Shift in School Libraries: An Interview

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As school librarians embrace their new roles in the age of the Common Core, many are left with questions and a vision. Carl Harvey and Linda Mills are practicing school librarians and have the answers many librarians are seeking out. In their new book, Leading the Common Core Initiative: A Guide for K-5 School Librarians, Carl and Linda provide practical advice and lessons that put the library back on the map and show how school libraries can be a partner in the school.

Carl and Linda further discuss the importance of librarians and their new book in this interview.

Rourke: Your new book, Leading the Common Core Initiative: A Guide for K-5 School Librarians, gives school librarians the professional development needed in understanding what Common Core is and what it looks like in action. How do you see the librarians’ role in schools shift in these changing times?

Carl & Linda: The librarian’s role is to help our teachers as they design new curriculum and instruction that goes with our standards.  This is a perfect opportunity to collaborate with teachers with new projects that integrate school libraries and utilize new tools and resources.  Working with teachers to examine a wealth of informational resources and to teach students how to navigate these sources is the job we undertake to implement these standards.

Rourke: Were there struggles that you experienced that are addressed in the book?

Carl & Linda: Oh, finding time to write a book was a struggle for us.   We’re all busy, so trying to carve out time to get it done was certainly a challenge.  Also, I think trying to make sure that we thought about not just what works for us in our libraries, but what might work for most librarians. 

Rourke: What do you see as the most important aspect of your new book? What do you want librarians really to walk away with from reading your book?

Carl & Linda: I think anytime something new comes along, it is the perfect opportunity to focus on collaboration with teachers.  When teachers have to redesign their lessons, it is the perfect opportunity to get them to experiment with new projects, new resources, and new ideas while collaborating with the school librarian. 

Rourke: Your book has actual lessons that librarians can use. Are those lessons that you practice in your library? What was the response from your teachers and administration?

Carl & Linda: Yes, all the lessons in our book were ones we tried with students in our libraries.  I think we hope that other librarians can adapt and modify them for their situations.  I think our teachers certainly see the benefits of collaborating with us, and so they are always open to trying new ideas and approaches.  Some of these lessons are ones we have used before common core, but just modified a little to meet the new standards.  As with anything plans always change and evolve as you work with teachers and students.    

Rourke: Do you have any advice for librarians that are trying to adjust with this shift in their schools?

Carl & Linda: Be open.  Be proactive.  Be willing to jump in and demonstrate how the school library and school librarian can be a valuable resource for students and teachers.   Anytime there is something new, it is an opportunity for collaboration, so take full advantage of it.


Colleen’s Classroom: Goal Setting

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I have always been a big believer in writing goals; so much so, I buy special journals just for goal writing and tracking the how and when of meeting them. Currently, I have a red leather journal filled with both personal and professional goals.  As I reviewed last year’s goals and wrote new ones for this year, I thought about my students and their goal setting. Over the years of teaching, my approach to having students set learning goals has changed a great deal. It once was very one sided conversation. I told my students what their goals were. Today, goal setting conversations with students are much more intentional. Using their work as evidence, we focus on their progress and what goals they think they need to be working on to improve their learning.

Goal setting does not have to be a complicated process, nor does it involve a lot of time. One of my students had difficulty writing from margin to margin. He wrote five or six words on one line and maybe only three on the next. He would fill a page in this manner and think he had a dense piece of writing. We discussed this during one of his workshop conferences and he said he just couldn’t remember to write across the page. After ruling out an inability to cross the midline, I asked him if he could think of a strategy that would help him remember to write from line to line. On his own, he came up with a plan of placing dots on each side of the page. He wrote his goal of writing margin to margin in the back of his notebook, along with an estimated date for reaching the goal.

In my early years of teaching, I would have probably nagged the poor student about moving across the page until he wasn’t listening anymore. Now I provide opportunities for my students to set their own goals and to work out strategies that mean something to them. Through goal setting, students began to realize that they are active participants in their learning.

Creating a goal about writing across the page may not seem to be a very important one on the writing priority list, but if you think about the sense of accomplishment, and the effort the student put forth into reaching his goal, it was a powerful first step to many more writing achievements. In the end, it only took two weeks for my student to reach his goal. When we met again, he showed me his notebook and informed me he had reached his goal on time. With a big grin, he proudly announced he was ready to move on to a new one. “I’m pretty good at this goal setting,” he declared. “It’s kind of like a challenge.”

I had to agree with him. Successfully reaching our goals is a challenge, but when we finally do reach them, the sense of accomplishment is sweet and the effort well worth it. Through his own hard work, he had learned a lesson that reached far beyond the arena of writing.  You never know…he may even have a red journal of his own someday.

