In the beginning…
My Essential Question that started the process:
How do I set up a learning commons in a brand new school that will become the “nerve centre of the school” (Leading Learning, p.6)
The elementary school where I have worked for the past fifteen years is expanding and building a high school with an opening date of September 2018. I will become the first teacher librarian at this new high school. Although I am excited at the possibilities that this opens up for me professionally and personally and I delighted with the development of a Learning Commons that will be the nerve centre of the new school, I admit that I am nervous at the enormous task before me.
To arm myself with as much information as possible, I used my essential question as my guide for this course. While completing the Modules, readings and discussions, I continuously referred to the following quote in the Leading Learning Document.
“A learning commons is a whole school approach to building a participatory learning community. The library learning commons is the physical and virtual collaborative learning hub of the school. It is designed to engineer and drive future-oriented learning and teaching throughout the entire school. Inquiry, project/problem-based learning experiences are designed as catalysts for intellectual engagement with information, ideas, thinking, and dialogue. Reading thrives, learning literacies and technology competencies evolve, and critical thinking, creativity, innovation and playing to learn are nourished. Everyone is a learner; everyone is a teacher working collaboratively toward excellence.” Leading Learning, 2014, p. 5
Within this quote, key elements of the Learning Commons that I focused on this semester included:
- Inquiry learning experiences
- Learning literacies
- Technology competencies
- Opportunity for innovation, creativity and critical thinking
A: Inquiry Learning Experiences
The teacher librarian plays a pivotal role in initiating inquiry learning experiences. Through collaboration with colleagues, units and lesson plans are developed that will engage students and will develop necessary information literacy skills.
- Curating Resources: my role includes seeking resources that will enhance student learning and support teachers. I enjoyed exploring Padlet and Symbaloo as possible tools for curating resources.
- Collaboration in planning: Throughout the course, I learned some tips for effective collaboration.
- Take initiative and invite staff to collaborate. Host “Lunch and Learns”, “Breakfasts with Books”, professional development workshops, and create an inviting place in the Learning Commons for teachers to visit.
- Offer to do a significant part of the unit/lesson planning (type up the plans and prepare necessary student handouts) and share in the assessment marking
- Model and teach inquiry research skills: I see my role as a T-L to be integral in shaping the research skills of the students. I hope to develop inquiry units/projects with teachers in each grade level that would highlight one inquiry model (such as Points of Inquiry) to be used consistently in the school.
- Fontichiaro (2015) reviews the four basic components of inquiry lessons plans as:
- Authentic student questions
- Open-ended conclusions
- Critical thinking and active comprehension; not regurgitation
- Synthesis; not summary (p.49)
- I plan to teach students how to use databases for research and how to select search variables that will lead to effective searches.
- The article by Stripling and Harada (2012) provided a clear example of how planning for an inquiry unit might look like. I especially liked the figure on page 9 that outlined how to scaffold student learning. The sample lesson plan on pages 10-11 demonstrated how to structure mini-lesson, guided practice and independent practice. This is definitely an article that I want to print and keep in an inquiry binder for future reference.
- I hope to set up a LLC website with links to handouts to support and guide students through the process. Two great websites that I will use as models are:
- Fontichiaro (2015) reviews the four basic components of inquiry lessons plans as:
B. Learning Literacies
As I heard this semester on Stephen Krashen’s video: “The Power of Reading” one positive reading experience can make someone into a reader. He referenced a book titled “The Read Aloud Handbook” in which one’s ‘homerun book’ becomes a catalyst for a love of reading. Furthermore, as stated by Gaiman (2013), “to discover that reading per se is pleasurable…you’re on the road to reading everything”.
