Writing About Books

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book buzzI’ve started a new feature on my Book Buzz blog this year.  (Book Buzz is the children’s book blog I write for students; I post information about books, authors and illustrators, and about special book-related events.)  Each week I post the Thursday Theme, where I present three or four books related to a common topic.  Themes so far have included Bats, Johnny Appleseed, Little Red Hen stories, and a couple more.

Have you ever noticed how easy it is to begin a project that requires regular input, and how burdensome it becomes to follow through consistently with it?

By the time I think of a theme, search my library catalog for books that fit (all the books I write about are from my collection), save a copy of the covers to use, write the description for each book, and type it all up, I’ve got well over an hour invested each of these posts!  (And of course that doesn’t include the time it takes to actually read the books!)  Is it really worthwhile to keep doing it week after week?

Yes, I think it is.  For one thing, it’s helping me to really discover what’s in my collection.  Usually when we receive a shipment of new books, my assistant unpacks them and handles any processing that’s needed, and then they go out to the shelves for students and teachers to check out.  Occasionally I have time to sit down and read them first, but not always, particularly with chapter books.  In researching these themes, I’m re-discovering titles I’ve ordered for our library, and I’m seeing which books on a given topic are the most current and useful, which ones may need to be weeded, and where the gaps are for future ordering.

I’m also honing a different type of reading and writing skill.  I’ve always thought I’d like to do some book reviewing, but it’s hard for me to keep a critical eye on a book that I’m reading for enjoyment, and nearly all the books I read are for enjoyment.  (Hmmm, I may have just put into words why so many kids don’t like book reports – it spoils the fun of reading!)  So this is an opportunity to take the time to read for the specific purpose of summarizing and sharing what’s special about each of the books I include in a theme post. 

I’m still finding my voice with this.  I’m trying to aim this blog at kids, but sometimes my summaries sound more like book reviews for adults or book annotations for teachers and librarians, who I hope are also reading Book Buzz, rather than persuasive booktalks for students.  But I plan to stick with it, and hopefully it will keep getting better!

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What’s My Real Mission?

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All teachers have a philosophy of education.  Whether we’ve put it into words or not, it’s there in some nebulous form in the back of our minds as we prepare our lessons and interact with our students, and it determines how we approach the task of teaching each day.

I’ve recently been attempting to define my vision and mission as the library media specialist at my school.  The springboard for this inner dialogue was a statement I made in an email to a fellow book blogger.  I told her, “My mission is to match kids up with ‘just right’ books that will help them discover a love of reading.”


In the 22 years since I became a school librarian, a lot has changed.  There is much more emphasis on technology now, because there is so much more technology available.  Fortunately, it turns out that I am a not only a book-loving nerd, I am also a computer geek, so that suits me just fine.

But maybe I’ve been focusing too much on the technology side of things lately.  As the Technology Coach for my school, it’s inevitable that much of my time will be spent helping students and teachers learn to use technology effectively.  But as the Librarian, I need (and want) to concentrate on helping students fall in love with reading by introducing them to great authors and illustrators, by exposing them to award-winning books, by helping them to hone their book selection skills, and by encouraging them to share their favorite titles with one another and with the world.

Can technology play a role in doing all of this?  Absolutely!  Most authors and illustrators have wonderful web sites, our library catalog is available online to students 24/7 and includes eBooks as well as print resources, and our students are invited to leave comments about what they’re reading on my Book Buzz blog.

But there’s really no substitute for old fashioned story time sessions and face-to-face book talks.  Yes, I know students can enjoy books online; I’ve purchased a subscription to TumbleBooks for my school.  Yes, I know book trailers are all the rage right now; I’m following the School Library Journal Trailee Awards contest right along with the rest of you.  I just don’t want to lose sight of the fact that in addition to learning how to read, kids need to discover the sheer joy of reading.

storytimeSo I’m re-examining my library lesson plans to make sure I’m achieving a balance between sharing the Internet tools and the printed books.  Because in the end, computer content can’t replace human interaction, no matter how engaging the digital world may be. 


