Monday, October 5, 2015

Building Empathy through Books

October is National Bullying Prevention Month. With campaigns like STOMP Out Bullying drawing attention to the issue on the national level, school libraries can help on the forefronts throughout the school year by not only modeling that the library is a place of acceptance, but also by helping students connect with books that raise awareness of issues that demand understanding, tolerance, and acceptance.

I don’t know about you, but I’m a firm believer in the power of bibliotherapy. I’m a firm believer that books help us not only find ourselves, but also allow us to understand others. Books allow us to a glimpse of life through someone else’s perspective and allow us to begin to embrace experiences beyond our own. Books help us gain respect for those who are different from us. 

Books build empathy.

Although there a numerous books that could make the list, listed below are some of my go-to books (some old, some new) that promote understanding and empathy:

Picture Books:

When the other kids in her class bully the new kid, Ellie takes a risk and reaches out

Although others judge her size, Molly makes a big impact.

Chloe and her friends won’t play with Maya, but after Maya quits coming to school Chloe regrets her actions.

Chapter Books:

Albie has a whole list of things he’s not good at, but with the help of his babysitter, Albie learns to take pride in himself and celebrate his successes.

When Capricorn (Cap) is forced to attend school for the first time, he realizes he is very different from his middle school classmates.

Auggie’s facial disfigurement makes attending public school for the first time even more difficult.

And my current favorite . . .

Ally hides behind her behavior until Mr. Daniels helps her discover that she’s more than the labels she’s been given.

Like many librarians, my list could go on forever, but these are my top books (for now) for building empathy amongst my students.

What books are on your list?

Thursday, October 1, 2015

SLJ Leadership Summit Takeaways

I was one of four IASL Board members to attend this year's School Library Journal Leadership Summit in Seattle.  

In addition to meeting Neal Shusterman, Jack Prelutsky and Susin Neilsen, I also learned a great deal from my colleagues and the vendors and other professionals in attendance.  Here are a few of my takeaways.

Getting Admin on YOUR Side
No one likes a whiner, and no one likes to have to do their job AND someone else's. Instead of approaching an administrator with the question "how can I help," approach them and listen.  We learned a lot about the practice of Extreme Listening. Basically, you have to listen to what people actually say, not what you want or expect them to say. Listen to your admin/school board/legislator/whoever. Find out what keeps them up at night and offer them a solution to their problems through what you already do - it's all about how you frame it. They will see you as empathetic, trustworthy, and as a key player in their problem solving.

Being Prepared for Change - Extreme Listening
Extreme Listening can/should be a key part of making big changes. Overly simplified from the work of the amazing Marnie Webb, Extreme Listening involves first identifying the themes you need to listen for (i.e. bullying) and everyone who has any stake it the situation at hand (bullies, victims, authority figures, bystanders). Then, list everything that makes a situation hard - all of the "why not's" and reason something "won't work" (cultural differences, time constraints, lack of support). Then, put that list away. Be prepared to listen, and hear, without your expectations, biases, and roadblocks. From that extreme listening, you can then brainstorm solutions - imagine the impossible (best example: Traffic Mimes).  Accept that this will take time to implement. Set yourself goals, milestones, signs of making progress. Most importantly, "be hungry to know what happens next." Your motives can't be to be prove someone wrong, or to get glory. You have to see where the process takes you. Lastly, share "wildly!"

Advocate from all sides
Of course we have to be prepared to tell our own stories - ALL THE TIME. We are the only ones we can rely on to make sure people know who we are and what we do for kids. But I also learned that our vendors have more to offer than just a book order. All of the representatives at the Summit stressed that they want to help us. They know what we do, and how important we are for kids.  They all offered to set up meetings with our administrators to chat about libraries and what we can do. Your consultant can be another voice spreading our message.

Teach more, Librarian less.
This message was repeated.  Last year at IASL Conference, Jennifer LeGarde reminded us that Librarians should love kids more than they love books.  That it's more important to get back the readers than it is to get back the books.  This year, an additional mindshift was introduced to me: Leadership, not Service. Think of it this way: your school can survive without a service, but it can't survive without educational leaders. Be the one who leads your students and your staff. They called this the "Joyce Valenza effect" -  become a person so valuable, no school could ever imagine cutting what she offers.

