Transacting with Text: The Bridge Between Reading & Writing?

I loved all of the different strategies that were presented during this week’s class. I could definitely see applications of all of them to different content areas as well as within library instruction. I have used variations of the ‘Somebody Wanted But So’ strategy in the past and am interested in trying another version of it and/or similar graphic organizers with my students. I really loved the Fact or Fiction idea and could see this strategy being applied to different genres, library/research skills. It also seems like a great way to potentially connect older and younger students by having one group create topics/questions/statements etc for the other or later going back and ‘fact-checking’ the work of another group.

In thinking about our readings, the overarching idea of transacting with text is one that I find to be particularly interesting. It seems as though it could be a bridge between the processes of reading and writing. In thinking about how I interact with a text as a learner, I can see many parallels between marking up a text and composing one. I love the emphasis on writing as a process that should be meaningful and necessary for students. The idea of learning to compose for different purposes and to select the processes most appropriate for these purposes (p 47) is one that I think lends itself well to what we could be doing in library.

This idea of composing texts with specific audiences and/or purposes in mind is one that, at the elementary level, is not explicitly addressed on a consistent basis. Last year, my 5th grade students worked through the research process with a topic and question of their choosing. They then had the choice of creating either a presentation or website with their information. Though we spent a lot of time learning the technical skills behind these tools, the project did allow for conversations about audience. The student who had looked at different designs of sneakers decided to present his information in the form of an advertisement, explaining the design choices behind a popular shoe. Another student decided to create a website all about ballet for kids and began to think about her audience as she was selecting video clips to add to her site. In shifting from transacting to composing texts, I wonder what role technology plays? Are technology skills similar to grammar? At what point do they shift from being a necessary foundation to an integrate skill within a larger process?

Weird Stuff in the Lost & Found: Composing & Transacting With Text

What stood out to me most from this week’s readings and class #2 is this idea of interacting with a text to co-construct its meaning. I like how our text identified a shift in how we bring readers and texts together. “Students learn to read and read to learn at the same time. From the beginning then, reading is about making sense of the world” (p. 17). The idea of viewing reading as a dynamic spiral instead of sequential process is such an interesting shift in perspective. Working with all students (K-5) at the elementary level, I tend to prefer upper elementary grades. Yet, when thinking about how this idea of transacting with text, the lesson that first came to mind involves some of my younger students.

The piece of our reading about co-constructing the creative arts, particularly poetry, reminded me of one of the projects we worked on last year as part of Poetry month in April. A librarian friend, Shannon Miller, from Iowa and I were brainstorming ways to involve our younger students in the poetry fun. We decided to connect a group of my first grade students with Shannon’s kindergarteners through Google Hangouts. Shannon and I read a few poems for two voices from Messing Around on the Monkey Bars by Betsy Franco. The students loved listening to ‘Weird Stuff in the Lost & Found.’ Shannon & I thought that this would be a great poem for us to re-create with our students’ voices. We took turns typing their ideas into a Google Doc that both schools could see/edit at the same time. Each student had the opportunity to add a line to our poem. We all then read our finished poem together. Click HERE to read a copy! For more information, Shannon wrote a blog post about our connection. You’ll find it here:

In applying the lenses of learning to this experience, it seems to reflect all four. It was meaning-centered, pulling from their background knowledge of the lost and found as well as social in that there was authentic conversation happening not only among my first graders but also between them and our friends in Iowa. The language-based lens involves our purposeful use of language in building our poem, as well as the human lens that allowed students to hear different opinions and ideas. I also think this blends well with the idea that “as students become more familiar with a poem and hear the teacher using alternative interpretations, students will be better prepared to suggest alternative readings” (p 32). This was the case as our students worked with the pattern of the original poem when creating their version, and formed a piece of their transaction with the text.

More recently, I’ve used the ‘Most Important’ summarizing framework, from last week’s class, in a lesson with first grade students. We’re just wrapping up an author study of Peter Reynolds. After reading one of his books each week, we re-read one together, this time with the purpose of pulling out the main idea/most important part, and modeling the framework. Students then worked in groups of 4-5 to create their own poem based on one of the other books we’ve read. They worked really well together deciding on which words/ideas to include using some of the collaboration techniques we’ve also been trying. I’d love to extend what they’ve created on chart paper into some sort of digital project, but am still looking for the right tool/format.


