Never Too Late for a Great Video

April 17th, 2014

I had one of those moments this week when I came across a fantastic resource for a lesson and student project– right after it had ended. Does that happen to you sometimes? In this case, the assignment was a social studies and library collaborative unit with my graduate students, and the resource was the video, “Connecting with Social Studies through Nonfiction” on the Reading Rockets website.

If Reading Rockets is new to you, the group is described on the organization’s website as “a national multimedia literacy initiative offering information and resources on how young kids learn to read, why so many struggle, and how caring adults can help.”

Despite the timing, I shared the video with my students anyway, because I really liked the small group discussions between the librarians and the students, pictured below in the screen capture. In the lesson, the librarians and teachers are working to help students study images from the book Immigrant Kids by Russell Freedman. I encouraged my school library candidates to notice the kinds of questions and prompts that the librarians asked the children, as well as the reflection among the teachers following the instruction.

Following the first lesson, the children told family stories as a way of finding personal connections. Together, the learning experiences offered a nice example of higher-level thinking, inquiry, and cultivating motivation and curiosity to learn and share knowledge. The video is part of the Libraries feature on the website, for which ALA is listed as a featured partner.

Another Reading Rockets source worth a look especially in the month of April, is the Reading Rockets poetry page. It’s rich and sure to draw you right in.

Have you used Reading Rockets with your teachers and students? What are some favorite resources?

National Poetry Month resources: (poetry walks, Janet Wong’s poetry suitcase, videos, poetry for ELL students, poetry for home and families, and more)

Reading Rockets Mission:

Video link, Connecting to Social Studies through Nonfiction:

–Rebecca Morris

Makerspaces and Spaces for Making

April 12th, 2014


I’ve had an eye and ear out for library makerspaces in recent months, as I’ve written about here (on homago spaces) and here (about a visit to makerspaces at Albemarle County Public Schools in VA). I know that I’m just joining what has been a rich and exciting ongoing conversation about makerspaces, but sometimes it takes an opportunity to open our eyes and attend to new things– especially when there are always so many new things that bubble up in our PLNs and around us.

But early or late, or maybe just in time, I’m very curious to learn about how librarians, community leaders, and teachers are introducing makerspaces to the children and learners with whom they work. My interest in makerspaces was piqued by the chance to participate in my school’s process of re-envisioning the “Teacher Resource Center,” a school library and faculty resource center. The process is in the design and development stage, and right now, we’re proposing ways for faculty, teacher candidates, and preK-12 students to use the spaces for learning.

Makerspaces for me have been one of those topics that I didn’t really notice, until I did– and then it was everywhere! (Does that happen to you, too?) This week, I came across three interestingly different articles on makerspaces. One reports on the recognition of the makerspace at Monticello High School (one of the schools that I visited in December during the Albemarle trip), by the Virginia School Boards Association.

The article describes the learning and collaborations that the makerspaces have inspired at the school over its transformation over the last several years. The emphasis on student learning (and not just the “stuff”) was a highlight of this piece.

Another makerspace article that intrigued me this week was the ALSC Blog post (shown at the top of this post) on building maker opportunities even without a “makerspace” in your library. This blog acknowledges the potential cost barriers of makerspaces and maker-based programs for public libraries, and offers examples of community and business-supported models for bringing makerspaces “to you.”

Finally, the April 2014 School Library Monthly article, “Explore, Plan, Create: Developing a Makerspace for Your School Community” by Ellen Range and Jessica Schmidt describes the Michigan Makers, a university/school partnership that brought makerspaces and afterschool programming to local middle schools. This article tracks the successes and learning experiences through key “S-words”: students, stamina, support, sherpas, space, storage, and last– stuff.

My understanding and curiosity about makerspaces continues to evolve, and how could it not, when so many projects make makerspaces work, in so many ways?

Hat tip to Kristin Fontichiaro (@activelearning) for tweeting the ALSC Blog post! Thank you.

–Rebecca Morris

Powerful Revisions

April 8th, 2014

In the April 2014 issue of School Library Monthly, Daniel Callison writes about attitudes, opportunities, and CCSS connections related to revision of student work, particularly within the stages of inquiry. With many ongoing processes of revision in my own head, from graduate students’ assignments to my own writing and personal correspondence, this topic resonated with me on lots of levels!

The column, “The Unknown Power of Deep Revision” (pages 19-21) acknowledges that the prospect of revising writing can feel like a punishment. Isn’t this true? Even with encouragement from librarians and teachers, it’s hard for students to shake the notion that there’s something punitive in revisiting writing.

As Callison writes,

“To suggest that a deep revision should take place is to raise flags of frustration for most teachers and school librarians who have guided the student through a complex maze in order to complete the student’s first attempts at an elaborate inquiry project.” (page 19)

It doesn’t seem that the suggestion to try again for better technique on a dance step or shooting a basketball would feel so much like a punishment, does it? In that context, guiding words from a coach and a chance to try again feel motivating and essential in order to perform better.

As I think about this comparison, I wonder if it’s the coaching scenario that makes “revision” in athletics feel less punitive, at least in most situations. (I’m sure that any athlete who has had to run laps, do push-ups, or put away or carry the team’s equipment for some misstep could argue that repetition isn’t always welcomed.) But when we’re talking about studying and improving technique, it’s the integration of coach’s feedback with a back-and-forth exchange of suggestions, clarifications, and understandings that make the steps and the shot improve. The dancer or basketball player would probably agree.

So is it that “conversation,” the interaction and suggestions with “coaches,” peers, and other audiences, rather than the red pen of doom, that we need to construct in order to set up more openly received processes of revisions? I try to build this kind of conversation with my graduate students when providing narrative feedback on projects, like lesson plans in the curriculum class. They share Google Drive-based drafts with me and I write comments for their consideration as formative assessment: specific and informative to them and also to me.  They integrate some, not all, of the ideas in their finished product, and this is great.

Part of the idea in this revision and in that of K-12 students is retaining the writer’s ownership over the piece. I do find that I sometimes need to assure my graduate students that they don’t HAVE to do something with every comment I write. Sometimes I just want them to think about something in a new way, which is what revision can afford writers at all levels and settings. There are other ways that I work with graduate students to initiate a revision (and model for them ideas for their work with K-12 students): peer review, personal reflection, revisiting a piece of writing after a learning experience. The emphasis remains that when we revise, the process should be useful, respectful and safe, and not necessarily a corrective measure.

Maybe we can layer this “safe” approach to communicating revision atop the opportunities that Daniel Callison lays out on page 20 of his SLM column:

- Changing audiences for the presentation of the inquiry project

- Changing the presentation mode or medium

- Abstracting studies to focus in

- Curating a portfolio across disciplines or years

- Assimilating complex texts developed by the student over time to track growth

What do you think? How do you approach revision in your teaching, or your own learning and writing?

Image:  WhitenerwithKCBS-byBrettPruitt by KCMedia on Flickr,, used with a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License.

–Rebecca Morris