Looking Back @ Middle School Students & the School Library

Looking Back @ Middle School Students & the School Library - Middle school students can be a challenge. As Middle School Librarians we need to create scaffolded, grade-appropriate lessons that are engaging and content-rich, with activities that provide active practice. #schoollibrary #middleschool #librarylessons #engagementMiddle school—6th, 7th, and 8th grade—is the most changeable time period for children. The student who leaves the building after 8g is very different from the 6th grader who entered the building 3 years earlier. And 7g? As one of my principals said, “There’s a special place in heaven for 7th grade teachers.”
(I think it probably has padded walls.)

I believe understanding this stage of physical & mental development helps us adjust our expectations for the behavior of these 11-14-year-olds, and observations I’ve made over the years have helped me create lessons for these students that are appealing and engaging.

6th grade

Our newbies, the 6th graders, are just beginning the transition from the childhood mind to the adult mind. Their lessons still need lots of structure and step-by-step instruction, which diminishes gradually as the year progresses. They are still accepting of adult guidance, but because they are now more capable of reasoning, they want to know why they are being asked to do something. They’ve not yet grown out of their ‘elementary’ self and are still a bit fidgety, so lessons for these students need to be short, visual presentations broken up with small segments of physical activity.

If you want to understand a 6th grader, visit a classroom during a testing session. It’s non-stop motion, hands, bodies, legs, fidgeting constantly. With all this movement, you’re sure the room must be infested with bugs.

7th grade

By 7g the body has settled down a bit, but everything—and I mean every single cell—in a 7th grader’s body is connected to their mouth. They can’t do anything without talking—not walking, sitting, listening, watching, reading, writing, keyboarding, looking for a book, eating, or even breathing. If they are awake, they are talking.

For a real treat, stand outside a restroom when a single 7th grader is in there.
I guarantee they will be talking, even though they are the only one there!

It’s also important to accept that 7th graders are intellectually brain dead. Their brains are so busy with all the physical changes happening to their bodies that there isn’t a lot left for complex mental exertion. We have to find interesting ways to recall prior knowledge—repeatedly!—and blend that into fairly structured lessons of new material which include plenty of actionable repetition so they eventually retain what they’ve learned.

For the 7th grader peers are everything and they must do everything in pairs (bathroom, locker, nurse, office), so give them physical activities with a partner, especially those that allow them to “discuss”. And one last thing… 7th graders are all orphans: parents are to be avoided at all costs—they’ll insist on Mom dropping them off a block from school in the pouring rain, just so no one sees them with a parent! (…which means telling them you’ll call a parent about behavior is met with disdain.)

8th grade

The most startling change in middle school happens during the summer between 7g and 8g. When 8th graders appear in the fall, they’ve grown a foot and have become young adults. Their maturity is evident—they are less self-involved and more future-oriented—and they expect us to treat them with dignity. They bore easily and quickly, so lessons still need to be short, a combination of new learning interspersed with creative, independent activity.

As the school year progresses, 8th graders become more capable of complex critical thinking, especially with issues that are larger than themselves, so we can plan larger, longer, more global-oriented projects. Of course, they often revert back to childhood shenanigans, so there still has to be some fun and physical movement to keep them focused.

Middle School  Library Lessons

What I like most about being a Middle School Librarian is that teachers are still willing to bring students frequently enough for continuity of lessons and the kids are old enough to use a variety of resources and technology tools. Also, these 3 years are a long enough period to scaffold lessons from novice to proficient, but a short enough period that integrating lessons into everyone’s curriculum isn’t overwhelming.

In middle school we can teach the same lesson to all 3 grade levels, but we need to make the presentation and activities very different. We can plan a similar type of project, but offering different tools for the products opens up a realm of creative possibilities for librarians, especially since by 8g students are 13 and able to use more online tools. An example is my Library Orientation for each grade level. 6th graders have a simple lesson to help them find and check out their first book in their new library, 7th graders partner up for a scavenger hunt to activate prior knowledge of the library and try some formats they weren’t likely to use before, and 8th graders use smartphones to view video book trailers—a prelude to their first ELA project—and to interest them in topical books they may not have considered before.

