"When You Read a Book as a Child"

"When you read a book as a child, it becomes a part of your identity in a way that no other reading in your whole life does."​   This is one of my all time favorite movie quotes, said by Kathleen Kelly (Meg Ryan) in You've Got Mail.

The importance of reading was ingrained in me at a very early age.  Growing up, my stay-at-home mother did not drive, so my sister, my mom and I would walk to the local library once a week.  We would fill our backpacks with as many books as we could carry and walk the mile home.

I LOVED to read as a kid and I loved our public librarians.  My school librarian, on the other hand, well...I became a school librarian to break the stereotype.  I wanted to share my excitement for reading with students in a way I did not experience at school.

The Kathleen Kelly quote became my mantra.  I wrote it on the cover of my lesson planner each year to remind me of the lifelong impact I was making by introducing children to a wide variety of books.  Independent pleasure reading obviously improves  reading and writing skills and positively impacts students rate of learning, even in math! Beyond the academic, independent pleasure reading builds character by fostering imagination and creativity, improving the capacity for empathy and increasing vocabulary for emotions, helping students better communicate their own feelings.

I read Donalyn Miller's The Book Whisperer which further ignited my passion for students' independent pleasure reading.  INDEPENDENT PLEASURE READING. The kind of reading that is not assigned by a teacher.  The kind of reading that does not require a post-assessment.  The kind of reading that allows a reader to skip pages or abandon a book. The kind of reading that allows readers to re-read a book as many times as they want.  The kind of reading that allows reading above and below a dictated "reading level."  The kind of reading that allows a book to be enjoyed just for the pictures!

I have been thinking a lot about the Kathleen Kelly quote and about Donalyn Miller as it is the season for the "best of" book lists.   

I love the "best of" book lists and I pour through them as a reader, as a mother, and as a librarian.  I cannot read a "best of" list without thinking of specific current or former students. I find true joy in being a "book whisperer."  It is important to me to get to know students as individuals with personal interests and hobbies to help me make those connections.  I love when a student enthusiastically returns a book, can't wait to tell me about it and then asks for more.

Last month I returned to the elementary school where I worked for 19 years for a meeting. It was bittersweet when a group of 6th grade boys chased me down the hall and before even saying "hello" asked "what do you have for me to read?"

After my meeting, I went to the school library.  It was still during the school day and the library was unstaffed.  I left a stack of books on a desk in the library for those boys and let their classroom teacher know.  I loved that the boys were so hungry for something to read that they chased me down but it broke my heart that the library program in my district has been destroyed by last year's budget cuts and that now students no longer have access to a certified school librarian on a regular basis.

My usual excitement for the "best of" lists is dampened this year.  I am worried about my former student readers. The current elementary librarian now services 3 school buildings and only directly works with students in grades 4-6.  I worry that the K-3 students are not receiving the independent reading support and encouragement to create foundation for the love of pleasure reading.   

I am blessed that my current students were my former students and I am able to build upon the relationships I had with them when they were younger.  They already know me and trust my judgement when they ask me for a recommendation.  They also know it is okay to disagree with me.  It never hurts my feelings if they hate a book that I love.  They know I appreciate their honesty

Some may argue that parents can just take their children to the public library.  I hear you.  I do.  I am a full-time working mother and I love books and libraries.  Instilling a love of reading is a top priority for me as a mom.  But life is busy and I am lucky if I get in two visits a month with my son.  This was another reason I wanted to be a school librarian, I knew as a school librarian I would be able to make an impact children whose parents could not or chose not to take their sons and daughters to the public library.  I also wanted the opportunity to build a reading relationship with students over several years, helping them grow as readers and as people.

"When you read a book as a child, it becomes a part of your identity in a way that no other reading in your whole life does."   

If there are no school librarians, who is guiding our children to discover books that will become part of their identity?  School librarians are essential to instilling a love for independent pleasure reading in children, ultimately creating not just better readers but better people.

"Is your school staffed by a full-time certified school librarian who is uniquely trained in helping students, teachers, and other school and community leaders develop the knowledge, abilities, and attitudes that are crucial to their success in the 21st century?" For more information to help advocate for certified school librarians in your schools, check out the American Library Association Parent Advocacy ToolKit.

