Let’s Get Sense-Able with Sensory Story Times!

Contributed by Jill DeFarno, librarian at Builta Elementary School

Helping students and staff become future ready is an important role for school librarians.  Because school librarians work with all the students in the building, we have the opportunity to share many activities that build future ready skills.   However, future ready does not necessarily have the same meaning for all the learners in the school building.  In our school we have four classrooms of self-contained students and for these students future ready is more about life skills.  Therefore, as the librarian it is my job to make sure that all students are included in the library program in a way that best meets their needs.  One of the shared foundations in the new AASL standards is Include.  


In AASL’s infographic on Include, one of the bullet points under School Librarians Lead is “Showcase learner success and celebrate differences and similarities through learner-led projects, displays, and initiatives.”  This year one of the initiatives that I help implement is Sensory Storytime with Pat Russow, the ELL teacher at Builta. At the end of last school year Pat and I were talking about different ways for her to work with the students in our self-contained classrooms.  Due to the diversity within our self-contained classrooms, many students are identified as English language learners. In her role as the ELL teacher, Pat works with these students one-on-one and in the classroom. We were talking about how at times it can be a challenge to pull some of the students out and work one-on-one. These students need routine, and moving to another classroom can be difficult for them.  As we talked, she thought it might be better to push into their classroom to work with the students.

I shared an idea that I had read about called Sensory Storytime. During Sensory Storytime, books are used to engage students by using their senses to interact with the story. Knowing these students already have sensory integration activities built into their daily instruction, we thought that this would be a natural fit.  We talked with the teachers and they were on board with the idea. We decided that we would meet with each class once a week. The next task was to start looking for books and ideas. We went online and found blogs and websites with ideas to get us started. I also stopped at the public library and asked what ideas they used for sensory storytime. We found a couple of books to start us off and we jumped in. During storytime some of the activities are more sensory oriented and others are more interactive.  

Since the middle of September we’ve done fourteen storytimes. Here are several that we’ve done so far, we read Snowmen at Night and used potato flakes to create snowmen.  While we read Ten Little Fish the kids ate goldfish crackers as the fish disappeared.  As the kids listened to The Napping House students made sounds using instruments we borrowed from the music teacher.   After the first two weeks we weren’t sure how it was going. Students weren’t responding in ways we expected.   

Each class has its own challenges. One class is nonverbal so it’s mostly the two of us doing the work. Another class is higher functioning and will say parts of the story with us.  Despite these challenges we have found that we look forward to the storytime each week and so do the teachers and students. Students who would not sit down and listen or who would yell during the story seem to be more willing to sit with us.  The past two weeks Pat has been testing so we put the program on hold. Everyone is asking when it will start again – Answer: next week! And we found out that Pat received a grant to purchase more materials for storytime. We placed the order at the end of January, and now with even more items to work with, it’s off to the stacks to find more books!    


204 Library Featured in Follett Case Study re: Digital Citizenship

Contributed by Kristen Mattson, LMC Director, Waubonsie Valley High School

This blog has primarily served as a space for the librarians of Indian Prairie School District 204 to share their own stories with one another and members of our community. In this post, though, we would like to present you with a case study on Kristen Mattson’s library that was written by one of our partners, Follett.

From the case study:


Click here to read the full case study!

World Read Aloud Day: A Blog Post from Two Perspectives

This blog post is about a collaborative project between a high school librarian and an elementary school librarian. Since the project was collaborative, we thought the blog post should be too! Enjoy a blog from two perspectives: written by Michelle Shiles, elementary librarian (in blue) and Kristen Mattson, high school librarian (in green).

Tomorrow is World Read Aloud Day? It would be so fun to work in an elementary school and be able to participate in something like that. I wish high school kids would let me read aloud to them. Oh well….

Wait, a minute! I have an idea!

What do you do when a last minute opportunity to collaborate with another librarian appears?  I say, “Jump on it!”  

This is exactly what happened to me on February 15th, the day before World Read Aloud Day.

Sure, it was less than 24 hours from the official World Read Aloud Day when the idea came to me, but I knew there had to be at least one librarian as crazy as I am who would be willing to try something radically different and totally last minute. So I sent out a quick email and waited to see what would happen.

Before February 15th, there was a passionate effort among the district librarians to organize a World Read Aloud celebration. I was asked to participate but passed on these opportunities due to workload, and my perception that our staff wasn’t looking for an additional library event.

