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How Mira Campbell and Shelly Narayan Created a Book Tasting Café at F.H. Miller Jr

Image courtesy Mira Campbell.

Earlier this year, I was so impressed to see Mira Campbell’s posts about a Book Tasting Café that she and fellow educator Shelly Narayan created for students at F.H. Miller Jr. PS in Toronto.

I asked Mira if she would share some info about what went into this project — thanks to Mira for answering some questions for me!

First, some info about Mira and Shelly….

Mira Campbell has more than 12 years experience as an educator. She is the Teacher-Librarian, Methods & Resource Teacher & the Elementary Chair at FH Miller Jr. PS. She is a Digital Lead Learner Mentor with the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) and a Book Creator Ambassador. You can find her on Twitter at @CampbellMira.

Shelly Narayan is a dedicated and experienced educator with more than 11 years of teaching experience with the TDSB. She is currently teaching Grade 5/6 at FH Miller Jr. PS. At the time of this project, she was teaching the Home School Program, a Special Education Class.


Q. What inspired you to create the F.H. Miller Book Cafe?

The inspiration came from Twitter* (a great place to build your Professional Learning Network and get new ideas). I saw a post about Book Tasting by Madeline Schnurr (@maddieschnurr), a Librarian from Dallas. I searched the hashtag and saw many variations. I shared the idea with my colleague, Shelly, and we were immediately excited about the concept.

In the Library, it is challenging to engage reluctant readers during short library periods. This was the perfect way to engage our students and partner with my colleague, Shelly, on a project…an added bonus of my role as Teacher-Librarian. Shelly and I have partnered on several projects (Choose Your Own Adventure Book Creator Blog and Project Description) and we work extremely well together.

Image courtesy Mira Campbell.

We decided what we liked about a book tasting. For example, we liked the cafe ambience, serving food and having actual menus, but knew we wanted to change it to reflect a modern book cafe experience. If you walk into any cafe today, you will see people using devices such as laptops. Our students are very comfortable with technology and use Chromebooks daily in their program. We wondered what would happen if we included technology. We also loved the idea of committing to being in character the whole time (e.g., server and host roles). Shelly has a background in Drama and her students love the Arts.

* January 9th, 2018

Q. What were your goals?

Our “customers” (students) spend half their day in a special education (the Home School Program) class. The program has 10 students and an Educational Assistant. This program focuses on language and math. Some students in the program have identified learning disabilities and others are approximately two grade levels behind. We wanted to provide the students in this class an authentic real-world cafe experience: something they have not yet had.

“It was fun and real. When we would line up and get our names checked off and get taken to our seats!” – Nick Grade 6 Student

Another goal of this learning experience was for students to develop their communication and collaboration skills. Both are part of the TDSB global competencies, a big focus right now in the board. Furthermore, we want our students to take an active role in their own learning (e.g., how they learn and how they demonstrate their understanding). We encouraged them to share their voice and asked for feedback after each book tasting and made changes accordingly.

Shelly, as an HSP teacher, focuses on Language expectations including communication, reading, and writing. At times, she incorporates other cross-curricular components which make for a richer learning experience. For example, the culminating task was to create a Book Trailer, a fun way to show their understanding of genres that also incorporates Media Literacy. By participating in an authentic cafe, it gives students an opportunity to develop other learning skills (e.g., initiative, collaboration & independent work). Beyond the curriculum, we wanted to engage the reluctant learners and encourage them to love reading. We also hoped to increase the books that they would sign out and expose them to different genres. The students love interactive experiences, especially communal activities that involve sharing food.

“It was funny when I first went. We were eating when we were reading in school. It was also in the Library where there is no food normally ~ Mason Grade 5 Student

An important part of student’s mental health is flourishing and experiencing positive emotions. The level of joy and engagement was an unexpected outcome of the Book Tasting.

“I liked the books on the table. Some of them were interesting. They were different than I have read. Sometime I can’t find books like that. I like humourous books.” ~ Nayeli Grade 6 student

“I have not read a lot of adventure books before. I like them because it’s interesting because they go on adventure and it has something that they have to go and do and lots of stuff happens.” ~ Bleona Grade 5 Student

“I liked it because the books were good and I learned more genres. I learned about biography.” ~ Nick Grade 6 Student

NOTE: Artwork for genre characteristics & student response pages was used with permission by Jeff Walker (Instagram: @gowalkergo)

Q. Could you please describe your set-up and what happened?

Image courtesy Mira Campbell.

The FH Miller Library was set up like an authentic cafe named The FH Miller Book Cafe. When students entered the Library, there was soft jazz music playing and all the the tables were set with tablecloths, placemats, plates, napkins, books and custom menus that changed with each visit. We served different treats and drinks each time they came to the cafe.

Image courtesy Mira Campbell.

I greeted the students at the Hostess Station and checked their names off the reservations list. Shelly, the HSP Teacher, escorted students to their assigned table (they were grouped according to reading ability). She took that opportunity to review the genre characteristics that were displayed on each table and highlight the “Staff Pick” for the day.

