Monday, October 22, 2018

Always room for improvement -for sleep sacks and library set-up!

Who was it that said "practice makes perfect"? It's not an accurate statement. It'd be more true to say "practice and people's pointers make progress". I have a couple of examples, both in and out of the classroom, to support my thesis.

Ernie in one of the sleep sacks I made

Sleep Sacks

I sew. It's a relatively new skill set for me, begun in earnest in 2016 with some tutelage from my mother, followed by a session offered by the Toronto Parks and Recreation department, first with a supply teacher, and then with my wonderful regular teacher, Natalie. I've made a flapper costume for myself, tails and ears for the animals in our school musical, as well as a replica of the outfit Joy wears in the movie, Inside Out. I've hemmed my daughter's prom dress, and attempted to make pajama pants.

My latest sewing project has been sleep sacks for my skinny pig. I used to buy them from someone online for $15 each. My vet told me that I needed to change Ernie's sleep sacks daily so that he would not get another foot infection - he likes to urinate and defecate where he sleeps, which becomes detrimental to his health when he sits in it for too long. I realized that I needed to try my hand at making these sleep sacks, so I would have enough to use. I consulted with Cathy, the lady who sold me my sewing machine, and owns a sewing store. I brought her one of the sacks I had purchased, which had been bitten through, to expose all the different layers. She instructed me on what each type of fabric was (cotton, batting, and a kind of fleece) and showed me the measurements to cut, how to stitch each square together, combine the squares, and sew everything together at the bottom and top. When I went to Fabricland to purchase the materials, which I got for a great deal, Patrine, the salesperson asked me what I was doing. She suggested that I sew all three layers together at once, to avoid having to make a fat connecting stitch at the bottom. I tried out both ways, and each had its drawbacks and benefits. One major snag to both methods was that the material was so bulky that it was hard to fit under the foot of my sewing machine. Still, I was able to manufacture six bags.

Six bags made, photo taken September 12, 2018

I signed up for the fall session of the Toronto Parks and Rec Sewing Class and I brought a couple of bags to stitch. Natalie had some fantastic advice for me.
  • stitch the cotton and batting together, and then afterwards stitch the fleece layer on - that way, if I confused the sides, I'd only have one layer to redo
  • use a different type of sewing foot - she switched my regular metal one for a see-through plastic foot that did not get caught in the batting
  • alter the stitch length, stitch width and something else (at a 4 setting instead of a 1) for bigger stitches to accommodate the fatter material
  • snip the ends of the fleece so when it's combined with the other bags, it won't bunch up at the corners
Natalie shows me how the new foot won't get stuck

Snipping edges to make it fit easier (Oct. 13/18)
I got so excited about these improvements to my process that I purchased more fabric to make more bags. My new bags were much better - but they weren't perfect. There were still gaps where the fleece folded over for a ridge opening. One of my fellow students who has been taking class for longer than I have (and whose name, for the life of me, I cannot recall but will add in later) came to look at what I was doing. She had additional suggestions - instead of sewing the fabric all the way up to the top, she said to stop where the batting and cotton ended, and then flip the remaining edges the other way to sew closed. Then, add a tuck and hem for a neater finished look. When I flippantly said that the skinny pig would not care what the edge would look like, R wisely replied that it's better to try to do our best with any project, even if we'd be the only ones to appreciate the effort.

Me flipping the material to sew the ends

No more large gap/hole in the sides

Tucked edge under and then stitched it

The newest bags, made Oct.20/18

So I took Natalie and R's advice and made seven more sleep sacks. They are way better - but they still aren't perfect. I can sometimes see the sewed-together-inner-layers peeking out of the inside of the bag. I'm going to put a hold on making any more bags for now, but I must say making several in a row definitely helped my technique. I've made sixteen sacks so far, including one I sent to a teacher-librarian colleague.

All but 2 of the bags I've made so far

Side, closer view - can you see the gaps & inside lining peeking out?

