Monday, January 25, 2016

Join the conversation!

Looking for inspiration? Want to collaborate with colleagues? Trying to grow your PLN?

Join Teacher Librarians from around the Midwest the 2nd and 4th Tuesday of each month from 8 - 9 pm on Twitter!

Just search for the hashtag #mwlibchat to get in on the action!  

Topics vary each session, and draw in TLs from the Midwest and beyond. These chats are question and answer format - add your answers by Tweeting A1, A2, etc and be sure to include #mwlibchat at the end of each one.  

Too fast paced for you?  Check out the transcript of each chat here!

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Elementary Library Centers

You've read blog posts about them, scanned Pinterest boards featuring them, and attended conference sessions dedicated to them. But are you using library centers? Do you even want to implement library centers when they seem to be so much work?

Yes, yes, yes! Adding library centers to my K-5 library is one of the best decisions I've made, and they've become an integral part of my library.

What began as a classroom management tool has now morphed into dedicated time featuring STEAM and literacy activities. With very little money--and time!--you can include library centers for students, creating opportunities for them they may not have in the traditional classroom setting. Want to get started?

What are library centers?
•  They can be whatever you want them to be! In our elementary libraries, centers tend to focus on STEAM and literacy activities.

How are they organized?
•  My library centers are tied to students' table numbers, and each cycle students rotate through a different center. Other TLs I know set up centers as a "free choice" and work on the honor system. I use a poster as a guide for students.

When do students use them?
•  My students use centers during check-out time after they've renewed or checked out books. Centers also provide students an opportunity to be involved if they're unable to check out.

Where can I find ideas for centers?
• Pinterest is a great source--just search "library centers." TeachersPayTeachers is another great source. A few TLs who are leaders in library centers include Cari Young (, Carolyn Vibbert (, and Jessica Lodge ( You can also search Twitter using #librarycenters for ideas and pictures.

How do I get started?
•  Look around your library. . . do you have optical illusion, 3D, or I Spy books? Put them in a tub and you've got a center! Print bookmarks in black and white so students can color them as they'd like. Maybe you already have listening centers or tablets/computers students could use as a center. Do you have a puzzle or two you could set out? What about chess or backgammon or other strategy games? Look around your home as well. Is it time for those blocks, LEGOs or K'Nex to find new life as a library center?

How can I expand my centers?
•  This is where your own creativity comes into play. While centers don't necessarily have to cost a lot of money, it's possible that with grant opportunities or donations you can expand centers to include items you might not otherwise have on hand.

Are you ready to try library centers or are you using them already? We'd love to hear about your experience!

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

World Read Aloud Day 2016


Do you enjoy read alouds?  Do your students and colleagues take part in shared stories? Did you know there is an ENTIRE day dedicated to the read aloud?

World Read Aloud Day 2016 is scheduled for February 24th.  An excerpt from the site explains the purpose of the day:

"World Read Aloud Day motivates children, teens, and adults worldwide to celebrate the power of words and creates a community of readers taking action to show the world that the right to literacy belongs to all people. By raising our voices together on this day we show the world’s children that we support their futures: that they have the right to read, to write, and to share their stories."

Celebrations can range from in-house events (inviting other teachers, administrators etc to read to students) to high energy days packed with read alouds.  The World Read Aloud Day site provides classroom and community toolkits (PDFs) to assist with planning the day (or even a month of discussions and activities leading up to February 24th). Back in 2013 Prairie Creek Intermediate had amazing lineup of authors who visited via Skype.  Below is the smore flyer I used to organize and promote the day.  The site also provides helpful hints for planning digital connections. For 2016 I'm aiming to top our 2013 #wrad. Students are submitting suggestions and we are using email and social media to invite authors to connect with their readers.

How will you celebrate #wrad with your community?

~ Ernie Cox

We need YOU to attend and present at the annual IASL conference!

April is just around the corner, and we're gearing up for the IASL conference.  This year, we're celebrating the connections between technology and literacy, raised to the power of teacher librarians. And we want YOU to register to attend and submit proposals for sessions.

On April 3-4, join recent Library Journal Movers & Shakers Michelle Luhtala and John Schumacher for two days of learning and sharing at the Ramada Tropics Resort and Conference Center in Des Moines!


