Ideas for Your Library: Popsicle Stick Book Recommendations

Last night, as part of her stalling tactic, my 6th-grader pulled out a bunch of popsicle sticks and started drawing designs on the ends. They were so adorable we immediately tried to think of ways to use them. Kids could trade them with their friends, glue them together and make a mini message board or picture frame, use them as bookmarks, write inspirational messages on them and leave them for strangers to find, etc.

Then this morning as we worked on some more designs, I thought there’s gotta be a way we could use them in a library setting. After a few minutes, we had an Aha! moment. Why not use them as a way for kids to recommend books to one another?

You would need three small buckets from the dollar store — one for blank sticks, one for the done ones, and one for whatever drawing utensil you want the kids to use (we used my almost-20-year-old Creative Memories fine-tip pens, but you could give them fine-tip Sharpies or even colored pencils). You can have more buckets if you want to separate fiction from non-fiction, but in my opinion, the simpler the system, the more likely the kids will use it.

Whenever kids return a book they particularly loved, encourage them to design a book recommendation stick. They can draw a favorite character or an important symbol from the book, write down the title and the author, along with any other information you might want them to include — for example, their name, grade, or a call number if it’s non-fiction. When they are done, they can put the stick in the “done” bucket.

Now, when you are approached by kids that complain about not knowing what to read next, or think they have already read “every single book” in the library, you can point them to the recommendation bucket.

Below are the sticks that my daughter created…with three titles as examples.


Of course, there are PLENTY of uses for popsicle sticks in the library (just search for “popsicle sticks” on Pinterest), but I thought this was cute to share since my daughter inspired it.¬† ūüôā


Let’s Talk About Abandonment…

It seems like there’s an unspoken rule in the library world about abandoning books, that even if you truly dislike a book, you finish it.¬† After all, that’s what we tell our students, our own children — once you commit to something, you finish…if you stick with it, you might end up enjoying it at the end…we persevere, we don’t quit.

So here’s the thing, in the last few months, I’ve abandoned a couple of books that everyone (professional reviews, book bloggers, friends, etc.) said that I “must read”.¬† I have abandoned them with dramatic THUNKS…like, literally, I have flung them on my floor in front of my impressionable kids and declared, “Oh, honey, that’s IT!¬† I am DONE with this!”¬† And so far, not only have the Library Gods not come and stripped me of my MLIS title, but precious time has been freed for me to take on other books.

Listen, I am not saying we should make abandoning books into a habit, and I am open to the idea of re-reading these books in the future — I might love them in a different time, a different mood.¬† But I realized it’s okay to give myself — and my kids — the permission to say “No, maybe later…or maybe not ever” to a book once in a while, even if they happened to be award-winners or classics or on someone’s best-sellers list.¬† Because at the end of the day, reading shouldn’t seem like a chore or something you dread.¬† It should bring you lots of joy and anticipation instead.

Without further ado, here are a couple of books I bravely left behind this year…don’t judge me.



A Sad Goodbye

Today is my last day working as a guest media specialist at Hampton Elementary. I’ve been here since October, and I am both happy and ridiculously sad to leave. (Yep, there were tears this morning…but in my defense, I was reading aloud a story about a girl whose grandfather was dying and the chapter was called “A Sad Goodbye” and there was a student sobbing because she just recently lost her grandfather…so you see, it couldn’t be helped!)

Happy, because for so many months I’ve felt anxious and guilty about not being able to be my BEST when it comes to being Wife and Mom, and now that I am taking a break, a huge weight has been lifted and I feel like I can breathe again. (I feel like there’s at least one post about Mom Guilt forthcoming on this page….) Happy, because even though I will still be waking up at 5:30 to get my kids ready for school, I get to crawl back in bed, or at least back to the couch, and spend some alone time with my coffee, and eventually, my 4th grader, who is always extra snuggly in the morning. Happy, because I get to be there when my 6th grader gets dropped off at 2:30. I get to be there to ask her about her day when all the details are still fresh and she hasn’t become too distracted by her homework or devices to resort to those deeply unsatisfying one- or two-word answers or grunts. I feel like I haven’t been there for her the way I should’ve been, in this pivotal year of her young life. Gosh, when did she become a sixth grader? A MIDDLE SCHOOLER!?! I am in awe that she’s survived — no, excelled — thus far…without/in spite of me.

