Battle of the Books

I’ve been hosting a Battle of the Books competition with my middle school students for the past five years. The first two years at Central Middle (where their amazing current librarian continues the tradition) and for the past three years at Episcopal. This year, the competition finally expanded and we hosted three school-level competitions at area schools, with the winner from each moving on to a regional competition.

School-Level Competition

In October, I announced this year’s competition and invited students to form their teams. I require students to submit their team roster (with ten team members) and the name of their teacher sponsor to me via email. This year, I had six teams participate. Also this year, two other area librarians were hosting at their schools and collaborated with me every step of the way. For our book list, we pull heavily from our Louisiana Young Reader’s Choice Award List to select the ten titles that will be used in our battle. We try to round out the list with a variety in genre, character, and themes. This year, we used the following ten titles:

After the teams were formed, I ordered a set of these ten books for each team and distributed them so they could begin reading. The teams then have approximately 8-10 weeks to read as much as they can. I don’t micromanage or require students to read so many books to participate. I let the teams take responsibility, divide up the reading as they see fit, and dig into the books.

In December, we held our school-level competition. The competition consists of five rounds: three rounds of multiple choice questions using Kahoot, a written response round, and some type of puzzle/challenge round (that varies from year to year).

Each of the three Kahoot rounds has a total of 20 questions — two from each book. Each team has one iPad that they use to answer the questions, earning points based on speed and accuracy. Kahoot is easy to use and makes the scoring process much easier, too. I space the Kahoot rounds out, so we start with a Kahoot, do the written response round, another Kahoot, complete the puzzle/challenge round, and then the top three teams compete in the final Kahoot round in front of the entire middle school.

The written response round requires students to work together to formulate several responses to open-ended questions. For example, one of the written response prompts we used this year was: “In Restart, Chase’s memory loss gives him an opportunity for a fresh and new perspective. What character from any of the other books would have most benefited from a fresh start? Explain why you chose this character and what that opportunity would look like for them.” Each team responds to three prompts, and the responses are ranked against each other with points awarded accordingly.

The puzzle round has been different every year. We’ve done BreakoutEDU Games and puzzles of different kinds. This year, students had to match book titles, author, character, a quote, and an image relating to the book:

Having the final round in front of the entire middle school is a blast — it gets the teams hyped up and it helps students who did not participate learn more about Battle of the Books so they may want to join a team next year.

Our winning team was a team of 8th grade students, many of them have been together as a team since they were 6th graders, which made it extra special! That team went on to participate in the first ever regional competition.

Red Stick READgional Competition

My dream of having a regional Battle of the Books competition finally became a reality this year! Sara Gomez, librarian at Central Middle, and Laura Foy, librarian at Denham Springs Junior High, also held their school-level competitions and we all brought our winning teams to compete.

We were able to host the READgional at our beautiful Main Public Library. The Teen librarians there let us take over their gaming room for the day and they were incredible hosts. Before kicking off the competition, we wanted our students to get to know each other a little. We found a great ice breaker game from Cult of Pedagogy called ‘Lines and Blobs.’ First, students had to line themselves up alphabetically by first name (meaning they had to tell each other their names). Next, they got into blobs (groups) by how many of the books they read for the battle (get to know your competition). Then, they lined up by their birthdays (January 1-December 31). They had to get into blobs again by the number of siblings they have. Finally, they found a partner (from a different school, of course) that had the same favorite book genre and made each other’s nametags.

For this READgional competition, we had three rounds: two Kahoots and a game. The Kahoots were set up just like the school-level Kahoot rounds, but with new questions. For the game, we did the Saran Wrap Game. In the Saran Wrap, we put tickets worth 100 points. Students were lined up alternating by school (Episcopal, Central, Denham, etc.) and were asked trivia questions (we used the questions from the school-level Kahoots, but didn’t make them multiple choice). While a student answered questions, another student behind them in line worked to unwrap the ball (while wearing oven mits) until the student answering questions got one correct — then the ball and mits were passed on. Because there was definitely a level of luck to this game, we used the points from the ball to rank the teams in 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place, then assigned points accordingly that were more in line with the Kahoot rounds and didn’t have extreme point gaps. Laura Foy, the librarian from Denham Springs Junior High, made this great video where you can see our day in action.

