Looking Back @ Short, Simple, Relevant Library Lessons

Looking Back @ Short, Simple, Relevant Library Lessons - Students need and deserve short, simple lessons that support classroom learning. If we keep students and Library Lessons as our priority, everything else about library management falls into place.As School Librarians we may believe that we are the “experts” in the library and our passion urges us to “share” our expertise with students. But is that attitude really best for our students? I learned quickly, both as Teacher and as School Librarian, that we don’t teach kids everything we know; we teach only the information or skill students need for the short time they are in front of us, and that is a very different perspective. We must put student needs first, and what students need and deserve from us is short, simple lessons that support classroom learning and inculcate the multiple literacies important in our global society.

I regard the library’s materials as accessories for Library Lessons. If books and electronic devices were the most important part of the library, they wouldn’t need us at all. Yes, there are those in school districts, in the business community, and in the political arena who think just that, but School Librarians know that even if the library and everything in it burns down, we can still teach kids what they need for their future success, better than any physical materials ever can. So let’s focus on short, simple, meaningful Library Lessons to provide what students need.

How to Plan for Library Lessons

The biggest adjustment from classroom to school library is that we won’t see students day after day for lessons; most of the time we have a single class period to influence and inspire their learning. The key to a good Library Lesson is to make it relevant to what students are studying in the classroom and avoid anything that does not achieve the purpose of the library visit. Our Library Lessons need to build on classroom experiences, otherwise, it’s all meaningless to the student and quickly forgotten.

Most kids, of any age, remember something they do better than something they’re told, so our Library Lessons need to focus on a single objective and have a meaningful activity that allows students to practice what they learn. We need to know every teacher’s curriculum—not with their depth, but know the breadth of all subject curricula through all grade levels—so we can determine when teachers are likely to bring classes to the library, what students are studying that brings them to the library, and what they need to know about the library to do what the teacher expects them to do.

Library Lesson Curriculum Matrix exampleTo keep track of lessons, I created a visual guide: my “Library Lesson Matrix.” I examined subject area curriculum guides for the classroom assignments that would bring students to the library, then entered the name and time period for each unit on my Matrix. Once completed I could anticipate how to progressively build Information Literacy skills for each grade level using short lessons throughout the school year. It occasionally changes as standards and course curricula change, but I can maintain a broad view of Information Literacy visits to (and collection needs for) my middle school library. It’s also pretty impressive to teachers when I pull it up for scheduling their library visit—they really see what a School Librarian’s job is all about!

I learned pretty quickly, that if I wanted the principal and teachers to regard me as a teaching professional, I needed to have a formal lesson plan for the lessons I taught. Other lesson planners I used had flaws when planning Library Lessons, so I combined the best of them into my own Library Lesson Planner. I can easily integrate subject content from the teacher’s lesson plan and keep the purpose of the library visit clearly in mind throughout the planning process. My Library Lesson Planner is available as both .docx and .PDF download from my Free Librarian Resources page.

Integrating & Simplifying is my Specialty!

I’ve always been good at seeing the big picture, and then taking a complex concept or process and simplifying it. This has helped me create successful and meaningful lessons for students, first in the classroom as an at-risk alternative high school Science Teacher and then as a School Librarian for grades 6-8. Here are some tips on how to create a good Library Lesson:

  1. Customize lessons for the age of your students; what works for 6g may not work with 7g and definitely won’t work with 8g.
  2. Teach only what students need to perform the task at hand; if they won’t need it, don’t mention it. Less is better!
  3. Limit slide presentations to 6-10 slides with only one bit of content per slide. Use illustrative graphics, whether images, charts, or examples, to provide anticipation for what you’ll say.
  4. Use lots of infographics and graphic organizers rather than textual worksheets. Save the reading for your books!
  5. Model with students what you want them to do. Seeing is not only believing, it is learning!
  6. Always give students a chance to move around sometime during the class period.

One example of how I keep a lesson short, simple, and relevant is teaching students the different type of stories in the Fiction section. The first time I tried teaching adventure, mystery, etc. as “genres”, the kids were completely confused because they’d been learning in their ELA class that genres are types of literature: narrative, expository, drama, poetry. I quickly changed the term to Fiction “Subjects” and they completely understood—they already associated Subject with their different classes, with the arrangement of Dewey books, and with an online book search for a type of story.

Another example of a short, simple, and relevant lesson is introducing the Dewey book section with our math classes so they can practice decimals at the start of that unit. The teachers love it because it’s more fun than a review test and they can interact with students during the lesson to see who might need some extra help.

