The Road Less Traveled

These days, after the last 1.5 years in London, the Pacific Northwest is – once again – home.  Moving abroad and teaching overseas was a ‘Road Less Traveled’ moment.  And though I started on the overseas path with much frustration and lament, I grew to appreciate and love the opportunities it presented.  I am certain I’m a better human and teacher for taking The Road Less Traveled and embracing the life of an expat and international teacher in London.

I had no idea that The Road Less Traveled would continue to be relevant upon returning to the US.

You see, I knew that the part-time job at my former elementary school library was waiting for me.  However – surprise! – there was a new FT job at an elementary library in my home district.  (There were really 3 choices, but one wasn’t librarianship and was more easily eliminated.)  Two choices – two paths.  Which to take?

One choice – one path – seemed easy: the same school I’d taught in for 13 years, the same district where I’d build my name and reputation, the same students and community who’d embraced my adventure abroad and hoped for my return.  But that path came with new changes, notably different values and visions for the library program being articulated by building leadership. Sure, it was the same school.  But the longer I looked, the clearer it became that the path had changed: I would not be returning to the same job.

The other path was decidedly tougher: a FT librarian at an elementary school in a different district. It would be a bigger school.  More classes.  Less admin time.  Zero professional clout.  Learning a whole new district and curriculum. This path would keep me closer to home. It also came with admin who seemed supportive.

Add in the fact that I’d be a single parent for the first third of the school year, and a dilemma was had: part time but farther away?  Full time but closer to home?  Less respect for librarianship vs the potential for respect?

After much soul-searching and many sleepless nights, I chose The Road Less Traveled: the full-time job, the new school, the new district.  It wasn’t – and hasn’t been – the easy choice.  On days I feel overwhelmed and frustrated – which is usually 80-100% of the time – I remember the wise words of Frost:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

I tell myself that taking this road will make all the difference because I will make a difference.  I tell myself that I have the ability to positively impact hundreds of new students. I know that I get to create a library that is inclusive, welcoming, and current. And reinventing what students and staff and families think when they see a school librarian is something I relish.

I am writing these words down, these thoughts of mine, because taking this less-traveled road continues to be hard.  The constant, never-ending work.  The newness of everything.  The fixed mindsets of colleagues.  But I know this choice will ultimately make all the difference.

2018-2019 WCCPB Award Nominees (and lesson ideas!)`

Each year, the Washington Library Association book award committees read dozens of books to select nominees for upcoming book award announcements: the Sasquatch, the Towner, the WCCPBA, and the OTTER.

And each year, I spend countless hours reading said nominees and thinking of how I’ll be utilizing them in my elementary library.  THIS year, though, the lovely folk at PSESD allowed me to share this at their summer learning institute for new teacher-librarians and library para-educators.

Before I go off on a tangent, know that I’ve read all the WCCPBA books. I wrote critical thinking / analysis questions for all of them.  This work is all mine, and I share it freely with you.  It should be noted that the WCCPBA committee does create an activity packet, though I find creating my own resource to be more beneficial.

The 2018-2019 WCCPBA nominees:

And the 2018-2019 WCCPB Awards slides from my PSESD presentation in August 2018:

The WCCPBA took up a bit of the presentation. Why?  Because there are 20 nominees that can take up 20 weeks of library time.  Now when I was a rookie librarian this sounded GREAT.  But as a veteran, I do things differently.  Unit studies work better for me/my students, so looking at the books with a thematic lens is more successful. This allows for classroom learning, school events, and research opportunities to be incorporated into meaningful, 2-4 week mini-units.

Before I can create any unit, though, I must read each title, think about the nominees as a whole, pull together resources, and create critical thinking questions.  Because there are a lot of books and, really, very little time…especially if you celebrate other reading moments like Dot Day, Global Read Aloud, Star Wars Reads, World Read Aloud Day, etc. And I do 🙂

There are tabs on each book, denoting what type of unit I’d likely place it in.

Some books have videos. Some have Skype opportunities.  Some have makerspace extensions. And some I won’t choose to read aloud.  Because Rule 1 in reading aloud is that I must like the book…and there are some here that aren’t my cup of tea.

Hopefully these resources will help you plan for the year, WA librarian friends.