For more information about the importance of independent reading, please read Independent Reading and School Achievement. The manuscript a part of a national study, Assessment of the Role of School and Public Libraries in Support of Educational Reform, Westat, Inc., 1998–2000.

Videos to begin Screen Time Discussion with Students

These are three of my favorite videos to begin conversations with students about the use of and the addictive nature of technology.   I shared all three last year with 6th graders and simply asked for their thought and feedback. We had a great discussion as they shared their own experiences and concerns.   

Who? What? When? Where? Why? How? Evaluating News Sites - updated January 14, 2017

Available as a pdf and a jpg
This was made poster size 42cm x 59.4cm in Canva. 
Please contact me directly if you have difficulty downloading.


Available as a pdf and a jpg
This was made poster size 42cm x 59.4cm in Canva. 
Please contact me directly if you have difficulty downloading.

Mission: TRUTH

While creating my News Literacy LibGuide and lessons I stumbled up this quote from John F. Kennedy: "The goal of education is the advancement of knowledge and the dissemination of truth." Knowing not to take a quote off the Internet at face value, I researched the origins of the quote. 

What I found was a 60 year old speech that Senator John F. Kennedy gave at Harvard University. "I can think of nothing more reassuring for us all than to come again to this institution whose whole purpose is dedicated to the advancement of knowledge and the dissemination of truth." 

While I recommend you read the entire speech that then Senator Kennedy gave on June 14, 1956, this portion stood out to me, especially the parts I have bolded. 

"I belong to a profession where the emphasis is somewhat different. Our political parties, our politicians are interested, of necessity, in winning popular support - a majority; and only indirectly truth is the object of our controversy. From this polemic of contending factions, the general public is expected to make a discriminating judgment. As the problems have become more complex, as our role as a chief defender of Western civilization has become enlarged, the responsibility of the electorate as a court of last resort has become almost too great. The people desperately seek objectivity and a university such as this fulfills that function.

And the political profession needs to have its temperature lowered in the cooling waters of the scholastic pool. We need both the technical judgment and the disinterested viewpoint of the scholar, to prevent us from becoming imprisoned by our own slogans.

Therefore, it is regrettable that the gap between the intellectual and the politician seems to be growing. Instead of synthesis, clash and discord now characterize the relations between the two groups much of the time. Authors, scholars, and intellectuals can praise every aspect of American society but the political. My desk is flooded with books, articles, and pamphlets criticizing Congress. But, rarely if ever, have I seen any intellectual bestow praise on either the political profession or any political body for its accomplishments, its ability, or its integrity - much less for its intelligence. To many universities and scholars we reap nothing but censure, investigators and perpetrators of what has been called the swinish cult of anti-intellectualism."

Kennedy's speech is relevant more than a half century later. We are having the same conversations about the integrity and quality of information, about objectively and skeptically reading sources that claim to be factual, and about the importance of scholarly research skills to confirm authenticity.

The 2016 election brought the epidemic of fake news to the forefront. While there has always a perversion of the truth in politics and news, never has it seemed more dangerous than in the times we are currently living. It is hard to disseminate what is fact or fake. Before the Internet, it was clear what magazines at the check-out counter were sensationalized. The Internet has blurred that line with very professional and believable websites. Today people seem apathetic to misinformation, and those people include our leaders. People see something on the Internet they want to believe and they read it at face value and then turn around and share it on social media, where it takes on a life of its own.

I began working on lessons for students and creating a News Literacy LibGuide, collecting resources for students and teachers to use.  KT Lowe, the Coordinator of Library Instruction and Service Learning at Indiana University East allowed me to use and build upon her Fake News LibGuide. I worked with Casey LaPlante, the Library Media Specialist at Granby Memorial High School in Connecticut to enhance what Ms. Lowe had created, providing resources for high school students.   Laura Gardner, teacher-librarian at Dartmouth (MA) Middle School shared the presentation she is currently working on, allowing me to post on our News Literacy LibGuide.  The links are below. 

