books, tech, lessons from a librarian

Category: ISTE Student Standards

Danger, Will Robinson! Computerized, Incentivized Reading Ahead!


As an elementary school librarian, fostering students’ lifelong love of reading is my penultimate duty.  I embrace technology like few around me, but this unit study has been a personal struggle.  My exploration of the ISTE Standard 2 for Teachers (Teachers design, develop, and evaluate authentic learning experiences and assessments incorporating contemporary tools and resources to maximize content learning in context and to develop the knowledge, skills, and attitudes identified in the ISTE Standards for Students) was centered on assessment of students.  My guiding question became:  What forms of assessments and digital tools would be appropriate for 1st through 5th graders to use during the course of an independent summer reading program?

My district (like many) is always striving for excellence in our students, and (like many) we measure our students’ success primarily with summative test scores and data.  With that in mind, we will be encouraging students at the elementary and middle school level to participate in a summer reading program.  Students are tasked with reading (primarily independently) with testing immediately following completion of books.  The students’ results on these comprehension tests will serve as proof of their understanding and efforts.  Our district is contracting with Renaissance Learning to provide summer-month access to their Accelerated Reader (AR) program.  My immediate concerns: (1) staff training (2) equitable at-home access for this online resource (3) ELL supports in place? And (4) cost.

I’ll be honest… Librarian-me wants no form of formal assessment in the summer months for my students.  Dad-me wants my three boys to read for pleasure while on break.  Today’s kindergarten students are yesterday’s first and second graders when it comes to academic expectations.  It’s vital that we allow our young readers to discover joy in reading at an early age, so it’s an ingrained part of who they are.  In her wonderful books The Book Whisperer and Reading in the Wild, Donalyn Miller talks about the keys to developing lifelong reading habits. “Wild readers” as she refers to them: (1) Dedicate time to read (2) Self-select reading material (3) Share books and reading with other readers (4) Have reading plans, and (5) Show preferences for genres, authors, and topics.  

So what’s absent from this list? Summative assessments.  A student who is reading and making connections to text and self is fully engaged in their task.  Readers often talk of getting lost in a book.  At the same time, I’ve never once in my 14+ years in classrooms and libraries and homes ever heard a child say the words, “I can’t wait to take a test on this book to prove my understanding” or the follow-up “And please make it multiple-choice, and focused on vocabulary and short-term memory questions!”  Miller says, “Comprehension tests feed into a classroom cycle of assign it, then assess it.  But where is the learning and teaching in that cycle? Teachers assign these summative assessments in order to motivate students to read and to determine whether students did, in fact read a book. Where is the joy that we hope reading will engender in students?” (Miller, 2011, 131).

Going beyond my gut reaction as a librarian to many and a dad to three vibrant readers, I have to ask: is AR what’s best for kids? Is it truly the most cost-effective way to approach reader development?  Or are there better, more meaningful ways to inject reading into summer reading programs and beyond?  According to their website, the Institute of Education Sciences  “is the statistics, research, and evaluation arm of the U.S. Department of Education. [They are] independent and non-partisan. [Their] mission is to provide scientific evidence on which to ground education practice and policy and to share this information in formats that are useful and accessible to educators, parents, policymakers, researchers, and the public.”  The IES website What Works Clearinghouse summarizes its findings: “Accelerated Reader was found to have no discernible effects on reading fluency, mixed effects on comprehension, and potentially positive effects on general reading achievement.” (Institute of Education Sciences, 2008) This is a remarkable statement when you consider that AR is the flagship product for Renaissance Learning, Inc., a privately-held company with a market valuation of over $1.1 billion.

