Sunday, September 30, 2012

Susan Eley - Mon. Oct. 1 to Wed. Oct. 3, 2012

Joining the class as the first blog-guest this year is Susan Eley, the library media specialist at Hillside Elementary School (PreK to Grade 4) in Mt. Laurel, NJ. Susan is a relatively recent graduate of Indiana University's MLS program and has a few year's of on-the-job experience.

This past summer, she was involved with her school district's Library Media Curriculum Writing Committee as they worked to incorporate the Common Core Standards for language arts. She would be pleased to share with you ideas and insights gained in that process as well as any other issues and activities related to her school library and the work of school librarians in general.

Learn more about Susan at

My startup question to all of our blog-guests this year is: "What is the most important issue or activity facing you in your school library this fall?"


  1. Hello everyone! I am thrilled to be a part of this guest blogging experience. As I was thinking back on my time at I.U. (I am a 2006 graduate of I.U. SLIS Bloomington), one of the things I remember that was stressed greatly in the field of school librarianship was the "fixed vs. flexible" schedule and the idea of "collaboration."

    I wanted to start out by saying that now that I am in my 7th year as an elementary media specialist with a fixed schedule, I am GRATEFUL for the opportunity to reach every child, since I see every child in the school at least once a week. (Yes, I cover "prep time" for every teacher for 30 minutes, and then the final 20 minutes of the library period the classroom teachers return to help with projects or book selection.) I have a wonderful relationship with the staff and collaborate with different grade levels at different times during the year on research projects, but the fact remains that if it were a strictly flexible schedule, some teachers would NEVER bring their kids to the media center.

    Okay, now on to answer the startup question. I have three issues that are on the forefront of my mind this fall.

    1) ***Integration of Common Core Standards****
    Our district likes to be "the first" to act upon a new initiative, and the same can be said for us incorporating the Common Core Standards for Language Arts into our elementary language arts curriculum (which can be found at Our newly revised library curriculum also incorporates the standards, and can be found at can

    One of the biggest pushes with this initiative is the instruction of nonfiction reading techniques, specifically how to comprehend and synthesize a variety of nonfiction texts.
    For teachers of elementary students, I consider the text "Nonfiction Reading Power" by Adrienne Gear to be a wonderful resource if you are unfamiliar with teaching reading. Librarians MUST be familiar with these techniques, as well as being able to support the teachers with resources beyond a wonderful and varied nonfiction collection. I purchased subscriptions to Reading and Science, which, though pricey for the entire school, are indispensable resources for our teachers because they provide access to downloadable, printable, and projectable FICTION and NONFICTION texts at a variety of reading levels.

    2) *** Fighting the misperception of the role of the school library media specialist in the public eye***
    For example, here is a link to a NJ newspaper article detailing local budget cuts that have resulted in understaffed media centers around our state.
    Are School Librarians Becoming Obsolete?

    I consider myself indispensable, and Doug Johnson's blog post "Librarian-Proofing Library Programs" resounds with me - it is found at

    Many of the items on Doug's checklist of librarians with job security are things that I do, but I can't help but wonder each year when budget voting comes up, how safe is my job when the librarian at the next school is *not* a tech leader? Even though they are in the same district?

    1. Hello Mrs. E. Thank you for taking the time out to share your wisdom and experience with us. Since your library is now incorporating the Common Core Standards for Language Arts into the collection, how has the collection development process changed (if any)?

      Lisa M.

    2. Hi Lisa,

      The Common Core stresses use of primary sources, "literary nonfiction," and short pieces on social studies and scientific topics, and a variety of informational text.

      A well-developed library collection will already contain reference books, "literary nonfiction" (such as the "An Egg is Quiet" series by Dianna Aston), and nonfiction books at many reading levels.

      Where we need to refocus our energy is offering more LEVELED texts and short informational pieces to teachers, which is where my current subscriptions to the online databases Reading A-Z and Science A-Z comes in to play. Teachers can use these resources to differentiate instruction easily.

      For example, if you login to Science A-Z and model a short read-aloud about rocks and minerals, you can then print out either a single page or a small student book at a "LOW," "MED," or "HIGH" reading level (which are not marked as such so the students don't know) for individual reading practice.

      To have 3 leveled copies of the same book on the regular nonfiction library shelves would be cumbersome.

