Planning for Synthesis

Stripling Plan

This afternoon my senior Honors/AP English son was having difficulty writing an expository essay based on Equus. My son is a decent writer; words come to him much easier than they do to me, maybe due to practice, maybe a better writing education or maybe plain old genetics. However, it was not the writing that was causing him problems, it was his lack of proficiency with planning and research. Could you imagine, and his mom is a librarian to boot! If you’re reading this and you have High School aged kids you probably get this “Mom has no clue scenario” I have to say that I never help him with school work; he plain old never asks, and he’s been successful, I thought so anyway. He’s received good grades and never loses sleep about schoolwork, both literally and figuratively. Now I’m totally blown away with his lack of procedural understanding and wish that he’d came to me before his senior year!

The prompt for the essay was entitled Religious Traditions and read  “Explore how tradition and religion shape one’s moral compass and discuss their usage as a dramatic devise in the play”

What he had accomplished before coming to me:

  • He read the book and basically knew the areas that represented the author’s use of dramatic devices (Connect)
  • He collected literary database articles about Equus, which all dealt with religion since that’s basically what the book’s about! (Investigate)
  • He had a theses statement written which was basically the prompt made into a statement. Oh man!

These are the steps I suggested he take:


  • Clearly define the prompt, in this case the terms religion and moral compass using a credible source so that he could  cite it if needed.
  • Create an organizational scheme based on the religious issues the author dramatize. We created a rough web with the prompt in the middle, (with thought that it will change into a realized thesis later), and spokes for each significant issue exemplified in the play and how it was exemplified.
  • Add “what you think you know” examples from history, society and literature under each exemplified issue you’ve identified.


  • Record questions that arise during this process and after reviewing for uncertainties where they apply.

Note: For younger students we’ve been more formally talking about Plan here. Having them think about where and in what manner they will be organizing notes, collecting needed information and bookmarking found resources. For example, if they are researching to make an informed decision they may utilize a Pro & Con “T” Chart, or create a chart that  allows for comparison of different factors. They may use boxes and bullets if looking for evidence or a timeline if searching for important historical events.


  • He created a rough outline in a word or google doc that he decided to fill in as he wrote. He noted where he needed to research whether for clarification, exact detail, evidence or needed information.
  • He  reviewed the resources he had already collected to see if there was anything there that helped answer what he already noted or brought up important issues that he missed or didn’t think of. From this he added the issue of superstition and religion.
  • He needed my guidance for where to find much of the information he sought. Yes a little scary since he’s off to college in less then a year


Here’s where I think a more formal plan from the start assists with synthesis. Construct for me is part organizational (literal) and part constructing new knowledge (figurative). If this was a lengthier project, I would suggest that he keep adjusting his structure according to increased understandings. However, since this was an essay and really a lot of his knowledge was already constructed by reading the play, it will most likely stay the way he created it based on what he already knew. No matter, by making a formal effort to create an organizational Plan for constructing knowledge before beginning to Investigate, the process of synthesis is more easily realized within the Investigate process.


He’s writing away right now! (I almost wrote “as we speak”!)


At the middle school level, our district is emphasizing simulated research projects in which students are given carefully chosen resources in order that they spend less time searching and more time analyzing information. Similar processes for learning are suggested by Teacher’s College Reading and Writing Project and the Library of Congress. The idea is to give students one piece of information to fully analyze. Then give them another and have them compare and contrast view points, tone or credibility; place in chronological order or connect in some way or another. Then add another and go through the same process. In this situation synthesis happens while students are investigating.

In order to allow the understanding of synthesis to be attainable by all students, we no longer can consider it something that just happens. Students need necessary scaffolds, whether it be by creating an organizational plan or by limiting variables and starting small.


Teacher-librarian Roles and Responsibilities: A Work in Progress

I’ve been itching for some time to create a roles and responsibilities document that works for me, what I do and the way I see the whole kit and caboodle-man did I just date myself! I was inspired to collect my thoughts this weekend and so I went with it!