So is AR the right tool for the job? In my experience and research, I would strongly argue it is not, especially when you consider the service we’re contracting for is on the low-end of the SAMR model.  In my opinion, any funds would be far better spent on providing more access to reading content, whether it’s printed books, online databases, or even e-content providers such as Overdrive, especially as we shift to a 1:1 device model at our upper grades. Reading guru, Jim Trelease: “Before committing precious dollars to such a program, a district should decide its purpose: Is the program there to motivate children to read more or to create another grading platform?” (Trelease, 2013)  Dr. Stephen Krashen is professor emeritus at the University of Southern California, and he’s written extensively on the topic of incentivising student reading with programs such as Accelerated Reader.  “It remains mysterious to me why the obvious, most pleasant, least expensive, and probably the only effective way to improve reading ability — providing readers with interesting, comprehensible reading material — appears not only to be the last resort, but is often not even mentioned.” (Krashen, 2009, p. 25)

So now I’m a Luddite?  Not yet!  Technology definitely has its strengths.  We can encourage our students to communicate with classmates and kids around the world at sites like Wonderopolis and Biblionasium.  Responding to books is so different and so much more powerful on a longterm basis than online multiple-choice book quizzes.  We can encourage our kids to research online for the joy of it, seeking out answers to questions that arise during the freedom of summer months.

My initial search lead me to an adult reading challenge on the PopSugar website.  What I especially loved about their approach was that it focused on exploration and playfulness on the part of the reader.  “Read a book with a blue cover.”  “A book that takes place on an island.”  These were seemingly random identifiers, but I loved that aspect of it — what a great lead-in to get kids to explore library shelves for unread books!  So the search was on… was there anything similar already prepared for elementary and intermediate students?  The best example I could find was Scholastic’s 2015 100 New Year’s reading resolutions for kids.  They have published similar pieces before and since but the 2015 list is the one I’m going to adapt for my students’ use.  I am required to follow the district plan (AR testing for all books completed), but I’m going to do all that I can to encourage reading for fun and joy.  My hope is that students will use this checklist as a tool for self-reflection and self-assessment.

Reading is an art. It requires practice. It requires connections and support and beauty and time and freedom and curiosity.  The problem lies in the inherent difficulty of quantifying that sparkle in a child’s eye when they find a book that is right for them. There’s no rubric for it, but it’s a very real thing.  We get so caught up in 5-Finger Rules, and SBA scores, and Lexiles, and AR results, and we are losing sight of the sparkle.



Common Sense Media. (2014, November). Accelerated Reader educator review | Graphite. Retrieved April 24, 2016, from https://www.graphite.org/website/accelerated-reader

Greene, P. (2015, November 17). Accelerated Reader’s ridiculous research | Curmudgucation. Retrieved from http://curmudgucation.blogspot.com/2015/11/accelerated-readers-ridiculous-research.html

Hill, H. (2015, March 26). 37 Ways to help kids learn to love reading | Edutopia. Retrieved from http://www.edutopia.org/discussion/37-ways-help-kids-learn-love-reading

Institute of Education Sciences. (2008, October). Accelerated Reader™: What Works Clearinghouse. Retrieved from http://ies.ed.gov/ncee/wwc/interventionreport.aspx?sid=12

International Society for Technology in Education. (n.d.). Standards for Teachers. Retrieved from http://www.iste.org/standards/iste-standards/standards-for-teachers

Kohn, A. (2011). How to create nonreaders: Reflections on motivation, learning, and sharing power. In Feel-bad education: And other contrarian essays on children and schooling(pp. 87-99). Boston, MA: Beacon Press.

Krashen, S. (2003). The (lack of) experimental evidence supporting the use of Accelerated Reader. Journal of Children’s Literature, 29(9), 16-30. Retrieved from http://www.sdkrashen.com/content/articles/does_accelerated_reader_work.pdf

Krashen, S. (2005). Accelerated Reader: Evidence still lacking. Knowledge Quest, 33(3), 48-49.

Krashen, S. (2009). Anything but reading. Knowledge Quest, 37(5), 18-25.

