April 20, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

School Librarian Collaborates with Classroom Teacher to Boost Ebook Circulation

Linda Martin

Over the past two years, I’ve been trying to expand many of our services beyond their usual seasonal, circulation, or time-of-day boundaries. I helped morph our Learning Commons into a 24/7 operation, make our Little Free Library year-round, and extend our system bookmobile as a vehicle to eliminate summer slide. My promotion of new books and reader’s advisory in-house during the school year has resulted in increased circulation and a cadre of fifth grade boys who regularly share their needs and wants for my consideration list.

My latest such attempt was to analyze our ebook collection and see if I could find a way to encourage students to use it outside of school hours. I approached fifth grade teacher Pam Davis, who regularly collaborates with me, and asked if she would be interested in playing in this particular sandbox. I was happy when she agreed. She has been working on improving and deepening her students’ literature discussions. This is a difficult task, especially with our Title 1 students.

Chat + Group presentations = a winning combo

We created an online class that combined chat discussions and group presentations, which allowed groups of students to market their books to others in the online class. Our county has invested significantly in ebooks over the past four years, and since I wanted to use this opportunity to promote ebook use, I analyzed our digital circulation statistics. For this class, we needed multiple-access titles, so I chose a series from ABDO Publishing that comes with QR codes. Students can scan the codes and save the books to their devices. These are by far the most circulated ebooks we own. They have unlimited digital access, and we get a hardback copy so that students who do not have devices can still read them at home. Pam and I selected these because the reading level was appropriate for the entire class, which allows students to concentrate on the stories, characters, and motivations. Among them were adventure titles, such as The Count of Monte Cristo, The Three Musketeers, and Call of the Wild.

A student explores an ebook option.

We planned an eight-week unit so each group would have time to read, discuss the books, and create a technology-based project to ”sell” their book to the rest of the class. I booktalked all of the titles, then students self-selected their book club. There were rotating roles each week. One student would keep the conversation moving, another would predict what would happen next, a third would point out the passage or event that was the most interesting that week, and yet another would connect the week’s reading with any other text or real life event they could. The roles were delineated and explained in the online course.

It took a while for the students to get the hang of the book discussion. Some students wanted to be too informal with each other. We are working through the Common Sense Media curriculum to become a Common Sense Certified School. This proved to be the perfect opportunity to work on building responsible digital citizens—but it took a lot of monitoring. It surprised the students the first time I went on the discussion board and called them out on being disrespectful to one another

Lively discussions lead to new insights

Fifth grade teacher Pam Davis assists students.

When they had a question about why the book was called The Count of Monte Cristo, but the character was named Edmond Dantes, it gave me an opportunity to have a great discussion with them about European royalty and names. While the reading level was comfortable for all students, they didn’t always have background knowledge to comprehend what was being described. This allowed Pam and me to have some rich and lively discussions with students. Eventually, they started demonstrating some insight into the material. For example, one student asked if the characters reminded anyone of someone they know. Another student responded that “The king didn’t trust the queen and that’s just like my cousen (sic) who told my other cousens secret and now my cousen doesnt trust her.”

After we finished the readings and discussions, I conducted a class on possible methods of advertising the books to the other groups via Animoto, Voki, and Powtoon. I made certain that they knew how to search out Creative Commons images and how to cite them.  Each group decided how best to promote their book.

Conclusions: learning is messy

Ebook circulation increased, thanks to the collaboration of Martin and Davis.

After concluding the class, Pam and I spent time reflecting on what worked well and what we would change. Learning is messy. You don’t always get the idea the first time, so you reiterate and try again. This applies to teachers as well as students. The students didn’t get the hang of the book discussion at first, but when they finally got the idea, and we understood where we needed to explain concepts in a different way, we all felt successful. It took longer to complete the process than we thought. We encouraged the students to dig deep, both in the level of their discourse, and the quality of their presentations. The satisfying thing is that by using a familiar type of communication (instant messaging) and the technology they love, we introduced them to the classics and opened their world view a bit. Pam admitted she had doubts sometimes, but when we finished, the students all wanted to do a second round and read another book. We are committed to trying a reiteration of this project next fall.

Linda Martin is the librarian at Sugar Hill Academy of Talent and Career Development in Gainesville, GA.


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  1. Hello Linda Martin,
    The way you explained each point with necessary details and maintained good balance between theory and practice is really commendable.

    You can also go through our website http://www.smesschool.in/

    Thanks a bunch for sharing.

  2. This article got me really excited about expanding my library online use! I was in a rut of sorts but, now, so excited about returning to my work tomorrow. I plan to investigate the use of QR codes! :)

    Spangdahlem, Germany

  3. Where did you get these QR books? These sound perfect for a mix of hardcover and ebooks. I struggle with getting kids to read ebooks when they can’t physically browse the shelves or touch the books. Especially if they don’t all have devices. Thanks so much for sharing. This is fantastic. What app or website did you use for your discussion and book sharing advertisements?

    • linda martin says:

      Thank you for the kind words, Heidi. I’m sorry I am just now seeing your comment. I got the books from Abdo. They have a wide range of books in the QR code format. I used our Learning Management System (Canvas) to conduct the class. It includes a discussion board. You might also use Padlet.

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