Library Set-Up and Routines

I have been a teacher-librarian for my entire career (which is 22 years and counting). You'd think that I'd have circulation routines and layouts mastered, but it's never perfect. I have several new teacher-librarians that I'm mentoring this year. One of them came to visit my library before school began. We were chatting about signage and I was reflecting critically (and a bit negatively) on my current shelf signage set-up and shelf labels. I liked how I use old textbooks wrapped in bright paper as section markers (an idea I borrowed from another TL) but disliked my messy and inaccurate tape labels that indicated what specific section of books were on that shelf. He offered a recommendation - why not try Velcro strips? That way, if I weeded or reorganized a section, I could simply rip off the old one and replace it with a new one. Simple, affordable, and brilliant!

I didn't want to make new labels until I had continued my never-ending weeding of the collection. (Pssst - here's a job secret - libraries need to be constantly weeded. I try to pick one section each year and slowly make my way through it.) I shared my plan with my adult volunteer, the amazing Mrs. Pat McNaughton (mother of another teacher-librarian, Kim Davidson). She liked the idea, and had one of her own. The dual language section was getting crowded and cramped. It didn't need weeding as much as it needed a different space. We talked and chose part of the periodicals area, which itself needs serious revamping. 

I also talked with Mrs. McNaughton about something new I'm trying but am struggling with implementing. In the past, when students forgot their library books, they'd be sent back to class to fetch their agendas and receive a "reminder stamp" to encourage them to bring back their books. Why not make bringing agendas just a regular part of the library routine, and increase the positive communication between the school library and home by providing a "thumbs up stamp" to indicate when students have done a great job of returning their books on time? This shift in routine has been bumpy. I'm transferring responsibility to the students by trying to have different groups of students a) check in the books, b) check the status of their classmates and stamp the agendas, and c) check out the books, but depending on the age and ability of the students, this goes slowly or with mistakes. Agendas are sometimes left or lost in the library. My library helpers, who work at recesses and at lunch, are trying to lessen the load by collecting books to check in during their shifts beforehand so the younger students have less to do. It goes more efficiently when Mrs. McNaughton is around to supervise the circulation desk and I can teach the lesson, but I can't monopolize Mrs. McNaughton's time, since I share her with her daughter (and adorable grandson, Henry).  

Generalized Lessons Learned

1) Things will never be perfect. Hubby and I talked about the difference between improvement and change (a common rally cry on election signs we see). I'm going to keep trying to improve and not change for change's sake. At some point I'm going to need to move onto other things that need my attention and accept my efforts as a constant work in progress. 

2) Getting multiple opportunities to try things helps a lot. I've made sixteen bags and still haven't gotten it to the point where I'm 100% satisfied. I guess that's true with sports or music too.

3) "How it's always been done" isn't always how it has to remain. This is great if it's working well, but what might one tweak do to make it even better?

4) Keep the celebration intact while still seeing where improvements can be made. I will try not to get discouraged that the sleep sacks aren't exactly to my specifications, or that the agendas aren't completed within the first 15 minutes of the 40 minute period. That's what makes revising and editing writing sometimes a chore - we forget to congratulate ourselves on what's been accomplished so far and focus instead on the many items that need correcting.

5) Getting advice from others really helps a lot. They provide different perspectives that can revitalize a project or process. I don't always have to accept every piece of advice provided, but listening to different points of view won't do any harm. 

