I haven’t had an opportunity yet this year to write about the transition from being an elementary school librarian to a middle-grade librarian. Our school district has a unique set up. We have K-4 elementary schools, a 5-6 building and a 7-8 building. After more than two decades in elementary school, I have moved to the 5-6 building. It’s been an adjustment. The biggest adjustment has been the schedule. I moved from a fixed to what I would describe as a hybrid schedule. I describe it as hybrid because my fifth grade classes are signed up for weekly sessions, but my sixth grade classes come on a flexible basis.
Our 100 year-old school, The Skokie School, was reopened about two decades ago and will be shuttered again as we merge our 5-6 and 7-8 building in a few years. During most of that time, a single librarian was at the helm of the Skokie School library. She was an amazing librarian. She literally read every book on the shelves and could book talk each and every one of them with her encyclopedic knowledge and photographic memory. She developed passionate readers and a rich collection of 15,000 items. Her power was knowing her collection and matching it with her readers.
I began reading in earnest in hopes of being able to have coherent conversations with the voracious readers at our school. I was fairly confident about meeting the needs of the incoming fifth graders, but the sixth graders were slightly beyond my comfort level.
I started with our state’s middle-grade book contest, the Rebecca Caudill Young Reader’s Awards. I attempted to read as many of the books on the list for the last couple of years as I could. Honestly, that was a great place to start, but I immediately felt the crushing pressure of the new books that were coming out every single month. I decided that what was most important to me was to be able to have conversations with my students about books. I let my guard down and was honest with them; there are so many books in the world and so little time. I started sharing five (new to me) books each week when I saw classes. Some of those were just released, some of them had been out for years. All of them were reads I would recommend. I noticed that the students just wanted to hear about books, new, old, favorites, etc. They wanted to connect. They wanted to talk about books they loved and wanted others to love.
It sounds lovely, but that only got me so far. I assembled some tools to help me expand my toolbox. I used Destiny’s Collections to collect student recommendations across a wide range of genres. Now, when a student comes to me and I need some recommendations for them, I pull up the collection for the genre they are interested in and can scroll through a dozen or more student or colleague recommendations. In a matter of minutes I can help students find a just right book. I continue to add to the collections and hope in time that students will look to these as well for recommendations. I frequently use other tools like Novellist K-8 and Goodreads to help me find ‘read-alikes’ for students.
So what else have I been doing? Besides getting to know my colleagues and students, I’ve been attending grade level meetings to learn more about the curriculum and how the resource center can support their work. I’ve dug into a couple of initiatives that impact the whole school alongside our literacy facilitator and have partnered with a few educators on projects they are passionate about. I’ve been weeding the collection hard, making room for new books and preparing for some much needed new furniture that has just been ordered.
— Todd (@todd_burleson) October 23, 2019
We’ve begun some 5/6 grade book clubs during lunch around four titles on our Rebecca Caudill’s Young Readers Award books We are about to begin celebrating Picture Book Month. I’m personally passionate about the power of picture books for all ages. More on that in a future post.
— Todd (@todd_burleson) October 14, 2019
I’d be remiss if I didn’t thank my administration and my amazing associate, Crystal. Their support has made all the difference! I’m finally beginning to feel at home.