Last week I attended the American Association of School Librarians National Conference in Hartford, CT. It was amazing to be surrounded by so many librarians and to have the opportunity to hear some of my favorite authors speak. While the primary focus of the conference was on the implementation of the Common Core State Standards, I found that for me, the most meaningful sessions were those that were focused on the role that reading plays in the lives of our students.
Kristina Holzweiss, the facilitator of “Common Core Conversations” provided us with links to 25 sites that she uses in her implementation of the CCSS. I was familiar with many of them, and some were geared towards high school learners, but I did see a few that I am interested in trying with my students. There’s a great site called Awesome Stories that I think will be fun for my kids and also one that I’m going to share with my classroom teacher colleagues that creates individualized CCSS rubrics.
I attended the “Standards for the 21st Century Learner Database” session because I was hoping to get some ideas about how to structure a local RSU1-based database that contains library lessons which are aligned to the CCSS and the AASL’s Standards for the 21st Century Learner (a project that I am working on with my colleagues Abby Luchies and Megan Fuller). Unfortunately, the session was more a plug to get librarians to add their own lessons to the AASL database, rather than a discussion about the logistics/purpose/challenges of creating such a compendium, but it was interesting to see their process nevertheless.
Another CCSS-related session that I attended was called “Challenging Students to Communicate, Connect and Collaborate.” This session was led by a really dynamic elementary school librarian (Jennifer Reed) who showed us some quick and easy ways to connect students with other students and experts around the globe. This is something I’d like to do more of at PES, so this was inspiring and left me with the new goal of globally connecting each of my classes before the year is out, either by Skype Classroom, through Global Read Aloud, or via my library blog.
My two favorite sessions, hands down, were author panels. The first one was “Boys Reading: A Focus on Fantasy” and included some huge (huge!) names in the world of kid lit: Jon Scieszka, Adam Gidwitz, William Alexander, Neal Shusterman and Tony Abbott. For me, this was like going to the Oscars and seeing the superstars. These authors’ passion for writing, reading, and imagining was incredible to witness and affirmed for me the absolute importance of encouraging our students to dive deep into the worlds of fantasy and science fiction.
William Alexander said something, which I am paraphrasing here because I couldn’t quite get all of his words down, that struck me deeply: “Middle grade readers are about to turn into something else and they are trying to decide who they want to be. Adults think their identity is solid and fixed and we are better at being fooled into thinking that the world makes sense.” His point was that fantasy serves a real and valuable purpose in the lives of our students because it allows them to imagine what could be, or can be, as they develop into the people that they are going to become. (I wish that I was as eloquent as William Alexander to explain this, but alas, he has won a National Book Award, so he’s pretty darned eloquent).
Finally, I attended another wonderful panel entitled “Picture Book Biographies: A Focus on the CCSS.” This was an interesting angle, because it tied together the informational reading standards of the CCSS with the writing process. The authors on the panel were, again, superstars: Matt Tavares, Melissa Sweet (both of whom I’ve had the amazing privilege of hosting at PES), Jen Bryant, Doreen Rappaport and Andrea Davis Pinkney. It was fascinating to hear about their research process and use of primary sources and to think about ways that we can help our students become investigators like them.
I have many new resources and sites to explore in the coming weeks and months and I’m looking forward sharing what I learned with my students and colleagues.