Monday, October 15, 2018

Short Week, Tough Week, Unsolved Challenges

Why is it that shortened weeks seem tougher to complete? You'd think the opposite would be true. I had four days to rest, rejuvenate, socialize and satiate my appetite. (Thank you Jen S for the fudge!) However, not everyone enjoys the extra days at home and the transition back can be difficult. When I contemplate the past week and what stood out, it's specific students and certain behaviours that are sticking in my mind. I can't go into details, because I have to protect the privacy of my students. This is a list of the issues I've struggled with these past four (which felt like eight) days:
  • overhearing a conversation and making the phone call that every educator dreads [Tuesday]
  • being at a loss for words at a soaked classroom that felt like it happened in a blink of an eye (and where did all that hand sanitizer go?) [Tuesday]
  • preventing a student from self-destructive conduct and unusual, unsafe ways of dealing with frustration [Wednesday]
  • inviting a new teacher-librarian to my space and having her see a lesson bomb, as well as what might be considered "shaky class management" [Thursday]
  • witnessing students try to by-pass the library visit limits and not telling the truth initially when asked [Wednesday and Friday]
  • listening to outright defiance when asked to do reasonable (but maybe unpleasant) tasks [Thursday and Friday]
  • getting yelled at and kicked by a student because he didn't live up to the end of his part of an agreement [Friday]
I've been reading A Guide to Documenting Learning by Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano and Janet A. Hale (only Chapter 1 so far, because I'm trying to read it slowly and digest the messages thoroughly). I was pleased to accidentally discover that I already did the Chapter 1 Action Step because the post from two weeks ago as well as last week's post were actually examples of turning "documenting OF learning" snapshots into "documenting FOR learning" artifacts. It has also confirmed that this blog is my own "documenting AS learning" because it is a metacognitive process. There's strategic preparation involved ("what was memorable? what's on my mind? what do I need to puzzle out?") and it helps me immediately ("Aha! As I wrote it out, I can see the situation and possible next moves more clearly!") and over time ("So that's what I was thinking before, and yeah, I can see why X must change or Y must stay the same") and now I like getting comments or suggestions because it's easy for sharing and obtaining feedback (which wasn't my original purpose for blogging but has become a valued part of it). (The underlined words part of the key words from page 11 which describes "documenting as learning". The one part this blog doesn't fulfill in this description is that it isn't completed while it is happening, as least, not when the incidents themselves are happening.)

But this blog, this documenting, ... me - I don't have any answers to these current dilemmas. I want to fix things but things can't always be remedied quickly or completely. I've read Stuart Shanker's Calm, Alert and Learning and I realize that some of our students are disregulated in many of the domains. I remember that I cannot control students but I can control my reaction to students (and that varies - sometimes I react calmly and professionally, but not always). I'm grateful to our SNA, Stephanie Paterson, because I can talk to her and the conversation always moves away from venting ("Can you believe what that student did?") to problem solving or what Renee Keberer likes to reframe as solution-finding ("So what can we put in place that will lessen these outbursts and ease transitions for those students?"). Our specialist teacher PLC will focus on helping our students self-regulation skills, and I have a ton of new books to read (like the Minds Up handbook and Lost at School, a book Stephanie highly recommended.)

Back to Guide to Documenting Learning and these particular students swimming in my head. Tolisano and Hale tell me to "keep the sharing short [and] be conscious of privacy concerns" (page 21). A few pages back, they list samples of documenting learning purposes, asking if the documenting action:
- supports growth?
- moves learning forward?
- tells a story about the learning?
- gives learners a voice?
- causes ownership of one's learning?
- creates opportunities for feedback?
- encourages reflection and metacognition?
- makes meaningful connections to future learning?
- supports collection through curation?
- encourages community communication?
- embraces communication with a global audience?
- creates professional learning opportunities?
I despaired that today's blog post couldn't move the learning forward and was unable to engender community communication (since I can't go into detail with a wider audience). Yet, the act of writing them down in that list, thankfully, refocused me and told me that documenting via this post of my struggles (and the students' struggles) doesn't require that it meet all twelve possible purposes. By showing I'm not perfect (something I'm still surprised that others think of me) and wrestling with these situations, I guess I am taking ownership of this problem and am determined to try finding solutions.

Before you think my entire week was a complete disaster, (and three brutal Cross-Fit sessions didn't help to improve my frame of mind, I gotta say) let me end it on some positive notes. 

1) The students are still enjoying the Keva planks and working together with incorporating marbles or trying to extend their structures as far off a table as possible. They are the ones that tell me that I must take photos of what they've made. (Great beginnings for a documenting learning mindset, I suspect - I don't know, I haven't gotten that far in the book.)  The Larkspur Library Learning Commons liked my tweet/post about the Keva plank challenge and have been sharing their own experiments with the challenge.

2) Ernie the skinny pig inspired soft voices, nurturing actions (like kindergarteners feeding him lettuce leaves) and great inquiry questions. One class were so calm and careful that I had them hold Ernie in his sleep sack while I cleaned his cage. They were delighted that they were given this privilege and really treated him with gentle kindness. I had never been confident about allowing this sort of responsibility with such a young group of learners before. (They were between 8-9 years old.)

3) I saw Jennifer Orr's blog post and was inspired by it. When I was writing a "good tattle" note in a Grade 4 girl's agenda, she told me that I should write one like it in some of her classmates' agendas too, and recommended someone and the reason. My heart melted!