Lapowsky, I. (2014, February 19). Education company Renaissance Learning raises $40 million from Google Capital | Inc.com. Retrieved from http://www.inc.com/issie-lapowsky/renaissance-learning-40-million-google-capital.html

Miller, D., & Anderson, J. (2011). The book whisperer: Awakening the inner reader in every child. New York, NY: Scholastic Inc.

Miller, D., & Kelley, S. (2013). Reading in the wild: The book whisperer’s keys to cultivating lifelong reading habits. New York, NY: Scholastic Inc.

Neary, L. (2013, June 11). What kids are reading, in school and out | NPR. Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/sections/monkeysee/2013/06/11/190669029/what-kids-are-reading-in-school-and-out

Pennington, M. (2010, January 24). The 18 reasons not to use Accelerated Reader | Pennington Publishing Blog. Retrieved from http://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/reading/the-18-reasons-not-to-use-accelerated-reader/

Platt, R., & Wolfe, J. (2014, August 20). AR killed my dog and now it’s coming for you | We teach, we learn. Retrieved from http://www.weteachwelearn.org/2014/08/ar-killed-my-dog-and-now-its-coming-for-you-a-defense-of-accelerated-reader-and-a-plea-for-less-drama/

Renaissance Learning. (2012). The research foundation for Accelerated Reader goal-setting practices. Retrieved from http://doc.renlearn.com/KMNet/R001438603GC81D6.pdf

Shin, F. H., & Krashen, S. D. (2008). Summer reading: Program and evidence. Boston, MA: Pearson/Allyn and Bacon.

Trelease, J. (2013). The Read-Aloud Handbook chapter 5, pg 3. Retrieved from http://www.trelease-on-reading.com/rah-ch5-pg3.html



By CBS Television (eBay item photo front photo back) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


Reflection on Final Unit Project


It happens every February and March.  The calendar keeps creeping along.  Lesson ideas keep piling up.  Yearly SBAC and MSP testing is getting closer and closer.  And yet, we’re tasked with cramming as much content as we can into short weeks.  And don’t forget to make it engaging.  And so, I tried, and continue to try…

Each morning at my school, a fourth or fifth grade student presents the morning announcements via our building intercom system.  The contents vary slightly daily, but typically include:  “Good morning” recited in another language; the lunch menu, any pertinent school announcements, a Washington state fact, a history fact for the day, and closing with a book talk.  My goal is to work with a group of fifth grade students to explore ways of integrating technology into the AM announcement process and to increase student engagement, especially in regards to the daily book talk process.  This project is intended to demonstrate an understanding and application of technology integration into the planning and implementation of a classroom activity or lesson.  I will be utilizing the framework of the ASSURE Model:


Here’s a link to the full .pdf file of my unit plan and revisions:  Individual Project Haney

To be honest, the formality of the ASSURE model was a struggle for me early on in the process.  While it did force me to consider and reconsider and continuously revise my goals, the reality is I felt hamstrung with constantly trying to make sure I had forgotten anything.  The more time I spent following this ASSURE format, though, the more I realized that much of what I naturally do in my typical lesson planning already follows these steps.  Time is consistently the biggest hurdle to overcome.  As a specialist on a fixed schedule, my weekly time with each class is painfully short.  Add to the mix: holidays, field trips, assemblies, NCCE conferences, a guys’ weekend at a convent for one of my partner teachers (I can’t make this stuff up!)…  Put it all together and it quickly becomes apparent that lessons and skills can’t be introduced and mastered during the students’ library time alone.  That has been my biggest challenge during the quarter, and indeed, during the past few years of teaching.

So how to respond?  Blended learning is a promising next step in my library/classroom’s instructional model.  The idea of creating videos that students can watch independently on-demand, thereby freeing me to work with other groups at the same time.  There’s only one of me, but a blended lesson is about as close as I can come to cloning myself (it’s a bit unnerving to look around and see a video of yourself playing on all of the student’s Chromebooks!).  I’m excited to see where this leads, especially as troubleshooting becomes less necessary.  The kids cannot wait to start trying out web conferencing with Google Hangouts!