- Multi-modal literacies: Because we all learn in different ways, it is important to include a variety of literacies. My LLC needs to include visual elements, graphic novels, access to video and audio clips, written texts, links to websites and databases. What I found fascinating this semester is the importance of explicitly teaching students how to decode and interpret the various modes of literacies. In addition to the readings from LLED 462, I dug deeper and found a few extra resources. Beach (2012) discusses how the increased use of digital tools is “redefining how people are acquiring and sharing information, as well as redefining what it means to be literate” (p. 448). I had never really considered this before. The articles by Serafini were also instrumental in my learning on this topic.
- Helpful websites and resources for future references:
- Mattson, K. (2017, July 27). Use images to kick off digital citizenship conversations. [Blogpost]. Retrieved from https://www.iste.org/explore/articleDetail?articleid=1030&category=Digital-citizenship&article= (this is a great one to engage students on how to interpret images: what is the intent of the artist? What is the message of the image? How is this portrayed?)
- Helpful websites and resources for future references:
- University of Texas. Digital writing & research labs: Lesson Plans. Retrieved from: https://lessonplans.dwrl.utexas.edu/pedagogical-goals-digital-literacy/multimodal
- Finley, T. (Feb. 19, 2014). Common Core in action: 10 visual literacy strategies. Edotopia. Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/blog/ccia-10-visual-literacy-strategies-todd-finley (excellent source of practical strategies for visual literacies to use within an inquiry lesson)
- Booth, David. It’s critical! Classroom strategies for promoting critical and creative comprehension.Markham, ON: Pembroke. (I haven’t had the opportunity to read this book yet, but from the reviews I have read, this is a Must Read in preparing myself for teaching my students the various multi-literacy skills. Perhaps this will be on my Christmas wish list.)
C. Technology Competencies and Digital Tools
As a hub of the school, the LLC must be a place that is well-equipped with resources, including technology. I intend to have iPads and lap tops available for loan and several charging stations for students to access. In addition, I must stay current in my own digital capabilities so that I can best support the students. I love learning new digital tools that can serve a purpose within the curriculum. I plan to attend as many professional development opportunities as possible and then share my learning to my staff through workshops. Last year, I attended the ERAC conference and a Google Summit. In 2015, I attended the ISTE Conference in Philadelphia. This amazing and enriching learning experience is one that I definitely hope to repeat in the coming years.
Throughout the semester, I was introduced to more digital tools. Several stood out as particularly useful ones to keep in my back pocket. These include:
- http://www.storylineonline.net/ (recommended by Isabel Chu)
- http://kahoot.com (recommended by Isabel Chu)
- talktyper.com (recommended by Melanie Demoe). This dictation program can be so helpful for those students with written output disorders and would allow them to express their knowledge independently.
- sweetsearch.com (recommended by Betty Chung). Over fifty librarians and educators created this index of resources for students.
- bamboozle.com (recommended by Amarpreet Jhooti). This creates games or study sessions on a variety of topics or allows teachers to create their own. Looks like fun and can be adapted to any level or curriculum topic.
- citethisforme.com (recommended in a workshop at the PSA Conference). This bibliography tool is useful in grades 6-12 as an alternative to easybib.
- Coding sites: https://scratch.mit.edu/ and https://scratchjr.org and https://code.org/ (recommended by Saisha Cox)
- Keepvid.com (recommended by Alanna Skene) Keepvid is an easy way to download videos from YouTube and then save on your computer for future use. I like how this removes the ads and allows me to access the videos without relying on Wi-Fi.
As much as I value digital tools and the opportunities that technology allows, I am reminded by Susan Cooper (2013) in the following quote to never forget the power of one’s imagination and the power of a good book!
“We – teachers, librarians, parents, authors – have a responsibility for the imagination of the child. I don’t mean we have to educate it – you can’t do that, any more than you can teach a butterfly how to fly. But you can help the imagination to develop properly, and to survive things that may threaten it: like the over-use of computers and everything I classify as SOS, Stuff on Screens. I do realize that the Age of the Screen has now replaced the Age of the Page. But on all those screens there are words, and in order to linger in the mind, words still require pages. We are in grave danger of forgetting the importance of the book…. Words aren’t damaged by technology. But what about the imagination?”
