Author Archives: bethfriese

Start the School Year With Questions

It’s so familiar, some might even call it cliché: the “What I Did This Summer” essay.

(Did I hear a yawn?)

Whether they spent it far away or close to home, students have insights to share from their time spent away from school.

Lately, though, I’ve wondered about inviting students to create questions from their summer experiences instead of the typical show-and-tell. And, of course, the school library media center is *the place* for questions.

By asking students to develop questions, we can start the process of inquiry early in the year. We also open connections between their out-of-school experiences and their time in the classroom. Finally, it’s an opportunity for us to learn more about students’ interests and perhaps even their struggles.

My family was lucky to have a busy summer complete with learning, leisure, and a bit of travel. There are any number of families we know who spent the summer moving due to foreclosures or welcoming family members in need of shelter. From my own experiences as well as sharing with friends, I can imagine a pool of questions including:

-Why are sea turtles endangered? How are we protecting them?

-Why is the public library closed earlier in the evenings than it was before? Who made this decision? Why?

-Why do people in the Amish community not drive cars or have their photographs taken?

-What summer camps can I attend next summer? How can I find help paying for them?

-How are video games made? How can I learn to make my own video games? (or apps, or videos, and so on)

-Why is the local bookstore (or other business) closing? What does it take to start a business or stay in business?

-What are some free or cheap activities in my community? (This may be especially helpful for people who have recently moved.)

-Why do some items float in a pool or lake while others don’t?

-How does lightning form? Why do we seem to have more storms in the summer months? Why is summer so hot?

-Why did Kate DiCamillo write Because of Winn Dixie? How did she write it? Does she have other books like that one? Does she have a dog?

The lives and interests of students shouldn’t be dropped or hidden at the school door. Their summer experiences shouldn’t be just an essay to read and or a check in the grade book. When students get back to the school library media center, they can extend those summer memories into questions and opportunities to pursue topics that are personally meaningful and interesting.

Of course, we can help by modeling questions out of our own experiences.  What are some of the questions you brought back from summer experiences?

Elizabeth Friese

PhD Candidate

Department of Language and Literacy Education

University of Georgia

Your School Library Bill of Rights

At the end of the school year, as my students are finishing their coursework and getting ready to do their student teaching, I ask them to compose vision statements for themselves as teachers.

I think this can be a useful exercise in thinking for many educators. It is easy to get caught up in the everyday activities of our schools and library media centers. The end of the year, when classes are winding down and we reflect on the year we’ve just ended, can be a good time to step back and think about our core values for the school library program. This may be especially important when we are facing losses in funding, staff, and other resources that are essential to a vital school library program.

When I have my students complete this assignment, the vision statement can take many forms. One of the options I give is a “Bill of Rights” of sorts, or a set of essential ideas that form the core of their educational practices.

Of course, we already have a Library Bill of Rights and an interpretation of it that articulates its application to school libraries. I encourage students to try to state their ideas simply, then add explanations if necessary.

I’m going to start my list of essential core values for the school library program. What would you add? Share your core values with us in the comments.

1.) Students have the right to access the instruction and expertise of a full-time credentialed library media specialist(s) as well as adequate support staff to ensure this accessibility and smooth functioning.

2.) Students have the right to resources that reflect their own cultures as well as the diverse world we live in.

3.) Students have the right to pursue topics of personal interest in the library media center using the resources available there (both physical and virtual).

4.) Students have the right to regular information literacy instruction embedded in their broader curricular studies, not separate from it.

5.) Students have the right to participate in creating their school library media program.

….What would you add?

Telling Your Library’s Story

Not so long ago, data were hard to come by.  As our society has become more and more infused with technology, data aren’t nearly as scarce as they used to be.  In school libraries, we have circulation statistics, site hits, classes taught, and the list goes on and on. There is no doubt that these data help us when we need to justify our programs to administrators and others. We can also use data to see trends, identify problems, and herald successes.

In between the infographics, statistics, and charts, lately I’ve noticed the call for stories. Stories are one of the main ways that we learn from and share with one another. Numbers can be informative, but they are all the more compelling when accompanied by a well-told story of a successful learning experience made possible by the school library.

April is School Library Month. AASL has adopted “Create Your Own Story” as the 2011 School Library Month theme. Students can use the library to find and tell stories, and we can tell our library’s stories as well.

If you’re not sure how to tell your library’s story, there are a number of resources that might help you think about how to start developing a collection of stories about your library.  Starting March 15, AASL is offering a free series about creating strategic stories to gain support for libraries. I also learn a lot about the power of effective stories from resources like StoryCorps, not to mention friendships with professional storytellers including Linda Martin and Stephanie Jones.

There are many ways to begin collecting stories, or add to the collection you’ve already started. You might grab a flip video camera for an interview. Record photographic evidence of student learning and audio record accompanying reflections. Encourage digital storytelling.

Of course, librarians can’t be the only ones telling positive stories about school library programs. When programs are in trouble, parents and other community members need to speak out on our behalf. Keep an email file with comments from parents and community members who have been enriched by your program. Include a “press” page on your website with links to local news stories about projects that include your school library.  If a crisis comes, you have ready resources to share efficiently.

Unfortunately, outside of the library community, there are too few people telling positive stories about what school libraries do.
I’ve seen calls for positive examples that aim to stretch beyond our usual conversations.  This is one way projects like the Learning4Life video contest and PC Sweeney’s Great Librarian Write Out! can inspire us to share stories in different ways and places.

As School Library Month approaches, take time to cultivate your library’s own story as you enhance student learning and storytelling.  Find interesting ways and unexpected places to tell that story.