I don't think there is anything left to be said about the ugliness and pervasiveness of disinformation and misinformation in our society. I, like many other librarians, have made it my mission to ensure students are equipped with the research skills needed read critically and skeptically and how to validate authenticity.  Nothing should be taken at face value. Sources should always be verified.  I want the teachers to have all the resources they need to help facilitate this learning as well.  

I want to the librarian who is remembered for being dedicated to the advancement of knowledge and the dissemination of truth.  


The following presentation is also available as a Pear Deck for a more interactive lesson.  
While it is still a work in progress I am willing to share it in the Pear Deck format if you contact me. 

Research 101 & Google Suite Skills: Choose & Develop Topic

Earlier this month I expressed a concern about the need for research skills. Since then, I began formulating how I would go about teaching middle school students.

Research is defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary as: 

"studious inquiry or examination; especially :  critical and exhaustive investigation or experimentation having for its aim the discovery of new facts and their correct interpretation, the revision of accepted conclusions, theories, or laws in the light of newly discovered facts, or the practical applications of such new or revised conclusions, theories, or laws"

Like the importance of the word "librarian",  the word research should be used.  Digital, information and news literacy are a part of research. Those titles are created by educators who have experienced the Internet's information explosion.  For our students, digital is their world, ease of access and information overload is all they have ever known.   Let's teach them how to research, plain and simple in this complicated world of information!

Students would be encouraged to explore their personal passions and choose individualized projects in this course. Google Suite skills are part of this unit because students lose focus on research when trying to figure out how to correctly use apps.  

Preparing for research, knowing how to ask questions and knowing how to use digital tools are an important part of research, this is how I would teach students how to choose and develop a topic using Google Suite tools:

UNIT ONE: Intro/Choose & Develop Research Topic

Students will understand what Information Literacy means and why it is important: how to ask open questions, how to use technology, digital tools and the Internet to perform inquiry-based research.  Students will pick their own topic to research and work on for the semester/year. 

Lesson 1: Students will have a clear understanding of key Vocabulary Terms
Internet, Web Browser, Search Engine, Parse, Search Term, Keyword, Primary Sources, Secondary Sources, Web Address, URL, Apps, Extensions, 

Lesson 2: Students will think about topics that that they are passionate about, questions they have wondered about, and subjects they are excited to learn about.   Students will create this list in Google Docs.  

  •  WAFFLES (rainbow and black/white)
    • teach what it is and how it can be personalized to increase productivity
  •  DOCS
    • rename your untitled document "your name Research Ideas"
    • change font, color & size of one item in list
    • bullet or number the list
    • center one item
    • right justify one item
    • left justify one item
    • highlight in any color the topics on list you are MOST excited about
    • strike-through the ones you are LEAST excited about
    • add page numbers
    • add a header or footer
    • rename your document "Your Name Research Ideas"
    • create 2 columns - definitely interested in research, kind of interested
    • insert a picture of yourself
    • spell check your Doc
    • make a copy of the Doc and retitle it "Your Name Shared Ideas"
    • share your Doc with teacher and with your class partner
    • find your Doc in your drive
    • find your partner's Doc in your drive
    • create a folder for this project title "Research Project Name"
    • open the untitled items in your Drive
    • delete what is blank
    • rename what you are keeping
    • create folders for the work in your Drive "7 Science" (Grade level Subject)
    • color code your folders
    • explain at end of year all grade 7 work you are keeping should go in to a folder titled "7th Grade" to prepare for 8th grade work
    • delete what you do not need
    • review Gmail main screen
    • create labels for your classes
    • open settings and review all of the options
    • create a signature
    • upload an image
    • select stars
    • change font
    • review compose email feature
    • compose a formal email that you would send to teacher, employer, etc
  •  Open your partner's Shared Idea Doc and use checklist above to proof - DO NOT FIX FOR THEM.  Type comments to note what needs to be fixed. 
  • Compose a formal email to your partner & cc your teacher when you are complete with proofing their idea list
Lesson 3:  Students will turn three of their topic ideas into questions and learn how to do preliminary research. 
  • Students will begin using online reference sources starting with the Britannica Encyclopedia.  Students will understand how to use Britannica, 
    • how to choose keywords (using Google to help find keyword only)
    • how to search for articles and related articles & media
    • how to email and cite articles
    • how to find already vetted information on the Internet through Britannica
    • how to use FIND shortcut to scan for information
  • Students will review how to use the Discover library catalog to search for print and digital sources related to their topics
    • Students will learn to use the Discover extension, app, and mobile app
  • Students will pre-research a few of their topics and read related articles.
  • Students will understand open-ended questions and how research creates more questions
  • Students will choose one topic and in a Google Doc type a list of questions they seek to answer through their research
Collaboration: Students will be meet with teacher in small groups to fine tune or adjust their topic based on this pre-research steps
ASSESSMENT:  Students will create a Google Doc with organized list of open-ended questions and sub-questions they plan to research for their chosen topic (and that they will knowingly add to as research progresses).  Student will name the Doc, file it in the Research folder in their Drive, and share it with the teacher.   Teacher will use this for assessment. Teacher will also monitor students progress and understanding through observation and conversations with students. 