So, when Kristen Mattson reached out to the elementary libraries about possibly connecting through Google hangouts to celebrate World Read Aloud Day with high schoolers, I lazily forwarded the e-mail.

Within five minutes, I had teachers at my office door and e-mails crowding my inbox. Boy, was I mistaken! There was definitely interest and excitement about this possible collaboration.

Michelle was the first to reply to my email and said she had several teachers interested in having one of our students read to their class. Now the pressure was on to find a bunch of high school kids who would be willing to spend part of their lunch hour doing a read aloud to a classroom of elementary school students via Google Hangout.

In the end, we had six classes sign up to participate, which equated to roughly 140 students who would experience a read-aloud from a high school student.

It turns out that the teachers at Michelle’s school were not the only ones interested in participating in the Global Read Aloud. By the end of the afternoon, I had classrooms from six different elementary schools on our schedule and 22 high school students EXCITED about missing part of their lunch to read books aloud in front of a webcam. I had a feeling we might actually pull off something awesome!

Teachers were enthusiastic, but a little nervous about the technology demands. Kristen ran a test hangout with me the day before, and we were all ready for the students to “hang out” with the high schoolers on the actual day. In the end, I was only there for moral support. Several teachers mentioned that they were impressed with the technology and how simple things worked during the event.

On the day of the event, every high school student that promised to show up actually did. They shuffled through the pile of picture books I had brought along from home, and got excited as they recognized titles from their own elementary school days. One student from an AP Spanish class even agreed to read “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie” in Spanish to a class of English language learners!

Not only did our students see the high school readers, but they also got to see other classroom audiences across the district. Students exhibited positive behaviors during the reading and asked thoughtful questions to the readers. My favorite part was when the students silently showed excitement, through waves or silent cheers. It was fun to see other audiences bopping with delight, too.

It was really cute to see the high schoolers embrace their position as role models. They read with enthusiasm and showed the pictures to the camera. After the books were over, the students agreed to answer some questions from the audience. My favorite part of the day was when a tiny kindergartner came up to the microphone and asked, “how do you even read so good, anyway?”

This day became the perfect event. All the stars aligned and the experience exceeded everyone’s expectations. I am thankful for colleagues willing to organize spontaneous collaborations and for teachers willing to take last minute detours into celebrating fun and reading.

Who says World Read Aloud Day isn’t for high school students? I think this event might become a new yearly tradition at Waubonsie Valley High School!



Our event – pictures from two perspectives!



Future Ready Librarians Stand Up


When I started my position as an Instructional Technology Specialist in Indian Prairie School District, I would never have guessed that four years later I would have the opportunity to write a blog post in honor of our librarians…yet here I am. What my boss at the time didn’t know, and my fellow librarians still probably don’t know, is that my one of my greatest career passions was to be in a position to support librarians.  Having been a former Library Media Center Director in the district, I know first hand how vital the role is to school’s  culture. I loved being an LMC Director.  I loved the chance to use technology in new ways that could transform how we educate students.  I loved watching kids come alive through literature. However, I always had a nagging and lingering thought in my mind. The Library is even so much more.  The Library is THE PLACE.  The place in which learners grow to love reading, to acquire knowledge through their own inquiry and self- discovery.  The library is the HUB of the school.  The librarian is central and essential to it all.  The librarian is an instructional leader partnering with teachers to help all students succeed.. How could I help spread the word?  When my boss told me she would like me to work closely with our librarians and support them and lead them through the transformational change that was coming….my dream came true.  As I sat a year later with a member of our district senior leadership,  I told her, “Our librarians are an untapped resource”.  When my new boss came in and taught us all that in order to grow, we had to become vulnerable and accept the change and transform…I knew it would happen.  Timing is everything.  Today, four years later, I can honestly say that our librarians are helping to lead the transformational change happening in our district.  Each and every one of our librarians have chosen to STAND UP.

Standing up isn’t easy.  It takes trust. It takes commitment to the cause.  It takes Time. Trust started the summer we did a workshop on Making Spaces in Your LMC.  We would Dream Big.  We would be Bold.  We would be Visionary.  At least that was the plan.  Half way through that workshop I realized we were collectively getting stuck in what appeared to be so many roadblocks in our way.  We had to make a choice.  A choice to let the roadblocks stop us, or move around the roadblocks.  Anyone in education can easily make a laundry list of roadblocks.  We could.  Or we could chose Stand Up.  We did make that list though, then we put the list in an envelope, and we sealed it.  We chose to Stand Up.  That was only the beginning.  As of today,  our middle and elementary school libraries  have been supported financially from the district level in order to start the physical space transformation.  Had we not chosen to Stand Up three years ago and Dream, be Bold and be Visionary…would we have been ready?

