Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Thank you, Mr. Chew!

The first of a three part-movie series based on The Hobbit, will be released on Friday, December 14.  The movie is brought to us by the same creative team that produced The Lord of the Rings, and I am looking forward to a wonderful movie experience, but I am also feeling a little anxious. I have seen some movies that just did not do justice to the novels they were based on, and The Hobbit is my all-time favorite novel.   I have probably read it 20 times since I was in the seventh grade.  In seventh grade, my English teacher read it out loud to me.

This is my SECOND copy.  I read the covers off of the first one.
I was an Air Force brat in Nellingen, Germany in 1971 during the last semester of 7th grade.  We had a long commute to Stuttgart Junior High School each day, and I don’t have fond memories of my classes.  In fact, I don’t remember any of the classes at all, except for Mr. Chew’s English class.  I remember Mr. Chew as being very tall, with dark hair and big, bushy eyebrows. I don’t remember whether he was a good English teacher, but I do remember his voice:  a deep, basso profundo that he could modulate to fit the setting, mood, and characters of the books he read aloud to us.  

I loved Fridays.  We would start class with a spelling test, and then Mr. Chew would read to us for the rest of the period.  He poured character into his reading, with dramatic rises of pitch and deep, quiet whispers of dread.  It gave me the shivers. When The Lord of the Rings movie series was released, I was astonished to hear Gollum speak in the voice of Mr. Chew!  He captured the light-hearted early start of the book, and gradually shifted the mood of his readings to fit the change in tone in the book, as the hobbit and his dwarvish companions came closer to the final, desperate battle for the Lonely Mountain.  

Do you read to your students?  Forty-two years later, when I read The Hobbit, I still hear the voice of a man whom I only knew for one semester.  I hear the echoes of his love of fantasy and science fiction whenever I pick up the latest Rick Riordan book, and I know that his dedication to reading left an indelible impression on a twelve year old girl.  

In Mr. Chew’s honor, I’m inviting my students to come listen to me read The Hobbit during sixth grade lunches this week, and have planned a book club meeting for the day before the movie is released.   I hope I am able to communicate how much I love this story, and maybe encourage some new fans.    If anyone out there knows a former English teacher named Mr. Chew, tell him “Thank you,” for me!

Friday, August 17, 2012

Five Reasons I Am Ready for School to Start

5.  Relaxing, renewing summer – This summer was spent reading, relaxing, and traveling with my favorite people; my husband, my children, and my mom.  I took on no major household projects like painting or redecorating.  I stretched my body in the garden weeding and harvesting, and I stretched my mind with reading.  I made a quilt, talked my mom into quilting it, and hung it on the library wall.

4.   Reading, reading, reading -  I won’t go into the exact numbers, but due to several incentives, mentioned in this post, I have read more middle grade and young adult literature titles this summer than in the entire previous calendar year.  I have a list of must-reads for my students and teachers, and thanks to NetGalley, I have some titles to watch out for that I can promote before I even buy them!

3.       Inspiring staff development –  My summer had barely started before I attended the two-day Upstate Technology Conference, where I networked with other librarians and gathered great information about new educational technologies, Web 2.0 tools, and current trends.  During three days of Mentor training I learned so much about how to talk to people in ways that are non-threatening, and how to offer help without offering unwanted advice.  Although I don’t have a new teacher assigned to me this year, I know that the training I received will help me build relationships with the new teachers in our building.  A full-day SMARTNotebook 11 training reminded me of the versatility of the interactive whiteboards we have in our district, and I am excited about sharing the new features with our staff.

2.       My PLN – This was the summer of the PLN, a time when I really understood how important it is to never stop learning, to reach way beyond my own knowledge, and to tap into others’ energy, creativity, and inspiration.  Starting with the other two middle school librarians in my district, and expanding to other states and other countries, I have been able to remind myself of why I became a librarian, and to begin to let go of excuses that kept me from being an effective one.

1.       THE STUDENTS! – It’s still all about them.  The year I don’t look forward to seeing my students at the beginning of the school year is the year I should retire.  No, actually, I should retire BEFORE it gets to that point.  Middle school students are so diverse in their interests, maturity levels, and personalities that it is almost impossible to make a blanket statement about them.  Whatever they are, middle school students appeal to my heart in ways that elementary and high school students do not. I like their sense of humor, their unpredictability, and their sassiness.  I know everyone does not feel that way, and I believe that only people who like middle school students should teach middle school students. 

