Wednesday, January 4, 2023

Book Tasting Cafe: Gathering anecdotal evidence about student reading behaviors

The idea of the "Book Tasting Cafe" was sparked in 2008 when Jennie Scott-McKenzie posted about her activity, "Chez Dewey" on LM_Net. She had designed an activity to engage students in learning about the Dewey Decimal System by "ordering" books using a menu, but spin-offs quickly emerged. 

Today, the most common iteration is to set up the library like restaurant with books to "taste" as a way to hook students on choosing pleasure reading titles. The special touches of a place setting, placemat, tablecloths, menus, and other details create an ambiance conducive to reading and a feeling of ownership over one's book choices.

I've done variations of Book Tastings over the years because it's a great way to promote books, encourage students to take time to read into a book, and make reading feel like a special activity.  

But what I REALLY love about Book Tasting is the anecdotal evidence I gather while the students are busy reading.

While the students read silently at their tables, I watch them like a mama hawk. 

I'm watching to gather evidence about each one as a reader. What I learn about each child during the Book Tasting helps me connect him or her with books throughout the school year.

I learn...

  • which students can get into the flow of reading quickly
  • who struggles to keep their focus
  • which students flip right to the end
  • which students drift from the page quickly
  • which genres grab their attention
  • which students like lots of white space
  • which students are willing to take a risk on an usual book
  • which ones like a challenge
  • which ones read fast 

Book choosing behaviors I see...

  • starting in the middle
  • smelling the pages
  • reading the first page and looking at the cover again
  • reading the blurb and moving on to something else
  • reading the blurb and telling a friend about it
  • flipping to the end to read the last page

These little bits of personal information about students' reading behaviors and preferences go into my mental file. When a child comes to the library, I pull up my memories of the Book Tasting and use the information I gathered to suggest books that will fit with what I saw that day. 

December Book Tastings in our library at
Oberoi International School in Mumbai

"Tasting" Notes

One genre per table
Students choose where to sit
They can move or stay where they are, depending on
how much they are enjoying the book. 
Five minutes per table.

Monday, October 10, 2022

Jarul Awards: 2022

What’s the “Jarul” Award?

The Jarul Award aims to promote picture books by Indian authors and/or publishers each year. They put out a longlist of titles, and students ages up to 11 vote to create a shortlist of three winners. The final winner is voted on at the end of the year and announced at a ceremony at The American School of Bombay in January.

As a newbie to India, each of these was an eye-opener for me and all of them would be good choices for any kind of lesson or read-aloud about empathy. Several of them tie to the UN Sustainable Development Goals as well.

Here are my short summaries of each book. Click each cover for more information via Goodreads. See my favorite at the end.

Machher Jhol, by Richa Jha and Summanta Dey

A boy is worried about his grandfather, his “Baba”, and goes in search of his favorite food called Machher Jhol, a fish curry. He ventures farther on his own than ever before but uses what he has learned from his grandfather as a guide - selecting the freshest fish by smell, finding the market by the noises around him.

Once he’s home, his family is a bit angry with him for leaving but they’re also proud to realize he navigated by himself even though he’s blind. The surprise ending and the realistic illustrations gave me chills.

Illustrations are finely detailed paintings of street scenes in an unnamed city in India. 

Ritu Weds Chandani, by Ameye Narvankar

Ritu is marrying her girlfriend and the community is not supportive. Her family is, however, and we hear about various Indian wedding traditions as the celebrations begin.

Unfortunately, some in the community actively try to stop the bride from leading her own baraat or wedding procession. The disruption of the event is shocking and upsetting to the little niece who narrates the story. She stands up to the crowd and asserts that the love of her aunt Ritu and her new wife Chandani is just as real as any other love. 

Illustrations are a graphic style with natural tones. The illustrations are upbeat and lively so even though there are some upsetting moments, the illustrations keep the mood relatively light.

Aai and I, by Mamta Nainy and Sanket Pethkar

A girl is separated from her mother while the mom is being treated for cancer. When the mother returns her hair is cut short (the images do not show the mother’s head as being bald, so this is somewhat unrealistic).

The girl is disappointed about the mother not having her long hair and tries to fix the problem by having her wear hats or scarves, but the mother resists and says she’s happy with her new hair. The girl wants to match with her mom, so she cuts her hair too.

Illustrations are bold and brightly colored domestic scenes and close-ups of the girl and her mother and...the family dog!

Sometimes Mama, Sometimes Papa, by Nandini Nayar and Upamany Bhattacharyya

Keya’s parents have separated so she is adjusting to her new life where some things are with Mama and others are with Papa. She’s taking a positive spin and seeing this new life as more expansive - more choices for in packed lunch, more different stories at bedtime.