Happy, because I will finally have some time — even if it’s just an hour or two during the day — to do something completely selfish…I miss classes at the Y, I miss mid-day naps (even if I rarely take them), I miss Hulu/Netflix binges, I miss teas and lunches with my friends! I haven’t had the chance to do any of this for a while…probably not since last January, when my library internships/MLIS exams started to roll in. I am going to brush away that ever-present guilty feeling and say YES to all these things, at least for the next couple of weeks! I am going to read books for GROWN-UPS!!! And who am I kidding — I will be reading lots of everything else too.

Happy, because I will now have time to meet up with hubby for lunch dates, and be awake enough at the end of the day to spend time with him and TALK to him, instead of falling asleep with the girls every day at 9:30…okay, sometimes even earlier. I am sure he’ll be happy about this too.

But there’s a lot of sad too. Sad, because I do LOVE my work! I love the books and the cataloging and the teaching and the minutia of shelving and shelf-reading (…okay, maybe not that). I love gushing about my favorite authors and hearing students gush about theirs too.

Sad, because I am secretly afraid that this is it…that I will have gotten a small taste of what its like to feel 100% fulfilled and passionate and sure that I am IN THE RIGHT PLACE, only to never have it again.

Sad, because I’ve made friends at work, with dedicated teachers, paraprofessionals, and parent volunteers that I see day in and day out, tirelessly helping other people’s children succeed. How they continue to do this everyday, despite all the frustrations and drama that come with the job, amazes and inspires me. Seriously y’all, next time you see your child’s teacher, give them a big hug or a quick thank you — it’ll make their day no matter how small you think your gesture is.

Sad, most of all, because I will miss the students…yes, even the ones that struggle to sit still or follow directions. I will miss especially the ones who struggle, but who try really hard anyway. Never underestimate those quiet kids, or the ones who challenge your every word, or the ELL kids, or the ones that need various accommodations, or the ones who question everything you say, every book you recommend. Don’t dismiss those kids, because I can honestly say that not a day went by when I was not surprised by one of them or when I didn’t learn from them. They’ve taught me patience, grace, and forgiveness, and I look at myself and my own daughters differently because of them. Some days were truly difficult (just ask my husband and kids), but I would return in a heartbeat.

For now, though, it’s time to take off. I am sad, but I have an armful of cards and flowers that the kids and staff have given me to remind me of the good times here. Already I have plans to come back in a few weeks, but not before I’ve had a proper marathon of PJs, Downton Abbey, and tea.

Assessing Collaboration

Starting in February, 3rd through 5th graders were put into groups of 3 or 4 to collaborate on author studies.  They were given guidelines on what information they need to include in their final presentations, and groups were given graphic organizers to take notes on.  I taught a lesson on collaborating using Google Slides, where group leaders have to create the initial document and share it with group members using school email addresses. Group leaders also have to work with their members to figure out who will work on each slide: one introducing the author, one on his/her life, one on his/her writing, etc.

Group Assignments:¬†I made up the groups based on what I know about the students’ personalities and performance. ¬†Though the students groaned a little about not being able to work with their friends, I wanted each group to have a good mix of high and low kids. Because there is a considerable ELL population at the school, I also made sure they didn’t end up in their own group.

Working in Google Slides:¬†Setting up the project in Google Slides proved to be a big learning curve for the students, even for those who are usually tech-savvy. We also ran into problems where students were working outside their assigned slides, or deleting them accidentally/on purpose. Even though Google apps have a “See revision history” function that allowed us to restore lost work, it still created some tension among the students. This was a good way for students to learn what it’s like to¬†collaborate in the “real world”: they needed to be responsible and accountable not only to and for themselves but to and for their teammates as well. ¬†In the real world, even if honest mistakes can be reverted, one still has to deal with possible repercussions.

Group Dynamics: Because students did not get to choose their teammates, certain groups worked more effectively than others. I allowed students to decide their roles on their own based on how confident they are about their abilities to create and share Google Slides, as well as their ability to lead other group members.  For the most part, the natural leaders of each group emerged and were able to help their members stay on task effectively.  Some groups, on the other hand, did not work well together at all, and the constant battle within the group are clearly reflected in their finished products/presentations. There is usually a lack of content, effort, and cohesiveness.