I think any document like this is at best a work in progress and open to change; this is magnified further by the nature of our profession, which roots itself in the need for currency and possibility. Please let me know what you think, what I missed or where your understandings don’t exactly match mine.

Will add formal bibliography also.

A Plan for Focus

Yes, January 1 is the time of year when we consider doing things “better” than we have in the past. Seeing what I can do better; yes, I do this with over rated ease. Whether due to my critical “Why did you do that?” Italian up bringing or a simple lack of confidence, which I can’t help to think stems from the same pessimistic familial attitude, I live my life always looking to do better.  On that note, I do find reflection extremely helpful, but going forward, I plan to turn the negativity  I overly associate with what I should have accomplished, with an optimism for the possibilities of a focused future.

Let my calendar be my guide. Limited time, truly the one known variable we all share. However, this year I plan to change my “there’s never enough time” attitude to a “this is the time I have and I will use it wisely” attitude by filling in my google spreadsheets calendar with not only scheduled classes but also items from from created short purpose based lists, as suggested by Peter Bregman. My lists are in the form of Desktop stickies with the following titles:

  • Resource Management & Development,
  • Reading Advocacy & Promotion,
  • Info Fluency Instruction,
  • Curricular Development & Support,
  • Library Space: Physical & Virtual
  • Personalized Learning Programs
  • Professional Learning and Sharing
  • Documentation/Data Collection

I plan to try my best to NOT plan on getting other things accomplished when my time is best spent attending to student needs,  in my case during lunch and enrichment periods.  Because I like the idea of having everything work related in one place, I plan to use the same Google spreadsheets calendar for after hours work related items, such as learning opportunities and planning times.  My hope is that using my calendar effectively will not only serve as a focusing tool, but also as a way to document what it is that I do!

Just do it. Do what I “need to do” first & fast, especially if it makes someone else’s life easier. For me these tend to be the paperwork and detail type items that I avoid like the plague! By getting these done from the start, there will be more “quality” time for spend on what I think is important! Just realizing that this bullet and the next are also a time thing..obviously something I struggle with!

Schedule Necessary time for planning in advance.  Winging is not effective and makes others feel uncomfortable. Repeat. Repeat.

Some things are best accomplished at the moment of inspiration, but others aren’t I realize that this one doesn’t quite fit with the whole calendar mentality thing above, however, through past experience, if I don’t get it done when I’m inspired to do it, such as writing a blog post, it never gets done, takes longer or doesn’t get done well. Since I do a lot of thinking while driving, I plan to record my thoughts on my phone, listen to them when I get to work and if they require time, fit them on my calendar, even if it means moving something else to another slot. However, that being said, I plan to not let other people’s inspirations determine how I spend my time and I won’t expect my inspirations to determine how others spend their time! Yes, my job by nature often requires on demand needs which don’t fit into the whole calendar scenario. However, if these needs can equally be met in the future, schedule them. The same goes when my needs require other people’s time, request to schedule it, whenever possible.

Write it down better yet on one of those purpose lists I mentioned above! This school year also marks the year I turned 50 which along with the wisdom and experience that number exemplifies, it also means that I forget stuff-a lot of stuff! Along with writing it down goes “putting it down” where it goes! I ode to not become my mother by spending my time constantly lo0oking for stuff!

Keep it all in perspective. Yes, this is especially difficult when you believe in the power of education and the value of your chosen profession, because it totally rocks!  It’s even more difficult when your PLN is plain old amazing and keeps moving at a leaps and bounds pace! However, I need to truly know that I can only do what I can do and although I won’t give up on what I see as important, I do need to be realistic about my limitations whether personal or professional, by working with them, not against them.

Proceed with confidence and don’t let your emotions lead or get in the way Enough said.

Train your mind to think about the outcome. I will do my best to schedule more time and energy on those things with a larger student learning outcome and less time and energy on those things that don’t.

