Best Online Professional Learning Network for School Librarians

Best Online Professional Learning Network for School Librarians - Some of my best practices & ideas have come from my online Professional Learning Network. So, here's my list of bloggers, social media groups, and other communities that have had the greatest influence on my Library Lessons and School Library Program..and they may help you, too. #NoSweatLibraryOften while creating Library Lessons or writing my blog, I realize many of the best practices and ideas I’ve gathered over the years are a result of, not formal professional development, but rather my  Professional Online Learning Network!

The concept of a PLN has been around since the 1990s, and some folks refer to it as a Personal Learning Network; but whether we choose the term personal or professional, it’s where we can learn to be a better educator and School Librarian.

For a long time, I referred to my “Professional Learning Community,” but in a Schoolology blog post titled “Personal Learning Network (PLN) Benefits, Tools, and Tactics,” Elizabeth Trach explains that PLC refers to a structured, place-oriented group of like-minded or content-related educators, whereas the major feature of a PLN is exactly what the term network implies: it’s a digital, online community connecting educators everywhere, at any time.

And that isn’t all…as Brianna Crowley explains in her December 31, 2014 Education Week-Teacher article, “Although technology is often the vehicle to build connections, a PLN is about relationships.

If you want to know more about building a PLN, visit Edublogs’ Building Your PLN, a free self-paced course. And now, here are the connections and relationships I’ve built as my Professional Learning Network over my many years as a School Librarian.

LIBRARY ORGANIZATIONS

School Librarians need to keep abreast of changing subject and library standards, of useful strategies for research & information skills, and for new technology. Membership in my State library association and in ALA/AASL are advantageous, but the international LM_NET listserv and my Texas State Library listserv provide my most valuable learning about standards, information literacy and library lessons.

Another wonderful organization for school librarians is edWeb.net. Through their School Library Network and Emerging Tech for Schools and Libraries communities, they offer at least one FREE webinar every month on new ideas, best practices, and valuable resources. School Librarians need to keep up with the constant innovation and diversification of technology, and to keep our professional skills one step ahead of students. I seek out new tools to integrate technology into assignments and ideas for new or better ways to implement my technology lessons.

Library of Congress is one of my favorite places to explore. Not only do they have a huge online catalog of nearly every book ever written (with both LOC & Dewey identifiers), they also have a vast digital collection of media about American life from the earliest years up to today, as well as a vibrant blog that regularly features interesting parts of their collection.

SOCIAL MEDIA

Many librarians rely on Twitter, but I’m not as enthusiastic, though I do follow a few dozen folks, as well as a few librarians on Pinterest. My main social media outlet for library learning is Facebook and these 6 Groups consistently provide great professional learning ideas for School Librarians:

MY FAVORITE BLOGS

Another essential professional learning tool is an RSS feeder that allows me to subscribe to and gather together blogs about School Libraries, education, and technology.  I’ve used feedly for several years and recently began also using Bloglovin’; through them I can read numerous blogs that provide insight and ideas for improving my Library Lessons and my School Library Program. Here is a list of my favorites:

Jennifer Gonzalez, blogger/author at Cult of Pedagogy.Cult of Pedagogy – Jennifer Gonzalez, education specialist and National Board Certified teacher. Best overall teaching blog ever, plus great technology implementations.

Joyce Valenza, blogger for Never Ending Search at School Library Journal.Never Ending Search – Joyce Valenza, the guru of all school librarians, writes this blog for School Library Journal. She’s a long-time tech leader and co-creator of #TLChat, TLChat Live, and TL Virtual Café. First as a high school librarian and now as professor of library science at Rutgers University, she keeps us all on our toes!

Stony Evans, librarian/blogger at Library Media Tech Talk.Library Media Tech Talk – Stony Evans, librarian at Bethel Middle School in Bryant AR and a certified Microsoft Innovative Educator, offers great ways to use technology in the library to engage students and expand their global connections. Every blog post is a new inspiration!

Naomi Bates, librarian/blogger at YA Books and MoreYA Books and More – Naomi Bates, a Texas high school librarian with a wide range of knowledge about books and reading, library skills and technology. (One of these days I’ll get in my car and drive across town to visit her library!) She’s now vlogging: creating 2-3 minute video booktalks on current YA reads.

Doug Johnson, technology director/blogger at Blue Skunk Blog.Blue Skunk Blog – Doug Johnson writes on all things library and technology. I became inspired by Doug during a group chat in one of my library courses. For many years he had the closing article in Library Media Connection [now School Library Connection] which was the first thing I read when I received the magazine!

500 Hats image.500 Hats – Barbara Braxton, an Australian school librarian, has 3 Master’s degrees and over 40 years experience. Her posts on the LM_NET listserv always offers excellent professional guidance for school library programs.

