Looking @ The School Library Environment – a Guest Post by Susan Harris

Looking @ The School Library Environment - Welcome all students to visit the school library for pleasure reading, research, and study. Learn how to create a clean, inviting environment that is accessible to everyone and available when needed, so students want to come in. #schoollibrary #libraryfacilitymanagement #librarydesignA recent edWeb contribution from Susan Harris, Librarian at Ridgeway HS in Memphis TN, was full of helpful information about the library setting, so I asked if I could publish it on my blog. Graciously she agreed. I hope you readers find it as enjoyable as I did.

I am going to provide a few tips that I hope will be helpful to you. I always try to allow as much natural light in as possible, I always try to have “designated” spaces in my library, and I always try to make everything handicap accessible by leaving enough space between bookcases and tables and by not placing books on top or bottom shelves when possible.

I try to leave open shelving by my entrance so that I can create monthly book displays, and I have a bulletin board that I change monthly and use to promote literacy.

Ridgeway HS Library Halloween Display

Halloween Display click to enlarge

RHS Thanksgiving Bbd

Thanksgiving Bulletin Board

RHS Library Reading Corner

Reading Corner

When I was an elementary school librarian, I actually had a gazebo that children could sit in and read while other children checked out books. At my current library, I have a designated area for computers (like a lab setting), a “classroom” or meeting area where I have all of my tables and a mounted SmartBoard and projector, a “reading corner” and open space. There are so many furniture choices now for children and teen reading spaces if you can afford it. There is also portable furniture (tables) now so you can make your space more accessible (if you can afford it).

I suggest that you always attempt to have sight lines when you arrange your library because you want to be able to see what all of your students are doing from where you spend most of your time. I fortunately have a monitoring program on all of my library computers so I am able to monitor the students’ computer use while I am at the circulation desk. Of course, the placement of your power outlets, wireless access points and/or Ethernet ports will determine where your technology goes.
Ridgeway HS School Library

When I was an elementary librarian I always had a colorful carpet for the students to sit on while I read aloud to them and I placed plush book characters on the shelves in the children’s area. For my high school students, I place greenery on top of the shelves and use Ficus trees and paintings for decor.

I know that some places now like to offer a cafe setting for students to encourage them to use the library but I prefer to ban food and drink from the library setting as much as possible. A maker space would be a good way to attract students of all ages if you have the funds and the space for it. I have a conference room for small group meetings for social workers, recruiters, book club meetings, PLC meetings, etc.

I strongly suggest signage to assist students with locating materials, and I suggest the use of colorful literacy-related posters. Remember to host as many literacy-related programs as possible: National Library Card Sign-Up Month, Teen Read Week, Banned Book Week, National Library Month, Read Across America, Read for the Record, Drop Everything and Read, etc.

Ridgeway HS Library Reading Interest SurveyI also do special things like trick or treat the librarian, and I have a library orientation scavenger hunt. I find that hosting annual orientation is the best way to make students aware of what you offer, your policies and your procedures. I also try to include students when ordering books by asking for recommendations from them. I have a survey on my school website for students and for teachers to complete about their interests and needs. I provide a link to the OPAC on my library website.

Many people are using social media now to strike up interest in the library. Let the children know that you are there for them. I try to go the extra mile by posting scholarship information on my website and by reading over students’ papers when they ask me to.

Providing a clean and inviting environment is one of the best ways to get them in the door. Make sure your collection is up-to-date. Offer a book swap basket where you place paperback books that can be exchanged (no strings attached) for paperbacks that students have already read and have sitting around the house.

RHS Library - a welcoming space

RHS Library – a welcoming space

Come in early, stay late, and leave the library open through all lunch periods so students know that they are welcome and you are available. Host a teacher library orientation session so you can get teachers on board with library use. Co-teach classes when possible. Many students will come to the library as their “safety zone” if they are loners or if they are trying to avoid trouble. Make everyone feel welcome.


Susan Harris, Ridgeway High School Librarian, Memphis TNSusan Harris is in her 26th year as a school librarian.  She has served as a public librarian, an elementary school librarian and a high school librarian.  Mrs. Harris graduated from Northwest Community College, the University of Mississippi, and the University of Southern Mississippi.  She holds a Master of Library and Information Science Degree.  She welcomes all students to visit the library for pleasure reading, research, and study, and is willing to stay after hours to assist students when needed.