Photograph by John Lovretta. Click to enlarge.  http://www.burlington.lib.ia.us/youth/Cswelcom/storytime.htm

p.s. As an interesting side note, my original title for this post was “What is My Real Mission,” just as it appears now.  But as I proofed my writing before hitting the publish button, I realized that I had inadvertently typed “What is my Read Mission” instead!  Actually, I guess either one would have worked!

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Fighting Burnout

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Anyone else out there feeling worn down by the struggles we’re facing in education right now?  Silly question.  Of course you are.  We are all being asked to do more with less. 

burnoutWe are expected to donate our time to an increasing number of tasks outside of school hours.  Curriculum decisions have been taken out of our hands as we teach to the high-stakes tests.  Criticism is hurled at us from all directions because our schools are failing and it’s obviously our fault.  And in spite of the determination to leave no child behind, support teachers (including library media specialists like myself) are finding it necessary to justify our very existence in the school building.

Well, take a look at this article from Teacher Magazine.  The author, Elena Aguilar, lists nine positive ways to pause and make changes in your teaching lifestyle, ranging from the commonsensical “Get some helpers,” to the heartening “Celebrate the successes,” to the radical “Take a day off,” to the empowering “Reclaim fair working conditions.” 

Through writing this blog I’ve come to appreciate the importance of taking time to reflect on what I’m doing in my professional life and why.  After pondering Elena’s suggestions, I can see the benefit of including more posts here about what is working in my library, and what impact I’m having on the students I see each week.  I need to remember why I became a school librarian in the first place, and resolve to keep that at the forefront of my mind when I’m considering whether or not to take on additional roles and responsibilities at my school. 

And now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to heed suggestion number eight, “Make good health a priority,” by eating an apple and doing some yoga.


Image: ‘want to go home now (day 242)
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Reflecting on the Purpose of My Blog

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I took the summer off from blogging, with the intention that I would return to it when school began in August.  Well, imagine my shock and dismay when I learned my library assistant was moving back home to Virginia and would not be with me this year!  The old saying, “You don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone” is certainly true in my case, because every day as I wait for a replacement to be hired I come across something else she used to do for me that now I’m having to do myself; hence, the lack of time for blogging. 

So I’m returning to “The View From Here” with very fresh eyes, and I’m wondering what I want to accomplish with my posts this year.  If you read my “About” page, you’ll see that I tend to clarify my thoughts and opinions by talking them out, and that I use my writings in this blog as a way to wrestle with the issues I face as a librarian managing a library and all its holdings, a teacher with a full schedule of 27 classes per week to plan for and teach, and a school technology coach responsible for helping teachers learn how use new technology and for troubleshooting their equipment when they have technical difficulties.  Yes, there’s a lot of overlap in those three areas, but there’s also enough diversity there to cause me some concern when it comes to writing blog entries.  Don’t the best bloggers choose one thing they’re passionate about and stick to the subject in their posts?

For instance, take the blog Free Technology for Teachers, which I absolutely love.  You know exactly where you stand with a blog like his; his purpose is right there in the title!  Every day he tells you about a great free web resource that you can use with your students, and it’s so helpful I keep his feed at the top of my Technology Blog tab so I don’t miss anything. 

Or how about Lucy and Ethel’s Library Schemes, an account of the endlessly creative ideas “Lucy” and her assistant “Ethel” dream up to lure students into their media center?  To quote them: “This blog is not a site where we will wax poetic in educational mumbo-jumbo about the grand scheme of all things library related. Our sole purpose is to share with other high school library personnel practical ideas we have used to bring high school students to our media center.”  

And then there’s The Planet Esme Plan, where you find the most marvellous book reviews, complete with annotated listings of related titles.  Granted, that blog name doesn’t really tell you anything about what type of content to expect from Esme’s blog, but her focus is laser sharp and the blog is a must-read when I’m preparing a book order for my library. 