The competition was very close overall. The Episcopal team did me proud, though, and pulled off the win!

Our teams spent the rest of the afternoon together enjoying pizza for lunch, a behind the scenes tour of the library, time together exploring the Teen section of the library, and playing games. We had the students video reflections for Battle of the Books, and here’s what one of my students had to say:

Over the years, I’ve had lots of questions about how we run our Battle of the Books competition, so hopefully this will answer many of them. This is honestly one of my favorite events every year — it’s a great way to celebrate our readers and get more students hyped up about books!

6th Grade Community Read

Last week, we had the pleasure of hosting author James Ponti to help us celebrate our first 6th Grade Community Read project. This was something my lower school librarian, Catherine, and I began planning last school year. She hosted her 3rd grade event for Wishtree by Katherine Applegate in the fall. It was a huge success, so I was so excited when we were able to connect with another local school to bring in the amazing James Ponti for our event.

Before winter break, I distributed copies of Framed! by James Ponti to all of our 6th grade students, with a note to go home asking them to read with their parents in anticipation of our event in January. Parents were invited to attend a breakfast and book discussion, followed by the author presentation.

James Ponti’s website has some great resources for teachers, including a mystery game and curriculum guides for his books. I used some of the questions from his curriculum guide for Framed! to have available for our breakfast and book discussion.

Our 6th grade students and parents were joined by our 4th and 5th grade students, who also read Framed! as one of their Battle of the Books picks. Mr. Ponti kept his audience engaged and laughing with stories of his childhood, learning to love reading and writing, his very interesting career path, and of course, TOAST (Theory of All Small Things).

Next, our 6th grade students returned to their homeroom classes to use TOAST to solve a Breakout Game. Because we did not have enough time to use the game Jame Ponti shares on his website, I created a 30 minute game to fit our window of time. You can check it out here.

Finally, we ended the morning with a writing workshop with James Ponti. They worked as a group to practice developing characters and describing setting, then the students spent some time crafting their own stories.

If you’re looking for an author for an engaging visit, I highly recommend James Ponti. Students and parents loved reading Framed! and hearing from the author, and I anticipate that the other books in the series will remain checked out for quite some time.

Can little things have a big impact? Yes DEFINITELY

This post isn’t about any great, inspiring big idea. Instead, it’s about how sometimes little things can be big in that they help us build relationships and spark conversations with our students.

Our circulation desk, the massive monstrosity that it is, sits right in the middle of the first floor of our library. We are positioned so that we are the first thing everyone sees when they walk into our space. I’ve posted about how I updated our circulation desk with chalk paint, which gave it a fresh look. I usually do the seasonal updating on the chalk art. I invite students to give it a try, but it’s a little time consuming and frustrating, they often find. It’s a great conversation piece, even though people often find themselves “chalked” after leaning on the desk during a conversation with us!

We’ve acquired a collection of other fun things that live at the circulation desk that serve as conversation starters. When I ordered our essential oil diffuser over a year ago, I told my partner in crime, “I don’t think this will change our life or anything, but it could be interesting.” A year later, I think she would tell people that it did, in fact, change our lives! We have some students who love taking turns selecting our oils for the day. After reading up on the effects of different scents, we usually aim for things that will evoke calm and focus — a lot of lavender and peppermint defusing in the library! We do get lots of compliments on how nice it smells in here, and many of our frequent visitors try to guess the oils of the day. Fun stuff!

Another fun toy we have available on our desk is the Magic 8 Ball. Although not completely reliable, our students like to consult it about upcoming tests and assignments. I asked the Magic 8 Ball if little things can have a big impact…and here’s my response (after only two tries)!

