Audiobooks and the Summer Reading Push | Tech Tidbits | School Library Journal

Audiobooks are just what teens need to combat the summer slide. Teacher librarian Phil Goerner shares the top free resources to offer over the break.

Source: Audiobooks and the Summer Reading Push | Tech Tidbits | School Library Journal


Kids Can Make a Difference

Who says you’re too young to help make a difference in your community? Change comes from all walks of life working together and can be inspired by any age.  This website encourages younger generations to make a difference by providing ideas to help the community and asking kids to share their stories.

Some of my favorite ideas include a Student vs. Faculty Play-Off fundraiser and a costume ball to help raise money.  Writing letters to influential and important people is a good way to influence change with the power of words while at the same time improving your own literacy and writing skills.

To get more ideas and read other student success stories, check out Kids Can Make a Difference!

Make Beliefs Comix

What could be a better product for assessment of than a comic strip?  Why not create your own?  Through direct observation, students are receptive to comic strips, consequently, equally receptive to reading graphic novels.  For example, a class learning about “genre” could create strips that illustrate a specific genre type (historical fiction, fantasy, realistic fiction), which could tell mini-stories.  The students could share with one another.  Two things are then accomplished:  shared learning, genre comprehension.  Struggling learners are connected with those who are accomplished.

Enjoy a tutorial on how to use the learning tool.


Great Resources for Students

Managing a public middle school library and media center I’ve become aware of some of the gaps in students’ knowledge of and access to certain resources that can give them a considerable step up in their academic achievement.

My school’s library, like so many in the public school system, is small and underfunded.  Despite valiant efforts over the years by administrators and librarians to keep the collection of reference materials and fiction titles up to date and meeting the needs of our changing population, it is still exceedingly difficult to be successful without the necessary financial support.  As a result, we are often faced with the dilemma of choosing to weed our titles without guaranteed replacement materials, or keep the resources we have despite the clear signs of a depreciating value to our students.

Fortunately, the addition of the media center – which includes 36 student computers, and 216 laptops that can be borrowed for classroom use – has opened the door to greater information access for students on school grounds, their primary learning environment.  Unfortunately, provisions in the primary learning environment are not sufficient to overcome the deficiencies that many students face several months out of the year when not attending school.

Additionally, many parents and students rely on their local schools and educators to guide them to educational resources, often feeling helpless outside school in commanding their own educational journey.  Effectively using time outside of school for learning can help students gain ground and momentum in their academic achievement, where they might otherwise see a stagnation or even a decline in achievement.

Free Educational Resources Outside School

Find your public library!

The public library doesn’t just provide books for borrowing.  Many public libraries have computers with internet access, as well as resource centers for assistance for academic and community needs.  Libraries often offer access to language learning programs, job finding services, literacy programs, tutors, and connections to social services provided by the greater community.

While public libraries still house a large collection of books for children, teens, and adults, most libraries today also offer digital collections for patrons to borrow.  EBooks and audiobooks can be conveniently downloaded onto your computer, tablet, or smartphone without having to go to the library or worry about fines accruing if you fail to return the book on time.

Many students find themselves in a “No Man’s Land” when they enter middle school, feeling they lack the time or the means to go to the library.  While parents made time to take their children to the library when they were small and learning to read, parents of middle schoolers often step away from actively encouraging continued literacy development in their older children.  Also, parents tend to afford middle schoolers more autonomy, but tweens and early teens find going to the library by themselves is outside their comfort zone.  As a result, many middle schoolers break the habit of visiting, exploring, and utilizing the library and all its resources.  Having access to public library digital materials and services, like eBooks, databases, and online tutoring, can help middle school students narrow the achievement gap.

Best of all, public libraries are free!

To combat the growing problem of library inaccessibility in communities, concerned citizens are providing tiny libraries within their neighborhoods.  A very popular consortium of these tiny libraries is which provides a centralized internet resource for those who provide the service or those who want access to the service in their neighborhoods.

One of five Little Free Libraries in my neighborhood.
One of five Little Free Libraries in my neighborhood.

Home owners, business owners, and community groups build a publicly accessible “cupboard” for community members to borrow books in their collection. Community members can donate, borrow, and return books with the intent of sharing information and the gift of reading with their neighbors.  At you can find a directory to help you find a library in your neighborhood, or the resources to start a little free library in your neighborhood.

Free Internet Opens the Door to Learning

Even if you are fortunate enough to have a smartphone, tablet, or laptop, internet connection can sometimes still be difficult to access.  Many public places offer free internet connection, including college campuses, libraries, recreation centers, shopping centers, cafes, bookstores, and transportation centers.  While it might not be ideal, finding a convenient and accommodating place where you can access the internet consistently might help you create a routine for effectively using your time outside of school.


Websites like offer free resources, learning materials, games, and projects for students interested in math, science, and engineering.  Specifically designed for kids, this website helps explain ideas through easy to do experiments, videos, as well as text explanations that are fun and easy to understand. is also an excellent alternative for students who love playing computer games but also need help in math and science.

For those students interested in computer programing, whether as an app developer or video game designer, a great place to start is to learn how to code.  Coding is the text language that developers and programmers use to create websites, applications, video-games, and other digital interfaces we are so familiar with in the 21st century.  Learning how to code will likely give students a leg-up academically as well as in preparation for the job market.  Websites like provide an enjoyable and easy way of learning the fundamentals of coding, opening the door to learn more advanced coding languages as students progress through their education. offers free educational resources for people of all ages and educational achievement.  Offering links to free eBooks, audiobooks, language programs, primary sources, and lesson plans for all areas of study suitable for kindergarten through 12th grade, is a great one-stop resource for students who need an extra challenge or need more practice on a specific topic.  Most courses are based on an “at your own pace” structure, where the focus is on life long learning and knowledge building.