Shannon McClintock Miller, teacher/blogger at The Library Voice and spokesperson for Future Ready Librarians and Follett.The Library Voice – Shannon McClintock Miller, school librarian and currently the Future Ready Libraries & Project Connect spokesperson. She offers great resources for school librarians to become leaders in the digital transformation of learning.

Hilda K. Weisburg, author of her name blog.Hilda K. Weisburg – another long-time guru, Hilda is a retired school librarian with over 25 years experience. She has a way of making us see the big picture!

Nikki Robertson, librarian/blogger at The Absolutely True Adventures of a School Librarian.The Absolutely True Adventures of a School Librarian – Nikki Robertson, a Georgia school librarian and Instructional Technology Facilitator, is co-creator of #TLChat LIVE! and TL News Night.

Gwyneth Jones, librarian/blogger at The Daring Librarian.The Daring Librarian – Gwyneth Jones, a teacher librarian in Maryland, has a passion for edtech and shares all her creative and wonderful lesson ideas with the rest of the library world.

Diana Rendina, librarian/blogger at Renovated Learning.Renovated Learning – Diana Rendina, a media specialist/teacher librarian in Tampa, Florida is the guru of Makerspaces. Her ideas for redesigning the school library into a participatory learning environment with hands-on STEM learning experiences are the best!

Elizabeth Kahn, librarin in Avondale LATales from a Loud Librarian –Elizabeth Kahn, librarian at Patrick F. Taylor Science and Technology Academy in Avondale, LA. She has some of the cleverest ideas I’ve ever seen for library lessons that truly engage students.

025.431: The Dewey blog Everything you always wanted to know about the Dewey Decimal Classification® system but were afraid to ask025.431: The Dewey blog – Everything you always wanted to know about the Dewey Decimal Classification System but were afraid to ask. From OCLC, the folks in charge of keeping Dewey current, who also sponsor a Google Groups discussion forum where you can ask questions and contribute suggestions.

Larry Ferlazzo, teacher/blogger at Larry Ferlazzo's Websites of the Day.Larry Ferlazzo’s Websites of the Day – This long-time ELL/ESL/EFL teacher is a librarian’s best resource for online curation. He has thousands—yes, thousands—of sites organized in dozens of categories on his website. For us he’s better than Google!

Richard Byrne, author/blogger at Free Technology for Teachers.Free Technology for Teachers – Richard Byrne in Maine. The very best resource for all things technology, he also has a channel on YouTube with dozens of video tutorials for tech tools. My go-to guy when I need to know how to use a tech tool!

Educational Technology and Mobile Learning - logo.Educational Technology & Mobile Learning – Meg Kharbach, a doctoral researcher with 10 years of classroom experience, writes from Nova Scotia, Canada about dozens of technology tools for iPads, Smartphones, and Google, Chrome, & Chromebooks. You need it, she can recommend something!

There are thousands more educational bloggers, but if you’re looking for high quality sources, try Teach 100, a daily ranking of the top 100 educational blogs recommended by educators around the world.

I hope these online professional communities help you as much as they’ve helped me. Happy Professional Library Learning!

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How a School Librarian Can Teach Online Subscription Services

How a School Librarian Can Teach Online Subscription Services - Here are 3 ways School Librarians can introduce specific relevant features of subject and grade-level appropriate resources to teachers & students to support classroom content learning, along with a review of how to use them correctly. #NoSweatLibraryAt first glance, a School Library today looks much as it did a century ago: rows and rows of books. But, a second look reveals the influx of technology with desktop, laptop, and tablet computers. By the turn of the millennium, computers and their associated digital applications significantly changed School Libraries. Nowhere is this more visible than with online subscription database services available through the Internet.

Online subscription resources in K-12 schools began as add-ons to familiar print resources—digitized copies of encyclopedias, periodicals, biographies. They were costly, so most schools had only one, or maybe two. As online subscription services proliferated, they became affordable, and now are the primary reference resource in most secondary schools. Eventually service providers combined different types of reference into their own brand-name tools, so now a single resource can provide multiple forms of reference beyond what the tool’s common name would suggest.

SCHOOL LIBRARIANS ARE THE INFORMATION SPECIALISTS

In my medium-sized district, our middle schools alone have access to more than 40 different online subscription services—4 encyclopedias, 9 periodical databases, and more than 30 specialty reference databases and e-books. Imagine being a student or teacher seeing that long list of resource names on a school webpage. They are too bewildered to determine which service to use for their information need, so it’s no wonder they become discouraged and simply type some search terms into Google.