Looking Back @ Differentiated Orientation for ELL Newcomers

Newcomer English Language Learners need a library orientation using very specific differentiation strategies based on WIDA-ELD Standards and Can-Do Descriptors. I created a set of 3 Read-Aloud Orientation lessons with fun and relevant hands-on follow-up activities that meets their needs. #schoollibrary #middleschool #libraryorientation #ELL #ESL #readaloudsA school library orientation influences our relationship with students for the entire school year, so it’s important to have orientation with all students in the school. Early on I realized that, even with customized grade-level orientations for ELA classes, Newcomer English Language Learners need an orientation with specific differentiation strategies. So, I created a
Read-Aloud Orientation plan using WIDA-ELD Standards and Can-Do Descriptors that met their needs.

3 Great Read-Alouds for ELL Newcomers

A new school is an even more “alien environment” for ELL Newcomers (who also face a new city, state, country, and language), so I spread their library orientation across 3 weekly visits that help them get to know me better and gradually build their understanding of using the School Library.

I believe ELL Newcomers need to hear English spoken fluidly—not ‘fluently’, but ‘fluidly’—so the pacing and tone of the language becomes ingrained in their minds. For that reason I read aloud a picture book about the library at each of their 3 library visits:

  • Visit #1: Tomás & the Library Lady shares the Newcomers’ situation because Tomás and his family move from his home in Texas to Iowa. The local librarian helps him find wonderful books to read to his family, and this encourages our Newcomers to take their books home and practice learning English by reading to their own family.
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  • Visit #2: The Librarian from the Black Lagoon addresses Newcomers’ fear of things they’ve not yet experienced and helps reduce that worry through humor, as well as preparing them to learn the do’s and don’t’s of the school library.
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  • Visit #3: The Library Dragon highlights the joy and power of a library read-aloud. The words & phrases related to fire preview synonyms & idioms for ELA and where students can locate different books in the library.
image of Tomas and the Library Lady picture book image of Librarian from the Black Lagoon book image of The Library Dragon book

Meaningful Hands-On Activities

Yes, students, especially ELL Newcomers, love read-alouds, but ALL library visits must be purposeful if we want teachers to use valuable class time to support our library program. Follow-up hands-on activities help ELLs meet English Language Arts and library lesson objectives for ELL Level 1 students through:

  • ELD Topic-related & Academic Language, and word/phrase level Vocabulary Usage, sentence level Language Forms & Conventions, and discourse level Linguistic Complexity.
  • Can-Do Descriptors for performance tasks in Listening, Speaking, Writing, and Reading.
  • Differentiation strategies that offer sensory, graphic, and interactive support.

I chose these 3 stories because they naturally lead into activities that support classroom learning and help ELLs develop useful library skills. After the read-aloud, my Modeling & guided practice has ELLs associate concrete visual stimuli with English language terms:

  • Visit #1 supports ELA concepts of story plot and compare/contrast
    • I Have, Who Has roundabout game begins with a student reading aloud the first plot question. I prompt “Who has the answer?” A student says “I have it,” reads their event, then their Who Has question. The game continues through the story, ending with the student who began.
    • Tomás and Me Venn diagram helps each student recall details of the story using compare/contrast by entering how they and Tomás are the same as or different from each other.
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  • Visit #2 presents library expectations with a concept attainment task allowing table groups to collaborate on sorting 12 pictorial cards into YES or NO categories for actions that are OK or unacceptable.
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  • Visit #3 supports ELA recall of story details and similarities using a simple word search grid of story words related to fire, and supports ELD learning about idioms with fire-related phrases from the story.

The Venn diagram and the word search/idioms worksheets
can both be used as daily grades for the ELL teacher.

image of ELL Newcomers Orientation tasks

Next, Independent practice gives students an opportunity to use what they’ve learned.

