This Space is Your Space?

When I think of an era that promoted possibilities, I think of handmade items and Woody Guthrie’s American folk anthem, This Land is Your Land. While the song was written as Guthrie’s response to the failed inclusiveness of the American dream, many of us still see the opportunity right in front of us.

Educators still dream and believe all children need access to resources for learning. That dream can become a reality through creating a MakerSpace in your library. Let that legendary folk song serve as inspiration for creating that space and providing more access to resources. The real estate in our libraries is a land of possibilities where the building of a true learning community can take place. New literacies and untold benefits are waiting to be discovered in your library. What can you expect when you open your space to making and tell your students, “This space is my space, this space is your space?”

MakerSpaces have the capacity to become a magnet that pulls kids into a deeper learning that is authentic and user-driven. They seem to lie somewhere between a playground and a toy store as they have items kids want to use, try, examine and evaluate on their own terms. While some things are tremendously popular, others are of a more solitary nature. Like the playground, kids often create new games and rules when the existing ones grow old. The toy store, on the other hand, puts out new items as well as the tried and true, hoping to find the next big success. Kids of all ages still like to make things with their hands and will continue to do so even without a space. Do your students make and wear bracelets?

Not only do MakerSpaces give students the opportunity to discover, they also can give our print collections the authority they deserve. We often refer to school as a learning laboratory, but do we really give students room to flush out the ideas they read about? A library MakerSpace has the benefit of engaging students with print in ways beneficial to all. The deep reading required to apply a set of instructions to a project is a technical skill that will last a lifetime. Teachers searching for an authentic project within their curriculum can match it with a text or set of ideas. Other opportunities to pair items — such electronics kits with a science biography or art books with supplies — are just a few ideas to bring students and their world a little closer.

I see a MakerSpace as “… an endless skyway”—it can become as large or small as your library requires. From a shoebox and a plastic bag to a tabletop and a workbench, MakerSpaces come in all sizes and shapes. Project kits can be stored on shelves in plastic boxes or bags and checked out just like other three-dimensional objects, or just given to the students as take home kits. Remember those bracelets? At the other end of the spectrum are tables full of objects that can be spread out as needed or on a more permanent basis. Some schools keep areas set up as self-service student spaces where common supply items such as poster board and markers are provided. Others have added die cut machines and scrapbooking supplies as these areas have grown in popularity.

Spaces that invite children to explore and imagine a world beyond themselves is part of the creative potential MakerSpaces seek to explore. One sure-fire way to discover creativity is to give kids cameras. Do you only have one iPad®? Why not set up a stop-motion video station with an app like DoInk™ or iMotion™ ? Students can explain their thinking and illustrate concepts, or break down complex tasks into their parts using this type of tool. Perhaps they can even make videos that provide instruction to their peers for everyday tasks, such as how to look up and use a resource. Students can flip instruction for everyone and become invested in the results when they are enabled.

Working together on a public solution or investigation is a synergistic model that illustrates the power of community in solving their own issues. Creating a community of inquiry helps eliminate a lot of other issues that distract from the learning process. When those issues do arise, the community is better prepared to plunge into them with a positive outcome in mind. Learners of all ages will begin to be problem solvers rather than those that are “done to” by some outside force. The idea that everyone is a learner and can learn from one another is a powerful notion. A growing community of experts holds great potential for all its members.

Kids, parents and teachers expect our best efforts, but they also look to us for leadership and direction. Creating a space in your library or school where students can explore and connect their learning will offer many benefits. But perhaps the most important one is about giving them broader access to a world of possibilities. After all, this space was made for you and me.

This blog was originally featured at


Fire in the Library

1024px-The_Burning_of_the_Library_at_Alexandria_in_391_ADI saw more than one library that was on fire this week. One was totally ablaze and the others were somewhere between smoldering. I have no doubt that kids were involved in setting the fires, or at least keeping them going. But the adults! They are the ones we should hold responsible. Some would deem them arsonists, but I prefer to call them what they- fired-up librarians.

Do people not know it’s nearing the end of the school year? They are supposed to be on auto-pilot and in the stack lining up for a final approach. What in the name of Melville Dewey are school librarians doing innovating and exciting kids this close to the end of school? Have they not had enough opportunity to initiate change, let along rearrange their spaces. Boy, some people are never satisfied.

