Search This Blog

Loading...

September 28, 2014

Why I'm Passionate About School Libraries

At a recent School Library Advocacy Council Meeting, a parent of a second grader asked me to list the reasons teacher librarians are so important. I showed her an info graphic from the American Association  of School Libraries and pointed her to countless advocacy articles and research studies such as this (and this and this and this). I pointed out that Oregon's Strong School Libraries Act (HB 2586) requires school districts to account for "Strong School Library Programs," and I blathered on about reading and writing achievement, educational equity and information literacy, the fundamental importance of nurturing a lifelong love of reading and how libraries are the cornerstone of a strong democracy. I might  have started singing the national anthem, given more time.

The other parent listened patiently and took copious notes, but she said she needed something more  tangible. Maybe a power point presentation, or an organized list of benefits she could photocopy and share with the parents and other leaders at her well-resourced, tech-focused school.

I told her I'm not very good at reciting facts and figures and academic research studies and that I don't have a power point summary to share with her, but that I know from personal experience that my two children (who had teacher librarians in their schools through 5th grade and 4th grade, respectively) received life-long gifts that her daughter will not receive until licensed librarians are restored to our public schools. I told her I know this in my gut, and I know this because I've seen first-hand the "before and after."

My daughter stopped receiving library services from a full-time, licensed Teacher Librarian/Media Specialist when she entered middle school five years ago. My son stopped receiving these services three years ago when he entered the fifth grade. I'm sincerely happy with my kids'  classroom teachers, I deeply admire the principals in both of my children's schools, and I'm particularly in awe of the technology teacher at our middle school. I'm also grateful for the stellar library assistant who currently staffs our K-8 school library. (To Note: Our library assistant also happens to be a parent at our school and a public librarian by training. We are especially lucky to have her skill set in our building, given the fact that her job classification does not require a college degree and the posted pay scale for her job title begins at only $1.00 more per hour than an entry level school custodian).

My own two kids will be okay. They live in a house full of books, their mom (me!) writes books for kids and teaches classes about early literacy, and they were lucky enough to receive a foundation of support from a licensed teacher librarian in their formative primary school years. But the children entering our beloved Beaverton schools this year, and the year after that and the year after that will be at a comparative disadvantage if our school district does not restore professional librarians to our schools. The research supports this claim and my personal experience aligns with this claim.

The parent across from me put down her pencil and asked, "But what are our kids missing out on?" This is what I told her:

You daughter is missing out on Newbery Club, and a professionally administered Oregon Battle of the Books program. She is missing out on deep literature studies and lunchtime book clubs (and in some cases the ability to enter the library during lunchtime and before/after school because the library assistants are often assigned to supervise the lunchroom and/or playground). She is missing out on school author visits that are tied to and embedded in school-wide curriculum and carefully procured book collections that are developed with your child's and her classmate's interests in mind. She is missing out on having her librarian intentionally place "just the right books" face out on the shelf before her class comes in for a visit, and she is missing out on her own personal librarian putting a book into her hand and saying, "You are going to love this book. I can't wait until you can read it."

The parent's eyes actually welled up a bit. She said these programs sounded like something her daughter would especially love. She said, "What is Newbery Club?" This is what I told her:

Newbery Club is a celebration of the most distinguished books published for children each year and an opportunity for students to read and discuss books based on the Newbery Medal criteria. Every club is a little different, but the general idea is that students learn about the Newbery Medal and Newbery Honor Books and award process and many students get to hold their own Mock Newbery award celebrations. Here are a few examples of club web pages:

Elementary School (Grades 4 and 5)
Elementary School (Grades 5 and 6)
Middle School
Middle School

My daughter's Newbery Club was nothing short of spectacular. First of all, it was an honor for students to participate in the club. There was not a limit on the number of children who could participate, but participants needed to commit to reading a designated number of books from Newbery Watch Lists and agree to meet during lunch times for several weeks leading up to the actual Newbery Award announcement.

