Thoughts on the AASL Session Selection Process

Twitter, while still my favorite place to connect with members of my PLN in order to learn, share, and network, is not necessarily the most conducive environment to discuss complex issues. It’s easy for one (or several) Tweets to come across in a way that does not fully encompass the feelings of the poster. I feel like I need to elaborate on my views on the AASL session selection process more, as some feel that the reason I am raising concerns is that I have sessions that weren’t accepted. Of course I wanted to have a session accepted, otherwise, I wouldn’t have submitted a proposal. I still have a session that is part of the “crowdsourcing” process, so again, that is not why I am questioning the process. Four years ago at AASL 2015, I questioned the process of blind review, and my opinions on the matter are still the same.

AASL uses a blind review to evaluate session submissions. I understand the intent of this is to be fair, but I argue that this fairness does not equate the best possible session selection.

Taking a presenter’s past work into account seems logical to me, and it is done at many other large and small conferences. Questions that would provide relevant background information on sessions include: Have you published content on this topic? Have you presented at your state conferences on a similar topic? What resources or mentoring have you shared with other librarians to promote this topic? Providing evidence that you are equipped and knowledgeable to present on a topic at a national conference makes sense to me. As librarians, we teach our students to critically evaluate sources by examining the credentials of the author. It makes sense that organizations would approach session selection for a national conference in a similar way.

Many librarians (myself included) pay their way to national conferences, taking valuable days away from their students and libraries to participate. An organization should do everything in their power to ensure a balance of sessions from quality presenters so attendees get the most out of their conference experience. We have all attended sessions where the description does not align with the content delivered or where the presenter is unprepared, and a national conference should do everything in their power to buffer the possibility of that happening.

By no means am I saying that having presented successful sessions at a past conference should guarantee you a slot at the next conference. Again, though, it would seem logical to me to take into account session evaluations on a presenter if they have presented at that conference before. I think reaching out to state affiliates for recommendations on sessions that were largely successful and had great feedback at state conferences would be meaningful and wise. I do everything in my power to drive my school’s library program with the data and feedback I collect from my students and faculty, and I would expect my professional organizations to take a similar approach.

What is AASL’s intended outcome for the conference sessions? It has been stated numerous times that reasoning behind the current process is to give new voices an opportunity to present. I applaud that goal and want to see it happen. Whenever I am speaking at a conference, I always seek out new voices that I can connect with, learn from, and amplify in any way that my platform allows. That is how we all learn and grow professionally. I think if the goal is to promote new voices, AASL should be intentional about it. The same goes for including diverse voices; if that is something that AASL aims to focus on (and I 100% agree that it should be) then be intentional about it. Look at data from past conferences — how many first time presenters were there? Not enough? Set aside a certain percent or number of sessions for first-time presenters and make it happen. Provide them with resources and maybe even a mentor to help make their presentations the best they can possibly be. Set them up for success with intention. Blind review doesn’t allow for this.

It is great that AASL is willing to try new things in the selection process as they are crowdsourcing sessions this year. The way that the crowdsourcing has been presented, though, seems to me to go against the spirit of crowdsourcing. While I understand the intent of redacting all identifying information from session proposals, I disagree with it for similar reasons to those identified above. If you want to allow AASL membership and potential attendees to have a voice, let them truly have a voice. The way that the crowdsourcing was rolled out left many with questions of whether it was okay to promote their sessions within their PLN, but the spirit of crowdsourcing, at least in other instances that I’m familiar with, encourages exactly that.

In no way am I looking to diminish the hard work of the conference planning committee this year or in years past. My hope is that there can be dialogue moving forward to assess the process for future conferences. I have been involved with conference planning on a variety of levels and understand the countless hours spent in preparation. I also understand that when you are so committed to a project, that criticism is difficult to hear — and believe me I’ve received my share of criticisms both directly and indirectly over the years. I know that all parties involved in this discussion just want the best for the association, conference, and our profession all around. However, this isn’t the first time that I have felt scolded or judged because I have questioned a situation or process involving AASL, leaving me questioning my relationship and value with the organization. After this whole exchange, I don’t like the way I’m feeling about AASL or the way that I feel like they’re feeling about me.

Update from LLA Conference

This year, I’ve served as the President of the Louisiana Association of School Librarians and on the executive board of the Louisiana Library Association. If you know me at all, you know that I am a huge advocate for getting involved in your professional organizations.

Our annual conference was last week, and serving as President meant I was involved in a number of events. We kicked off the conference on Wednesday with a Google Tools workshop, where I was lucky enough to present with some amazing LASL librarians: Kim Howell, Stephanie Wilkes, and Chris Young. I shared my love for Google Calendars, Keep, and Hangouts. The best thing about doing a group presentation, though, is that I always learn something from the other presenters, and this session was no different. Like learning that you can type doc.new in your Chrome browser and a new Google Doc will pop right open. Mind blown!

On Thursday, I was honored to moderate a panel for the Louisiana Teenage Librarians Association (LTLA). The panel was made up of several student leaders and their librarian sponsors who lead Library Clubs in their schools. LTLA holds an annual conference that is full of fun: book discussions, a guest author, contests, a talent show, and a dance. This group completely inspired me and I am so excited to shart my own Library Club and take the trip to the LTLA Conference next year!

On Friday morning, I presented with another great group: Kim Howell, Elizabeth Kahn, and Stephanie Wilkes on a session we called “So I’m a School Librarians…Now what?”

Again, it was such an honor to present with these amazing librarians that I admire and respect so much. We definitely went over our time on this session because there were so many amazing ideas to share and the audience got really involved with sharing their own ideas and experiences as well. When you’re in a room full of amazing librarians and have a chance to throw down some great ideas and library wisdom, you can’t help but leave feeling inspired and ready to take on new projects.

We wrapped up the conference with our LASL Makerspace Lunch & Learn. This was new for us, as we typically host an author luncheon at the conference, but we wanted to try something new that would give attendees a chance to network and have some hands-on experiences. I did a Facebook Live video tour of our Makerspace Lunch & Learn, which you can check out below.

I’m going to end by saying that conference planning is stressful for all involved, so be sure that you thank the people in leadership roles within your professional organization when you see good things happening. I also encourage your to get more involved with your professional organizations if you are not already. When we work together for the good of our profession, we all grow!

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

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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.