I discovered that by keeping students and Library Lessons as the priority, and treating the school library as just a bigger classroom with a lot more stuff, everything else about the library falls into place: collection development, facility organization, library scheduling, library promotion and advocacy, and even professional development. Simplifying my Library Lessons helped me simplify managing my School Library, and I’m sure it will help you do the same.

Looking Back @ Digital Citizenship & the School Librarian

Looking Backward @ Digital Citizenship & the School Librarian - Digital Citizenship encompasses a student's knowledge of and consent to using technology in a responsible manner. School Librarians must know Federal laws regarding student Internet use and construct meaningful lessons for teaching digital citizenship and Internet safety to our students.Digital Citizenship encompasses a student’s knowledge of and consent to using technology in a responsible manner. A prior post (Student Privacy & the School Library), covered the 3 Federal laws—FERPA, COPPA, and CIPA—that govern students using the Internet (download a PDF of Internet Laws In a Nutshell), but Digital Citizenship—more specifically Internet Safety—is covered very specifically by CIPA. In fact, for schools to receive an e-rate discount, they must show documentation that their students are being given instruction about Internet Safety. The relevant passages are found in the CIPA update of 2011 which incorporates language from the Broadband Data Services Act of 2008, Title II–Protecting Children [in the 21st Century Act], Subtitle A–Promoting a Safe Internet for Children:

… use of the Internet in a manner that promotes safe online activity for children, protects children from cybercrimes, including crimes by online predators, and helps parents shield their children from material that is inappropriate for minors.

The Federal Trade Commission shall carry out a nationwide program to increase public awareness and provide education regarding … safe use of the Internet by children. … that includes–
(1) identifying, promoting, and encouraging best practices for Internet safety;
(2) establishing and carrying out a national outreach and education campaign regarding Internet safety utilizing various media and Internet-based resources;
… (4) facilitating access to Internet safety education…by…schools, … .

part of its Internet safety policy is educating minors about appropriate online behavior, including interacting with other individuals on social networking websites and in chat rooms and cyberbullying awareness and response.
(Broadband Data Services Act from the Government Printing Office Website.)

While schools are required to teach Internet Safety, the U.S. government provides FREE materials with which to do so, and since government information falls under public domain, we can use any of it for lessons.

  • The FTC’s Internet safety Website—onguardonline.gov—provides videos and materials for presentations, as well as free handouts such as booklets, brochures, and worksheets, which can be ordered from their Website.
  • The Department of Homeland Security’s Stop-Think-Connect campaign also provides free materials on their Website—dhs.gov/stopthinkconnect.

I reiterate, these materials are free, so I encourage you to order them. I use different handouts for each grade level, and at the start of each school year I order enough copies for all the students in my school. Other free materials, such as online videos and games for each age group, are also provided by government-sponsored organizations:

  • National Cyber Security Alliance at staysafeonline.org. The website also has valuable pointers on how to teach online safety to various ages of children.
  • National Center for Missing & Exploited Children at netsmartz.org
  • Common Sense Media at commonsensemedia.org.

My 3 Elements of Digital Citizenship

The online world is about social interaction without face-to-face contact, and as a middle School Librarian I need to align my lessons with the unique mental and emotional characteristics of each grade:

  • 6th graders are eager to explore the adult world, but are vulnerable and still want advice from adults; their lessons need simple and direct examples of what to do and what not to do, presented in an interactive way.
  • 7th graders are flooded by hormonal changes, and peers are way more important than adults, so they need socializing norms and skills; their lessons need to be fast-paced and varied, especially short, interactive games and videos of students, animated or real, talking about issues pertinent to them.
  • 8th graders are on the verge of adulthood but still naive about the ways of the world, so they need awareness and guidance to exercise good judgment; their lessons need to incorporate experiences of other teens by using real-life videos coupled with discussion and reflection.

With my middle school students in mind, I spent many hours perusing government and non-profit Websites, noting the different topics related to Digital Citizenship and the various ways they are organized. Because I like to keep things as simple as possible for my students, I decided to organize my lessons by these 3 Elements of Digital Citizenship:

  • Personal Safety – protection from online predators and cyberbullying;
  • Privacy and Security – protecting school passwords and personal school files, and personal information from online computer intrusions, identity theft, phishing, and Internet scams;
  • Digital Ethics – proper offline and online behaviors, such as legal use of software and other digital material, online Netiquette and our digital footprint—how the “mark” we leave online is our e-reputation and can impact our future.