As we come to the end of this group project, I posted a survey in Google Classroom for each of the students to complete. I am hoping that this final piece of the assignment will not only give me insight as to the success (or lack thereof) of their collaboration process, but also allow the students to assess their own contribution (or lack thereof) to this experience.  Findings will be posted soon!


For more on assessing collaboration, see:

Siko, Jason. “Assessing Collaboration: More Than Just Lip Service.”MACUL Journal Winter 36.2 (2016): 8-9. Web.

Practicum Week 6: Middle School

(This post was written back in February.  I am a bit behind on my practicum updates will try to catch up this week!)

This week I started my placement at Hart Middle.¬† The media specialist position is shared by two librarians — Audrey S. (Monday/Tuesday) and Kristi T. (Wedneday through Friday) — who are known in the school community for being highly effective and enthusiastic, and I am looking forward to learning from them.

One of the biggest differences between elementary and middle school is that middle school media specialists are on a flex schedule.¬† One of the last things I did at Hampton was attend a district wide media specialist meeting where the director hinted at the possibility of elementary media specialists going to a flex schedule starting next year (the “library” special would be replaced by a “foreign language” special), and many LMS present were understandably concerned — not just for their job security, but how they would be able to effectively carry out the goals of the ILS program if they aren’t seeing classes regularly.¬† I promised my mentor there¬†that I would pay attention to how flexible schedule is done at Hart and report back anything they might find useful at an elementary school level.

What I learned¬†during my first week about flex scheduling at the middle school level…

  • You can go a long time without¬†going into a class or have a class come see you.
  • It’s up to you to seek out opportunities to collaborate with teachers.¬† Even though many of them probably could use the help, they are usually too busy to seek it out.¬† Some might think you don’t have anything to offer to them.¬† Some are so afraid of new technology they are unwilling to have you show them how it can be incorporated in the class.
  • Even when there’s obvious areas where LMS can insert themselves, some opportunities seem to be lost. ¬†There are classes being taught at Hart on digital citizenship, internet safety,¬†and something called “tools for success”, where students learn about different web tools/apps and research skills that will help them in their middle school years.¬† However, one of these classes is being regularly offered by the Health teacher, and one is taught by rotating teachers (who are put on the rotation for no specific reason other than they have a free period on a certain day).¬† I asked why these aren’t taught by LMS, or at least co-taught.¬† The health teacher, I was told, has a really great PowerPoint that he’s been adding to for the last couple of years, and since internet safety/digital citizenship are related to personal safety, the administration feels like the health teacher is the natural person to teach it.¬† I wonder why they wouldn’t at least collaborate though, since these topics are also standards that should be taught in the media center.
  • I was asked to put together a presentation on digital citizenship/cyberbullying for 6th graders next week, which I started working on, using resources found on, etc.¬† We are planning a teaching portion, whole group activity (where we will watch a video, then discuss what we saw), and then break out into small groups.¬† I am looking forward to doing this with 6th graders because it’s such an important topic, but I wonder again why the LMS are not doing this more often. ¬†This could also be a great opportunity to¬†collaborate with the health teacher, who already HAS a great presentation we could use and build upon. ¬†A lot of time and energy could be saved if they recognize that they are teaching the same thing and find a way to share these resources.
  • Because we didn’t see any classes this week, most of my tasks were focused on some big events/projects that are coming up: Scholastic Book Fair next week (Feb 25-March 6), March Reading Madness, and Authors In April.¬† MRM is a BIG deal and so I spent a few days creating displays,¬†reading logs,¬†raffle tickets, posters, etc., and brainstorming with Audrey and Kristi how everything will work.¬† We also had to contact different local vendors to see if they’d donate coupons that we could use as prizes.¬† I might help them create a website and digital book bracket that the students can vote on.

My big question this week is about fixed vs. flex scheduling.  It seems like flex scheduling works better for middle/high schools (if only because there is no way you could see all the students in a week) but what are some ways to ensure that you are still seen as necessary and effective?  Is flex scheduling better or worse in terms of job security?

Digital citizenship presentation for middle schoolers

This is week 2 of my 5-week placement at a middle school.¬† So far, I’ve been doing vastly different things than when I was at the elementary school.¬† Enjoyable, but different.¬† For one, I haven’t had a chance to really interact with the students, except for yesterday, when I went into a 7th grade health class and co-taught a digital citizenship seminar with the health/PE teacher.