In order to be Future Ready we must chose to Stand Up.  I am honored and privileged to see what it looks like and sounds like when librarians chose to  Stand Up.  Standing Up looks like a librarian who has her eye on that one student who never talks but comes into the library to get book and she chooses to start a conversation.  That conversation would lead to helping that student find the book that he was looking for…and through that book that child would find his voice.  If that librarian hadn’t chosen to Stand Up and empower that child through literature, would he have found his voice?  Standing Up looks like a librarian who has embraced the makerspace movement although fearful of the unknown.  Had she not chosen to Stand Up she would have missed hearing students say, “ I never want to leave the library.  This is my place”.  She would have missed listening to the dialogue between two students as they communicated, collaborated, used critical thinking skills and created.  Standing Up looks like a librarian who finds a way to let all voices be heard. Whether that be by bringing in an author that she knows students can identify with, providing a safe place for students to explore their own interests and create a 3D prototype of their invention that will change the world, or simply to provide a safe place for students to just Be Still.  Standing Up looks like a librarian who takes the risk and invites a teacher to partner with him as he brings relevance and real world experiences to students as they engage in their course content through inquiry.  Standing Up sounds like librarians stepping out of their comfort zone and telling their story through a blog.  This is that blog.

This blog was started as a way for each of our librarians to tell their story.  Each and every story matters.  This blog post is dedicated to our LMC Directors in IPSD 204.   You have each chosen to be like the little engine that could….you chose a growth mindset.  You chose a “I think I CAN” attitude.  And TOGETHER….we CAN and WE DO.

I am privileged and honored to walk alongside each of you as we continue down the Future Ready path.  What you do Matters.  YOU matter.  YOU are essential.

by Laura Nylen


Building Instructional Partnerships through Library MakerSpaces

Contributed by Jill DeFarno, elementary librarian

One of the reasons I made the leap from the comforts of my classroom to the LMC was that I wanted a change and a challenge.  Little did I know that I was going to get a lot of both.

In the past two and a half years I have learned that the library world is dynamic and on the forefront of new ideas.  When I started taking classes for my library endorsement we discussed MakerSpaces.  I thought that as I became more familiar with the LMC I’d eventually incorporate one into the library.  However, with the generosity of the district’s education foundation I found myself with a handful of robots, littleBits and the task of creating a MakerSpace in the LMC this year.  I was given the flexibility from building and district leadership to make this space and the tools at our disposal work for the students and staff at my school.   And that is what teachers and I are figuring out every day.

I’m very fortunate that my staff trusts me and is willing to collaborate.  I meet with each team at least once a month and we’ve been brainstorming ways to incorporate the maker materials into student learning.   For example, the fourth grade teachers wanted to do a book report.  We decided to have the kids make book trailers.  When we did this last year I did several whole group lessons.  This year we divided the kids up into smaller groups and I worked with them in the MakerSpace area to create the trailers.  It was a much better experience and product.  I was able to work with all of the kids and they had the opportunity to help each other.  It gave me a chance to teach them digital citizenship skills, like citing images, through one on one conversations. In the small groups, students also had the freedom to work at their own pace and ask questions based on what they were doing, not what I was teaching.  Facilitating a student-centered learning opportunity gave me many more chances to talk to students about their books and get a better idea of their reading interests.  This unit worked out so well that my next collaboration with this team of teacher is to create stop-motion videos of Greek myths.  The MakerSpace has led to more opportunities to collaborate with teachers because it is out in the open. As teachers pass through, they stop to see what the classes are doing and are asking me to plan similar opportunities for their students.


Students collaborate on book trailers in the library MakerSpace.

Finally, I was awarded a grant of over $1400 to create a maker section of books in the library collection.  This will allow students who come to the space to checkout and read books at their level and learn a variety of maker concepts.  The kids are so excited to be in the space and have the opportunity to learn new things.  It is amazing to see the students work together to  find success with a task.  I’m not sure what the future holds for the LMC, but I know it will be exciting and challenging and I can’t wait!


Maker books are a hit with our students!