My Lessons on Digital Citizenship

As I do for all of my Library Lessons, I teach only what students need and avoid anything that isn’t purposeful. I provide on-going infusion of legal, ethical, and safety issues with any Library Lesson that involves technology, teaching online behaviors throughout the school year. For example, my first WebQuest with 6th graders is often their first login on our school’s computers, so I begin with guidance on creating a strong unique password. Shortly thereafter I incorporate personal safety and communication ethics when I introduce our district’s filtered student email system with my Library Lesson on Cloud Computing. During the rest of the school year I use many videos and handouts from the FTC, NCSA, Common Sense Media, and other non-profits to make my lessons more meaningful.

My school district requires School Librarians to do a yearly presentation on Internet safety to comply with CIPA’s e-rate requirements, so they provide us with a grade-level appropriate slide presentation. I customize the Internet Safety lesson for each of my grade levels, simplifying the slideshow and incorporating videos, games, and handout activities from government and non-profit sites. For a complete bibliography of all the resources I’ve compiled for my digital citizenship/Internet safety lessons, you can download a PDF file of my Digital Citizenship Lesson Planner.

To really connect with students, here’s a phenomenal idea to use when teaching digital citizenship. Craig Badura, PK-12 Technology Integration Specialist for Aurora Public Schools NE, uses an ingenious set of props for K-8 digital citizenship lessons to help students relate and remember—a “Digital Citizenship Survival Kit.” Mr. Badura’s encourages all of us to use his idea, to create our own Kits and stimulate conversation with students during our lessons.

Model Digital Citizenship with our own Digital Footprint

Looking Back @ Digital Citizenship & the School Librarian - Digital Citizenship encompasses a student's knowledge of and consent to using technology in a responsible manner. School Librarians must know Federal laws regarding student Internet use and construct meaningful lessons for teaching digital citizenship and Internet safety to our students.I hope you agree that it’s crucial for school librarians to uphold and model the rules we expect students to follow regarding Digital Citizenship and the use of online services. For example, we can never ask students to enter a false birth year just to register for and use an online service. Not only is this unethical, it is actually breaking Federal law!

School districts are very aware of Federal laws on student Internet use, so many of them provide under-age-13 students with private contracted services, such as Gaggle, in order to provide a safe and private online environment for elementary and early middle school students. It is our responsibility to become familiar with these provided services and incorporate them into our Library Lessons.

We must also be cognizant of our own Digital Footprint, not only for our professional standing, but also as a guide to students for what is appropriate online material for public consumption. Be mindful of the conversations we have in our personal and professional social media accounts: be polite and considerate, and express alternative viewpoints as diplomatically as possible. Be careful of the photos and selfies we post: be appropriately dressed and behaving in a professional manner. If you haven’t Google’d your own name lately, do so, to be sure you are modeling digital citizenship with your own digital footprint.

Looking @ 10 Wise Quotations for a School Librarian

Looking @ 10 Wise Quotations for a School Librarian - Quotations compact important concepts into the essence of wisdom that we can share with others. Here are 10 quotations that have given meaning to my students and helped me to be a successful School Librarian.I had an interesting conversation the other day with my (adult) son about communication. We both have strong opinions about the need for better communication between people, and my son made some interesting comments that gave me the idea for this blog entry. First he suggested that whenever we are trying to communicate information we need to ask ourselves, “Am I crafting my communication for THAT person?

For true communication to take place, both speakers must have a common understanding of the words being used. Too often we in education (as do many professionals) get caught up in the jargon of our profession, forgetting that the person we are talking to may not have the same expertise to fully understand what we are trying to say. Without shared understanding, our conversations are fruitless—we are not communicating anything of value.

My son offered the acronym DIKW: data, information, knowledge, and wisdom. As we move through DIKW, we condense the exorbitant material of each portion into a more abstract, yet infinitely more vast, concept. So, data are the numerous bits, the factoids, that we compile and organize to produce information, and we gather and coalesce information to build knowledge. If we are very conscientious, we contemplate and apply our knowledge—understanding the “what”—to develop wisdom—understanding the “why.”

My son then referred to a quotation (from French mathematician Blaise Pascal) that, roughly translated, says, I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time. It takes time to condense our wandering, voluminous thoughts into true communicable verbiage or text! My son’s point is that we need to communicate less but better!

That got me thinking about how often we use quotations from others to express what we mean. Quotations are typically short and pithy; they compact large concepts into the essence of wisdom. So, in an effort to share the wisdom of others in as brief a manner as possible, I offer, in no particular order, 10 quotations that School Librarians can embrace to inspire our students and to make our jobs more meaningful.