4) "Miss Landra", our orientation and mobility teacher with the Vision Department, taught me a whole lot about how maps differ for people who are blind. She modified a library assignment I had for the student she works with, and the two of them explained to me how the assignment was completed and why the map has the structure and features it contained.

5) Lorna Chan, our Grade 3-4 teacher, and I (with the amazing Stephanie Paterson) are working on a collaborative unit that incorporates science, language, and visual arts. I appreciate that Lorna values "Library Partners" time and was willing to shift her schedule to make it work. When we first explained the project to the students, many didn't understand (and this was confirmed when we did "exit tickets" with the students). Lorna and I talked, and we re-did the lesson, based on the students' feedback to us. It went so much better, and the students now have a better understanding of what they will do and how they can accomplish it.

I hope next week will have more examples like the ones closer to the end of the post and less of the examples listed at the beginning of the post. Truth is, we handle what we are given, like it or not. My hope is that my actions help lead to the positive instead of the negative.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Ped Doc

Ped Doc - my friend Denise Colby's short hand phrase for pedagogical documentation - is a
process for making. pedagogical (or other) work visible and subject to dialogue, interpretation, contestation and transformation.” ( Dahlberg, 2007)
The Ontario Ministry of Education put out a good monograph in their Capacity Building Series about pedagogical documentation, found at

This past week, I took a ton of photos as different student groups from varied classes explored the Keva planks I had out in my Library Learning Commons.  These photos and videos help tell an abbreviated story about what students were doing, how their plans changed, and gives a glimpse into their thinking at the time. I promise, I *actually* do things other than build with Keva planks in the library!

Sample 1: Grade 8s After School 
On Thursday, October 4, I experienced some technical difficulties with loading Minecraft on my school Mac computers (after running it without any major problems since 2012). The club members present decided while they were waiting to build a tower that was taller than they were, and mimic one of the builds they saw on a Keva plank card that came with my new set of 200 planks.

Sample 2: Kindergartens After Teamwork Read-aloud
Aviva Dunsiger responded to last week's blog post with many great questions. I was motivated by two of them in particular.
How might the addition of another materials (e.g., LEGO or a different kind of block with the Keva blocks) change the building?
How do the reduced group sizes help with this kind of parallel play? 
I decided to read a non-fiction book about teamwork to the kindergarten classes, and then give a limited amount of planks (only 20 per pair) to build whatever they wanted. Then, after a few minutes (and inspired by someone's initial build) I gave each pair a single marble. It was neat to see how the structures morphed into different creations and how they were inspired by their classmates to alter their designs. The photos here are just a very quick peek at what happened after the marble was introduced.

2A) Room K2 - A pair built a well-supported ramp, and another pair tried using their breath to move the marble on their structure. One pair started with parallel play but then gravitated towards each other to share their planks so they'd have more.

2B) Room K1 - One team decided to use the library shelf to make a tall structure. Many kept their original structures and then explored how the marble could be incorporated into it.

2C) Room 110 - Structures changed from flat roads, to roads with walls on the side, to slanted roads with walls on the side (tilted with more planks or with other found materials like the "black border" we use to keep a safe distance from the rocking chair). Purposes other than rolling were also explored, such as balancing on the top of a structure, or propelling out of a hole like a cannon. The last picture I took was inspired by a comment by the ECE in another class, who marveled about the way students figured out how to carry many planks. I wouldn't have thought to document this had it not been for Thess Isidro's comment. These two students chose to put planks in their pockets to carry them around!

Sample 3: Grade 3s during free time
The Grade 3s finished their media task during class time very quickly and so I gave them the opportunity to build what they wanted with whom they wanted. Some went to the Lego area but many went to the Keva planks. They made many different things. They insisted I take photos of what they built, especially because they couldn't keep the structures around after the period ended.

Sample 4: Junior students sewing
I should have taken a photo of how they initially tried to pin cloth together! Some of the students were keen to make things with fabric at recess in our makerspace. After seeing how they pinned, I realized they needed a bit of direct instruction. After learning how to attach fabric together with pins, some students got a chance to stitch the material together. This is a Grade 4 boy sewing a square to make a bag.

