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?

Monday, September 17, 2018

Starting Slow in September by "just playing and talking"

Today (Monday, September 17, 2018) will be the 10th day for the 2018-19 school year. I have certain first day/week school plans that I like to re-use with modifications, but this year I tweaked them a lot more - by doing less.

I have a lot of toys in my school library, thanks to the fact that my own son and daughter are the only grandchildren on both sides of the family. Now that my own children are teens (18 and 16), the toys that aren't kept perfectly preserved in my newly-cleaned garage migrate to my workplace so my students can enjoy them. I don't put all the toy bins out at the same time - that's too overwhelming and makes their appearance less special. Usually I allotted only a few minutes at the end of a period for our kindergartens and early primary students to play. This year, partly because our kindergarten groups are very Year 1 / JK heavy, I've replaced some of the whole-group instruction time with longer time to play with the couple of options I've offered (in this case, Koosh balls and Fisher-Price toys).

What has the impact been on giving more play time in September, especially to the kindergarteners?
  • less resistance / defiance from students
  • moments for self-regulation in a "lower-stress" environment
  • more time to observe students
  • more opportunities to build relationships with students
  • ideas for future lesson topics and teaching structures
  • practice with social skills 

This first photo is from the very first day of school, during third period. Look moms and dads - no crying kids! The formal lesson portion took about three minutes, and then there was the few minutes of asking students to sit and wait while we spread out the toys. That was a great chance to see who could wait and who had trouble resisting the urge to run for the toy bin. Play time was long enough to enjoy the toys and provide advance warning for clean-up. The DECE and I could notice who needed just a verbal cue to begin tidying, who needed a song, and who needed modelling and targeted individualized reminders. I didn't have to face many stubborn "NO" responses when I asked them to do things, because I didn't ask them to do much that they wouldn't want to do. Passing around the Koosh ball was easier when students realized they could have a longer time playing with it a few minutes after the task.

It was great to see who played with whom, and how they played, and what they played with. I didn't take any observational notes because half the time I was taking photos (itself a form of pedagogical documentation) and half the time I was playing with them! I had fun playing with the students. Toy people took bumpy helicopter rides and chased toy chickens. We took cars through car washes and filled farms with animal families. When we brought out the Koosh balls, a student and I counted how many baskets we could successfully shoot and challenged ourselves to walk a path in the library while balancing a Koosh on the back of our necks!

 In this third photo, you can see the DECE on the floor right alongside the students, chatting with them and having fun. The students are busy doing their own thing, but practicing concepts like sharing, taking turns, and using their imaginations.

Having the toys really helped last Thursday. One of the kindergarten teacher had an appointment after school and asked if I could switch the schedule so that I could see her students during the final period of the day and she could make it to the appointment on time. One little boy was overtired and responded to my look of disapproval, (I promise, I didn't yell at him for his transgression) when he erased something I needed from the board, with loud wails and tears. He needed some serious consolation, so we brought out the toys earlier than planned and the other students played while he fell asleep in my arms on my shoulder. The others comforted him in between bouts of playing with pats on the back and phrases like "Don't cry X - it was your birthday yesterday!"

Giving time to play also allowed students to explore, ask questions, and talk. This past week, I brought Ernie the skinny pig back to school. His brother Bert died on the first day of summer vacation. For the Grade 1-8s, that meant a lot of questions because they remembered having two skinny pigs in June. From "Won't Ernie be lonely?" to "Why did Bert die?" to "What did you do with Bert's body?", there was a lot of discussion. I suspect Ernie won't be lonely, since everyone from the youngest learners up were keen to feed him hay and vegetables. We're going to track his weight and I may show them how to make sleep sacks for him (something I just learned how to do recently).

Speaking of making, I also made a cool name tag at the first 2018-19 Tinkering Thursday event, but like the students, I spent a lot of time at that event just reconnecting with others by talking (and talking, and talking).

Talking is not a bad thing, necessarily. For the older grades, we spent the first couple of classes together just talking. We talked about what they want to do during their library periods. (Consensus were items like book exchange, current events community circle, and free time to either catch up on work or socialize a bit.) We talked about books a bit. We talked about possible clubs and teams. And although we didn't use the Fisher-Price toys, we did use the Koosh balls. (For those who are unfamiliar with Koosh balls, [like Stephen Hurley, my VoicEd interviewer I spoke to last Friday] I found a "labelled for non-commercial reuse" image below.)

The beginning of the school year can be a stressful time, especially for those new to a particular school or school in general. (Aviva Dunsiger wrote a great post that dovetails a bit with this one, about power struggles with youngsters - see Play is supposed to be an important part of the kindergarten curriculum and I need to remind myself to allow more time for it - not just for the youngest students, but the older ones as well. 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!