  1. Everything you need for your success is within you.
    (shared by my former principal B.D. from an educational speaker) 
  2. It is our choices … that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.
    Dumbledore in the book “Harry Potter & the Chamber of Secrets”
  3. Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.
    Frederick Douglass
  4. No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.
    Eleanor Roosevelt
  5. If students do not learn the way we teach them, then we must teach them the way that they will learn.
    (shared by my former principal F.T. quoting Madeline Hunter)
  6. Kids have a long attention span, but a low tolerance for boredom.
    (shared by my former principal M.W. from an unknown source)
  7. If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?
    UCLA coach John Wooden
  8. Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.
    Nelson Mandela
  9. The only thing that you absolutely have to know, is the location of the library.
    Albert Einstein
  10. The best of all things is to learn. Money may be lost or stolen, health and strength may fail; but what you have committed to your mind is yours forever.
    Louis L’Amour in the book “The Walking Drum”
    This is my all-time favorite quote–it was displayed in my classroom and my school library for more than 21 years.

These quotations have given meaning to my students and helped me to be a successful School Librarian. I hope they also inspire you!

Looking Back @ 3 Strategies for a First-Time School Librarian

Looking Back @ 3 Strategies for a First-Time School Librarian - To succeed as a first-time School Librarian, we need to learn everything about our library and school, listen to everyone and ask questions, and leave everything alone until we know what needs to change!August 2000. My transition from Classroom to School Library. I’m still a Teacher, but I now have a huge classroom with a mind-boggling array of resources. I need to provide lessons to every student in the school at every grade level but I have no curriculum guide and no class schedule. How do I begin?

If you are a new School Librarian, perhaps you feel as overwhelmed as I did when I first walked into my School Library. Combining my memories as a new teacher, my ideas from library courses, and my innate need for organization, I decided on 3 strategies for a first-time School Librarian: learn everything, listen to everyone, leave things as they are (for awhile).

Learn Everything About the Library & the School!

Snip of Library Layout - Making detailed diagrams of everything in your School Library is the smartest "first step" you can take as a new School Librarian.I’m a “stuff” person. I need to know what I have and where it’s located so I can get it when I need it. Thus, my first task upon entering my school library was to learn what was on every shelf and inside every cupboard and drawer. Because I knew I wouldn’t remember it all, I used a clipboard of blank paper to draw diagrams and I began in the librarian’s office, moved to the circulation desk, then to the workroom, on to adjoining rooms (which I discovered were a video broadcast studio and booth), and then to the main library space. It took a couple days, but I now had an extensive set of diagrams to tell me everything about the physical library facility. I took the sheets home and recreated my library layout—labeled and color-coded—on computer spreadsheets and I continued to use and modify that same document for the next 13 years. It was the smartest “first step” I could have taken as a new School Librarian because already I knew:

  • what was barcoded and what wasn’t, but needed to be (a “task” for my checklist)
  • purchase orders sent but items not yet received or processed (another task for my checklist)
  • resource and technology items likely to be checked out by teachers at the start of school (another checklist task)
  • available library supplies for various needs (a guide to how the previous librarian had managed the library)
  • the extent of Fiction, Dewey, and Reference resources in the collection  (a guide for where to concentrate my new purchases)
  • teacher-collaborated library lessons given by the previous librarian (a guide to “library-friendly” teachers and probable lessons to schedule)
  • ideas and materials I could use to establish my own teaching and management style (a separate Checklist of Possibilities!)

My next step was to explore all the files and applications on the librarian computer workstations to see what the previous librarian had done—which extended my knowledge of her management and lessons—and I rearranged files into folders according to my own organizational style.

As a new faculty member I’d been given a map of the school, so after obtaining permission and a master key from the principal I went through the school—with my trusty clipboard—and identified all the technology and resources that were “library barcoded” in each room. I found technology items that had been delivered to the school but were still in boxes and hadn’t been processed, along with library items in classrooms that weren’t checked out (more tasks for my checklist). During my school “tour” I also identified subordinate technology hubs to the main tech hub in the library workroom. Having such extensive knowledge of every part of the school is a real advantage:

  • technicians entering the school are sent to the library so I’m always aware of tech issues or implementations and I can plan new tech lessons for students and colleagues;
  • district workers carry my name back to their departments as the “go-to” person at my school;
  • I can answer building questions no one else can so I’m invited to be on planning committees;
  • before classroom purchases are made, teachers check with me to see if we already have the same or similar items, thus saving time and money.