Monday, September 28, 2015

A link to share - Books and Reading Strategies.

The excerpt below is taken from a Lightning Talk I did for the IASL Conference in 2014.  I am such a believer in using some current books with kids that I could kick myself for not having the site updated.  HOWEVER!  I have a big order coming in days, and I will look at the books knowing I need to find the perfect matches for individual reading strategies.  This is also a great opportunity for you to look through your most recent purchases and ask yourself, "Do any of these books lend themselves to teaching kids about predicting?  Questioning?  Inferring?  Visualizing?  Synthesizing?  Making connections?  Monitoring or clarifying?  Summarizing?  If so, leave the title in the comments, and I will add it to what could be a statewide collaborative site!  Read below for the hows and whys and to also find the link!  

Have you ever truly paid attention to what you do as a reader?  What you’re thinking as you read, how you’re understanding the text, or what you’re remembering or what’s difficult for you?   
Because I never paid any attention.  Why would I?  I was always labeled the good reader when I was in elementary school.  I flew through the SRA box so I could read my own books.  I scored well on the ITBS. I was always picked as the narrator.
It wasn’t until I was a graduate student in Developmental Reading that I was forced to look at my own reading strategies.  I had to slow down because my professors made me incorporate what I was reading into what I was doing in my classroom.
It was Keene and Zimmerman’s Mosaic of Thought that forced me to look at myself as a reader.  This book helped me understand the comprehension strategies used by proficient readers.  It helped me realize how I dealt with different texts, and how to model and teach these strategies to my third graders.
It was this book that spurred the creation of a Google Site called Books and Reading Strategies.  Very simply it gives up-to-date real literature that is especially perfect to explicitly teach and discuss comprehension strategies used by efficient readers.
You all know we have a place in the literacy learning of our students.  Anything we can do to motivate and engage students in reading is part of our job as educators.  And as librarians, we know the library is the most energizing room when it comes to literacy and learning.
“Yes, but reading right now is all broken down into skills and decoding and reading instruction is delivered to the teacher in the form of a manual coming in a box.  All of my novel units are gathering dust!”
However, I would argue that best practices are still being used by some teachers.  Pre-packaged curriculum does emphasize the reading comprehension strategies but they are taught in a formulaic fashion.  It’s the amazing educators that push students to think deeper and engage with the texts.

I can’t tell you the number of times a teacher has come to me and said, “Do you have a good book for visualizing?  Or how about helping kids think more about making inferences?  Is there a book that lends itself to this?”
This is where the Books and Reading Strategies website comes into play.  I can easily pass the link on to the teachers, and it’s simple to navigate.  Along the top are the different comprehension strategies used by readers.  Teachers can click on the tab they need, and they can find a list of books to teach this strategy.

The site is not flashy.  There are no images.  Under each tab is an extremely simplified definition of what the strategies mean, but I urge you, as adult readers, to pay attention to when you might use the different strategies.  Can you think of something you read recently that was visual for you?  

Underneath the definition of the strategy, you will find a list of books.  Titles from previous years have been grayed out and moved down, but they are there, too.  There are books that will help readers understand what inferences are, and books that will cause good readers to stop and say, “Wait!  I don’t understand.”   

Just the other day a student teacher in my building said, “I googled a good book for predicting, and some website said Pokey Little Puppy.  Do you have that book?”  I have no harsh feelings towards the little puppy or older books in general…

But we need to remember that kids today have immediate gratification through smartphones and iPads.  While students might say, “My grandma reads me Pokey Little Puppy!”  I propose they are going to be more excited about reading a fresh new book.

We have our own tried and true titles - ones that have worked since we were in elementary school ourselves, but as the book experts of the building, we need to share new books that will get kids excited about reading!  The Books and Reading Strategies site is a perfect resource.  

