Teaching Effective Research Strategies en Français

For my French colleagues, this is an excellent PowerPoint presentation that has been uploaded to Fileshare.  It breaks the research process and can be aligned with the Inquiry Process that has been developed here in Québec.






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Print vs. eBooks

The following infographic comes from the website, the Daily Infographic.  If you want to check out her sources, click on print vs. eBooks which is a link to her website and you can see the original infographic and make the text larger by zooming in through the view drop-down menu on whatever web browser that you’re using.  The author did write on the site, “Please share.”  I’m doing just that even though I don’t see the need for a debate.  At this point in time, each serves a need.  Do we talk about eradicating the hammer just because the screwdriver exists?  Each serves a purpose.  Print is nowhere near the extinction level of the eight-track tape of the seventies.

My paranoid side worries about the effect of having screens glow in my face for most of my day and I fear what that could do to the young who are growing up with this now.  On the other hand, I certainly can envision a future where print will be quaint and wonderful and rare.  Yet, the loss is nearly tragic.  On the bottom of my closet sit boxes of letters between my mother and father during World War II and the Korean War.  We delete emails every day.  What will be the artifacts of every day correspondence of the future?

Just a thought as we transition through the Information Revolution…

Libraries are Forever: E-Books & Print Books Can Coexist

Reprinted from the Daily Infographic.  She said we could feel free to share.

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February 4, 2013 · 3:12 pm

Novel Writing and Story Telling: Keeping Your Eye on the Prize

Winner-180x180Well, I did it!  I wrote a 50,511 word novel in 29 days.  What I now need a National Editing Month as I have 50,511 words that need to be cleaned up, BUT it’s a story with a beginning, a a middle, and an end.  Having a goal at the end of the month kept me going, and it’s the same with the work that I’m doing as a school board librarian.

I travel around my school board’s region and go into elementary schools, reading books to children and getting them to act the book out as well as conducting classes on how to avoid plagiarism and how to determine if a website can be trusted.  The more that I do this the more I’m convinced that telling an interesting story and asking children to participate in the unfolding of the story is what keeps them engaged.  Just getting up and reading to kids becomes the Ellen Goldfinch Talent Show and though I love the attention, that’s not my goal.

In the end, I would like Cycle 2 and 3 students to understand that academic honesty is another form of honesty and stealing someone’s ideas is wrong.  I hope to encourage them to use critical thinking when they go on the Internet, and finally, my storytelling and story-theatre activities have the goal of reinforcing a positive attitude towards books and reading. If students conquer that reading mountain when they’re young, their later academic life is sure to be easier.

If you were wondering what was the point of me coming into classes (other than everybody having a good time), there it is in a nutshell.

Wonderful things are happening in the Eastern Townships School Board to make reading a pleasure for elementary school students.  Knowlton Academy participates in the Village Reads program where senior citizens come into the school and read with children.  Sunnyside Elementary is implementing a lunch time reading program where a volunteer reads to different children during lunch.  These are only a few examples, but all the schools know how important these programs can be to getting children to love books…and it doesn’t matter whether the books are printed or digital.  Reading is the key.

To support these programs, you need excellent books.  I’ve been using Oliver Jeffers book Stuck in my story theatre sessions and it works like a charm…but this came my way from the wonderful people at the MELS Action Plan on Reading.  This book was not a Scholastic book and though Scholastic seems like a godsend with affordable books and some affordable prizewinning books, part of my job is to encourage principals and teachers to look further afield.  Scholastic books are not the only bibliographic fish in the sea.

There are wonderful web sites that help me select great books such as School Library Journal and Kirkus Reviews  The Canadian Children’s Book Centre also has an excellent magazine and site that can suggest homegrown books.  49th shelf.com is another source of hunting down Canadian children’s books on specific subjects. Please keep your eye out for the books that stimulate the imagination; these books go further than levelled readers in getting children to want to sit down with a book and read.

In the end, laughter, student participation and creating a pleasant atmosphere around reading will go a long way, even with reluctant readers.  Because if a whale can get stuck in a tree, anything can happen…and that’s what kids like.

Suggested websites:

49thshelf.com: http://49thshelf.com/

Canadian Children’s Book Centre: http://www.bookcentre.ca/

Kirkus Reviews: http://www.kirkusreviews.com/

School Library Journal: http://www.slj.com/

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Using Story Theatre for Literacy and for Fun

Reading and acting out Stoned Soup

Once upon a time, I was supposed to get standing ovations on the Broadway stage.  That was my childhood ambition and I’ve gotten more laughs from my friends who stayed in the performing arts when they found out that I became a librarian.  Well, I may not be on Entertainment Tonight, and I may not be raking in a StevenSpielberg salary, but I get instant gratification, by making kids whoop and laugh at a funny book and then, by getting them out of their chairs and acting out stories.

