Thursday, January 21, 2016

Making Lemonade

 In the first two weeks that we've been back to school, I've been open 2 whole days. The other days, the Media Center was either closed completely or up until the last 30 minutes of the day. Frustrating! But more than that, how unfortunate for our children to not have access to the books, computers, etc. Well, you could say they had access to the computers, but it was to test for 90 minutes at a time. Not exactly World Book, BrainPop, Cool Math or PBS Kids. And this was for something called an "Interim Test" for what? Or who? And we're only half through these Interims! When these testing decisions are made, schools are large as ours, with the number and sizes of small groups that are pulled to test (ELL, ESE, etc.) can create a logistics nightmare. But this isn't a testing rant (oh really?) That's not my thing (yet!)
But as they say, when life gives you lemons, make lemonade! If I couldn't get the kids to the Media Center, I'd take the Media Center to them. I was  asked to cover several classes whose teachers missed their planning times, so I wanted to come up with something fun for these over-tested kids when the Media Center was closed. So here's what I did, on my shoestring budget, minimal technology, yet abundance of enthusiasm for some fun activities:
Grades 2 and 3: We feature penguins in the Media Center in January, so I took copies of a reader's theater for "Tacky, the Penguin", some hastily collected props, and led several classes in Drama 101. Most kids love to participate in these activities, and we had lots of fun. Then I led them through a cartooning exercise that started with the letter "P" on the whiteboard, and with the addition of a few strokes, created a penguin on their paper. More learning fun, with opportunities to encourage the creative side, both artistically and dramatically (wait, is that the same thing?), that often gets short-changed.
On to Grade 4. Since this is the time of year that our 4th graders need a shot in the arm for our district Battle of the Books, I used a 25 minute video of book trailers of all the books, which I didn't have time for when we did our kick-off. The students were all given a "Movie Review" sheet in which they marked if they'd read the book, or gave it a "Thumbs Up" or "Thumbs Down" as to whether they wanted to read it. They then kept the papers for future reference. The result? More students at our weekly BOB Lunch Bunch than ever this year!
And finally Grade 5! What book do most of them ask for? Wimpy Kid! So I showed a video of a brief interview with Jeff Kinney explaining his writing process, then went to "Art Hub for Kids" in which a cool dude artist and a cool dude kid create popular characters step by step and side by side. After handing out paper and skinny black markers to those who needed something to write with (everyone), we proceeded to create our own versions of our favorite stick figure. The results were quite varied, but it was another great opportunity for tapping into and encouraging their creative side. Sadly neglected in these days of "Interim Testing".
So I know it wasn't exactly rocket science, but we were able to have a fun learning experience, lemonade, in the midst of the lemons of testing. Another upside was seeing all the students I haven't seen in the Media Center due to their being new, missing books, lack of teacher sending them, or of course, us being closed for testing! A few new relationships were forged as I could reach out to these unreached kids.
So how about you? Do you have some great go-to activities, "emergency plans" or a trunk packed when you have to take your show on the road? I'd love to hear from you about how you make the best of these testing times. I'm not going to let any "Interim Anything" get in the way of maintaining a
media program that is engaging for our students. That's how I'll Stay Grounded!

Monday, January 4, 2016

Expiration Dates

Happy New Year! While it's nice to get back to the routine and out of the cookie tins, I do miss just being at home. I love being able to have a little more time to prepare meals and other special treats during the holidays.  In addition to enjoying everything about being an elementary school librarian, I love everything about being a homemaker (well, that's a bit of a stretch where cleaning is concerned) and cooking and baking is just about at the top of the list. To  look in my kitchen cabinets, you'd think I never met a spice I didn't like, which is almost true. Unfortunately, I'm about as current in "weeding" my spice bottles as I am my non-fiction collection at school! As with my books, there are multiples of things that aren't even the most up to date, but I don't toss thinking I might need it for something. Cardamom? Of course! No self-respecting Icelander would be caught dead without some cardamom in the cupboard. Unfortunately, this Icelander just might risk being dead according to the ancient date on this pricey spice. So when it's time to do a thorough kitchen cleaning, I start checking expiration dates. Yikes! Is anyone in my family still alive, after enduring some dated ingredients? So it's time to toss, toss, toss...weed, weed, weed!

I regularly have to check the "expiration dates" of some of my teaching and library management practices also. Each new year, when I bring out the boxes or files of seasonal or otherwise activities, I wish they had an actual expiration date, to let me know it's time to toss them. If I can't remember how long I've used something, that's a good sign. If it's purple and has that intoxicating mimeo smell, that's a good sign. If it's something I know I had at a previous school and brought to my current one, that's a good sign, since I've been at my current school 13 years. If it's something with "Sandy Tiffany" on it, who I haven't been for 23 years,  that's a definite sign! Toss, weed, purge. 

Maybe it's not an actual sign, lesson, or artifact that needs to be pitched. I've had to get rid of some attitudes or ideas that are dated or expired also. Not utilizing more technology, or I should say, not learning more technology to effectively enhance my instruction, is one of those attitudes. While I'd like to stay "status quo" for my final few years, my effectiveness will be as stale as the 4 bottles of parsley flakes in my kitchen! If I find I'd rather pursue my own agenda and have fun reading groups with the best and the brightest students and not really explore how to reach those more challenging students who are harder to reach, I need to throw that attitude out. Putting my fun penguin, informative MLK and FRA lessons for January on hold is part of those items that have to be set aside to be utilized for testing in the next few weeks. Unfortunately! Not that the fun has expired in my Media Center (come on people!), but  clinging to "my stuff and agenda" and not embracing the total program at our school is an attitude that has to expire. "My stuff" has to be the school's stuff. "My money" is the school's money. I shouldn't be considering any expenses that don't have the students best interests and the school's vision in mind. "My program" needs to be what the administration has determined to be what's necessary to move our students ahead. But you'd better believe that I stand up for the Media services when I don't think they're being included in any conversation about that student achievement. We got a new principal just before the Christmas break. Our 4th in 4 or 5 years...I've lost count. So you can be sure I'll invite her to the Media Center as much as possible to show her our what we have and how the students are using it. "What can Penvose do for you" has become my new just might catch on!

Before Christmas,  I attended a program that my granddaughter was singing in. What a treat! She was one of several 3 and 4 year olds from her day care who thoroughly entertained with more cuteness than should be allowed in one church sanctuary! But before that, I sat in the audience with my grandson and other family members. Andrew, 5,  was playing some video game on some device while we were waiting. Inwardly, I cringed, thinking it was inappropriate, he should be telling Grandma about his day at school, asking about the new rabbits we got at our house, etc. (yes, I don't get out much...esp with him!) Then I glanced at other members of the audience who waited for the program to start. How many adults were doing the same thing with their phones? For whatever reason, they were occupying themselves while also carrying on conversations. Andrew would stop and talk, but also play his game. He wasn't being rude or disrespectful, just a kid in 2015. So why did it initially bug me? Maybe my old, outdated attitude about how he should be. I needed to just relax, enjoy the Christmas cheer, and be thankful to be there! More expired notions to discard.

As we enter 2016, what do you need to toss, purge, discard or just get rid of? It's never a bad or wrong time to weed the stuff--either physical, emotional, or spiritual--that is expired and not helping your personally or professionally.  And if it's not helping you, it's not helping others. Don't wait for Spring Cleaning, or the end of the school year, or retirement to get rid of things that are expired. Do it now and start 2016 fresh and current and at your best. You'll be glad you did. I hope you  have a happy and healthy 2016. And to repeat an often said phrase from school, stay safe, kind, and responsible...and of course, grounded! Have a great year!