Monday, December 3, 2012

Assessment of the school library program - considering annual reports

I have thought about how to put together an annual report for the past several years. It seems to me that an annual report for the school library program is an important step to evaluating and promoting the work that school librarians do to further the teaching and learning in a school. My district library supervisor requires all of the school librarians to submit monthly reports and she provides a standard format for us. I like the regular routine; even though I dread the time pulling this together each month, I think it is a helpful document. The question remains: what items to include in an annual report and how to present it.

I particularly liked Jennifer LaGarde's blog posts in Library Girl about preparing an annual report for her middle school library. Her annual reports are concise and focus on the essentials of her program. Her goals for her 2012 annual report were:
  1. "Emphasize information that's important to people OTHER than librarians.
  2. Make it fun, interesting and easy to understand.
  3. Focus on instruction/student impact.
  4. Consider my audience at every turn.
  5. Keep it positive. This has been a tough year for me. My clerk was cut. I have no dedicated budget. I've felt overwhelmed and defeated numerous times. I don't want to sugar coat those things or make it seem as though they haven't had an impact. However, if I refer to goal #4, I know this isn't the place for that conversation."
In her 2011 annual report, Jennifer kept bringing it back to "What's the bottom line." This focus helps her reflect on the meaning of the statistics she shares, what goals she has accomplished and how she wants to improve her program next year. She also made sure the visuals were engaging and easy to read, and kept each reflection short and sweet

Mgms annual report 2010 11 from Jennifer LaGarde

As I reflect on the contents of an annual report, it seems important to focus on more than circulation, collection and library usage statistics. We need to find a way to communicate the value of teaching and learning that goes on at the school. Joyce Valenza reflects on several annual reports in her blog post at The Neverending Search. She writes of Buffy Hamilton's annual report,
"But for me, the most powerful element is the inclusion of faculty quotes that describe the role of this dynamic library program in Creekview’s learning and teaching culture."
While I found Hamilton's report too lengthy, I absolutely agree with Valenza. This sort of testimony from teachers and students is essential. We need to find a way to include narrative of ways the librarian was involved in dynamic teaching. Otherwise, librarians will continue to be seen as book distributors. I like the idea of measuring student attitude toward reading or research, before and after a unit.

I particularly like the idea of organizing the report into the following areas, suggested by Loertscher and  Champlin, as described by Loertscher and Woolls (2002):

  • Information literacy
  • Impact on reading
  • Impact of technology

For each of these categories, Loertscher and Champlin recommend gathering data from rubrics that assess learning outcomes. While I agree that this is the goal we should work toward, I think great strides can be made simply organizing our regular reporting into these sections. The simplicity of these topics would focus our reporting on the key areas that emphasize our teaching and learning. I am afraid that no administrator will read a 12 page annual report. We need to keep our annual reports down to 2-3 pages that really focus on sharing key achievements and key data.

My favorite annual report is from the Durant Road Middle School Media Center in North Carolina. Here's a screenshot of the beginning of their 2009-2010 Annual Report. Notice the first section? "It's all about student learning." That remains the focus throughout. Again, I believe that administrators need this trimmed down (12 pages is just too long). Perhaps monthly reports can be used to highlight individual programs, and the annual report can summarize key achievements. But I really like the focus, the look and the feel throughout.

It's interesting to note that this library team chose to publish their 2011-12 annual report in their blog - I wonder if they have generated a loyal readership in their school community. They divided their report into three sections: library staff - professional development, reading culture and information literacy.

DRMS Library Media Program Annual Report. 2009-2010. Retrieved from

LaGarde, J. (June 19, 2012). A year in the making: My annual report. The Adventures of Library Girl (blog post). Retrieved from

Loertscher, D. and Woolls, B. (2002). Accountability and the school teacher librarian. School Libraries in Canada. 22(2)7-9.

