Tag Archives: Alberta

The Week in Elementary Library Class


This week we practiced spacer use and finally began to check out books. It’s impossible to fuss when the children become so enthusiastic about actually taking a book home, they forget to put the ones they’re looking at back in the right place, with the spine out, or at all!

Grade 1

Students identified with poor Pigeon in Mo Willem’s Don’t Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late as he tried to talk his caregivers (the children) into letting him stay up. Afterwards we watched Laughter in Libraries’ Don’t Let the Pigeon Read the Books. (below) Luckily they didn’t seem to notice that I really didn’t have the pigeon’s voice anywhere near correct. I almost caved in to overwhelming demand to watch the video a second time, but then we would really have been short on time for book exchange.

Grade 2

The Grade 2 class thoroughly enjoyed The Pout-Pout Fish in the Big-Big Dark by Deborah Diessen, with ever s0 delightful pictures by Dan Hanna. We even snuck in a rereading of The Pout Pout Fish with the class remembering every bit of poor Fish’s refrain:

“I’m a Pout-Pout Fish / With a pout-pout face / so I spread the dreary-wearies all over the place. / Blub / Bluuub / Bluuuuub”

Grade 3

Grade 3 students are expected to be able to extract meaning from informational text so some nonfiction is in order. I found they had no trouble telling me what they had learned from each page we read from the stunningly beautiful and very informative Life in the Boreal Forest by Brenda Z. Guiberson, illustrated by Gennady Spirin. Our small town is situated in the middle of foothills/boreal forest, so the students were very excited to share what they already knew and to add what they were learning to their cache of wilderness knowledge. I hadn’t expected to be able to read the entire book but the students insisted we continue it next class. I’ll be happy to oblige. (Alberta L.A. Outcomes)

Grade 4

Justine got the Grade 4 students’ attention this week when she hauled 2 huge bags of stinking garbage from the dumpster into the school cafeteria. The cook and the principal were none-too pleased as you might imagine. But you can be sure she has a plan to help the environment by decreasing food waste and we think they’re going to listen to her. …continuing Justine McKeen Eat Your Beets by Sigmund Brouwer. (Alberta Science Outcomes)

Grade 5

The Dear Canada series continues to fly off the shelves as we continue reading Sarah Elllis’ A prairie as wide as the sea : the immigrant diary of Ivy Weatherall. This week we talked about Ivy’s father’s profession – blacksmithing, and how the job might have changed between 1926 and now. Ivy has landed at Quebec City and boarded a train. She is astounded at the vast grasslands her father shows her as they cross the prairies. (Alberta Social Studies Outcomes)

Grade 6

I have chosen to read The Breadwinner by Deborah Ellis to the Grade 6 class after discussing it with their teacher. Parvana’s challenges in Taliban controlled Afghanistan will enlighten our pampered students to a reality that they have not likely ever imagined. The initiative Parvana takes in meeting those challenges will help students understand how people take responsibility in their own lives. The contrast will help deepen their understanding of democracy. (Alberta Social Studies Outcomes)

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Filed under Books, Authors & Illustrators, Education, Library Class, Library Programs

The Week in Elementary Library Class



Earl the Library Ape

Unfortunately Easy Street does not accommodate 27 rambunctious 5-year-old Kindergarten children very well – a flaw in the design that I will have to work out. Happily, adding another weekly time-slot, their teacher and I have worked out a split, where she works with half, while the other half comes to me.

This week each group met Earl the Library Ape. Earl had a big problem when he first came into the library, running around and Ooo, Ooo, Oooing all over the place. He was so excited he grabbed one book after another off the shelf and tossed them on the floor. He was very embarrassed as he told the children about how, when he realized what a mess he had made he stuffed the books back into the stacks willy-nilly.

When Johnny came in to get a book, the librarian couldn’t find it because it wasn’t in the right place. Earl sheepishly suggested that I show the students how to use a spacer so that problem wouldn’t happen again. After that the students practiced with the spacers in pairs while they looked at the library books.

Grade 1

After glancing through a few nonfiction books about wolves and reading some ‘facts’, I read Becky Bloom’s delightful Wolf to the Grade 1 class. The class was tickled at the complete change in the wolf’s quality of life after he perseveres in learning how to read. We then chatted about the difference between fiction, the stories that come from an author’s imagination, and nonfiction or information books.

Grade 2

The Grade 2 class was shortened somewhat this week but we still had just enough time to watch Hector Elizondo read Somebody Loves You, Mr. Hatch on StorylineOnline. We always leave time for book exchange and a few minutes to snuggle up with our books before going back to class.

