“The Christmas Visitor” by Anneliese Lussert

2511129-_uy431_ss431_Title: The Christmas Visitor

Author: Anneliese Lussert

Illustrator: Loek Koopmans

Summary: When a man dressed in rags shows up at Simon’s door, Simon looks down on him and turns him away.  His ailing wife, Sarah, takes pity on the man and offers him what little she haa in hopes it would be of comfort to him.  In return, the strange visitor performs a miracle that heals Sarah.  Astounded, Simon realizes he might have missed out on something bigger and more important than himself.  Despite his discomfort, he follows the stranger on a journey and finds a treasure that transforms him forever.

Discussion Questions:2dfe5aeb4edc75940eab249e9abcd49c

  • Who is the visitor that shows up at Simon’s door?  Why does Simon turn him away?
  • Whose footprints/voice is Simon following?  Why does Simon decide to follow?
  • What does Simon have to give up in order to help the people he meets on his journey?  Do you think it is difficult for him to help others?
  • How does Simon’s character change from the beginning to the end of the story?  What lessons does he learn on his journey?
  • What connections can you draw in this story about you and and your relationship with Jesus/God?
  • Have you ever felt God calling you to do something or help someone?  Is it always easy to hear God and what he wants you to do?
  • Discuss a time when you heard God calling on you to do something or help.  How did you know God was talking to you?  Did the task require you to sacrifice something?  Did you follow his voice/footsteps and obey, even though it might’ve been difficult to do or required some sacrifices on your part?
  • What are some examples of sacrifices you might have to give in order to help others as God asks?  Why do you think God makes it hard sometimes for you to help others or do his will?
  • If doing God’s will is sometimes difficult, why do you think we should still do it?  What are some benefits of following God’s will, helping others, etc?

21 Century Learner Toolbox: EasyBib.com

easybib_2One of my goals this year as GA’s media specialist is to equip students with various Web 2.0 tools and skills that they can apply to their everyday learning and information needs.  The idea is they will take what they learn in the computer lab/library and use it in other areas in and out of school — whether it’s writing a history paper, finishing a multimedia presentation for another teacher, or researching the latest tech toy to hit the market.

One of the tools we’ve been using in the Academy is EasyBib.com, a free website that helps students generate citations in MLA, APA, and Chicago formats for their bibliography page. By doing a little detective work (e.g. who’s the author of the information, when was this information published, etc.), students can easily and quickly cite anything from web pages and books to video recordings and magazine/database articles.  Citations can be saved when students sign in with their G+ accounts, and even shared with collaborators in a group project!  This is a relevant skill for the 21st century learner since we consistently remind students to practice the responsible and ethical use of information (AASL Learning Standards 1.3.3, 2.3.3, 3.1.6, 4.3.4).  By citing resources they have used during the research process, students not only give due credit to the sources of their information, but enable themselves (and their readers!) to access that information in the future.

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.

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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.  🙂

George, by Alex Gino

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Title: George
Author: Alex Gino
Published: August 2015 by Scholastic Press
ISBN: 9780545812542

Summary: George is a fourth-grader with a secret — though everyone sees her as a boy, she knows she’s not — she knows she’s a girl.  When her teacher announces that the fourth graders are going to put on a play for the school, George and her best friend Kelly see it as her chance to reveal the truth.  She auditions for the role of Charlotte, her favorite character from Charlotte’s Web, but is told she can’t be cast as the spider since it’s a girl’s part.  Will George find another way to show her true self — Melissa — to the world, and will they accept her for who she is, once and for all?

Thoughts: I picked up this book after a recent censorship controversy with Kate Messner‘s newly published The Seventh Wish. In the many letters and reactions that came out of that, I kept seeing the title George being referenced as a prime example of school library censorship.  My local library happened to have all three of its copies available, so I picked it up.  Of course, the topic of the book is so relevant because of recent debates over bathroom laws — whether transgender people should be able to use bathrooms slated for genders that they identify with, rather than born in — and more recently, the tragic targeting of the LGBTQ community in the Orlando mass shootings.

The fact that the main character is a fourth-grader — same as my younger daughter — also intrigued me.  As a mom, am I ready — or knowledgeable enough — to broach the subject matter?  I have always been open with my kids about sex, giving them age-appropriate information as questions come up.  So in a way, a conversation about transgender people is just an extension of our conversations about private parts, gender roles, homosexuality, etc.  We have already talked a bit about the bathroom law and how they felt about it, so it wouldn’t be a huge shock to either of them that there are people who believe they were born in the wrong bodies.

As a librarian, and as someone who believes strongly in intellectual freedom, would I circulate this book in my library even if a few parents protest?  Would I limit borrowing rights to older kids (grades 5 and up)?  Would I require parental consent before letting the kids read them?  (Place too many obstacles though, and the book might never end up circulating!)  Would I recommend this book as a classroom or school read-aloud?  (It certainly deals with a topic that is relevant and prominent right now.)  And how will I handle the parents/administrators who want to censor it — as they most likely will?  (These questions are hypothetical because I am not currently working in a school library, but surely they are the same questions my employed librarian friends grapple with everyday.)