And I urge you, too:  notice what you do when you read different text.  Tax information will call for different reading strategies than furniture directions and fun and light novels will demand different actions than a historical nonfiction book.  

To use Keene and Zimmerman’s words, we are the CEOs in the library - the Chief Example to Others. Model your literate lives.  Don’t make comprehension strategies a mystery - talk about them aloud, to kids and to colleagues.  Use the Books and Reading Strategies website to help teachers connect to kids in 2015 - to help them find success in reading.    

Saturday, September 26, 2015

September Survey: Preparing for Banned Books Week, Celebrating the Freedom to Read

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I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with Banned Books Week, and last week, I wrote about my unease in a post for AASL’s Knowledge Quest blog. In fact, that’s why I chose it as this month’s topic: I always wrestle with these issues, and I need more resources. So, in addition to the Q&A about how to start conversations with librarian colleagues that's linked in my post, here are the results of our survey and some resources from our own Iowa colleagues.

The results--and some resources
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You can also register for a free webinar entitled “How to Protect the Freedom to Read in Your Library.” I’ll be one of three presenters sharing our experiences planning for and wrestling with the complex issues that Banned Books Week raises.  Join the webinar live on Tuesday, September 29 at 11AM central time, or register above and you’ll be send the links and materials afterwards!  Please join us! I would love to see familiar names on the attendees list, and I know it will be a great chance to hear others’ stories and join in an informal Q&A.

Thanks for all your ideas, and have a great Freedom to Read/Banned Books Week!

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Banned Books Week - September 27-October 3rd

Banned Books Week is coming up September 27th-October 3rd. This event is an important time to shine a light on the issue of censorship. 

Librarians have become very creative in celebrating books that have been challenged or removed from schools and library collections - spurring great conversations and critical thinking about individual choices, freedom of speech, and the role of personal belief in education and society.

But is Banned Books Week the only time of year we discuss the idea of intellectual freedom?  How can we better inform our community about these issues year round, rather than wait for a scheduled event, or worse, a book challenge in the news?

How do you teach your students, teachers, and community members about intellectual freedom? Share examples in the comments.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Book Review: Trouble is a Friend of Mine

Zoe thought she had enough trouble with her dad getting caught after years of cheating, and her parents’ divorce, and moving to a new town.  But that’s nothing compared to the trouble that finds her once Digby decides that Zoe will be one of his sidekicks in his misguided (or perhaps not-so-misguided?) adventures.  From stealing passcodes to spying on the neighbors, Digby has a plan that could end with all of them them in jail...or save the day and find some answers for a lingering town mystery.

Trouble is a Friend of Mine, by Stephanie Tromley, is a hilarious, romping mystery that takes the reader on wild ride, with sides of romance and teen angst thrown in.  Zoe and Digby get into scrapes that at first seem like the sort of pranks normal teens play, but the situation quickly turn sinister when they stumble upon a national drug ring involving a town doctor, a neighborhood cult, and the local drug scene, with the overarching issue of two missing girls disappearing eight years apart.  Although some of the action seems far-fetched for two “average” teenagers, the book overall is an adventure-filled comedy that will also pull at your emotions. If you have fans of comedy mixed with another genre, like books by Carl Hiassen or John Green, they will love Trouble is a Friend of Mine, by Stephanie Tromley.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Social Media & Lesson Inspiration

Social media like Twitter and Pinterest can be valuable tools in helping to develop new lessons and plan instruction.

Like the recent Dot Day celebrations, other events throughout the school year can be searched on Pinterest or followed with a hashtag. The upcoming Banned Books Week is one such topic, as are Children's Book Week and Read Across America.

Sometimes a thread on Twitter will inspire an idea or lesson. Author Laurie Halse Anderson spoke about resilience literature at a conference in late fall 2013, and those tweets--along with retweets and replies--inspired a lesson about resilience literature in my own school library. Both sites are also great resources for information and suggestions on topics such as makerspaces and library centers.

Next time you're looking for a little inspiration, why not try one of these sites and see what piques your interest? And if you have already used social media to shape lesson planning or as a resource, please share!