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Book Tastings: 7 Steps to Promote Your Best Books! October 29, 2014

Posted by Collette J. in Books, Tablets, Ereaders, & Apps.
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In light of all the fun that Halloween, *cough* I mean Book Character Dress-up Day brings, I thought I’d share a fun learning experience that I tried last year and have gotten to revisit again this year…Book Tastings!

Book Tastings: 7 Steps to Promote Your Best Books! | Mrs. J in the Library @ A Wrinkle in Tech

My first book tasting set-up; P.S. – This was NOT enough books on each table…not by a long shot!

I’ve written before about how I don’t really do booktalks, at least not very often with such limited time in my schedule. Admittedly, I’m also not very good at “keeping up” with reading new children’s literature and the four-month backlog of School Library Journal that’s currently sitting on my coffee table.  And you can’t recommend what you haven’t read.
In the past 2 years, though, I’ve discovered that book tastings are a more efficient way to introduce students to both new books and some old classics.

Here’s my basic process:
1. Schedule a time  with the classroom teacher for students to visit the library for about an hour. (This is by far the hardest part.) Consult with the classroom teacher about the range of reading levels in the class and any specific genre he/she would like to highlight.
If at all possible, invite other teachers who work with struggling readers in that class, e.g. reading specialists, learning support teachers.

2. On each library table or area, pile about 30 *attractive-looking* books from one genre or topic. This is not the time to pull out Mr. Popper’s Penguins or A Wrinkle in Time with their original cover art (no matter how much you and I might love them).  Instead, set out the best of your updated-cover classics as well as newer books that you know students will like if they give them a chance.  Have an equal number of fiction and nonfiction genres represented, and mix of various reading levels. Fill the table with two layers if needed! Better to have too many than not enough in this case.

3. Students come with a list (or a blank sheet of paper) or a tablet/laptop if your school has 1:1 devices.  If using devices, show students how to login to Destiny Quest to access their account and add to “My List.”

4. Explain directions and start a timer for 7-8 minutes (can be shortened to 5 if you’re in a hurry).  Each student has 7-8 minutes to “shop” or “taste” the books on that table.  If they are interested in a book and they MAY want to check it out later, they either write it on their paper list, or add it to their “My List” in Destiny Quest.

5. Meanwhile, all the teachers in the room circulate and make sure the books that students choose are ones they can actually read.  If needed, they can recommend an on-the-spot Five-Finger Test or comprehension check.

6. At the end of the 7-8 minutes when the timer buzzes, students rotate tables and you start the timer again.  Repeat until all students have visited all tables.

7. If time and schedule allows, I let students check out 1 or 2 of their favorites now, and save the list for later in the year.

When I did my first book tasting, I bought Carolyn at Risking Failure‘s Book Tasting product on TpT.  It was well worth it to get me started, and now I can do it on my own with just some basic place-cards at each table to label each genre/topic.

Our Fall 2014 tables were: Realistic Fiction, History and Historical Biography (double table), Science & Scientists (double table), Art/Music/Artists/Musicians/Fun/Sports, and Mystery/Adventure.

Of course, I did try to sneak in some fantasy/sci fi books at the mystery/adventure table.  They are my favorite genres after all, but it was just a few!  The double tables were 2 separate stops on the rotation, and consisted of 2 tables pushed together.  Having 2 double tables allowed students to linger a little while longer on the nonfiction, and I could also showcase some of our excellent picture book biographies that our older students usually dismiss as too young or easy for them.

Have you ever done a book tasting in your library or classroom?  If so, I’d love to hear what your “menu” looked like!  List your topics/genres in the comments, and any other ideas you would like to share.

Whole Number Dewey: A Year Without Decimals September 28, 2014

Posted by Collette J. in Books, How to Be Brave, Reflections.
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Whole Number Dewey: A Year Without Decimals - Eliminate the decimals to help elementary students use the library more independently and efficiently. | Mrs. J in the Library @ A Wrinkle in Tech

Image from Pixabay and edited with PicMonkey

It’s been almost a whole school year since I hit the “Import Titles” button and replaced ALL of my Dewey number MARC records with call numbers sans decimals.  It was a bit daunting making such a wildly revolutionary decision.  Thanks to some VERY dedicated volunteers, countless hours spent re-stickering spine labels, and new, large, and colorful signs, however, I honestly think that the change has made our nonfiction section more accessible to students and faculty.