Finally, our newest addition, that actually has a bit of academic weight, is our word of the week display. The board we use was a gift last year from one of our graduating advisory students, which makes it even more special! Students are invited to recommend words, and we have quite a collection going for words requested for future use. On the back of our display board,  we tape a page with the pronunciation, part of speech, definition, word origin, interesting facts, and use in a sentence. Want proof that our students are really into this word of the week thing? Last Monday morning at 7:35 AM I had a student ask me why I hadn’t updated from last week’s word yet. Needless to say, I did not make the same mistake this week! After several weeks of posting, it’s fun to see how many students are remembering and using the words from week to week. We are also having some really interesting conversations throughout the week with students about the word selections.

Sometimes, it’s the little things that keep life in the library interesting!

What fun, silly, or weird things do you have in your library that are really relationship builders in disguise?

 

Twitter: You’re still the one!

I recently received a comment (hi Rohondolita!) on a blog post from just over four years ago about hosting a Twitter Boot Camp. She asked about how I feel about Twitter now, and if there are other social media sites that I prefer for professional learning now. Since I read that comment, my love letter to Twitter, the long-term relationship of my professional learning, has been formulating in my head.

Twitter,

You’re still the one. After nearly nine years together, our relationship is strong and you are still my most trusted source for professional learning. That’s not to say that there haven’t been times where I have been frustrated with you, needed a little vacation from you, or rolled my eyes and clicked the little “x” to walk away for a minute. Much more often than not, you are the trusted and comfortable place I can go to discover new ideas, connect with old and new friends, and seek advice from trusted colleagues.

There have been others that have tried to replace you or compete: Facebook groups with their easier to view streams of discussion, Pinterest boards filled with inspiring photos, conference apps full of their promises of engaging games and fancy messaging abilities. No matter what, I end up coming back to you, Twitter, because you are tried and true. You are best equipped to connect me with my Personal Learning Network, whether in real time or asynchronously.

So I’ll continue to share your greatness in any way I can manage. There’s no telling how many times I’ve spoken the words, “Twitter changed my life.” I’ll continue to get on my Twitter soap box via Twitter Boot Camp, Twitter Bingo, or conference presentations that urge librarians and educators to become connected. Although I may not be quite as eager to spend SO much of my time with you like I did in those early years, you’ll remain one of those essential pinned tabs on my Chrome browser.

Thanks, Twitter, for all of the years of learning and connections! Here’s to many more!

P.S. Follow me on Twitter @librarian_tiff

 

Library Confessions: I’m a terrible book talker

I’ve been feeling a bit ‘meh’ about some things lately, and perhaps putting some library confessions out there might at least make me feel more honest about where I feel I am professionally and what I’m doing to improve myself. With blogging, it’s easy to post only the good things and make it look like you’re a library rock star, but the honest truth is that we all have things that we struggle with professionally. It’s what we do about them that really defines us.

I’ve always felt that one of my shortcomings as a librarian is book talking. I know some teachers and other librarians who are book talking geniuses. I am not one of those people. Back in my elementary days, I could throw down a mean story time. And I feel like I’m great at connecting students with books on a one on one basis. That may be one of the roots of my book talking failures — I prefer to get to know students and their preferences, then recommend books I know they will enjoy. I usually establish those relationships so well that I don’t really have to ‘sell’ the books, I just hand them over and ask students to report back. So over the years, “Here — you’ll like this one,” is kind of the direction where my book talking skills have gone. There’s definitely not much of an art to that — so I’m working on it.

As with most things that I do, I require thought time and preparation to be anywhere decent in my execution of book talks. I don’t think I’ll ever be one of those amazing-on-the-spot-book-talk-givers. With all of my middle school and freshmen library orientation/book check-out visits this year, I did a hand full of book talks as well. I went through and pulled a selection of books that I know and love, then I wrote little blurbs on sticky notes to put on the back to use as a guide when I book talked. Of course, I kept all of the stickies, because that was a lot of work!