Christmas Reading Traditions

Updated 11/1/17
Here is the list of books I use with my family. 

The holiday rush is here.  I am guilty of getting caught up with the to-do list and forgetting that my biggest responsibility is to create meaningful memories for my son.

When he was born 5 years ago, I decided that I wanted to start a reading tradition that I hope will last...well, forever.  I purchased over 25 Christmas picture books.  Yes, it was a little costly but I bought some in paperback and secondhand to keep the cost down. Plus this was his only Christmas gift (he was a newborn so he did not mind).  I knew (hoped) my initial investment would pay off for years to come.  

Starting December 1st, each night we unwrap a book to read together.  Now that he is five we try to guess which one it will be and we each have our own favorites that we can't wait to get to.  In January they go back in the attic until next year. 

Wrapping the books is the first thing I do to prepare for the season.  It gives me my focus for the season.  I enjoy my couple hours alone, getting the books out and reminiscing about the previous Christmases as I wrap them.  I think about how maybe my son will pass this tradition along to his own children someday and maybe use these exact books.   

Some years I add books and "weed" but never throw away.  The books he outgrows, which this year were the board books, go to a memory box I hope to give my grandchildren.  

We read together every night, but I like making reading together a little different and fun during the holiday so my son does not get too caught up with the "I wants" from his own Christmas list.   

I treasure this time each night with my son and husband as it reminds us all of what is truly important.   

I would love to hear about your favorite Christmas titles or reading traditions!


Yes, the title of this post is in caps because I want to yell it.  

I love that libraries keep evolving, I love that my job is constantly changing and requires that I am always learning.   But please let's stop renaming the library space!  

Instead let's redefine LIBRARY to represent the modern digital learning environment it has become.  Perhaps, create a mission statement that reflects a constantly evolving learning space that includes a certified professional to facilitate those changes.  

Why am I so passionate about this?  Because I am a school LIBRARIAN. My Connecticut Educator certification is 062: School LIBRARY Media Specialist.  My Master's Degree is in LIBRARY & Information Science.   

Yes libraries are a  "learning commons", comfortable places where the school community comes work and collaborate.   But more importantly, it is where the SCHOOL LIBRARIAN is found.   

My fear is that if the word library is taken out of the name, decision makers will also take the librarian out of the room and that would be (and in some schools already is) detrimental to the educational experience of students.

I can assure you today's school librarian is not shelf reading or sitting at their desk reading the latest best seller.  

Your school librarian is working with a students teaching research skills, how to avoid plagiarism,  digital-note taking, or the newest citation methods.   Your school librarian is emphasizing how to evaluate web sites found through search engines, how to be skeptical and check the validity of what is posted on social media.  Your school librarian is teaching students how to use and access quality and relevant information found on databases.  Your school librarian is planning and co-teaching with colleagues.   

Your school librarian is researching new databases and resources to support current and new curriculum.  Your school librarians are attending webinars and conferences to learn how to integrated new technologies.  Your school librarian is troubleshooting computer and technical problems. Your school librarian is reading reviews to purchase materials that support individual learning and interests.  Your school librarian is encouraging students to read for pleasure and is always ready to recommend a good book!