My new (and typical post-conference-workshop) question is, "so what?" What do I do with these photos, other than share them with the classroom teachers, who will share them with the parents? Well, I was working on my Annual Learning Plan and the major project that I've been working on for 8 years has finally come to fruition (publishing my research on readers choice awards programs in a peer-reviewed academic journal). I needed a new focus, other than my ongoing one on supporting our ELL students and providing assessment feedback in a timely fashion. I'll be doing some work on mentoring, but I've also committed to reading A Guide to Documenting Learning by Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano and Janet A. Hale as part of my professional learning this year. I also signed up for a TDSB online course on loose parts. I'm excited to see how my own use of "ped doc" can expand, grow, and become more effective.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Petite Planks and the Process

Last November, I attended the AASL conference in Phoenix, Arizona. While I was there, I made a big personal purchase - planks. Technically, they are called Keva Planks. They are deceptively simple: plain rectangular pieces of wood. I bought a bag of 200 planks at that conference with my own money. It took a lot of wrangling to distribute all the planks throughout my luggage so that the increased weight wouldn't cause extra baggage fees at the airport. This week, at my school, those Keva Planks demonstrated that they were worth buying, thanks to my youngest and oldest school learners. (By the way, the website is and I just bought 200 more planks this weekend using school funds from a Canadian distributor.)

The Youngest Learners

As frequent readers of this blog will remember, I've been trying to go slow and incorporate more play in my program, especially my kindergarten program. Aviva Dunsiger commented on my blog post and encouraged me to use more loose parts. Her exact words were:
I’m thrilled to hear that you provided more time for play and enjoyed the results. I wonder what would happen with even more open-ended toys: some blocks, loose parts, small pieces of wood, etc. Would this change the type of play that you see, and even more of the connections to literacy and math? Curious to know if you give this a try and what you notice.
So, I brought out my Lego and my Keva planks to see what would happen. I saw each of our three kindergarten classes twice this week. I was completely blown away by the students in Ms. Chiu's JK/SK class. The level of cooperation and teamwork, especially for their age and the length of time they've known each other (only three weeks) made their accomplishments even more astounding to me. (After all, I cannot expect our littlest learners, some of whom have never been to school before, to automatically know how to share, take turns, or communicate effectively. For instance, one set of students in another kindergarten class are mostly parallel players and are struggling with socializing with their peers in large groups, so their class routine [maintained in the library for consistency] is to keep groups to four per activity.) 

This was the final result of work by a group of three Junior Kindergarten / Year One girls.

I took a ton of photos of them and tweeted a different one.

Later, I realized that so much of the magic that happened was the way that the girls built the tower.  By posting the picture of the end product without what happened beforehand provided an incomplete account of the student-generated STEAM task. I tweaked a set of four photos with faces obscured to give a glimpse of the process. Let me elaborate a little bit more here. To keep their privacy, I'll refer to the engineers by their clothes.

The photo above was taken during the early to mid stages of the build. "Pink Dress" began the build initially by herself (with the planks standing fence-like), but was soon joined by "Pink Shirt" and "Striped Shirt", who brought planks to give to "Pink Dress" and then started to add planks themselves.

This second photo (above) shows how all three girls are kneeling together to build. They talked a lot about making it.

I love this third photo, because it shows that mathematics was part of the talk. "Striped Shirt" indicated to the others how tall she hoped the tower would become, by using her extended hand as a non-standard unit of measurement.

This fourth photo shows the growth in the height of the structure. The girls can no longer kneel to add their planks. As it grew and grew, other students (playing with Lego nearby) glanced at the tower with interest, but allowed the girls to continue to build. Their kindergarten class teacher entered the library when the tower was as tall as "Pink Dress" and when she asked how they would continue to build the tower when it was over the tallest girl's head, one of the SK/Year 2 boys yelled out from where he was building "Why don't you use a chair?" We took even more photos, gave them extra time, and then, when it was time for the students to leave the library for lunch,  the girls dismantled their tower with glee. (The second day I saw this class, "Pink Dress" went back to the Keva Planks and said "I want to see if I can make it even taller." She didn't reach the height from these photos, but I noticed she experimented with the structure layout more than before.)

