“How We Learn” Book Review and Mindfulness

This week has already started off to be very full in terms of personal and professional development.  This morning, during a trip to gentle yoga class at my local health center, an elderly gentleman informed the class of his exploration into the “new” topic of mindfulness.  This led me to further explore how brain-based learning and mindfulness can coexist and beneficially impact one another.

First, though, I wanted to update you with a review of the nonfiction book, “How We Learn:  The Surprising Truth About When, Where, and Why It Happens,” by Benedict Carey.  Carey offers several insights on the process of learning that is specifically brain-based.  Interesting information that I found in his book included how memories are stored and retrieved by the brain, the ideas behind the beneficial practice of pre-testing and immediate review, brain breaks for a “bob and weave” style of lecturing, and the importance of exploring a topic in-depth.  In addition, this title explores the history of learning in the brain-based learning community, and, rather than date it back twenty-or-so years, makes a convincing argument that the field does, in fact, date back more than 100 years.  Altogether an interesting read heavily laced with medical studies information, Carey’s book is food for thought for a brain-based learning practitioner.

how we learn

Next, I want to further highlight the synergistic relationship between the benefits of brain-based learning through the lenses of mindfulness.  Mindfulness, a practice of being totally mentally aware of the presence through breathing, meditation, and thought exercises, relates to brain-based learning, because brain-based learning primarily focuses on the how and why of learning.  How is our attention focused so that we may be more present in our studies, which in turn help us build better neural connections in our brains?  Mindfulness can be taught through the practices of yoga, meditative breathing, and other silent, calm activities such as meditation rocks in the classroom.  Rather than silence for silence purpose, or relaxing background music, mindfulness would call into practice a calm time of respecting space and stillness and using one’s mind to focus on the immediate awareness, not response to, emotions and thoughts the student is currently experiencing.  As I begin to read Daniel J. Siegel’s book, “The Mindful Brain,” I hope to be able to bring more expert strategies into my own research and practices.


For a brief, approachable look at the topic of mindfulness, please view an informative glimpse into Anderson Cooper’s piece for “60 Minutes:”  http://www.cbsnews.com/news/the-newly-mindful-anderson-cooper/

TASL CO-OP Part Two: Battle of the Books and School Library/Classroom Promotions

This is part two of four that I promised to write about the TASL CO-OP 2013.  This post will mainly deal with hosting a Battle of the Books competition and other library promotion ideas that you can include at your school library.


I admit that I’ve been curious and interested in hosting a Battle of the Books competition this past school year, but really had no idea where to start.  This session changed that.  Below are key points when preparing for your Battle of the Books competition:

  • Collaboration is key.  Collaborate with other teachers in your building to find out what novels they are interested in reading with their class to further strengthen your team.  If you’re brave and are doing a multiple building competition, be sure to collaborate with the school librarian and teachers at the other building, as well.
  • The presenters recommended starting the competitions with the 5th grade and older students.  Some attendees said that they start their teams as young as 3rd grade.  You know your students best and what grade level starting competitions would be appropriate.
  • If you don’t have regularly scheduled library course classes, start a book club where students meet once a month to discuss the required reading books.  Since I have regularly scheduled library course classes with my students, I intend to read the books with each of the classes and implement the Common Core State Standards throughout our studies.
  • Here’s my favorite part:  If you or your students don’t mesh with the recommended reading list of the official Battle of the Books website http://www.battleofthebooks.org/, then create your own reading list of required books.  My biggest criticism of the official book list is that it isn’t very multicultural or inclusive of the interests of urban students.  We will be using the book sets that we’ve recently purchased to include more close reading strategies in the classroom.  I plan on selecting 5-10 required books.
  • Have a traveling trophy made for about $20 that the winning team or class can have displayed in their room until the end of the year.
  • Make a display at the beginning of the year to advertise and generate student excitement about the competition.  Your display should be colorful and exciting looking!
  • Have a minimum of 15 questions per book, and avoid very specific questions during your competition.
  • Have a local public figure or celebrity emcee as a question reader for your event.  You need to have two non-partisan judges.
  • Have each team make t-shirts or come up with a unified design for t-shirts for students to wear on the day of the event.
  • Start early so students have time to read or reread the books.
  • You may take turns having teams answer the questions or invest in a set of reliable buzzers.  One set that was recommended was the 10 piece set of buzzers from Affordable Buzzers that includes software.  It’s available on http://www.amazon.com/10-player-Pistol-Grip-24ft-wires/dp/B00BQ26YTM/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1372009655&sr=8-1&keywords=affordable+buzzers for a little over $250.
  • Make programs for parents and community members who attend the battle.
  • Have a reliable and visible timer for students and the audience to see how much time is left to answer a question.
  • Students should not know what question is coming up next.  Keep them on their toes!
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I hope these suggestions will help you start a Battle of the Books at your school library, regardless of the grade level of the students.

Now, onto another popular topic:  School Library Promotions!