I don't remember all of the (many!) books my daughter read during Newbery season each of those school years, but I distinctly remember the two titles she predicted to win: As a fourth grader, she fell in love with Diamond Willow by Helen Frost, and as a fifth grader she was enraptured with Grace Lin's Where the Mountain Meets the Moon (which won a Newbery Honor that year). Some years before my daughter was eligible to participate in the club, she was invited to attend a tea party with author Susan Patron, the author of the Newbery Award winning book, The Higher Power of Lucky. I tried to wrangle my way into the event, but it was just for kids. I recall my daughter feeling quite special.

The students in Newbery Club did not just read distinguished books. They discussed the books. They blogged about the books. They debated the merits of the book they planned to vote for vs. the books others planned to vote for. They used technology to exchange opinions with students from other schools. They compelled friends and family members to read and discuss the books they thought were the strongest Newbery contenders. And then they selected one book to feature in a science-fair type display board.

On Newbery Night, students gathered in the school library with parents, grandparents and interested others. They stood by their book boards and met their public. Adults milled about the room and asked students to talk about their book selection and why it should win. Students gave impassioned one-on-one talks to interested adults about the books they read and why they chose the title they did. And then they ate cookies.

A few days before the actual Newbery announcements were made, students held their own Mock Newbery vote. On the mornings of the actual Newbery announcements, I distinctly remember my daughter asking me to check and see who won. She was interested. She was engaged. She was hooked on reading. She was indignant that "Diamond Willow" did not even get an honor, she was not at all surprised that "Where the Mountain Meets the Moon" received a well-deserved honor (and she acknowledged that the award-winning book that year, "When You Reach Me," by Rebecca Stead was also a good choice).

Newbery Club enriched my daughter's education in countless tangible and intangible ways. She developed critical thinking skills. She practiced debate skills. She developed public-speaking skills. She gained a stronger sense of confidence and a stronger sense of self. She made art. She consumed art. She learned to identify the marks of a strong story. She learned to budget her time. She grew as a reader and she grew as a human being.

Today, my daughter earned her lifeguard certification. She has trained as a junior lifeguard for the past several summers. To qualify to participate in the full lifeguard certification class, she was required to complete many hours of pre-requistite reading, on-line exams and rigorous swim tests. She made the cut. Over the past two weekends she completed 32-hours of intensive lifeguard training and testing. She had a bit of anxiety last night and again this morning as she worried about the risks of trying and possibly failing. But she gathered her composure. She reviewed the manual and quizzed herself on acronyms and procedures as we drove to the pool. She endured one of my pep talks and she envisioned herself lifeguarding. She earned her certification today, and I am so very proud of her. But the foundation of reading and comprehension skills she needed to prepare and succeed for this major accomplishment started many years ago. In a school with a school library full of stimulating, thought-provoking literature and a professional teacher librarian that facilitated literacy-rich, multi-layered learning experiences. Newbery Club was just one of them.

I have more School Library Advocacy stories to tell and I would love to hear your stories as well. If you have a story to tell that relates to the theme of School Library Advocacy, I would love to feature it on the School Library Advocacy Council's upcoming Blog Tour. Leave a comment below or via private message in the contact form to the left, or Click Here for more details.

September 19, 2014

Top Tips and Tricks for Signing with Your Baby or Young Child: Tip #1

Image Source
Are you looking for the secret ingredients to help you successfully sign with your baby? In this new series of posts, I'll divulge my top baby signing tips and tricks. Although the primary audience for these posts are folks who are interested in signing with preverbal infants and toddlers, the tips and tricks can be useful for everyone who is signing with young children.

Top Tip #1: Use Signs Liberally, But Select One or Two Key Signs to Focus On at a Time:  

Frequently incorporate the signs you have personally mastered into songs, games, and routine communication with your child.  Focus more deliberately on high-use words such as 'more' and 'all done,' since there are many times throughout the day your child will want to communicate these concepts to you.  With the signs you select to focus on, gently show your baby how to make the sign with their own hands in addition to using the signs yourself. Once your baby learns these signs, select new focus signs. 

Want more details about using focus signs? Click here for a detailed post on the topic.

Want YOUR BABY's photo featured in this blog? Please contact me using the comments section below or the contact form to the left. 

Want more tips? Follow the blog. More tips coming soon! 

Happy Signing! 

