Valentine gift

At full time public school teachers- yes, this includes teachers who are in charge of the library, aka librarians or media specialists– can sign up to seek funding for school projects and materials they need. Much like Kickstarter and other crowdfunding sites, educators can tap into a network of individuals much larger than the school community and their own personal circle of friends and acquaintances. The fact is, people want to help. Particularly if they can see how the money was spent and are able to interact at some level with the recipients.

The great thing about this site is that it’s very simple and straightforward. Teachers sign up (for free), detail out the materials and/or activities they need, and the campaign starts. Costs are verified by a member of the DonorsChoose team who then makes the purchases and sends items directly to the school. Finally, teachers are asked to send thank you letters, photos and a report. Donors can search by location; teacher or school; grade level, type of project or resource; amount needed; or by a keyword of their own choosing. They can fund a small part of the project or all of it. Sometimes there’s even a flash funding event where an organization or famous person- such as Google or Bill Gates, steps in and funds the whole thing. But mostly, it’s just regular people who want to feel useful.

And it works.  At, 74% of the projects get fully funded. And on average, this happens within 27 days. Feel like cutting through the red tape, anyone? What I love is the range of projects that educators post. Here’s a few good examples:

  • Sally Ride Science – Literacy and eBooks for STEM learning:  A fantastic program that recognizes the role of literacy in STEM activities. This campaign is to fund a year’s worth of access to digital content and analytics.
  • Teacher of Three Oaks Library: A simple request for more library books. The teacher has identified three of the most important genres lacking from the library and then listed each book desired in the three categories.
  • A list of “Nearby Projects” yields 10 projects in my own school district! I like this one which is asking for bean bag chairs for the reading center.

Educators, if you haven’t already used, please give it a whirl. And parents, please pass the word on to your children’s teachers.


Library + Makerspace = Learning Hub

connected learning
shiela connects by Alice Keeler (CC-BY 2.0)

Ohmygosh! This was such a simple, practical article about creating effective makerspaces. It got me dreaming about the makerspace that is supposedly coming to my daughter’s school. I really need to get better plugged in there because I didn’t even know they were putting one in. I would have loved to provide some input.

Most importantly, I would have asked if there was any way that it could be connected to the library. I think it’s a real missed opportunity to not have these two learning spaces connected. The library, after all, is a place where students are exposed to new and previously unexplored ideas. In an ideal world, there’s enough library time each week for library programs that help students actively engage with those ideas through collaborative, hands-on projects. We know this is how students learn. Having a makerspace would be a step in the right direction.

Modern school libraries have moved waaay beyond the role of merely supporting traditional literacy (reading and writing), toward being a key player in ensuring students meet state standards related to digital, visual, textual and technological literacy (which apply to K-5, not just the older kids). The modern library is a place of learning and doing. As Joyce Frye Willams puts it, “Our libraries should transition to places to do stuff, not simply places to get stuff.  We need to stop being the grocery store and become the kitchen” (take a minute to explore my colleagues’ website about makerspaces where I discovered this quote; it’s about highschool makerspaces, but very informative with lots of relevant resources.)

By separating the makerspace from the library, we risk marginalizing the library and move further away from giving our students an integrated, collaborative learning experience. You could almost argue that it sends a message that reading, writing, and inquiry/research have nothing to do with making things, undervaluing both the the library and the makerspace. Instead, we should be modelling the idea of connected learning, demonstrating that learning occurs in different contexts, is production-centered, and is powered by student interest (Harlan, 2015). One of the district’s core strategies for becoming “the model of educational excellence and innovation” is stated on page eight of its strategic plan: “The library is an important and central hub of each campus. The library can and should be involved in every aspect of the educational process.” Adding a makerspace to the library would help bring this vision of a learning hub into reality in a big way. Both libraries and makerspaces are important investments of time, money and energy, and should be maximized for optimal impact. They are, after all, more similar than they are different, sharing the common mission to “ignite a love of learning and a sense of curiosity in all students”- which, incidentally, is the school’s stated vision. Sounds like a win-win-win-win to me.