I am a school librarian and I do not need or want a new title to encompass all that I do. Ok yes, officially I am SCHOOL LIBRARY MEDIA SPECIALIST but besides being a mouthful why can't the "media specialist" be assumed as part of the LIBRARIAN role?  

I want term SCHOOL LIBRARIAN to have value and to be defined by our role as:* 
  • An Instructional Partner
  • An Information Specialist
  • A Teacher
  • A Problem Solver
  • A Program Administrator
  • A Curriculum Specialist
  • A Classroom Supporter
  • A Learning Facilitator
  • A Copyright guru
  • A Google Educator (in some schools)
  • A Learner

If your school does not have a full-time school librarian, I challenge you to ask the decision makers in your district who is doing the work of a school librarian, who is making sure our students are information literate in the digital world. And please use the words LIBRARY and SCHOOL LIBRARIAN (or SCHOOL LIBRARY MEDIA SPECIALIST).

*edited list from Jen Thomas

School Libraries with Certified School Librarians MATTER!

Someone recently said to me "Well once the students all have their own Chromebooks, they won't need to come to the library."   I took a deep breath and I explained that one-to-one Chromebooks will cause even more of a demand for research and information literacy skills and a certified school librarian to teach them.

It seems our world today is quick to turn to Google and social media for information without question.   

The library has always been a place to do and to learn HOW to perform research. The "old" school library was a room filled with books, a few magazines, newspapers, and perhaps some slideshows and VHS tapes. Students found information in print sources alone.  Library lessons focused on teaching students to use reference books to access information and how to read for information.  It is frightening that people still perceive libraries this way.

Today's school library is a hub of learning, a physical and virtual space.  

Yes we still have print materials. Yes we still believe in reading books.  Yes we are a quiet place to work.

Today's school library offers so much more.  We provide access to appropriate digital resources and databases that have been evaluated and selected by a certified school librarian.  We guide students to develop meaningful questions in their inquiry-based learning. We answer information and technology integration questions.  We are champions for digital and information literacy.   We co-teach with classroom teachers.  We provide space for and encourage both collaboration and personalized learning experiences.

Which leads me back to the past year.  As expected, many Americans turn to the media and Internet for information about the candidates.   Facebook, Twitter and Google are used by many to learn about current events and issues.  The campaigns knew this and used social media to further their own agendas.  News channels and newspapers provided slanted stories.  

Social media and news media are part of our society and they are not going away.  Our world continues to experience and information explosion but not all information is good.  In fact, misinformation and disinformation is abundant.  

Many people don't care.  They just look for the information they want to believe whether it is from a reliable source or not.   It makes me think about how our educational system has conditioned some students to only look for the answers that we need to succeed on "the test".

Thankfully, educational leaders such as George Couros are shaking up learning and encouraging educators to embrace the process of inquiry-based learning, motivating students by allowing them to follow their own interests in curiosities.  This cannot be done effectively without research and critical thinking skills. 

Students love to "Google" the answers to everything.  They choose the first result and voila they think they are done.   And isn't that what students will do with their own personal Chromebook?  Just Google what they think they need to know. 

Students will need even more direction with their personal devices.  Doing research is no longer coming to the library of old and having a limited number of sources to work with. 

Information on the Internet is limitless.  Students need instruction and guidance.

My role as the school librarian is to build and maintain reliable print and digital resources. My role is to be a learning facilitator.  My role is to teach students to think critically, evaluate sources and to solve problems.  My role is to make sure students are information literate.  

I expect students to be in the library just as much, if not more, when they are one-to-one. The key to this will be  to communicate with classroom and subject area teachers, learning their curriculum and offering to collaborate and co-teach.

I want my students to be citizens who don't take what they see and hear on the Internet or media at face value.  I want them to intelligently question and challenge misinformation and disinformation.  I want to give them the tools to make this country a better place for their own children someday.  I want them to know how to find reliable information.  I want them to be information literate in this digital age.   

ESSA: Yes to School Libraries!!

I recently attended the Connecticut Association of School Librarians
forum "Connecting ESSA to School Libraries."   

In 2017, Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) replaces the No Child Left Behind Act with language that includes effective school library programs.

