Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Librarian Lowdown: Cynthia Alaniz

After a week off, I'm so happy to be back with another edition of The Librarian Lowdown...and even more delighted that my guest is Cynthia Alaniz. Cynthia is the librarian at Cottonwood Creek Elementary. Cynthia and I connected almost two years ago as we both ventured into the world of being a teacher-librarian. I had the pleasure of finally meeting Cynthia this past January at ALA Midwinter in Chicago.

Welcome to The Librarian Lowdown, Cynthia. I appreciate you taking the time to join me.

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

This is my second year as a school librarian. Prior to that, I spent over 20 years as a classroom teacher, teaching 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade.

I absolutely love my school! It is a K-5 campus in a suburb of Dallas-Fort Worth with about 540 students. We are led by an absolutely wonderful principal in an awesome district! There are so many great things happening in our building that it would be hard to name them all. In the library this year, I held a Mock Caldecott, participated in World Read Aloud Day, Skyped on Dot Day with other libraries across the country, had two Scholastic book fairs, and hosted two fabulous author visits! One thing I particularly love about our school is our weekly Genius Hour. It is school-wide, and in the library, I support learners by providing space, research resources, technology, information literacy instruction, tech tips, an audience or a sounding board! We want our learners to find their passion and pursue it!

What I am also very proud of is this: we are definitely a school of readers!  

What is the best part about being a school librarian?

I can't pick just one! I love sharing picture books, recommending books, book talks, celebrating book events, assisting teachers, adding to our collections, and supporting learners as they pursue their interests! Showing students how to access information is also very rewarding. Recently, our students started constructing a marble run in the library, and listening to them plan and carry out idea brings me so much joy!

I see every interaction in the library as an opportunity to learn and teach.

Also, there is nothing like seeing the happiness on a child’s face when they are reading a book they love!

In the hallways, students will just start up conversations with me about the books they are reading! I absolutely love that!  

Can you tell us about something new that is happening in your library this year?

This year, I really wanted to dig into Makerspace. I knew the materials I wanted to stock, but because of how our library is used throughout the day, I knew I couldn’t have them out all the time. So, I got the idea to put them on a cart. But that library cart was old and not very nice to look at! Thankfully, I have a wonderful volunteer who decorated the cart for me, and not only that, stocked it with craft items and organized everything! Since I introduced it, our Makerspace Cart has been hugely popular. I wheel it out as needed, and now, after presenting to our teachers about it, Makerspace is part of our school vocabulary. Kids come to the library asking to use it! It’s so successful that I have to manage it in a different way! This is part of my own learning. I hope to expand this next year with more offerings and materials.

As a new librarian, you have been such an inspiration to me.  How have you been encouraged, educated and inspired by members of your PLN?

Thanks for that, Kurt! I think I first heard the acronym “PLN” years ago, but once I joined Twitter, I understood exactly what it was. I’ve connected with the most wonderful people, and I have learned so much from them. I have formed friendships with some of my PLN members, and even presented at national conferences with them! When we Vox, tweet, or post about the work we’re doing, we feed off of one another’s enthusiasm. We see that someone else is thinking through things just like we are. If they are taking these steps, so can you! I first thought that my ideas and musings wouldn’t be much to share at all, but I learned from my PLN that it’s our responsibility TO share – that someone will need to hear it, or that for someone, it will be just the thing they need. Our ideas don’t have to be large-scale projects to be of value. Something simple can be just as helpful!

What are your future goals for your library program?

One of my goals is to continue to curate our collection. I want to bring the very best literature to our readers, whether it is in the form of picture books, nonfiction, or novels. I enjoy reading galleys and ARCs to find books! I am very persistent when it comes to getting a book I’m looking for! I also am expanding our poetry collection. Poetry does so much for readers (vocabulary, fluency etc.); the benefits of reading it are many!

Additionally, I want to continue my work in establishing an online presence for our library, so that our learners can utilize the library even when they’re at home. We’ve expanded our e-books collection and catalog, and we have databases as well for research. I promote our library (and reading) through a library twitter account as well.

Also, I’m thinking about rearranging the shelving in my library as best as I can. I have a plan sheet I’m currently working on, and, ultimately, my goal is to open up spaces and continue to provide a responsive environment for our learners.