The Oldest Learners

It was supposed to just be a quick ten-minute task so other students could have time to borrow books. The Grade 8 class, with their wonderful, responsive teacher, Ms. Wadia, had just finished playing Scattergories in small groups in the library. As the groups brainstormed words, Farah Wadia whispered to me between rounds about all the positive academic and social benefits this game brought to her class. To give something for the other students to do while a few conducted book exchange, I mentioned a tweet I saw (but neglected to like or save) in my Twitter timeline about a neat Keva Plank challenge and offered it to the Grade 8s: how far can you extend Keva planks off a table?

WOW! Students began with their Scattergory groups, grabbed handfuls of Keva Planks, and spread out throughout the library searching for tables, shelves and other flat surfaces to start building.

Here are a few of the initial experiments.

Group A: Building on the table with the data projector

Group B: Building on one of the Everybody book shelves

Group C: Building on the table with the TV

Groups D & E: Building on the table near the leather couch

Group F: Building on the circular table near the non-fiction section

 Once again, the process was just as fascinating and exciting as the final products were. Group A's structure started to extend further. After a few more attempts, Group B and Group C (with the encouragement from members of Group A) joined Group A and contributed their planks to Group A's project. Group D & E made several revisions to their designs, and then eventually joined together.

One of Group C's revisions

Group A's structure continues to grow
Newly united Group D/E with their altered structure
As the two structures continued to grow, the groups constantly evaluated their progress. They may not have realized it, but they were totally using the Engineering Design Process. Together, they examined the structure from all angles to check for any weaknesses. The conversations were focused and insightful as they plotted and planned. They started to realize that they needed more planks to be able to go longer. They first tried to use planks they already had but could not jeopardize the integrity of their structure. Negotiations began. Groups A and D/E begged Group F for their extra planks. The rulers started coming out to monitor the progress. Group A passed 30 cm first, but then Group D/E also passed 30 cm. Every time the structure was in danger of falling, screams reverberated in the library from the builders. It was intense! The bell rang, signaling the end of the school day, but the students refused to quit. Ms. Wadia (who kindly sacrificed her originally scheduled math lesson to allow the students to continue) reminded the Grade 8 girls on the soccer team that they had a practice; their response was that they still had time. Our principal walked in to see the students in action (I *may* have excitedly called him in to witness the engineering marvels) and the Grade 8s were too busy working to even notice him. When Group D/E's structure crashed, there were wails and triumphant hollers. The longest structure was an incredible 43 cm long! Now I wish I had kept a copy of that original tweet, to compare how long their structure was to ours!

The Grade 8s said that they could have done even better IF ONLY they had more Keva Planks to work with! Now you see why I had to buy more. Usually I'm not a big fan of teacher-initiated challenges for my MakerSpace, but it was perfect for this STEAM activity, a great impetus for our teen builders.

Both the JK and Grade 8 Keva plank users demonstrated a lot of academic and social skills during their building time. Naturally, the complexity of their tasks differed with their ages, but I loved how versatile this simple little set of planks were in the two tasks. I'm not a Keva planks salesperson, but I am sold on how, with the right open-ended tool and the right environment or prompt, some amazing STEAM tasks can spring up in the library completely unplanned but wonderful.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Banish the Book Fair?

Last week, I wrote about the benefits of going slowly with my library and media lessons, by spending time playing and talking together. The last two sentences of that blog said,
 Of course, having written this, this coming week is Book Fair time - upended/limited space, disrupted routines, and new items around but not for general play. Wish me luck!
Well, book fair is over and I have a lot of conflicting thoughts about the experience. This isn't new. I wrote a blog post way back in 2013 admitting that book fair time is not my favourite time, and listing all the difficulties associated with turning a learning space into a retail space. The differences between 2013 and 2018 are the new anecdotes and the new options.

Photo of my 2018 book fair set-up

Book fair time is now a bit more bittersweet for me because my long-time volunteer, my mother, has had to "retire" from helping. Her memory is not what it once was, and she struggled with calculating the cost of items and managing the crowds of shoppers. She deserves to take a break from helping out - she's almost 82 years old, after all - but it's a very difficult realization to wrestle with, knowing that your parent, whom you considered omni-capable, isn't able to work the same way he/she did like before. (Trust me, I could write an entire book on my thoughts and feelings linked with this particular topic.)