Leslie Preddy, the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) Immediate Past President 2016-2017 facilitated the presentation. The materials
 include a handbook and  a PowerPoint (see below) that feature links to videos from Emily Sheketoff, the Executive Director of Washington Office of American Library Association, who has worked to make school libraries a part of ESSA. 

The AASL has been working with Ms. Sheketoff  and the American Library Association (ALA) Washington Office, the ALA Office of Library Advocacy the ALA Washington Office, the ALA Office of Library Advocacy, and educational organizations "to highlight opportunities within ESSA language for school librarians and school libraries to be addressed in state and local plans."

Slide 28 of the presentation below highlights ESSA Key Messages related to school librarians

  • School librarians and access to effective school library programs, impact student achievement, digital literacy skills, and school climate/culture.
  • School librarians share their learning with other professionals when they attend conferences and workshops, applying the benefits of new techniques, strategies, and technologies to the entire district.
  • School librarians are uniquely suited to lead the effort in applying for competitive grants because of their expertise and access to strong professional learning networks.
  • School librarians increase access to personalized, rigorous learning experiences supported by technology, allowing equitable resources for all students.  

The message at the forum was clear (see the video link from slide 30): 
  • Get out there and advocate for school libraries!
  • Develop and practice an Elevator Speech that:
    • provides data & stories
    • connects ESSA language to AASL's school library position statements and key points to your school library program
    • focus on key words and phrases (from slide 29)
    Specialized instructional support staff
    Digital literacy skills
    Academic achievement
    Personalized, rigorous learning experiences
    Adequate access to school libraries
    Use technology effectively
    Effective integration of technology
    Improve instruction and student achievement
    • be a part of the conversations that instructional leaders, school administrators, boards of education, and policy makers are having..

    I left the session very excited and hopeful that ESSA will begin moving my district in a forward direction again by providing students and staff with access to full-time certified school librarians in every building.   I am in the process of doing my homework, going through the handbook closely, researching all the links and gathering as much knowledge as possible as I prepare my elevator speech and find ways to advocate for our students.

    I encourage fellow educators and librarians to do the same!  

    Check out AASL's ESSA and School Libraries web site for more. 

"The Internet is like a river..."

Jason Smith, a Google trainer from New Jersey recently came to our school.  As he was talking about the amazing-ness of the Internet, he offered pearl of wisdom which has become my new mantra.  

In my new position as the library media specialist at the high school and middle schools, I am constantly trying to learn more, to keep up with what is new, find out what's happening at other schools, as well as stay informed of local, national and world news.  

I follow blogs on Feedly, check social media posts in my professional learning networks, read book reviews and play with Google apps and recently discovered web sites. I Tweet, Instagram, and Facebook.   I check and recheck my emails.  Heaven forbid, I not answer one the minute it comes in.  

As an overachiever, I never put off until tomorrow what can be done today.  I am constantly on a device, usually my phone. 

Some might argue I am "addicted to my phone." (Those people include my father and my husband).   I would argue that I have become addicted to information and the immediacy of it.   I get home from school and am checking my phone as my son asks to play Legos. When I wake in the middle of the night and cannot go back to sleep,  I know I shouldn't but I check my phone.

Jason stated that  "The Internet is like a river, you can get in and out as you please.  Good information is constantly flowing because of reposts and shares." This one sentence has truly changed how often I pick up my phone, especially when I am at home.

The Internet is truly amazing but so is the life around us.   Balance is essential.

Thank you Jason for making this over-achiever realize that it is okay to put the phone down,
I am not going to miss anything.

Keyboard Shortcuts

 It is important that we are teaching students best practices.  Keyboard shortcuts make work so much more efficient and productive.  I created posters on Canva to highlight a shortcut of the week on social media and to hang in the libraries and computer labs.  We also made them in to table toppers with $.99 frames from Ikea.  

My Feedly

There are plenty of ways to keep up with news and your favorite blogs.  

Feedly is my preferred aggregator.  I can organize it my feed and it automatically provides me with an organized list of the blogs, RSS feeds and news posts from when when I last checked in. 

A nice feature is once marked "Done", the next time only new posts will appear in the updated feed.  Once a day, I check in to Feedly on my phone, iPad or computer, and browse the latest content. Feedly allows me to easily save articles and to share on social media. 