But difficulties surface too; will she need to choose which parent will come to school events? Will her parents be able to be together at times to celebrate her accomplishments? It seems that all will be ok for her, since Mama and Papa are both always there for her.

Illustrations are paintings of what’s going on in her mind and various scenes from school and home where she feels suspended between her two homes.

Giggi and Daddy, by Richa Jha and Mithila Ananth

Giggi’s daddy likes to tell her wild stories about himself when he was expecting her arrival - how share grew inside his pocket, and how he went to a special school to learn how to be a good daddy. His stories extend to when she was a baby and all of the things he did as a perfect daddy, like give her a dinosaur for her birthday and have a picnic in space.

She knows he didn’t do ALL of those things, but he likes to pretend. When she laughs at his story as if it’s not real, he gets sad. So she tells HIM a story about how he’s the best daddy she could ever wish for. 

Colorful cartoony illustrations enhance the story by showing what’s real and what’s imagined. 

My Name is Gulab, by Sagar Kolwankar

A girl named Gulab is bullied at school and called “stinky” because her father has a job working in the sewers. This is the job he and generations before him have had due to the limitations of the family’s caste.

The injustice of it all spurs Gulab into action to make a machine that will clean gutters instead, and she presents it to her teacher and peers at their annual Science Fair. The harsh reality of the father’s job told in full smelly detail is an eye-opening experience for privileged readers. 

Illustrations are expressive cartoon-style drawings.

A Home of Our Own, by Meghaa Gupta and Habib Ali

A group of children earn bits of money or objects in exchange for doing menial tasks. They delight in using the objects, along with other rejected items they find in the streets to “play house” and create the home of their dreams.

Their simple joy about a chipped bowl or a cardboard box as a fake TV makes this a poignant read about poverty and the joy that still can exist despite unimaginable living conditions. 

Watercolor pencil illustrations match the light-hearted tone of the children’s playtime.

Paati’s Rasam, by Janaki Sabesh and Dhwani Sabesh, and Palavi Jain

A girl loves her time with Paati, her grandmother, and especially loves her  rasam - a South Indian chunky soupy dish that’s a popular comfort food. Her grandmother promises she’ll teach her how to make it, but she dies before she has the opportunity.

As the little girl grieves for her grandmother, she’s going through some things that spark memories of her, and pulls out her grandmother’s most beautiful saree. Out falls the recipe for her rasam and in the act of making the familiar dish, the girl’s grieving process begins to turn toward healing.

Illustrations are dark lined with colored pencil and watercolor - really vibrant and expressive scenes.

Just Like Papa, by Nandita da Cunha and Shreya

Mumbai author. Gia loves to watch her father work in his studio on his paintings. She dreams of the day when she can draw and paint just like he does. But when she finally gets all of the supplies she needs to be a real artist, she can’t seem to create artwork that matches her imagination and ideas.

It’s frustrating until she comes to realize that HER version of art comes through story. She and Papa can now collaborate as her images told in words become his newest paintings!

The illustrations are done in a childlike manner which makes it seem like the character Gia illustrated her own story.

I am So Much More Than the Colour of My Skin, by Divya Thomas and Ruchi Shah

This series of short poems inspires us to remember that skin color is not a definition of who we are. On each page, we see a new child with a different shade of skin and what that shade matches (stone brown, sandy brown, warm honey…). Each child is doing something s/he is passionate about like soccer, painting, or something s/he is dreaming of for the future like being a politician, taking care of the Earth, and such.

It does a beautiful job of tapping into the idea of pursuing one’s dreams and interests despite any negative or racist talk that may come along. 

The illustrations are cartoony with mixed media elements to bring extra warmth and realism to the page. Each page includes a photo on a paint-chip style card that shows the color in real life.

In Summary…

If I had had to pick just one book for a school library looking to expand its collection of global literature through picture books, I would choose Machher Jhol due to its fine illustration, emotional reaction from the reader, and immersive feeling of the culture. A stunningly beautiful book. Too bad the voters didn’t agree with me! I wish the publishers had chosen a different cover - I think it would have been more popular.

The Shortlist

The top three chosen by Primary students (up through grade 6)

The final vote for the #1 book will close on December 24 and the winner will be announced on January 28 at the Jarul Award Ceremony held at the American School of Bombay. 

Further Reading

Thursday, October 21, 2021

Soup to Nuts: The entire research process in 70 minutes

I initially balked at the idea.

Model the entire research process in one lesson? With students producing a paragraph with sources, cited in-text (!) by the end of the block? 

Absolute craziness. 

But, when a teacher approached me with the idea, I said YES. I figured I would come up with something

Was it do-able? Kind of.