“Thank You For Sharing”- How Listeners Attend to Talkers

I’m currently enrolled in a course through the Penn Literacy Network. In an effort to blog more frequently, I am hoping to share my reflections here on a weekly basis. Our first class looked at the 4 Lenses of Learning (Meaning-Centered, Social, Language-Based, and Human).

My notes from class #1

My notes from class #1

A theme that stood out in our readings and discussion is the idea of student/teacher voice and the importance of listening.

“Listening is one of the most important things we can do for one another. If we care, we can listen” -Fred Rogers

I recently received this quote as part of a Remind 101 course led by Angela Maiers. It appeared on my phone at the most perfect moment, and connects with some of the topics discussed during our first class. I’d like to think that listening builds empathy and compassion, both of which seem to fit in across all four of the lenses of learning.

Angela’s campaign Choose2Matter is one that is near and dear to my heart, and one that I had the opportunity to witness in person last June. The idea is rather simple: when people know they matter, and understand that their actions count, they can change the world. Yet, when asked if they believed that their actions mattered and could have an impact on the world, a large percentage of my 5th grade students said ‘no.’ As a result, I have spent this first month of school listening to them.

Across all grades (K-5) we started our year in library by reading books that celebrate creativity and sharing ideas. Some of our favorites include: The Dot, Ish, Going Places, What Do You Do With An Idea, and The Most Magnificent Thing. We then went on to talk about, and create visual representations of our individual superpowers. Students then combined their superpowers to form teams of 4 to 6 students with whom they will be working for the next few weeks.  To me, this aligns well with the Human Lens of Learning. I’d like to think that spending this time sharing our heart maps, passions, and super powers will provide us a foundation of ‘mattering’ as we begin to dive into content. One that we can also revisit throughout the year. Teachers have been sharing some of our and our students’ learning through the hashtag #havpassion too. A visual representation its evolution is available HERE.


Heart Maps Created by 5th Grade Students

The importance of listening is what has stood out most to me from the readings and experiences in our first class. I have learned so much about all of the individual students I have the opportunity to work with by listening to them. Yet I also noticed an approach by the facilitators of this course to model active listening and reflection while working with our group of teachers and administrators. Seemingly simple things, like individually thanking those who share something with the group, validate the voices in the room. While we all encourage our students to have a voice in our classrooms, it’s important for teachers to feel as though their voices are valued too. If we care about our students to listen to their voices, don’t we owe that same courtesy to our peers?

Our text notes that, “Writers assume readers, readers imagine writers. Talkers focus on listeners, and listeners attend to talkers” (p 7).  I love the word choice of listeners attending to talkers. This portrays listening an active, instead of passive, choice. Going back to the initial quote from the first session, if “paying attention is one of the hardest things any of us is asked to do,” then active listening takes this to a deeper level. Speakers may be able to focus on their audience of listeners, but is it then up to the listeners to validate the speaker’s voice? Can the same be said when translated from oral to written texts with regards to readers and writers? Is it the skills of reading and listening or otherwise consuming text that enable students to create their own?

Connected Curation?

This past Saturday, I attended Edcamp Philly along with several hundred other educators. It was a day filled with great conversations and connections that I hope will continue both face to face and virtually in the days and months to come. Today, I had the opportunity to hear from Brenda Boyer, as part of a district professional development presentation, some of the fabulous work she’s been doing around digital curation and the ever evolving role of libraries. As I reflect on these experiences, I struggle to find a balance between the connected learning framework, student curation/ higher-order skills, and the narrow ways in which CCSS can be interpreted at times.



The Connected Learning Framework is centered around equitable, social, and participatory learning. This sort of real-world, authentic, connected, relevant learning experience is what I seek to design and provide for my students. I also love how it blends experiential learning with content creation. During a fabulous conversation at Edcamp Philly (notes here), the question was raised,

What is the role of library in connecting teachers?