September 5, 2014

How My Trip To Spain Will Influence My Creative Writing Life

My blog has been quiet the past couple of months. I spent the summer traveling with my family and soaking up life experiences. Now that the kids are back to school, I'm paging through my travel journal. Reflecting. Remembering. Re-living.

After a major trip, like our visit to Spain, our family does a "debrief" to record our most/least favorite parts of the journey as well as our learnings and ah-ha moments. These notes are invaluable in guiding future travel plans.

Some of these debrief notes are practical and logistical, such as, "Flying into one city and out of another worked well for us." Some of these notes are more philosophical, such as, "If it's hard to find lodging in a 'sleepy fishing village' (because our travel dates coincide with an annual festival), realize that even if we do eventually locate lodging, there will be other factors (such as crowds, 'high season pricing' and parking difficulties) that might influence our enjoyment of that particular town. A 'sleepy fishing village' is not very sleepy during a festival."  

As I reflect on my notes, I find myself considering how my travel learnings might apply to my creative writing life. Here are some of my musings:

Travel Note: Every new town feels unfamiliar at first. That unfamiliarity is jarring and destabilizing  each and every time we arrive someplace new. But in a matter of hours we will get our bearings, and once again feel comfortable.

Experiencing the unfamiliar is one of the primary reasons I love to travel, but for me, one of the hardest parts of traveling is experiencing the sensation of instability. When I'm out of sorts, I force myself to push through the discomfort and trust that the view from the other side will be satisfying. I want to find ways to similarly push my creative writing into new, less familiar landscapes.  Let go of my inhibitions. Trust the process. Try new things.

Travel Note: Every town has something to offer. It may not be what we expected or what we hoped for, and it may not be something we fully appreciate in the moment, but each experience is a gift.

This makes me think of the feedback I receive from my writing peers and mentors. It may be hard to hear in the moment. It may not be what I expected or hoped for. It may take time for me to sort through different perspectives and see the feedback as a gift. And, upon reflection, I still may not agree with some feedback. But the nudge to reflect is a gift. It is through this reflection that I become more grounded in my stories and more confident in my own creative instincts.

Travel Note: Pack only one CARRY-ON SIZED bag per person (EVEN if we plan to check one or more of our bags). On a related note, just because it fits doesn't mean you should bring it. Heavy bags are tiresome to schlep through subways, cobbled streets, and multiple flights of narrow apartment stairs.

This makes me think about the revision process. Have I packed my story into the right-sized bag? Am I carrying around extra story weight because I found a way to cram something in that I really don't need? Have I thought about why I originally tucked certain items into my story, and how these items serve this particular journey? Have I been courageous enough to unpack and remove that which is not necessary?

Travel Note: My husband and I value balconies, verandas and window seats with a view. If the kids are already tucked into bed for the evening, or if they aren't quite ready to seize the day in the morning, our quality of 'grown-up life' is significantly enhanced if hubby and I can "be outside," but still close to our "travel home."

I'm not a patient waiter. I get stir crazy when I feel stuck. I like to go, go, go. Now. My family moves at a different pace. Breathing the outside air calms me and helps me feel more alive. Looking beyond the four walls of a rented room invigorates me. The taste of mocha is better in the crisp morning sun, and a glass of wine fills me with warmth and possibility when I'm sipping outside.

Writing for publication is wrought with waiting. Waiting for agents. Waiting for editors. Waiting for the right words to spill onto the page. Waiting for the right ending to reveal itself . . . finally. So I open the windows. I walk. I dig in the garden. I look at the mountains. I breathe in the sun. I bring my ideas outside. And then I write. Warm, and full of possibility. Calm, and alive.  

August 5, 2014

Enrich Your Learning Environment with Sign Language: Post #10

Image Copyright 2014 Dawn Prochovnic
I've collected so many good memories over the past several weeks! This summer my family had the amazing experience of visiting Spain, and we once again hosted Pablo, (last summer's exchange student), in our home. My richest memories stem from interactions with the people we met during our travels. One of those experiences greatly reinforced my perspective that sign language can bridge communication gaps (especially when communicators speak two different languages).

