How do you invite a participatory culture in your library? For me, this is a term that is an embedded part of my philosophy. I strive to find ways for students to have multiple opportunities to connect, participate, collaborate, and create in the media center throughout the year. All students don’t participate every time, which is fine, but my goal is to offer enough variety of experiences through collaborative lessons, resource promotions, and incentives/contests that every student has a chance to find a place to participate during the year.
After several impromptu conversations with parents and teachers recently, I’ve come to value the power of library sponsored literacy contests and reading promotions. Teachers have mentioned that they love the “choice” that is a part of these contests and promotions because they see such a variety of students who participate. Parents have commented to me that their child had no interest in writing poetry or essays until a contest came along. Multiple parents have mentioned the motivating power of these contests. My parapro and I have seen how the simple interactive component of stamping a box on a piece of paper can give direction in choosing new books outside of comfort zones and motivation to try something new.
What have I done this year?
- In September/October, students had sheets where they were asked to read books from different categories of the library such as biographies, informational, graphic novel, fiction, etc. Each time they read one of these books, they earned a stamp, and they stamped their papers themselves. When they completed their sheets, they had their name displayed in the media center on our book fair decorations and had their name entered into a drawing for a book fair gift certificate. Requirements for the sheets were different for each grade level.
- In October, we partnered with a few other schools in the district and Avid Bookshop, a local independent bookstore, and held a Mysteries of Harris Burdick writing contest. Students in every grade wrote stories based on the images of the book by Chris Van Allsburg. We judged the final pieces at the school level to choose the best pieces and sent those on to Avid Bookshop for a local competition. Avid recruited authors and other community members to select several finalists who were honored at a celebration at the bookshop. One winner was chosen to enter a national competition. All students who entered the contest received a certificate of participation.
- In November, we celebrated National Picture Book Month. Picture books were promoted all month long on our morning broadcast, and students kept a record of all of the picture books they read for the month, no matter where they came from or whether they were read to them or by themselves. Depending on how many books students read they earned a bookmark, picture book month certificate, and their name in a drawing for free picture books. We had about 180 students turn in sheets out of 500 students and over 3,500 picture books were logged during November.
What else is coming this year?
- In January and February, we will sponsor a persuasive writing contest. At the moment, we think this will be a spin-off of picture book month. The picture book month site has several essays by authors about the importance of picture books that could serve as mentor texts for students. I have already promoted this in collaborative meetings with teachers as a possible project I might work on with whole classes or groups of students. Students will write pieces about the importance of picture books.
- In March, we will hold another reading promotion leading up to our spring book fair where students earn stamps.
- In April, our 2nd annual poetry contest will be held. This was a huge success last year with over 150 entries from students. Poems can be written in any form (rhyming, list poetry, free verse, acrostic, etc) and any platform (a napkin, hand written on paper, typed and printed, Animoto, Photo Story, etc). This year we may partner with Avid Bookshop to extend the contest beyond our school. The contest will culminate in our annual Poem in Your Pocket Day open mic cafe where all students share poetry into a microphone in the media center. This event will be broadcast live on the web through Adobe Connect.
These contests and promotions are just one layer of the participatory culture of the Barrow Media Center, but they have come to be a piece that students, teachers, and families appreciate and expect. These promotions and contests run simultaneously with the multiple collaborative lessons and projects that take place in the library and by no means replace other purposes of the library. I will continue to evaluate their relevance to our program and always look to give even more students opportunities to connect and create in our library. How are you celebrating literacy and inviting participation in your library?
David C. Barrow Elementary