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:


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)


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!

Punch Card Update

Okay, so after a few hours of brainstorming different ways to make the reading challenge program enticing but easy on my substitute librarian wallet, I realized that I’ve already done this before!  Last year, during my internship at a local middle school, I helped the media specialists there put on their March is Reading Month “Reading Madness” program, where students earn prizes based on the number of minutes they’d read or the number of times they voted in the school-wide Battle of the Books (they had to have read the books in order to vote). The media specialists used a small amount of money out of their book fair earnings to get giveaways like Scholastic bookmarks, pencils, eraser puzzles, etc., but most of the prizes used to encourage students were donated by the PTA and community partners like restaurants, ice cream shops, bowling alleys, and arcades.  It took a lot of leg work — figuring out which businesses would be receptive to our calls, playing phone tag numerous times before speaking to the right person, driving out to businesses to get the prizes, writing out the guidelines to how students earn prizes (we handed out smaller prizes for any students who turned in a certain number of minutes in a given week, and a weekly drawing for bigger prizes using raffle tickets students had earned for other activities), and finally, communicating the program details to the staff and students.

Like I said, it takes a little more planning, but the good news is I don’t have to launch the program right away.  I might wait ’til March is Reading Month, but if I get everything lined up I might announce it in February, to give students time to get started!



Reading Challenge Punch Card

Reading challenges for the new year have popped up everywhere on social media.  I thought I’d do something similar for the 3rd through 5th graders at the elementary school where I am working as a long term guest librarian (um, I meant “information literacy specialist”).  I thought a fun way for the kids to keep track of their readings is with a punch card (see below).  It also serves as a reminder of the different genres they need to cover.


This challenge is optional, but I want to encourage kids to take part in it.  When I asked a few students what might motivate them, of course most of them said they wanted prizes…but not dud ones like bookmarks or erasers (one said because that’d be a “waste of time”…which, I admit, broke my heart a little, because reading certainly shouldn’t be considered a “waste of time” just because there’s no extrinsic reward attached to it!).  Since as the guest ILS I actually have no budget for this, I am unsure how I’ll proceed.  I don’t mind putting in a little of my own money so the finishers can get a prize, but I can’t afford to give out that many “good” prizes either (again, seeing that I’m “just the sub”!).  This challenge will also have to be completed on an honors basis…I can see some kids SAYING they’d read something just so they can get their cards punched.  One possible way to prevent this from happening could be to have students fill out a short book review or make a book trailer for each of the book before I punch their card, but then I wonder if this would discourage them from doing it.  So, back to the drawing board for now.  I told the kids I’ll figure the details out by some time next week, so if you have run something similar at your library and it was a success, let me know how you got it done!  Remember, I’m at a school library and I have ZERO budget!

Lesson Plan: “Sparrow Girl” (Sara Pennypacker)


Sparrow Girl 
Written by Sara Pennypacker
Illustrated by Yuko Tanaka

Based on China’s “Great Sparrow War” in 1958, Sparrow Girl tells the story of Ming Li, one young girl’s effort to save innocent birds that were hailed as the farmers’ enemies.

Discussion Questions/Classroom Connections:

  • Define “food chain” and discuss different examples of food chains in nature.  Are different links in the food chain equally important?  Why or why not?  Have students create a poster of a food chain (allow for research time) and present it to their class.  (Incorporate digital technology by letting students create food chains using a diagram or chart tool in Word or similar programs.)
  • How does this story illustrate the importance of maintaining nature’s food chain?  List some of the ways sparrows are important in the story.
  • Read the author’s note about the real-life event that inspired this book.  Why did Chairman Mao declare war on the sparrows?  What did he want the villagers to do?
  • Discuss how, in the book, even though Ming Li felt that destroying all the sparrows was a bad idea, she didn’t speak up, and neither did Older Brother.  Why didn’t they?  Talk about different kinds of governments and leadership.  What kind of government/leadership do we have in the United States?  Can people speak up against something they might disagree with?  (Is this freedom true for all people across the US, or are there some groups that might be more oppressed?)
  • Compare the US government/leadership to the kind we read about in the book.  Have students research different types of governments around the world and present findings in class.  Is there a “best” kind of government?  What are some pros and cons of each type?
  • Why is “being able to speak up” important?  Have students discuss different ways this might apply in their lives.  For example: do they feel like they can speak up if they felt a rule at home or school was unfair?  Should they be able to speak up against a parent or teacher if they thought it was unfair?  Why or why not?
  • Discuss various imagery used in the book: Ming Li’s father describing her brain as being small as a sparrow’s, her worries scratching at her like a monkey, sparrows falling from the sky like raindrops/teardrops.  Why does the author (or anyone) use imagery like this rather than just describe something plainly?  Have students start with a piece of narrative writing, and make it richer by adding some imagery throughout.

Other Resources:




Reading & Teaching Esperanza

My daughter is reading Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan in her 6th grade ELA class and since it’s been on my list of books to read for a couple of YEARS I decided to read it with her.  It is a story that draws readers in almost immediately, and one that many can identify with and that many of us can learn from.  I found the audiobook version on YouTube (see below) and plan on playing it for my younger daughter.

You can find numerous teaching resources online (here’s one from Scholastic) and it would be perfect for lessons in character, perseverance, historical fiction, immigration, the Great Depression, or Mexican culture.  I love that my daughter’s ELA teacher has parents bring in various food items that serve as chapter titles so students can try different foods.  (A more elaborate activity could be to have students/parents bring in food items for a fiesta like the one detailed in the book.  Guest speakers from the community can also be invited to talk about their immigration experience or any personal connections they might have to this time in history.)

Other topics mentioned in the book that can be further discussed

  • Class divides: Why does Esperanza say that in Mexico there’s a river between her and Miguel?  Does the same divide exist in the US?
  • Immigration, migrant workers
  • Working conditions for migrant workers: Why do workers strike? What are pros and cons of striking?
  • Segregation
  • Dust storms
  • Discussion of various symbols in the book — the mountains and valleys in the blanket Esperanza is crocheting, the meaning behind her name, etc.
  • Other books about characters that had to persevere through difficult circumstances… For example, read Listening for Lions (Gloria Whelan) or The Higher Power of Lucky (Susan Patron) and discuss similarities and differences between the stories and characters.

The Graphic Novels My Reluctant/Struggling Reader Can’t Get Enough Of

About this time last year I made three discoveries:

  1. My younger daughter Charlotte (third grade at the time) was a reluctant/struggling reader.  She’d rather spend an hour on an iPad than read — unless she was asked to read on the iPad, in which case she’d happily hand over the iPad and feign a sudden need for fresh air and exercise outside.
  2. She did, however, love picture books, illustrated fiction, and graphic novels.
  3. Her love for those types of books often needed to be explained and defended, because, after all, “she was already a 3rd grader and should be reading ‘harder’ books.”*

(*I understand the concerns over the these books because in my pre-MLIS days, I was clueless about them too.  But really, picture books, illustrated fiction, and graphic novels not only make perfect sense for ELL, reluctant, and struggling readers, but can enrich the reading experience for the rest of us as well.)

Since I already have a good collection of picture books and illustrated fiction, I started focusing on buying/borrowing graphic novels for Charlotte.  This can be tricky at times because many GNs are above her maturity level, but we are always able to find stories that are age-appropriate.  When she finds one she likes, she tends to read them over and over.  At first I find myself asking her to switch to new books (mainly so Mommy can justify buying more), but then I remembered that as an ESL reader, I used to read the same books OVER and OVER, until the different sentence structures and speech patterns became familiar, until the comprehension and decoding got easier and easier.

So I let Charlotte read as many GNs as she wants, as often as she wants, until just this week, I made another accidental discovery.