  • Visit #1: Rather than confuse ELLs with navigating an unfamiliar environment, I hand-pick and lay out on adjacent tables a variety of picture books for students to browse. We have quite a diverse language population, so I display our bilingual picture books (in Spanish, Hindi, Urdu, Korean, Japanese, Khmer, Vietnamese, Arabic, Persian, Tagalog) along with a selection of English picture books with stories from or about other countries and cultures. These selections help ELLs feel comfortable using our school library, and I encourage them to choose a book to check out and take home to read to their families, as Tomás did.
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  • Visit #2 also gives students plenty of time to browse for books, but in addition to books laid out on tables I show them the location of the bilingual, ELL, and picture books—shelved in adjoining sections—along with our graphic novels. Some students prefer the tables and some venture to the bookshelves, but again, all students are able to choose at least 1 book. They also receive a special ELL bookmark of library information that includes some of their learned expectations.
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  • Visit #3 reinforces ELA compare/contrast and helps ELLS have pride in learning a new language, while retaining pride in their home language and culture. Students use English word/picture card prompts for things and events in the library and write the terms in their home language on the reverse side of the card. Then they affix tape and take the card to the proper location in the library and tape the card up to share their home language with the rest of the school.
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    Other students love seeing the cards and it gives them a conversation starter with ELL Newcomers in their classes. And I love having the “Welcome” and “Hello” cards in several languages (and alphabets!) displayed on my library doors every year!

A Fine Beginning…

The 2 Library Dragons!This set of lessons is a positive and productive library orientation for ELL Level 1 Newcomers. They especially like Visit #3 about The Library Dragon because I have a huge stuffed dragon that students sit around during the read-aloud.

After these lessons students feel very comfortable talking to me and using the library, so ensuing library visits are every other week like other ELA classes. Although we’ve had different ELL teachers through the years, they all look forward to beginning the school year with their Newcomers in this way.

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ELL Level 1 Newcomer Library Orientation pin imageIf this set of lessons appeals to you, the full package of the ELL Level 1 Newcomers Library Orientation lesson plan, printouts, and worksheets are available at No Sweat Library Lessons, my TPT store.

 

 

Looking Back @ Customizing Orientations for Each Grade Level

Looking Back @ Customizing Orientations for Each Grade Level - A library orientation sets the tone for the entire school year. Here's how I customize my first visit with returning students at each grade level to rejuvenate their interest in the library. #NoSweatLibrary #libraryorientation #ELA #reading #fiction #middleschool #readingpromotionWe all give a library orientation to our lowest-grade-level, new-to-the-school students so they can learn about their “new” school library, but how many of us have one for our returning students? A library orientation customized for each grade level is a powerful way to connect with students and teachers at the beginning of the school year. I discovered very quickly that the effort I expend on higher-grade-level orientations generates multiple benefits throughout the rest of the school year.

Advantages of Customized Orientations

The first library visit influences a student’s attitude toward subsequent visits during the remainder of the school year, so with our returning students we want to rekindle interest in the library. Since so many schools now have a high level of student transience—mine is 34%—we also need to introduce the school library to a lot of brand new higher-grade-level students.

New grade level = increased maturity + new subject content. Customized orientations can introduce students to new reading choices aligned with their new grade’s curricula and their changed interests, especially topics or formats they may not have noticed before.

At the start of school—before benchmarks, testing, etc.—teachers are more willing to give up a whole class period for an orientation. Customizing allows us to meet the needs of the subject area whose teachers consent to a visit. In my case, ELA teachers want students to check out a fiction book, so my library orientations focus on reading and narrative literature, but I’ve done orientations with Social Studies, with Science, with World Language, and with Careers classes!

Relevant lessons stimulate teachers to consider more library lessons. My ELA teachers so appreciate how my orientations support their curriculum, that when their unit of study changes—first to expository literature (non-fiction), then to persuasion, and finally to poetry—they allow me to give a Library Lesson at the start of each unit, and even some appropriate short lessons at later visits during the unit. I always include a classroom-related activity for students to practice what they learn.

My ELA Reader/Writer Workshop Unit lessons
are available in my No Sweat Library Lessons TPT store.

Finally, because my “returnee” orientations are unique to each grade level, I use the same orientations every school year. With so many demands on a school librarian at the start of school, this time-saver relieves stress about having to develop first-visit lessons.

What To Do; What To Avoid

The key to a successful “returnee” orientation is to give students a stimulating, interactive, hands-on activity that is completely different from their previous grade’s orientation. It should also revive prior knowledge or give a new perspective on the library and/or its resources.

Sample Library Info Bookmark & Brochure

Click to enlarge

Don’t bore returning students with rules and procedures they already know. Summarize information on a Library Bookmark to be picked up at checkout. Give top grade level students a Library Brochure with resources for larger projects and planning their future. These two library info tools save time to allow for longer, more complex activities with higher-grade students, yet guarantee any new students learn our library expectations and can ask us specific questions later on for clarification.

