ON LIBRARIES: From Library to Learning Commons

learning commonsYou have heard the term Learning Commons.  You may have read an article or two about it and thought it sounded wonderful—in a distant way.  Your library can’t become a Learning Commons. Because:

  • It takes too much time.
  • It costs too much money.
  • The administration won’t go for it.

For the most part, all three reasons (and any more you can come up with) are true—and false. If you decide it can’t happen in your library, it won’t. But what if you could transform your library into a Learning Commons?  Would it be worth the time and the risk?  How would having a Learning Commons change the perception of your program in the eyes of students? Teachers? Administrators? Parents and the larger community?  It’s one more step, a big one but a step, in demonstrating your leadership.transformation2

Some Reasons to Consider

Let’s start with why you should want to make the transformation.  Years ago, school librarians added the word “media” to their title. The reason was to focus attention on how libraries had moved from just having print to incorporating technology into learning and research.  It was important to change perceptions to prevent libraries being regarded as dusty warehouses.

Once again it is time to change perceptions first and then change reality.  As with many businesses, the 21st century demands we reinvent ourselves.  Does your library look like one from the 1990’s?  Earlier?  The world has changed radically in the past quarter of a century, and it’s not just the technology.  It’s how our relationships, learning, and communications have been transformed by technology.

We are living in a participatory culture.  We rely on crowd-sourcing, curating, and 24/7 access to information—much of it from our smart phones.  Does your library reflect those changes?  If you were a students would you see the library as a place to learn, create, share, and grow? (Those are the shortcut phrases describing the four standards of the AASL Standards for the 21st-Century Learner.)

planCreating a Plan

As the great American philosopher Yogi Berra said, “If you don’t know where you are going, you will wind up someplace else.” Fortunately, you don’t need to do this on your own.  In a Knowledge Quest article Carole Koechlin and David V. Loerstcher explain the elements needed in a Learning Commons and how to plan for them.

While the article is an excellent start, you also need an incentive to keep you going. You are all highly capable researchers. Look for images of Learning Commons and more articles detailing how others have made the transformation.  Not only will this inspire you, it will be useful later when you present your plan. Limit your search by grade level.  While the concept stays the same, you may want to know what an elementary Learning Commons looks like.

Don’t be intimidated by the pictures.  Just look at the message the different spaces convey.  It’s all about participating, sharing, creating, doing. Where in the Learning Commons do these different activities happen?  You want to demonstrate the library is not just a place for finding things.  It’s a place for making things – and more.  It promotes inquiry learning just by the environment it creates.

The conversion to a Learning Commons does not have to be done in one year.  In fact, it might be better if it were stretched out to at least three years.  This way you can see what is working, what needs tweaking, and where you need to add or delete ideas you had for the next stage.

Finding the Moneyfind the money

Your space will need to change.  Fresh paint on walls, green screens, signs, and new furniture cost money. Most of you have been struggling with small or no budgets.  How can you pay for this?  Time to get creative.

What parts of the transformation are DIY – or DIY with volunteer help? What can be done cheaply? For example tables and chairs need to be moveable to allow maximum flexibility.  How much would it cost to put what you have on casters?  What outside sources of funds are available?  Most districts have a local education foundation that gives grants.  Are there other grants you could apply for?  Could the parent teacher organization help in any way?

talkConvincing the Administrators

Nothing is going to happen without the support of the administration.  Once you have you plan put together and have collected a file of pictures, prepare a pitch for your principal. Be sure to include pictures of libraries from the 1950s, the 1990 and your current library.

What is the key message you want to deliver?  If possible, tie it to your Vision and the Mission of the school. Keep it brief.  Show the work you have done and your cost analysis.

You may get shot down, but listen carefully to what you’re told.  I had a superintendent who told me she saved a lot of time by responding with a “no” to almost every suggestion.  Most people would just go away disappointed.  I would come back with an alternative.  And then another alternative.  By this time she knew I was serious and that I would work hard to see the project accomplished.

Are you up for the challenge?  Isn’t it worth it to try?