      I also have subscriptions to the online resources PebbleGo (great for primary nonfiction) and BookFlix, and the local library has a subscription to World Book for Kids.

      Almost half of my budget this year went to these online resources.

    3. I really want to make sure when I become a librarian that my collection including online resources reflects diverse reading levels (as well as interests). Thus, I really did like hearing about the Science A-Z as well as the Reading A-Z online resources. How did you know there was a need for these? Was it before the Common Core research or after it?
      You mentioned your budget. The prospect of having my own school librarian budget one is exciting yet daunting because I don’t want to make a mistake and let anyone down. I was wondering if you have a ‘system’ in place on how to spend your budget money for the library.

    4. I had first heard of Reading A-Z when a first grade teacher came to me and mentioned that a colleague (in another school) was using it. Common core or not, the moment I saw the program, I knew it was a perfect fit for our teachers, who are always looking for more specifically leveled materials. Teachers have classroom libraries, they also have access to closets with leveled book baskets, but my library is not leveled. I do have a separate "Early Reader" section set apart from my picture books (which I call "Everybody books"), but these "Early REaders" are not leveled. Our Lucy Calkins / Fountas and Pinnell / Readers and Writers Workshop model calls for specifically leveled materials for students in addition to trade books used in the classroom.

      When I first began, I was concerned about budget too. I was surprised to find out that the budgets in our district are determined pretty much by each school principal, and the amount given to each of use elementary school librarians can vary greatly. I am blessed to have a very supportive principal who is generous to our library program.

      When being interviewed for a job, if you are asked about how you would use your budget, stress that you would take staff requests and student input and carefully analyze where the strengths and weaknesses in the collection might be after the first year of use.

      I usually keep an list on Follett Titlewave that I update all year as I get teacher and student requests, as books are damaged and need a replacement copy, or as I see curricular needs.

      Oftentimes, teachers are so busy, they won't have time to fill out a formal "book request" form (though I've seen other librarians post such a Google Form on their website), but they will tell me in conversations in the library or the hallway about things they need. Also, it is your job as the librarian to keep on top of curricular changes and order the supporting resources! For example, we implemented a Spanish program at the elementary level this year and I purchased supporting books.

    5. Thank you for the advice and wisdom, Mrs. E. I was happy to read that you have a supportive administrator. I did not know that the principal determined the budget either. Do you communicate with him/her on a weekly and/or monthly basis? That is what I am hopiing will happen when I start working in the profession. Does it vary due to the perception of the importance of the library program or is it related to the school budget? I had thought the school board played a role in determining the library budget but I was wrong. If you need additional monies, can you ask for more or do you write grants? Have you ever been in that position?
      I really did like your Annual Report document. It was well written, colorful, thorough and detailed and you could tell that you really were passionate about your profession and the students that you served! Did you present this document to the school board? Did the community and/or parents get a copy of it? Are you required to do an annual report each year? Thank you in advance for answering my questions.

    6. Hi Lisa,

      I am so grateful for my principal too. The school board *does* play a part in determining how much the principal has to allot to each school "line item," (including the library), but in some districts, the principal has a little freedom to determine how much goes where within a certain "total." Hope that makes sense.

      And yes, I really think a principal's perception of you and your program goes a long way as to how much money your program will get! We also raise additional funds for author visits and materials through our annual Scholastic Book Fair that I run for a week in the library. I have not been in the position to write a grant yet, but I would definitely consider it.

      My principal and I communicate fairly often since the library is right next to the main office. I don't always "pop in" because she is so busy, but I will email her and we see each other in the hallway often.
      More formally, when we sit down for yearly observation and Professional Growth Plan conferences, we discuss a lot about the program at those times.

      I appreciate your compliments on the Annual Report - since then I have used my library blog as a way to get out the program information to the public, but that year I finally tackled creating the document, and it got a lot of views. I emailed a link to it directly to principals, administration, and it was circulated by our communications director among the administration. I sent it in early July, after the school year was over, so they had some time to view it.

      I am not required to do an Annual Report, but I felt it was a valuable way to say, "Hey! Here's what happening in our school libraries!"