When we use our imaginations, we become somewhat like super heroes; we can make wonderful things happen.  I have had the privilege of reading Oliver Jeffers new book, Stuck, to about seven classes so far.  Where time has permitted, I then had them get up and act out the story.  There are only a few human characters…but then, there’s a tree, a cat, a duck, an orangutan, a kitchen sink, a whale…you get the picture.  The kids were asked to become them.

What made this even more fun was getting the students to make the sounds of their characters, and then making those sounds in the order in which the characters got stuck.  One very imaginative boy with a possible future in stand-up comedy insisted on being the kite that was stuck in the tree who made comments about how ridiculous the whole situation was.  He had the teacher and me in stitches.

I have to write up these experiences for my library newsletter and I’m probably jumping the gun by putting this into the blog, but I can’t emphasize how important this kind of literacy and performance art activity is.  When you have children growing up in an Internet culture, what happens to stories?  What happens to books whether they’re printed or digital? Can we make readers out of this technology driven world?  First of all, when you’re online, you are reading, pure and simple.  Maybe reading responses to your Facebook page is not what educators would call reading, but…we are reading after all.  I think that this may be a motivation for kids to read.

Now when we show kids that reading is pleasurable, we are creating positive associations.  By drawing on the imagination to act out stories without props or costumes, we are asking kids to do creative problem solving.  The fact is that creativity is becoming a skill that is more and more in demand.  Not all education is easy or fun.  I’m not even convinced that it should be, but this is!  Acting out a well written story is fun, and if a child is not inclined to do this, then watching other children do it can be fun too.  Taking the time to do this with a class is definitely not wasted time.

Literacy skills are intrinsically linked with academic success, so if we want to get children to be readers, there has to be a fun component to it.  Giving students access to books that they will like is key, getting them to model expressive reading by being hammy ourselves is also essential.  It’s a good idea to pick books that have some repetition and not too much text on the page for the first few forays into Story Theatre.

So even though I’m not on the Great White Way, I bring a little bit of it with me to every school that I go to, and I am continually surprised by the imaginative ways that elementary school students find to make stories come alive.

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National Novel Writing Contest-Fighting the It’s-All-Been-Done Syndrome

I suppose there must be thousands of librarians with a book in a drawer.  Librarians are naturals as would-be authors, but there’s a real downside to melding these two careers.  We librarians see thousands of plot-lines in a career; we know, I am convinced that we librarians know, more than anybody, IT’S ALL BEEN DONE!  How can any reasonably cynical person who has cataloged thousands of books and written summaries for thousands of books supposed to come up with a fresh new idea?

Faith is the answer, faith in the uniqueness of your own voice to take an old subject and bring something new to the table. As a writer and a librarian, I am used to the monsters, goblins, devils and other assorted meanies that live in my head and tell me that I am just not up to it.  Psychologists call it self-esteem.  I go through fluctuations of ego where I think that I am the greatest thing since sliced bread…why, sliced bread? Surely, the cure for polio was a greater thing than sliced bread.  Frankly, I’d rather cut up my bread than have polio, wouldn’t you?  (Apparently, focus is another one of my problems, let’s walk out of this tangent together).

More often, particularly when I read the blogs of other librarians, I undergo a crisis, a crise-de-self-esteem.  I am astounded by the technological know-how of my fellow librarians and the variety of projects that other librarians do. I am also overwhelmed at how much they advocate for students and advocate for the future of libraries and librarians/media specialists/information specialists.  Whatever you want to call us, we are the people who are able to use media in a variety of formats to make information accessible, to promote literacy, and in schools, to get kids to read and to love what they read.  Anyone who has the old image of the mean librarian with a bun and glasses (okay, most of us DO wear glasses) has not been to the libraries of so many professionals that I have either met or read about online.  These are happy and exciting places where humans of all ages come together to learn and to share what they learn.  I don’t want to be snobby but the only libraries where children fear librarians are those places run by people who call themselves librarians but have no training, and even these unfortunate personality types are few and far between.  In my present job, I’ve been to school libraries that are run by non-professionals and though I may find the cataloging and organization of the library creative – to say the least – the important thing is that kids are taking out books and smiling as they do it. We librarians can bring much to these school libraries and the collaboration can be very rewarding.

So with all this on the go, why participate in Nano-wri?  The whole point is to prove that with persistence, you can bring an idea to fruition.  This project is all about quantity not quality.  It’s a sneaky way to shut up the meanies in your head who tell you that you can’t write because you can write as badly as you want to for Nano-wri.  The goal is to produce 50,000 words, not a masterpiece.  If a writer’s block monster starts whispering in my ear, I can make fun of him, I can quote him, I can make him a character in the story.