You can find my 6, 7, 8 Library Orientations in No Sweat Library Lessons, my TeachersPayTeachers store.

My Library Lesson Curriculum Matrix - Composite example of an older version for the 1st grading period.

Sample Library Lesson Matrix

Variation between grade levels is also needed when teaching information literacy skills. I’ve written about how I use my Library Lesson Matrix to scaffold these lessons throughout subjects within a grade level and bridge the grade levels by using similar processes to introduce new skills and tools. These lessons must also be embedded with subject standards and content vocabulary, to support content literacy and the development of independent learners.

Developing Independent Learners

Middle school content encompasses the transition from simpler concrete lessons of elementary to the higher-level critical thinking students will be expected to use in high school, and it’s the ideal time to develop independent learners. We can’t expect our students to become independent learners by themselves; it is a logical extension of having learned and practiced, so we need to develop it by design, not by chance. We need to scaffold instruction and structure activities so students practice in a gradually more independent manner. Ultimately, we want students to structure activities themselves and apply processes individually.

Middle school students will not fully attain independence, but showing them how to become independent learners is part of our responsibility.

Student independence is relative to concepts studied, resources used, and maturity of the learner. One mistake teachers often make is to think that just because students can read, they can read and learn subject-area content with minimal further instruction. Actually, we need to provide instruction to specifically support content-intensive reading materials:

  • teach reading and reasoning processes as a natural part of the curriculum
  • vary concepts and organization among curriculum areas
  • help students adapt to the demands of various resource materials
  • guide independence relative to abstraction and complexity of materials.

Students will learn at a level that is consistent with their grade and what is studied if we organize instruction into 3 transitional types of activities: preparation, guidance, independence.

  • Preparation gets the student ready for reading through predictions, curiosity arousal, Conceptual Conflict (what if or how did that happen?), and anticipation guides.
  • Guidance activities teach how to apply reading and reasoning skills through extended anticipation guides and student self-generated questions. Self-questioning aids retention, and students need to be led through such activities so the procedures become automatic.
  • Independence allows students to work on their own, applying what they’ve learned, yet able to rely on the teacher’s guidance when needed. Discussion models such as think/pair/share, accountable talk moves, and Socratic seminars give students a chance for interaction with peers.

Independence does not mean isolation; it has to do with who is in charge. We cannot be impatient for our students to be independent, nor limit the time they need for becoming independent.

Library Lesson Planner template, Part 3

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In our middle school library we can’t depend on recurring visits to fulfill all three transitional activities, so it’s important to incorporate them into each and every library visit that includes a lesson. My Library Lesson Planner does that with Direct Instruction, Modeling/Guided Practice, and Independent Practice. When I show my completed Library Lesson Plan to a teacher—with their subject standards and content vocabulary—that includes these activities in a single visit, they regard me as a teaching professional and are more willing to collaborate then and in the future.

Some Final “Helpers”

Middle school students can be a challenge. There are days when they aggravate us so much we’d like to ship them off to an island somewhere. Then there are joyful days when we can’t imagine teaching anywhere else! To help handle the day-to-day stresses—both ours and theirs—here are some general reminders I’ve accumulated over the years:

  • Stand still when you’re giving directions (don’t do 2 things at once)
  • Be specific about what to do (what to have on desk, what not to have; thank them as they complete task)
  • Control should be for purpose, not power. Correct misbehavior with the positive expectation, not the negative wrong. (“We don’t do that in this classroom because it keeps us from making the most of our learning time.” and “Thanks for [behavior that meets expectations].”  Praise is a value judgment for what’s truly special or exceeds expectations.
  • Go from student who gets it wrong to students who get it right, then back to student who gets it wrong. Ask a follow-up question to make sure they understand why they got it wrong and understand why the right answer is right.
  • Reaffirm expectations: I am respectful; I am responsible; I am ready to learn.