If you could have dinner with a book character (or a couple), who would you choose and why?

Well, there are so many characters I love! (I’ve often said that Hattie from Kirby Larson’s Hattie Big Sky is such an inspiring character!) I absolutely adore her! She worked so hard and was so determined! Reading this novel was a pivotal moment in my reading timeline!

But here is my answer – (one you probably don’t expect)!

I am a huge fan of Yuyi Morales and her work, and her book Viva Frida! was one of my favorites of 2014. And I am so intrigued by Frida Kahlo! Wouldn’t it be amazing to have dinner with Yuyi and Frida? I would love to listen to them chat and watch them create art together!

Cynthia, thank you so much for stopping by Kids Talk Kid Lit to share the amazing things that you are doing!

You can continue to follow Cynthia and her library happenings:

Twitter:  @utalaniz 

Blogs: http://librarianincuteshoes.blogspot.com

Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Librarian Lowdown: Sherry Gick

Welcome to the latest edition of The Librarian Lowdown!  I am so very excited to have my friend, the ever talented Sherry Gick as my guest today.  Sherry is the library and instructional technology specialist for Rossville Consolidated Schools.  I had the distinct pleasure of meeting Sherry for the first time at nErDcampMI last summer.  Friendly, helpful and inspirational, it's no wonder she was recently named one of Library Journal's 2015 Movers and Shakers.

Hi Sherry!   Welcome to The Librarian Lowdown.   Thank you for taking the time to answer some questions...

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

I am in my sixth year of being a teacher-librarian.   I've been on staff at Rossville Consolidated Schools for 7 years:  6 of them in the library.  (My first year at Rossville I was a special education teacher.)  My school system is quite unique in that we have only 2 schools:  an elementary (K-5) and a middle/high school (6-12) and both schools are under one roof!  I can walk from one school to the next without ever leaving the building.  This really comes in handy and I can often be seen speed walking (okay, usually I'm sprinting) down the hallway from one classroom or library to the next.  We are a small school system with not quite 1,000 total students K-12.  Our unique situation of being essentially a K-12 school allows for great partnering of various classes and ages.

What is the best part about being a school librarian?

This is a tough question!  I've said many times that being a TL is the absolute best job in the world.  There are so many parts of the job to love and every day, heck every HOUR is a brand new adventure!  I love the variety of the job and seeing so many different students on a daily basis.  I think the very best part of being a teacher-librarian is seeing the joy and excitement on a student's face when you hand them THE book they've been waiting to read.  Or maybe the best part is getting them hooked on a book or a certain author.  Or is the best part when you hear your students book talking books you've recommended to them to other students?  The best part may be when a student returns to talk to you about a book you've recommended and then asks for your help in finding more amazing books.  Fueling a life long love of reading is definitely a great perk of the job!    

Your position has changed a bit this year.  Could you please tell us what your new position is and what it involves.

For the past 5 years, I've supervised the elementary library where an amazing assistant teaches all of the daily classes while I stayed primarily in the middle/high school library. When I wanted to work with an elementary teacher/class, they'd have to come to my library or I'd have to shut the library down while I went to the other end of the building.   During those 5 years I also taught various classes while running the middle/high school library.  I taught 6th grade reading daily for 2 of the 5 years, a rotation class for 8th graders that I named 21st Century learners (a nice smash up of current technology sites, research, and coding) for 4 of the 5 years, and also supervised our peer tutors (HS students who work in the elementary one period each day).  

This year, I have been blessed with a fabulous assistant in the middle/high school library who takes care of the day-to-day tasks.  (She was always my substitute teacher when I had to be gone from school!)  My new job also includes a new title:  Library and Instructional Technology Specialist.  It still has me supervising both libraries but now I am also responsible for instructional technology with our staff K-12.  I arrange for technology professional development after school for our teachers 2-3 times each month. I'm also available to meet with teachers during their prep time to help them with technology issues or to help brainstorm new ways to integrate technology tools into their daily lessons and projects.  Sometimes I even go to classes and help a teacher introduce a new tech tool or co-teach a lesson.  This year I'm also teaching a brand new high school class:  Video Production. I use the term "teach" loosely as I act as more of a facilitator for the class and my 10 talented seniors.  My class is responsible for delivering the announcements daily to students and staff in 5 minutes or less via video.  It has been a new adventure but one I wouldn't trade or give up to another teacher.  Every day in my new position as a LITS is still unpredictable.  Some days are busier than others but I still love being in my library and having the time to talk books with students.  I'll never be too busy for that!

