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For the 4th year in a row, my elementary school students participated in the annual national Hour of Code activities launched during Computer Science Education Week back in December 2013. While I’ve written about the different apps students have used in my library classroom, about the idea of understanding coding as a new literacy, and how coding contributes to building a growth mindset, I decided to approach this year’s Hour of Code from a slightly different angle. This year, my goal for my K-2 students was to integrate reading responses with coding skills. At this age, coding is all about building a relationship with algorithms -- a list of instructions that can be followed to finish a task. Think about the steps involved in making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or tying your shoes or, as we did in class, drawing a smiley face or planting a seed. All instructions have to be completed in a certain sequence in order to accomplish the task. We started our mini-units with unplugged lessons and then designed algorithms to create digital projects using the Scratch Jr. app for iPad.

After reading There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Dreidel by Caryn Yacowitz (David Slonim, illus.), Kindergarten students completed a coding sheet drawing arrows in the correct order of events. I adapted this algorithm coding activity from JDaniel4’sMom. On a story grid template, students placed up, down, left, and right arrows to sequence the events of the story--the Old Lady devouring ever greater Hanukkah foods and symbols-- and thereby creating an algorithm that would at last reconnect her with her family.

Click the image to enlarge.

In our final lesson, students applied sequencing skills to create a simple animated Hanukkah greeting card. The instructions were to choose a background from the app’s library, draw a Hanukkah symbol, and then animate the symbol by sequencing block commands.

Coding requires these young students to create an algorithm in such a way that a machine, i.e. iPad, could carry it out. As such coding supports computational thinking, communication and, as these projects illustrate, is a very creative way for students to express themselves and share their ideas. For me, coding has proven to be another great digital tool to use for student reading and listening responses.

I started teaching unplugged coding lessons last year and am a huge fan as they allow students to directly master relevant concepts. When, for example, I asked one of the classes for directions to draw a smiley face, they quickly understood that it is not enough to simply say, “Draw two eyes”. Instead, students needed to provide the geometric shape and the exact location where they should appear--a good opportunity to talk about “precise instructions” and the fact that machines cannot interpret what one may mean. There are some great unplugged lessons published by I used “Plant a Seed” with my 1st-grade students, where students related the concept of algorithms back to a real-life activity, planting a seed, and I used “Move It, Move It” with my 2nd-grade students, where students practiced controlling one another using a simple combination of hand gestures. The goal here was for students to understand the importance of giving precise instructions in order to complete a task.

For the literacy piece, 1st-grade students coded the setting (a house) and the main character (a dinosaur) from the story How Do Dinosaurs Say Happy Hanukkah? by Jane Yolen (Mark Teague, illus.) using Scratch Jr. Some of the students figured out how to add a speech bubble and several quickly learned how to add sound to their projects.

The 2nd-grade students focused on coding the main characters and a main event from the story Hanukkah Bear by Eric A. Kimmel, which is about a nearly blind and deaf woman mistaking a visiting bear for a rabbi. These 7- and 8-year old kids quickly figured out how to use the app’s built-in editing and drawing tools and how to best animate a main event from the story.

A growing body of research demonstrates the value of integrating coding instruction into reading curricula.  While “coding” sounds intimidating, the basic practices of sequential ordering, textual application, and using multimedia tools works well even for young students.

The annual Scholastic Book Fair ended on a very positive, record-breaking note! Our strong sales will result in a profit of almost $2,000 which will be used exclusively to add to our school library collection. We couldn’t have done it without the support of our families, who continue to encourage a love of reading. Thank you to those families who purchased books from the teacher wish lists, enhancing their classroom libraries as well.

We’d also like to thank our volunteers who took time out of their busy schedules to help make the book fair such a success. From setting up, working the cash register, helping students find books, breaking down the book fair and more, each person made a difference: Jodi Weil, Mike Bullock, Sarah House, Rachel Brodsky, Rachel Morgenthal, Kellie Kelleher, Sylvia Jaffa, Marissa Kempner, Yakov Feig, Jay Kaplan, Chris Hernandez, Debra Setzer, LeeAnn Cinnamon, Rachel Sullivan, Dan Sullivan, Sandy Shapiro, Howard Wolpoff, Tmima Neihaus, Elena Shumilova, and Simon Schuster. A special thank you to our anonymous middle school students who dressed up as Clifford the Big Red Dog!

The biggest shout-out, however, goes to Melanie Setzer and Kim Millrood, who went above and beyond planning, organizing and running the book fair. The fair's success is a direct result of their dedication and effort.

The winner for the “Guess the Gelt” contest was Itamar O. in 3rd grade. Enjoy using your gelt to play dreidel this Hanukkah!

We are so grateful to all who visited and shopped the book fair and wish you happy reading!

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I love reading and discussing stories with children. We elaborate on the meaning of a character's action or question our understanding of the turn of an event. Often the children make connections or associations. We also study the illustrations and think about how they help tell the story. As the children are reflecting on the plot or the characters or a specific event, as an added bonus I learn about each child and their interests.

I also love incorporating technology into my lessons. So this year in celebration of Thanksgiving the Kindergarten through 3rd-grade classes listened to, pondered, and responded to Thanksgiving-themed stories and concluded each lesson with a tech-inspired activity.


Task: Illustrate and write about how you would disguise yourself before the Thanksgiving dinner if you were a turkey.


First Grade

Task: If you were a turkey on Thanksgiving Day, what would you do? Complete the sentence starter, take a selfie and move it onto the turkey's body.

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Second Grade

Task: Follow specific steps drawing a turkey. Then, in a speech bubble, tell the turkey's feelings when he sees Mr. Moose and the other animals approaching.

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Third Grade

Task: Draw a book character balloon.

Reading has always been a large and very positive part of my life. I am a reader and my reading life was formed during my early childhood living in a home surrounded by books. My parents are avid readers and, throughout my childhood, I remember them reading every night. They clearly enjoyed reading and it was such a great part of their life that it became a great part of mine and my brother’s as well. I learned to read in elementary school. It was a milestone in my life and I remember proudly reading to my brother from my very first reading text, moving my index finger along each word as I read it. In their reading classes, my students are learning all about the importance of building a “reading life” and it is my goal to help my students grow a reading life that is as rich as my own.

As a school librarian, I know that not all students consider themselves readers. Over the last few years, one format of books that has increasingly become popular in our school library (and across the country) is graphic novels. Those are books written and illustrated in the style of a comic book, meaning the story is told using pictures and words in a sequence. Graphic novels can be any genre and resemble novels in length and narrative development. This format has become so popular that classic prose fiction, such as Jack London’s Call of the Wild and Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, has been adapted in this format. While the prose versions of Ann M. Martin’s Baby-Sitters Club books are shelf-sitters at my school, I cannot keep their graphic novel adaptations on the shelves. So we’ve been building our collection steadily. Turns out that “graphic novel” is somewhat of a misnomer as we’ve now added biographies and many informational books on science, sports, and historical topics to this collection. The graphic novel format has exploded and for good reasons.

Motivation: Graphic novels are a great way to get kids to read. In fact, two boys from my second-grade class come to the library every day to check out two graphic novels each. They’ve read through the fiction and the sports books and are now working their way through the books about historical disasters. These boys choose what they read and clearly read a lot, including outside of school. And I see it daily. Students come to the library with follow-up requests for additional reading on topics across the spectrum: history, science, and literature. For a fourth-grade student who is learning English as a second language, graphic novels have allowed her to successfully read a book by using the illustrations as contextual clues. And a fifth-grade student whom we once characterized a dormant reader, to borrow Donalyn Miller’s term, has used graphic novels as a conduit to reading prose fiction.

Building Literacy Skills: The fact is that when reading graphic novels, readers still have to comprehend narrative structure, point of view, and more. Arguably, graphic novels place greater demands on the reader by requiring them to employ their visual literacy skills as well--reading a story through both text and images. My students are drawn by the pictures to graphic novels and my younger students in particular will choose a graphic novel over a traditional text. Making meaning from a book is not relegated only to text. Perhaps this perfectly aligns with our modern times where information is conveyed in multimedia formats?

Children become readers for all kinds of reasons. Sometimes it is a certain series, books by a specific author, curiosity about a subject, and so on. The key, however, according to researcher Stephen Krashen, is to engage in “a great deal of interesting (better yet, compelling), comprehensible reading."  Based on the formal research cited here and my informal observations in our own library, graphic novels motivate reading and powerfully engage young readers. As I listen to our students recommending books to each other, it is also obvious that our graphic novel collection has created little reader communities--a librarian’s dream!


More on this topic:

“Raising a Reader! How Comics and Graphic Novels Help Your Kids to Love to Read!” by

“I’ve Got Research. Yes, I Do. I’ve Got Research. How About You?” by Donalyn Miller

“Reading: The Core Skill. Every Child, Every Day” by Richard Allington and Rachael E. Gabriel

“Graphic Novels Reading List -- 2016 Update” by Association for Library Service to Children

“Required Reading: 50 of the Best Kids Comics” by The Paste Comics Kids-At-Heart


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For the 5th year in a row, our students in grades K-5 celebrated International Dot Day. Originally launched by a teacher in Iowa when he introduced Peter H. Reynolds’ book, The Dot, this event is now celebrated annually around September 15 and has been growing ever since. Over 10 million teachers and their students in 170 countries participated this year. The event is a celebration of creativity, courage, and collaboration.

At the Martin J. Gottlieb Day School Library, students participated in several fun activities. We started by listening to a reading of The Dot by the author himself via a Big Screen Book version. It tells the story of Vashti, a little girl who believes she cannot draw. Encouraged by her teacher who tells her to “make her mark and see where it takes you”, Vashti draws a single dot. Her teacher asked her to sign her paper and the next day, Vashti finds her work hanging in a picture frame on the wall. She feels inspired to “make a better dot” and her creative side emerges, producing lots and lots of dots. Eventually, her work is displayed in an art show where Vashti pays it forward by inspiring a little boy to be creative.

In the library classroom, the story not only inspired great discussions about questions regarding What is creativity? and What is the story’s message? -- but also encouraged our students to explore their own creative sides and to persist in solving complex challenges. In 2nd grade, students utilized the Quiver app to experiment with augmented reality. Fifth-grade students created unique Jewish holiday emojis using Google Drawings.

How is celebrating International Dot Day valuable for students? Asynchronous and (somewhat) unstructured work between students fosters collaborative learning and improves self-confidence. We encourage students to experiment, imagine, innovate, and share.  As shown below, the International Dot Day project also allows for authentic learning focused on the contextual interests of individual schools, teachers, and classrooms. Here we were able to celebrate the Jewish New Year.

Kindergarten students let their creative juices flow by drawing from a single dot on paper.

First Grade students also started with a single dot but digital-style in the Doodle Buddy app.


Students in Second Grade noticed dots everywhere once they looked closely. Armed with an iPad, they went on a dot scavenger hunt, taking lots of photos and then evaluating them for quality. Only the best made it into the video.


Third Graders experimented with augmented reality.


Students in 4th Grade focused on how they would make a mark this school year. They used Doodle Buddy to draw a dot and then imported the image into ChatterpixThanks to Karen Arrington for this idea.


Fifth Grade students celebrated International Dot Day by creating Jewish holiday emojis in Google Drawings.


Cross-posted at

Beginning this school year, we have further enhanced our literacy instruction in grades K-5. Students are now immersed in the “Reading Workshop” (Units of Study for Teaching Reading), a research-based curriculum written by faculty of The Reading & Writing Project of the Teachers College at Columbia University. It is the companion curriculum to the “Writing Workshop,” which we successfully implemented two years ago. The goal of the workshop model is consistent reading growth achieved via a combination of strategies and tools. Teachers determine the appropriate instructional reading level for each student and teach them at that level. In order to better align with the new Reading Workshop curriculum, we no longer use the STAR/AR program to level students. Instead, students now progress on the  Fountas & Pinnell Text Level Gradient.

How does this translate to best practices in the school library? While student reading levels are still assessed, students are not restricted by level for checking out books.  When selecting books, student choice incentivizes (or “encourages”) reading. According to Donalyn Miller, teacher and author of Reading in the Wild: The Book Whisperer’s Keys to Cultivating Lifelong Reading Habits (2013), “When students select their own books to read and enjoy, they develop confidence in their abilities to make reading choices and build their capacity for choosing books in the future” (p. 46). In the classroom, students are taught meaningful strategies for selecting books. Considering that books are not leveled in the real world, this is a more authentic approach. Additionally, the ability to successfully choose a text that meets personal and academic goals is a vital skill (Miller, p. 47).

This approach to growing readers is a natural match with a primary goal of the school library program -- to create lifelong readers. While many factors play a role in achieving this goal, one is access to current, high quality, interesting, and extensive collections of books. In our school library, books are organized by type (e.g. “Junior Fiction”) using a standard classification system. This enhances our students’ ability to find materials in other libraries, including our local public libraries.

Our school library is a place where students can fully explore their reading interests. In collaboration with the classroom teachers, I encourage “choice” books as well as books on a student’s reading level. The classroom teachers and I continue to work together in order to support our students’ growth as readers while fostering a love of reading.

We are excited to announce our school subscription to a new information resource, PebbleGo by Capstone, a database accessible from anywhere with an Internet connection. Geared toward the needs of our K-2 learners, it is an important asset for providing all our learners with adequate print and digital resources in support of school-wide curricula.

This digital resource complements our print nonfiction collection and, moreover, it allows us to involve our youngest readers in developing modern literacy skills (finding, selecting, processing and presenting information) through engagement in research. Last year our Kindergarten students, for example, participated in shared research about penguins. First graders individually researched an animal of their choice and second graders a famous person. We find that students are naturally curious and excited to learn about animals and people at that age and engaging with resources that promote independent learning is beneficial.

While the focus of research is on teaching foundational skills, it is the database’s multimodal features that make it invaluable for our younger students. Information is communicated via images, audio, video, text and the ability to highlight text--each modus communicating meaning to the student regardless of the type of learner. And, of course, there is also the added benefit of building technology skills while engaging with the information. Ultimately, our goal is to nurture lifelong modern literacy skills. Exposing our youngest students is one stop on that journey.

To check out our latest digital information resource, please contact Mrs. Hallett for login information.