Grade 3

Enough by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch meshes nicely with Grade 3 Social Studies (Ukraine) and L.A. (Genres – Folktales). As the book is based on the ‘real’ famine in the Ukraine of the 1930’s, it was interesting to discuss how true events might have been ‘twisted’ to create this wonderful folktale. We listed some of the many different kinds of ‘old stories’ on the Smart Board – fables, folktales, fairytales, legends and myths – and discussed how they differed from one another.

Grade 4

In Grade 4 we are reading Justine McKeen Eat Your Beets by Sigmund Brouwer. The students are enjoying the story because they can identify with the character. Justine, who cares about the world and isn’t afraid to take action to defend it (Gr. 4 Science) and Blotzo, who isn’t really as nasty as he wants everyone to think. Students have been checking out other books in the series.

Grade 5

It might take us a while to finish Sarah Elllis’ A prairie as wide as the sea : the immigrant diary of Ivy Weatherall in Grade 5 library classes, because each week sends us off on a tangent exploring the details of the story. We have looked at fountain pens, emigrant ships, the East London accent that Ivy might have spoken with as well as the fashions and vehicles she would have used and seen. Pointing out that the book begins in the same year that Queen Elizabeth II was born helped some of the students put the time period into perspective. Many of the students are checking out and enjoying others in the Dear Canada series, which are all great supplementary books for Alberta Grade 5 Social Studies.

Grade 6

Not only was it a great connection to their Social Studies, it was fun to read Vote For Duck by Doreen Cronin to the Grade 6 class and then to discuss how the citizens of the farm participated in decision making and what they learned. We compared what offices Duck might have been running for if he had been Canadian rather than American and how each level of office became harder and harder for Duck.

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Dang! I’m Inspired Again

September is so busy. I shouldn’t have taken the day off of work to attend Yellowhead Regional Library’s annual conference.


I shouldn’t have had a peaceful night in a lovely hotel – where the people-watching game was very satisfying.

I shouldn’t have listened to so many intelligent people, making so much sense…making me admit that I’ve had enough time to assess my project and now it’s time to begin to take it to the next level. Just when I was trying to convince myself that I might be able to coast a little, get that teacher resource room cleaned up, maybe repair some books…

Then along comes Lynn Shabada and Lori Bell, the administrators of Onoway Elementary School and then Twyla Lesko, Onoway’s Librarian, Karen Mason, from Centennial Elementary School in Wetaskiwin and Stacy Howse, from Westlock Elementary School. These amazing people are transforming their libraries into Learning Commons. The upshot of this combination of presentations was to remind me that my library, although open, welcoming, somewhat comfortable and as accommodating as I have been able to make it, it is still not the hub of the school.

Sessions: The importance of school libraries: an administrative perspective, and Transforming your library: inspiring the Library Learning Commons

Onoway’s ‘Dream Team’ of principal, associate principal and library manager share a vision of transforming the space, the service and the culture of the library to “Open it Up” and remove a miscellanea of subtle and not-so-subtle barriers to reading: rules and procedures that stand in the way of students’ natural curiosity and adventurous spirit.

Twyla’s advice: “Say Yes! Think We”

Twyla’s advice: “Say Yes! Think We”

Karen’s vision is to “To Bring Technology, Community and Learning Together in one Memorable Place!” Newly placed into the library from her position as a learning assistant, Karen immediately saw a crowded, dated and unwelcoming space and transformed it into a well-appreciated hub that supports her students culturally, emotionally and academically.

Karen's welcoming reading corner at Centennial Elementary.

Karen’s welcoming reading corner at Centennial Elementary.

Stacy’s project began with a tree. When a well-known member of the community and school board chair passed away, his family wished that a fitting memorial be placed in the school library. The upshot of collective brainstorming was a tree house where children could climb to reading nooks. The coming construction seemed to Stacy to be the perfect time to begin a transformation that she had had percolating in her mind since she started in the position over a year ago.

Westlock Elementary

Stacy’s journey has just begun with the reclassification of her collection but is fully envisioned. Her goals: successful browsing, improved curriculum support and increased visual appeal.

And that was all before lunch…

After a wonderful lunch of Shepard’s Pie and Peach Cobbler, (where I won a door prize of two novels on CDs), and visited the vendors’ booths, I attended another two great sessions. Mary Medinsky from Red Deer College gave an lively presentation on Teen Tech Trends and Jamie Davis, the coordinator of Learn Alberta’s Online Reference Centre showed us some of the exciting new resources in that collection.