School Librarians Are (Online) Information Specialists - It's our responsibility as School Librarians to know what each of our online subscription services offer, and to determine when and with whom to use each feature of each resource. Here's how I do it... #NoSweatLibraryIt’s unrealistic to expect intermittent users to know our online subscription services and their features, or take the time to learn—on their own—how to use these database services. These services are usually chosen and funded by the District Library Department or the individual School Librarian, so it’s our responsibility as School Librarians to know what each of these online subscription services offer, and to determine when and with whom to use each feature of each resourceAfter all, we are the Information Specialists; we are the Instructional Partners, familiar with everyone’s curriculum; we are the Future Ready Librarians who curate, manage, and integrate digital resources for our students and teachers.

We can’t just run through the list, telling teachers and students all that’s available: if it isn’t immediately relevant to classroom learning, it’s meaningless and quickly forgotten. Instead, we need to create Library Lessons that integrate particular features of specific tools with a classroom activity.

INTEGRATING ONLINE SUBSCRIPTION RESOURCES

I treat online resources the same as the print collection. I don’t introduce all the Dewey Subject books at once, but rather, each topical group as it applies to a classroom assignment. So also, I introduce online resources during subject area visits, focusing on features that fulfill the purpose of the library visit, avoiding others that do not.

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

Sample Library Lesson Matrix

I use my Library Lesson Matrix to organize online resource lessons. Just as I examine each subject’s curriculum to identify a possible library lesson to enter into my Matrix, so also I examine each online subscription service. I utilize any trainings offered online and try out each feature to see which curriculum need it can satisfy and for which grade level. I record brand name and features into the subject units, then move on to the next online service.

It takes time to go through all the services, but I become comfortable enough with each tool to integrate it and teach it. By mapping these out in my Matrix, I can progressively build online skills so students are proficient in using our online subscription resources before they leave our campus.

USING INFORMATIONAL MATERIALS CORRECTLY

Focus on Content, Not Format, for Information Sources - School Library Lessons that emphasize content type--encyclopedia, topical source, periodical--are more beneficial to students than dwelling on format--print, digital, online. It's an important distinction. Learn more... #NoSweatLibraryThere’s continuing controversy about requiring students to use print or digital or online sources for assignments. We must help teachers realize that the format of information (print vs digital vs online) is NOT important, but rather the TYPE of resource and its content value:

  • Encyclopedias for general information and overview of topic;
  • Content-specific resources for in-depth information;
  • Periodicals for focused, condensed, and current information.

Encyclopedias and periodicals, in print, digital, or online versions, are pretty obvious, but content resources aren’t as obvious to students and teachers, so I always include specifics about these:

  • Print content includes all those specialty tomes we have in our reference area or topical books in the Dewey area.
  • Digital includes CDs and DVDs that we got primarily for teachers but students can be using them, too.
  • Online includes e-books, subscription services (like a biography database), and Web-based books (like Google Books, Project Gutenberg, Digital Book Index).

When I collaborate with teachers, I articulate the different types of resources and recommend what’s best for students to use for the assignment. In my Library Lesson I teach students about types of resources and how to use whichever format is accessible when working on the assignment—print version, in-house digital version, or online version. This is important in a digitally-divided school where some students may not have online access from home.

With Library Lessons that focus on type rather than format, students and teachers learn that print, digital, and online information sources all contribute to student success.

HOW I TEACH ONLINE SUBSCRIPTION SERVICES

Scaffold Lessons for Online Subscription Services - Students learn our Online Subscription Services better when School Librarians scaffold Library Lessons as WebQuests, with Curated & Bookmarked Articles, and through Resource Lists. Here's how I do it... #NoSweatLibraryCarefully crafted Library Lessons, customized for each grade level, scaffolded throughout the school year, and aligned with classroom curriculum activities help students (and teachers) become familiar with which online subscription resource feature to use for their information need. It takes time and curriculum savvy to create these lessons, but we can use them year after year for the same online services.

I’ve discovered the best way to scaffold these type of lessons is to use WebQuests to introduce online services a few at a time, use curated folders of bookmarked articles within each online service for specific assignments, and to create Resource Lists of online services and other Web-based tools for longer research assignments.

WebQuests to Introduce Services

WebQuests are my favorite way to introduce online subscription database services. Using the term “WebQuest” to introduce our online resources emphasizes to students that they are the first, best choice to find information on the WorldWideWeb. Each of my WebQuests is designed for a single class period, presents just 3 different online tools with 1 or 2 features of each, and satisfies a particular classroom assignment. Teachers appreciate this guided introduction to high-quality resources that is integrated into their lessons, and, because students respond on a printed or digital worksheet, there’s a daily grade for the class period.

I believe an encyclopedia is the best reference tool for students to begin research, so the first WebQuest of the school year introduces a grade-appropriate online encyclopedia, and I use it for that grade’s online lessons throughout the school year. Repeatedly using a familiar tool activates prior knowledge so students become comfortable using various features of the tool, and we develop online browsing and searching skills that they can apply to other online resources.

As an example, my first two 6g WebQuests—one for Science, one for Social Studies—occur about 2 weeks apart. The only difference is in the features I introduce to meet the needs of the two different subjects.

