Collaboration Beyond the Walls, Redux!

As I was planning my next post to this blog, I happened to see Melissa’s recent entry about the need for powerful community partnerships, and realized that I had been scooped!  I would like to say something about great minds, but that would be a bit pretentious.   Instead, I will share a fabulous example of a working partnership of school and community librarians here in the far northern reaches of New England.

Winter is long and cold in Vermont, and curling up with a good book is a favorite past time for many, but by March we get a little cranky, and we need something to keep us going until spring (usually late April).  Basketball (NCAA) is also a big topic of conversation in March, so school librarians and teachers from adjacent districts, as well as local public librarians, collaborated to develop a community based reading discussion for middle schoolers called DCF March Madness.  

How it came about…

Kim Musante, library media specialist, and Katie Rose, sixth grade language arts teacher at Essex Middle School (Essex, VT) have been collaborating for a couple of years to bring a new dimension to literature circles by incorporating social media through the use of wikis. Whodunit??? Mystery Partners  is designed to have students in two separate classes enjoy sharing a good read. The mystery theme is promoted and book talked by Kim and Katie for several titles.  Once they make a choice, students are paired up secretly to read a mystery book together, not knowing the identity of the other person. They read and participate in discussions within a wiki, and then at the end of the unit celebration, the mystery partners reveal themselves through masks they make about the book.  The activity is structured to meet standards for literacy and has created enthusiasm for books and reading. It appeals to readers across the spectrum of abilities with opportunities to share ideas in a safe environment. Students who might not speak up in class may share comments within the wiki.  Once the process is modeled, students can take ownership and create other experiences using the format.

And then…

Kim was networking with school librarians in monthly meetings for Essex Town School District and Chittenden Central Supervisory Union, and she shared information about her collaboration with Katie.  Melanie Cote, LMS at Albert D. Lawton Middle School (Essex Jct., VT) picked up on the idea and asked if there might be a way to collaborate between schools.  They began meeting in January, and several planning sessions ensued. The two youth public librarians were invited to join, as they also serviced the same students in after school activities. Caitlin Corliss from the Essex Free Library and Kat Redniss from Brownell Library volunteered to be book group advisors in the schools.  Not deterred by physical distances or spaces, this dynamic group came up with a way to create literature circles that would meet face to face and online to read and discuss some of the books on the 2011-12 Dorothy Canfield Fisher Book List. It took place in the doldrums of March and proved to be an exciting program for all involved.

Welcome to March Madness:  How it worked…

DCF March Madness is based on a statewide reading program, and the objective is to get students to read and to generate excitement about some fine new books.   The Dorothy Canfield Fisher Award is a state award that is chosen each year by Vermont students in grades 4-8. The books are selected by a committee of school and public librarians.  Since 1957, the program has been publicized and promoted both in school and public libraries to encourage reading of quality children’s literature.  The vote is held in April and the winning author is invited to Vermont to receive the award before an audience of young readers. Check the website for more information and past winners.

At Essex Middle School, Kim and Katie presented five of the titles that would be offered for reading to a class of sixth graders.  At Lawton School, Melanie and Bill Burrell, a sixth grade teacher did the same.  During the month, the groups met three times a week during reader’s workshop in the language arts class time. Caitlin participated with students at Essex Middle School, and Kat went to the Lawton School. Each group had an adult advisor, but the students decided the pace of the reading and posted comments and answers to the question prompts.  Within the wiki, social etiquette was introduced as a norm for discourse, along with standards for formal written English and GUM.   Students who read the books at the separate schools posted comments within the folder for the book on the community wiki.  Students used first names in their posts.  To initiate another level of excitement and competition, each group was considered a team, and the team would get a score each week based on the quality of their responses to the prompts, and the “brackets” aka rubrics were posted on a brackets page for each school. Points could be earned or deducted for being prepared, participating orally and online, and using proper written language. The team could view its weekly progress.  As a culminating task, each group at the individual schools had to produce a 30 second commercial for the book using a flip camera.


The final book discussion was a joint meeting at Essex Middle School. Students from Lawton were bussed in for the morning, and the two groups and their advisors met face to face for the first time in the school media center.  After getting to know one another, they had a chance to share their videos.  A group feedback session allowed students to voice their opinions about the process and to offer some great suggestions for the next time.

Success breeds success, one step at a time, and this example of a collaboration that began between one school librarian and one teacher has extrapolated beyond the walls of the school and into cyberspace.

Books on the 2011-12 DCF list featured in this program included:

Draper, Sharon M. Out of My Mind. Atheneum. $16.99. ISBN 978-1-4169-7170-2. Considered by many to be mentally retarded, a brilliant, impatient fifth-grader with cerebral palsy discovers a technological device that will allow her to speak for the first time.

Gibbs, Stuart. Belly Up. S & S. $15.99. ISBN 978-1-4169-8731-4. Twelve-year-old Teddy investigates when a popular Texas zoo’s star attraction–Henry the hippopotamus–is murdered.

Kimmel, Elizabeth Cody. The Reinvention of Moxie Roosevelt. Dial. $16.99. ISBN 978-0-8037-3303-9. On her first day of boarding school, a thirteen-year-old girl who feels boring and invisible decides to change her personality to match her unusual name.

Lupica, Mike. Hero. Philomel. $17.99. ISBN 978-0-399-25283-9. Fourteen-year-old Zach learns he has the same special abilities as his father, who was the President’s globe-trotting troubleshooter until “the Bads” killed him, and now Zach must decide whether to use his powers in the same way at the risk of his own life.

O’Connor, Barbara. The Fantastic Secret of Owen Jester. FSG. $15.99. ISBN 978-0-374-36850-0. After Owen captures an enormous bullfrog, names it Tooley Graham, then has to release it, he and two friends try to use a small submarine that fell from a passing train to search for Tooley in the Carter, Georgia, pond it came from, while avoiding nosy neighbor Viola.


2 thoughts on “Collaboration Beyond the Walls, Redux!

  1. Dear Judy,
    Brava to all! Thank you for sharing this high-impact learning experience for students and educators. I hope you will make time to publish an article or two on the process and outcomes and distribute it widely.

    While reading your post, I made two connections. Yesterday, our co-blogger Sue Kimmel facilitated an LMC @ The Forefront Webinar: Ramp up Reading with Technology. In her presentation, Sue shared many tools that could be used to support online literature circles. The archive is freely available to people who sign up with Then join the LMC Community to access the archives.

    Also, several years ago, I cotaught year-long literature discussions with 8th-grade ELA teacher Jenni Hunt. Students used the discussion feature on Wikispaces to conduct cross-course section literature circles. “Multicultural Conversations: Online Literature Circles Focused on Social Issues” at:

    Yes! to integrating literature, reading comprehension strategies, and technology!

  2. I really enjoyed this post. I was recently discussing with a colleague at my school in Chattanooga the possibility of using a wiki for students in our literature classes. She has seen it done successfully, and we were considering fostering a literary discussion about topics in our current novel, but I hadn’t really considered teaming up with students from another local. That sounds fun – and the mystery partners is a creative way to get them involved as well. Thanks for sharing!

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