My first attempt at an on-demand lesson video for my students:

In many ways, my planned unit has been an utterly incomplete failure, and yet, I don’t think I’ve seen the students more engaged or enthused in quite some time.  But I’m not giving up.  Thanks to one of my fifth grade students, I know that when things seem bleak…student 1

Student Engagement and Learning: Baby Steps Down the Rabbit Hole

alice1 Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and of having nothing to do: once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, “and what is the use of a book,” thought Alice “without pictures or conversations?”  Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

“I feel good. I feel great. I feel wonderful.” Bill Murray as Bob Wiley in What About Bob?

“Blended learning is a formal education program in which a student learns at least in part through delivery of content and instruction via digital and online media with some element of student control over time, place, path, or pace.”  “Blended learning,” Wikipedia entry

The opening line of Carroll’s classic book is a timeless characterization of childhood.  Alice was bored and her patience worn thin. Her boredom soon led her down an unpredictable path of adventure, wherein she learned lifelong lessons and met many unique and wonderful characters along the way.  Many of our students are like Alice.  They’re tired of sitting idly by, and they can’t wait to dive headfirst down a rabbit hole.  But one of the scariest things as an educator is knowing that if you’re going to give your students the freedom to explore, you can’t place enough soft cushions along the way to guarantee a comfortable landing for those in your care.  There are going to be trials and tribulations.  There are going to be bumps and bruises.  But there will also be a plethora of Alice’s wishes: pictures and conversations.  And, most importantly, there will be an abundance of transformational learning.

In this winter quarter of coursework at Seattle Pacific University I’ve been exploring the ISTE Standards for Students.  Student Standard 4: Critical thinking, problem solving, and decision making. Students use critical thinking skills to plan and conduct research, manage projects, solve problems, and make informed decisions using appropriate digital tools and resources.  My application of this standard led to a question for my students:  How can I introduce the idea of library collection development to 4th and 5th grade students, specifically in regards to supporting their science curriculum needs?

Recently I was privileged to attend the 2016 NCCE Teacher-Librarian Summit and the keynote speaker was Andy Plemmons, an award-winning teacher-librarian from Athens, GA.  Right out of the gate he spotlighted a project from his library that explored this student standard.  In his blog Expect the Miraculous, Plemmons documents a student library collection program at this school.  A group of students develop surveys, gather input, and with the help of book vendors and print catalogs, the select appropriate titles to add to their library’s shelves.  It’s quite telling that of all of the projects that he’s undertaken in the past years (there are many!), Plemmons consistently refers to this student project as his most impactful one.  From NCCE’s website: If you had $1,000 to spend on classroom tools and wanted to make the greatest impact on student learning, how would you spend it? (Plemmons’ response): “Through my student book budget project, I’ve seen what a powerful experience it can be to give students total control over a portion of a budget. By developing surveys, conversing with peers, analyzing data, setting goals, meeting with vendors, making wish lists, and debating a final decision, students become committed to the task and their decisions are respected by the school community. Anytime that students lead the decisions it will have a greater impact on student learning” (Agostinelli, 2016).

Plemmons’ student book project is an example of project-based blended learning unit in a classroom.  Although the teacher-librarian organized the framework for the unit of study, the students were allowed freedoms within that structure.  For example, when the books were received, labeled and ready to put on the library shelves, the students were then responsible for the development and application of a marketing plan.  The freedom to explore ideas and try new things directly resulted in higher student interest and engagement.  Wikipedia’s entry highlights the importance of an underlying structure of a blended learning program, but indeed, the draw for most learners is the “element of student control”.  But taking the first steps into changing the culture and structure of your classroom into a blended model can make teacher and student alike feel a bit like Carroll’s Alice peering down into the unknown of the rabbit hole.