Your school's Battle of the Books competition is a huge thing each year.  Could you tell us about it?

Our Battle of the Books competition is not an original idea but it's one of the programs I'm most proud of that I helped start at Rossville my very first year in the library.  We started with a high school program and then expanded into the middle school grades the next year as well as into the other school in the county thanks to a grant I was awarded.  We're in the midst of Battle of the Books right now!  Our high school local competition was the end of February and our county competition the next week in March.  Our middle school competition is next week before our spring break.   I wrote in detail about our Battle of the Books program on the Nerdy Book Club blog this summer. Check it out at https://nerdybookclub.wordpress.com/2014/07/25/battle-of-the-books-by-sherry-gick/

Congratulations on being named one of Library Journal's 2015 "Movers and Shakers".  As you continue to "move and shake", what are your future goals for your library program?

Thank you so much!  Being named to the 2015 class of Library Journal's Movers and Shakers is a dream come true!  I am so proud to be included!  Future goals for my library program are to continue to make the library a place where students want to be.  I love having them in the morning before school and visiting all day long.   As we move to 1:1 next year, I hope to make some changes in the physical library space by removing the lab of 30 computers.  In my mind, I'm envisioning more collaboration areas, charging stations, and hopefully we'll even delve into beginning a Maker Space.  I'd love to have an area where students can do more hands on explorations with making, creating, and tinkering.  I would also like to expand our video studio to possibly include a small recording studio. 


If you could have dinner with a book character (or a couple), who would you choose and why?

Kurt!  Again with the tough questions!  I would like to have dinner with a whole cast of book characters!  I'd love to meet Ally from Lynda Mullaly Hunt's Fish in a Tree as well as Willow Chance from Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan.  I think the two of them would have some very interesting conversations together!  Throw in Harriet M. Welsch from Louise Fitzhugh's Harriet the Spy and we're sure to have an interesting dinner filled with laughter and fun.  

Thank you so much, Sherry, for taking the time to visit my blog.  I'm very excited to share the awesome things that are happening in your library!

You can continue to follow Sherry...

on Twitter:  @LibraryFanatic

on her blog:  the libraryfanatic.com

Sunday, March 8, 2015

The Librarian Lowdown: Laura Given

Today's guest on The Librarian Lowdown is Laura Given. Laura is the library media specialist at Parkview Center School. I had the privilege of chatting with her at ALA Midwinter in January.  I was so inspired by all that she has done for her school and for her state.  I know that you, too, will be inspired after reading this interview...Enjoy!

Hi Laura!  Thank you so much for your willingness to participate in The Librarian Lowdown blog series!

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

This is my 18th year teaching and my 12th year as a school librarian. My school is a K-8 public school with about 750 students just north of St Paul, MN. We are a public school, but not a neighborhood school, which means students from anywhere in our district can choose to attend. There are a lot of interesting and wonderful things that happen at my school, but the one that often catches folks by surprise is that students call teachers by their first names. So all of my students call me Laura. Since there are now multiple teachers named Laura in my school, I am sometimes Library Laura, which is where my twitter handle LibLaura5 came from - the 5 is another story.

What is the best part about being a school librarian?

Being a school librarian is all the things I love about teaching rolled into one job: working with kids around their passions and projects, sharing excitement about great books, and incorporating technology into the learning students are doing. I absolutely love the variety of working with students of different ages and getting to know them and see them grow over 9 years from Kindergarten to 8th grade.

What is something new that is happening in your library this year?

Since I mostly share and connect online around my passion for books and reading, it may surprise folks that the biggest thing that changed in my library this year was a 1:1 iPad initiative that started this past fall with my 7th and 8th graders. I am a lead person in my district for this initiative, so this has meant more of my time devoted to all things iPad. It has been a fabulous change, and I love having this as part of my role with students and teachers. I want to give a huge shout out to all of my colleagues online who have gone before me on this one, I am incredibly thankful for all of the ed tech sharing that happens on online and on twitter.