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ON LIBRARIES: On The Level

reading is a windowThe very first “Common Belief” in the AASL Standards for the 21st-Century Learner is “Reading is a window to the world” noting that it’s a “foundational skill in learning, personal growth, and enjoyment.”  I want to focus primarily on the last word—enjoyment. As school librarians we are committed to guiding our students to become lifelong readers. We recognize the habit only develops when they find reading is a pleasurable experience.

Over the past years a few developments in education are making it difficult for us to carry out this critical role. Most recently, Lexiles and leveling have invaded the library and students are being steered away from what they want to read and are being directed toward what they “ought” to read. Elementary librarians are being told to “level” their libraries in the misguided belief it will improve student scores on tests and make them more college ready.

What many don’t realize, is this is a giant step backwards. In the mid-20th century, library shelves were labeled by grade level and students were required to only select books from the appropriate shelf. It didn’t work. Some students read above or below their grade level and others wanted different books.  And libraries changed.window to the world

Now we are heading back to those times. Granted teachers determine individual levels for students so students are expected to read at their current Lexile level, but tit overlooks the core reason the old system didn’t work.  Restrictions on reading, interferes with enjoyment.

I have no problem with teachers using Lexiles for instructional purposes in the classroom.  I recognize the underlying reason Common Core assigned Lexile ranges for each grade level.  Students do need to be challenged and encouraged to stretch. That is what learning is about.

What is being overlooked is enjoyment.  Reading for pleasure should not be work.  It’s about relaxing, choosing what is of interest to you, and learning without being aware it is happening.  I have never liked the “5 finger rule” for choosing a book.  If I had difficulty reading five words on every page, I would read the book.  Reading should be fun (an alien concept in schools today).

When having freedom to choose, students for the most part select a book below their instructional level. This makes perfect sense.  There are students who also want a book far above their instructional level. If they love a sport, for example, they don’t care how hard the book is. They will struggle through it to get what they want.  They may not finish it.  There is no requirement to finish something chosen for fun.  How many young people read Harry Potter books even when it was “too hard” for them?

are you there gdice magicForcing students to always be “stretching” when reading for pleasure, is a sure way to turn them off reading.  It is especially true for those who aren’t fond of reading in the first place.  I can remember the books that enticed my own children to become readers.  Both of them developed the reading habit because they read the one book that “spoke” to them.  For my daughter it was Judy Blume.  For my son, it was Ice Magic by Matt Christopher, which was at least one year below his instructional level.

Accelerated Reader and similar programs, while not as damaging to developing lifelong readers, also interfere with pleasurable reading. Students seeking to earn as many points as they can, will pass over a book that interests them if its point value isn’t high enough.  They will ignore books they might like if it doesn’t have an assigned point value.  Reading for points is not the way to make reading a habit. The purpose from the student’s perspective is not pleasure it is competition.

When parents read to their children, the association of reading and good times is built.  When librarians make story time a pleasurable experience the connection is reinforced.  When a librarian helps a student find the perfect book, the habit of a lifetime begins.

What can you as a librarian do if you are told to level your library?  Be the leader you need to be. Don’t accept the directive without explaining why it isn’t in the best interest of students.  Show administrators Keith Curry Lance’s studies on reading.  Share this blog also. If they still insist, see if you can get them to agree to leveling shelves for teachers who can direct students to them and keeping other shelves open.  This way students can take one leveled book and at least one of their own choosing.

We are all about creating lifelong readers.  Is your library leveled?

ON LIBRARIES: The Challenge of Collaboration – Part Three

collaboration 2For the past two weeks I have been blogging about meeting the challenge of collaboration.  So many librarians are unable to make the connections which combine the expertise of all participants and create a larger result than if the librarian worked alone.  On a more subtle, but no less vital, level these collaborations build a deeper understanding of the library program and develop the advocates who fight to retain librarians and their programs.

You must find and use the assets that are within your reach.

Once again here is the first Guideline under “Teaching for Learning” in AASL’s Empowering Learners which focuses on collaboration:

The school library program promotes collaboration among members of the learning community and encourages learners to be independent, lifelong users and producers of ideas and information. (p. 20)

The actions supporting the Guideline expect the librarian to:

  • “collaborate with a core team of classroom teachers and specialists to design, implement, and evaluate inquiry lessons and units
  • collaborate with an extended team including parents, community members, … museums, academic and public libraries… to include their expertise and assistance in inquiry lessons and units
  • work with administrators to actively promote, support, and implement collaboration
  • seek input from students on the learning process.”

