requesting. And the more I thought about it, the more I also realized that even the pieces of lessons I did like and had used over the years weren’t really getting the job done. When I reflected on research projects I’d assisted with over the years I kept seeing the same scene playing out: students do great during the guided note taking practices but quickly fall back into simple copying when left to research more independently. Students shift back when prompted but eventually, slide back into copying. They just didn’t seem to understand the core of note taking.

I won’t lie. This was incredibly disheartening to realize. I mean, shouldn’t I, the librarian, already know how to teach this skill? Had I been failing my students this whole time?!?! What was I even doing with my life? Minor panic attack aside, I began looking into how other people teach note taking skills in elementary school. Many of the lesson plans and ideas I found were great but were also clearly aimed at older students. This made me feel a little better about my shortcomings but didn’t help with the obvious need we had for note taking skills with much younger students. I was starting to give up hope when I finally found something on Teachers Pay Teachers I thought might work.

It was called Taking Notes without Copying: A K-3 Note Taking Strategy by The Core Coaches. What I loved about this lesson was that it was simple but seemed like it could also be effective. Students immediately are being trained to to identify important words after they read. Then, you teach them how to take those important words and try to remember what they read and learned about that important word. What they say, they then write down, teaching them to put things in their own words. I also liked that it included step by step teaching directions as well as guided practice, independent with partner and fully independent practice lessons. Finally, I appreciated the reasonable price and that the lesson could be used with any text of your choice. But, if you’re so inclined, they also sell booklets on a variety of topics, each topic includes multiple reading levels as well. I ended up purchasing the booklets on continents since I knew 3rd grade had recently finished learning about maps and continents I thought it would be nice to apply a new strategy while learning about a topic they already had background knowledge on. That way, they could focus more on the strategy and less on the new knowledge gathering.

For the actual lessons, the teacher broke the class into 4 groups, based on reading levels and the teacher, my clerk, his TA and myself each took a group for the duration of each 30 minute lesson. Then, we just worked through the lesson as scripted, pacing the lessons based on our individual groups. When all of the groups had gotten the gist of it and experienced success with the continents booklets we moved on to the booklets on American Symbols I had also purchased and tried the strategy out with completely new materials. We meet at least 3 times a week for 30 minutes throughout the month of November.

So how did it go? Overall, I was very impressed with the lesson and the results the students experienced. I think it offers a wonderful jumping off point and if we stick with this strategy throughout the year, year after year, I think we’ll see some marked improvement in our students abilities to understand how to take notes. It’s even changed the way I do little things like KWL charts with my Kindergarteners. When we did one recently after reading a book about crocodiles, I reminded myself to model my thinking and point out that I wasn’t writing down the whole sentence they said, I was only writing the important words. By the end of the class, I was even able to ask them to help me find the important words in the sentences they said. But perhaps the biggest endorsement comes from that 3rd grade teacher himself who told me, as we were wrapping up the last lesson before break, “I’m a really big fan of this note-taking schema of yours”. Better performing students and a happy teacher?!? That’s a winning lesson in my book.

1/2 Days Are the Longest Days…

I don’t know about you, but sometimes, I struggle with planning my November lessons. I mean, between Veterans day, Thanksgiving break, a Superintendent’s day and, Parent/Teacher conference days, I think we’re in session for 15 whole days the entire month! And that’s if we don’t end up with any snow days, 2 hour delays or early dismissals…

I think the half days are the hardest to plan around. We seem to have quite a few kids who don’t come to school on half days and the kids who are here tend to be a little off the wall with the completely different schedule on those days. It’s a delicate balance finding lessons that will be fun, engaging, and educational but not so important to the curriculum that kids who aren’t in school come back behind everyone else and needing to be caught up.

In the past, I’ve done basic review type activities but tried to make them as fun and game like as possible but this year, while scrolling through Instagram (my PD activity of choice), I spotted The. Most. Amazing. Idea. Ever. It was posted by librarian Chrystal Burkes (Instagram handle chryschool) and you should totally stop reading and just go check out her feed-it’s chock full of good ideas-and come back when you’re done.