I was so excited to hear about how you were so instrumental in the establishment of your state picture book award.  Could you please tell us about that?

For over 30 years Minnesota has had a student choice book award, the Maud Hart Lovelace Award, but until recently we had no student choice picture book award. The idea of a picture book award has been floating around the state for a long time, and back in 2010 I was really excited about the idea of getting one started. I originally thought I would offer to help and follow someone else’s lead. But after investigating a bit, I realized if I wanted to get something started, I was going to have to be the person taking the lead myself. In those early days I did an interview on author Kirby Larson’s blog about getting things rolling and starting a pilot student choice book award: http://kirbyslane.blogspot.com/2012/10/teacher-tuesday_30.html

I am beyond thrilled that Star of the North is now an official student choice picture book award for the state of Minnesota. We are currently in our second year of reading and voting. Last April over 30,000 students from across Minnesota voted to decide our first winner: The Astonishing Secret of Awesome Man.

I’m looking forward to this April when we will hear what our voters chose as the second Star of the North Award winner.

One thing I am extremely proud of with the Star of the North Award is the fact that older students as well as primary age students are welcome and encouraged to vote for their favorite picture book, because picture books are for everyone!

You are a member of the 2016 Caldecott Committee.  How does that impact/reflect upon the instruction in your library?

Holy cow! I need people to keep pinching me because I still can’t quite believe it.

In my library we have always learned about and explored the winners of many different awards, but this definitely makes things much more personal for my students with the Caldecott award.

This January I ran my first Mock-Caldecott with students. Jennifer Reed (@libraryreeder) and I have been connecting our current 3rd graders since they were in 1st grade, so we collaborated and ran a mock together. My 3rd graders were so invested in the result of the mock, and were thrilled that their winner, Beekle, won the actual award!

After our mock, I started telling students about my role for this next year on the Caldecott committee. They had a lot of questions for me. One thing that surprised me was how shocked they were that even though I am supposed to follow strict rules about confidentiality, that it would include keeping things confidential from them too!

It was interesting how quickly our Caldecott conversations turned into conversations about integrity and what it really means to honor something larger than yourself. If those conversations about integrity are the only thing my students remember about the award, I think that right there would be enough.

It feels like such a gift to be working with students during my Caldecott journey. Of course I hope they feel connected to the award and picture books in a more meaningful way because of my work on the committee, but I also feel so lucky to have their faces and voices in my head during this process… because, really, they are the reason for all of it.

The tagline for the Caldecott Award is usually something like “awarded annually to the most distinguished American picture book for children.” While the criteria of the award do state that the intended audience of the picture book must be children, I like to think you can also interpret that line as “awarded annually to the most distinguished American picture book on behalf of children,” ...because, really, they are the reason for all of it.

What are your future goals for your library program?

My continued goal for my library program is to be relevant and meaningful in the lives of my students.

If you could have dinner with a book character (or a couple), who would you choose and why?

Taking a book character out of their world and into mine for dinner does not seem as much fun as going into a book character’s world for dinner, so I would want to go to Bybanks, Kentucky into the world of Sharon Creech’s Chasing Redbird to have dinner with Zinny Taylor somewhere out on her trail.

Chasing Redbird was a book I read shortly after starting teaching which seemed to clear a path to all sorts of great new children’s literature, and it may have even put me on the path to becoming a school librarian.

I also think that Zinny and my childhood self would have been kindred spirits.
Um, I can be any age at this dinner, right?

You absolutely can!!!

Thank you, so much, for being on the blog today!  You are such an inspiration!

You can follow Laura:

Twitter:  @LibLaura5

Blog: liblaura5.blogspot.com

Sunday, March 1, 2015

The Librarian Lowdown: Cathy Potter

Today I'm excited to have Cathy Potter as my guest on the fourth edition of The Librarian Lowdown. Cathy is a teacher-librarian in Falmouth, Maine.  I know that you'll be excited to read about all the awesome things that she has going on in her library...Enjoy!

Hi Cathy!  Welcome to The Librarian Lowdown.   Thank you for taking the time to answer some questions...

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

I have been an educator for 20 years- eight years as a school librarian and twelve years as a classroom teacher. It sounds like a long time, but it’s gone by quickly.