I used to schedule the book fair during Curriculum Night because my mother was only available to help at that time; she was booked to take care of the same event during Parent Teacher Interview night at my former elementary school. I've kept the same time slot and now, the book fair is managed by me, my dear sympathetic friend and fellow teacher Ms. Keberer, and for this year, high school volunteer Alexander. Working at the book fair has been very beneficial to Alexander, who is working on a Specialist High Skills Major in Business. He has managed stock, calculated sales, dealt with customers, optimized layout, and other tasks. He's going for a job interview this week and will mention his work at the book fair as legitimate, current experience. Good luck Alexander!

Another view of the 2018 book fair

Despite the potential job benefits the book fair offered for my high school helper, there are negative socio-economic equity issues that relate to the book fair. I did not hear this in person, but one of the adults in my building told me that she overheard a student yelling to herself after discovering that she did not have enough money to purchase something, "I hate being poor!" That bothered me. I also get upset when I see students bring in $50 and $100 bills and then make purchasing decisions that might be questionable or not the best use of those funds. The book fair really highlights the economic inequities front and centre. When Michelle Arbuckle from OLA and I were chatting just before school began, she mentioned a workshop that she attended at the ALA conference that was conducted by young students of colour from economically disadvantaged areas; one of the items that the presenters raised that made school libraries less inviting was the presence of the book fair, with its inflated prices and new merchandise taunting those who could not afford to purchase them. So, it seems like it is not enough for me to point out the polished sales techniques of book fair promotions and remind students that they are neither required nor obligated to buy anything at all from the book fair. Just having it in the building is temptation enough.

A third view of the 2018 book fair
Now, I know that there are other options than the most mainstream book fair company option. In fact, during my very first year at my current school, I used the organization that the previous teacher-librarian had used. This company did not stock the trinkets and tchotchkeys that are the main sellers of my current book fair. However, one of the teacher spotted a book for sale that she had some serious concerns about. I defended the inclusion of that book at that time, but it made me worried about how carefully this group selected items to lend to us for sale, so I switched to a "safer" option.

I was talking about my book fair woes with some of the other teacher-librarian facilitators at the TDSB TL Facilitator planning day (September 20), like Tracey Donaldson, Kim Davidson, and Francis Ngo, and they offered several different choices (as did Twitter). A teacher-librarian mentioned that they use a local bookstore, who treats it like a "pop-up", so that the set-up and selling all happen on just one day, and that the retailer handles all of it. (They even do this at school concert evenings.) I should have known this, as we invited Ellaminnow Books to our school Family STEAM Night on May 17, 2018.

A photo of Ellaminnow's display at our STEAM event
(P.S. Another Story does run book fairs - they tweeted back that you can contact them to arrange.)

Using local stores does help the local economy, but temptation and distraction are two difficulties that the book fair of any sort brings. I wrote this sentence five years ago and it is still true today:
 Even the most attentive students are distracted by the books-that-are-not-library-books. 
In the staff room, I bemoaned the difficulty of running book fair while trying to teach, and Mrs. Commisso, an educator who always pushes my thinking in healthy ways, asked me, "Do you HAVE to have a book fair?". That question stopped me in my tracks. Did I? Is the gain worth the pain? Is my collection dependent on the additions I collect due to the book fair? Well, here are the numbers.

My net sales (excluding taxes) for this year was $2 586.28.
My rewards (because I chose the product only option, which gives me more) was $1 293.14.
I took product from the book fair that equaled $825.00.
I now have a credit to spend on catalogue items of $468.14.

As my annual report (which I was delighted to present to my principal and the division chairs) revealed, I actually spent over $2 000 more than my allocated budget last year, and that's not counting the book fair money I spent on book fair reading materials.

I was going to make a big pro/con list at the end of this post, but I think that this decision is bigger than me. I think I need to consult with all the people that are impacted by the book fair, like administrators, students, teachers, and parents. I suspect my students will wholeheartedly support the continuation of our book fair pattern; they love shopping at school, even if it's just 50 ¢ for a bookmark, eraser, or pencil. (This is one of the few benefits of the knick-knacks; it makes everyone feel like they can afford to shop.) I'd be curious to see what others in my school community think. Should I banish the book fair?