I hope you are part of this group. Stay thirsty, my friend.

Space: The Final Frontier




In my The Final Frontierbest Captain Kirk voice I utter those famous words, “Space, the final frontier.” But do you remember what follows? “Where no man has gone before.” The same may hold true for school libraries these days.

Space is the final frontier for most school libraries whether they have explored it or not. All school libraries have space. It’s what one does in and with that space that matters. Library space is often seen as confining and limiting rather than a vast expanse to be explored. Many times one needs to break free of gravity and explore the space they have at their disposal.


One does not have to be a graduate of the Starfleet Academy to begin the exploration.  The only thing required for this mission is the willingness to undertake it. The first step is the most arduous part of the journey in any galaxy.


Can you answer these three basic questions about your space?


  1.      What does the space say about me as a professional?
  2.      Who else has an interest in the space?
  3.      How does the space engage the community?

NEXT UP – Lost in Space: What Your Space Says About You


Is Your Library a Bully? Part 2: How Skills Instruction Can Kill Almost Anything

By Eddie~S (Bully Free Zone Uploaded by Doktory) [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

By Eddie~S (Bully Free Zone Uploaded by Doktory) [CC-BY-2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

Skills are a very necessary part of life. Just ask any reading teacher or band director. Both the reading teacher and band director connect those skills to other events; the performance. So what does this have to do with library skills? Library skills are often taught in isolation from any application beyond their own end.  We teach students how to use the card catalog (electronic or digital), how to decipher Dewey, how to note this and cite that. Historically, we have taught those skills prior to, not along with, their immediate application. And I believe that is poor practice. Is it bullying? It is when we put our perceived curriculum above that of the classroom.

I believe this type of skills instruction is poor practice because we often use it to justify our existence and professional practice. That also makes it bullying because we shove our way ahead of the curriculum, not cozy up beside it. It’s often been the only other thing students do when they come to the library to select a book.  I believe that skills instruction must be purposeful by being immersed in the curriculum that is being taught RIGHT NOW in the classroom. Yes, I realize that we all have state standards that prescribe competencies for our activity. That is precisely the point. Skills taught in isolation are taught for the sake of the skill and some motivating factor for the teacher, not the student.

I love Pinterest, and I glean scores of ideas for both home and school from it. But I often see and hear teachers and librarians say, “I saw this cool thing on Pinterest and I can’t wait to do it with my kids!” Enter the bully. Just because it is cool or innovative, or something else doesn’t make it appropriate. Yes, kids may learn from it, but is it about them or us. Is it the best thing to forge connections to the activity of the classroom? The same notion applies with the latest apps or Web tools. Timing, planning, and a solid connection to the current curriculum activities of the students make it bully free. This is one bully we can choose to eliminate.

Is Your Library a Reading Bully? Part 1


By Eddie~S (Bully Free Zone Uploaded by Doktory) [CC-BY-2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

Wikipedia says bullying is the use of force, threat, or coercion to abuse, intimidate, or aggressively impose domination over others. I like that definition for a couple of reasons: One, it adequately describes the negative practices established by some school library programs. Two, it describes the positive practices employed by some school libraries. In both instances the behavior is the same. The only difference is that the outcomes are aligned with different core beliefs. Either way, students and teachers are negatively impacted.

I’ve identified a few key behaviors that I believe are indicative of the Library Bully. These behaviors are often manifested in the two areas most considered to be pillars of our profession: Access and skills instruction.

Do you restrict access to certain materials or certain age ranges? If so, then we might be forcing children to select something they would rather not read. And how one does that matters, too. Is it done verbally and part of the spiel when the kids enter, or are lines taped on the floor or shelves? Or do you verbally discourage and dissuade students from checking out that tome that you know is too difficult. There are alternatives. We often suggest, with great force, that students also check out this title or that one. I’ve even gone as far as locating the book and putting it in the child’s hands on top of that large volume. And so it goes. Even our best intentions can have a bullying effect on our students.