Valenza, J. (June 20, 2011). My report and a couple of (far more) stellar examples. The Neverending Search (blog post). Retrieved from

Sunday, December 2, 2012

An elementary perspective on the Common Core

"I can't imagine what the graduate of 2025 is going to need to do after 13 years of formal education, but I do know that every one of those kindergarteners who come into our schools this year needs to know how to evaluate information, how to work with others, how to find answers, how to express their own beliefs, and how to develop their own wisdom. That is the core of the Common Core, as it has always been of education and learning." (Killeen, 2012)
I really like the way that Erlene Bishop Killeen focuses on the key aspects of teaching and learning in her column, Primary Voices, in the most recent edition of Teacher Librarian. Killeen asks us to think about how we can work with our elementary students to help them deepen their thinking, engage in research, and express their own ideas.

This fall, I have done many of the things Killeen suggested. Here is her checklist - let's see how my activities have matched up:

  1. Read the national document. Common Core State Standards Initiative,; Yes. Our staff began our year by investigating the CCSS at our fall retreat.
  2. Worked with a group of teachers on understanding what the standards mean, examining same test questions, text samples, and grade level competencies. No. Our staff is focusing mainly on the math standards this year. 
  3. Compared CCSS with current curriculum and projects that I am involved with, lead, or would like to be included in as a co-teacher. Informally. I am trying to do advanced work observing our existing (newly adopted) literacy program and noticing where it aligns. I believe that the literacy coaches will take the district lead with this, but I think the library can play an important leadership role.
  4. Reviewed the Library Media Center book collection related to some recommended lists of exemplar texts, fiction titles, and non-fiction topics. This is my next item to do. An important goal for the winter.
  5. Expanded my annual book order to include needed topics, titles, and texts. My book order will focus on nonfiction. I am in the process of analyzing the books I have been collecting on my wish list and seeing the areas of nonfiction that need expanding.
  6. Developed a section in our district website for links to CCSS! Yes!

Killeen, E. (2012). Ready to Learn?. Teacher Librarian, 39(6), 54. Retrieved from

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Advocating for the teacher librarian role

I really enjoyed reading Mark Ray's column in Teacher Librarian, "New Year's Resolution: Teach More. Librarian Less." Ray was named the 2012 Washington State Teacher of the Year. He writes of the importance of this achievement, namely that he is valued as a teacher above all else. I was very moved by Ray's statement,
"Before we proceed with the bigger fish In the advocacy pond, we need to get one thing straight, both within our profession and with the other 99%; Teacher librarians are teachers, regardless of what we call ourselves. If our states certify us as educators, then in both word and deed we must first be about student learning. It is not enough to include instruction in abstract library position statements. We need to visibly and effectively teach. We need to be judged and evaluated not as librarians but as teachers."
This is essential work, in my view, especially in California where so many school districts do not have teacher librarians at the elementary level. I bring to my school both a librarian's training and a teacher's training. And yet I need to continually change the perception about what I can and should do with students. I work daily to change this perception with the staff, but I do not often advocate for myself with the principal. Ray's article spurs me to think of ways to show the value I add as a teacher, above all else, to my principal.

So what can we do? Ray suggests two things: First of all, make our teaching role explicit. Use the visibility of the school library to show the excellent teaching that occurs there. Secondly, Ray recommends employing one or more effective instructional strategies in our work, such as learning targets, formative assessments, questioning strategies.

Moreover, we need to be an active part of the professional community in our school, talking about teaching and learning, sharing lessons and units that have gone well, celebrating effective strategies and positive experiences. Ray writes, "As a profession, we need to rise up and define ourselves as the teachers we are."

Ray, M. (2012). New Year's Resolution: Teach More. Librarian Less. Teacher Librarian, 39(3), 52.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Effective presentations

I've been working hard on developing a strong presentation for my Vision Project for a school library. My first step was thinking deeply about how I shape and share my vision. But the next step is about how I present those ideas. I want to make my presentation dynamic and impactful. I know I want to avoid a lengthy Power Point presentation, but what are some key points for an effective presentation?

Gwyneth Jones, aka The Daring Librarian, has a great presentation called "How to be a Presentation Ninja".  I'd like to share the slides here, so I can continue to come back to them.

How to be a Presentation Ninja from gwyneth jones

I also have taken a lot of inspiration from Joyce Valenza, both in terms of the content she shares and the way she puts together effective, clear slides. Here is a recent presentation she shared on SlideShare called "Five Forward."

Fiveforward from joycevalenza

Here's another presentation I love from Joyce Valenza, called New Rules.