The one most librarians feel is beyond their reach is the second bullet point. As with the others, the best way to incorporate this is by starting small and building on it. The Makerspace movement is an excellent way to begin collaborating with parents and community members. start small

Once you have launched your Makerspace, use your website, Twitter account, or however you reach parents and invite them to share their expertise with students.  Whether it’s building an app or knitting, you will find volunteers who will be glad to teach and help students.  You provide the materials along with print and online resources.  Take pictures and do a video of your “expert” and students at work and their final products.

If the students are willing, see if the public librarian will let you set up a display to showcase what occurred. Add an “advertisement” for community members to lead a Makerspace. Find out in advance from your administrator what needs to be done to permit this.

High school librarians can contact academic librarians if there is a community or four-year college in the area.  With some planning, set up a field trip for a class beginning a research project. The college librarian can teach students how to access and choose the extensive databases available, letting them see and experience what research will be like once they graduate. The local media outlet can be invited to cover the event and record student reactions.

at the libraryMost towns have some sort of historical society or other museum area.  Find out what they are, what they have on exhibit, and any special ones that are upcoming.  Look to see if this matches with curricular units.  Either arrange for a field visit or have the curator bring the items to your library to share with students, giving them a deeper understanding of what they will be exploring.  Again invite the media – and your administrator.

Educators have been stressing authentic learning, and our national standards enjoin us to develop inquiry-base units. The two combine when you develop a large network of people with whom you collaborate. Each project spreads the word on what a 21st century library program is. The groups you collaborate with, the more people are invested in continuing the success of your program.

Advocacy is an on-going, never stopping campaign.  It’s not about begging people for our jobs. It’s about everyone recognizing that what we do is invaluable for our school community and the success now and in the future of our students.

How are you reaching out and building collaborative partnerships?

ON LIBRARIES – The Challenge of Collaboration- Part Two

collaboration2Last week I blogged about meeting the challenges presented by collaborating with teachers. To be able to truly effect a transformation in student learning we need to work with the whole community. Creating collaborative relationships with teachers is not easy given your full workload, but building wider collaborations can be even more daunting and you probably have not considered developing them.

It’s time to address how to make those connections. You can start with small steps, but you need to make continuous progress so these stakeholders view the library program as vital to student and the entire educational community.  To review, the first Guideline under “Teaching for Learning” in AASL’s Empowering Learners states:

The school library program promotes collaboration among members of the learning community and encourages learners to be independent, lifelong users and producers of ideas and information. (p. 20)

The actions supporting the Guideline expect the librarian to:

  • “collaborate with a core team of classroom teachers and specialists to design, implement, and evaluate inquiry lessons and units
  • collaborate with an extended team including parents, community members, … museums, academic and public libraries… to include their expertise and assistance in inquiry lessons and units
  • work with administrators to actively promote, support, and implement collaboration
  • seek input from students on the learning process.”

Your next target is the administrators. You might be thinking it is impossible to get my principal to promote collaboration when he/she doesn’t realize what I do and is only focused on test scores. It’s not about what the administrator knows. It’s your job to inform and to do so in a way your principal is open to receive the message.makerspace

One easy opening is through Makerspaces. You may have already started one, but if you haven’t, start planning one as soon as possible.  At the beginning, you might be the only one leading it, but you can eventually enlist interested teachers who are willing to share their hobby/experts in an area.  Students are sometimes able to run a Makerspace and it’s a great opportunity for them to show their special talents and leadership skills.  Eventually parents and others might contribute.

Present the idea to your principal.  Show how it connects to STEM.  Administrators are looking for ways to increase STEM opportunities for students and this is a natural.  If you start small, it usually doesn’t require much money to get the project launched, but ask for funds as part of your proposal.  By supporting the Makerspace even in this small way, the principal has a stake in its success and is therefore more involved with the library program.

Take pictures and make videos of kids at work. Share them with administrators – and the Board of Education. Follow district procedure about photographs of students and see if you can post these on your website. Include an invitation to parents and others to volunteer to lead a Makerspace.

