Thoughts From a Librarian
For the Young and Young At Heart

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I'm happy to be here!

This is an exciting time to be involved with education.  Technology is changing the world, our economies, and even our schools.  As someone that has worked with virtually every generation of PC hardware and software, it is amazing to think how far we have come.  I won't bore you with the details -- let's just say that today's computers are so powerful and easy to use. 

The Internet makes finding and sharing information easier than it has ever been.   I work with a variety of projects, all based on information and technology literacy and professional software.  You can see much of my work at Breitlinks, my current Web portfolio.

I have always learned computer technology "on the fly."  Someone expected me to get something done and I knew that a computer gave me the best way to do it, but I was usually on my own.  My computer experience started in business -- it was several years later I started working in schools.

I was once responsible for all PC computer classes in a school that had absolutely no resources, books, or activities to work from.  There was not even any stated curriculum.  I am not complaining -- I am grateful.  This situation forced me to "roll-up-my-sleeves" and really learn MS Office.  I had to create my own activities, lessons, and support material.

I loved it!

At the time, there were not as many Websites with ideas and teaching suggestions.  I found some things online, but was mostly on my own again.  Fortunately, the local library had some great books that got me started.  Eventually, I put these activities together as my first "Web portfolio."  Please take a look at the link on the left for Computer Activities:  MS Office.

Me and my students had so much fun -- we worked together.  Frankly, I didn't understand the powerful of today's computer software until 100's of students shared their work with me.  My students taught me about thinking creatively and motivated me to continue learning new computer skills. 

I am so grateful for that experience -- few people are blessed to learn to apply software in this way.  Please be sure to check out some the examples of their work that I keep online.  Today, I only wish I had kept more copies of their projects -- their enthusiasm and creativity touched me.

I've always been a "heavy library user;" my father is a retired librarian.  Collection management and traditional library skills are as important as ever.  Like most other things in life, public libraries and the role of the library media center in schools is changing.  Wisconsin has a new set of Information and Technology Literacy standards that are designed to bring "real world" thinking and computer skills into ALL classes.

Teaching students HOW to learn and how to use today's technology probably is the best way to help students.  Not only will this increase performance on traditional academic tests, it better prepares students for productive lives AFTER they graduate.  The key will be to create a collaborative environment.   Information and technology literacy will be fully integrated across the curriculum when we structure classes so that students take these important skills into the different classes throughout their day.

As library media specialist, experienced classroom teacher, and computer instructor -- with experience working with pre-kindergarten to post-secondary students -- I believe that today is an exciting time to be an educator!

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The "Hub" of an
Elementary School?
by Bill Breitsprecher

Reading is a fundamental skill; it underlies much of the curriculum taught in schools at all levels.  While teaching the basics of grammar and language is important, children need to develop a personal interesting in reading in order to build the skills that today's "accountability" movement demands.  The Library Media Centers (LMC) offers an important opportunity connect students with reading and learning.  

Young children need to learn the sense of a "story."  Older children should have an opportunity to continue to nurture that appreciation of language and learning.  Working with classroom teachers; traditional "story times" and LMC resources allow children to be exposed to language arts and information literacy in a unique environment, a collaborative workspace that celebrates the joy of reading and discovery.

Yes, classroom teachers work towards this too, but the variety of formats and content in a carefully-chosen LMC collection more fully ensures that interests in learning and reading can be nurtured across all students.

In this writer's humble opinion, one cannot overemphasize the value of recreational reading -- children that accept reading as fun are ready to master other academic skills and subject areas.  Those that continually see reading as "work" are more likely to find the challenges of their textbooks, note taking, and classroom instruction difficult to fully comprehend.  Remember, reading and writing skills are correlated, building one builds the other.

Having worked with "at-risk" populations teaching developmental math, my experiences have convinced me that many students that struggle with other academic subjects have actually missed picking up collaborative, information skills.  This is not a judgment, I am merely reporting what many teachers see.  When students are not comfortable working with information in a variety of formats, it affects learning.  These problems manifest themselves on math tests and across the curriculum.

Being interested in reading a text or following a presentation to learn new material or skills is an essential life-skill.  The LMC has the potential to more fully prepare students with the skills necessary to master ALL subject areas.  Ultimately, this is why many believe a LMC should be the hub of the school.

Classroom teachers work towards moving students towards mastery of academic standards and benchmarks.  The LMC offers a supportive environment to support those objectives.  Not only can the resources be used to accommodate any given need of classroom instruction, Wisconsin's standards for information and technology literacy provide a foundation to build and extend classroom instruction to more fully prepare students for challenges they face as they move through our educational system.

The LMC can be a joyful place where students, teachers, and other stakeholders collaborate with access to a variety of resources.  Extending the classroom beyond any given set of walls is probably the key to reaching across the needs of diverse learners.  Each hour spent on a meaningful project in the LMC stays with teachers and students throughout the day.

Kids enjoy coming to a library, having their recreational and information needs met, and seeing how people work together.  Many elementary schools are build around their Library Media Centers.  It should be the "hub" of a school. 

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Children and Recreational Reading:
It's FUN, and GOOD FOR YOU TOO!
by Bill Breitsprecher

Most librarians do not ask children if they like to read – it is better to simply assume they do when they are given appropriate books.  It’s all about “match-making.”  Many believe that introducing children to folk stories is important – these are imaginative stories that sound like they could actually happen.  They are based on make-believe (fiction) and usually have a message or “moral.”  Traditionally, these stories are passed down by word-of-mouth.  They are available as children’s books too.  Sometimes, animals in folk stories “talk,” but this doesn’t sound unreasonable to a child! 

Fairy tales are another type of make-believe (fiction) that has elements of “magic” or “mystical” powers.  Some librarians believe these should be introduced to children after they enjoy the folk stories.  Fairy tales are based on ideals of good and bad; good always triumph.  Many believe these stories are important in teaching children to follow the concept of a “story.”  Children recognize that these stories cannot be true – they introduce children to the concept of “fiction.” 

Some believe that it is important to introduce children to these “make-believe” stories before introducing them to nonfiction, because they believe that a child needs to have a sense of “story” before they can appreciate nonfiction.   I am not aware of any objective research that “proves” this in any meaningful way, but I would respect the experience of those that work with children’s books.  If children are introduced to stories when they are very young, it makes sense to start with things they can imagine.  Personally, I would not hesitate to share a good picture book with a child regardless of whether or not it is fiction or nonfiction.

In many schools, children’s reading levels are assessed and each child is required to read books that move them through higher and higher levels of reading.  Most librarians believe that children should choose their own reading levels.  Remember, we want children to read for fun too.  Most children can look at a book and see if they are interested in reading it.  If a book is about something that they have high interest in, they will choose to read a harder book.  If a book looks too difficult, they will find a book that looks like something that will be more readable. 

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Books for Children
by Bill Breitsprecher

Children's books come in different formats. Small books, that a young child can actually hold in their hands, are called "hand-books." They tend to have no words and illustrate stories in pictures. Because of their size, they may not be convenient to read and share with a child - they are meant for children to hold and enjoy. To an adult, they are very small.

Picture books are the ones that most of us think of when we think about children's books. They tell stories with pictures - usually with some text that can be read to a child. Usually, they are fiction, but nonfiction picture books are becoming more popular. These books are ideal for reading to a child. Because children tend to enjoy the same books over and over again, picture books help prepare children to read - they can "recite" stories based on pictures and start making connections between words and their meaning. Developing a sense of what a "story" is important - it is what encourages children to read for enjoyment.

Chapter books refer to stories that are told in units or chapters - they are longer and have fewer pictures. While these books are great to read to young children, they do not allow for children to "recite" stories and build connections between words and meanings. These books can be enjoyed as stories that are read to children that are not reading yet. They are great for young readers - they encourage children to read. A motivated reader will use their interest to learn to read higher and higher level books. Many librarians believe that these books help children continue to build the ability to visualize the written word, an important skill, especially in today's electronic age of DVD's, TV, and video games.

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Reading and Young Adults
Reading Needs Change as Children Grow
by Bill Breitsprecher

Older children have very different reading needs. Reading levels vary with a given age group. High-interest books can encourage a student to master higher-level language. When we are talking about recreational reading, many assume we are talking about fiction. Many librarians believe fiction is important, teaching children to visualize abstract concepts. Many teenagers, however, prefer to read nonfiction to learn more about people, places, and things. Again, good research that "proves" one type of a book is better than another probably does not exist.

The advantage of fiction is that writers can tell a story from a teenager's point of view - most published authors are actually adults. To write these types of books, they need to use fiction. Some fiction is based on reality - historical fiction and realistic (problem solving) fiction are examples.

Young adults are unlikely to choose to read a book that is written from the point of view of a younger person. A book about a 12 year old is probably enjoyed by 9, 10, and 11 year olds. A book about the life of a 16 year-old is most likely read by youths that are 12, 13, 14, and 15.

YA books look like adult book - usually they are published and purchased as paperbacks. They tend to be short (thinner) than an adult novel and the plot develops more rapidly. In general, YA fiction involves a teenager discovering him or herself and working through a challenging situation or problem. They may be based on fantasy, sci-fi, or more realistic settings. While adults are part of the story, the book is based on how the young adult solves a problem or resolves any number of issues. In general, they have positive, upbeat messages; however, they may touch on subjects that are more serious and somber.

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