We came to the conclusion that the library space can act as a third teacher and has the potential to bring teachers together to learn from each other as well as from those beyond the walls of their school. Yet, being able to create these spaces is no easy task. It depends on building relationships, between all involved, that foster a larger culture of trust, transparency, and risk-taking.

When asked to describe what I do, I tend to emphasize this idea of connecting and connectedness. I see my role as an elementary teacher-librarian as being able to connect students and teachers to resources (both print, digital, and human). I have used the network of fabulous educators I’ve created over the past year or so to connect my students with authentic audiences for their learning. We have communicated and collaborated with other students, teachers, and authors. My students and I have shared experiences that I hope have empowered them and helped them realize that their voices matter.

It wasn’t until today that I realized that these experiences and our use of this framework depended on my ability to curate a robust network of people as well as resources. It has me thinking…

Is curation a precondition for connection?

In listening to Brenda this morning, I was reminded of earlier thoughts I had written down in response to the question posed by Joyce Valenza on Twitter about effective Pinterest curation. Back in February, my definition of the term ‘curation’ was focused on tools, links, and books that could be nicely embedded into our library website. Yet, today I’m wondering- where does the curation of social capital enter the equation? As a librarian, isn’t it also part of our role to be managing not only the books and tech but also the relationships? At the end of the day the books will still be on the shelves. It’s the relationships I’ve built this year with 450+ students and hundreds of educators that are most valuable. I absolutely love that my students have created blogs, written collaborative poetry, engaged in independent inquiry, created a yarn tree, and connected with authors. I hope that moving forward, these experiences don’t get lost in conversations of CCSS, common assessments, evaluations, and rigor.

How Did I Get Here? #whylib


Over the weekend, a conversation started on Twitter that led to the creation of the hashtag #whylib. Funny how a tweet has the power to become a hashtag and part of an ongoing conversation. Since April is School Library Month, librarians across the country are now sharing stories of the paths that have led them into the school library using #whylib. I must say, I’ve enjoyed learning a little bit more about the fabulous school librarians who are a part of my PLN, the majority of whom I have yet to meet in person. I think it’s so great how such a variety of experiences have drawn us together into the TL tribe.

Here is my story…

I’ve always associated positive memories with libraries. Going to our public library each week was always fun. I remember carrying stacks and bags of books home and devouring them each week. I started drawing tiny purple stars on the back pockets of the books to keep track of what I’d read. Soon every book in the children’s section had a purple star.

Not surprisingly, at 16 I started working after school as a page at that library and others in the township. I stayed on as a part-time staff member for the next 7 years, and still cover the occasional evening or weekend shifts. I quickly outgrew the task of just shelving those purple starred books. Over time, I became involved with children’s programming, collection development, and processing. I later added circulation, reference, and technology skills into the mix. Yet it didn’t occur to me that this “library thing” was something I might want to consider as a career.

At that same time, I was working on an undergraduate degree in education at Rosemont College. I started out as an elementary education major, adding history and psychology into the mix when all was said and done. Looking back, I think the choice to study education came from my love of learning, not necessarily school; a distinction I would soon realize. My student teaching experience  helped me see that the endless worksheets,  individual assessments, and bubble sheets weren’t my style. I wanted students engaging with each other as well as with content; to be able to create, collaborate, and discover.  At this point that I decided I needed to explore these ideas  of education policy and creativity/innovation. After I graduated, I immediately entered a master’s program in education policy at the University of Pennsylvania. The plan was to become a researcher or perhaps an education historian.

It wasn’t until I had immersed myself with literature on educational technology, federal policies, digital literacies, connected learning,  and participatory cultures that the library came back into the picture. I realized that the space in the education landscape where policy and innovation collided was libraries.

I finished my program at Penn this past July and started in my current role as an elementary teacher/librarian in August. I absolutely love the physical, curricular, and digital spaces this role allows me to inhabit. Spending time creating a culture where we read, create, and connect in our library has been great. (The kiddos are also adorable). I am so grateful for this community of TLs who have shared so much with me this first year. I hope to be able to share more with you as my journey into the TL tribe continues.

If you are a librarian, or thinking about becoming one, please consider sharing your story with #whylib. I know that the rest of the TLs out there and I would love to learn along with you!

