"I have always imagined that Paradise will be some kind of library." ~ Jorge Luis Borges

Friday, February 27, 2015

First Grade Biographers

The first graders have finished the biography unit we began back on January 7th! It's amazing how snow days and a forgotten early release day can really throw a project off course!

The students began the project by exploring the biographies in PebbleGo. They had to choose a person to study by the end of the period. 
The next two visits to the library had the students reading and listening to the biographies and taking notes and creating a draft of a picture about their person

Now, unexpectedly pause here for two weeks.

With faith in my students and a healthy capacity for constructive chaos, this next visit involved a quick refresher of Kid Pix.
The students created a picture about their person (always MUCH better than mine). Understandably, some of the students needed a refresher on the person they had chosen as well as help decoding notes. Two weeks is a long time when you are in first grade, but these amazing first graders created their pictures, named them with the naming conventions, and saved them to the desktops.  

Here are some example of what they created:

Okay, now take another week off for vacation. 

Here we have arrived at yesterday and my optimistic idea that I can get all the students' comments recorded in one forty-five minute class. I knew that some students needed a few minutes to finish their art, so it was going to be a bit tight. The lesson began with me showing them how to record their voices in Kid Pix. This involved me modeling: recording and then listening to and rerecording my comments; saving my comment; dragging it onto the image; and saving the image. 
Off the students went.  Here's where my heart grows big with pride and excitement. What began with many little hands in the air looking for help turned into a quiet buzz of activity and students helping each other. The first few to record and save their pictures went on to then help their classmates. 

How can projects like these be managed with just one teacher and the occasional (and helpful) aide? Put the students in leadership roles. 
I think the students would have had longer comments on their slides had we not had the breaks in learning, but maybe not, if you listen they really got to the essence of their person. Here are some of their projects.

The students are excited to share what they have learned and created with each other. I am excited too! 

Thursday, February 26, 2015


 A book about a stutterer who finds his voice.

 A book about finding your passion 

despite nonbelievers 

who make you feel broken.

A book about a promise whispered

and a promise kept.
I read A BOY AND A JAGUAR over the summer and instantly knew this was a book I wanted to share with my students, but when? It turns out this week was the perfect time.  Why?

Kick off World Read Aloud Day (March 4th!).
World Read Aloud Day is a global literacy initiative. What better way to demonstrate the power of story then with a book about a stutterer who finds his voice and uses it to help those who don't have a voice.

Put those Mock Caldecott Judges Back to Work
Cátia Chen's illustrations are beautiful and moving and my students, who have just spent time  as Mock Caldecott judges, certainly appreciated them.

Let's Keep the Book Award Train Moving
Schneider Family Award Books provide an opportunity to talk about building compassion and understanding and thinking about supporting each other as a community of learners. Schneider Award Books honor an author or illustrator for a book that embodies an artistic expression of the disability experience.

Make a Classroom Connection
The second graders study Jane Goodall and her experience with the chimpanzees mirrors Alan Rabinowitz's experience with the jaguars.

Put the Focus Back on Community
We've just celebrated out 100th day, which means we have 80 more days of learning together ahead. This book provides an opportunity to talk about being a member of our community of learners.

Reading this book with all of my second and third graders was a powerful experience.  We always finished the story by asking why Alan Rabinowitz thanked the jaguar. It was a week a memorable discussions. If you read this book with students, don't forget to read the back flap. There's important information there. As a side note, the parent volunteers made a point of telling me what a moving and important a story it is. They doesn't happen often!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Teaching with Thick and Thin Questions

Our elementary library department student and professional learning goals are focused on inquiry, specifically helping students understand how to craft researchable questions. We tied our goal to the fifth grade Colonial America unit. In order to craft researchable questions, the students need to build their understanding of the qualities of questions. We decided to adopt the thick and thin analogy. We also embedded the use of eBooks into the goal. The students have ample experience using the print materials and databases, but have not had the opportunity to use our recently-acquired eBooks for research. At the start of the unit, I told the fifth graders that they would help me hone the language and clarity around thick and thin questions and that I would need their feedback on the process and lessons. It has been fun to learn along side them.
We starting by exploring the eBooks that support the Colonial America Unit. The next week, they navigated through and accessed content from an eBook to complete a scavenger hunt. Part of this scavenger hunt involved reading a passage on the Salem Witch Trials, after which they posed wondering questions. This lesson was followed by See Think Wonder, a Making Thinking Visible routine, for which the students used an image from an eBook. We slipped in a refresher lesson on Thick and Thin Questions and practiced as analyzing sample questions. 