A little bit about the actual book itself.  Overall, it was well-written and an easy/quick read, though it definitely wasn’t light.  I asked myself this key question: What would I do if I were the mom in the story?  George’s mom has reservations at first about her revelation but eventually agrees to let George be true to herself, one small step at a time.  Her acceptance happens quickly in the story, within a week or so of George’s appearance as Charlotte in the play.  I wonder whether real life parents could adjust so fast.  I don’t think I’d love my children any less just because they come out as gay or trans, etc., but I think anyone would go through some natural stages of questioning and denial (“Maybe this is just a phase?”) and sadness (for the pain and struggle the child would have to go through as a trans person in a very judgemental world) and even loss (loss of a child and what you have believed him or her to be), etc.  The book addresses this a little bit, but I would have loved to see more on the inner struggles that the mom must have gone through.  (I guess that’d be in a book based on her point of view, not George’s!)  The same thing could be said about George’s older brother’s reaction and that of her best friend, Kelly (who thinks it’s so “awesome” to finally have a best girl friend to hang out with since she’s grown up with only boys).  I wish Gino would’ve explored their feelings a little deeper, rather than jump straight into Scott’s question of whether George would transition all the way by “snipping” it off, and Kelly and George’s stereotypical girly makeover scene. There’s got to be more about being a girl than just getting to dress up like one.  (That said, that probably would be one of the most important things to a fourth-grader.)

Now that I’m done with the book, I am passing it to my 10-year-old daughter.  I told her to read it and come to me at any time if she comes across words or ideas she didn’t understand.  I am eagerly awaiting her thoughts and her review.  Chances are, she’ll have a totally different take than I did, but hopefully, she’ll come away with a little more understanding of the diversity that is all around her and become a little kinder and more compassionate as a result.  Hopefully, she’ll come to realize that it’s okay to be different, that everyone is in different ways…that it’s important, even if it’s difficult and scary, to accept yourself for who you are, to be brave enough to stand up for what you believe to be true…to BE YOURSELF.

dont-change-so-people-will-like-you-be-yourself-and-the-right-people-will-love-the-real-you-change-quotes-share-on-facebook

George resource page: http://www.alexgino.com/george/

Some discussion questions:

  • Why do you think the author chose to use the pronoun “she” when describing or referring to George?  Does this make a difference to the way you feel about the character?
  • How do you think George feels having to keep this big secret inside?  (Use text evidence to support your claims.)  Have you had to keep a secret about yourself — how does this make you feel?  Without revealing the secret (unless you feel comfortable), share or write about this experience and how you were affected.
  • George eventually reveals her secret to those she cares about.  How does this make her feel?  (Use text evidence to support your claims.)  What are some consequences of “hiding” vs. “being yourself”?
  • What do you think it takes to “be yourself”? What are some pros and cons of being who you are?  What are some other examples of “being yourself” that might be scary for kid?
  • Share or write about a time where you had to be brave enough to be who you are.  What made you finally do it, and what effects did the experience have on your life?
  • People reacted differently to George’s revelation. Discuss how they differed and possible reasons why (try to think about this from the person’s point of view).  How do you think you would react if you were each of these individuals?
    • Classmates
    • George’s mom and big brother
    • School teacher/principal
    • George’s best friend Kelly
    • Kelly’s dad and uncle
  • Discuss diversity, acceptance/tolerance, prejudice, bullying, compassion, etc.  Come up with real-life examples. What are some way your classroom/school/family/community could be more accepting of those who might be different from you?
  • Towards the end of the book, the author switches to the name Melissa when referring to George.  Why do you think he chose to do that?
  • Make a prediction about what George’s life might look like in the next year…the next five years…etc.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Punch Card Reading Challenge Underway!

This week I kicked off the Punch Card Reading Challenge with the 3rd through 5th graders.  The students were excited about the program and the prizes that they will get to earn.  I have gotten some fantastic prizes from community partners, and these will be used to encourage students to:

  1. Return their books on time and check out something new;
  2. Display appropriate classroom behavior; and
  3. Read outside their comfort zone

For returning their books on time and checking out something new (a sneaky way to improve circulation!), students will “earn” small prizes such as ice cream/free kids meal coupons, gift certificates for free games of laser tag, and Rainforest Cafe temporary tattoos and slap bands.

For displaying appropriate classroom behavior, students will earn raffle tickets towards the weekly drawings.  I don’t tell students when raffle tickets will be handed out, or for what specific behavior, so hopefully students will try to stay on good behavior at all times!  Today, for example, I gave out raffle tickets while 3rd graders worked on their Powtoon presentations…but only to those who stayed on task.  The kids who didn’t get any during my first walk-around quickly wised up and got to work, in hopes that I’d be generous and give them a raffle ticket during my second walk-through (I was).

The main way students earn raffle tickets is for reading outside their comfort zone, i.e. for reading a genre that is on the punch card.  For accountability and assessment purposes, before I punch anyone’s card, they have to fill out a reading response card.  On the front of the card, they simply write their name, their teacher’s name, the title and author of the book, and the genre.  On the back of the card, they are asked to write at least 3 complete sentences about their book.  To help students figure out what to write, I’ve included writing prompts for both fiction and non-fiction that they can use.

Here’s a quick look at what prizes will be given out and when:

FEBRUARY

WEEK 1 – Intro to Punch Card Challenge (3-5th grades)

WEEK 2 – Review directions!  Rainforest Cafe tattoos

WEEK 3 – Zap Zone Laser Tag coupons; Drawing: Coldstone ice cream cakes (x 2)

WEEK 4 – Drawing: Coldstone $5 gift certs (x 4)

MARCH

WEEK 1 – Rainforest Cafe slap bands; Drawing: Coldstone $5 gift certs (x 4) 

WEEK 2 – Drawing: Coldstone ice cream cakes (x 2) 

WEEK 3 – Rainforest Cafe free kids meal coupons; Drawing: Rainforest Cafe prize pack  

WEEK 4 – Drawing: Coldstone ice cream cakes (x 2); Coldstone free cone coupons

WEEK 5 – Grand Prize Drawing: Classic Lanes Bowling Parties for 10 (x2)

Hopefully this program will be fun for the kids and motivate them to add more diversity to their reading.  And hopefully it won’t take too much extra time to run in addition to everything else that is going on in the media center in February and March!