Between all these fabulous presentations and chatting with lots of people, (like Janet from Warburg, another K-12 school), the result of all this darn inspiration is a 25 point to-do list that I now will have to follow up on because I couldn’t hold my head up if, after all this work, my library is still not what it could be.

by Tom Fleming


Filed under Education, Library Management, Rethinking My Library

A Very Successful Author Visit: Marty Chan

The ability to engage the attention of young students takes talent, but entrancing a group of 50 high-school students for a solid hour is a rare gift and one that is highly appreciated by those who work with them all the time. The combination of these skills in one person, who also has something important to teach the students, is a windfall!

As one teacher put it, “Even [a certain student’s] constant inappropriate comments were on topic.” At a recent visit to our school, multi-talented author and playwright Marty Chan did just that in, tailoring each of the four sessions to the grade level present, simultaneously entertaining and teaching students about writing.

How to Catch a Teenager

Marty Chan’s currently published works include a picture book called True Story and six novels for grades 3-6. He is currently working on a steam-punk novel for teens. His presentations to junior and senior high students focused on finding and developing stories from real life. He had their attention within a few moments with a story that illustrated how capitalizing on the reader or listener’s preconceived expectations can result in a hilariously ironic story. He explained that it is the development of conflict that makes a good story and shared his ‘cheat code’ for creating conflict: “OMO”,  which stands for ‘Objective’…what the main character wants, ‘Motivation’….why the character is after the objective, and ‘Obstacle’…what or who gets in the way of success.

He described a play that he produced for the Edmonton Fringe Festival in 1998 – a thriller called “The Bone House” – and explained how he produced tension in the audience by employing mystery, anticipation, isolation and using the audience members’ own expectations and imaginations. When it was clear that to produce the same chilling effect these 15 years later the audience would have to be deprived of their cell phones, students were overwhelmingly willing to surrender theirs for the experience. Marty also discussed how those same cell phones could be used to augment the thrill, through a little bit of hacking, were it possible, while the phones were stored during the play. Students then played parts in a group-created scene using the “OMO” elements to build the story.

Where to Get a Story

Marty Chan emphasized in all of his presentations how he uses events and characters from his life as inspiration for his stories. Growing up as the only Chinese Canadian in small town Morinville, Alberta, where his parents had bought the Super A grocery store when he was six, provided all kinds of funny and not-so-funny incidents that he has turned into fodder for his novels and plays. Inspiration came from a particularly unpleasant gym teacher, the graveyard that backed onto their first home, sparking a fear of zombies, and how a famous movie starring Bruce Lee changed his classmates’ perceptions of him.

Having read half of The Mystery of the Cyber Bully during library classes, Grades 4-6 students particularly enjoyed meeting the real Marty Chan, since that is also the name of the character in the novel. Marty explained that he used his own name in his mystery series to acknowledge its semi-autobiographical nature. Marty then demonstrated to these students and the Grades 1-3 how adding details is important in building a story by playing a ‘cops & robbers’ game with them where the cop had to identify the robber by the spectators’ descriptions.

Primary Students Love Farts

Grade 1-3 students enjoyed learning that Max and Buddy, from Marty Chan’s picture book, True Story, are Marty’s real-life cats. Max’ tongue is too long and he is a sneaky pen-thief. Buddy has a disease that makes him ever-so-humourously’ flatulent when he is stressed. Buddy also waddles around with crossed eyes in a ‘balloon head’. What better story inspirations?

Marty showed Lorna Bennett’s first sketches of Max and Buddy and how the illustrations for the book developed through her story-board drawings. We’re still looking for the secret photos of Buddy and Max on Marty’s website. This group also acted out a story as suggested by the group and were left in hysterics when it ended with Buddy (made of two students – one for his front and one for his back) and Max (played by another student), saving the duck (teacher, Mr. Raymond) from choking on Max’ broken claw.

I had previously chosen two students from each division to thank Marty on behalf of their division after each presentation. Preparation included a suggestion to mention something from the presentation that they particularly enjoyed. None of the ‘thank-you people’ had any trouble coming up with something to highlight for Marty when they stood up in front of their classmates and shook his hand. Effusive enthusiasm was the order of the day and still now in the hallways and in class, days later.

Books Flying into the Hands of the Kids

Marty Chan has published seven books. The long waiting list for the multiple school library copies is being somewhat alleviated by the growing personal order list that will be sent to Marty in a few days. He divulged that his favourite is his first, The Mystery of the Frozen Brains, because it took two years to write through numerous drafts. He remarked that the thrill of a having a first novel accepted for publication can never be repeated and so he is deeply attached to it.