  1.  If your school library collects Box Tops for library funds, create a magnet to send home with every child to put on their refrigerator reminding the family to collect those Box Tops for school library funds.  Use fun fonts and graphics to keep this reminder of how important your child’s school library is front and center in the home.  Vistaprint makes great products:  http://www.vistaprint.com/category/magnets.aspx?txi=15187&xnid=TopNav_Magnets_Marketing+Products&xnav=TopNav
  2. In February, have a “Love Your Library” mini activity where students fill out heart cutouts with a reason that they love their school library.  Use these to select a student or two in a drawing to win a sweet candy prize.  Then, use the hearts to display on a Valentine’s Day bulletin board.
  3. Have a “Guessing Book” competition:  Wrap a chapter book up in wrapping paper and have students guess how many pages are in the wrapped book.  The student who guesses the closest will win the book!  (Note:  guessing jars and guessing book competitions are a great way to get reluctant readers more interested in library happenings).
  4. Host a World Book Night book giveaway.  This event will allow you to give away twenty free books.  Book levels that can be obtained are elementary through adult.  Find out more information here:  http://www.us.worldbooknight.org/
  5. For those of you who use the Accelerated Reader program in your school library, create genre or point paw tags to give to students who earn different levels of points.  Use http://www.cooketag.com/Tags/ to create fun tags that students can collect as they earn different point levels.  The tags can be made to resemble military ID tags, and students love to collect them on a chain to show off to their friends!  Another idea for AR users is to have a traveling trophy made that can go to the class with the top number of AR points each month.  While this goes on the inside of their classroom, also create a certificate that can go on the outside of their classroom door.  Let students be proud of their accomplishments!

I hope that you’ll consider using these promotions in your school library or classroom to help make our students lifelong learners!

A Penny for Your Thoughts

A great idea that I came across this week during training:  For each read aloud you do with your students, select one of them to place a penny in a designated jar.  The penny-placer should be a student who is on-task with the read aloud and is following all of your rules and procedures.  At the end of the year (or track with each nine weeks), count the pennies in the jar and post that you have read $X dollars worth of books that year.  With student input, select a charity to donate the money to in the name of the students (Ex. We are donating this money in honor of the students at George Washington Elementary).  As an extension activity, have students write the charity a letter describing what they had to do for their donation.  This helps them practice letter writing skills, reflection, and the building of empathy for others in their world.  I plan on implementing this activity with my students this year, because I know they will love it as much as I do!


Professional Development for School Librarians

A topic that I would like to address in this blog post is professional development for school librarians/media specialists.  Often, school librarians find themselves overburdened with the teaching and administrative tasks that take up our everyday workday, and push professional development opportunities to the backburner.  As a proactive librarian, I say, “No more!”  We must, as professionals in an ever-changing and growing field, seek out opportunities that allow us to grow as enriched and enlightened educators.  This summer, I plan on attending the Tennessee Association of School Librarian’s Co-Op Day that provides opportunities to focus on areas of interest to my library:  forming lasting partnerships for co-planning units of instruction, building graphic novel collections, and an overview of the Battle of the Books program.  Professional development need not require us to take off school days for conferences (although, I highly recommend attendance to professional development conferences offered by school librarian associations at the state and national levels).  In addition to the Co-Op Day, I will be taking an online course, as well several workshops offered by my employer over the summer, including such offerings as a workshop called “Culturally Responsive Teaching,” that addresses the multicultural needs of students in the learning environment.

If you find that your busy schedule will not allow for day-long workshops, I would advise staying current on professional literature.  Publications from the AASL and ALA should be part of your weekly and monthly reading routines.  One title that has recently met with acclaim is “Coteaching Reading Comprehension Strategies in Elementary School Libraries: Maximizing Your Impact” by Judi Moreillon.  This title, published by the ALA (American Library Association), provides “techniques for strengthening collaborative partnerships through flexible design and delivery.”  Reading strategies, an area of ongoing concern with the implementation of the Common Core State Standards, are an area of focus that may not have been emphasized in your graduate library and information sciences program.  Recently, this shift towards blurring the lines of classroom and library environments, now “library classrooms,” allows sample lesson plans and a realistic outlook of how reading comprehension strategies can be implemented and taught by both classroom teacher and librarian in a collaborative partnership, thereby allowing each professional to capitalize on her expertise with students.

Lastly, I would recommend developing a professional network of school librarian peers.  This may be formal, such as a membership the American Association of School Librarians (AASL), or more informal, such as meeting, emailing, or starting a wiki with other school librarians in your area.  Since most of us are the only librarian at the building level, it is essential to build contacts within your school district or city.  These peers become invaluable when you have a question, interlibrary loan, or, for the more adventurous, cross-district planning.

An idea that I have recently being intrigued by is starting a hierarchal planning network of school library professionals whose teaching will impact my students both pre and post elementary school.  An often underutilized network of professionals includes these preschool, Head Start, and daycare providers at the pre-elementary spectrum, and middle, high school, and college librarians at the post-elementary levels.  This will help us better ascertain what skills students are entering elementary school already having prior knowledge of, as well as what skills students should be building towards learning in the secondary and post-secondary environments.

Ultimately, professional development can come from a diverse array of avenues, from conferences to publications to a network of peer colleagues.  What is more clear, however, is that school librarians need to be active participants in seeking out, attending, reading, and engaging with these experiences to better serve their student patrons.  After all, a key tenant of being a librarian is best serving our patrons to meet their informational learning needs in a changing and developing world.   What better way to do that than begin by professionally enriching ourselves.