One evening we gathered in Pablo's grandparent's home to meet his extended family: Grandparents, aunt, uncle, and cousins. Pablo's youngest cousin, Eva, a preschooler, does not yet speak English (and I speak very limited Spanish). Eva was extremely shy, and seemingly a bit overwhelmed by all of the commotion at "Abuela y Pepito's" house. Her older siblings were headed off to overnight camp early the next morning, and she was being left behind to stay at "Camp Abuela."

We brought gifts for the family, including a couple of my books for the younger children. Eva opened her gift, then eyed me with curiosity from the safety of her hiding spot behind her mother's leg. I attempted to make friends with her and found myself talking in a mixture of English, Spanish, and ASL, saying things like, "Would you like to be friends? Amigas? I could read you this book. Un libro."

She eventually mustered up the courage to come sit near me, and we escaped into the world of story, exploring SEE THE COLORS together. I read some and sang some. I taught her the signs for a few colors and the word "baby," to go along with the repeating phrase, "little one." I used the sign for "where" and encouraged her to search out objects within the illustrations as I spoke enthusiastically in imperfect Español ("¿Dónde está mariposa? ¡Sí, mariposa!"). Before long, she was pointing to objects in the illustrations, signing along with me, and appearing completely at ease. When it was time to go, we waved goodbye and signed "friends" to each other as we said, "adiós."

The next day, I was told that she asked about me at bedtime and again first thing when she woke up the next morning. That following evening, we had another family gathering, (this time at Pablo's mother's house). When Eva arrived, she immediately smiled and signed "friend" to me and gave me this beautiful friendship bracelet.

This experience illustrates one of the reasons I especially love teaching sign language vocabulary to children in bi-lingual/multi-lingual learning environments. Although I may not share a verbal language with a particular child, I can communicate and build rapport almost immediately through sign language.

In classroom settings where some students (and teachers) are more proficient at speaking English, and others are more proficient at speaking a different language, incorporating sign language provides an opportunity for everyone in the class to be on equal footing. Since ASL is typically a non-native language for the students in the classroom, everyone starts as a beginner, and different children can emerge as the "top learners." I find it particularly endearing when a child who speaks a non-dominant language finds his or her "classroom voice" through sign language. Suddenly this child can be the language leader, answering questions and teaching others the signs they have mastered.

One of the things I appreciate about picture books is that children (and adults) can "read the pictures," even if they cannot read the words. When I read SEE THE COLORS with Eva, I read the words and she read the pictures. Another grown up could just as easily read the same book to her even if they could not read the English words, because they could talk about the story that is told through the illustrations and play games like, "Where is the mariposa?" like I did. As an added bonus, the sign language glossary images that appear on each page spread in the Story Time books make it possible for anyone who is reading the books to "read the glossary pictures," and incorporate the corresponding signs. This is a great point to remember when you are encouraging non-English speaking parents to read to their children. No matter what language they can read and write in, they can read any book with pictures . . .

As the summer progresses, my family continues to practice Spanish, and I've become very self-aware about the process of learning a new language. I'm finding ways to learn and practice Spanish that echo the ways I help others learn and practice American Sign Language. I'm listening to Spanish language recordings, and I am reading (and re-reading) stacks of Spanish/English picture books (with good 'ole Google Translate close at hand to help me decipher new words/conjugations). Some words I know, some words I recognize but can't quite remember, and some words are completely new. Each time I re-read a book, there are more and more words I know and recognize (and fewer and fewer words I need to look up). The repetition builds familiarity.  This is the same basic principle I emphasize when I teach people how to sign with their preverbal babies.

As I attempt to speak in Spanish and struggle to find various words, I notice that my hands begin to sign the word(s) I'm trying to say. It's as if my brain offers up the related "non-English word(s)" (e.g. ASL) that I know while it attempts to retrieve the less-familar Spanish vocabulary. Building on this idea, I've discovered that signing in ASL while I read in Spanish seems to help me remember the Spanish words. And, given that singing has been such an effective way for me to learn and teach ASL, I'm now on the hunt for songs that will help me build my vocabulary in Spanish. If you have any recommendations, please let me know!

I'd also love to hear how ASL has benefited your bilingual/multilingual family or classroom. Do you have a story about how sign language has bridged a communication gap in your life? Share your experiences via the contact link at the left or in the comment section below. And, if you'd like more ideas for enriching your learning environment with sign language, you can find the full series of posts here.