Frankly, 30,000 words would have been an easier goal for me, but that’s not the deal.  So, to anybody who reads this blog, cheer me on.  This means less TV, less quality time with my husband and still more time on the computer. A little voice in my head says that I’d be lucky if I get 30,000, but hey, I’ve just written 657 words.  Maybe one of my characters can be a librarian who takes the challenge and writes this.  Be quiet, monster, it’s not cheating!

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The 3 R’s, plus how does she do it plus my new glasses

There are schools in my board that lack a library and even a municipal library with lots of recent resources for kids.  From these schools, I often get requests for webliographies on a variety of topics.  This request is getting increasingly more difficult to respond to because so many websites, even websites that are supposedly for children, are chock full of ads.  In doing my research for websites on the 3 R’s of the environment, one website had ads IN BETWEEN the paragraphs.  How is a child supposed to read that?  For that matter, how’s an adult supposed to read that?

This is why it is so important to take a good look at every website that we recommend to children to be sure that it is accessible and appropriate. That includes films on Youtube.  I once was trying to explain to a class what a didgeridoo was.  I was hooked up to a smartboard, I had sound, and I proceeded to do what the Internet is good for.  Only the film showed a variety of drawings, one of which was a naked woman.  The kids hid their eyes and yelled, “EWWW!”  The lesson of the day for this librarian was never show a film on YouTube unless you’ve previewed it.

To find good websites, I sometimes check out the compilations for librarians that are out there but, the links are often dead…as the links below may well be by the time you read this.  It’s painstaking, but my next step is to use Squirrelnet (Google’s safe search engine for children) as well as Google itself.  Finally, I often use millionshort, a relatively new Canadian search engine that has the ability to separate out the million most popular sites and search the rest, the ones that receive many less search hits.  This knocks out Wikipedia right away, providing access to websites that you would not be able to find with Google.

So after you see the photo of me with my new glasses that definitely need to be refitted (you’re always supposed to throw in a photo of something), you will find the webliography of sites that are appropriate for Grades 5 and 6 on reducing, reusing and recycling (starred items were ones that I found to be really useful):

My new glasses and my pink walls

The webliography is below this happy photograph.

Canadian Museums Association                                                                                                                          http://www.museums.ca/Sustainable_Development/Chapter_8_Waste_Management/2._Reduce,_reuse,_recycle_and_reclaim_%284Rs%29/?n=30-41-196

EarthCARE Waste & Recycling Related FAQs                                                                                http://www.earthcarecanada.com/FAQs/Waste_Recycling_FAQ.asp

Environmental Protection Agency (USA) Reduce Reuse Recycle                                                                         http://www.epa.gov/wastes/conserve/rrr/reduce.htm

*Fact Monster: The Three R’s of the Environment                                                                                   http://www.factmonster.com/ipka/A0775891.html

(Go to the bottom of the page and there are links to articles on recycling fact, a look at the recycling process and use of recycled materials)

Greater Sudbury: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rethink!                                                                            http://www.greatersudbury.ca/cms/index.cfm?app=div_wastemanagement&currID=7544&lang=en

Kids Be Green:   http://www.kidsbegreen.org/

Kids Ecology Corps   http://www.kidsecologycorps.org/how-you-can-help/help-our-earth-today/recycling

*National Geographic: How to Reduce, reuse & recycle for kids                                       http://greenliving.nationalgeographic.com/reduce-reuse-recycle-kids-3166.html

*National GeographicWhat is Reduce, reuse & recycle for kids                                     http://greenliving.nationalgeographic.com/reduce-reuse-recycle-3167.html(Also has links to related articles)

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle http://kids.niehs.nih.gov/explore/reduce/

*The Smashing Story of Recycling Glass: (British video, but it’s interesting):                                            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6R8YObQbE88&feature=related

Reduce, reuse, recycle just a start http://www.torontosun.com/life/greenplanet/2010/10/14/15693371.html

(Has interesting statistics at the bottom)

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Happy National School Library Day

I avoid conflict like the plague, but when it comes to school libraries, I feel a little like a bull dog.  I always feel that I must do the best that I can to advocate for school libraries and show their importance to literacy, to students and to school life.  Sadly, this is not apparent to all.  Check out the film created by Indigo booksho that gives shocking statistics on how school library collections and programs across North America are dying and how this is failing our kids:
The Writing on The Wall

School libraries  are more than books, desks and shelves.  Frequent trips to the library makes reading more attractive if the library has new books that have been selected to be interesting and informative to children. It’s really sad to walk into a lovely space and find mostly 20 year old books. Moreover, any school library that is missing joke books and this year’s Guinness Book of World records is missing the kind of material that kids want to read as much as the most recent Rick Riordan novel!

School libraries can help elementary school students make the transition to high school more easily.  They are also safe havens for kids, especially if there is an adult who is welcoming, knows the students‘ names, and cares more about whether a child is reading than whether or not his or her book is late, as so many volunteers show a deep concern that kids enjoy the books that they are reading.