Back? Good. Just in case you couldn’t find the idea I borrowed from her (and I can totally see you missing it in the sea of amazing stuff she posts), I’ll share what I did based on the post she shared back on November 13th. It caught my eye because she mentioned using the book Balloons Over Broadway in the lesson. I bought this book at our spring Scholastic Book Fair last year and while I was just in love with the illustrations, it didn’t seem to be getting much circulation time with the kiddos. So, I was eager to see what this creative and inspiring librarian had found to do with it-and I was not disappointed! Per her Instagram caption, “We read the book #balloonsoverbroadway and then went on a @macy’s #thanksgivingdayparade #virtualfieldtrip using #ipads and #youtube 360!” So fun, right?!?! In the comments she gave the link for the video but I found it easier to just search on YouTube for “Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade 2017 360”. And really, that’s the whole lesson right there in her caption. Read the book, hook them up with the iPads, watch joy and magic happen. It does require a wee bit of prep though so I’ll walk you through what I did to make the lesson go as smooth as possible:

  1. Several days before the lesson: Check that all the iPads you’ll be using have the YouTube app. The 360 videos only work on the YouTube app so you can’t use the web version for this activity, you’ll have to have the app installed. Some of my iPads had the app but some of them had “lost” it somehow so I needed to put in a help desk ticket with our IT department to get them all hooked up with the app.
  2. Morning of the lesson: I went through all the iPads I’d be using and opened the YouTube app, searched for the video, opened it, put the video in full screen mode and then paused it. I then closed the cover and put it back on a book cart until we needed it for the lesson. That way, when it was time, I could just pick up an iPad, hit play and the kiddos could just be handed an iPad that was ready to roll.
  3. Lesson itself: I read the book, we discussed parades and parade balloons, then I told them we were going on a field trip to NYC to see the parade ourselves, without having to leave the library! When my clerk wheeled the cart of iPads into the story area I explained that the iPads were their tickets to NYC. Then, I showed them how the video worked with the iPads and finally, we talked about being a safe tourist (ie how to walk with the iPads, looking out for other tourists, making sure we didn’t stop or sit down in front of people, etc).

In the end, I only was able to do the lesson with my classes the day before we went on break. However, I will absolutely be doing this one with all my classes leading up to the Thanksgiving break next year! My students LOVED this lesson and activity. Throughout the course of the day I received: spontaneous applause, cheers, hugs and, one little guy even yelled, “this is the greatest thing I’ve ever done!”. It definitely made that last hectic day before break sail right by-something for which I can be truly thankful!

Thankfulness Feathers

Just a quick one today! My clerk found a cute idea for our November bulletin board (have I mentioned how much I LOVE having a full time clerk again this year?!?!):

She sketched the turkey out by hand, can you believe it? Since I color coded my grade levels in my planner and on my schedule she used those same colors for the feathers.

For my K-2nd classes, I read them a story on gratitude (Lucy Cate’s Gratitude Attitude if you wanted to check it out. I thought it was okay. The font and layout made it difficult to read and some of the message got lost for my youngest students with the language and rhyming choices but after a class discussion they got the idea so I’d say, overall, it did its job. Gratitude picture books are surprisingly hard to come by) and then, we moved to the tables to complete our gratitude feathers (Kindergarten on red, first on orange and second on yellow). My clerk put the other feathers in an envelope on the circulation desk with a little sign she made. When the older kids come down to check out books, she asks if they’d done a feather yet and would like to add to our board.

As kids finish their feathers, she adds them to our turkey and he just keeps growing and growing! I love that he’ll be up and bursting with feathers for parent teacher conferences. Of course, my amazing clerk already has her December bulletin board planned and ready to go so he’ll be coming down as soon as we get back from Thanksgiving break. Can’t wait to show you what she’s planned for the next one!

Halloween Campfire Time

Halloween wasn’t my favorite holiday as a kid but as a school librarian I kind of love it! One of the reasons it’s crept to the top of my holiday list now that I work in a school? Three words: Halloween Costume Parade. I mean, that’s just the best and cutest thing that happens all year! The other reason I love it as a teacher-I get to tell all my stories by our Halloween campfire!

Every year, I go down to the the library’s basement storage unit and I come back up with the makings for a little campfire:

  • three real wood logs I stole from our woodshed several years ago
  • three battery operated flickering flame candles
  • several sheets of orange, yellow and red tissue paper
  • An old tray to assemble everything on (Tray is optional. You could leave your fire out all day but I don’t want it to get messed with in between classes so I pick it up and carry it out before we start book exchange time.)

To assemble my little campfire, I wrap each of the candles in a sheet or two of the tissue paper. Don’t wrap them too tightly or perfectly, you’ll be taking them in and out all day to flip the switch on the bottom (at least I do to help preserve the batteries). I usually just lay the tissue paper flat, put the candle in the middle and bring up the tissue paper around it leaving the top open. Once all three candles are smooshed together and held in place by the logs the tissue paper usually stands up on its own just fine. I cut the ends of the tissue paper to be wispy and more flame like and I also cut some random flame like pieces that I stick in between the candles. I put the candles in the center of the tray and then put the wood logs around them and voila! Traveling campfire. Bonus points if you pretend the tray is hot while carrying it to a safe, out of the way place like behind the circulation desk.