SAMR HaneyIn terms of the SAMR Model of technology integration, a project such as Plemmons’s student library book task extends far beyond enhancement into the area of transformational instruction.  Students are learning in ways that are not possible without technology.  Surveys and data collection, budgeting and spreadsheets, book resource lists (both on- and offline), web conferencing.  Technically all of these could be done with technology, but the reality is that the technology tools provide access to goals that could never be achieved in total in a timely manner by elementary students.

Disappointingly I have not yet introduced the student library book project to my students.  Some of this is due to scheduling and logistics and some is due to fear.  The fears that I need to overcome?  Fear of giving up more control in my classroom.  Fear of possible comments and critique from colleagues or administrators upon seeing the inherent messiness of project-based learning and going off-script from district instructional calendars.  Fear of failure, compared to others — how can I do what Plemmons and others have done when I have a fixed and full schedule with little flexibility?  The very real fear of projects never ending, especially in light of the limited times I see my students each week.    

baby stepsWhen it comes to shifting the model for my classroom, I’m afraid I bear less of a resemblance to Alice and more of a resemblance to Bill Murray’s character Bob in the 1991 comedy What About Bob?  Bob knows what he needs to do, but his fears are getting in the way of living a good life.  Then along comes direction and guidance in the form of a psychiatrist and his self-help book, Baby Steps.  With a constant and simplistic mantra of “baby steps” this and “baby steps” that, soon Bob is rising above his initial fears, achieving goals, and realizing his life’s potential.  So, rather than focusing on fears and excuses, I’m finding that I have to remind myself daily about the importance of baby steps.  Baby steps to producing and posting a introductory video for students to watch on-demand.  Baby steps to building openness for creativity into project planning.  Baby steps to being ready to watch students try and fail and try again.  

The ISTE Student Standards and SAMR model are both important reminders of the importance of students in student learning.  Andy Plemmons and the work that he has shared on his blog are inspirational and insightful.  Edutopia and other educational websites have an abundance of resources to provide guidance for those just starting out with project-based learning and blended education.  Now it’s time for my students and me to take some baby steps to the rabbit hole and beyond.


Agostinelli, M. (2016, February 16). Meet a tech savvy teacher: Andy Plemmons. Retrieved from http://blog.ncce.org/2016/02/16/meet-a-tech-savvy-teacher-andy-plemmons/

Blended learning. (2016). In Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Retrieved March 2, 2016, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blended_learning

Carroll, L. (2015). Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Puffin Books.

International Society for Technology in Education. (2016). Standards for students. Retrieved from http://www.iste.org/standards/ISTE-standards/standards-for-students

Edutopia. (2015, April 6). Blended learning: Resource roundup. Retrieved from http://www.edutopia.org/blended-learning-resources

Plemmons, A. (2015, November 12). Student book budgets 2015-16: Getting started | Expect the miraculous. Retrieved from http://expectmiraculous.com/2015/11/12/student-book-budgets-2015-16-getting-started/

Wong, W. (2014, April 1). How technology enables blended learning | EdTech Magazine. Retrieved from http://www.edtechmagazine.com/k12/article/2014/04/how-technology-enables-blended-learning


Marx, S. Down the Rabbit Hole. https://flic.kr/p/67xtJA (CC BY 2.0)

SAMR chart adapted by J. Haney from Dr. R. Puentedura.  http://hippasus.com/blog/archives/227

What About Bob? https://13movies.files.wordpress.com/2013/02/what-about-bob-baby-steps.jpg

Getting Creative With Booktalks

creativity_1ISTE Student Standard 1: Creativity and Innovation
Students demonstrate creative thinking, construct knowledge, and develop innovative products and processes using technology.

Much of my work in the first months of 2016 has been focused on exploring ISTE’s first standard for students and how that should look in an elementary library.  I celebrate the value of creativity every day: when I share stories books with my students; when I introduce them to the work of amazing artists and authors; when I encourage them to think creatively in their search for answers.  But as I have reflected these past weeks, I’ve been reminded of how much more I need to allow for creativity in student work.  