In addition to our invited speakers, one of the best things about the IASL conference is hearing from librarians, administrators, and teachers around the state about great works, important questions, and new ideas for quality literacy and technology programming. We invite you to submit your proposals for concurrent sessions and lightning talks now! Conference attendees appreciate sessions on a variety of topics, including:

  • Reading, writing, and research strategies and lessons
  • Interdisciplinary projects
  • Intellectual freedom 
  • Teacher leadership and advocacy
  • Collection development
  • other inspired ideas

Submit your proposal by February 1 and you'll be notified by February 8.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Book Review: Conviction, by Kelly Loy Gilbert

Braden is a baseball-crazy teenager, good enough to go straight into the minors as a pitcher after high school, as his father did.  But a wrench is thrown into his plans when his dad is suddenly arrested, and his brother that he hasn’t seen in nearly ten years returns to look after him, or at least keep him from being sent into foster care.  Braden’s dad is being accused of running over and killing a police officer from a nearby town, and Braden is one of the few witnesses to the crime.  As baseball season starts, Braden is distracted by the trial, meetings with the lawyer, trying to get to know his emotionally-distant brother, and dealing with his life at school, where everyone knows exactly what is going on.  He will soon have to make some hard choices about his convictions that he will somehow have to live with.

Conviction, by new author Kelly Loy Gilbert, is an engrossing coming-of-age book that gives a peek into the mind of a boy wrestling with religious and moral issues in the midst of a personal crisis.  We see him grow as he comes to realize what kind of a person his father really is, getting to know his brother that he assumed had left for no good reason, and dealing with the pressures of the pitcher’s mound.  Some readers might be put off by the religious language and issues, but I found it to be very enjoyable and representative of personal issues that many students confront.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

CORRECTION: IASL Award Voting Due March 30th

Votes for the 2015-2016 IASL Book Awards are NOT due early this year - March 30th it is!

Thank you for helping us make the awards so much fun to participate in for students and for your fellow TLs!

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

ALA Book Awards!

Good morning!  I am not sure about you, but somehow the ALA's Youth Media Award winners snuck up on me this year.  And I am usually one who is on top of it - checking in often to see if my picks won.  In case you missed it, here are the winners and honorees, along with my two cents!

I tell my students that the Newbery award goes to the best story, and it's usually a chapter book.  I might have to revise my explanation as this year's winner, Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena, is a picture book!  I am not always a rule follower, and I love the idea of shaking things up a bit!
Honor books were The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson, and Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan.
I just finished The War that Saved My Life last night, and I loved it.  It will make a fantastic read-aloud!  Your comic book readers will love Roller Girl, and have probably already read it.  Echo is amazing, too.

Caldecott!  Best Pictures!
Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World's Most Famous Bear, illustrated by Sophie Blackall walked away with the gold medal.  I love Blackall's illustrations in general, but to be honest, I haven't seen this particular book.  I'm sure it's awesome.  See a two minute YouTube video on the book here. Caldecott honor winners include Trombone Shorty by Collier, Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer, Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement by Holmes, Last Stop on Market Street by Robinson (Newbery AND Caldecott nods!  I haven't done my research to know if this has ever happened before!), and Waiting by Henkes.  Friends, I loved Waiting, and I thought the pictures were great.  But Kevin Henkes has won before.  I would have liked to have seen someone new win an honor.

I believe it is also important to note the Coretta Scott King Awards, which recognize African American authors and illustrators, and the Pura Belpre Awards, which commend Latino writers and illustrators who best "portray, affirm and celebrate the Latino cultural experience."  These awards, along with multi-cultural books on our library shelves overall, make sense.  Not only because there is a push for diverse books, but because it makes sense that books from cultures be written by authors who have experienced it first hand.  Our school also has a new ELL classroom, and we have almost 30 ELL students!  Of course they would like to see people like themselves on book covers. Think about this as you make your purchases!

Coretta Scott King Author Awards are as follows:
Gone Crazy in Alabama by Rita Williams-Garcia.  This is the third and final book in the series featuring three sisters: Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern Gaither.  If you haven't read these books, move them to the top of your list!
Honor books include All American Boys by Reynolds and Kiely, The Boy in the Black Suit by Reynolds, and X: A Novel by Shabazz and Magoon.

CSK Illustrator Awards:
Winner!  Trombone Shorty by Bryan Collier.
Honors!  The Book Itch: Freedom, Truth and Harlem's Greatest Bookstore by Christie and Last Stop on Market Street by Robinson.

The CSK/John Steptoe New Talent Author and Illustrator Awards go to Hoodoo written by Ronald L. Smith and Voice of Freedom illustrated by Ekua Holmes.

The Pura Belpre Illustrator Award goes to The Drum Dream Girl by Rafael Lopez.
The three honor books are My Tata's Remedies = Los remedios de mi tata by Castro L., Mango, Abuela, and Me by Dominguez (watch a one-minute book trailer here), and Funny Bones: Posada and His Day of the Dead Calveras by Tonatiuh. Be sure you let your art teachers know about Funny Bones!