Massey-Vanier Library

Whimsical displays like this one at Massey-Vanier make the library a welcoming space. If governments really want to raise reading scores in our schools, they should take all the studies that show the correlation between strong school library programs and reading scores seriously.  Schools that don’t have libraries need them and those that do have a library should make it a place where students fall in love with reading.

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Databases of Leveled or Levelled Books

When a school board librarian receives a question twice, he or she can be sure that that others have the same question and are either too shy to ask or don’t realize that there’s a school board librarian to answer these questions.  I decided to take a deep breath and tackle the compilation of a list of free databases of leveled books.  Just writing the word leveled gives me shivers.  As a Canadian/American, do I spell it with one “l” or two?  How do I feel about leveling books?  No sixth grader wants to read a book that says it’s appropriate for 4th graders.  Do kids comprehend that an N-leveled book is supposed to be below a sixth grader’s reading level?  Is there a humiliation factor involved?
In any case, I am here to serve so please find below my not entirely comprehensive list whose links were working as of October 2012.  Also, you can click here to get a Reading Level Conversion Chart Be advised that I am not responsible for the accuracy of the leveling done by these organizations:

Beaverton School District Leveled Books Database: https://leveledbooks.beaverton.k12.or.us/search.php

Leveled Book lists:


Leveled Books Database:




Portland Public Schools Leveled Book Database:


Reading A-Z.com


Scholastic Book Wizard:


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Free Information Resources from the Bibliothèque Nationale

Send a class to Google and chances are, they will copy and paste something that they don’t understand from Wikipedia, or they will get lost in a sea of web sites that may not be appropriate for the topic being researched or beyond their comprehension.  Maybe you are spending hours putting together a webliography that children and teens can use safely and effectively.

For citizens of Québec, there are the free databases available through the Bibliothèque Nationale.  While it breaks copyright to have a whole class sign up to use the distance service and use it as a classroom lesson, it is certainly permissible for teachers and students to have their own memberships for research use.  For teachers, this creates the possibility of having students search tried and true resources that are at the right reading level for their classes.

The Ressources En Ligne includes the World Book Online, Encyclopedia Americana, Encyclopaedia Brittanica, Electric Library Canada, and Electric Library Elementary.

Here is a link to the Jing (video) that I made to show you how to sign up with a demonstration on what a useful tool it can be:  http://screencast.com/t/fKp23O9IH

The link for the Bibliothèque Nationale’s form for signing up to this service is:


Please give these wonderful online encyclopedias and databases a try and please let me know what you think if you do try them.

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So Many Books

My life in a 20 foot truck

This weekend, I moved about 90% of my stuff from the house that I lived in for 23 years to the house that my husband and I have been building for the past 11 years and have finally committed to finishing and living in.  We must have had over 35 boxes of books.  I was amused when a friend said to me, “But you have so many books…” and she’s an English teacher!

My husband is a former art teacher, so many of the books were large art books.  I am an amateur digital photographer and I collect books of photography, particularly of New York City, my old home town.  There are many books from my Sociology degree (who knows – I may go back to teaching it one day), books by my favourite authors, even books from my childhood that I can’t bear to throw out.  I am a chronic re-reader; I don’t mind knowing how the story ends because I like going back to places that I have enjoyed.  I can put up with Jane Eyre’s trials and tribulations because the language is so beautiful and I know that it’s all going to work out for her in the end.

The books you own that live on the shelves and adorn the walls of your home tell who you are and what your life has been like.  An e-reader can do many things for you in that it’s portable and the new retina display will make pictures glow, but it doesn’t look as nice on a coffee table as a book.  It can’t make a home feel cozy and it can’t make a home feel lived-in like a nice wall of books.

As a librarian, I am thrilled to be able to have the skills to put my hands on just the right information source for a patron in a matter of minutes and sometimes, even seconds, thanks to the Internet.  Of course, many librarians were able to do that with the books in their own library. Yet print has its advantages, even if it’s not speedy.

Printed books are subversive in that they are private.  You can buy a book and pass it around a hundred times.  Unlike e-readers, no publisher comes down on a library for loaning out a print copy of The Hunger Times a hundred or even a thousand times. I think that if the economy doesn’t kill print material altogether, it will still be around fifty years from now because people will love print for its own sake.  I don’t think that it will be an antique format either, but I certainly hope that it’s not a premium source of literature or information, only available to those who can afford it.

Moving all those books was a big pain, but once I’ve had the joy of arranging them, they will continue to be my companions for years to come, and I will be happy to have them.  On the other hand, I welcome the dawn of the e-reader and hope that over the next few years, bugs of copyright and accessibility will be worked out quickly and smoothy.  It’s not a question of all or nothing; it never is.

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