Monday, September 10, 2018

Addressing A Group

My first week of school for the 2018-19 school year went smoothly. I only encountered four criers on the first day (all in the same class, but thankfully all calmed down by the end of the first period). Returning staff and students seemed happy to be back. New staff and students adjusted well to our school so far. The idea or issue (other than how I'll try and maintain this new level of tidiness I've started in the library and in my garage) that's been rattling around in my head is tangentially related to school. It began with my family and erupted with a tweet.
I asked this question online and didn't expect the avalanche of replies and interest. (I know that compared to the thousands of likes and replies others get on Twitter, it seems like small potatoes, but for me, this topic generated a lot of responses.

*We deviate from the original topic of this blog post for an important tangent.*

A bit of an unexpected technical challenge here while composing this blog post - I wanted to include every single person that took the time to answer. Usually with my blog, it's just a simple case of "embed tweet" but as of September 8, 2018 at 9:34 pm, there were 29 replies, and that didn't count the ones that stemmed from the follow-up emails. Spooler looked possible but I didn't know which tweet would count as the last tweet in the thread (it works by "unspooling" the twitter thread from the last to the first). I read up on Spooler and it said that it would only connect tweets by the original writer, so that won't work. I tried ThreadReaderApp but it wasn't that successful because all the replies didn't connect to each other, just to the original tweet. Storify is dead now and I read that Wakelet was a good alternative, but I tried it and it wasn't doing what I wanted it to, plus it was a little grabby in terms of taking permissions. I will have to settle with an old-fashioned copy and pasting of just a few of the tweets.

*Now we return to your regularly scheduled blog post topic*

Big thanks to EVERYONE who took the time to reply. I got responses to the original tweet from

and I received subsequent responses from

Apologies to anyone who responded to this topic after I composed and revised this blog post who did not receive a mention. Mea culpa.

To complicate things, I neglected to mention in my initial tweet that I wasn't searching for ways to address a class of students, but the members of my own immediate family! I wrote down all the suggestions that people had offered (at that point in time) and then, a day after I published the original tweet, I shared some of the reactions my family had to the various ideas.

I've realized that there is no one perfect or mutually agreed upon answer to this question. Below are just a few of the tweets that explained why a particular term does or doesn't work for some. The fascinating thing is that there are very valid arguments for and against the same words. For instance, some of the most popular recommendations were "friends" and "y'all", but there were still some eloquent objections. (If I had time, I would have tallied all the votes for all the words mentioned by people.)

(The last tweet was in response to someone who has their Twitter account locked on private, and who mentioned that "the occasional 'guys' still slips out".)

 My family said they'd prefer I use the term "peeps" (So, some of my commonly uttered phrases directed at the group of them will now sound more like, "What are you peeps planning to do for the rest of the evening?" or "I love you peeps so much!") I wonder, if I brought this up with my students, what term they would recommend or choose. Now that I've been hyper-aware of my choice of words, I've noticed that the most popular way to address a group at school by other educators is "you guys", followed by "boys and girls" if the students are in a primary grade. There is no perfect alternative, but some thought-provoking reasons for using one term over another. Food for thought.

Monday, September 3, 2018

Podcasts and Broadcasts

When I was little, my second career aspiration after teaching was a future as a radio announcer. For the past two weeks, I've been able to live that path-not-taken by participating in several podcasts. Each one was a different experience. I'll write about them in the reverse order that I recorded them.

1) This Week In Ontario Edublogs

Recorded = Wednesday, August 29, 2018
Published = Wednesday, August 29, 2018
Link = 

Format = Three panelists (usually two, Doug and Stephen, but for the summer an additional weekly guest) summarize and comment upon a few blog posts written by Ontario educators.

This podcast was probably the most nerve-wracking for me and the one with the most preparation necessary. It was broadcast live and recorded "as is" for the archives and future listening. Doug is responsible for the content and Stephen for the technology for this show. He provided links for 5-6 blog posts that he read and considered "meaty" enough to discuss on-air. My task was to also read those blogs and have ready a few words about each of them. We used ZenCaster to capture the conversation. My inner voice would throw cautionary admonitions at me as I was talking, like "Don't swear!" or "Use complete sentences so you don't sound like an idiot!" or "Don't talk too long!" or "Don't interrupt anyone and try and include everyone!" I was also worried that during our discussion of my friend, Jennifer Casa-Todd's blog post about her personal history as a reader, that we would sound too critical. Both Doug and I noticed her use of the word "frivolous" and I thought she was being too hard on herself and not giving herself the same non-judgmental stance that she grants to her younger daughter and high school students she encounters. Thankfully, Jennifer was her usual gracious and thoughtful self and did not take our observations as a personal insult.
Thanks to Doug for his organization (he created a Google Doc with the blog links, space for notes so I'd have a heads-up on what he might ask me) and to Stephen for keeping an eye on the time and monitoring all the moving parts. Both gentlemen made me feel comfortable and welcomed.

ETA: I changed the title of this blog post after listening to Doug and Stephen talk on the September 5, 2018 edition of "This Week in Ontario Edublogs". They described the difference and noted that their show is more of a broadcast because it is live and unedited.