It was good practice for the five 6th-grade¬†classes I will be teaching this Thursday.¬†¬†While I think I did¬†okay on Monday, I think¬†Thursday will¬†be better because I will be teaching from material I put together myself.¬† (Talking¬†off someone else’s slides was not ideal because I didn’t know the little anecdotes the teacher had to go with his points.¬† He had to interrupt me a few times to tell his stories…which made me feel/seem unprepared, even if I knew the topic well!)¬† Anyway, here’s a link to my presentation.¬† I am hoping that whoever sees it will give me some feedback of what to add, what to take out, etc.¬† I will have these 6th-graders for about an hour (I believe), and I don’t want to lose their attention or run out of things to say before the hour is up.¬† Thanks in advance for your feedback!


Practicum: Week 1

This week I started my practicum at Hampton Elementary School in Rochester Hills, MI, under media specialist Jenny Bachman.  I met with her right before break to discuss my goals for the practicum and what projects she might want me to take on, and just from that first meeting I knew I was going to love working with her.  I was also glad we had the initial meeting because I was able to jump right in when I got here.

Here are some thoughts from my first week…

  • Though I have had volunteered and subbed extensively in a couple¬†different schools/school libraries, this is the first time I will be working in a Title I school, where much of the population is economically-disadvantaged and where a large percentage of students are ELL (in some classes, as much as 50% of the students are ELL).¬† During my first week, this meant I got to observe a set of behavioral/emotional/learning issues that I hadn’t experienced¬†in previous settings¬†(excluding the CDC classrooms I had worked in).¬† For example, on my first day, a student fell asleep during the read-aloud, and continued to sleep through the technology portion of the class’ visit to the library.¬† At my old school, this student would’ve been¬†disciplined for being defiant and off-task.¬† But here, the child was sent to the¬†office so he could lie down and sleep.¬† Jenny¬†explained that because she (and the school staff) is aware of this student’s home life and living conditions (no adult supervision or involvement, lack of schedule — leading to the child staying up most weeknights to play video games and falling asleep during school), she feels it is more important that the child gets the much needed sleep (he is only in 3rd grade) rather than force him to stay awake or punish him for something that is outside his control.¬† The school, she adds, has repeated approached the parents with regards to this situation, but so far it hasn’t brought about any improvement.¬† I feel like I learned a lot from this incident — that as a teacher we need to be sensitive to¬†the child’s home environment and the context in which he/she might be acting a certain way, and act accordingly.¬† In this case, I agree with Jenny that it was more important for the child to get the sleep he needed than¬†forcing him to participate in the lesson.¬† However, the fact that there is no improvement despite frequent communication to the parents¬†is a concern.¬† Have you guys experienced something similar?¬† How has your school handled this types of situations?
  • I also enjoyed working with the ELL population, since I¬†used to be an ELL student myself, when we¬†immigrated to Canada¬†back in 1989.¬†¬†I appreciated that Jenny is sensitive to the students’¬†langugage needs, and¬†adapted their independent practice requirements accordingly.¬† She also utilizes Google Translator on her iPad when needed —¬†using a simple tool like that (rather than¬†forcing the child to understand her) decreases stress and frustration¬†for both parties.¬†The child was able to understand what she¬†was supposed to do and¬†was visibly relieved, and¬†she was able to turn out¬†something¬†(albeit not at the same level as¬†her English-speaking classmates) that satisfied¬†a learning¬†goal and one that¬†Jenny¬†can then assess.
  • Like another¬†classmate mentioned —¬†a media specialist attends to MANY tasks.¬†¬†Jenny has very few volunteers, but¬†I liked that she always appeared calm and cheerful in front of the students, rather than stressed or frazzled.¬†¬†I believe the students can sense that she is truly enthusiastic about her role¬†and¬†that she truly enjoys seeing them succeed.¬†¬†They respect and like her, and I think the same is true vice versa.¬† This is an important lesson for me because as somewhat of a perfectionist, I tend to get frustrated when I don’t have the time to get everything done, and done right, but students can sense what we project outward and be affected negatively.¬† I will try to maintain a positive attitude¬†and smile¬†on even the craziest days, because ultimately, the students don’t care whether you have a million things to do and no time to do it…they only want to feel that you value their presence, and not see them just another demand on your time.
  • I learned many classroom management strategies during my first week as well.¬† I will share them in another thread.