Future Ready Librarians as Instructional Partners

Post contributed by Kristen Mattson, Ed.D., high school librarian

When I first saw the Alliance for Excellent Education’s Future Ready Librarians Framework, I was excited to note the inclusion of “Collaborative Leadership” and “Builds Instructional Partnerships” as descriptors of an excellent school librarian. These are two areas of the job that I enjoy the most, so their inclusion only seemed natural to me. I do recognize, however, that some librarians’ strength may lie in other areas of the Framework, like “Budgets and Resources” or “Community Partnerships,” and that coming alongside teachers in an instructional partner role might feel a little intimidating. I also recognize that there are many classroom teachers who have never, for whatever reason, been exposed to the power of a collaborative relationship with the school librarian and may not naturally seek him or her out. In this post, I would like to speak to both the classroom teacher and the teacher librarian – giving both groups some ideas for how to form rock-star collaborative relationships that will have a huge impact on student learning.

Classroom teachers: You may be asking yourself what the benefit of partnering with a school librarian for instructional design or lesson delivery might be. While each librarian has his or her own strengths, I think it is pretty safe to say that we are all equipped to help you with:


Curation – Librarians are trained to collect, organize, and manage content that is both physical and digital. Have you ever wished you could offer more choice in the classroom but just don’t have the time to find relevant, reliable, and on-level articles, websites, or books for your students to choose from? Your school librarian would be an excellent person to approach with your ideas and ask if he/she could help you curate some content for your classroom.

Inquiry – Librarians are trained in the research process and practice it daily as they search for materials to support learning. Whether you ask your kids to complete in-depth inquiry tasks that you’ve created or you find yourself saying things like “just Google it!” in response to student developed inquiries, odds are that your teacher librarian has ideas, resources, and lessons that can help you and your students develop quality research questions, locate information that is relevant, and then synthesize findings to help answer the research question and communicate learning to a specified audience.

Information Literacy – Not all information is created equal. Your teacher librarian can show you and your students ways to evaluate the accuracy, relevancy, reliability, authority and validity of the websites you and your students use for information and learning.
Digital Literacy – The teacher librarian used to focus on skills like locating books on a shelf, utilizing tables of contents, indexes, and card catalogs. As most of our information has moved into digital formats, however, there are a whole new set of skills that students must possess to access content. Your teacher librarian can help your students master basic and advanced web searches, navigation of academic databases, show them how to download eBooks, and model ways to work with the various file types content is delivered in.

Ethical Use of Information – It is increasingly easier to create and share content digitally. As students cut, paste, borrow, remix, remake, and integrate media together into their own creations, they need to understand the legal and ethical issues around the use of other people’s multimedia content. In the same regard, students should be educated on ways to protect their own creative works before sharing them. Your teacher librarian can be an excellent source of information on both traditional copyright and Creative Commons Licensing.

Teacher librarians: Once you decide you are ready to start building, or increasing the number of instructional partnerships you have in your building, there are some ways to go about drumming up interest:

Visit PLC’s and Other Gathering Places – My goal is to visit at least one team’s PLC meeting each month, and I usually have to invite myself! The easiest way to do that is just after working with a teacher in their classroom. Ask if you can join the next PLC meeting to engage in a reflective discussion on the unit. This opens up opportunities for you to meet more teachers in the building and for those teachers to hear about the partnerships their colleague has formed with you. If you do not have a formal PLC format in your building, make sure to put yourself where the teachers are – in the staff cafeteria, in department offices, or even in places like the cafeteria or bus line during duty times. The teacher librarian does not make instructional partnerships by sitting behind the circulation desk and waiting to be approached. Get out, make friends, and be willing to jump in when a need arises!

Listen with Intent – Whenever I am in whole staff meetings, small group PLCs, or in casual conversations with teachers, I am intently listening for ways to help. While we’ve all been guilty of tuning out during meetings not directly related to our role, making a deliberate choice to pay close attention is a great way to increase instructional partnerships. When I am in these meetings, I am listening closely for opportunities to share my skills with individuals or teams. Follow up the meeting with a personal conversation or an email detailing the work that needs to be done and the skill sets you can bring to the project. Many hands make for light work, so I am rarely turned down when people realize that I am willing and able to contribute.