D. Opportunity for innovation, creativity and critical thinking
I was reflecting on several of the readings and the role of a teacher-librarian in creating a warm, welcoming and friendly place. In Diggs’ article (20000), she states, “respect the students who walk through your door. Provide a safe place for those students who hate the cafeteria, and buy them books they will want to read” (p.58). Barack (2014) echoes this sentiment as she describes how “kids in general are often so grateful to have someone show an interest in their lives and accept them for who they are”.
Tomlinson (2008) provides a framework of questions for teachers to ask themselves. The third question resonated with me as the word image of a “bridge” is one that I want to convey in my future LLC. I love the phrase “building bridges of possibility”
“Are we willing to do the work of building bridges of possibility between what we teach and the diverse learners we teach?” (p. 56-57)
Tomlinson (2008) emphasizes the importance of knowing your students and of building trust. I know that as I become more “student-aware” (p.27), I am more capable of differentiating learning so all of my students reach their potential.
To engage students in critical thinking, I have made it part of my mission as an educator to be a “tour guide” into the world beyond the classroom, school and my students’ own experiences. Through literature, I can travel the world with my students and introduce them to a diverse group of people with an incredible range of experiences.
In Brunelle’s (2014) article, she suggests that we need to be promoters of books that support the diversity of our students and patrons. One practical way to do this within my own school is to recommend titles for book clubs and contests such as Battles of the Books.
A few interesting links I found while digging include:
- http://pocreading.blogspot.ca/ (Resource for finding books written by authors of colour or about characters of colour; this blog also provides links to additional links)
Another area to promote critical thinking is through books and resources that deal with social justice issues. I valued the discussions in Module 11. McClaughlin (2014) challenges that “asking hard questions is just that – hard. But if we are truly committed to teaching for social justice, we need to encourage our children to find as many points of view as they can, and to ask questions we may never be able to answer, knowing that education for citizenship lies in the process of thinking critically about the many sides of a question and working toward addressing the inequities this process reveals” (p.9).
The cases studies presented in Module 11 about training local librarians in Ethiopia and setting up offline resources in areas where WiFi is not consistent were excellent examples of how lobbying for social justice can bring positive changes for many. Two years ago, I spent 2.5 weeks in South Africa volunteering in a rural school. One of the tasks we worked on was to clean and organize the “library” in this K-12 school. The library was filled with very old books that were donated from the US, Canada, Britain or Australia. Some of these books were from the 1950’s and were so incredibly outdated. In addition, the shelves and books were crawling with silver fish. The internet was so slow and unreliable and the few computers that were available were so old. This ‘internet in a box’ would be a great additional resource. In fact, after reading these case studies I emailed the website link and article to the team leaders.
I so appreciated the sharing of resources in the discussions to Module 11 to challenge the students in my new high school in thinking of issues related to social justice. As the curator of resources in this central hub, it is important to know where to find great books. My list of potential sources of quality resources include the following:
- http://www.teachwithmovies.org/ (teach with movies; comprehension questions and lesson plans)
Maker spaces are another avenue to engage students and to offer a safe place to explore, create and imagine. As the central hub of the school, I want to create that place where students feel welcomed and where they can explore their creative passions. As I summarized in my Blue Group Module 9 Summary, “maker spaces offer a space and the tools (physical, digital and materials) needed for students to explore, create, design and imagine. In addition to fitting into the Learning Commons, this also fits perfectly within the new curriculum of ADST. Weisgrau (2015) describes maker spaces as a place to “provide access to physical resources typically regarded as materials for crafting, engineering, design, robotics, or media” and Loerstcher (2014) describes the process within the maker spaces as “making, inventing, thinking outside the box”. The idea of building knowledge through exploration, creativity and imagination is a key tenant of the maker space movement. It is important, however, to remember that maker spaces are not simply a resource closet but can be instrumental to “foster the skills necessary in students to become creative and critical thinkers, problem finders and solvers, and collaborators” (Skene, A.). The passions of teacher-librarians can become catalysts to engage students and to encourage the creative process of designing and innovating. Some of the passions mentioned included video-making, photography, sewing and writing” (DeWith, 2017, Module 9 Blue Group Summary).