Harlan, M.A., (2015) Literacy and Media Centers in the Twenty-First Century. In Hirsh, S., Editor, Information Services Today: An Introduction. (pp. 53 – 61). Blue Ridge Summit: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

ISTE Connects (2016, May 11) 7 Tips for Creating a Learner-Centered Makerspace International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE).

Sannwald, S. Burns. M., Miranda, G. & Westcoat, M. (2015) Makerspace Toolkit.




Reclassification Rates of English Language Learners


Awards Wall by JIsc infoNet (CC BY-NC-ND)


In our elementary school, English Learners (EL) represent 33% of the student body. Last year (2014-15), 10% of EL students were redesignated as Fluent-English-Proficient (FEP). Compared to a 4% FEP reclassification rate five years prior, this could be considered an improvement. Yet, the last three years have seen a steady reduction in FEP reclassification rates (RFEP)- from 16% (2012-13) to 12 % (2013-14) to 10% (2014-15). Our reclassification rate appears to be leveling off. I’m wondering why, and also to what extent EL reclassification rates reflect on the quality of a school’s instruction and/or library services- if at all.

First, the why: More rigorous performance standards (the minimum tests scores and qualitative data, such as teacher feedback, that students must obtain in order to be reclassified) are associated with lower reclassification rates. So, the schools that make it more difficult to get out of EL status have a lower reclassification rate. The state board of education (SBE) provides guidelines on the standards but allows districts to create their own- and 90% of school districts adopt standards that are more rigorous than those recommended by the SBE.  There are two main things at play here that may affect reclassification rates: 1) the new CCSS testing environment necessitates a revision of district-specified scoring mechanisms; 2) changes in the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) that increases funding for districts with large EL populations, potentially providing a disincentive to move kids up to FEP status.

Even though the reclassification issue is most sensitive for long term (6+ yrs) EL students in middle and high school where being an EL student starts effecting ACT scores, access to AP classes, and even graduation- I am still interested in understanding reclassification rates at the elementary level. It seems like a real catch 22; you don’t want to reclassify them too early, putting them into classes where they are unable to learn core concepts, and you don’t want to keep them in EL status too long, limiting their access to appropriate academic content and increasing stigma and demoralization.

Across the Twitterverse there appears to be a generalized concern about low reclassification rates (and a lot of celebrating of RFEP status). A recent report (Hill, Weston & Hayes, 2014) on reclassification of EL students in California recommends that reclassification standards be lowered in districts using standards more rigorous than those suggested in the SBE guidelines, and that perhaps all districts should follow a statewide standard reclassification criteria that is less rigorous. Some of the report’s key points:

  • Reclassified students not only outperform EL students, but also often do as well as native English speakers when it comes to measures of academic outcomes. But it’s best to reclassify early—those reclassified in grades 8 to 12 generally have lower levels of performance than those reclassified at younger grades.
  • It is possible that districts with high reclassification thresholds (strict fluency standards) are restricting the access of EL students to the full range of academic instruction that non-EL students receive, which would squelch the academic achievement of high-performing EL students.
  • Reclassified students’ outcomes are better in school districts with more rigorous performance thresholds, but not by much, calling into question if the trade-off between improved RFEP outcomes and fewer RFEP students is worth it.  

I don’t know what to think. Please chime in if you have some thoughts or experience with this.

Getting back to how and if the library has anything to do with reclassification rates: We know that students acquire critical grammar, vocabulary and text structure needed to comprehend the academic language found in textbooks through self-selected recreational reading. To that extent, the school library is supporting EL students by providing a wide range of reading materials and giving students free range to indulge their interests. I also think that having a good selection of native language books (in our case, Spanish) available would be helpful because background knowledge and general literacy in the native language both affect the rate at which students perform academically in English; reading skills are reading skills- they transfer from language to language. Literacy as a baseline skill is used to develop higher-order thinking skills. I don’t think lower reclassification rates directly reflect on the quality of a school’s instruction, but I do think that instruction in a student’s native language facilitates the acquisition of English, and that policies discouraging native-language use in the classroom (or materials in the library, for that matter) will diminish EL student engagement.