We had just gotten Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm’s Sunny Side Up from a school book order, and she had done several “picture walks” (her older sister usually rolls her eyes at this phrase) and read the book cover to cover a couple of times.  As we were sitting in bed one night, she showed me the parts she really liked, and then asked me if she could read it to me.  As much as I liked GNs, I didn’t think it’d work very well being read aloud, but I played along.  A few pages later, I realized that she had become a very different reader than the one a year ago.  She read fluently/confidently, used voices and different intonations, and asked meaningful questions about what she read.  But mostly she just ENJOYED reading to me and the fact that she got to share a story that her bookworm mom hadn’t read yet.

Maybe some of these changes have to do with the fact that she’s one year older, but I know that GNs played a huge role too.  So here are some of her favorites that you can share with your students or children.

Sunny Side Up by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm

A thoughtful, semi-autobiographical story about it’s like for a child growing up around substance abuse and living with family secrets.

Charlotte and I talked about:

  • Substance abuse and addiction (alcohol, drugs, etc.)
  • What being “drunk” or “high” might look like, as depicted in the book
  • How a person’s words and actions might change because they are under the influence
  • Secrets — why some are not healthy to keep (e.g. Why did Sunny have a meltdown towards the end of the book?)
  • How there are things that could happen in a family that a kid might think it’s their fault, but it really isn’t

We also read the authors’ note together at the end of the book.

Drama by Raina Teigemeier

Callie challenges herself to create an eye-popping set for her middle-school theater production in spite of budget cutbacks, relationship troubles, and her waning confidence in her own designing and carpentry skills.  Will her efforts pay off, or will the play flop amid all the drama?

I debated for a while whether to let Charlotte read this book.  She loves Telgemeier’s other books (Smile and Sisters), but I wasn’t sure if she was ready to read about middle school crushes, kissing, dating — regardless if it’s between a boy and a girl or two boys…because as a parent, the thought of having to discuss ANY of it is kind of terrifying!  But in the end, I figured we were both big girls enough to handle any conversations that might come out of her reading this book, and not surprisingly, it’s now another one of her favorite books.

Charlotte and I talked about:

  • Crushes, kissing, dating, etc.  Honestly, the conversation wasn’t awkward at all.  As I learned from other parents — keep your answers brief, age-appropriate, and honest and you’ll do fine!
  • Same-sex relationships — I thought we’d have a more in-depth conversation about this but we didn’t.  The part where two boys kissed (during the play) brought forth the same reaction as when she sees a boy and girl kiss — that is, “Ewww, why would ANYONE want to kiss anyone else like that?!?”
  • How we are all made with different talents and capabilities.  Someone working backstage contributes just as much — just in different ways — as someone singing/acting onstage.

Sisters by Raina Teigemeier

Raina tells the story of what it’s like to grow up with a little sister.

Charlotte and I talked about:

  • How little sisters can be annoying at times (she doesn’t like this part)
  • How BIG sisters can be annoying at times (she has a lot to say here)
  • Why family relationships are hard but invaluable
  • The use of flashbacks in the book — what purposes do they serve?

El Deafo by Cece Bell

Cece Bells tells the story of growing up with hearing loss and the difficulty of navigating school and friends when you look a little different from everyone else.

Charlotte and I talked about:

  • What does it look like when someone has a hearing loss or another type of disability?
  • Why might someone with a disability feel less confident when they are in school or with friends?
  • What are some ways Cece deals with her difference?
  • What are some ways you are different than your friends?  How do you feel about these differences?  If your friends treat you differently because of these differences, what are some things you can do about it?
  • Superpowers — what are some superpowers you might like to have?  In addition to the ability to fly, disappear, run fast, etc., how about superpowers such as being kind, compassionate, helpful, a good listener, etc.

Other titles include:

Smile by Raina Teigemeier

Babysitters Club by Raina Teigemeier

Owly series by Andy Runton

Baby Mouse series by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm

Lunch Lady series by Jarrett J. Krosoczka