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Looking @ a Guest Post about School Librarians

Looking @ my Guest Post "12 Ways a School Librarian can Help Teachers" on 2 Peas and a Dog - I am so grateful to Kristy Avis, Canadian educator and blogger of 2 Peas and a Dog for inviting me to write a guest post about School Librarians. Please support Kristy and me by reading...

I am so grateful to Kristy Avis, Canadian educator and blogger of 2 Peas and a Dog for inviting me to write a guest post about School Librarians.

I decided to focus on our 5 areas of expertise that contribute to student success:

  • Experienced Teacher
  • Instructional Partner
  • Informational Specialist
  • Program Administrator
  • School Leader

Please support Kristy and me by reading

The expertise of a School Librarian is like pieces of a puzzle that fit together to create a picture for student success!

The expertise of a School Librarian is like pieces of a puzzle that fit together to create a picture for student success!

See also: The 2016 edition of Scholastic’s “School Libraries Work!”

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Looking Back @ How to Inventory the School Library Collection

Looking Back @ How to Inventory the School Library Collection - Are you avoiding a library collection inventory because it seems like such an overwhelming task? Understand why we inventory our collection and how to do a series of mini-inventories over time so it's a satisfying undertaking instead of a dreaded one. Read on ... #schoollibrary #inventory #timemanagementOne of the dreaded tasks of the School Librarian is performing an inventory of the library collection. After doing a few of these, I can attest that they need not be the ominous undertaking that many fear. Yes, my first one was unimaginably time-consuming and tedious, but after going through the entire process, I formulated a set of procedures that streamlined the process. First, though, we can better appreciate a school library inventory if we understand why it’s important for us to do it.

Why We Do A School Library Inventory

I rather enjoyed doing inventory because when finished I knew exactly what was on the shelf and what was in the online catalog, and that they agreed with each other—an important consideration when dealing with students (and teachers) who insist they “returned that book” … which, occasionally, I’d find they actually had! That, then, is the most important reason for doing a physical inventory: to guarantee agreement between the physical collection and its documentation.

No matter why, items go missing from our collection each year. It’s very discouraging to a patron and to a School Librarian to look for a needed item that’s listed in the catalog, is supposed to be there, but just isn’t. The item may truly be missing, but it may also just be mislabeled or cataloged incorrectly—no matter how careful we try to be, human error happens. Whatever the case, an inventory allows us to reconcile discrepancies. That’s another reason to do an inventory: to correct cataloging and labeling errors between an item and its MARC record.

When we have consistency between catalog and collection, we will generate accurate reports from the automation system:

  • A collection analysis report provides a true picture of our collection so we can weed outdated material and make purchases that develop a balanced, relevant collection. It’s also the evidence we need to request additional funding for improving the school library to meet the needs of our students and teachers.
  • A loss analysis report tells us what’s really missing so we can replace important curriculum materials. It also provides our yearly rate of loss which may give us the leverage we need to change library visitation policies or request a security system.
  • A bibliographic and item record report reveals duplicate records and  “empty” titles. If we purchase from multiple vendors, their records may not consolidate in our automation system, and when we delete (for whatever reason) all copies of a title, our system may not eliminate the title record. These types of catalog entries confuse our students and frustrate us, so we want to find and correct them by aggregating multiple copies into one title and eliminating titles for which there is no item.

Finally, and not least important, is accountability for public funds that are invested in our school library collection. We owe our taxpayers an accurate record of how we are spending their money each year, and of how much the School Library is “worth.” Some states even require this type of transparency for schools by law, and we need to comply if that’s the case for us. Furthermore, we hear each year of schools and school libraries suddenly destroyed by fire, flood, or weather. An accurate inventory of a school’s library collection is the only way to assess the loss and replacement for insurance or federal/state funding.

When To Do A School Library Inventory

Unless you are fortunate enough to have permanent adult aides, the school library inventory falls on your shoulders alone. I have one suggestion to make the prospect of doing inventory less daunting: create a schedule of mini-inventories over a period of several years! It makes so much more sense to do a small selective inventory every year than to tackle a huge one every 4 or 5. Mini-inventories are quicker and easier, you’re less likely to make mistakes, you don’t have to shut down the library, and your catalog and collection have a higher degree of ongoing agreement.