Here's how it went down:

The preparation for the lesson consisted of me actually doing  the task: "Find information about Planarian and Light" (grade 9 Science).

By crafting my guiding questions, selecting sources, searching, note-taking, organizing, writing, and citing, I experienced the task as if I were the student. Along the way, I documented my thinking and my solutions to the obstacles I encountered and these became my "talking points" for the lesson.

I created a guide with the process & resources we'd use in class and a shortened version of my work for students to type into as we did the task together.

This was a "listening" and "doing" kind of a class. 

I told them to work with their eyes glued to my large screen and their laptop screen like a tennis match - my screen/your screen - are we in sync?

Their document had the following key steps:

Guiding Questions to gather background information

Source Selection for background 

  • Where do YOU like to go to learn something new?

Brief notes for background 

  • Probably won't be used or cited in the paper - just to get a sense of what we're talking about

I knew ZERO about the topic, so my background information was extremely basic. The students had done a lab with these little flatworms, so they were way ahead of me. I just briefly narrated my thought process of getting familiar with the topic.

Focused Guiding Questions 

  • Narrower questions based on learnings from the background information

Source Selection 

  • What types of sources do we need for our new questions - experts? articles?

Here, I explained that I chose targeted databases for them, based on the teacher's request that they find "scholarly" science articles. 

Search for & Gather Information (the meatiest part of the process)

I showed them how to...

  • Navigate database filters: "full-text", subject, search within
  • Use quotation marks in notes to indicate text cut/pasted from a source
  • Use a source number in notes to track sources
  • Grab pre-formatted citations
  • Paraphrase (they practiced paraphrasing one of my quoted facts)

Organize Information 

  • Read over the information gathered
  • Determine categories
  • Make an outline with the source codes next to the facts/evidence

Write the paragraph 

  • Copy the outline and add sentences around the headings and facts, keeping the source numbers intact

This was a revelation to them - to see how I didn't bother to retype any of the evidence from the outline and how the source numbers stayed with the facts.

Create Citations in Noodletools 

  • Pre-formatted citations are easy! Copy/paste into the manual section and add the source number in the annotation section - this keeps the sources with the coded source numbers

Create Works Cited and copy/paste it below the paragraph

Add in-text citations to the paragraph 

  • Replace the source number in parenthesis with whatever comes first in the full citation

It was a MAD RUSH but somehow we completed a lot of this - but, not all

The students did not have time to...

  • Take extra notes on their own 
  • Organize their information 
  • Write it into a paragraph 
  • Complete their citations in Noodletools

But, they saw me do these last bits and clicked into how it all fits together.

Here is the teacher version of the document (my full notes) and the student template (forced copy).

For max efficiency, all tabs I planned to show were open to the exact right spot in an incognito window (research guide, student template, my notes, each site, noodletools).

Will I do this again? 

YES but with a much easier topic with two sources only. 

I liked that they saw how one document could contain everything, and that lightbulbs went off when they saw how my red "source numbers" acted as a code that made the in-text citations very easy at the end.

Before I left, I asked the teacher to promise to invite me back to teach about steps we skipped: 

  • source evaluation
  • strategies for reading scholarly articles
  • more database tips and tricks
  • more note-taking options
  • more practice with paraphrasing
  • more question generation techniques 
  • (and so forth!) 

She said ok :)

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Against My Instincts: Maximizing Shelf Space for Display

Dedicated Top-Shelf Display,
via Kevin Hennah

In planning our new library, one aim was to increase circulation through better "merchandising" or "selling" of what the library has to offer. 

We hired Kevin Hennah for a virtual session to help our design process and explain some key elements:

  • Front-facing books
  • Signage
  • Flexible shelving
  • Genrefication
  • End display spaces

Having heard Kevin at a conference several years ago, much of the talk included concepts I have used in previous libraries with good results. The bonus for me was that our admin and building design team also heard the same messages.

Dedicated side and front-facing display, via Raeko
When it came time to purchase our shelving, we limited ourselves to vendors in China, so the recommended vendor, Raeko, was not an option. Still, we wanted to use the concepts Kevin recommended, so we designed rolling units with slanted tops to maximize display space.

When the shelving arrived, we unpacked by filling each shelf 3/4 of the way, leaving space for 1-2 front-facing books. 

With the slanted display space on top it looked great. I was happy with it. 

But I shortly made a big change due to some....

Extremely-Mini Action Research

We are an open library (zero doors!) so I leave the space extra tidy to be able to notice if anyone has been there after school. We always end each day by filling the empty display spaces. Since we were doing that anyway, I figured, let's COUNT how many books are coming off the displays each day.

For a week, we did a daily count of our empty display spaces and compared it to our circulation data. We discovered that 35-40% of our circulation came from displays. This was true on days with high circulation from a class coming in AND on days when circulation was lower. 