  2. 3) ***Network Issues in our District***
    Our school district recently changed internet service providers. The change was done over the summer to allow for a seamless transition in September, but we are now in October and are still dealing with printers that are not connected to the network, standardized testing that has to be delayed, and my library website suddenly going offline. OWe are a very tech-forward district, but it can be very frustrating when things like this occur. I am used to saving student work on our local servers, which are inaccessible at the moment. Dare I go back to old paper-and-pencil project presentations? :)

    1. Mrs. E, Does the Promethean ActivBoards require an internet source? why did your district adopt this? I could not find a lot of information on it at the link provided. Thanks. Lisa M

    2. The Promethean ActivBoards don't require internet, so luckily the current network issues do not affect the use of the board. However, the boards are very expensive pieces of hardware, and when a new version of the boards or the accessories (such as the voting devices called ActivExpressions or ActivVotes) arrives on the scene, it can be difficult for the "old" hardware to sync with the "new" devices. This is why I would tell anyone looking into purchasing interactive whiteboards to carefully research all aspects.

      Our district researched the boards carefully and chose Promethean, a British company, over SmartBoards because they felt Promethean (at the time) offered many more educational resources on their website and education-friendly customer service. Many teachers in my particular school use the board well, as more than just a projection surface. Ideally, the kids need to be up at the board a lot and the ActivVote devices have changed my teaching because they are a wonderful tool for quick assessment. In the library, I may not always have time to give a written assessment to the little ones to make sure they understand a concept, but I can hand out the voting devices and ask 5 quick wrapup questions and see how many students understood the concept taught.

      There are 3 good online alternative to clicker/voting devices called Poll Everywhere, Socrative, and Soapbox. See this site for more info:

    3. I enjoy reading about any new technology and this sounds so advanced that the hardware to support it isn’t quite ready to do so. Do you know what other districts in the United States have these? I would love to see it in action one of these days. It’s great that you train other people to use it. Have you ever traveled outside of your state?
      I like the assessment aspect of it. I noticed that you teach Pre-K students. I have a four year old at home. I was wondering what information literacy skills you teach this age group.

    4. Hi Lisa,

      All the training I myself have done for Promethean has been in NJ, for local districts, my own district, and Promethean workshops in our area.

      I have not yet used the ActivVotes with the PreK, but we often will close our 25 minute library time with time at the ActivBoard. This age loves the activities on, but more often I will use an Activboard lesson I have prepared (called a flipchart) that goes along with the story we read that day.

      Our PreK is ages 3 and 4, and so getting them to sit still for any length of time is difficult! Luckily, I have a degree in music education, so we usually open with a song and movement, then go into a story, and then a closing ActivBoard activity. No information literacy is really taught, other than talking about Fiction vs. Nonfiction and what we can find in Nonfiction books.

  3. Hi!
    A large reason why I decided to obtain my MLS was because I have a deep interest in how technology impacts, and will impact, the way in which our students learn. As a teacher, I took such little interest in traditional methods of schooling and always wanted to find new ways to engage my kids by having them work in interactive environments by creating blogs or exploring message boards, for example. I would love to be in a position, some day, that would require me to stay abreast of evolving technologies so that I could be the first to learn them and share them.

    Would you mind talking a little bit about the work you do training teachers to use new educational technologies? Aside from the Promethean boards, what other technologies have you explored? What has worked and what hasn't?

    Thank you so much!

  4. Hi Melissa,

    I, like you, got into this profession partly because I love using technology to augment student learning. Our job is always such a balancing act, especially at the elementary level, between teaching loving books, finding resources, using technology, critically thinking and using reading strategies, research, digital and media literacy, and then integrating with the subjects the classroom teachers teach. I always find myself wanting more hours in the day!

    I HIGHLY recommend becoming a member of ISTE or at least attending a conference. There is a "special interest group" (SIG) for media specialists abbreviated SIGMS, and in my opinion I have found ISTE more valuable than AASL or my local school librarian association, NJASL. The conferences, 3 of which I have attended on my own dime, are an amazing way to learn about new technologies and how they are used in the classroom, which is key.

    As for the other types of training I have done for teachers, it has included:

    - Google Apps for Education (our district has incorporated this for all students and staff, but because our population is mostly under 13, our tech department has limited the sharing capabilities to in-district only, which severely limits the type of publishing kids can do)

    - Booktalks Techy and Traditional (using FlipCams, Voicethread, etc.)