The Library of Congress offers a tremendous amount of free information, primary source material, curated photographs and artwork, as well as sources for free books. is a website supported by the Library of Congress to encourage free access and exploration of the world of books for teens.

Another great source for building literacy through access to published texts is, a digital library providing information and connection to printed materials. affords a search of printed materials, and the links necessary to borrow those materials through the public library system, either directly through your local public library or the link+ system used for inter-library loans.

Finally, for those who have set their sights on college, it is never to early to start preparing.  Gather information from websites like California College Pathways to help plan for what is expected of you when the time comes to apply to colleges.  Scholarships and grants are often available in addition to one-on-one guidance through the application process.

Programs in your public school, like AVID, are designed to help you through all the stages of academic achievement including time organization, developing great study habits, visiting college campuses, filling out applications, and taking entrance exams.  And all of this support is free, except for your hard work and dedication to your educational goals and future success.

Give these a try, and let us know what you think.  What free educational resources have you found to be helpful to you?

Competency = Understanding

Those who are culturally competent have reached an unseen level of understanding.  An athlete reaches a level of competency on a competitive stage through successful demonstration of talent.  The incompetent individual lacks the understanding of a specific idea, procedure, action, or element of any distinct, specific concept.  This is not necessarily due to a learning deficiency but a lack of discovery interest for a wide variety of reasons.  In the middle lies the struggling individual.  That person is failing to grasp the objectives required to succeed.  The person might engage with interest equal to a competent person, but since No Child Left Behind commenced in 2001, the notion of testing aptitude was seemingly the only strategy to determine whether the student was learning the material. Evaluative procedure is flawed.  The struggling are lost in the shuffle because a test score said so, and therefore, the efficacy of one student can be forgotten, thus opening a door for an apathetic mindset.

Each student CAN comprehend and be competent.  Rich class, middle class, poor class all are susceptible to failure, unless the attention to testing as a major factor is brushed aside, in favor of a comprehensive, personal, empathetic, collaborative, rubrical technique.  In the new real world of technologically based pedagogy that places critical, qualitative thinking onto a higher plateau than the obsession over quantitative analysis, cooperative learning trumps individual comprehension.  Students must learn how to work alongside one another.  The environment of a library program can assist in guiding and strengthening relationships from all class structures.  The library is a place that does not restrict any learner of all styles (visual, learning, kinesthetic). “Cooperative learning also been shown to improve relationships among students from different ethnic backgrounds” (Lyman & Foyle, 1991).  The bottom line is that cultural competency is a skill set that cannot be nurtured from books or online articles, but experiences though cooperative learning.

In 1968, a teacher in Riceville, Iowa, named Jane Elliott conducted a lesson with her third grade class.  After the asssassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., in Memphis, Tennessee, she devised a plan to teach her students about discrimination and predjuice.  Since the town of Riceville was all white, her students had never associated with any other child of color, or any that resided from a different socio-economic class.  The following video is a summary of that lesson where she separated all the students by eye color.  She treated the blue eyed students better than the brown eyed.  All of the blued eyed students were required to treat the brown eyed students as inferior.  This was a controversial method at the time, but effective.  Since being retired from the classroom, she has taken her lesson to universities and corporate offices to help further the understanding of discrimination.  This is an example of a culturally, cooperative project that would result postively,  in a mixed class structured school.  All participants would have a voice. In relation to the distribution of library material on the shelves, cooperative learning would create a new interest into students wanting to read fiction works from all cultures.  Dialogue continues and flourishes.


Work Cited

Lyman, L., & Foyle, H. C. (1991). ERIC digest: Cooperative learning strategies and children. Emergency Librarian, 1934-35

Lift for Life Academy

Lift for Life Academy is a charter middle and high school located in St. Louis, Missouri.  It is in Downtown St. Louis, in one of the more at-risk neighborhoods.  The student body is mostly African American.  Renovated from an old bank, this school provides students equal opportunity to be creative and reach their full academic potential.

At the middle school level, “Lift For Life Academy experienced success in doubling the proficiency rate among seventh grade students from their initial sixth grade year” and “LFLA middle school students outperformed the city’s school district in math at two grade levels.”

At the high school level, LFLA has a “graduation rate of 92%, with 88% of graduates being accepted into college, technical schools or the military in 2015” and “over 80% of 2012 graduates who completed technical or two-year college degrees are employed in their area of study.”

During my undergraduate studies, I had the opportunity to shadow at LFLA.  Both the students and the staff were truly inspiring.  They were a creative, supportive family that provided a wonderful environment for learning.

For more info about Lift for Life Academy, check out



City Year: Improving Lives and Communities

City Year is an organization that helps students and communities in poverty.  It recruits 17-24 year olds to volunteer for a year of community service.  Their volunteer work can include mentoring at elementary, middle, and high schools in high-poverty communities, as well as other projects to improve the community.  In about a year, “City Year helped reduce by half the number of at-risk students,” with a 54% reduction of off track ELA students and a 46% reduction of off track Math students.

For more information about the success rate of City Year, and how to join, check out