2) Library Land Loves

Recorded = Tuesday, August 28, 2018
Published = not yet (plans for early September and early January or mid-May) ETA live Sept. 5/18
Link = ETA specific link now is

Format =  A staff member of the Ontario Library Association interviews someone working in or related to the field of library, who mentions a top 5 list of some sort.

I had promised Michael Rogowski to be one of his Library Land Love volunteers and record a podcast with him ages ago, but time is a precious commodity that slips past faster than we can anticipate. Our original plan was to pick a geeky kind of topic, like my five favourite RPG moments, but after listening to Richard Reid's inaugural podcast detailing his top 5 OLA SuperConference moments, I was more inclined to talk about my top 5 OLA Festival of Trees moments. This was a go and we selected a date to finally get it done. Two little hiccups came into play - Michael has a new job away from OLA, and I was asked if I'd be willing to do a second podcast that could be published to coincide with the first few weeks of school. Why not? I scribbled some ideas on a scrap piece of paper and drove down to OLA headquarters. The talented and perfectly coiffed Michelle Arbuckle was on the other end of the microphone for both interviews, and she helped me shape the theme for the back-to-school podcast ("5 things that teachers / teacher-librarians do in September that we should probably do all year 'round" or some title like that). We used Audacity and a gorgeous powerful standing microphone that picked up conversation (and table bumps, which meant I was conscientiously keeping my elbows off the table) quite clearly. I actually cried during part of my broadcast, which was a little odd considering that I knew exactly what was going to be discussed. As Michelle ad-libbed, "I've been told I'm like the Barbara Walters of library interviews". My voice was sore by the end of two back-to-back podcasts; I actually don't talk that much during the school day. (I'm of the "the one that's doing the talking is doing much of the thinking" school of thought, so I try not to blather on too much during my lessons.) It was great to reminisce about the Festival of Trees anecdotes and I hope no one will take the back-to-school podcast as a "thou shalt" requirement.

3) I Wish I Knew Edu: Looking Back and Learning Forward

Recorded = Monday, August 20, 2018
Published = not yet; late September ETA shared Sept. 17/18
Link =  ETA specific link

Format = Ramona Meharg interviews educators and asks them to consider what it was like for them when they first started, what they "wish they knew then that they do now" and share their professional journeys.

Ramona contacted me via Twitter after I shared my radio attempts (and failures) during a Twitter chat. She invited me to discuss it (and her usual framing questions) on her podcast show, which lives on VoicEd Radio.

Ramona did a great job of preparing me for the recording. She shared a Google document outlining the types of questions she'd ask, and also prepared me for the possibility of going on tangents. As she described it, the process is just like two teachers talking with each other, but with the conversation being recorded. Ramona used ZenCaster and I recorded from the comfort of my home. Instead of my basement desktop with headphone and mic, I used my laptop and the built-in microphone on the main floor. I had to move our pet budgie upstairs because he wanted to give his $0.02 worth. I really enjoyed chatting with Ramona. I expressed concern about my frequent references to drinking (I promise that I'm not a lush!) but Ramona reassured me that it's important to "keep it real". We definitely went off on tangents and it was challenging to articulate my philosophy of education in a succinct fashion. There were several moments a few days after we recorded that I had many "I Wish I Said ..." (which is ironic considering that the show is called "I Wish I Knew Edu"). I wish I wrote down my philosophy of education in advance so that I could have that statement flow and I didn't miss any key concepts. I wish I directly mentioned my wonderful posse from Gaming Edus (Liam O'Donnell, Denise Colby, Andrew Forgrave, Jen Apgar) because I referred to the relation between comics and video games in education and that idea came from conversations and blog posts with Liam and Denise. Sorry Liam and Denise - please take this as an "addendum" to the show.

What I discovered from all of these podcasts is that I can actually talk for a LOOOOONG time! I asked Ramona what the typical length of one of her shows was - the answer was that it varies but it stays closer to 30 minutes. The show that I was on lasted over an hour! The TWiOE podcast lasted a long time as well and we even skipped one of the podcasts we were supposed to cover! I'm also grateful that I was allowed to name-drop and mention so many different names and organizations. Many educators are unsung heroes, doing great things but unknown in the greater educational sphere in Ontario. I tell people I've talked about them in blogs or on podcasts, so that they know I'm talking (positively) about them, they can hear what I've said about them, and that other people can discover them and the amazing things that they do. (Heads up: I mentioned Dean Roberts, Kerri Commisso, Alanna King, and many others that I've forgotten - I may have to listen to those recordings again and add to the list of the mentions.)

P.S. Podcasting (and live broadcasting) is like teaching. It's nerve-wracking but exhilarating. You hope you don't screw up and sometimes wish for do-overs. It's about speaking and listening and relationships. It takes thinking before, during, and after. You hope that what you said, do and share makes a difference. Best wishes to everyone on Labour Day 2018, the day before the first day of school (for most schools in Ontario) and may your teaching be like a great podcast!