#WRAD14 Blogging Challenge

Over the next few weeks, we will be participating in World Read-Aloud Day (#WRAD14) activities in the library. The week of March 5th, every class that visits our library will be connecting with another group of students across the U.S. to share stories & read together. We’re up to 18 Skype/GoogleHangout sessions and counting. Students at all grade levels (K-5) will be working on projects related to WRAD.

As part of WRAD, I will be participating in a weekly blogging challenge. Here goes…

Week 1: What is your earliest or fondest memory when someone read-aloud to you? 

I am lucky to have been raised in a house that was always filled with books. Read-alouds were the daily norm.While lots of reading was going on at home, many of my earliest memories about reading begin at the local public library. Each week my grandmother and I (and eventually my younger sister) would head over to the library in search of a new stack of books. I remember sitting captivated by Miss Val, the storyteller, and her fabulous tales. She had a way of truly engaging the audience and sweeping us away into her magical world. The librarians were also always offering suggestions for what to read next and tips for keeping track of what I’d already read. Those tiny purple stars drawn on the back pockets of the books were mine 😉

A few years later, I returned to that same library system as an employee. Working alongside many of those  librarians who had played such an integral role in my childhood was a fabulous experience. While my purple starred books may have been removed from the collection, the memories still fill that space. And every once and a while, Val returns to enchant us all with a story.

My 2nd grade students have recently learned about blogging & have started their own blogs. They are SO excited! They will be participating in a modified version of this blogging challenge…and would love some comments! 🙂 Here are some of their posts.

Permission to Innovate?

I have been eagerly awaiting this weekend for the past year. Last January, I had the opportunity to attend my first Educon. A grad student at the time, I was in awe of the genius I had surrounded myself with.  Experienced educators from near and far, coming together to engage in passionate conversations about their students, pedagogy and use of technology. Not having ever had a classroom of my own, I wasn’t quite sure where my voice fit into the conversation.

Fast forward 1 year.

I returned to the conversation today with the voice of a first-year teacher/librarian at a fabulous elementary school, excited about the possibilities of blending policy with innovation. The overarching theme of this year’s conversations is ‘Openness: Should We Create a More Transparent World?’ In attempting to synthesize my learning from the opening keynotes and sessions I’ve attended thus far, common threads seem to revolve around the ideas of sharing, trust, and vulnerability; all of which seem to be pre-conditions for innovation.

SHARING. I’ve been thinking and talking a lot lately about the idea of sharing. My students have been sharing their learning (both process and product)  across a variety of platforms. Whether we’re using Google Drive, KidBlog, Skype/GoogleHangouts, or posting pictures on the library website, my students are eager and excited to share. I can’t help but notice that that mindset is not necessarily shared among teachers. So often it seems as though fabulous learning is happening…behind a closed door. George Couros made the point at #Edscape that great teaching/learning should be like a viral video on youtube. Friday night’s  panel emphasized the open movement. Whether its through badges, MOOCs, or OERs, there is power in publicly sharing information and learning. But the ability to share openly depends on a foundation of trust.

TRUST.  The first session I attended this morning was a conversation about change within the well-functioning school. For schools to iterate and innovate, teachers need to feel that they are trusted as professionals. That their supervisors trust and support them in taking risks. That their voices matter. Teachers should not be having to ask for permission to innovate.

VULNERABILITY. Publicly sharing your learning. Declaring your trust in various stakeholders (including students). These actions open up educators to a vulnerable space. I have made the choice to create and maintain a public digital presence. I see a value in openness. I would like to think that a digital footprint is perhaps more meaningful than paper credentials. Digital citizenship then becomes the minimum requirement, and digital leadership the goal. I am intentionally transparent. Does it make me vulnerable? Yes. But more importantly, it makes me a better educator and connects me to others who push my thinking. To me that far outweighs the risk of  criticism or disapproval.

Brick walls come in many formats, but they won’t stop the open movement. If the question is ‘How do we stimulate innovation and creativity?’ We have to stop asking permission.

What Will You Make This Year?

It’s hard to believe that I’ve reached the half way point of my first year as a teacher-librarian. While revisiting some of my pinterest boards this week, I rediscovered this TED talk by Hsing Wei, who I had the opportunity to meet in person last year.