Cheers, y’all!  –arika

Book BINGO: update

After a number of requests for editable copies Book BINGO – and a timely PPT tip from my favorite school counselor, Mrs. Watling – Book BINGO is now available for anyone to download and edit as a PowerPoint file! Please be sure the slide size (under Design) is set at a custom size of 11″ x 8.5″ before printing.


book-bingo PPT 

Here’s the original Book BINGO post for reference, if needed.

What I learned after hosting Book BINGO for students in grades 2-4 during 2017-2018:

  1. Set a day each week when you’ll review completed Book BINGO cards. Otherwise, it’s overwhelming.
  2. Prizes? It’s up to you. If you go that route, our Book BINGO bookmarks (with tassels) were popular and inexpensive.
  3. Be prepared for students who want a new challenge board. I had numerous readers finish within a month and request a new challenge.  I wasn’t ready for this.
  4. Have grade 1 students who want to participate?  Let them.  Maybe make a few styles of boards to support all grade 1 readers: those reading independently and those reading with assistance.
  5. Audiobooks & read-alouds count!  Remind them – and their families – of this!
  6. I had zero teachers participate. Maybe because I was new and the program was new?  Either way, I’ll try again next year…
  7. During our assembly recognition of BINGO column finishers, I’d make a change: include students who are really working to grow as readers. There was the boy who read all 8 Dragon Masters books during Spring Break but never finished a column. A girl who only read graphic novels but never finished a column. An avid reader who didn’t care about writing down titles, only about reading. If I celebrate those who finish, I can also celebrate those who are reading in their own way.
  8. Waning interest? Increase booktalks…and tie the booktalks to sections of the BINGO board.

Cheers, y’all! –arika

Library Lessons: Oct 2-6, 2017

Week SEVEN!  Can it be?!  (Answer: Yes. Yes, it can.)


Grades K/1:

Grade 2:

This was the week that Book BINGO was introduced!

Grades 3/4:

And, Book BINGO!

Cheers, y’all!  –arika

Library Lessons: Oct 23-27, 2017

Week 9!  All should be fine…but this is real life.  See 3rd grade!


We kicked off our BEARS unit with two of my favorites that I brought to London from the USA.  The good: the stories were well received. The bad: they need more movement, and the riddles weren’t the best for this group.  Hmm…  Reflection and revision is needed.

Grades K/1:

The final week in our Peter Brown author study!  Being that it was the week before Halloween, we read the 2017 release Creepy Pair of Underwear.  The goal? To compare/contrast it with Creepy Carrots using a Venn Diagram.  Result?  Success, even though they’d never used a Venn Diagram before!

Grade 2:

Week 3 of our Haiku Animals unit.  This week: accessing PebbleGo and writing 3 bullet-point notes on a chosen animal. And citation, in limited form.  Students had a mostly-complete citation on their note-taking form, and they had to discern the part missing…then fill in the blank.  It was a developmentally appropriate way to introduce citing sources.

The 2nd graders are across the board in their ability to read/write/note-take.  This was a surprisingly successful lesson which had everyone engaged and focused.  Next week: videos with ChatterPix Kids!

Grade 3:

Okay.  So, these were the best laid plans.  Students were going to use Destiny and write reviews using SWBST.  BUT.  Destiny was being a bear (not its fault…something deeper).  Passwords and usernames were changing overnight, and I didn’t know why.  When 25% of the class can’t log in, it doesn’t matter how many students there are – the lesson still goes to pot in under 30 seconds.  Suffice to say, of my two 3rd grade classes, we only attempted logging in with one.  The 2nd did this lesson orally.

Grade 4:

You know those moments when a one-off lesson turns into something more?  That’s what happened here.  Last week, students gave feedback and input regarding our library home page in Destiny.  Little did we realize that the SINGLE link every student chose as a “good” link to keep was this one:  Teachers’ Top 100 Books for Children

Click the link.  What do you notice?  As we shared in class, the list was created by the NEA, which is trustworthy organization.  However…when was it published?  Not one child noticed this little detail: the list was 18 years old! This was the perfect way to teach copyright and checking to see when a website was created.  I absolutely love when lessons like this create themselves!

