February 20, 2009

Good article on school librarian

There's a great profile in the New York Times of a very successful middle-school librarian -- do check it out. The author sets this librarian's innovations (integrating into the curriculum by being proactive with classroom teachers; embracing and training kids to use technology) against countervailing budgetary forces. The article had a couple of telling statistics:
  • More than 90 percent of American public schools have libraries, but less than two-thirds employ full-time certified librarians.
  • On average, a school librarian gets $12.06 per student per year to spend on books.

February 11, 2009

My new read-aloud class

A lot of us Lexile folks at MetaMetrics have been teachers at one time or another, and some of us still keep a foot in the classroom. This afternoon I started leading a weekly afterschool reading group for struggling kindergarteners and first graders at my daughter's elementary school.

My daughter is teaching it with me. We choose a couple of good picture books (I look for books with the AD, or adult-directed, code) that have some thematic relationship, and then we come up with a craft or writing project to go with the theme. Our table and floor are covered with kid books right now, as we try to winnow our selections down.

Today we read William Steig's "Sylvester and the Magic Pebble" (AD700L), and then "The Pebble in My Pocket" by Meredith Hooper (560L). I also brought along some of my childhood rock collection (yes, I am a pack rat) so our kids could see some strange crystals, and see pumice float in the classroom sink, and run their fingers along the sharpened edge of a chert, and so forth. And then we colored some landscaping stones with markers and glued plastic eyeballs on them.

My goal is to have a fun reading experience with kids, above any real instruction. We stopped at a couple spots in the Sylvester story to make predictions about how it would turn out. I want, also, to always have a nonfiction title so that I can make information books fun. My guys today complained about reading the Hooper book when I first showed it to them but then were pushing each other out of the way to see the pictures and interrupt with facts they knew about volcanoes and dinosaurs.

I like William Steig's books a lot (we brought "Doctor De Soto" but didn't get around to reading it) because the stories are not simplistic and also because he uses some good vocabulary. We did mini-lessons on the words "cease," "embrace," and "bud." The Lexile code AD is perfect for this -- none of my guys is reading anywhere near 700L. But they're hungry for good stories. An AD book well above their Lexile level will look like those story books that they want to read, and will hold their attention, but will also have some vocabulary and sentence structures that simply don't exist in the books they're reading for school at their ability levels.

It was a lot of fun, and I'm sorry that we're only meeting once a week. Every kid went home with a smile, a new pet rock (see below), and the meaning of the word "embrace" fresh in their heads.

-- posted by Chris Vitiello

December 15, 2008

Happy birthday Bill of Rights

Today is the anniversary of the adoption of the Bill of Rights -- the first 10 Constitutional amendments guaranteeing citizens' rights such as freedoms of speech, religion, and the press. It's an inspiring text to read, particularly for young people and particularly for today, as winds of change are blowing.

The original text of the bill is quite high-level text, measuring 1540L. This PBS.org page gives a concise rundown of the Bill of Rights at 1100L.

November 21, 2008

VA high schoolers start awesome early literacy program

What inspires you? Follow this link to see what inspires me.

It's an article about a high-school student in Falls Church, VA (the county where I grew up) who started a free 6-week program to help 1st&2nd-grade boys connect with reading through hands-on activities. Doesn't it just make you want to run right out and do the same?

-- posted by Chris Vitiello, School-Based Initiatives

November 10, 2008

Activate the school library

I've been doing a lot of thinking about libraries and librarians lately. At the Oregon/Washington school librarian's conference, my eyes were opened to a realm of new leadership possibilities for school librarians. The "Spokane Moms" spoke -- they became a legislative force when the librarian at their children's school was laid off because of budget cuts. These moms realized two things: 1) school boards don't have a clue about what librarians do, and 2) librarians are often miserable advocates for themselves. So the moms challenged librarians to take a leadership role in their schools, and to become noisy to their local and state representatives.

Also, I've been taking field trips to public libraries to see how they are changing. The main branch of my local Durham County Library is undergoing a major renovation, so I have been attending public meetings on what that will actually mean. I didn't realize how outdated my beloved library is! So I've been taking cell phone pictures of good ideas in other public libraries.

In a Wake County library, they've stuck helpful little suggestions all over the place in the children/juvenile sections, kind of Amazon.com-ing the shelves themselves. Like where a series happens to fall on the shelves, they put an outward-facing listing of the entire series. Or where a popular author's work is shelved, they put a list of other authors who write similar kinds of books. Or if they have a series that's flying off the shelves, they put a list of other similar series there in case you come to the shelf looking for a book only to find it's been checked out already. I love this library! They are really thinking like patrons, thinking about how people categorize books, instead of how libraries categorize books. It makes the library a lot more like a bookstore.

So why can't school librarians do this? Make their libraries more like a bookstore? Here's a terrific article in the School Library Journal with all kinds of specific things to do in this vein. Research shows that young readers want to see the covers of books, not the spines, so let's make more displays to have books facing outward. Let's make shelf cards like this public library does, but let's have Lexile measures on there -- like students could graduate from one series to a higher-Lexile series in the same genre. Let's get on the morning announcements to tell students what new books have just gone up on the shelves. Let's host before- and after-school readings and events, like celebrating an author's birthday with students doing dramatic readings. There's a lot of potential, and most of it seems like it could be a lot of fun.

In the meantime, I'll keep stalking the stacks of the public libraries and bookstores, snapping pics of good ideas to post here. If you have ideas or pics to share, please send them my way.