The question she poses, “What will you make today?” is particularly relevant to the work my students and I are engaged in as you’ll soon see. I think that inquiry-driven learning  and school libraries are made for each other. While I’m still figuring out the perfect blend of the two in our library, I’m constantly inspired by the work of the amazing librarians (and their students) in my PLN. I’ve also been thinking a lot lately about curation, sharing, the infusion of STEAM topics & the maker-mindset, but more on that later. In reflecting on what we’ve accomplished so far and where we’re headed, I’ve come up with what I think will be our library mantra.

Read. Create. Connect. 

2013-11-13 09.41.03

READ. Not surprisingly, we spend a lot of our time talking about books & reading in the library.  Students in the younger grades have been focusing on book care, parts of a book, and fiction vs. non-fiction texts. Students in the older grades have been focusing on locating materials in the library & reflecting on their favorite books from different grades. Now that I’ve learned everyone’s name (Meeting 400+ students once a week made this quite the feat) I’m looking forward to getting to know everyone better as a reader. I’ve been sharing some of my reading life with them (via the library door-picture forthcoming) and am looking forward to talking more about different types of reading that they are doing. UP NEXT FOR 2014: World Read Aloud Day, Read Across America, School-wide reading incentive, Author visit(s)?


CREATE. A goal of mine is for my students to become creators of content & ideas (as well as consumers). To this end, students in K-1st grade have made some Eric Carle-inspired creations to brighten up the windows in our library. They have also made an e-book and been introduced to research with our library super hero…Super 3! Our second graders have been learning about blogs and are set to create their own in the coming weeks! Third grade students created their own I-Spy books while learning about the non-fiction section of the library. Fourth & Fifth grade students created Avatars while talking about digital citizenship & reading timelines with our new tool: Google Drive. Grades 3-5 also had a blast creating computer codes during the Hour of Code. UP NEXT FOR 2014: I’m very excited to be introducing Genius Hour to the older grades in connection with the research process/Big 6 and can’t wait to see what they come up with!


CONNECT. I love how technology allows my students to share their learning with a larger & authentic audience. We have connected via Skype & Google Hangouts with students from across the country and an author so far this year. Younger grades also had the opportunity to connect with an author and illustrator in person at the beginning of the school year. Second grade will also be connecting with other students on their blogs soon! I would also like to connect students from different grades within our school to share what they are learning. Still looking for the right venue for this venture…UP NEXT FOR 2014: Genius Hour connections, possibly a mock-Caldecott connection, World Read Aloud Day, Read Across America…Always looking to connect!

So instead of ending with a list of my resolutions for 2014, I’ll leave you with the question: What will you (and your students) make this year? We will be sharing our creations on our library website and encourage you to check them out periodically. If you’d like to connect with me/my students you’ll find me on Twitter @christybrenn. I look forward to learning with you in 2014!

Thoughts on Being a ‘Connected Educator’

I was recently asked by an administrator to come up with an explanation of what it is I do as a ‘connected educator.’ This has provided me with a great opportunity to pause after the whirlwind of a first 2 months as an elementary librarian and reflect on my learning thus far. What follows is the blurb I’ve sent along in an attempt to capture the essence of my ‘connectedness.’

As an educator new to the role of school librarian, I am grateful for the personal learning network (PLN) that I have built and am continually expanding through social networks and technology. Those who work with me know that Twitter is currently my favorite tool to connect, share, and learn professionally. On an almost daily basis it seems, I email a link or catch someone in the hall and say ‘I found this idea on Twitter, and thought you might be interested…’ I would consider myself a ‘connected teacher-librarian,’ and love this explanation of what that means, courtesy of Joyce Valenza.

However, it is the mindset with which I approach Twitter that is more important than the tool. I have learned so much from teacher-librarians and others in education across the country that are sharing the amazing things that their students are learning and creating with a wider/global audience. I’ve recently been sharing weekly plans on Twitter and samples of student work on our Coopertown Library Website. (Be sure to check out the e-books our Kindergarteners contributed to). Whether using Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, or another social network, the underlying values of connectedness and sharing among educators is key.