I created these posters:

I decided to go with the thick sandwich and thin sandwich visuals. 

Thick = think
~harder to answer
~can be more than one answer
~helps analyze 
~draw upon background knowledge
~create hypothesis
~longer answers
~deepens understanding of topic

Think = look 
~easier to answer
~answers are in the text
~usually only one answer
~shorter answers
~helps clarify understanding of topic

With this understanding, we practiced on a few questions. The next week, we began by exploring some of their questions from lessons one and two.

Salem Witch Trial Questions
Why were people accused of practicing witchcraft in the 1690s?
Why did they think people were witches?

What were the names of the people who stopped the trials?
Who came up with Witch Trials?

Too Broad (not specific enough)
Why did they do it?
How did they work?

Too Narrow
Why was Mary accused of being a "witch"?
Why did the Salem Witch Trials start in Salem?

Questions that Should be Reworded
How fair were the trials for the accused?
Why would you want to hang people just because of assumption?

See.Think.Wonder Questions
Why did these people come to this land?
Why are these people building walls?

What are the houses made out of?
What year it is?

Too Broad (not specific enough)
What’s happening?
What are they doing?

Too Narrow
How long will the fence take to build?
Why are some people wearing pointy hats and some just wearing ragged clothes?

Questions that Need to be Reworded
Where are all the women?
For what specific reasons are they building a fence around the group of tents. Protection? Privacy? Safety?
After this activity, the students and I revisited the qualities of thick and thin questions. 

The students feel that it helps to differentiate between the types of questions by thinking about the answer.

I am going to make a poster with these questions to see if it helps:

Does the answer bring clarity or deepen my understanding?

Is there only one possible answer to the question?

Could there be more than one answer to the question?

Will background information help me?

Can I find the answer in the text or will I need to think?

This part of the unit culminated in a small group activity where the students analyzed additional questions posed during the first two inquiry lessons. 

Each student group was handed a number of questions and after they analyzed and discussed them, they put them in the appropriate bins.

I kept the questions from the first and second lessons separate for a reason; I noticed going through them that the types of questions the students generated in each lesson were very different. I didn't say anything to the students because I wanted to see if they observed the same trend and came to the same conclusions. They did. We counted the number of questions sorted into each of the baskets. The results were the same across the four classrooms and the students came to the same conclusions:

1. The students produced thicker questions after reading the passage on the Salem Witch Trials.

2. The students produced many more, but thinner, questions after the See Think Wonder exercise using the image from the eBook.

All good information as we move forward!

Here are some of their questions.

Salem Witch Trial Questions
Why is witchcraft outlawed?  
Why would people suddenly accuse someone else of being a witch?
Why did the accusations of witches start in Salem?
Why did they think people were witches?
Why did they accuse people of being witches if they didn't have any evidence.
What evidence did the Salem people have that the people were using witchcraft?
What tests would they do to people to see if they were witches or not?
How did the group in Massachusetts  put a stop to the trials?
How did they choose which people where witches?
What happened to the 24 guilty people?

See Think Wonder Questions

Where are the people on the ships from?
What is the name of the fort?
What are the names of the ships?
How many people are there?
How many houses are they going to build?
Do they have any other spots of land?
Why do they need a fence around their settlement?
What season are they in?
Is this Plimouth rock?
I wonder if the people (Native Americans) know the new men are there and if they do know, are they friends.
Is this Christopher Columbus' journey because there are three ships and I know that Columbus came with three ships: The Niña, The Pinta, and The Santa María.
Why is this village near the water?
Are these people the pilgrims? 
Are they discovering America? If so, where are the Native Americans?

The students will be using these questions to help them dive into the unit. They will have the next two weeks to explore all the Colonial America resources (books, databases, and eBooks) after which they will be crafting researchable questions on Colonial America topics of their choice.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

If you could have dinner with one book character, who would you choose and why?

I was interviewed by Kurt Stroh, over at Kids Talk Kid Lit. Head on over there and hear my answers to these questions:

How long have been a school librarian?  Tell us a little about your school.

What is the best part about being a school librarian?

I know that you've been making some changes to your library space.  Can you share them with us?

You do a lot to connect with other libraries/librarians.  Would you share some of your collaboration projects?

What are your future goals for your library program?

...and now for a little fun...If you could have dinner with one book character, who would you choose and why?