Here are some of my discoveries and reflections… (more…)

Cheap and Easy Library Decorations August 24, 2014

Posted by Collette J. in Library Space, Reflections.
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With the first day of school rapidly approaching, the most stressful “getting ready” tasks for me are 1.) transform our library’s sterile, white concrete-block walls into something cozy and inviting, and 2.) plan a theme and coordinating orientation that will engage students and get them excited about reading (or at least the start of a new year).  This year, our library has been transformed into “Camp Read S’more,” and I have to thank The Library Patch for the inspiration and bulletin board display product on TpT.  They saved me HOURS of time this year!  If you want ideas for library theme decorations, her Pinterest boards are the best!

Over the past 9 years of teaching, though, I’ve learned a few tried-and-true decorating tricks of my own.  To be clear, I am not being paid to from feature the products below, and there are no affiliate links.

One trick I use to decorate the library quickly and cheaply is to cover the white cement-block walls with rolls of bulletin board paper.  This year I used a 50′ long and 4′ tall roll of mountain-patterned fadeless bulletin board paper.


“Read S’more” theme with crates and bears display inspired by The Library Patch.

In the past, I used an ocean floor background for the “Under the Sea” theme, a leafy rainforest background for the “Go Bananas for Books” theme, and a starry night sky background for  the “Blast Off with Books” theme.  A single 50′ roll is about $25-30, so it’s very reasonable for the amount of wall space you cover.

To hang the paper, I’ve found that Mavalus tape works best, but Demco book repair tape also works if the sections are less than 5′ long.  Mavalus tape is a bit pricey, but to me it’s worth it because the high humidity in our library makes it very difficult to keep anything on the walls.  Using the Mavalus tape this year, I haven’t had to re-hang the bulletin board paper as I have in past years.  I used 3 rolls to hang all paper and posters in the library, so that’s reasonably affordable to me.

Another trick I’ve used for several years is to add a map to the story corner (or “campfire corner” this year).   Though I don’t teach setting or geography skills explicitly, I like to reinforce those skills to visualize where a nonfiction story takes place or where a folktale comes from.  So I hung a U.S. and world map on a portable bulletin board, and whenever a U.S. state or country is mentioned in a book I’m reading, students find it on the map.  The maps I use were free swag from the World Book Online and Lerner Publishing stands at a PSLA conference a few years ago.


A world map in the story corner makes it easy to connect setting and geography skills with the story during a read-aloud.

Finally, this year I’m trying something new to save time decorating (and planning library orientation): I’m letting students set up some of the book displays with a “Recommended by” tent printed on cardstock.


Click to image to download this freebie!

I want to highlight what students have read over the summer and also build student ownership of the library space.  If all goes well, I might even make this into an independent library center or add it to the Book Review Library Center.  If you’d like to try this idea yourself, you can download the FREE book recommendation display tents I created below.  Rainbow frames clipart by Magic Mistakes and Mayhem.


If you have any decorating tips or tricks, especially cheap and easy-to-replicate ones, leave your ideas in the comments!  Happy first day of school, everyone!

Summer Making and Learning August 3, 2014

Posted by Collette J. in Makerspace!, Reflections.
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So I’m back with a few updates about what I’ve been up to this summer…

First, I’ve been making things!  I started by playing with Squishy Circuits…


I learned a bit about LED lights and re-learned some electricity principles that I used to know in 4th or 5th grade.  I also learned that nieces and nephews love “making a party” out of the components and 2 chunks of salt dough.SquishyCircuits2

I also made some Pinterest-inspired DIY projects for the garden and canned some strawberry jam and salsa.  Not exactly #MakerEd, but it was good to get them off my to-do list.

My most exciting project, however, has been an interactive nursery rhyme book with LED lights, a beeping buzzer, and a vibration motor.  For instance, Jack jumps over a lit candlestick, and the mouse runs up a clock that beeps.

It started as an idea to help teachers, librarians, and students learn about electronics.  When I read Jie Qi’s tutorials on paper circuits and Librarian in the Middle’s blog post about 21st Century Notebooking, my brain just caught fire!  What do librarians love more than stories, especially classics?  And while I don’t think nursery rhymes and old stories “need” interactivity or bells and whistles to be interesting to children today, I do think that making 3 bags of wool light up as you count them with a child is fun to read and sing.

TwinkleThe “Twinkle” circuit  above is by far the most advanced paper circuit (or any circuit) I’ve ever made.  I learned that micro-controllers are SWEET, even when I don’t know how to write Arduino code…though I want to learn.   I learned that 1 coin battery isn’t enough power to light 8 LEDs.  I learned that red LEDs are so power-greedy that they put out any other LED in the same circuit…and I still don’t know why that is.  I learned that there is only ONE piezo buzzer on the market that will beep without programming a micro-controller…after trying all of them.  And like Librarian in the Middle, I learned that everything takes WAY longer than you think it will when you are “making.”  I thought creating 7 interactive nursery rhyme pages would take a couple of weeks at most, not *all summer long*.