With this clear evidence of the importance of display space, I decided to see if I could maximize the display space even more.

Shelves "too empty", via Kevin Hennah
I remembered an off-hand remark Kevin Hennah made about the shelves in another library - shelves that looked like mine, half to three-quarters full of books.

He said, "There's way too much space on those shelves." 

I remember thinking, "Huh? No there isn't! That empty space is needed for front-facing books and books that will get returned!""

But no. 

I realized he was right. 

I realized his style of shelving is possible if I pack the books tighter to create dedicated display spaces, not accidental display spaces. A front-facing book at the end of a row is fine, but it's even better when LOADS of front-facing books are viewed together in a dedicated area. It's purposeful. It has impact. It screams "Grab me!"

After my action research and remembering his comment, I packed my shelves almost full to open more dedicated display space.

Here are some "before and after" photos of our shelving with my new system.

Before, in Realistic Fiction

Shelves are 3/4 full and bottom shelves are empty when possible

After, in Realistic Fiction

Books are packed more tightly to open an entire unit for display and an extra row at the top for more display (slanted top, plus the row underneath, if possible)

Bottom shelf is full - students don't browse along the bottom anyway. This opens the top shelf for another row of face-out books, at eye level.

Another example:
Before, in Speculative Fiction
Speculative Fiction, After...

And after more squishing!

Post-Change Results

Did the expanded displays increase our percentage of circulation from displays?

Yes, after a week of counting, we saw a slight increase to 40-45% of our circulation coming from displays (a change of 5-10%).
  • Our overall circulation in the new library has increased from last year by 39%
  • Our overall circulation since the change in displays has increased 13%  
My take-aways:
  • Students do not browse the bottom shelf, so I either put displays or pack a row of books there. I think a row of books is best to allow more display at eye level.
  • Front-facing books are best when grouped together
Next Steps:
  • Small tables around the library with books flat and standing up - something about a table says "take me" even more than on a shelf
  • Find out: What's the ideal amount of time for books to be on display before doing a big overhaul of all titles? 
Stale displays won't have the same impact BUT I can't change all of these books daily! or even weekly!

Right now, some of the books have been on display for two months (!) without moving. I plan to do a total overhaul once per month. I can't imagine more than that, but maybe I'll need to. I will keep tracking to see if there's an uptick when I put out fresh covers.

Thanks for reading, and happy "Squishing" to create more 
dedicated display space in your library!

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Listening to Alarm Bells: Internalizing Source Evaluation

I've been on the journey about how to "do" source evaluation for 20 years now. 

Checklists! Acronyms! Do's and Don'ts! Domains matter - actually, they don't. Wikipedia is trash - actually it's a gold mine. 

We've evolved in our fact-checking abilities as information has become increasingly fed into our personalized feeds and misinformation has become increasingly sophisticated. 

Inspired by other librarians, I've been teaching evaluative "moves" rather than focusing on fixed items to look for in a source. It's much better. 

The moves include strategies like lateral reading and reading upstream. 

But there's been a step of the evaluation process that I've missed, and that is: When is Source Evaluation necessary and how do I know? 

Until students internalize that answer for themselves, my teaching is incomplete.

The answer for when to use evaluation "moves" isn't simple

  • Do I evaluate everything I come in contact with? 
  • Do I evaluation only if I have a doubt about the information? 
  • Do I evaluate information I agree with?
  • Do I evaluate based on the purpose of my information task? (schoolwork vs. personal entertainment vs. things posted to my feeds?)

Answers might be determined by...

  • Time (I don't have time to check this)
  • High Investment (I'm re-sharing this so I want to check it)
  • Low Investment (I'm just watching for fun, so I really don't care)
  • Prior Knowledge (I've been to this site before and already vetted it)

The shortest answer and most teachable point is that the student must choose when to implement evaluative moves and that choice needs to be INTENTIONAL.

Acting on an intentional choice is empowering. So I try to help students identify their internal critical thoughts in the first few seconds of seeing new information.

One label I'm using is "Alarm Bells"

Where are the places on a webpage that might set off an alarm in your head? 

We draw sample webpages and star places where our eyes might quickly encounter an alarm bell. 

  • No author? 
  • Unfamiliar organization? 
  • Date updated/created? 
  • Secure URL if we're shopping? 
  • Monetized via ads? 

Listening to these alarms is the beginning to listening to our inner critical voice and making decisions about when to use evaluation moves.

This is just one step in the process to internalize the Source Evaluation process. The next step: using questions (such as the 5Ws) to make sense of the source and its possible uses.

My goal: No acronyms, no teacher reminders. Rather, students encounter content and have internalized a way to handle it based on their needs.