As expected, finding new and innovative ways to implement the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) was one of the hottest programming themes during last month’s annual American Association of School Librarians (AASL) conference in Hartford, CT. In numerous concurrent sessions November 14–17, library media specialists discussed key standards, best practices, and, above all, strategies for leading the conversation on academic rigor. It was a sharp contrast to just a few years ago, when the nations’ school librarians were just beginning to learn the rationale for the CCSS and their implications for students. In dramatic fashion, the profession has moved from definition to implementation.
During “Launch a CCSS Conversion,” [PDF] presented by Amy Jo Southworth, librarian at Bay Shore High School in Sayville, NY, attendees discussed ways to acquire the necessary tools to teach complex text and help students conduct 21st-century research.
The focus turned to the youngest learners in “CCSS Crusaders: Empowering Educators to Teach Research in Lower Grades,” presented by Jenny Lussier (@jluss), a K–4 teacher librarian in Durham, CT, and Michelle Gohagon (@mgohagon), a district technology integration specialist.
“This session is about how to lead the charge,” Gohagon told the packed audience, as they shared the projects, activities, instruction, and resources that they use to engage K–3 students in inquiry-based learning. The presenters also discussed one of their initiative’s biggest challenges: overcoming the fears of their teacher partners that their students would not be up to the task of asking sophisticated questions. Fortunately, the “ambush” method—stepping in with enthusiasm and demonstrating how it can be accomplished—was an effective method of getting them on board.
“You really need to model it for the teachers,” said Gohagon. “You need to help guide them into releasing some control. Remind teachers to zip it, just listen, and let the kids talk. Don’t try to intervene, let it happen. And modeling gives them permission to try it.”
Added Lussier,”We have to assure them [that] research is a messy thing. [Students] might not get the answer right away…but that’s okay and that’s what we want for our kids to be able to do.”
Student-directed learning was also the focus of “Give the Kids the Keys: Students Drive the Independent Project,” [PDF] presented Oregon’s Shelly Buchanan, teacher librarian at Rosemont Ridge Middle School, Maureen Milton, librarian at The Arbor School of Arts & Sciences , and Heather Paulsen, social studies teacher.
The presenters described what happened when their West Coast students—as young as 5 years old—developed their own research assignments based on personal interest, and shared their go-to resources for helping students plan and conduct their projects.
At “Rising to the Challenge: Preparing Students for College-Level Research,” [PDF] the discussion centered on the Hemingway Library Information Online Skills tutorial (HeLIOS), designed to help high school students develop the library skills and research skills needed to succeed at higher education. The presenters—teacher librarian Joanne F. Christensen, systems administrator Ludwig Possie, and science librarian JaNae Kinikin—also shared the benefits of these exercises with attendees; confidence building and developing academic autonomy were high on the list.
For those concerned about collection development and the best resources to use to support CCSS instruction—including the best websites for sourcing for standards’ aligned teaching strategies and model lessons—there were numerous sessions to sit in on.
On Friday, the AASL Best Apps for Teaching and Learning Taskforce, headed up by committee chair Melissa Jacobs-Israel, presented its inaugural list of favorite apps for K–12 students. Later in the day, assistant professors Karen Gavigan (University of South Carolina) and Sue Kimmel (Old Dominion University) shared some of their favorite titles in “Graphic Novels, Comics, and CCSS: Using Graphic Novels Across the Elementary Curriculum.” [PDF]
The presenters recommended nonfiction graphic titles for a range of content areas and student skill levels, and shared ways that many of these can be used to explore with students how visual elements contribute to meaning and promote higher-order thinking, among other standards-based objectives.
Other sessions highlighting quality nonfiction included “The New Nonfiction: Using Award-Winning Children’s Book to Support CCSS” and “Biographies Through Picture Books: A Focus on the CCSS,” both featuring award-winning children’s book author, illustrator, and educator Melissa Sweet.
At the former, Sweet presented recommended titles that combine engaging texts and stellar art. The following day, Sweet sat on a panel of author and illustrator teams moderated by Mary Ann Cappiello from Lesley University that included Jen Bryant, Andrea Davis Pinkney, Doreen Rappaport, and Matt Tavaras. In front of a rapt audience, this lively and engaging group discussed their goals in writing and illustrating picture-book biographies and the creative decisions they made concerning specific titles.
Popular nonfiction book authors also convened at “Nonfiction and the CCSS.” This session featured Tonya Bolden, Robert Burleigh, Meghan McCarthy, and Steve Sheinkin, who talked about their craft and their creative processes, their research, and what they hoped young readers would take away from their work. Bolden and Sheinkin, in particular, talked about the ways that nonfiction storytelling involves complex voices and perspectives, key components of the CCSS.
“We’re trying to write to the whole child,” Bolden noted. “We need to give them primary voice; we’re not just imparting information, we are teaching them how to write and how to research.”
Added Sheinkin, “No adult would pick up a boring book so why would a kid? If you make it fun to read and engaging a kid will get at those really challenging and engaging questions.”
The authors also shared some of the most intriguing and inspiring artifacts or trinkets that they have collected during their research. For example, Bolden has a 150-year old newspaper that references the real-life protagonist of her book Maritcha: A Nineteenth-Century American Girl (Abrams, 2005). For inspiration on her next book, McCarthy picked up a set of Victorian earmuffs, and often brings an old 1920s straw hat with her on school visits. Burleigh, meanwhile, amasses photographs when working on his books, to keep himself focused on the characters.
And Sheinkin, a self-professed “huge collector” of items, mentioned the one that got away: a coveted piece of Abraham Lincoln’s shattered sarcophagus in Springfield, IL, which he discovered while researching Lincoln’s Grave Robbers (Scholastic, 2013) but was not allowed to keep.
The crowd was delighted by Sheinkin’s revelation, but even more so by Bolden’s closing remarks in support of media specialists and the work of her fellow panelists. In response to an audience member’s question—How would you respond to an administrator who thinks there are no good K–6 nonfiction titles?—Bolden noted, “I would say that you need to speak with a librarian.”