Schedule social learning: Twitter, Feeds etc.  Another time management item! Plan a set amount of time for each, in your calendar each day. When doing so, keep a tab open for Weebly editing and my latest www.wanna’ share Smore, so that I can add to these worthy of sharing with LHMS Community. Plus don’t freak out about all you’ve missed if you don’t get to it!

Plan your driving time effectively. Have audio books and podcasts lined up. Listen to NPR News for part of the ride each day to keep up with current events.

Reflect on what you’ve accomplished each day because there’s power in the positive!

I am somewhat remiss about not writing a New Year’s post about advocacy and the need to concentrate on all things that work to show my value with respect to student learning.  This IS a necessity, especially evidenced by our professions’ shameless dwindling numbers. However, on a more personal level, I do believe that by planning for focus, I will be more effective at what I do and what I do is all about students and learning.




4 Things I’d Love to Crowd Source (’cause they’re keeping me up at night!)


Image: 'Brain Fuel' Found on

Image: ‘Brain Fuel’
Found on

OK…Here they are:

  1. A working, all encompassing definition of Literacy for educators. Finding many are too broad (such as everything in the CCSS!), too 21st Century (limited to global and  tech literacies) or plain old out of date!
  2. Synthesis: What it means and how to teach it so that students can do it! Is synthesis rooted in organizational strategies? How do we incorporate author’s intent in the synthesis process? Is Synthesis making personal meaning and if so how do we teach students to do it in test like scenarios?
  3. I’m desperately in “want” of developing a Teacher-Librarian’s Roles and Responsibilities document, or what admin calls a “job description”. I’d love it to be stakeholder friendly and so should be rooted in student learning.
  4. What exactly does CCSS mean when they  write short research projectsand how do we support deep learning as required by the CCCS in short research project? In my humble opinion, I don’t believe that it’s possible for students to develop deep learning if they are required to participate in all parts of the inquiry process during every “short research project”. I think that we would be better off creating learning experiences that highlight one piece of the process, as long as students are aware of where what their learning fits into the whole. However, this isn’t easy and I would love some assistance in making it happen!

I realize this is a lot in one post, but I figure if I write them down, they’d stop keeping me up at night! Well not really, cause I tend to fall asleep at the drop of a dime, but they do bounce around this crazy head of mine fairly often!

So…I created a google doc hyperlinked to each bold faced topic above for crowd sourcing. I’d love to hear your thoughts, ideas and best practices about these issues; I’m thinking that I’m probably not the only one who could use a little help with this stuff!

Thanks in advance for sharing, because we are oh so better working together!





Late Night in the Library: “Genrefying” Fiction

Last night an awesome group of sixteen sixth grade girls, three of their moms and I, worked incredibly hard at “genrefying” our library’s fiction collection. Although our nonfiction collection has been re-shelved according to topics that are meaningful for our patrons, for over a year now, and we are more than happy with the results, I’ve been putting off similarly re-shelving fiction according to genre.  Although I wholeheartedly believe that the results would benefit our students in their quest to read, and it’s something that I’ve wanted to do long before I ever even considered a similar scenario for nonfiction, I was apprehensive about the process. This is not to say that creating middle school thinking categories and sorting books accordingly for our nonfiction collection was an easy task, because it wasn’t! However, I knew that the most difficult part of genrefying our fiction collection would lie in deciding what genre a book best belonged; this part of the process was even more difficult than I originally thought!


Our first difficulty arose when the database I planned on using to help with this process, Ebsco’s Novelist K-8, became suddenly not available! (I’m still not sure what’s going on, but hopefully a call to Ebsco on Monday AM will help me out.). A quick connect with my PLN, through LM_Net, Twitter (#tlchat), Google+,  and e-mail helped resolve this problem; however, different resource gave us different answers! We ended up using a combination of  the following tools to help us identify genres:  the book’s summary, the book’s copyright page, Destiny  book record information, (including the 650 Marc record tag), Titlewave, Barnes & Noble, Goodreads, Amazon and even Wikipedia!