Beth Friese

Ph.D. Candidate

Department of Language and Literacy Education

The University of Georgia

Thinking Ahead to National Poetry Month

National Poetry Month doesn’t begin until April 1st, but it’s not too early to start planning (or even celebrating! Why wait?)

Here are a few ideas and resources as we think ahead to Poetry Month, when we celebrate one of the often underutilized sections of our collections.

Read Poetry Aloud

One of the simplest things we can do with poetry is to read it aloud. Many students, especially those in high school, may think of poetry as primarily something to be analyzed.  When I hear resistance to poetry, I try to remind students that poetry is experimentation with language. Sometimes playful, sometimes poignant, poetry is meant to be enjoyed.

I read poetry aloud in my classes every time we meet.  It seems strange to many of my students at first, but they quickly come to anticipate the experience of listening to poetry read aloud.

Here are a few books I’ve read aloud from recently:

Animal Poems by Valerie Worth (with excellent collage illustrations by Steve Jenkins)

  • I read each poem but leave out the name of the animal.  Students can guess the animal, based on the wonderfully descriptive words in each poem.

This is Just To Say, Poems of Apology and Forgiveness by Joyce Sidman

  • This book is written as a riff on the famous (some might say infamous) poem by William Carlos William entitled “This is Just To Say.” From the silly to the deeply painful, this book of apologies (and responses) strikes a chord with many students.

The Blacker The Berry by Joyce Carol Thomas

  • This book celebrates all the different shades of blackness through lush descriptive verses and beautiful illustrations.

Poetrees by Douglas Florian

  • Simple, enchanting poems about all kinds of trees and their virtues. Florian also wrote the delightful Dinothesaurus, Insectlopedia, and many others.

In addition to reading aloud from published books, there will likely be many students writing poetry throughout the month of April.  Why not invite a student to read their poem aloud during the daily newscast, or set up a recording station in the library and have students create poetry podcasts?

Writing Poetry

Speaking of writing poems, there are a number of online tools that connect to poetry.  One of my favorites is, which features striking pictures and your choice of drag-and-drop words or a freestyle “type your own” option. Strong words are an important part of poetry, and pairing them with images add another layer of meaning.  (Note: some of the images provided on may be better suited for older students, but this idea would be fairly easy to adapt to a younger age group with some creative commons images and a bank of clever words).

Tagxedo is a site familiar to many of us, but we may not think of word clouds as poems. Tagxedo reminds me of concrete poetry. Concrete poems are great fun to write by hand or online, once again using the visual as a layer of meaning for the writer to consider. (Check out Paul Janeczko’s A Poke In The I for a great collection of concrete poems). As students create concrete poems, we can help them think about what image would work best to share their ideas with an audience. These poems would be easy to collect and post on a website.

For More Ideas…

These are just a few ideas I’ve used to inspire the reading and writing of poetry. There are many other resources you can look to for inspiration.

National Poetry Month Resources from The Academy of American Poets at

Poetry 180: A Poem a Day for American High School Students

A Middle School Version of the Poetry 180 Project

Sylvia Vardell’s blog Poetry for Children (including this post featuring poems about librarians)

Buffy Hamilton’s Poetry Posts

Andy Plemmons’s Posts about Poem In Your Pocket Day and Book Spine Poetry

I hope this post gets you thinking about all the different ways you might celebrate National Poetry Month in your library. Please share your own favorite ideas and resources in the comments!

Beth Friese

Ph.D. Candidate

Department of Language and Literacy Education

The University of Georgia

Being There: Attending the ALA Youth Media Awards

No, I didn’t don a full-length gown and gloves for what some call “The Oscars of Children’s Literature.” I hadn’t packed festive attire for the occasion since I was supposed to be home in Atlanta before the big announcements. But, thanks to the southern snow and ice, I was stranded in San Diego long enough to see the ALA Youth Media Awards a couple of weeks ago. It turned out to be a good thing that I wasn’t wearing a gown, since I ended up sitting on the floor of a crowded ballroom along with scores of other youth librarians and literature lovers.

You can check out the full list of winners here, and reactions to the awards by avid children’s literature aficionados are scattered across the web. For this post, I wanted to share the experience of attending the awards in person. Honestly, I didn’t expect it to be very exciting. In past years, I have listened to the announcements online or watched the twitter stream, so I knew how the program would go. But from the moment I sat down on the ballroom floor and started listening to and tweeting the awards I realized that participating virtually, while wonderful, could not convey the electricity in the room.

It is amazing to be surrounded by people who are deeply committed to youth, libraries, and literacy. Clearly, many in the room had read lots of this year’s potential honorees. The whispers and murmurs (and sometimes squeals and screams) gave the event such an air of excitement. There were books that were clearly loved and celebrated by many, and honored books that many people had not heard of (yet). The winners were greeted with warm admiration.

Each award is selected through the work of a dedicated committee. Being at this event, where the committee is recognized after each award is announced, rekindled my interest in serving on one of these committees one day.  Have any of you ever served on an award committee? Do you hope to serve in the future? Which award would you choose? Two of my recent favorites are the Geisel Award (likely because my youngest child is learning to read so I read a LOT of beginning reader books) and the Schneider Family Book Awards. I reference these lists in my literacy courses often. I hope you’ll share your thoughts on the awards and the committees you’d love to work with in the comments.

As for the awards announcement, it was an energizing experience. I think we all left with good memories, not to mention longer reading lists. It will be wonderful to roll out the red carpet for the Youth Media Awards when ALA’s Midwinter Meeting is held in Atlanta in 2017. (Yes, it’s a ways off, but plenty of time to save up for that Oscar-worthy outfit!)

Beth Friese

Ph. D. Student

Department of Language and Literacy Education

University of Georgia