Monday, March 19, 2018

The World Championship of Booktalks is Back!

If passion is the spark that ignites creativity, then get your fire extinguishers ready! This year’s podcast is a whole new level of booktalk passion.

We’ve got some incredible educators who are ON FIRE for literacy and sharing the books they love. Just in case this is your first encounter with the #30SecondBooktalk podcast, my co-host (Brad Gustafson) and I are going to break it down by the numbers:

30,000+ The number of votes last year’s videos received in all.
500 - Number of Scholastic Dollars the winning book talker takes home.
30 - Amount of seconds each educator tries to record their booktalk in.
16 - Number of educators in the opening-round bracket.
4 - The number of people who will move to the next round based on YOUR voting.
2 - Number of teams in the competition; the “Lead Learners” are coached by Brad and the “Literacy Legends” are coached by Brad.
1 - Number of booktalks that will be awarded the “Vince Lombooki” championship prize.

Without further ado, let’s take a look at the 16 “round one” booktalk videos.

You and your students will decide which book-talker takes home the championship hardware, so now it’s time to get your vote on! Click here to access the voting link. Round one voting is open through Tuesday, March 27, 2018.

But the BEST part of the #30SeccondBooktalk is seeing the booktalks kids are creating alongside their teachers.

Feel free to use use any of the materials we’ve shared below to help engage your students in this year’s competition. AND don’t forget to share your own #30SecondBookTalks, or cheer on your favorite book-talkers using our Twitter hashtag. Let the games begin!
Important Links:

Friday, March 9, 2018

Confessions of An Imperfect Educator: The Dangers of Pedagogical Face Tuning

I spend a lot of time on social media following and connecting with educators from around the planet who both inspire and challenge me. Both my personal and professional lives have been made infinitely better by these connections. And, most importantly, this learning has made me a better practitioner for both the student and adult learners I work with.

And yet…

It’s easy to come away from these connections feeling inadequate, because most of what people share with their professional (and, notably, public) learning networks is their BEST work. By the time we see the shareable product, the kinks have been worked out. The messy imperfections have been removed, and while the bumps in the road leading up to instructional success may be mentioned, they are rarely left in the spotlight. I think of this as pedagogical face-tuning: the final product is the real thing, but… let’s be honest, it’s had a little work done.

And listen, I get it. We all want to put our best foot forward, especially when we’re doing it in front of a global audience. Plus, I understand the value in sharing the final iteration of a product in the hopes that those who use it might avoid the beta tester’s pitfalls. I totally understand the urge to polish and edit to perfection before sharing something with the world, even if deep down, I know perfection is both unrealistic and unattainable.

But, lately, I’ve had more and more conversations with educators who don’t feel like their work is good enough to share with their PLNs. AND THESE PEOPLE ARE DOING AWESOME WORK! But they’re fearful of how it will hold up when sitting next to the perfection they see online. That said, there’s been plenty written about the myth of the “perfect lives” we all project on social media, and about the emotional toll this takes on people who compare their own lives to what they see on their Instagram feeds. We’re all so used to filtering our experiences before posting them, that the unfiltered versions now feel somehow inferior. And here’s the thing, I think this applies to our professional lives too. But I’ve got a newsflash for y’all: no one’s professional life is as perfect as what they share online. Every social media “rockstar” you encounter has bad days. Every educational hero you aspire to be like, fails. Hard. Behind every screen name and avatar lurks a real person, who has flaws - just like you.

All of which has got me thinking about the value in sharing the things I’ve done wrong. Or at least some of those things, because sharing them all might use up the entire internet! So, it’s in that spirit that I’ve decided to share a of examples that continue to haunt me to this day:

Confession 1: The Literary Research Project

Back when I was a middle school English teacher I created what I called the Literary Research Project. And man was I proud of it. Essentially, this was a year long exploration in which students selected a theme around which to base their independent reading that school year. The theme could be something like “works by the same author” or “books featuring female protagonists” or “mysteries” etc. Before embarking on their epic study of this type of literature, my students developed a hypothesis about what they would find. For example, they might theorize that all fantasy books are really a metaphor for problems faced by people in our society. Or they might set out to prove that all books set in the American South were created to help readers face their own prejudices. Then they used text evidence from all the books they read, (their literary sample), to prove or disprove their hypothesis. Their final product was a research paper.

So far, nothing about this feels heinous to me… but here’s where current me looks back at past me and shakes her head. As part of this project I required students to:
  • Only read books on their reading level (as assigned by AR).
  • Complete copious amounts of notecards as a way to document and be held accountable for their reading.
Oy. Honestly, that’s painful to type out. But, obviously, if I were back in the classroom now I’d do things differently. NOW I know that levels like those provided by AR, Lexile or Fountas and Pinnell are meant to be tools to help TEACHERS select texts, not students. Now, I’d forget the reading level requirement altogether and let independent reading be just that, independent. AND I’d focus more on having conversations with kids about books and how they connect us, than on holding them accountable for that reading. I’d work harder to make reading something my students looked forward to and that they saw as serving a greater purpose in their lives, beyond just jumping through teacher created hoops. And I surely would not make them fill out note cards.

Confession 2: Library Fines
When I first became a school librarian, I landed at a school where collecting fines was part of the culture. And the lengths we went to in order to collect those fines makes me ashamed now. From preventing kids from checking out books because they owed .35 cents, to volunteering to be a ticket taker at school dances, so I could refuse entry to kids who had lost a book, we took library fines seriously. And I regret every last minute of it. It took me too long to realize that:
  • the feeling in the pit of my stomach every time I kept a child from having a book because they’d lost one or turned it in late, was right.
  • I didn’t work for the IRS.
  • my job was to put books IN kids’ hands, not prevent them from having them.
  • there are ways to teach responsibility without veering away from my core mission.
What’s more, I WAS ONCE A POOR KID WHO COULD NOT PAY LIBRARY FINES WHEN I WAS IN SCHOOL. I should have known better, but, for awhile at least, I did not.