Hill, L. E., Weston, M., & Hayes, J. M. (2014). Reclassification of English learner students in California. Public Policy Institute of California. Retrived from

OER at Vista Unified School District

OERs by AJ Cann (CC BY-SA 2.0)


Vista Unified School District (VUSD) was one of the first 10 districts to be a part of the “#GoOpen” movement which aims to rely less on textbooks and more on open, timely and often free educational resources (OER) available on the Internet. In fact, VUSD is one of a few districts testing a new OER platform by Amazon Education that will allow schools to upload, manage, share, and discover open education resources from a homepage that resembles the Amazon online retail website. This focus on OER is an opportunity for the district’s certificated school librarians, who are uniquely qualified to leverage OER, to show their expertise with curation and other edtech skills. As Joyce Valenza puts it, “This is our gig”. In her call-to-action on OER, she points out that we will need to take the lead in making sense of the massive amount of content that is going to hit schools, developing workflows to help teachers and leveraging content that will undoubtly help boost equality of access, as we develop user-friendly collections from a sea of content.

Buffy Gets Real


Uphill Battle_LG
Sphere by Tyler Merbler (CC-BY 2.0)

Ever since I came across this article (p. 56), I have been trying to ignore it. I’m a big fan of the unquiet librarian, and always pay attention to what Buffy Hamilton has to say. But it bummed me out a little bit (okay, a lot) in that it validated everything I was thinking as I worked through yet another exhausting assignment for my school libraries course: It’s impossible for someone to be all things to all people…how can the school librarian simultaneously be: 1) instructor for students (information and digital literacy) both in the library and in the classroom via co-teaching and collaborating with teachers, as well as instructor to teachers for edTech and other professional development units;  2) collection developer and manager; 3) facilities manager; 4) instructional technology specialist and website developer; 5) advocate; 6) program developer/manager? And all of this in the face of widespread misunderstanding (or outright cluelessness) about the role and value of the school librarian. This wearer-of-many-hats idea is a lofty, noble, heroic vision of the school librarian, for sure. But realistic? Maybe not so much.

In this article that had me questioning the treacherous path that is school librarianship, Buffy Hamilton, High School librarian and influential blogger, and Kristin Fontichiaro, author and professor at the University of Michigan School of Information, assess where the profession stands nearly 20 years after the release of Information Power (the American Library Association’s 1998 vision for school librarians) and urges us to discuss the unspeakable: is this really working?

Among the more painful excerpts about the 20-year old vision that has yet to unfold:

  • Despite being professionally recognized for superior transparency, innovation, pedagogy, and program advocacy- the “best” librarians still lost staff. [I needn’t go too deep into the widespread loss of school librarians, but this 2010 map drives home the point by mapping out the number of school districts within the U.S. that have eliminated their certified school librarian positions, despite evidence of the link between certified school librarians and the academic achievement of students.]
  • Teaching and learning are not necessarily the centerpiece of a school librarian’s professional practice. In some states, a teaching certificate is required, in others it’s not. Across the country, meaningful collaboration with teachers is the exception, not the rule; many teachers don’t think there’s room for inquiry-based work with their students anyway, given the ever-present threat of standardized testing, and even if they do, tend to marginalize the librarian’s role to a short, 1-shot tack-on to a brief library visit.
  • Thinking about the wearer-of-many-hats idea: “Are we accidentally setting up unreasonable expectations for the overall profession? What might the cost be of flying the profession’s flags so high that no one can reach them?” What, in fact, does it mean to be a “great” school librarian? Sometimes, it just means that you had less obstacles (a more supportive district, a larger school site funding base, more cooperative teachers, etc.) How does local context allow for meaningful performance metrics across the discipline?
  • And this one that I’ve been struggling with since my school libraries coursework began: “What do librarians do that classroom teachers cannot?” Of course, the answer has to do with our combination of being information specialists (heavy on inquiry and research skills), curriculum generalists, and saavy with technology- yet this unique combination of skills somehow remains invisible to the larger school community. Open educational resources (OER), classroom libraries, and 1:1 programs now muddle up this skill set and make it appear that everything is available online anyway.