July 9, 2014

Enrich Your Learning Environment with Sign Language: Post #9

Image Credit
My mother-in-law is one of the best parenting role models I know. She didn't take any fancy classes. She didn't read any how-to books. She didn't regularly network with other parents. In fact, she didn't even speak the same language as her husband when they got married (my father-in-law spoke Polish, and she spoke Russian when they met. . .  they figured out how to communicate). She is a natural at helping kids learn, making kids feel deeply loved, and figuring out how to get her own needs met along the way.

I love hearing her tell the story about the summer that the boys (my husband and his brother) moved the dirt in the back yard. She had a pile of dirt in the back yard, and when summer started, she told the boys it need to be moved to another corner of the yard. They filled buckets. They built roads. They dug holes. I suspect they threw a few dirt balls. When the pile of dirt was moved to the spot she had indicated (some weeks later), she told them it needed to be moved to yet another spot. They kept busy. She kept sane.

This is the same person who signed her kids up for swim lessons every morning all summer long. The kids got up and going and out of the house each and every day. They learned to swim. They made friends. They found things to do in and around the park where the lessons were scheduled. She survived summer.

Fast forward several years later, and this same person is a wonderful grandmother to my own two children. I learn so much from watching her interact with them. The way she listens without any distractions. The way she invites them to help her, (and they eagerly oblige). The way she knows the just-right gifts for each of them. The way she rubs their backs or brushes their hair and gets them to talk with her about anything and everything. The clever way she gets them to quiet down when their boisterous ways are too much for one household to endure . . .

She calls it The Quiet Game. When she announces that the game has begun, no more words or sounds can be made. You can point. You can gesture emphatically. You can mouth words. But you cannot make a sound. The first person to make a sound is disqualified. If you get disqualified too quickly (she is the judge), then the game starts over . . . and over . . . and over.

My family is noisy. There is no doubt in anyone's mind when we have arrived. We have very little that is quiet about us . . . except when we are trying to win The Quiet Game.

I've used this same technique in classes that are extra boisterous. Don't get me wrong. I'm all for encouraging the exuberance and energy that is childhood. But sometimes, my ears (and my psyche) need a break. The Quiet Game allows me to re-direct the energy into quietude (and allow myself a brief respite from noise).

The Quiet Game is easy to play. I like to use the sign for quiet to announce the start of the game. I also like to use sign language in place of spoken language while the game is underway. It's amazing how much kids can say with their hands when their voices are off. Give it a try. I'd love to hear your experiences.

If you want more tips for enriching your learning environment with sign language, you can find links to the full series of posts here.

June 25, 2014

Enrich Your Learning Environment With Sign Language: Post #8

Image Source
If your household is anything like mine, summertime can increase sibling conflicts. In a recent post, I discussed how sign language can make it more comfortable for kids to apologize. Today I'd like to share some ideas for how the sign, stop, can help children convey their frustration with one another without using physical force against one another.

When young children are in the midst of conflict, it's not unusual for those conflicts to become physical. Frustrated toddlers and preschoolers might push or hit to express their discontent. Parents can be heard saying, "Use your words. Use your words." When I think of this refrain from the prospective of a young child, (for whom a doll or truck or teddy bear is a large portion of their entire world, and for whom emotional maturity is still in the making), words alone may not cut it. There is ENERGY in those little bodies. Emotional energy that needs to come out somehow, someway. The sign for stop is one of the ways I've seen this emotional energy escape appropriately.

When you make the sign, stop, it looks similar to a laymen's impression of a karate chop. It is physical. It involves sound (try it out and listen). It involves force. It is visually noticeable. It feels satisfying to forcefully say, "Stop" and forcefully sign stop when someone is doing/saying/taking something to or from you that is not welcome. Using the sign for stop provides an opportunity for a child (or a grown up!) to use their words and express their physical energy.