After two weeks of this, I realized handwritten sticky notes probably weren’t the best long term solution for keeping track of my book talk notes. I’ve since made a Google Form where I’m inputting my notes so I can reprint them on sticky notes and reuse them in the future.

And just for fun, here are some of the books I find myself recommending most often to students:

Do you have any advice to improve book talking skills? Or favorite books that are checked out every time you share them with students?

Expectations with a bit of humor…

It’s hard to believe that many of my friends are just starting their school year this week, as we have been back in the swing of things for a month now. It’s also hard to believe how long it’s been since I’ve posted here, but after what was a year full of challenges and changes for me professionally and personally (move to a new school and a total home remodel, anyone?), I’m ready to kick it back into high gear for an awesome 2017-2018 school year.

Our schedule throughout the day gives our students a lot of flexibility (and “free” time), which means the library is often PACKED. Even though expectations for common spaces were discussed with the student body when we returned from summer, we were already noticing tons of trash and food left behind in the library after breaks. My fabulous library assistant and I are on the same page — we want students to feel welcome, we don’t want to fuss at them all the time, but we also need them to respect the library space.

After yesterday’s morning tutorial (a 45 minute block where we average about 150 students in the library), the library was pretty trashed from Goldfish and cereal. We had talked about making a humorous video to get our point across about this last year, but we never got around to it.

With my schedule open yesterday, it was the perfect opportunity to throw together a quick video to show to the entire upper school student body during afternoon announcements. I prefaced the video with the fact that we love that they feel so welcome and comfortable in the library…we just need them to keep this expectation in mind:

The students were definitely amused, and the faculty even more so. It’s often hard to balance enforcing library expectations while still maintaining positive relationships and open rapport with students. That balance is definitely something I struggle with, but as educators we know how important consistency is for our students. Hopefully, this fun reminder will do the trick (at least for a little while).

Down the High School Research Rabbit Hole

This school year has been full of new beginnings for me as I’ve experienced the high school setting for the first time as a librarian and settled into my new position at my amazing new school. I’ve been a blogging slacker, which I’m not going to apologize for (although I will admit that I’ve been battling with the guilt) because I’ve needed time to acclimate.

The area where I was most nervous about the transition to high school was teaching research skills. I came from a middle school setting with very little funding for digital resources to a school that highly values research and has fantastic database offerings for student use. It took me quite some time just to figure out what resources we had available here and to familiarize myself with them. Building out our new library website allowed me the time to do just that. In the first month of school (immediately following the flood when several world language teachers were stationed in the library for several weeks), I had some time to work on the structure of our new library website. We all know how important it is for our library resources to be easily accessible and user friendly. It’s hard enough to convince students to use databases over Google. We don’t need to let our clunky websites add tot he challenge! I used Weebly to build our library website, and I’m so happy with the results.

Since all of our databases are authenticated on campus with our IP address, it was important that I find a way to securely share off campus login credentials with students. I found the simplest way to do this was to create a Google Doc shared within our school’s Google Apps domain. As long as students are logged in to their school Google account, they can access this doc and access the necessary passwords.

Just like my summer weeding and fiction genrefying allowed me to get to know my print collection well, the process of developing this website helped me to become familiar with our digital resources. As I started to share this website with students and teachers through orientation type lessons on library resources, I knew that this was going to work out as the best way to get students using them more frequently.

In the past few months, I’ve had the privileged of attending and presenting at two fabulous conferences — the California School Library Association and Association of Independent School Librarians conferences. Both of these conferences allowed me to attend some great sessions on research by school librarians that I truly admire.

At the CSLA Conference, Tasha Bergson-Michelson, Connie Williams, and Castilleja School student and Library Research TA Sara Zoroufy shared a session on Source Literacy. I was absolutely amazed at the insights that Sara was able to articulate in the way that students think about and evaluate sources.  Sara has written a great post on the AISL blog on this topic, Distinguising evidence from analysis: A student’s perspective on the first step in source evaluation.