I’ll leave you with the last searing question of the article: “[can] the dreams that began with Information Power still be achieved? Is our job to face reality and adapt, subjugate, or thwart it? Or to continue to push a boulder up a steep, resistant hill, strong in our convictions but exhausting ourselves with the Sisyphean effort?”

This article was published in the print version of Knowledge Quest (Sept/Oct 2014), so I don’t know what kind of conversations ensued. What’s your take?


CSLA 2016 Conference

permaboundEarlier this year, the California School Library Association (CLSA) had its annual conference at the Bahia, down in Mission Bay- an easy day trip for me. I cleared my schedule for that Friday, made sure my husband could pick my daughter up from school, and headed down to the bay. My objectives were simple: learn a few things relative to k-5 school libraries, introduce myself to the librarians from my daughter’s school district who were presenting that day (Risen from the Ashes), and meet up with my professor and some fellow students.

I was glad I made the effort to come down, but I almost didn’t make it in. I hadn’t read the registration information correctly back home, and when I got there, I realized that a one-day pass was much more expensive than I had anticipated, even with my CSLA membership. For a self-funded romp in library conference land, it just wasn’t worth the price. My miniature drama played out in front of everyone as we were all queued up to check in. I had already been given the official conference schwag-bag and when they could not offer me any student discounts or alternatives, I swallowed my pride, handed back the bright red Perma-bound sponsored bag and announced that I would at least be keeping the free pen, since I had already been using it. Oh well, I thought. I can spend the day catching up on homework instead. Then, just as I was approaching the elevators, my conference angel tapped me on the shoulder and whispered conspiratorially, “Here’s a bag and a program… Go! Just go! Enjoy the sessions.”

So that’s what I did. My first selection was a jam-packed session entitled “New Books for Boys: And Anyone Else Who Likes a Good Read” by Deborah B. Ford, Director of Junior Library Guild. I got the impression that everyone already knew her (or knew of her) and were there to hear the good word. But really, it just amounted to her describing book after book that was coming out. To me, it seems like that would be something I could do on-line, but everyone else seemed to be enjoying themselves. I was hoping for more lecture and tips. Still, I scribbled some notes in my freebie Follett notebook, including a reference to TuBooks with whom I am now connected on Twitter.

Finding my next session was an adventure, as it turned out to be aboard a paddle-steamer. Sadly, we never went out on the bay, but just learned about content marketing while rocking back and forth at the dock. Brigeen Radoicich-Houghton (please don’t ask me to pronounce that) from the Fresno County Office of Education gave a great session, full of interesting and useful information, summarized in my tweets:

tweet_Marketing_CSLA16 (1)


As I moved from session to session, I carried my red schwag-bag with me like I owned the place. Or, at least like I belonged there. Like I was a legitimate, paying member of the profession.  My bag and I ended up at Doree Tschudy’s presentation, “Becoming a Centered Librarian”, which, by that point in the afternoon, sounded enormously appealing- as if we might even get down on the floor and do some yoga, who knows. Well, that didn’t happen, but I did learn that creating stations for various library programs can be as easy as using book carts, and that crazy determined people like Doree Tschudy get away with library programming for each class that involves a choice of six centers in a period of 20 minutes, leaving 10 min to check out books.  Wow!! I’d like to try something like that next year.

Later in the afternoon, I got to listen to the Vista Unified School District (VUSD) librarians who are really rockin’ it. They gave us an update on the implementation of the district’s library strategic plan- reviewing some of the successes and lessons-learned. I was proud to be a VUSD parent and library volunteer. Great group of ladies who know their stuff. I met briefly with Ranae Mathias afterwards and, later, sent her a quick email to follow up and let her know that she should think of me as an ally and advocate.

Finally, that evening, I got to sit down with Mary Ann and talk to some of my student colleagues. I really enjoyed chatting with Suzanne Sannwald who is a high school librarian down in San Diego and who I plan on keeping in touch with. I’ve admired her work on our course site and discussion boards for the past two semesters, so it’s great to know her now.

All in all, it was totally worth the effort. If not for the session content, then definitely for the people I met, and the red bag that, together with my #sensibleshoes, has school librarian written all over it.