I first heard about using the sign for stop in conflictual situations when I read about a pilot study at Ohio State University back in the late 1990's. Kimberlee Whaley said the initial idea came from watching the occasional conflicts in classrooms at Ohio State’s A. Sophie Rogers Infant-Toddler Laboratory School. According to Whaley, “When toddlers have a conflict, they often will push each other to communicate their displeasure. We wondered what would happen if we could give them another physical way to express their anger. Well, the sign for ‘stop’ is very physical -- one hand slamming into the other -- so we thought that might work.” The experiences at the school (and my own observations) indicate that the sign for stop is an excellent communication tool for children in conflictual situations. Similarly, this journal article summarizes a case study advocating for sign language as a general tool and outlet for students who can otherwise be disruptive.  

In addition to using the sign for stop in situations of conflict, I've used it to convey danger (in place of the over-used "No"), and I've used it in place of the word "Freeze," during dance and movement portions of my signing workshops. (NOTE: If you want ideas for a super fun dance and movement ideas, read this post written by a rockstar librarian).

I'd love to hear your experiences for using the sign for stop (or other signs) to help kids express their physical emotions in positive, acceptable ways.

If you want more tips for enriching your learning environment with sign language, you can find links to the full series of posts here. Next time I'll talk about the quiet game.

June 12, 2014

Enrich Your Learning Environment with Sign Language: Post #7

Click Here for Image Credit
When I meet someone who signs with their baby, and they find out that I write books and teach classes about signing with infants, toddlers and young children, it's not unusual that they want to have their baby "perform" their signs for me. The mom, dad or grandparent emphatically models some signs, and says something like, "Show Miss Dawn how you can sign cracker . . . or kitty . . . or please and thank you." Parents really love it when their babies can sign please and thank you.

As proud as these mamas and papas may be, in my experience, manner signs come later for babies than need/want-based signs such as more, ball, book. Yes, babies will sign please  but what they mean when they sign it is, "I WANT SOMETHING!" Thank you typically takes some time for babies to produce. Let's face it, when your baby wakes you up at two in the morning, they aren't waking you to thank you for the trouble you've gone through on their behalf. They've woken you up to alert you to their need for a diaper change, or some milk (or in the case of my daughter when she was an infant, an urgent craving for a banana).

That does not mean I would discourage you from including signs for manners in your communication with your baby and/or modeling them for your child. I would encourage you to sign these words regularly, but to do so in addition to signing a rich vocabulary of need/want, action/object words. When you say, "Please," sign please  When you say, "Thank you," sign thank you. When your baby is at the developmental stage of handing a toy to you (and then taking it back, over and over and over again), and you hear yourself saying, "Thank you" each time your baby hands you the toy, that's a GREAT time to also incorporate the sign for thank you  And yes, your baby will follow in your footsteps (or handsteps!) and begin signing those words (it's just not typical that they will sign those words as early as they will sign more concrete need/want words).

That said, manner signs are a fabulous addition to a home/classroom learning environment for older children (toddlers and preschoolers on up). When you say, "Please" and "Thank you" in your classroom, add the signs to your communication. When you notice a child has forgotten to use their manners for something, you can signal them with a signed reminder.

I also like using the signs for your turn and my turn when I'm working with a classroom of students. When kids' hands shoot up at a time when I'm not yet ready to take questions or comments from participants, I will say/sign, "It's my turn to talk. I'll let you know when it's your turn." Then, when I do open it up for questions and comments, I use the sign for your turn and say something like, "It's your/Katie's turn. What is your question?" to call on students.

Share is another great sign for older kids. I remember learning from the Signing Time videos that the sign for share looks like you are "dividing something up . . . some for you, and some for me." What I especially like about the sign is that it requires two hands. When my kids were younger, it wasn't unusual that they would argue over toys. When a conflict arose, they would each put a death grip on the object of interest and start pulling. IF I was having a particularly good parenting moment, I would say something like, "Use your signs. Tell your brother/sister you want to share " They had to put the toy down to produce the sign for share. Now, granted, my daughter, who is three years older than her brother, would sometimes put the toy down, QUICKLY sign "share," and then snatch the toy back up  again, but sometimes, signing would shift their attention from fighting over the toy (to arguing about who was better at signing!).

If you want to practice manner signs using music, one of my favorite songs is the Signing Time Magic Words song.

I'd love to hear some of your experiences incorporating signs for manners in your learning environment.   Send me a message using the form to the left, or leave a comment below.

If you want more tips for enriching your learning environment with sign language, you can find links to the full series of posts here.