The educator I am now would never do those things. But that’s the thing about learning, isn’t it? [Insert Maya Angelou reference here.] We do the best we can until we know better. Then we do better. There’s no shame in being where you are. The shame is in refusing to grow and move beyond that place. I know better now. And I do better now. And that’s due in large part to the network of educators who continually force me to look inward and up my game.

What would have happened, I wonder, had I shared these imperfect practices, publicly, when I was in the midst of them? I don’t know what the worst case scenario is. Maybe I’d have been criticized or trolled. But I think the most likely outcome is that someone out there would have questioned why I was doing things the way I was. And those questions probably would have caused me to make better choices for kids a lot sooner. To me, that reward is worth the risk. But maybe even beyond that, other educators might have felt okay about sharing the stuff they’re unsure of too.

So to all those teachers and librarians who are hesitant about sharing that thing that you’re proud of, but don’t think is good enough yet: from one imperfect educator to another, I hope you decide to share sooner rather than later. In the end, none of us need a network full of pedagogically face-tuned examples of Pinterest worthy lessons, replete with chevron borders and cute fonts. (Even though I do love me some chevron prints and cute fonts!) I want a network full of educators who are willing to share their journeys with me, warts and all. Because we learn more from falling down than we do from standing still. And because falling down is so much easier when your friends are there to help you get up.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

#30SecondBookTalk LIVE DRAFT! 2018 Edition!

Find out which awesome educators will don #leadlearners jerseys this year and which outstanding booktalkers will ONCE AGAIN be a part of the winning team: the #literacylegends!!!

Then stay tuned for information on how your students, teachers, friends, neighbors and everyone in between can take part in choosing this year's WORLD BOOKTALK CHAMPION! 

Monday, January 22, 2018

On Lost Library Books And The #BestPartofMyDay

I've written before about how I'm absolutely obsessed with Colby Sharp's #BestPartofMyDay videos. I'm over the moon in love with these short, on the fly, totally unedited video recaps because...

  • They provide us with the gift of reflection which is, as John Dewey said, where the learning happens...
  • They force us to look for positive things throughout the day...
  • And they force us to prioritize and decide what really matters to us. (For example, today I found $5.00 in the street. That was pretty cool, but was it the best part of my day? No.)
If I were working with students in my own library these days, I'd find a way to weave this into my work with kids. Just imagine what you'd learn about your students if you gave them the chance to reflect on the best part of their day! But I digress...

This year, I've been completing these videos as part of my year long residency with Evergreen Public Schools in Vancouver, WA. It's been AWEsome to take a few minutes after each day I spend with them to pinpoint the best part of that day. The hardest part of the whole experience has been picking out one single moment to highlight. These librarians are amazing and I love them.

That said, I want to say a word or two more about today's #BestPartofMyDay video. But you should probably watch it first. 

When I was a kid, books represented something precious and fragile. My family moved around a lot and when I was about seven years old, the few books I did own were used as kindling, and burned in our wood stove, because it was winter, we didn't have electricity and we were cold. But even when life was a bit more stable, it was difficult to keep track of things like library books. I constantly owed money to the public library and despite the fact that I treasured the books handed to me by a teacher or school librarian, they inevitably got lost or, at best, were returned late or damaged. Over the years, there were plenty of librarians who turned me away when I tried to add another book to the list of those I'd already checked out, but thankfully, there were some who didn't. 

Years later, as a brand new librarian, I landed at a school where collecting fines and keeping kids from checking out books, if they owed money, was just part of what had always been done, and I eagerly played along. I worked hard, every year, to collect every last dime that was "owed" to the library, and in the process made a lot of kids feel like they weren't welcome or that they were somehow suspect. It took me several years to pluck up the courage to decide I needed a do-over and to reset my circulation policies, so that they were more closely aligned to my core mission of helping students develop rich and authentic reading lives.  

And guess what? The number of books I lost as a result was minimal. I didn't end the year with empty shelves. Here's what happened instead:
  • I developed relationships with kids who I would never have gotten to know before, because their debt to the library stood in the way. 
  • I changed the library from a place of punishment to one of possibility. 
  • I was able to get books in the hands of kids who would have had no reading material otherwise.
  • My circulation statistics went WAY up.
  • I retired from the role of book police and was promoted to the job of reading champion.
  • I slept better at night.

And, ironically, I discovered that for kids who did lose materials, positive relationships are a far better motivator than the threat of not getting their diploma or not being admitted to a school dance. When kids love you and know that you love them, there's very little they won't do in order to not let you down.

The bottom line is this, being good stewards of the monies we're allotted to build library collections is important. And I don't know anyone who thinks they are allotted nearly enough money, so I understand how devastating losing the one copy of a really popular book can be. AND I know that when one kid loses a book, that means countless others don't get to read it. I know all of those things. But I also know that we don't work for the IRS. We are not debt collectors. We are reading champions. And, for those kids, like me, who don't have books at home and whose home lives make keeping up with borrowed materials challenging, WE must not be the thing standing between that child and the book that forever changes them. We all went into this business, because we know the power of story. We cannot allow the fear of losing a book be the thing that keeps us from putting it in the right child's hands.