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Super Librarian!

Knowledge is the ultimate weapon.
Kim Butler is a Teacher Librarian at Birch Elementary is Boulder Valley School District. She is a recognized Highly Effective School Librarian in the state of Colorado. 
Every school librarian is a super librarian. The amount of things we have to know, keep track of, and share grows each day. This is a blog about being a school librarian in a 21st century world.

There are No Easy Books in this Library!

posted Nov 5, 2012, 9:19 AM by Kim Butler

I say this in my library all the time. Research has shown that a student reading successfully is far more likely to enjoy and continue reading than a student who is constantly challenging themselves to read more difficult texts. Because of this, I encourage all of my students to find books that are accessible to them, and I make sure I have a variety of books at every levels and interest type. The trick to kids reading well is for them to read often, and they will not read often if reading is at all a struggle. Richard Allington, a noted reading instruction expert, explains that successful reading means "reading experiences where students perform with a high level of reading accuracy, fluency, and comprehension. When a nine-year-old misses as few as two or three words in each one hundred running words of a text, the text may be too hard for effective practice." (The Six Ts of Effective Elementary Literacy Instruction By: Richard Allington)

With this in mind, I ask that my students work to find books that they can read fluently, with almost no difficult words, reading smoothly, and with expression. In order to motivate them I will randomly pick students and test them by having the student read a passage aloud from a book they’ve chosen to take home. If they read the passage fluently then I reward them with a trinket of some sort. This practice has been helpful not only to motivate students to regularly choose books they can easily read, but also allows me the opportunity to have a conversation with the student when they are struggling, and will give me an idea of what kind of book to direct them to the next time the student comes to check out books. Eventually the students become so used to picking appropriate books that they no longer need the extrinsic reward, because just finding a good book is reward enough.

Another common barrier I find in students choosing books is the stigma that is attached to books kids have decided are “too easy.” I make an effort to explain to the students that there is no such thing, and there are times even the most advanced reader chooses to read something less challenging for the sheer enjoyment of the book. I make sure that none of my book designations are called “Easy” or “Easy Reader,” I have Everyone books (books everyone can enjoy, aka picture books), and Early Reader Books, even Beginning Chapter books, but no easy books. This helps reduce the shame some students may feel in choosing books that are at their appropriate (independent) reading level.

However, sometimes the idea of a too easy book is so ingrained in the student that I have to take extra measures to make sure the student has ready access to books at their own level. One such tactic is to ask the student to read a book at a lower level than their peers (and at that student’s independent reading level) under the guise of needing advice about if the book is appropriate for some younger students. This tactic can allow the student to read a book at their own level without shame in front of their peers. I will try and make sure to place a post-it note explaining what I need on the cover of the book so the student can display to others that I am asking them to read the book as a favor, and not because the student needs to read an easier book. Then I ask the student to give me a summary and an idea if that book is something the student would recommend to younger students.

I also make a point of reading books at all levels aloud to students during their library time. This helps diffuse conflict students may feel about taking home books that are perhaps aimed at younger students, because I always read these stories with enthusiasm, I often require student participation, and I encourage the students to take related books home. 

In my library, I make an effort to provide an experience where students develop a love and appreciation of reading. By making sure the kids know there are no such things as easy books, they feel free to find books that are accessible and exciting to them. This is the only way we will be able to foster the kind of reading that will inspire and motivate reading growth within the students, and isn't that the point?

Delegation and Library Management (Volunteers)

posted Oct 3, 2012, 4:34 PM by Kim Butler   [ updated Oct 7, 2012, 3:03 PM ]

One thing I've discovered is that it is important to delegate things in the library. I know what you are thinking, I can't tell you how many people tell me "I can't delegate, I'd rather just do it myself and do it right the first time." This is a valid concern, but here's why I believe it's one you need to let go of: if you delegate to others, they will feel as though you trust them, and they will develop a concern and passion for the work they do. This can ultimately be hugely beneficial to you, as a good volunteer is an essential asset to any library.

This doesn't mean that people will not make mistakes, it also doesn't mean that people will always care or be as careful as you will be. What it does mean is that you are willing to share and give responsibility to others, and you want them to have an investment in what it is you do. I delegate to students and adults regularly, and it has been so successful that I have students who have moved on to middle school returning to help on a regular basis, as well as parents and grandparents who no longer have students going to the school. I am truly blessed! However, this success did not come without some effort. Here are a few things to keep in mind when fostering a great volunteer work space:

1. Gratitude - I thank my volunteers, and am always genuine about it. They don't have to be there, this is time they are donating to me. I try and value it! I will throw parties for my student helpers at each semester, and offer prizes to them for various things. I thank my adult helpers (and middle school students) with small gifts at each semester end as well. This can be something simple like little soaps or a bar of chocolate. I keep my eyes out throughout the year for inexpensive things I can give as gifts, and grab things on sale when I can. I also make a point to verbalize my thank yous each time I see them. 

2. Organization - This is the one that often trips people up the most. It can be hard to have volunteers because they take work. It's important to have tasks they can do, and to be able to explain the tasks to them in a way that will allow them to work on their own. I try and keep a few things in mind for this: I try and set things aside that I know kids can do without a lot of instruction (like stamping books or putting label covers on), I do the same for adults only with more advanced jobs, I also establish a work flow for jobs that need to be done regularly and constantly so that anyone can pick up where someone else left off, and I take time to train my volunteers right from the start. 

3. Flexibility - Volunteers are just that, volunteers! This means that you are not going to be the top priority for them, and you need to be ready to deal with that. There will be times when someone gets sick, or someone has a vacation, or someone simply cannot make it. They will not always let you know if they will be gone. You have to be ready to roll with it. I will try and make sure that I give my volunteers things that are not needed in a hurry, or I try and give them ongoing projects that anyone can pick up and drop at any point. If the job is one I need at a specific time, I just make the effort to fill in myself to cover those things and I never am angry or resentful to my help for missing. I try and remind myself that their time is a gift.

4. Accountability - Even though I know my helpers will have any number of days when they are unavailable, I try and make sure they understand how much I need them when they DO come. For adults, I let them know how helpful their contributions are, not only because it's true, but because it always I know that it is nice to feel needed and to know that your work is meaningful. The same goes with students, but they often need more of an extrinsic reward and motivator. I do this for my students by tracking when they spend their time and rewarding them for frequency of visits. I ask that they devote their own time (during lunch recess) at least once a week. I reward those who show up (and sign in) with prizes or opportunities, and I let them know ahead of time what my expectation is.

5. Time - It took me a few tries to get this one to a manageable place. I like to offer students and adults a range of times to come in and help. I find that it works best to let both choose the time they come, and it also works best to try and restrict the help time to when I am not teaching classes or in meetings. For students, I pick a few days in the week that they are allowed to come in, and it needs to be during their own time (a recess or something). I will often clear these things with teachers and my principal beforehand. For adults, I ask some of them come in during heavy traffic times (for checking books in and out), and others to come in when I am more available to give them special projects. I generally give them a wide selection of times to work with their schedules. There's always work to be done in the library, no matter what time!

It took me some effort to discover most of these things, and I know I will need to continually tweak my systems to improve or meet new challenges, but so far these ideas have helped me maintain a great resource that often times gets neglected in school libraries.

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