For the past several years our school has followed a morning routine during announcements over the intercom loudspeakers. It is very scripted, and in the past couple of years, most mornings it has also included a student book review. I love that the students are reading and sharing their responses, but I’m hoping to find ways for them to share that aren’t as formulaic and are more memorable. I’m also hoping to involve more 5th graders — there has been little interest on their part with the project as it’s been presented in the past.

Guiding Question:
Using technology, how can fifth grade students create memorable and meaningful book reviews in response to reading and how can these products be shared with a wider audience?

So the question became, what technology could I introduce to the students that would effectively introduce more creativity into the booktalk process?  My goal was guided by Dr. Ruben Puentedura’s SAMR model.  Augmentation, where tech acts as a direct tool substitute with functional improvement — I really like the book talk process we’ve started and feel like technology could ramp up the fifth graders’ efforts (Puentedura & SAMR).  

With that in mind, I dove in. I read journal articles. I scoured websites. I scrolled through endless pages of Twitter tweets (feel free to follow me: @JustinHaney509).  A deep wade through a plethora (yes, I would definitely say it was a plethora) of outdated and inactive links did finally yield results when I discovered the work of an amazing team of librarians and technology specialists in the School District of West De Pere in De Pere, Wisconsin.  Their “Book Talks on Air” project and their yearly “Read Across America” project are exactly what I had in mind, though I didn’t know it at the time!  

The next afternoon, about twenty minutes before the final bell, and with no warning for the fifth grade teacher or his students, we dove in.  A student volunteered to give an impromptu book talk using a couple of our Chromebooks and Google Hangouts. Within the next five minutes, the fifth grade students had spent more time than they had all year on book talks, both as participants and as an attentive audience!  


Next Steps

Now that I’ve found a tool that I think will work for sharing students’ work and now that it’s already proven effective in energizing students for the project, I want to explore the book talk process we have in place (written book talk form, with blanks to fill-in, 5-star rating scale) and open up more opportunities for injecting creativity into student products.  P21, or Partnership for 21st Century Learning, highlight the vitalness of creativity and divergence in student learning throughout their student learning framework. Puccio and Figliotti write: “Divergent thinking occurs when we apply the gas pedal to our thinking process and generate lots of options in response to a particular challenge (without taking the time to evaluate them). We race our engine, producing many, varied and original options.” (Puccio & Figliotti, 2014)

I know I am not providing enough opportunities for creativity in my classroom assignments. The ISTE and P21 standards are clear and well-founded in research. So why have I held back on letting go of control? The reasons are many, and the realities can’t be ignored.  As a teacher-librarian, I only see each class once a week, and that’s assuming there are no holidays/field trips/district trainings/etc.  There’s a lot of curriculum to squeeze into the year, and it’s easy for more open-ended projects to quickly extend from weeks into months. And there’s a library system to run and books to shelve…  But the reality is, if we want our students to more fully engage in their learning, it’s time to get creative. Quietly. But not too quietly.


Hemlock Creek Elementary School Library. (n.d.). Book Talks on Air – Hemlock Creek Library. Retrieved February 7, 2016, from https://sites.google.com/a/wdpsd.com/hc-library/events/book-talks-on-air

International Society for Technology in Education. (n.d.). ISTE Standards for Students. Retrieved from http://www.iste.org/standards/ISTE-standards/standards-for-students

Puccio, G. J., & Figliotti, J. (2014, April 21). How to foster creativity in the 21st century classroom? – P21. Retrieved from http://www.p21.org/news-events/p21blog/1398-how-to-foster-creativity-in-the-21st-century-classroom

Puentedura, R. (2014, September 24). SAMR and Bloom’s Taxonomy: Assembling the puzzle. Retrieved from https://www.graphite.org/blog/samr-and-blooms-taxonomy-assembling-the-puzzle


Creativity in Progress by Amanda Hirsch; Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0); https://flic.kr/p/5tLtoq  (original image cropped/edited using pixlr.com)

Photos by Justin Haney

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