To make the whole campfire experience extra realistic, I use a background noise app on my phone (called Noisli) to play the sound of a crackling campfire. I wedge my phone into the fire, under the log closest to me so the kids can’t see it. The crackling sounds combined with the lifelike flickering of hte battery operated candles have convinced several kids over the years that our fire is real!

Pro Tip: Put your phone on Do Not Disturb or Airplane Mode before turning on the app and adding it to your campfire. That way, if you get a call or any notifications during your story, it won’t disrupt you and/or clue the kids in to the fact that there’s a phone in the fire. One year, I got a phone call from my doctor’s office reminding me about an upcoming appointment during a story time. Luckily, I always keep my phone on vibrate so I just casually used my foot to muffle the phones vibrating sounds. However, the crackling campfire sound not only suddenly died when the call came in, IT DIDN’T RESTART WHEN THE CALL ENDED-ugh! Several children noticed the sudden lack of sounds and I had to be all “guess I fire’s getting low, I’ll be sure to add some more wood before the next class comes in” about it.

As far as what we usually read around our Halloween campfire, I’m a big fan of the following options:

And that’s how we do read alouds during Halloween week! Bet you can understand why it’s one of my favorite times of the year in the library now.

Off We Go to Archeology Camp!

I was approached by one of our 6th grade teachers wondering if I had any ideas on how she could liven up their unit on prehistory and early man. After some looking around for ideas and sharing back and forth, we landed on the idea of doing an Junior Archeology “Camp” for one of the days, a hands-on “dig” during the follow up session and then, a sharing and reflecting day.

For our Junior Archeology Camp we broke the kids into 3 groups and had them rotate through 3 stations:

  • Station 1: Guided Tour of the Lascaux cave paintings in France– I’m lucky enough to have both a SmartBoard hooked up to a projector as well as a second projector that can be hooked up to a laptop and used with a pull down screen we have in the library. We used the laptop and screen to display the virtual cave walk through on the pull down screen and discussed the images we both saw and didn’t see in the caves and what that might tell us about early man. My clerk ran this one but if, you didn’t have a third person, you could probably set this up as a self guided experience.
  • Station 2: Fossil Exploration– This interactive website shows different fossils and walks you through what archeologists were able to learn by examining the fossils. At this center each student viewed the site on their own iPad while being guided by their classroom teacher.
  • Station 3: Identifying a skull– This interactive site lets you examine skull fossils of known types of early man and then, gives you mystery skulls to try to identify. I ran this one and we used the library SmartBoard to view the skulls so everyone could see them and the details we needed to be looking for could be projected on a larger scale.

For the hands on dig, I used this lesson on trash can archaeology. I picked 3 different classrooms in different parts of the building and collected some of their “artifacts” every day for a week or so. I made sure I didn’t collect any perishable food waste, tissues, or papers with students names and/or sensitive information. We also all wore gloves during the activity because a) hygiene and b) that seemed like something good scientists would do. Instead of having them record their findings on the worksheets included in the lesson, I had them use the iPads and the Seesaw app to record annotated pictures and videos on their findings and providing the answers to the questions. There was some hesitation when I first showed them the cans of artifacts and began explaining what they were going to do but they got over it fast and seemed to really enjoy themselves. Students I normally don’t hear much from in class were so excited for their turn to be in a picture of video for their team’s Seesaw journal.  

*Optional for crazy people like me* I spent the entire day of the archaeology dig pretending I wasn’t me and was instead Prof. Aneras Nordlaw, archaeology professor from Cambridge, visiting to get the junior archaeologists help on an important dig site (unfortunately, Ms. Waldron couldn’t be there that day because she had to take her car into the shop). I refused to answer to Ms. Waldron and introduced myself to every class as Prof. Nordlaw. (The last 6th grade class was so mad at their teacher because she told them when they got to the library a special guest speaker who waiting for them). Also, I did my best to dress like a smart professor who also maybe doesn’t have to dress up and do presentations very often-I even snagged a visitors badge from the main office and rolled my hair under so it looked shorter. And you can’t see it in the pictures but that cardigan has (sequined) elbow patches.  

Finally, the last day they came down I pulled up each team’s Seesaw journal on the Smartboard and they shared their findings with the rest of the class and we had some whole class reflection time. Overall, the lessons went really well and all the classes got into it! I think having a deeper understanding of what archaeologists do helped them bring a new layer of meaning to their prehistory and early man unit and allowed them to connect with the material in a deeper way.