The Pura Belpre Author Award goes to Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings: A Memoir by Margarita Engle.  Here is a curriculum guide created by the author.  
The Smoking Mirror by Bowles and Mango, Abuela, and Me by Medina were the honor books.

There were so many awards given on Monday.  I can't name them all, but here is a complete list, including the award given to George by Alex Gino and the Alex awards, which are adult books that teens would enjoy!  I always happily devour these fast-paced titles!

What do you think of the winners?  Were one of your favorites on a list?  Do you follow @WeNeedDiverseBooks on Twitter?  In Waiting by Henkes, what do you think?  Did the elephant jump or was it pushed?  ;-)    

3 Ways the library can be a part of MTSS

Many schools in Iowa are now using the Multi-Tiered Systems of Supports, or MTSS. MTSS, related to RTI (Response to Intervention) is a way to respond to students of all level, and offer opportunities to support the learning of all students. For many, MTSS includes an intervention block which may include reteaching skills or concepts to students who "aren't there yet," or offer extensions and enrichment for students who have mastered the original content. 

For the Teacher Librarian, MTSS is a great opportunity to be involved and help support the learning of all students in your school. Our middle school is currently using our homeroom/ advisement time 2 days each week for MTSS. Each teacher is required to pull a group of students. Here are a couple ideas and ways I am utilizing this time to working with students and to support our library program.

  1. Book Club- Once a month, I request a group of students to participate in Book club. Student come prepared having read the book, and use the MTSS time to discuss with other group members. At the end of each session, they choose their next book. The group has been very self sufficient and need minimal support from me.

  1. Goal setting & Book Choice- As part of my own Individual Teacher Professional Development Plan, I decided to focus on students who are just at proficiency but could fall below, as well as students who are just below the proficiency line but could achieve proficiency with additional help. I pull small groups of about 10 and discuss with each student the genres they enjoy and genres they feel they dislike or struggle to read. I also make individual recommendations and encourage them as readers.

  1. Project help- A third way I am using our MTSS time is to provide additional work time for projects and assignments that I am collaborating with teachers on. For some of these students, they are simply needing time (and access to computers) to finish or turn in a project. For others, I am providing additional assistance to help answer questions or to provide other resources for students that are struggling to complete an assignment or project.

Are any of you participating in an MTSS intervention block? What has worked well at your school?

Sunday, January 10, 2016

What Will You Resolve?

Ten days into the new year there are perhaps several among us who have slipped in our New Year's resolutions, but it's not too late to consider setting resolutions in your library. Maybe you could resolve. . .

  • to collaborate more with your colleagues. How can you support or reinforce their work in the classroom?
  • to create unique learning opportunities for your students. What if you tried a Google Hangout with another school or with an author? 
  • to promote quality reading materials to students and staff alike. How are you reading and promoting the state award nominees? Where do you turn for reading recommendations?
  • to try new lessons with new resources. Those ideas you've been considering? It's time! 
  • to expand your PLN. Where do you turn for support, inspiration, learning? Have you developed an online PLN?
  • to embrace technology in your space. How do you use technology to promote your work, to ease your workload, or to share with students? 
As with our personal resolutions, we may slide at times in our work, but stay focused and reflective. Your students and colleagues, as well as your professional life, are well worth the work!

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Monday, January 4, 2016

image taken from Title Peek
I’m honestly surprised that I enjoyed Goodbye Stranger by Stead, only because realistic fiction isn’t my thing.  But I thoroughly enjoyed this book.  It wasn’t cheesy, it wasn’t forced, and it was believable.  

Set in New York City, the story is about a neighborhood middle school and the people who attend it.  The story unfolds and you learn about each character’s contribution to a bullying situation, a possible first love, a bad bet, a strong friendship, and all sprinkled with a dose of feminism and human rights.

Stead’s book was filled with strong girl characters.  It felt very relative to 2015; there were texts sent and posts and pictures posted.  Despite being in huge NYC, the neighborhood felt like a small tight community filled with people who genuinely knew and cared for each other.  There were some touching yet simple moments in the story: Sherm’s grandmother making him breakfast, neighbors at the hospital after an accident, and Bridge’s mom telling her “Your body is yours…” - they all brought tears to my eyes.  

The story isn’t wrapped up until the very end, and I think the real situations in the book will keep the readers’ interest, though the point of view of an unknown narrator may take some careful reading.  Initially I thought the book was labeled YA, but it’s not.  Our 6th graders would love it and find many connections to their own lives.