Knowing exactly what I had in my school and my library gave me so much confidence! I’d have an answer for any question or request, and I could maximize my time and money. In short, during my first week I was already becoming an “indispensable” School Librarian!

Listen to Everyone and Ask Questions! 

Listening and Asking QuestionsIf I could give only one suggestion to an incoming new School Librarian it would be, “Become a trusted colleague of the School Secretary, the Head Custodian, and the Food Services Manager!” These folks are a key source of information about the way the school functions, and if we treat them with the respect they so rightly deserve, they will answer our questions and help us become even better at our own job, often doing something for us that they don’t do for anyone else. Just remember to return the favors!

As the school year progresses, welcome district personnel and visitors into the library and, if possible, give them respectful and undivided attention, asking as many questions about their situation as possible. A good impression carries throughout a community and suddenly one day, someone you’ve never met greets you, knows who you are, and wants to help you accomplish something to benefit your students!

Our main purpose as a School Librarian is to support classroom instruction, so we must communicate and collaborate with teachers. On the first PD day in the library at the start of school, I was introduced as the new School Librarian, and I asked my colleagues 2 questions:

  1. Is the School Library meeting your needs for classroom instruction?
  2. What can I do as a School Librarian to help you with classroom instruction?

I’d already placed brightly-colored 3×5 index cards on the tables so I could ask colleagues to write down at least one suggestion for the School Library and one suggestion for the School Librarian. By the end of that day I knew what had been working, what hadn’t been working, and some new directions to take the School Library, all of which I added to my “Possibilities Checklist” (see first step above). That initial appeal for cooperation led many teachers to seek my input on library visits and lessons throughout the rest of the school year, and my continued willingness to ask questions and listen to suggestions helped build a solid reputation as a valuable collaborative partner!

Leave the Library As It Is Until You Know What It Needs!

Underneath the anxiety, a new School Librarian feels adventurous, itching to implement exciting ideas from library courses! I had created my “Possibilities Checklist” and added suggestions from teachers, but I was wise enough to decide: Don’t Change Anything Yet!

  • A physical arrangement may not make sense until a large group is moving around.
  • Seemingly frivolous policies and procedures may actually facilitate best use of the library.
  • Environment or activities may be crucial to lessons or established teacher and student expectations.
  • Real needs can’t be anticipated in a vacuum—the library must be “in use” to know what works and what doesn’t!

A School Library really belongs to the students and we need to experience the “school culture” of students, to discover their attitudes and needs for their school library. I arranged library visits with ELA teachers for the second week of school and interacted with students as much as possible. By the end of that week I could see how the facility functions for individual students, for classes and teachers, and for the School Librarian, and I had greater appreciation for collaborating with teachers by first discovering what they were doing in the classroom.

I had to modify my “Possibilities Checklist” many times as I worked with teachers and students during scheduled and informal library visits. As a clearer picture of needs developed, I slowly began making changes to improve library use, including completely swapping the location of Fiction and Reference and creating new descriptive signage. In January I persuaded ELA teachers to visit the library for a ‘review’ library orientation and everyone loved the changes I’d made.

In my district we were expected to spend 1/2 our library book budget by the middle of December. Since I was a newbie librarian, I was able to obtain permission to wait until January to purchase books, and I’m so glad I did. Here is what I did—and what you can do—during the 1st semester to maximize the value of book purchases for students, teachers, and classrooms:

  • Shelve returned books nearly every day to become intimately familiar with the library collection.
  • Run circulation reports every few weeks to see what’s popular with each grade level.
  • Note how the location of books affects what students (and teachers) are browsing and choosing.
  • Run comparison reports of the library collection with other same-grade-level schools to learn what’s popular in the community.
  • Throughout the semester generate “To Purchase” lists for Fiction, Dewey, Biography, and teacher materials on vendor online ordering sites.

My POs were finally sent out, and a couple months later, two pallets stacked high with boxes of books appeared outside the library doors. Our entire school was buzzing with excitement to come visit the library, and as fast as I unpacked boxes, students checked out the new books! My circulation statistics soared and I could always put a great book into a student’s hands.

What I Know Now …

I’ve had jobs in and outside education during my nearly 5 decades of adulthood, and I’ve met many new employees who think they’ve been hired to revolutionize the industry; they come in like gangbusters, trying to change everything without really putting in the time to learn anything. Thanks to my Dad’s never-forgotten advice, I begin every new position by asking questions, listening to others, and learning all I can before I offer any suggestions for change. That attitude helped me become a valued employee at every job I’ve had, including being a School Librarian. If I could have a do-over, I wouldn’t do anything differently.