If you are just getting started with Feedly or another aggregator, here are some suggestions. I am constantly adding to this list but this is what is in my Feedly right now.

Catlin Tucker: Blended Learning & Technology in the Classroom
Class Tech Integrate
EdTech Roundup
EdTech Teacher
Educational Technology and Mobile Learning
Edutopia (RSS) 
Free Technology for Teachers
Practical Ed Tech
Principal of Change
Shake Up Learning
Teachers.Tech (YouTube tutorial videos)
Techlearning (RSS)

The Keyword The Official Google Blog
G Suite Update Alerts
Google Education
Teacher Tech (Alice Keeler!!)

The Daring Librarian
Endless Possibilities
Expect the Miraculous
Knowledge Quest
A Media Specialists Guide to the Internet
The Modern Librarian
Nerdy Book Club
OverDrive Blogs
Teen Librarian Toolbox

Uploads from TED

Questioning Grades: Mastery vs Effort

"What should a grade represent?" This simple question led to many questions such as...
  • Should a grade represent only mastery of content and skills?
  • Should effort be graded?
  • If effort is graded should it be a separate grade or part of the entire grade?
  • What does effort look like?  Is it homework? Participation in class? Observations by the teacher? 
  • Does the student who does little work but easily masters content and skills be "penalized" because of their lack of work? 
  • Should those students who easily master content and skills be asked to do more extensive projects thus setting the bar higher to get the same grade as other students?  
For teachers in math and science, grading should probably be based on solely on mastery of content and skill.  Arts teachers might be more likely to consider grading effort in a variety of ways from growth, daily observations and rubrics.

At first I thought grading effort was a good idea but then I thought why?

WHY would we grade effort? 
 What is the purpose?  

For Parents? Colleges?
Are we trying to simply acknowledge the work ethic in a student?  Is a grade the best way? I am not a college admissions expert but I would think a letter of recommendation from a teacher about a student's character and work ethic would be more insightful than a number or letter grade for effort.  If it is to appease parents, would a phone call or conference be more meaningful?

Is grading effort meant to motivate students?  Let's face it, students who are motivated by a grade are already working hard. 

Is a grade the best way to motivate reluctant students?  Or are students better motivated by building a relationships with students and giving personal feedback.  Maybe it is allowing students to select topics they are personally interested in to demonstrate the skills and content that are to be mastered.

Full disclosure, I am writing this post as a teacher who has worked almost two decades, teaching an average of 30 classes and more than 500 students a week.  And I have never given a grade.  I have graded student work on occasion but library/research/digital literacy is not a separate grade on the report card.

So how did I keep students interested and motivated?  Well, obviously younger grades are easier to motivate - for the most part, they want to "keep their dear teacher happy."   The older grades (4, 5 & 6) are where it was sometimes tricky.  

What worked for me was building a relationship based on respect with the students. Students were clear on my expectations from the very beginning.  I also made sure the students knew that I genuinely cared about them and that I wanted them to succeed.  

My lessons were constantly changing with the students.  I would talk to students about their interests and rework lessons to incorporate those interests in to the skills I was teaching.  I also provided choice whenever I could.    

When teaching research skills, students chose a topic of interest to them, I guided them but did not dictate how the research was to be done and let them choose how they were to present their new knowledge.  I found that allowing students to think SOME of a lesson was their idea gave them a sense of ownership and, in turn, motivated them.  When students were invested in a project they were genuinely interested in, they seemed to go above and beyond, even though they knew I wasn't going to give them an official grade.  

I asked students to self-evaluate the product, their process and how I presented the project. They liked that I was asking them for genuine feedback as to how I could improve a project or lesson for future students. 

Students know I cared most about them learning the process of research and I did provide each student with personal feedback.  I am not saying what I did was perfect but it worked for my students.   I also know that this would not work for certain content areas or even certain students or grade levels.   

What I do know was that, for me, talking to students personally, emailing their parents with words or encouragement, praise of genuine concern went a long way... and motivated students better than any grade would.   

Badges Are Not An Alternative to Library Media Specialist Certification!

I love to learn!!  As a school librarian there is ALWAYS something new. Professional opportunities abound on the Internet with online classe...