Our second difficulty emerged when I realized that we all had slightly different understandings about genre characteristics, and that we weren’t alone! With some cursory research, it seems that others who’ve published their findings also differ in their opinions. (The understandings where experts were far more in agreement, characteristics such as conflict source etc., were far too difficult for our group to identify and characterize, due to our ability level, our lack of experience with critical analysis of literary text,  our lack of familiarity with each book,  and most importantly, our time constraints! Plus, keeping in mind our 5th and 6th grade audience and why we were doing what we were doing, this kind of deep analysis seemed unnecessary.) For example, Mystery and Adventure genre characteristics often cross; where would you place A Series of Unfortunate Events or The 39 Clues? Where do you place something that just happens to be set in a historical period but the historical period is not significant to the story? What about stories explicitly set in other cultures? Is a separate Multicultural section the correct terminology? is it even politically correct? Our Realistic Fiction section is way too broad; however, are Chick Fic and or Relationships categories appropriate or even applicable for our 5th and 6th grade audience? What do you do with seemingly realistic or historical fiction that happens to have a scene with an angel or ghost? Is this considered Supernatural? Do we even have enough books to have a Supernatural section? Daunting to say the least!

During my first year as a teacher-librarian, our after school book club read the Newbery winning When You Reach Me and we were incredibly lucky to share a special Skype visit with its awesome author, Rebecca Stead. In answering one of our student’s question about the book’s genre, Stead answered that she was honestly unsure, and that it was too difficult for her to pick just one. In making that decision for her, are we inconsiderately not considering the author’s original intent? Also, are we unfairly pegging a book into a hole? By doing so are we limiting a book’s audience? I do think these issues deserve further review and consideration and I know that there are others who have done a good job of doing so. In this case, however, I decided that it was necessary to put my worries of unfairness to rest, in order to create as shelving scenario that helped to meet our goals fro the majority of students: fostering independent reading and enthusiastic readers.

The Learning Experience:

What our students learned through this experience far outweighed the problems we faced, and in reality, they learned more, precisely because of these problems! I came home feeling exhausted, but fulfilled, and by the hugs I received at the end of the night, I know that I was not alone.

I’m left wondering how we can duplicate the positive aspects of this learning experience in our classrooms?

  • True collaboration; we were a team, and as a team  figured how to work effectively as a team!
  • Problem based learning; even reaching outside our school walls for assistance with our problems.
  • Real world project with a real purpose.
  • Having fun while working hard.
  • Intrinsic motivation; no grades, no rewards. (If you don’t count pizza, snacks and good music!)

Of course all learning experiences can’t share these characteristics, but I do believe that there are more opportunities to create learning experiences that create change: where students are not just practicing for the future but participating in the now.

Library Orientation: Never Enough Time!

By far my biggest obstacle as a teacher librarian is not having the necessary time needed with students in order that they practice, and ultimately master, vital information fluency skills. As a teacher I know that I am not alone; for all of us, there is never enough time. Library orientations are no exception.
Buying used shelving just before the start of school put us back a bit on the whole orientation thing.  By the time there was some sense of order in the library, 5th grade LA teachers needed to start the DRA reading assessment process, which set us back even further. Students were visiting the library every day without a clue of how it all worked!
Library Orientation Instructional Goals:
Students will….
  • Practice the skills necessary to  independently access library materials (including locating books and self check out).
  • Gain understandings about library expectations and procedures
  • Folow written directions necessary for creating Destiny accounts and discover the possibilities of using this platform
  • Learn about library clubs & activities including te 20 Book Challenge.

After a short “Do Now”, giving students the opportunity to share their interests, and a fairly brief (I’m trying!) intro, we split students into three groups for 10 minute center activities.