Administrative procedures meant to teach responsibility and protect scarce resources are often times the bully. Does your library assess fines for overdue material and limit checkouts when those go unpaid? How about when materials are missing? These practices do more to limit access than they do to protect resources. What’s worse, a child with a book somewhere under his bed or a child with no print in their life? The world has changed. Families are mobile and often move districts without notice—in the middle of the night. Our admonition to circulate books is not unlike a parent’s admonition to love their children. We can do better.

How about the hours we are open? Teacher and parent checkouts? Accelerated Reader? Fountas & Pinnell or other leveling systems? These are but a few of our common practices that can be used to determine what our patrons are “allowed” to read. Libraries have often been places where readers can wonder and explore and it is up to all of us to continue to advocate for that basic freedom to continue.

How bullyproof is your program in terms of student access? What other potential hazards have you identified?

Next up: Part 2 – Library Bullying & Skills Instruction

How to Attend a Conference Like a Dead Head

Attend Like a Dead Head

From Dead Head to Ed Head

Attend a Conference Like a Dead Head

I made a bold Tweet during #NCTIES14 about being inspired to blog about the faithful followers (Dead Heads) of the famed band, The Grateful Dead, and how educators that attend conferences should imitate their behavior. No, it’s not about how to party or anything like that. It’s about ramping up one’s participation to a level of fanaticism.

Recognize Your Tribe- Know you are part of a larger, connected community. A lot of folks call this a tribe. It’s about hanging out and listening to people that are passionately connected to one another by what they care about.

No Free Rides- Be willing to earn your keep before, during, and afterwards. What will you do in order to get yourself to the next event? Will you sell tie dyed t-shirts or burritos? Probably not, but you might share a room, ride, or other expenses in order to make it happen. You might also volunteer to man an information station or setup or cleanup for a chance to be closer to the action

Promote Open Source- It is an event where ideas are freely shared and can be modified to fit your particular context. Take something and make something out of it. Sharing is caring.

Control the Content – because of your participation and reflection, you control the content of future shows (conferences). Not only does your participation influence the content of next year’s event, it demands that the presenters keep pushing the envelope to catch lightning one more time.

Feel the X-Factor – it’s about something higher than you, It’s that vibe that happens when thousands of your closest friends are feeling it, too.  Perhaps this is best illustrated by a keynote that resonates with an audience. Have you ever heard an @adambellow keynote?

To be sure, more than the music consumed those known as Dead Heads. It was also about the journey and being an active participant in shaping the future. For those lucky enough to be part of the band, it was about giving it all away and then creating it all again. For everyone, it was about being lost in the moment, yet tethered to those around you by an intricate network of support. Will you be a Dead Head, or maybe an Ed Head at your next conference?

Keep on teachin’.

Review- The Mystery of Darwin’s Frog

Crump, Martha L, Steve Jenkins, and Edel Rodriguez. The Mystery of Darwin’s Frog. Honesdale, Penn: Boyds Mills Press, 2013. Print.


Frog fans unite! Marty Crump has created a wonderful experience for readers and viewers of his book, The Mystery of Darwin’s Frog.  The book is everything I want to see in non-fiction: it offers credibility in its authorship, accessibility in its use of language, engagement in terms of its visual content, and authenticity in the nature of its subject.

I am not a fan of frogs, lizards, and other such creatures. Ok, I like Kermit… and Frog & Toad …but that’s it. I say that so you will know my perspective in advance. But this book is almost enough to convince me otherwise. Despite my personal problems, one would do well to consider this book for inclusion in any library that serves children and most elementary classrooms. Why include it? It is rare to find an author and editorial team that can weave narrative, scientific principles, interesting subject matter and real life experiences into one compact edition.

Lavishly illustrated with pictures and drawings to enhance the experience, the reader will also find a wonderfully assembled glossary that explains some of those intentionally seeded words that were included to challenge the reader. There’s also a list of useful websites, some other recommended books, and even a complete bibliography. Teachers will want to use these areas to differentiate instruction and stimulate further inquiry. Teachers of younger children will want to make sure they have this book in their “frog” collection. This is a book that can grow with the reader.

This book could easily morph into a very interactive app. A clever programmer guided by the book’s creative team could turn this into a fun and educational adventure.

Kids need more books like this.