Falmouth Elementary School is a K-5 school in Falmouth, Maine (near Portland). Our school is fairly new; we opened in 2011. When we opened the school we purchased around 600 iPads for students to use in classrooms and in the library. We have 925 students and 45 classrooms, which is large for a Maine school. Students in grades K-3 come to the library for weekly lessons and book checkout, and the 4th and 5th grade classes are on a flexible schedule. This allows me to collaborate with teachers and work with classes on large projects and units of study.

Our school takes part in many fun literacy activities throughout the year including Dot Day, Picture Book Month, Read Across America Day, World Read Aloud Day, and a Mock Caldecott program. We also have a popular Mock Newbery book club for 4th and 5th grade readers that started as a collaboration between the public library and school library in 2010.

What is the best part about being a school librarian?

I enjoy my work in the library because each day is different and involves working with children who are excited to read and learn.  If you visited the library you might see me teaching students how to access online resources and evaluate websites, another day we might be reading biographies or exploring the poetry section. Students make book trailers, write book reviews, and do research in the library. I also like planning collaborative units with teachers, and I find it rewarding when I find just the right app, book or resource for a teacher or student.

What is something new that is happening in your library this year?

This year I have several 5th grade students who are serving as library book reviewers. They read new books and write reviews. I’m going to use the student reviews to promote new books and to get a sense of what kids think of the books. It started when I talked with a mom of a voracious reader. She asked me for some book suggestions for her daughter, so I gave the student some new books that hadn’t been processed yet. The student read the books over the weekend and came back the next week looking for more books. Since then I’ve recruited more readers and created a book review form. The student book reviewers came to the library to select books a few days ago, and they couldn’t contain their excitement as they perused the cart of new books. I wish I could bottle their enthusiasm for reading! I hope to expand this to include more students next year, and I’d like the group to help me promote the books by giving book talks and making book displays.

I know that you have a blog, "The Nonfiction Detectives".  Could you tell us about it and how it came to be?

My friend Louise Capizzo and I have enjoyed working together for many years. Louise was the children’s librarian at the public librarian in Falmouth, and we often collaborated on joint school and public library projects. When Louise left Falmouth to take a job in a neighboring town we wanted to continue to work together. In 2011 we drove together to a state library conference where Louise attended a session on blogging. She heard there weren’t many bloggers writing about nonfiction. On the drive home from the conference we decided that blogging about nonfiction would be a great way to continue to work together, and it would help fill the need for nonfiction reviews. Over the past few years we’ve received a lot of positive feedback from our readers which validates what we do and keeps us on the lookout for the best nonfiction books for kids.

What are your future goals for your library program?

I’d like to tap into student interests and expertise to help select books for the library collection.

I was inspired by Andy Plemmons’ presentation at the School Library Journal Summit in October. Andy’s students at the Barrow Media Center to help make purchasing decisions for the library. The research what students want to read, meet with vendors and manage a budget.  

Recently I received help from a 4th grade student who is an expert on small pets (guinea pigs, hamsters, gerbils, etc…). She helped me weed the the pet section, and she’s going to recommend new titles I can purchase for next year. I’d like to bring in other students who have knowledge or a passion about different topics and have them help me update other sections like sports and crafts.

Another goal I have is to revise research projects at FES to make them inquiry-based. Over the past several years, time constraints and the amount of content that needs to be covered has caused research projects to become prescriptive. I’d like to collaborate with teachers to redesign research units and put students in the driver’s seat. That would mean students would have choice of research topics, students would learn to write thick research questions, and they would have opportunities to locate and evaluate resources on their own. Some fifth grade teachers and I have created some short, inquiry-based projects this year, and we’ve found students are really engaged and take ownership of the research process.

...and now the question I ask each guest...

If you could have dinner with a book character (or a couple), who would you choose and why?

This is a tough one. There are so many interesting book characters!

I would choose Brian from Hatchet because he would have some great stories to tell about surviving in the wilderness.

I’d also invite Kyle from Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library because he would organize some board games we could play after dinner and Catherine from Catherine, Called Birdy because every good dinner party needs some witty banter.

Thank you, Cathy, for joining me today. You are doing amazing things!!!

You can follow Cathy on Twitter: @cppotter

Nonfiction Detectives Website: nonfictiondetectives.com

The FES Library Lens: