Booktalk Interview with Travis Jonker – Part 2
Part 2 of an interview I conducted with Travis Jonker, an elementary school librarian in Michigan, founder and blogger of 100 Scope Notes, reviewer for School Library Journal, former judge for CYBILS Awards, and member of the 2014 Caldecott committee.
You talked before about the importance of working with students and teachers in terms of information literacy. Tell me more about that.
Travis: I was telling somebody just the other day that I think this is the craziest time in history to be a librarian. There is so much change going on with technology, especially with eBooks and with resources being available online and for free. It’s just totally changed what the library looks like and what we do.
How do these technology changes tie into information literacy and what you’re trying to teach students?
Travis: Information literacy involves skills that kids will need as they grow up and throughout their lives. So, we’ll work with students doing research projects and I’ll introduce them to some of the different databases that we have online. I also talk to them about formulating guiding questions for their research, such as what exactly is it that they want to answer. I’ll talk to them about being methodical about how they go about answering those questions and being really thorough about it. My goal is to make students self-sufficient in terms of navigating everything that is out there and finding answers to their questions.
What advice do you give other librarians to help students learn how to navigate all the information resources that are available?
Travis: The big thing for me is to just try things. I think a lot of time people are hesitant to try a new project or something with a student because they’re nervous it might not work or the outcome might not be exactly what they want. But I think it’s really important for school librarians to work with students and teachers at every opportunity they can.
Why is it important for school librarians to work with teachers in terms of teaching information literacy to students?
Travis: Collaboration is such a big part of what we do. Sometimes it’s really difficult to collaborate. Everybody has their own things going on. But making those connections would be one of the first things I would tell a new school librarian. You need to keep working with teachers and getting into the classrooms of students that you’re teaching. You can even collaborate without collaborating. Meaning, you proactively look at what teachers are working on and then you look for resources and suggestions that might help the teachers even if they don’t come to you first.
Tell me a little more about the importance of school librarians collaborating with teachers.
Travis: School librarians really are well versed in doing research. They’re well versed in what books might fit with a particular reading or with the interests kids might have. The more times that you can work with a teacher, the better the students will benefit because you’ll be able to share your expertise and what you’ve learned over the years; whether it be working on research or suggesting a great new book to read.
The students won’t learn those things if you don’t make connections with those teachers. There are a lot of times when I’ll be eating lunch in the lounge and through a normal conversation a teacher will mention something she’s going to be teaching and we’ll end up planning to work on a project together. Even though it sounds simple, if that connection hadn’t happened, the students wouldn’t have benefited as much.
I understand that one such collaboration led to a rather unique experience for you. Please share.
Travis: You never know what you might be doing during the course of a day as a school librarian. But a couple years ago when Abraham Lincoln’s 200th birthday was coming up, I mentioned to one of the teachers who was coordinating our school’s celebration that a couple years before I had gone as Abe Lincoln to Halloween. She picked right up on that and before you know it, on Lincoln’s 200th birthday I came riding up to the school in a horse drawn carriage and delivered the Gettysburg Address on the front steps to a bunch of students dressed up in period clothing. We even had all the local news and TV cameras there. It was just the kind of thing where one little thing led to another. And it was a lot of fun.
Read part 1 (Everything is Reading) now and watch for part 3 (eBooks and eReaders in the School Library) of this interview to show up the first part of next week.
Thursday, November 29, 2012
Wednesday, November 28, 2012
Monday, November 26, 2012
Part 1 of an interview I conducted with Travis Jonker, an elementary school librarian in Michigan, founder and blogger of 100 Scope Notes, reviewer for School Library Journal, former judge for CYBILS Awards, and member of the 2014 Caldecott committee.
In addition to being a school librarian, you’re involved in a lot of different things books related, such as your blog, reviewing for SLJ and other things. How do you hope make a difference in all that you do?
Travis: First and foremost I’m looking to make an impact on the students in my school district, making sure we have for them the latest and greatest books, books that are interesting to them. Also, I want to work with students and teachers in our district, teaching information literacy skills. If I can, I’d also like to share some of those things with other people through my blog or with things that I write. I think that’s a cool way to spread the word a little bit and let people know what has worked for me, and that it might work for them too.
What is the “word” or message you want to spread?
Travis: As far as books go, the big thing I want to get across is that everything is reading. One of my favorite parts about the last 10 years or so is that a lot of things that people didn’t really consider reading before have become a lot more legitimate. Especially things like graphic novels and comic books. When I was in middle school, I hardly checked out any books from our school library because I was reading comic books, magazines and those sorts of things, but I was still reading. What you read today might get you interested in something else later. As long as you’re reading, it’s a good thing.
Tell me a little bit more about the idea that “everything is reading”.
Travis: A couple years back they started naming children’s literature ambassadors. The first year was Jon Scieszka and his big push throughout his career had been getting boys to read more. But I was so pumped up when he made his platform a push for giving kids choice and letting them choose books they’re interested in. Whether it’s a magazine, book, or even a website, all of that is reading. It might not be what has traditionally been considered reading but it really is.
Do you find sometimes that there is pushback from parents or others from some of these other things that in the past weren’t considered reading?
Travis: Sometimes, but I think it’s becoming less and less of an issue. If there‘s pushback, a lot of times it’s going to be with graphic novels and comic books. Sometimes at book fairs I’ll hear a parent say, “You can’t choose that because it’s not a book.” When that happens I try to explain that it is reading. A lot of times I just open the book up and flip through the pages with the parent to help show that there is reading involved here. I also think sometimes it can be important for a child to have more of a transition. They grow up on picture books, where pictures take up the entire page and tell the story. To then switch to text-only is a pretty abrupt switch.
How does reading help students get the skill sets they’ll need for the future?
Travis: Reading is the basis for everything. If a kid is a good reader and reads a lot, it’s just going to help them out in whatever they do. It’s the foundation for everything else.
What advice do you give parents, teachers or other librarians to help students get the latest and greatest books?
Travis: I think one thing that is important to keep in mind is to give students choice. In the Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller, one of her big pushes is to let kids read what they want to read. In her classroom, she saw choice create great advances in her students’ interest in reading. It seems like common sense, but for awhile we were so bogged down in whether a book’s reading level was a little bit too high or low? So finding the latest and greatest book for a child is about finding something they’re interested in. For school librarians it means offering a really wide variety of books on a wide variety of topics. For parents I think it’s just important to remember to let kids read what they’re interested in. That might mean comic books. Sometimes it might be middle grade novels or a classic. I think it’s all legitimate.
Travis: Horror is always popular. Half-Minute Horrors is one I like to recommend. There’s a newer series by Patrick Carman called Skeleton Creek that’s been very popular for 5th and 6th grade. Nonfiction remains popular, especially with books that get more specific like visual encyclopedias.
In terms of fiction, sports remain really big. A lot of Tim Green books get checked out. One series that’s been really popular is the Origami Yoda series by Tom Angleberger. There’s also When You Reach Me and Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead.
Lunch Lady and Baby Mouse definitely grab kids and have been really popular as well. Some of the lesser known graphic novels I like to recommend include Jellaby by Kean Soo and Mouse Guard by David Petersen. It’s a great time for books right now to be honest. There’s just tons of stuff coming out that is interesting and that kids are interested in picking up.
Watch for parts 2 (Collaboration and Helping Students Navigate Information Resources) and 3 (eBooks and eReaders in the School Library) of this interview to show up later this week.