Review- Revolutionary Friends

Castrovilla, Selene, and Drazen Kozjan. Revolutionary Friends: General George Washington and the Marquis De Lafayette. Honesdale, Pa: Calkins Creek, 2013. Print.

Non-fiction written for an elementary audience is now more popular than ever thanks to the Common Core. Good non-fiction is hard to find, and excellent works are scarce. This one teeters on the edge between the two.

Wonderfully illustrated, this highlights the grandeur and experience of Washington versus the youth and inexperience of the Marquis De Lafayette. The use of muted colors serves the battle scenes well and generally supports and adds to the textual emphasis.

The use of primary source material is also included in a parchment looking caption area on many pages. The idea works well and helps to challenge readers at the same time to tackle this more difficult offering in a more digestible bite.

One of the difficulties inherent in a small amount of space is the development of, and eventual resolution of the narrative. This decision making process becomes even more complicated when working with historical figures that are not yet known to their audience. The initial pictures painted with text and brush can have a tremendous influence on future encounters. It is for that reason that I have struggled with the portrayal of the Marquis De Lafayette, and even France. In the effort to portray his youth, inexperience, and devotion to the cause of liberty, the creators have chosen their path. It is neither right or wrong, it is merely their choice. You will have to decide for yourself, but think about it.

Another choice made by the creative team is the acknowledgment that the story continued beyond that of the illustrative content. They chose to provide a continuation of the text in what functions as both afterword and addendum. The inclusion of this matter makes a point that we should remember and bring to our young readers: just because a book has a lot of pictures does not make it inappropriate for older readers. The book has the shape and feel of a classic picture book, but the text is not what one might expect. It is plentiful on the page and the careful introduction of French words and phrases makes it sing. The ending section extends both the historical and textual complexity of the work with those word-filled pages. Opportunities for differentiation exist because of these additions and teachers will want to make this book available in their classrooms. School and public libraries will want to acquire it for the same reason, but realize that this book may not sell itself; it deserves a talk of the most animated variety. In short, I liked it.

Dogggone Feet!

Helakoski, Leslie. Doggone Feet!Honesdale, Pa: Boyds Mills Press, 2013. Print.

Doggone it, this book is a fresh look at feet. Yeah, I know, feet are not my cup of tea either, but imagine a dog whose world-view is defined by feet. Combine that imagery with colorful illustrations, some playful rhyming language in narrative form and you have a potentially great book that presents families from an interesting perspective.

The book will find a comfortable home in the hands of early readers and classrooms, but it might also become a favorite for read-aloud sessions that kick off larger units of study. There are limitless classroom investigative applications for the down-low viewpoint introduced by Helakoski. Older students could make their own collection of pictures around the school or home and re-tell the story or adapt it to a certain series of events like a day at school.


Books that spark creativity in children and adults are special because they tend to move us beyond the pages and bend some of those pre-conceived notions we have of our world. They implore us to think creatively for solutions to problems and enlarge our field of view. But they do it in a sneaky way. It is up to the parent and teacher to seize these teachable moments and make them visible for those who might not recognize them at first glance. That is called teaching them how to think.


Add this to the bottom shelf of your collection, or the top, but add it with confidence.

Working with Struggling Readers

I just finished a most interesting read in the April issue of  The Reading Teacher. The article, What Really Matters When Working With Struggling Readers, offers some strong recommendations. The author, Richard L. Allington suggests that it is not a lack of money that keeps us from teaching all our children to read. And that’s a good thing. But, if we could save resources and improve our instruction? Now, he’s talking my language, I’m a conjunction guy.

Here is his list of four options that we can eliminate  from our instructional practice:

Eliminate Workbooks

Eliminate Test Prep

Eliminate Paraprofessionals from Instructional Roles

Eliminate Expenditures for Computer Based Reading Programs

I am impressed, but I fear for his safety. These are bold recommendations that boldly go where few have gone before. In one fell swoop he has alienated an industry and a lot of well intended educators. Good for him. We need the reminder he provides that “struggling readers exist largely because of us.” Do we dare implement  a program that implements research-based interventions instead of continuing to push the easy button with our struggling readers?

Pick one, pick two, or pick them all, just do the right thing.