Survey students to find what they would want added and announce the areas for which you need leaders.  As the program grows you will need more money. Have kids work on making a video to raise the funds through one of the crowdsourcing program such as DonorsChoose.org.

makerspace2Hour of Code is another way many librarians are showing the connection between the library program and STEM and getting support –and recognition—from their administrators.  As always, make sure to get the word out to parents and the wider community showing how the librarians transform student learning.

In the same vein, send your principal quarterly and annual reports even if they are not required.  Although you include statistics such as the number of classes and different subject areas addressed, focus on student learning. Use Piktochart or Issuu for a visual report packing interest and showcasing what you do.  With the information in hand, your principal will be much more likely to listen to your future proposals and be willing to “actively promote, support, and implement collaboration.”

  • Next week, achieving the final action step: “collaborat[ing] with an extended team including parents, community members, … museums, academic and public libraries… to include their expertise and assistance in inquiry lessons and units.”

 

ON LIBRARIES: The Challenge of Collaboration – Part One

NOTE: This is the first of a several week series on collaboration

collaboration 2“School librarians transform student learning.”  Easy to say.  Important to do.  Accomplishing it… is more complicated.  While we can do much when dealing with students one-to-one, and certainly work toward that end when we have a scheduled class, the transformation is best achieved when working in collaboration with teachers. Some of you are doing so on a regular basis, but from my contacts with school librarians coping with day-to-day pressures, fixed schedules, and unwilling teachers, collaboration is at best a distant goal.

The first Guideline under “Teaching for Learning” in AASL’s Empowering Learners states:

The school library program promotes collaboration among members of the learning community and encourages learners to be independent, lifelong users and producers of ideas and information. (p. 20)

The actions supporting the Guideline expect the librarian to:

  • “collaborate with a core team of classroom teachers and specialists to design, implement, and evaluate inquiry lessons and units
  • collaborate with an extended team including parents, community members, … museums, academic and public libraries… to include their expertise and assistance in inquiry lessons and units
  • work with administrators to actively promote, support, and implement collaboration
  • seek input from students on the learning process.”

That’s a tall order and very few are doing all of this. The Guidelines offer no direction on how you are to develop this level of collaboration and instructional partnership.  Where do you start?Hello

You can’t focus on all four actions at once.  The last is the easiest to accomplish by way of formative assessments during a class and regular brief surveys or exit tickets at the end of a unit. The first action is your main target to implement the Guideline into your program.

At the middle and high school levels, you normally have a flex schedule which means some teachers bring their classes frequently, some do it rarely, and others you never see.  Work initially with those accustomed to using their library as part of their instruction.  At what point do you enter the process right now?  Is the teacher using only your facility but not your expertise or does h/she expect you to do an introduction to the resources to be used? You want to reach the stage where you are develop the unit together, each making a design contribution.

If the teacher is only using your facility, observe what students are working on.  Come up with one or two resources that would improve their results and share with the teacher.  If you are thanked, suggest the teacher give you a heads-up in the future so you can provide relevant sources.  If your recommendatiknockingon is ignored, repeat the process the next time.

In the case where you informed in advance what students will be doing and can offer recommended direction, add possibilities for making the project inquiry-based, one where the end product has meaning beyond the due date.  You want to create learning opportunities for students to be producers of information and not just regurgitating existing facts they collect and turn into a pretty presentation.

In all cases, follow up with a brief assessment with the teacher.  Did this help?  What would work better next time?  Frame your questions so teachers are willing to make negative comments. If you only hear positives you can’t improve what you are doing.

Elementary librarians who mostly have fixed schedules have a greater challenge. If you are in that situation, your first aim is to cooperate with teachers. To do that you need to find out what they are working on in class to give students a deeper connection with the topic by working with you when they come in at their scheduled time.collaborative learning

Start with the teachers with whom you have a good relationship.  When they give tell you what they are doing (or you have a curriculum map to guide you), let them know what you are doing with their students.  As with flex time librarians, follow up when the unit is complete to find out what the teacher thought. What if anything did he/she not like?  What worked? Was there anything you can do differently next time?

Next week, meeting the challenges of other Actions in the Guidline.