This is going to lead into our next unit: FAKE NEWS, using Laurie Thompson & Ammi-Joan Paquette’s Two Truths and a Lie, where looking at a site’s author is a key skill.

Until then…

Cheers, y’all!  –arika

Library Lessons: Oct 30-Nov 3, 2017

Week 10!


Week 2 of the BEARS unit.

Two stories, one set of riddles, a giant bear walk around the library…and I should have had more.  Note to self: 40 minutes with 4 year olds requires a LOT of activities, especially when they take less than 5 minutes to select books and check out!

Grades K/1:

Week 1 of a new author study with MAC BARNETT.  Mac is one of my favorite

Each week in this study, I’ll be teaching how to read a spine label on a book. With LEO, the 2 questions listed are WRONG! (I saved the wrong slide…oops!). Students reacted to what they wondered about the story.

Grade 2:

Week 4 in our Haiku Animals study.  Week 1, Week 2, and Week 3 are here.  (note: this would be a 3 week unit if students are already familiar with PebbleGo. Mine were not.)

This week, students used their notes to share information learned.  They created short videos using ChatterPix.

Here were the directions, made using ChatterPix:

And here was a sample video I made using the notes I took during one of the classes:

At the end of the lesson, students uploaded their videos to Seesaw.  Want to know more about how I use Seesaw in the library?  INFO TO COME!

Grade 3:

Goal: students will brainstorm wonder questions following a reading of Katherine Applegate’s Ivan: the remarkably true story of a shopping mall gorilla.

Why are we doing this?  Well, Destiny has been a beast, and not all students are able to access it at this point (I’m working on discovering WHY this is).  Until Destiny allows all students equal, successful access, we are taking a break. A mini-unit on nonfiction and research is just what the librarian ordered!

Next week, we’ll do a group research lesson on identifying trustworthy websites and using keywords as we search online for answers to the questions.

Grade 4:

Week 1 of a 5 week unit on FAKE NEWS!

This week, prior knowledge of fake news kicked off our discussion.  Students knew A LOT and kept bringing up certain US-based examples – even in an international school!  We played a short game of “two truths and a lie” to get them prepared for the 3 stories we read in Ammi-Joan Paquette & Laurie Ann Thompson’s book, as most had never heard of it.  Interestingly, two students were able to correctly identify my LIE using nothing but reasoning.  Hint: it involves knowledge of history!

As a class, I read aloud Chapter 5 from Two Truths and a Lie. Recognizing the challenge of reading a book like this aloud, I scanned the pages into a PPT so that children could read along (another idea: use a doc camera…I don’t have one, so scanning worked).  This lesson allowed discussion on how nonfiction books are read (one can skip and choose) and text features in nonfiction (captions, bold words, photographs, etc). We talked about keywords to search, which we’ll be doing next week.

Cheers, y’all!  –arika

Library Lessons: Oct 9-13, 2017

Week 8.  It’s great!  Routines are mostly set.  Expectations, too.  It was a short week (2 days of conferences AND book fair).

NO PreK / K / Grade 1…due to conference days.

Grade 2:

Week 1 in a research unit, designed to fuse PebbleGo, note-taking, citation, and video creation with haiku poetry.  And while this book was a bit young for the 2nd graders, it worked really well with Claim-Evidence-Reasoning…which was the goal of today’s lesson.  Next week: RESEARCH with our newest database, PebbleGo!

Grades 3/4:

So, the Destiny home screen is in need of an update. When  a handful of students per class  don’t realize they’re on the wrong catalog because most of the 11 in our school group look identical, there is an issue.  Step 1: survey the students to see what they think of the current set-up. They are the end-user, so their voice and opinions are the most valuable!  Using their iPads (we are 1:1), they could work independently or with a small group to answer 3 questions: what is GOOD, what SHOULD be here, how should it LOOK?   Following the discussion, three options for a Destiny home page were shared:  one from Van Meter in Iowa (thanks Shannon McClintock Miller), one from my former school (thanks, Nanette!), and our current screen (a list of links).  With little fanfare but much enthusiasm, they were most impressed with a home screen setup like at Van Meter.  Next: a redesign using Symbaloo!

Cheers, y’all!  –arika