NOTE: This is the first of a several week series on collaboration
“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.”
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 recommendation 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.
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.