Newrules from joycevalenza

Some of my takeaways from these presentations:

  • Use strong visuals. Capture people's attention with pictures.
  • Use Creative Commons images from Flickr and cite your sources.
  • Consider purchasing a dynamic image from iStock Photo.
  • Use words sparingly to focus attention.
  • Use dynamic, bold fonts.
  • Add clear, streamlined text to images.
  • Share your presentations. Spread the word beyond the initial audience.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Choosing an eBook Platform

We have just begun experimenting with eBooks in our district. It is truly overwhelming, figuring out which platform to try. But the initial response from students and teachers has been enthusiastic. So I was very interested to find Buffy Hamilton's slides from her presentation "Choosing an eBook Platform for your K-12 School Library".

I must say, I'm still flummoxed by all the choices. My biggest takeaway from this presentation is the list of questions that Buffy suggests schools ask before they head down this road.

  • Are you thinking of making ebooks available for pleasure reading, or for nonfiction content reading? 
  • Do you want students to be able to do research and take notes? 
  • Do they need to be able to save those notes after they finish reading?

It's also crucial to think about the value messages we are sending about the purchasing and access decisions we make.

Passion and vision

As I am working on my vision for school libraries, I wanted to share two videos about passion, teaching and learning. I read these on Joyce Valenza's blog, NeverEndingSearch, in her post "What Librarians Make".

Taylor Mali is a slam poet who first wrote this poem, "What Teachers Make", in response to a question posed at a dinner party.

Joyce Valenza was prompted to write "What Librarians Make" in response to a proposal by Dr. Mark Bernstein to make schools more efficient by eliminating teacher librarians. The implication is that school libraries are antiquated and unnecessary in the world of Google-provided information at our fingertips.

Across California, school libraries have been underfunded, understaffed and eliminated completely. Joyce's poem inspires me every time I am feeling stymied by the system. Her vision is dynamic, driving and uplifting.

Head over to her post to see her full vision in writing. You might also enjoy reading her Manifesto for 21st Century School Librarians

Monday, November 19, 2012

Thinking about reading and writing - shifts under the Common Core

I've been very interested in learning more about the Common Core and how it will affect teaching and learning. As I learn, I keep thinking about how school librarians can be effective teaching partners as educators try to shift their instructional strategies to meet these new standards.

Tonight I listened to a webinar presented by Robert Rosenfeld and Liz Jameyson called "An Introduction to Reading and Writing, Common Core Style!" presented through WestEd's Schools Moving Up program.

I found this slide very interesting, because it helps me summarize how I am trying to shift my teaching in day to day sharing of resources with teachers and children. For more of the slides and presentations, I highly recommend watching the whole webinar.

As an elementary school librarian, I am consciously bringing nonfiction reading to the forefront, sharing engaging nonfiction that students might be interested in reading for their pleasure reading. I feel we need to both teach specific strategies for reading nonfiction AND encourage pleasure reading of nonfiction for our elementary students. They need more experience reading a wide range of nonfiction before they are thrust into the "read to learn" environment of middle school history/science academic (textbook) reading.

I also strongly believe that elementary school librarians have a vital role in helping students discover reading materials that help them advance up this "staircase of complexity." We need to give students wide range to choose materials that are interesting to them, but we also need to help them discover materials that are just that little bit harder for themselves. It's a tricky balance - you want to encourage kids to read lots of books that are at their comfort level, but you also want to challenge them to grow and develop. Should a library be "leveled"? Absolutely not, in my opinion. But I do think we have a role in supporting our teachers and students in discovering books at different levels.

Finally, I have paid special attention to prompting text-based discussion during library time. As I read picture books, I point out ways children are noticing specific details in the text or illustrations to draw conclusions, make inferences and make connections. Kids love sharing about their own lives and this is important. But I think we need to give them practice in making specific text-based answers to prepare them for the more analytical reading and writing they will be asked to do in middle school.

Rosenfeld and Jameyson specifically focus on Shift 4 and Shift 5, focusing on this challenge to have students focus on using evidence to draw conclusions from their reading and develop their writing. They apply this technique to start diving into the details of the standards.

Rosenfeld, R. and Jameyson, L. (2012). PDF of presentation, "An Introduction to Reading and Writing, Common Core Style!" Retrieved from