    - Using Online Resources

    - Informal training or technology collaboration according to the teachers' needs - for example, one year I and two second-grade teachers collaborated with two classroom teachers in San Antonio, TX to have a "SKYPE" relationship. (After attending the ISTE conference I made contacts at the school, that's how we got started.)

    If you are interested in becoming a teacher trainer, make yourself available to the "powers that be!" My district technology coordinator and my curriculum supervisors know that I am always ready to teach, and when an opportunity arises (a summer institute in-district or out-of-district), I submit my name.

    Also, I belong to my school's Professional Development Committee, so whenever possible, I submit a technology topic to be considered for our next in-service day, and teach it if I can.

    I most recently offered a "lunch in the library" for all staff. We get an hour lunch (unheard of - I know) and I bought sandwiches, fruit, pasta salad, cookies, cheese/crackers, and for 30 minutes I presented the new online resources. If you offer food, it really really helps.

    Don't always count on training at a faculty meeting - these meetings take place once or twice a month before school begins, and the teachers are already stressed out with all the information presented by our principal. If possible, choose another time to get your information / training out there.

  5. Anonymous11:07 AM

    Mrs. E.

    You subscribe to Reading A-Z and Science A-Z which appear to be great resources for the classroom teachers, but how do you know that they are utilizing these resources? They are very expensive and if they go unused, would be a waste of library money. My school has paid for subscriptions to various databases to end up only having several staff members take advantage of the resources. How can I “test the waters” to see if this would be worthwhile in my district?

    Kim Mitten

  6. Hello Kim,

    You are exactly right, and that has been a dilemma in the past, just as with subscriptions to paper magazines and journals - they go unused, and I re-evaluate at the end of every year to see if I should re-order or cancel.

    I believe that with the subscriptions to BookFlix and PebbleGo, there is a way to contact Customer Service to ask what the yearly number of logins has been.

    The way that I have tested the A-Z sites is with one classroom teacher at first. Or, you might start with a grade level (you have to pay per classroom). At the end of the year, talk to the teacher and discuss if he/she thinks it is a worthwhile purchase for the school and why.

    And TALKING ABOUT IT in front of the whole staff really helps the usage! Last year, I was out for family leave part of the year and did not get to present some of the online subscriptions and the usage really suffered. Mention to everyone that "If you don't use it, you'll lose it" and they'll have to understand if it gets cut in following years if they haven't used it!

  7. Abigail Gardenour3:20 PM

    Hello Mrs. E!

    It seems like many people have already picked your brain about technology. I wasn't a wiz at anything to do with computers before I started this degree. But now I see how important it is to stay on the top of new technology. Do you see media specialists as being important in the coming decades for educating our students on their uses? Some people I have talked to say that it is the job of the teacher solely but I disagree.

  8. Hello Abigail,

    You are not alone in the field of media specialists - many librarians I know have come into the position from a language arts background, and have come around to the "techy" side. There are times I envy them because that language arts experience is invaluable as well!

    At the elementary level, though it is difficult with little ones who barely type, I find myself constantly trying to devise ways to push students to use technology as more than just a tool. Using technology to enhance creativity and critical thinking is the best use. And our job MUST include our role as technology leaders. I do get frustrated when library colleagues don't agree, or at the very least aren't willing to learn something new to try in the field of technology. And as for "being the job of the teacher solely," the classroom teachers in my district are OVERWHELMED. New curricula gets handed down every year, often before proper training has been given, and elementary teachers handle 4-5 subjects. Technology gets pushed to the side, especially if it's not easily accessible. In our building, each grade level has one shared laptop cart. If the cart is being used by another teacher, or being used for standardized testing, you're out of luck. I don't even have more than 5 dedicated laptops in the library! Luckily the first grade teachers are kind enough to let me use their cart often.

    I try to remember when devising research projects to encourage TRANSFORMATION of the information rather than REGURGITATION. David Loertscher has a whole book / website written about this called "Ban those Bird Units," which you may have heard of. The point is not to get kids to spit back information (using technology or poster board), but to transform the information somehow so they are taking ownership of their learning.

    I don't ever send research projects home for the kids to do - because we all know what happens! Parents end up doing a lot of the work!