Marty Chan has turned his strategy of looking at life’s challenges with humour into a varied, productive and successful career. Although he began his university career in engineering, he graduated instead with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in English and Drama. His plays have been shown all over Canada, in Scotland and New York. His television show “The Orange Seed”, based on a series of CBC radio plays called “Dim Sum Diaries”, was nominated for a Gemini Award.

I recommend Marty Chan very highly for school author visits. He is also available for week-long writer-in-residence programs that could be partially funded by the YABS Taleblazers Festival, which covered travel and accommodation for this visit. Other funding could be accessed through the Writers’ Guild of Alberta and/or The Alberta Foundation for the Arts. It would be great to take the benefit of an author’s visit a step further by having an author like Marty Chan take a class or two from start to finish in a week-long writing project…a hope for next year.

Related Links:

Marty Chan’s Website
Young Alberta Book Society’s Taleblazers Festival
Alberta Foundations for the Arts
Writers Guild of Alberta
Swan Hills School Library Author Visit Photo Album


Filed under Books, Authors & Illustrators, Library Programs

YRL Conference & My First Presentation

I was relieved that the shaky knees only came later in my car at a scary left-hand turn. I managed to do my presentation on the restructuring of my library and its collection at YRL’s conference with only slight shortness of breath and fewer-than-expected nervous brain-freezes. I didn’t say everything I wanted to say, but obviously said enough since the feedback I received was very positive. Islands of Knowledge (I am still struggling with the pretentiousness of the title) was scheduled at the end of the day, so I was worried that I (and the audience) would be a bit burned out. I think, instead, that I was too tired to shake much.

One attendee did comment after the session that she still felt that teaching the Dewey Decimal System was important for informed access to collections all over the world. Unfortunately there is no teacher librarian to teach it in my district and I suspect that the few students that actually retain the information will learn it, and/or LOC, as needed anyway.

As always after attending a library conference, there were several great ideas I gleaned from the sessions I attended that I want to incorporate in my library.

Connecting to Readers: Displays that Work by the vivacious team of Allison Stewart & Tamara Van Biert from the Stony Plain Public Library expanded on tips from a workshop that they had attended last year on Reader Centred Concepts. They talked about how to shift the focus from books to readers, persuading patrons to imagine themselves enjoying the books. Creative posters used the words ‘You’ and ‘Yourself’ to do that. I also learned that I need to look beyond library vendors to retail supply outlets for less expensive display materials. I’ll have to check that out for some slat-wall end panels. I was also reminded that I need to learn more about and start using QR codes. (A smart phone will be free with a contract renewal soon…)

I also attended an excellent session called Book Quest: Solving the Riddle of Getting Tweens & Teens To Read by Wanda Pederson from Onoway Jr/Sr High School. She showed a very interesting comparison between 20th & 21st Century readers and then a list of different types of readers, clearly defining who the alliterate or reluctant readers are: readers who, for various reasons, have the ability to read but consciously choose not to. She listed criteria for books for reluctant readers and distributed lists of recommendations for avid and alliterate readers. Referring to research by Dr. Stephen D. Krashen, Pederson stated that voluntary free reading is most beneficial to language learning. She shared links to Nancy Keane’s hundreds of booktalks and the online books at readbooksonline.

The organizers helpfully included a DVD with the program that included all the presentations so I’ll be able to view the many sessions that I missed. The conference was excellent, a great place to catch up with the wide library community, be re-inspired and newly informed. Living and working in an isolated town without a bookstore, its always great to be able to peruse some book and technology displays, talk to other library people and learn from them.


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Filed under Online Resources, Rethinking My Library

I’m Not Alone Any More

When I began this journey, I tried very hard to find another school that had incorporated the bookstore model into their library. Although many public libraries have gone that way, schools are more reluctant for many good reasons. Now, thanks to a post at Notes From Linda, I have discovered that I’m not alone in messing with Dewey in my school library. The Red Hawk Elementary in Colorado has completely scrapped Dewey in their new library.

I didn’t quite go that far, but that was as much due to time constraints as conviction. It was enough to get the project done as it is over the summer without any more data entry and decisions than were involved in moving the books into one of 7 Islands and 54 departments.The books are still arranged by Dewey within their departments (1 to 4 shelves), but a book in the 300’s might be next to a book in the 700’s.

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New Life for the Library with the Islands Theme Design

I started this blog last February with an idea: a thought that my library needed a transformation. It had become not just dated, but uncomfortable and completely uninteresting. My students were not finding anything to satisfy their technology-fed imaginations, nothing that piqued their curiosity; and worse yet, I was uninspired.