October was Connected Educator Month. As an initiative of the Office of Educational Technology at the US Dept. of Education, its mission is to “help educators thrive in a connected world.”  A variety of ways for educators to participate were provided. I posted regularly to the group on Twitter using the hashtag #ce13 and also joined a book club discussing Invent to Learn with its authors Gary Stager & Sylvia Martinez. I had come across the book over the summer while attending EdcampSTEAM. The book has guided my thought process in proposing and creating a ‘maker’ club and led to the discovery that Mitch Resnick, Director of the Media Lab at MIT and featured in Invent to Learn, is a Haverford High School alum.

I recently attended the Edscape Conference, featuring George Couros as the keynote. George mentioned that great learning should be like a viral video on YouTube, and that isolation is now a choice that educators make. In just these first few months of school, my PLN has informed many of the projects and lessons that occur in the Coopertown Library, and has provided a group of my students the opportunity to participate in Read for the Record with students from Iowa. I have also been collaborating with librarians from Iowa, Texas, and Montana on a blogging project we are hoping to start with all of our 2nd grade students soon as part of their fairy tale unit.

I will be sharing some of the great learning we are doing through our library website, and encourage you to check it out periodically.  Feel free to follow me on Twitter @christybrenn as well as the hashtag #havtolearn that teachers across the district will be using to share resources.

-Christina Brennan

The Last Post…

This blog was originally started as a part of a Digital Literacies course requirement. Ten posts were required, making this the last (required) post. With the semester wrapping up, a final thesis draft due, and a seemingly never-ending job search, things have been pretty hectic these past few weeks. I  had every intention of blogging, and ended up starting at least 4 different drafts trying to decide on a topic for this (last) post. I am enjoying blogging. I find it a great way to process information that I come across through Twitter, news, social media at what seems to be lightning speed. So instead of framing this as the last blog post, I’ve decided to list all of the topics I’ve been thinking about over the past few weeks. I hope that this will be the beginning of a new chapter for this blog and that it will become a regular practice. Here goes…

  • Budget cuts: Here in Philadelphia, the School District is faced with a potential $304 million deficit. The budget plan to address this, referred to as the Doomsday Budget, would eliminate counselors, librarians, secretaries, sports, and extracurriculars among other budget lines, leaving essentially teachers and principals in schools come September. The question then becomes “How low can you go?
  • Future of libraries (both school & public): While the future of public schools in Philadelphia is in flux, the future of libraries is also positioned at a (potential) turning point. To those who say libraries are outdated & irrelevant…take a look at this. For the month of May, YALSA is hosting a series of discussions on the #futureoflibraries that looks absolutely fabulous. (Think teens, technology access, social media).
  • Why schools are so reticent to hire a first year teacher: My recent job search has reminded me of an article I read a while back (and can’t seem to locate now) about KIPP. The article was in reference to their teacher apprentice program, but ran with the headline ‘Would You Want Your Child to be Taught by a First Year Teacher?” (or something along those lines). While I am aware that research indicates a 3 year learning curve for new teachers, I’m not entirely sure that it can ever be completely eliminated. Teacher Ed. programs and apprentice/clinical models can only do so much. I’m not sure any training program can prepare teachers on anything and everything they should anticipate happening during that first year. On a lighter note, I came across the following (hypothetical but awesome) interview question in a twitter chat. “You are the teacher. Student #1 just punched Student #2. A third student is throwing up. The class hamster just escaped from its cage. What do you do to address this situation? In what order?”
  • The design of learning spaces: This topic will likely become the topic of an independent study I’ll be completing this summer. I’m aiming to evaluate different approaches to designing learning environments, and how they address student and teacher learning styles.  A possible re-design of a classroom (or school library) is also in the works, potentially using a design-thinking framework (IDEO, Stanford d-school) to address current barriers to learning that stem from school/classroom organization.

Additional topics I’m still pondering include:

  • Academic writing ‘in public’ & why I’ve been debating posting the working draft of my thesis as a public Google doc.
  • The role of leaders as storytellers
  • The notion of ‘other people’s children’ and its implication in conversations about education
  • The public purpose of private schools.

Hopefully some, if not all, of these ideas will be included in future posts. Until then, its back to thesis edits & final papers/projects.