1. Meet Mrs Schiano at purple couch for photo op and quick book selection review, followed by independent book choice and self check out.

2. QR code scavenger hunt for library procedure videos created by two awesom Lounsberry students!

3. Destiny account creation & discovery.

After finishing, we met back in classroom area and reviewed accessing library website and library clubs and activities, including the 20 Book Challenge.

What worked? Center based activities. Why?

  • 5th grade students are already familiar with learning in this manner,
  • students are learning independently,
  • it promotes small group collaboration,
  • it keeps students engaged through movement and a sense of anticipation,
  • and  it resembles the typical library environment, many students learning different things, in different ways at the same time!

What needed improvement?

  • Students needed time to sign up for clubs.
  • I needed to access student understandings of library expectations and procedures. How? Not sure best way to do this other than adding another station. I might have added an assessment element at the end of each video, such as a link that took students to a google form.
  • Students needed more instructional and practice time usinig Destiny.

Next post… Lounsberry’s Virtual Center Orientation with 5th Grade Math/Science Classes.

Are You Up to the Challenge?


Why Personal Choice Independent Reading?

We want you to enjoy the reading experience! The more you read the better you get at it and I promise, the more you’ll enjoy it!

The Challenge:

Read 20 books this school year:

ONE from each of the GENRES below..

  • Fantasy or Science Fiction
  • Realistic Fiction
  • Graphic Novels
  • Nonfiction
  • Historical Fiction
  • Poetry or Novel in Verse

The rest are up to you. If you’re reading a book in class you may include it. If the book is 350 pages or more, it counts as 2!

We’ll figure out the best way for keeping track of our reading ASAP. Any ideas let me know!

Anyone else thinking party in the library to celebrate?

Challenge yourself and JOIN us below!

Hunger Games Book Covers

Hunger Games World Covers- Match the Country to the Cover!!


Hunger Games World Covers- Match the Country to the Cover!! (1)

Did you know that Books are published with different covers in different markets? Above are Hunger Games covers from around the world. Try your luck at matching the cover with the country by filling in the Google Form linked below!

Can You Match the Cover with the Country?!

Book Covers may be seen more clearly  HERE

Thanks to @catagator and @amyshort2 for sharing book covers!

Personal Choice Reading in Content Area Classrooms

Top Shelf Library Guy: original source unknown

Top Shelf Library Guy: original source unknown

I participated in an great PD session on personal choice reading given by our district’s Director of Humanities, Kyle Arlington. In the vein of Reader’s Workshop understandings, personal choice reading is a powerful and authentic way for students to practice close reading strategies and develop a love of reading and learning.  An important strategy Mr. Arlington shared, more here, was creating text sets, electronic or paper, of reading materials grouped by topic, platform. reading ability, point of view etc. I especially love the idea of teachers seeing this as an opportunity for students to learn about topics that may not be covered well or even at all within the curriculum. (For example, presently  the Civil Rights movement  in our district is not covered at length until high school). When brain storming where to find reading materials, I realized the valuable role teacher-librarians can play in this process.

  • Teacher-librarians can share portals for finding text materials: (Wonderopolis, Finding Dulcinea, library databases, Newsella, Youngzine, Dogo News, copies of pages from informational books, primary source portals, picture books, curation sites and more!)
  • Teacher-librarians can create text sets!
  • Teacher-librarians can create portals for collecting text sets: (wikis, curation sites)
  • The library can act as a hub for housing and sharing text sets.
  • Teacher-librarians can use personal choice reading in content area classrooms as a way to foster interest for inquiry based research projects.

I’m reminded of an earlier post which also highlighted the role for teacher-librarians in creating text sets. For good reason, teachers no longer can rely on subject area textbooks as students’ primary resource  for learning. Students want and need to explore materials on varied topics, in various platforms and from varied points of view. Classroom teachers will appreciate the support from teacher-librarians now more than ever, and that’s a good thing!