A new school year brings excitement but also apprehension. To relieve new-grade-level uncertainty, provide a familiar structure to returning student orientations. Of the 4 segments for any of my Library Lessons—direct instruction, modeling/guided practice, independent practice, and sharing/reflecting—I keep 3 of them the same as these students have already experienced:

  • Direct instruction for all student orientations is a review of safety procedures for fire drills and code Red—they’re too important to omit—and library expectations, which for returning students is simply holding up the bookmark or brochure they’ll get at checkout.
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  • Independent practice during any regular book checkout visit includes students browsing the shelves and choosing a fiction book they can enjoy reading. Since this is the reason the teacher brings them to the library for an orientation, I’m diligent to give students plenty of time to fulfill that purpose.
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  • Sharing/reflecting for any regular book checkout visit is our standard checkout procedure where students read quietly while I invite each table to check out their selections. I encourage students to reflect on their book choice as they begin reading their new book so their book choices improve and their sustained reading time increases.

By maintaining consistency, I need only customize the modeling/guided practice segment of each grade’s orientation and allow returning students to fully engage in, and enjoy, this new group activity.

Sample Till Successful

We may need to try several orientation activities before discovering those that work best for our particular students.

  • In-the-middle grades need reminders about what they learned the previous year, presented in a fun new way.
  • Our highest grades need to see the library in a new way, a different perspective. They are the perfect “guinea pigs” to try out big changes in organization, materials, facility arrangement or technology.

Even after settling on the perfect lessons, be open to a new activity that might prove more engaging or relevant for a certain grade level. If you are a middle school librarian, the following ideas, which I’ve tried at various times, might work for you.

Seventh graders enjoy interactive game-like tasks that allow them to talk or move around. Library Bingo, Library Jeopardy, Scavenger Hunts, and Breakouts are all activities that refresh their library knowledge while constructively fulfilling their need for socializing. I do a Scavenger Hunt.

image of 7g Scavenger HuntMy 7g  Scavenger Hunt reviews various library locations, features new formats of reading materials students may have overlooked, and introduces books related to grade-specific subject content, like topical Dewey books for their first two Science units and the Totally Texas Collection of fiction and non-fiction books to support 7g Social Studies. It does get noisy, but students have a fun review, don’t get bored, and the Hunt sheet is handed in for their daily grade.
(Clipboards for students to write on are invaluable for this activity.)

The key to a successful scavenger hunt is to have the same number tasks as library tables. Each group begins with the same numbered task as their table number, which takes students to different library locations and avoids jostling and overcrowding.

Eighth graders prefer sophisticated tasks that entail analysis and application, and provides guidance but not overt supervision. Speed Dating Fiction, Progressive Dinner of Tasty Reads, Breakouts, Playlists/HyperDocs, and Viewing Book Trailers with QR codes are all popular with this age. Using QR codes to view Book Trailers finally captured my 8th graders attention; I give details about it in an earlier post.

image of 8g Book Trailer ActivityI briefly show students how easy it is to make a video book-talk using copyright-free pictures and an online video creation tool, then play my 40-second sample. Since the first ELA project is a video book-talk, teachers appreciate my “sneak peak” to get students excited to do their own. Several book trailers provide an introduction to new reading choices appropriate to 8g maturity and curricula, particularly specially selected high school State Reading List books and the Read America Collections of fiction and non-fiction books to support 8g Social Studies.

Get Teachers on Board!

After my 3rd year success with Customized Library Orientations, I never had to convince teachers to bring their classes to the library at the start of school. In fact, they’d seek me out the week before school began to schedule them.

As teachers realized my Library Lessons would be developed to coordinate with their classroom content activities, others also asked for early-in-the-school-year visits to familiarize students with library resources. For a few years I offered a 4-part Library Orientation with ELA classes for fiction books, then Math classes for Dewey books, followed by Science and Social Studies for topical books and online resources! I even had Spanish and Art classes in for early visits!

To get teachers interested, I simply look at the first few weeks of everyone’s curriculum, find which classes can benefit from a library visit, then create inviting lessons the teachers can’t resist. I know you can do the same…

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Pin image of Middle School (6,7,8) Library OrientationsGet my 7g Library Orientation or 8g Library Orientation through my NoSweat TPT store, or save with the 678 Orientation bundle. You might also like my Reading Promotion for ELA and Social Studies package.

Reading Promotion for ELA and Social Studies