Volunteer for Committee Work – Some of my best instructional partnerships have been forged through building and district level committee work. If your administrator approaches you with an opportunity to serve on a curriculum or technology team, do your best to clear your calendar and say yes! If you have never been invited into these teams, make sure your administrator knows you are interested in growing this area of professional responsibility. colalboration

Be An Extra Set of Hands – Oftentimes a teacher does not need assistance in gathering information, learning about a new technology tool, or developing a cool lesson. Sometimes a teacher knows exactly what they want the instruction to look like, but could really use an extra person in the room to help make the magic happen. Serving teachers through your willingness to help in any capacity goes a long way in forging instructional partnerships that will allow you to help integrate library skills and standards into the classroom down the road.

Make Your Goals Clear – Whether or not you are in a formal evaluation cycle, there is value in professional goal setting. To say that you want to grow in your instructional partnerships during the next school year is a start, but unless your goals are specific and action oriented, it can be easy to let them slip to the bottom of your priority list. Write a clear goal with a deadline and action steps. For example, “During the month of November, I will work with at least one English teacher on a lesson. To help me achieve this goal, I will visit the English PLC during the month of October to look for opportunities to serve.” Then, share this goal with someone at work – your administrator, your library assistant, the secretary you eat lunch with each day. Regardless of who you tell, sharing your goal with someone else adds a layer of accountability and increases the chances of you meeting it. Finally, keep your goal in a place you will see it each day – on the corner of your computer, taped to the wall above your desk, maybe even set a phone reminder to go off once a week and remind you of the work to be done.

Whether you are a new librarian, have recently moved buildings, or just a bit shy and introverted, it can be difficult to form instructional partnerships that will positively impact student learning. But by reflecting on your strengths as a practitioner, and purposefully seeking avenues for professional relationships to form, you will be well on your way to the title “Future Ready Librarian.”

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Note: This post has also been published on the McGraw Hill Art of Teaching blog.




The Library’s Most PRICELESS Resource

Contributed by Kristen Mattson, Ed.D.

School libraries are full of resources: everything from paperback books worth a handful of dollar bills to hardcover books and audio sets worth a few dollars more. Then there are the more expensive items – desktop computers, laptops or tablets, and maybe a 3D printer or a set of robots for students to code. The most PRICELESS resource in the library though, wears a name tag, not a price sticker.

The school library’s most valuable resource? Library assistants. The men and women who work tirelessly in school libraries across the country for little more than minimum wage, but have a HUGE impact on the success of the school library program. Over the years, I have come to really appreciate all of the ways my team supports the work, and how difficult it would be for me to accomplish my instructional goals without them here.

Why are library assistants so amazing? For me, they fill an important role that I cannot always do myself. Here is what I mean…

  1. Assistants serve children. I have watched my staff help a student locate a book and then turn around to assist another with a bloody nose while simultaneously giving a lost Freshman directions to their next class. Much like a librarian, a library assistant is willing to do whatever it takes to help meet a student’s needs.
  2. Assistants support teachers and other staff members.  My assistants can tell you which clubs are using our space after school, who needs help setting up devices for a class, when major events like college visits are happening, and are always willing to pitch in and help. That help can come in the form of moving furniture and equipment, bar coding new text books, greeting guest speakers, contacting parent volunteers, organizing instructional materials, and doing all of it (and more!) with a positive attitude and a smile.
  3. Assistants support technology initiatives. They look up lost passwords, take care of printer jams, troubleshoot tech issues with students, and continue to learn and grow in their own knowledge of the tools being used in classrooms.
  4. Assistants keep the library organized and appealing. When my assistants are not busy with teachers and students, they are working hard to keep the library a well-oiled machine. They process new materials that come in, they maintain the orderly appearance of the materials we have, and they create the most beautiful and inviting displays to attract readers and makers.
  5. Assistants free up the librarian. The librarian cannot simultaneously  be an instructional leader, library program developer, co-teacher AND find time to meet the moment by moment needs of each individual student. Without my assistants being the welcoming face of the library who CAN meet those moment by moment needs, the big picture planning I do would be for naught. When I know that the small details are being taken care of, I am free to work more closely with teachers on the instructional planning and learning experiences students will receive as a result of any event  we may host or class that I co-teach.  Without the amazing assistants in the library on a daily basis, my role would look quite different than it does today.

Library assistants at Waubonsie Valley learn how to code a Sphero before students come in for the day.

As we move toward models of Future Ready libraries, it will be increasingly important to advocate for our most valuable resource – the people. Amidst the technology integration, the maker spaces and genius bars, it is the people and the relationships they build with students and staff that will keep libraries a relevant fixture of our schools and our society.