Then this week at the AISL Conference, Courtney Lewis shared a fabulous session called “Solid Research or Stuck in a Rut?” where she shared research she has collected in trying to assess the college readiness of her students and their research skills. I highly recommend you check out her slides and post on this subject on her blog, The Sassy Librarian. She also shared a great activity that she does with students called The Source Deck, created by the University of Virginia Library. I can’t wait to do this activity with a group of students, and I’m sure I’ll blog about it when I do.

So with the great ideas and resources that have been shared, I will continue to go deeper into the rabbit hole of research so that I can keep finding more ways to support my students and teachers in the research process.

Do you have any ideas or resources that have changed the way you approach research with your students?

Flooding Central with Gifts for Christmas

ccaf

The city where I live and the school district where I previously worked was massively affected by the flooding this August. Many families continue to struggle as they are displaced, work to rebuild their homes, and deal with the emotional burden of experiencing such a loss. As I shared my experiences from the flood on social media and through my blog, I had many people ask how they could help. This is a way that you can show support and care to those affected. I hope you will share this opportunity with administration or groups in your school that would be interested in adopting one or more of these students this holiday season.

If you are interested, please contact Janet Stevens at jstevens@centralcss.org.

Chapel Talk

The student vestry asked me to speak in chapel last week. It’s crazy how nervous I was speaking in front of 400 high school students, but I’m so glad I had the opportunity to share my heart with them! Here’s the text (and accompanying slides) I put together in preparation for my chapel talk:

 

I’ll admit that when Griffin approached me last week and asked if I would be willing to speak in chapel today, I was quite anxious and a little reluctant. After I agreed, I did what many of you would do — I texted my best friend.

chapeltalktext
Later that afternoon when I had a chance to talk to her, we started brainstorming ideas on what I could talk about. Just like any good best friend would do, she reassured me that I could do this and it was a great opportunity for all of you to get to know more about me.

“Just talk about the things you love,” was her advice. That got me thinking about the core ideas that I try to live my life by:

slide4

If you’ve been in the library lately, you’ve probably noticed that I really like inspirational quotes, and I’ve put several up on the library walls in the past couple of weeks. There’s a quote from Steve Jobs that really resonates with me about doing work that you’re passionate about:

slide5

This was so true for me, I knew it when I found it. When I took my first position as a school librarian just over eight years ago, I knew that this was my calling.

slide6

To find a job that allowed me to do the things I love — spending my days working with students, teachers, books, and technology — that was a great feeling.

Discovering what makes you want to get out of bed, show up, and do your best work everyday is important. That’s not to say that everyday will be all rainbows and butterflies, but at the core, your work can and should be meaningful and satisfying. You are at the point in your life when you’re figuring out who you are and what you love to do. You’re making your way towards the path to your future career.

Don’t underestimate the power of things that you find joy in, that make you curious, that challenge you. Explore and experience as many of these things as you can now, because they will help guide you down the path that will lead you to do great work in your life.

When I left my previous job to move here, my principal gave me a framed picture with this quote from Seth Godin:

slide7

The times in my life when I’ve experienced the most growth and found myself feeling most fulfilled have happened after stepping out of my comfort zone. I’m not saying that there haven’t been times where I stepped out of my comfort zone and fell flat on my face — I’ve definitely been there too.

Coming to Episcopal this year was definitely a scary thing for me. I was comfortable at my old school, my students and teachers knew me well, and I was in a good place. But when this opportunity came about, I felt that it was time for me to try something different, get out of my comfort zone, and hopefully become an even better librarian through new experiences.

I’m so glad I didn’t let fear of change intimidate me, because I wouldn’t be here today with all of you. This is a great place to be, and I’m so thankful for opportunities like this one today. This school is full of incredible opportunities that we should all embrace as much as possible.

