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

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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.