– Colleen

Colleen’s Classroom: December Hiccups

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December has a history of being a month full of frantic activity, especially in the classroom. The usual December holiday stress is compounded by the writing up of report cards and trying to keep students’ attention while competing with the visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads. (On second thought, today’s kids probably don’t know much about sugar plums. It’s more likely their visions are those of new video games.) Anyway, December in the classroom is not the fa-la-la time it is made out to be. The mood of the December classroom is one of excess energy and anticipation for the approaching winter break.

Today was the perfect example of what December offers. I was trying to wrap up reading and writing data for fifty report cards, one last literature post-test needed to be completed, and I could tell by the noise level of the students as they walked through the door, it was going to be a long day. As the students entered the classroom, I put on my best smile and silently recited my December self-talk. “I think I can – I think I can – I think I can. I know I can – I know I can.”

Once students were settled in, we began our morning pages. Suddenly the classroom was eerily silent. Blank faces stared back at me in response to my questions. Question after question remained unanswered. At best, I received a shrug of shoulders. It was as if an epidemic of amnesia had besieged my cherubs.

“Ok…how about an antonym?

I received more blank stares. I sighed, and then I noticed a child raising her hand.

“Finally,” I thought.

“Yes?” I asked in hopeful anticipation.

“When is snack time?”

“I think I can- I think I can- I think I can…”

The morning crawled on and it was finally time for the post-assessment. I had barely finished giving directions when a student placed his paper in the finished work basket. With no hesitation, he walked over to the reading nook and plopped into the recliner. Within a couple of minutes, two more students dropped their papers into the basket. I took a deep breath and prepared myself for what I would find on their assessments. I scanned their papers and groaned. The December crazies had begun. The three early birds had dared turn their papers in with bold X’s across the questions. One student had even had the gall to write me a note explaining he just couldn’t remember anything. Amnesia had struck again!

I summoned the culprits up to my desk, handed the assessments back to them, and reminded them about working with a positive mind set. (I’m not so sure I wasn’t the one who needed the reminder.)

One by one, students turned in their assessments and went off to work on other tasks. As I looked over student work, I saw more examples of memory loss. I once again recited my December mantra. I assured myself their memories would come back…eventually.  And then, as I looked up from sorting papers, I saw something that gave me hope: a December miracle you might say.

There in the back of the room were three students, who even with interventions in place, continued to hand in work barely legible due to so many spelling and convention errors. But there they were… the three of them huddled in front of the sign language poster I had put up during our study of Helen Keller. There they sat diligently practicing their spelling words. I hadn’t suggested using sign language to practice spelling words, nor had any other student in the class attempted the task. On their own, they had taken their spelling words and moved to the back of the room to practice. Unknowingly, they had found a very brain friendly approach for practicing spelling. It was an intervention that provided learning with the use of more senses and movement than anything I had provided.

The three students didn’t know it, but in the middle of a stressful day they had provided me with a priceless gift. They had given me a reminder about the joy of learning. Watching students make connections and applying their learning in their own way is one of the most rewarding things about teaching. While I watched the students giggle and tutor each other, I was also reminded of something else. I was reminded that report card data and post-assessments aren’t as important as I allow them to be, but what those three students were doing was very important. They were taking ownership of their learning. That is a gift they gave themselves; one that will last a lifetime. Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus, even in a classroom during the crazy month of December.

Happy Holidays!

– Colleen

Happy Thanksgiving from Rourke

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Thanksgiving Blog Photo


We want to wish you and your family a wonderful Thanksgiving. Many people have special family traditions. What are yours? Maybe you can try out one of these and start a new tradition:

– Each guest writes what they are thankful for that year. Clip them together, write the year, and save the memories.

– Create a thankful box, vase, tree, or turkey. Each guest writes on a piece of paper, tag, or paper turkey feather what they are thankful for and adds it to the box, vase, tree, or turkey.

– Design a holiday table cloth. Using a white table cloth have each guest write their name and what they are thankful for that year. Later go over the names and comments with embroidery cloth. You can create a new one each year or add to the existing one.

– Play a game that is close to home! Create a family trivia game for everyone to play. The questions can be about things that year or related to your family history or culture.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Don’t forget you can read all about Thanksgiving with our book available in hardcover, paperback, and eBook formats.

ISBN: 9781615904792


Science Through Literacy

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NGSS bins picHow is your district addressing the changing science standards? The National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) has adopted the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) as their national standards. The move for professionals comes with the support for the investigating. modeling, and experimenting portions of the standards.

On the NSTA Blog, Cynthia Passmore explains how framing your classroom is just as important as what you do in it. Teaching the kids to ask the right questions and working together are vital. Read more about it here in her blog post.

At Rourke we can help even the non-science enthusiast address the skills and concepts found within NGSS. Our Next Generation Science bins address science through literacy. Connecting science concepts with literacy skills by incorporating the 7 E’s of science inquiry, experiments and hands on activities, home school connection, and, of course, literacy through informational text. Our bins are available for kindergarten through 5th grade in English and Spanish. Contact Rourke to learn more!

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