What about you?  What is the best part of starting a new school year, and what prepares you during the summer to get off to a great start?

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Looking back...and smiling!

I've been collecting data on the number of warm bodies that come through my middle school library, and how often I serve them, for the last six years.  At the end of 2010-2011, I noticed an ugly trend.  The numbers were dropping, all of them.  Classes served, walk-ins per day, circulations per student, everything had been dropping slowly since 2009.  What was I doing wrong?

I showed the numbers to my principal at the beginning of 2011-2012, and we decided it was due to several factors.
1.  Our teachers had replaced our defunct reading assessment software for self-selected reading with a "book share" or one-pager (see Kelly Gallagher's book, Readicide), something I applauded and supported, but which made the need to find a library book with a test on it unnecessary. (Decreasing circulation)
2.  The number of circulation classes had increased to the point that it was not possible to get research classes into the library as often as necessary, so teachers were taking their classes to the computer lab and skipping the library.  (Decreasing the number of research classes)
3.  The loss of my library assistant resulted in teachers trying to make my life easier by decreasing the number of passes they allowed to students who needed to come to the library independently. I also had to close the library if I needed to help a teacher in the classroom.  (Decreasing the number of walk-ins per day)

I spent the year advertising books with displays, posters, and book talks.  I worked with my ELA teachers to encourage them to send students on a pass for circulation more frequently, leaving space for research classes in all content areas.  I attended team meetings and actively encouraged all of our teachers to send the students to the library independently.  Students were excited to hear that the number of books they could check out would not be limited, leading avid readers to get great stacks of books.  I trained student helpers to run the circulation desk, freeing me to be engaged with students looking for books and conducting research.  I built my PLN, decreasing the isolation I had experienced, increasing my knowledge, and improving my attitude.

I finished putting my year end data into the spread sheet last week.  I checked the numbers once.  Then I checked them again.  Then I made this pretty infographic using easel.ly.

Can you see why I'm smiling?

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Summer Reading - Part One

Late in May, I always challenge my middle school students to keep reading during the summer.  I usually use the obvious but understandable “use it or lose it” allegory.  It goes like this:
Me:  What happens to an athlete if, at the end of the season, he or she goes home and crashes on the couch for three months?  How will their body respond when they are ready to start practicing and playing again?
Students:  They’ll be fat.  They’ll be slow.  They will lose strength, speed, flexibility, skills, etc.
Me:  What do you think happens if you go home for the summer, sit on the couch, and don’t read?  What do you think happens to your reading skills?  
Okay – it  may be a little overused, but when I tie it to a contest, ask students to send me photos of themselves reading in unusual places this summer, and add a goal of reaching a combined million pages with the other two middle schools in our district, I usually get pretty good results. Students and faculty members at our school were asked to keep a reading log this summer, recording titles and numbers of pages read.   I encouraged my students to set a reading goal as well, and to post that goal on Edmodo and let us know how they were doing during the summer.  I pledged to read 100 books this summer, from June 1 – August 31.  While there were some scoffers, a few students announced their intent to either keep up with me, or surpass my goal.  I really hope they do!

In May, a friend sent me this post from Donalyn Miller, The Book Whisperer, challenging her readers to participate in summer reading by pledging to read a book a day.  

Excellent!  I’m in!  I checked to be sure I could still remember my Twitter account password, since I had not made a post since July of 2011, and began posting my reading to #bookaday, Goodreads, and my reading log.
Then another friend sent me a post from Sherry Heise, from Heise Reads and Recommends, launching the 2012 Summer Throw Down, a friendly competition to see who could average the most books read during the first round, June 18 – July 17, librarians or teachers.  

While not a competitive person, the opportunity to expand my Twitterverse and add a Twibbon to my blog inspired me to sign on.  The result of both of these challenges is that I have  found an enormous community of readers, reviewers, authors and book lovers by following #summerthrowdown and #bookaday.  Another gift from an increased reading diet has been the resurrected Twitter account, which has provided SO MUCH MORE than a community of bibliophiles, but that is for another post.

Part Two of the 2012 Summer Throw Down starts on Sunday, July 22.  If you are a teacher or librarian, why not join us for an incentive to end your summer with a head full of books and a heart ready to recommend them?  Check in at Heise Reads and Recommends to find out how to participate.