Image courtesy Mira Campbell.

This was all done in character as the server. (e.g., “Can I just point out for you our special today we have Lemony Snicket, a very wonderfully funny mystery and don’t forget the three events that will be happening are puzzling event or crime to be solved, suspenseful story and clues presented in story. I do hope you enjoy your visit with us today.”)

Image courtesy Mira Campbell.

Students had custom menus for each genre to remind them of the steps. They could choose one of the books from the menu or request the Featured Book (“Special of the day”). The texts selected included wordless books, picture books, beginning readers, graphic novels, and chapter books. There was a range of reading levels at each table at their independent and instructional levels. Complete Genre Book List

Image courtesy Mira Campbell.

Our goal was to design an experience that all students could be successful engaging with reading. In order to do that, we used technology to support their learning. We also gave them choice on how they communicated their understanding.

Image courtesy Mira Campbell.

Students each had their own page where they answered questions about each genre using Chromebooks “Book Tasting Book.”

Image courtesy Mira Campbell.

We chose Book Creator for Chrome because it provides built-in support for all learners.

They choose to use Voice to Text, audio record or type their responses. They could also use the Read to Me feature to listen to their responses. In addition, with the latest update to Book Creator there is now Real-Time Collaboration. This means students were all working in the same digital book at the same time. Students could see what their peers were doing if they got stuck for ideas. As teachers, we could also see what they were working on from our chromebook or project it on the class SMARTboard. Watch in Action: Video of Book Creator Features

The digital book was created by the teachers using Book Creator for Chrome (for more info see next question). Students each had a page to fill out with the same three questions that required them to make predictions, identify genre characteristics and give an opinion).

Image courtesy Mira Campbell.

The student’s voice was valued during the Book Tasting. We had them use a “Tip Jar” for feedback each time they came to the cafe. The feedback cards were modeled after Learning Skills. Students were surprisingly honest with their comments (e.g., favourite genre, cafe ambience, book selection and engagement). We made changes accordingly.

Image courtesy Mira Campbell.

Rewarding experience – This learning experience was planned with our students’ strengths and interests in mind. We provided our students with choice and it was an extremely positive experience for all our learners. They were reading for enjoyment and extended periods of time. Deep learning was evident because it was a meaningful and interactive experience.

Q. What advice do you have for others who are thinking about doing their own Book Tasting event? Is there anything you would do differently?

Technology is a valuable tool to support a diverse range of abilities and ensure their success. Students were willing to take risks and try new things when they felt supported by their teachers and when they had access to the right tools. I think that was a critical component of their engagement.

Having a global audience outside of their classroom, shows students that their work is valued. It was meaningful when we shared the student-made Book Trailers with the authors and they responded.

Time constraints in the classroom requires creative cross-curricular and integrated planning. This learning experience covers a wide range of expectations and goes beyond the curriculum giving students an opportunity to develop learning skills & communication Involve your colleagues to make it more fun and to help with planning and execution. We spread it out over a few weeks and that kept students interested and allowed for pre-teaching of genres.

In a regular classroom I would try to have book tastings once a month where students have the opportunity to do different activities throughout the month around that genre and culminate with the book tasting. Other thoughts might be to explore more genres and also focus on a Non-Fiction Book Tasting.

This Book Tasting was a trial run and it was a huge success! During the time the cafe was open, many other students (and staff) inquired and tried to get a reservation! The next time we open the cafe, we would run a contest. Students will have the chance to get on the reservation list by getting ‘caught’ reading or doing a good deed. They will get a special invitation to come to the FH Miller Book Cafe.

Q. I’m fascinated by your use of Book Creator. Do you have all these instruction slides on your website somewhere, where I can point people?

Book Creator for Chrome from Book Creator on Vimeo.

I LOVE Book Creator! I’m an ambassador for them and use it all the time. What makes Book Creator powerful is that it’s simple to use, but has the ability to create sophisticated, interactive multimedia iBooks. It was originally an iPad app but is now available on ALL Devices using a chrome browser. The company describes it as a “Digital Notebook for 21st Century.” I love that it is a blank canvas. You can use it for any subject and with any grade. Finally, they are constantly improving and adding new features. Recent Update: You are now able to embed 3rd party content inside of books (e.g., a Science Journal with a Google sheet or a Coding Journal that runs scratch code)!!

50 Ways to use Book Creator in your Classroom. Two of our projects were featured on page 8 of that guide: Bring Stories to Life & Choose Your Own Adventure Book

*The Real-time collaboration features requires an annual paid subscription.


Complete Genre Book List

Book Tasting Rubric (Genres)

Book Tasting Curriculum Expectations

NOTE: Artwork for genre characteristics & student response pages was used with permission by Jeff Walker (Instagram: @gowalkergo). Clipart art used is from (royalty free stock photos).

For more insights from book creators, see my Inkygirl Interview Archives and Advice For Young Writers And Illustrators From Book Creators.