Still, I had a blast, and I experienced that incredible feeling of being joyfully consumed by a project I cared about.  My learning process was right on my “instructional level” to use the pedagogical term — not so easy that I got bored, but not so hard that I ever wanted to give up.  Even when I was sick of working on a page or frustrated by a particular aspect, my desire to create the finished project for myself and to share with my family kept me motivated.  I’m still pondering how I can transfer this knowledge and my experiences to my work in a library on a “flixed” schedule (that’s part fixed classes, part flexibly scheduled collaborative time, for readers who aren’t librarians).

Lastly, a quick announcement: TeachersPayTeachers is having their awesome Blast Off Back-to-School Site-wide Sale tomorrow, August 4th and Tuesday, August 5th!  If you are just gearing up for the new school year, you can get some great instruction and library management products and great deals too!  Most stores will be 20% off and when you use promo code BTS14 when you check out, you’ll get an additional discount.

TL Blogging Challenge #20 – Library Budget Stretching July 4, 2014

Posted by Collette J. in How to Be Brave, PSLA, Reflections.
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TL Blogging Challenge #20 - Budgets are tight.  How do you make it stretch?  Fundraisers, paperbacks, doing your own rebinds…how do you do it?


Image adapted from Pixabay

Budgets are always a tough topic in education, especially recently.  Books, audiobooks, cameras, tablets and iPads, and makerspace materials all cost money.  And don’t even get me started on the generally ridiculous prices and license agreements of ebooks!  Library budgets and librarian positions have been on the budget chopping block again and again in recent years with little explanation other than “Well, just make it work.”

Personally, I’m a pretty thrifty person.  I grow some of our food in our backyard garden and preserve it by canning in the summer.  I’m a pretty good fixer around the house (one of the reasons makerspaces appeal to me so much), and I don’t throw something away unless it really has NO use left.  There’s a Mennonite/PA Dutch saying that goes like this: “Use it up, wear it out, make do, or do without.”  That pretty much sums up my thinking on matters of budget and material possessions.

I think librarians, in general, are the same way.  We are thrifty by nature and training, but we also believe in investing in quality.  Decades of budget cycles, in good times and bad, have taught us how to creatively work with whatever budget we have.  We can hot-glue bindings and scotch-tape library books’ damaged pages instead of using acid-free book tape and book binding glue (though I think it’s worth it to get quality library supplies if you have a budget).  We can host book fairs, write grants, and solicit donations with “birthday books.”  I don’t think paperbacks are worth buying for most titles, but I get them for the pop-culture celebrity biographies and some serial chapter books like “Goosebumps.”  All of these cost-saving measures make my library budget stretch.  And I’m one of the lucky, blessed teacher-librarians who works with district administrators who understand the return-on-investment a library budget provides to students and the school community.

The thing is, thriftiness only goes so far.  At some point, I think we as teacher-librarians have to make the decision to stop “making do” (and spending our own money to stock the library shelves), and instead put that time and energy into advocating for an actual budget and clerical assistance.  I don’t know where that point is, but I think too much “making do” can actually impede advocacy efforts and prevent administrators from realizing the financial costs of running a quality library program.

I know there are plenty of teacher-librarians and library media specialists out there who have NOTHING or almost nothing in the way of budget or paid clerical help.  I know volunteers are great, but they are no replacement for reliable, paid assistants.  If you are a teacher-librarian doing such herculean work, keep going and keep advocating!  I recommend the PSLA Top 10 Lists and Teachers Pay Teachers to help you find the resources you need to keep your sanity, build relationships with your school community, and do what you can with what you are given.

If you are an administrator reading this post, PLEASE advocate for a library budget and/or paid clerical hours!  Without any funds or staff, your teacher-librarian’s hands are tied in so many ways.  He/she cannot create a 21st century library program if every spare moment is spent doing the massive amount of clerical work it takes to keep a library up and running.  There is PLENTY of data and research showing the positive effect of a well-staffed, well-funded school library on student learning (and yes, standardized test scores too).  But just having a “library time” run by classroom teachers or volunteers doesn’t get you those benefits.  A library program must be funded and professionally staffed to be effective.  Okay, stepping down from my soapbox now…

This is the last post for the blogging challenge from Cybrarian Jen at Where Books and Technology Meet.  If you’ve been following and/or blogging along, thank you for being a reader and learner with me!  I probably won’t blog much the rest of the summer, but I’ll see you all again in September!  Have a safe and restful summer, and Happy 4th of July!


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