I had intended to track my progress in this blog – the challenges and triumphs – but the project itself ballooned. It became so much more than a simple reorganization. The blog, along with so many other things, became the precious ring dropped on the floor of the car in the midst of heavy traffic.

The ballooning resulted from a practical expansion of the original vision: since the timing coincided with the installation of new shelving funded by the fundraising arm of our parent committee, I suggested that it would be a good time to also replace the very old carpet and paint the walls…

It was all I could do to make time for family and friends while the library was torn apart and rebuilt. There were constant decisions to be made; orders of supplies and sundries; sub-contractors, district maintenance people, a deeply appreciated temporary assistant and volunteers to be directed, and an incredible amount of heavy lifting that my body is still complaining about. Home and hobbies took the back seat as I focused on driving the speedster of transformation.

Vickie, my helper and I holed up in a classroom throughout the sunny summer weeks, completely surrounded by boxes of books that I had sorted into seven themes as I packed. One theme at a time, we reclassified and relabeled each book until finally, while I wielded screwdriver and wrench, assembling the new shelving, Vickie completed the catalogue work and labeling.

Now I have my wish. My library is transformed. Although there were many compromises due to space and budget considerations, my library is now open, bright and spacious. Attractive and highly visible signs point the way to each of the seven ‘Islands of Knowledge’, where students and staff bury themselves in the theme of choice, discovering books that they didn’t even know they wanted until they find them.

Instead of gathering in groups to fool around among tall rows of cluttered spines, students are excitedly fanning out – following the signage to spacious spaces of attractive displays of books in their area of interest, and discovering volumes that, although they had been in the collection sometimes for years, had never been noticed.  Brutal weeding has a lot to do with it, but it’s clear that kids of all ages are responding to the promise of discovery.

Showing the central circulation desk and four of the "Islands" from the storytime corner

The project is not complete. There are many things yet to do. The books on many of the shelves are not even in order – a very difficult thing for me to ignore. But as the shelves are not crowded and each one holds books related in theme, with many on face-out display, their order is not quite so important as it was before. The students don’t seem to mind that a shelf of joke books is a little mixed up.

Despite the endless to-do list, as I look around me now I am content. The remaining two of a previous eight bulletin boards were just installed on Thursday and are not yet decorated, the Smart Board is not yet wired, there are empty shelves waiting to be filled with realia and student work, and I have not even begun to reorganize the K-2 collection. I have not yet properly thanked so many who have helped me, I have no tables or computers (a very important part of the concept) and still plan to fundraise for a few more treasures…but I don’t mind. I am again inspired – by the change itself, but mostly by the excitement of my students and the enthusiasm expressed by teachers and support staff. It’s been worth it.

Now that the library is up and running, the pressure is off somewhat and as soon as I complete a presentation I am building on the subject for an upcoming conference, I will come back here and fill any interested readers in on the details of just how I’ve “messed with Dewey” and given my collection a custom design. Over the next year, my students, school staff and I will evaluate the project and having dug this ring out from under the seat I wear it again with gratitude.

In the meantime, if you have not been following this blog, here are previous posts that describe the “Islands of Knowledge” idea in its conceptual stage.


Filed under Rethinking My Library

MARC Records for Web Resources

It’s true that you learn something new every day and when you’re in a position that was traditionally filled by professionals with master’s degrees, you always feel like you’re on the middle rung of a never-ending ladder that’s sinking in the mud: constantly climbing, but never getting to the top. I knew I could include links in print resource records, but today I learned that you could potentially include web resources in your online catalogue. Why did I not know that before?

Web resources that I discover are usually delivered to my K-12 staff by email and the onus is on them to bookmark them, or otherwise note them however possible. I’ve tried various methods over the years to organize them and make them more permanently available, from themed card-stock bookmarks to custom websites and bookmark sharing sites. With the often ephemeral nature of individual websites, changing staff and curriculum, and the always present challenge of time, these methods proved to be little more than make-work projects. The time involved did not compare favourably to the usefulness.

Through Diane Galloway-Soloman, the ORC Coordinator for Alberta Learning, I have just learned about a very interesting program by Marcia Mardis documented in the School Library Journal. Marcia has built a program that automatically generates a MARC record for online resources.

“The Web2MARC tool allows school librarians to automatically generate MARC (Machine-Readable-Cataloging) records for anything they see on the web…and tailor the records to their local needs—no cataloging required,” says Mardis

What a great idea! I’m off to learn more about it. We’ll see if it works with my software.


Filed under Library Management, Online Resources