Another time when I tried something scary and ended up learning a lot about myself was when I first ventured into public speaking. The first time I was asked to give a keynote presentation at a school library conference, I was terrified.

slide8

My first keynote in Springfield, Illinois was intimidating because I knew I would have to stand up in front of a room full of school librarians, most with far more work and life experience than me, and share my “expertise” in their field. I could have easily decided that I was not qualified or didn’t have a story to tell, but I decided to put myself out there and try something new.

That allowed me to discover that public speaking is something I really enjoy and helps me to push myself to be the best librarian that I can. Since then, I’ve been afforded incredible opportunities to travel and speak I get to meet other librarians and learn from them, helping me to continue to grow and learn as a professional. In fact, this time next week I will be arriving in Nashville to give the closing keynote at the Tennessee Association of School Librarians conference — an opportunity that wouldn’t have happened if I had been too scared to try something new years ago.

Most of us aren’t magically struck by the revelation that we’re good at something or love to do something that we’ve never tried before. Giving something new a try usually means feeling nervous, uncomfortable, and unsure. I know for me, though, times when I’ve discovered something great have been a direct result of forcing myself out of my comfort zone.

I want to leave you with one last quote and a few final thoughts on happiness. Henry Ward Beecher said,

slide9

I absolutely believe that the quality of our life is influenced largely by our attitude. Making the decision each day to be joyful and appreciate small moments is essential.

The picture with this quote is a field I pass every morning on my way here. When I pass by and see the sun coming up behind the trees, I take a moment to appreciate the beauty of God’s creation.

slide10

On summer road trips with my best friend, we relish moments on the open road with our favorite song on the radio.

slide11

When I finish a great book, I take a minute to appreciate the person who poured their time and energy into writing it.

It’s the little moments that make life great, so enjoy them!

The Flood

For those of you who may not be aware, I live in the Baton Rouge area. Five weeks ago, our area experienced what is being called a “1,000 year flood event.” Flooding like our area has never seen. This wasn’t a hurricane, like we are accustomed to; this was a storm that sat on top of our area and dropped over 30 inches of rain in 36 hours. Although my home did not flood, we evacuated and had a period where we were uncertain about what we would return to find. My parents, grandparents, and brother and his family all had their homes flood.

I have tried several times over the past several weeks to blog about our story, but I’ve been unsuccessful up to this point. First, because we had no connectivity for the first two weeks after the flood. By the point that we were reconnected with Internet service, I was just too exhausted and too drained to get my thoughts out. We spent weeks gutting homes — putting furniture at the road, pulling out floors and drywall, then cleaning and trying to get them dry. Five weeks out, and the sides of the roads are still piled high with 4-6 feet of “garbage”, which is actually most of the worldly possessions of family and friends that couldn’t be salvaged. In the South Louisiana heat and humidity, people are still struggling to get their homes dry and mold free in order to start hanging drywall again to restore their homes.

Many schools in the area flooded. We missed our first six days of the school year — the rain started the evening before and our first day of school was canceled. Then the following entire week. We were among the first in our area to return to school, despite the fact that several buildings on our campus flooded and teachers were displaced. Schools in the neighboring parish just started back last week — after four weeks between their first few days of school and their “new start” day, many schools combined and sharing facilities in less than ideal conditions.

I wanted to write an eloquent post where I painted a full picture of what happened here, but I’ve come to realize that I can’t. It’s so overwhelming. And life isn’t going back to normal anytime soon. People have lost everything. Those who didn’t flood (and in the most heavily impacted areas — including where I live — 80-90% of homes flooded) have displaced family members living with them. Things are extremely stressful and emotional for everyone.

In the coming months, families, businesses, and schools will continue to rebuild. We need support in every way possible to rebuild. Recovery is going to be a slow and tedious process, but I know that the beautiful people of Baton Rouge and the surrounding areas will come out of this stronger than ever.