Image of bookcase layout & collection in my School Library

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This is the layout of bookcases in my school library, containing some 15,000 items. With 8 aisles of books, I’d inventory by aisle, both sides of one fiction and one Dewey each year over 4 years. Year 5 I did Professional and equipment. With far fewer items to scan, I could complete it alone in 2 days.

Image of Harlingen TX schools Library Inventory Schedule.

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I had no breaks between Dewey numbers or fiction Subjects, but if your library layout isn’t conducive to my method, you could instead use a by-Dewey-number schedule like this one I found online from the Harlingen, TX school district.

How to Do a School Library Inventory

Here are pre-inventory tasks you’ll want to take care of:

  1. Repair and shelve any damaged books.
    You want to scan your way down your chosen section of bookshelves, knowing you have everything on the shelf that belongs there. It’s too easy to forget to scan piles of books set elsewhere.
  2. “Read” and weed each section before taking inventory.
    It’s just so much easier to have the shelves in order before scanning barcodes, and there’s no point in tallying and reporting books that need to be cleared out of the collection. If you weed regularly, you may just need a quick look over the shelves as you read them to pull out damaged or old books. If you’ve put off weeding read my post on Weeding Dewey Books: a 6-Step Plan to simplify the task.
  3. Inventory all checked out items.
    This is especially important when you do mini-inventories; trying to piecemeal inventory as you check-in books from the chosen inventory section is asking for errors. (If your system allows you to inventory a specific range of call numbers that are checked out, you can certainly do that instead.)

During the mini-inventory I used 3 different methods to tally the books in the chosen sections:

  • Scan using an inventory tool or by attaching a barcode scanner to a laptop. Either tool records the barcodes to a spreadsheet which is then downloaded into the automation system’s inventory app. This is the quickest way to do it, but with a limited number of tools in my district I couldn’t always get one, so I used both of the following methods, too.
  • Pull books onto a 2-sided bookcart, scan at the circulation desk, then return the books to the shelves. This is the hardest way to do inventory and I don’t recommend it, but I used it when students were coming in & out of the library so I didn’t have to run back & forth and forget my place in the aisle. Since cart shelves are about the same length as bookshelves, I’d fit 6 shelves of books at a time, and could complete the entire aisle in 8 trips.
  • Run a Shelf List report and print out, going down the shelves, highlighting books on the shelf with one color and  missing books in a different color. I know it seems old school, but this method is reasonably fast for a mini-inventory and it became my preferred method after doing enough inventories to have a well-reconciled catalog and collection. (I’d scoot leisurely down the aisle in my rolling chair.) I could catch the few cataloging errors from new purchases and since the list also indicated location, I could use a 3rd highlighter to mark titles of still-checked-out books and check them back in later.

Here are post-inventory tasks to complete from your inventory reports:

  1. Check in items that are still checked out but on the shelf. If any of these are items that students have paid for as lost, follow your school’s procedure for arranging a timely refund.
  2. Correct errors between labels and MARC records.
  3. Charge out missing books according to your school district policy and then run a report listing these missing books to reorder desired titles. (Ours were checked out to MISSING and at the end of the following school year, after allowing for reports and being found, we deleted them completely, including the bibliographic record if it was the only copy.) 
  4. If using the Shelf List method, do the global/batch inventory of the call numbers on your shelf list after it’s otherwise cleared up!
  5. Record the inventory completion date on whatever you use to keep track of it, and be sure to include the mini-inventory in your next Report to Principal!

As you can see, performing a School Library inventory doesn’t have to be “the thing you hate most.” In fact, the satisfaction of knowing your collection and catalog are in order makes curating resources for projects, creating Special Collections for reading promotion, and collection development more productive and also more pleasurable. So, take a look around your School Library and decide which aisle or Dewey number most needs a mini-inventory and start the process, letting the rest go until another year.

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