Each of those blogs speaks to one of the roles I play in my professional life.  One of my roles.  Not all of them.  Which makes me wonder:  Should I narrow my scope to either books and reading OR library lesson plans OR technology integration, rather than writing about all three?  Do I need three separate blogs?  Three blogs?  Do I need to have my head examined???

But seriously, who am I writing for?  Sure, forcing myself to ponder my professional life by writing blog posts is helpful to me, but is anyone else out there really that interested in my struggles and frustrations?  Wouldn’t other educators prefer more useful information and less navel-gazing?

Well, I guess that’s what tags and categories are for.  Instead of spending so much time agonizing over what I should or shouldn’t write about, I should just revamp my organizational system so that it’s easy to locate posts that are only about tech tools, or about reading activities, or about my perspective on teaching.  That will make it easier for my readers to pick and choose among them, and I can continue the blog as a true representation of my personal experience.  Glad I got that settled!

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To Catch a Fish

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If you’ve read the “About” page of this blog, you know that I’m a person who thinks things through by talking them out, and that writing these posts is like having an internal conversation with myself to sort out my feelings on various subjects.  Lately I’ve been writing a lot about how frustrated I am with the apparent lack of interest in technology integration at my school, and I must say that even I’m getting tired of my whining on the subject!  “Oh, I wish more teachers at my school were interested in using technology in their classrooms.” 

Well, a couple of days ago a third grader shared a poem during a Poetry Pass in the Library that smacked me right between the eyes:

To Catch a Fish

It takes more than a wish
to catch a fish
you take the hook
you add the bait
you concentrate
and then you wait
but not a bite
the fish don’t have an appetite
so tell them what
good bait you’ve got
and how your bait
can hit the spot
this works a whole lot
better than a wish
if you really want
to catch a fish

Eloise Greenfield

So, am I letting my “fish” know what great bait I have, and how it can hit the spot in the classroom?  From now on, no more sitting around wishing — it’s time for positive thinking and constructive action!  I do have good bait, and it’s up to me to make sure my teachers know it!

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Passion + Persistence = Change

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In an earlier blog post I mentioned a webinar that was offered back on April 5, 2010 at the TL Virtual Cafe entitled What it Means to Be a Change Agent in Educational Technology.  When the participants were asked to share their thoughts on what makes an educator a change agent, one consistent piece of advice was to be passionate about what you believe in and be persistent in pursing it.

If it’s true that passion can drive change, and I want to effect change at my school, then I need to be asking myself these kinds of questions:  What are my teachers passionate about?  How can I help them share that passion with their students?  And for that matter, what are my students passionate about?  And how can I help them explore and share that passion with others? 

I love this quote from John Ross at his TeachLearnTech blog:

A strong leader acts like a ladder or a scaffold, one that supports and helps teachers reach new heights.

So maybe if some of my teachers are a little afraid of heights, their passion and my persistence can make them bold enough to take a risk and make a change.

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Putting Technology In Its Place

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I just read two blog posts yesterday that echo some of the ideas I’ve been wrestling with lately concerning the place of technology in the classroom, and I’d like to share them here.

Background:  As my school’s Library Media Specialist and Technology Coach, I have a responsibility to provide appropriate resources to my students and teachers, and to make sure they know how to use them.  With so many useful (and free) technology tools available out there in cyberspace, I want to make sure I’m keeping up with them, using them appropriately, and sharing them with those who need them. 

However, I don’t want to become so focused on the “coolness” of technology that I lose sight of my ultimate goal, which is student learning.  I also don’t want my attitude regarding the importance of technology to become so overbearing that I alienate teachers who, for various reasons, are hesitant about using a lot of online resources or tech tools.  I need to balance my role as a cheerleader for Web 2.0 with my role as someone who assists users with what’s actually going on in the classroom.

Enter Jennifer Wagner and Joyce Valenza, two educators who are doing wonderful things with technology at their respective schools.  Continue reading

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