Conclusion: (…at the end of the semester)
I have learned so much through this course and am so excited to put my own learning into action as I set up a new Learning Commons as the central hub of the school. In addition to the ‘book’ learning, I had the opportunity to visit three different secondary libraries in the first week of November. This was a great chance to see how other teacher-librarians have set up their space and for me to glean ideas for my new library space. I love the openness of other T-L’s to share their knowledge and to mentor new TLs. Thank you to the TLs at Parkland Secondary, Rockridge Secondary and West Vancouver Secondary! I took detailed notes about furniture recommendations, teaching space needs, integration with secondary curriculum, cross-curricular collaborative projects, how to organize the resources and how to set up maker spaces. I have included a few pictures below to remind me of the possibilities.
After all the learning throughout the semester, my brain is full but I feel much better equipped to take on this challenge of creating a Learning Commons as the central hub of the school!
Barack, L. (2014, May 1). LGBTQ & you. Retrieved from http://www.slj.com/2014/05/diversity/lgbtq-you-how-to-support-your-students
Beach, R. (2012). Digital literacies: Constructing digital learning commons in the literacy classroom. In Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 55(5), 448-451. International Reading Association. Doi: 10.1002/JAAL.00054.
Brunelle, C. (2014, May 1). Everyday diversity: A teacher librarian offers practical tips to make a difference. Retrieved from http://www.slj.com/2014/05/diversity/everyday-diversity-a-teacher-librarian-offers-practical-tips-to-make-a-difference/
Canadian Library Association. (2014) Leading learning: Standards of practice for school library learning commons in Canada. Ottawa: Ontario.
Cooper, S. (Dec. 11, 2013). Libraries are the frontline in the war for the imagination. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/dec/11/susan-cooper-youth-libraries-group-speech-dark-rising
Diggs, V. (2011). Teacher librarians are education: Thoughts from valerie diggs.Teacher Librarian, 38(5), 56-58. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.library.ubc.ca/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.library.ubc.ca/docview/875201232?accountid=14656
Ekdahl, M. and Zubke, S. (Eds). (May 2014). From School Library to Library Learning Commons: A Pro-Active Model for Educational Change. Vancouver School District #39. Retrieved from http://bctf.ca/bctla/pub/documents/2014/SL2LLC_ReviewingCopy.pdf
Fontichiaro, K. (2015). “What’s inquiry? Well, I know it when I see it.” School Library Monthly, 31(4): 49-51.
Gaiman, N. (2013, October 15). Why our future depends on libraries, reading an daydreaming. The Guardian. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/oct/15/neil-gaiman-future-libraries-reading-daydreaming?CMP=twt_gu
Krashen, S. (2012, April 5). The power of reading. The COE lecture series. University of Georgia. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DSW7gmvDLag
International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions. (2015) IFLA School Library Guidelines., 2nd revised Ed. Den Haag, Netherlands.
McLaughlin, D. (2014). The King of Denmark and the naked mole rat: Teaching critical thinking for social justice. Education Canada, 54(3).
Serafini, F. (2012) Reading multimodal texts in the 21st century. Research in Schools. 19(1), 26-32.
Serafini, F., & Youngs, S. (2013). Reading workshop 2.0: Children’ literature in the digital age. The Reading Teacher, 66(5), 401-404.
Stripling, B. K. & Harada, V. H.. (2012). Designing learning experiences for deeper understanding. School Library Monthly, 29(3): 5-12.
Tomlinson, C. A. (2008). The Goals of Differentiation. Educational Leadership, 66(3), 26-30.