6g Science Biography WebQuest 6g Social Studies Countries WebQuest
  • introduce WebQuest concept
  • introduce WebQuest structure
  • introduce grade-appropriate encyclopedia
  • 2 features of encyclopedia & their search strategies
  • biography database
  • periodical database
  • same WebQuest concept
  • same WebQuest structure
  • use same grade-level encyclopedia
  • 2 new features of encyclopedia & their search strategies
  • countries database
  • map database

Subsequent 6g WebQuests begin with the same encyclopedia and offer 2 additional subscription resources that meet the needs of the subject, the project, the research, and the lesson. Eventually 6g students learn all the subscription services relevant to their grade-level, how to locate them on the main library page, and how to use their features. (If they ask about other tools they find on the resource homepage, I say I’ll teach them in higher grades, but they’re free to examine them on their own.)

Curating & Bookmarking for Specific Library Lessons

User-created folders is a feature now offered by most online subscription services, where we can curate folders for subjects and grade levels, and then bookmark into them articles chosen from their database. I love using curated folders & bookmarked articles to guide students who have a limited time frame for certain assignments. Once I create a named folder within a service, we can use that same folder and its articles for the same lessons in following years, for as long as we have the online service.

An example of such curating is our English/Language Arts expository text unit across all 3 middle school grade levels. Bookmarked online articles are a perfect match for the unit’s elements:

  • Unit theme=Technology & the Power of Information.
  • Content skills=summarization, inference, and interpretation.
  • Required resources=non-fiction books, newspapers, magazines, memoirs, speeches.
  • Final product=an expository written instrument.

At successive library visits during the grading period, I progressively build Info-Lit skills using different resource formats to activate prior knowledge and then lead students into new experiences to create a final product unique to each grade:

6g ELA Visit 1) Examine components of non-fiction print books (table of contents, index, glossary, graphics).
Visit 2) Learn how to summarize a print magazine article.
Visit 3) Access the chosen online service, go to named folder, read a bookmarked article, and create an expository essay poster with your table group.
7g ELA Visit 1) Compare non-fiction print books and e-books.
Visit 2) Locate new online service, access named folder, and summarize bookmarked magazine article
Visit 3) Using the same online service, do a topical search, read at least 2 articles, and create a written essay.
8g ELA Visit 1) Examine print memoirs from the Biography area.
Visit 2) Access and compare a topical non-fiction print book, an e-book, and a free Web-based memoir.
Visit 3) Access online services and read bookmarked and self-searched articles to produce an online e-zine.

Resource Lists for Longer Research Assignments

Once students have learned how to access and use grade-appropriate online subscription services, I guide them less formally to relevant online resources through customized Resource Lists. Others may call this a Subject Guide, Library Guide, or Pathfinder. (Academic librarian Patricia Knapp devised and named the “Pathfinder” in the 1960s as course resources for college students.) I call it a “Resource List” because it’s a list of resources which support a research assignment.

I build a Resource List using my Library Lesson Planner, just as I would any library lesson. Why so much work?

  • I want to be sure the Resource List fulfills subject & information literacy standards and meets research requirements of the final product.
  • Teachers typically intend a library visit as an introduction to a research project, so I want a short, meaningful lesson to cultivate the requisite Information Literacy skills along with presenting the Resource List.
Resource List Example

LibLessonPlanner example

As I fill out my Library Lesson Planner for “Resources students will use,” I refer to my Library Lesson Matrix to glean print and online resources I’ve already selected as grade and subject appropriate for the assignment. I also enter any guidelines from teachers or subject curriculum guides to help me choose other Web sites that will be helpful for students.

I organize my Resource List according to the problem-solving model I’ve chosen as best for the particular research assignment, and I create it as a webpage so students can access it 24/7 (and so I can make changes or additions without issuing a new handout). Here is a brief enumeration of what I might include on my Resource Lists, as applicable to the project and the problem-solving model:

1. Problem-solving model as organizational structure
2. Recommended resources for background reading/investigation
3. Guidelines for creating questions about the research topic
4. Search strategies for different resources
5. Reminders about citation and creating a bibliography
6. Reminders about paraphrasing and summarizing
7. Resources available in the library (books, reference, other)
8. Recommended online subscription services
9. Recommended Web sites chosen by the librarian or teachers
10. Reminders about assignment requirements (from the teacher’s checklist)

USING OTHER ONLINE SERVICES FOR SUBSCRIPTION SERVICES

When I began creating my Library Lessons for online subscription services in the early 2000s, we used printed guides, but over the years I’ve transmuted them into digital and online documents. For example, WebQuests have become HyperDocs, bookmarking & curation lessons also use tools such as TES blendspace, elink.io, or Wakelet, and my Resource Lists are Symbaloo webmixes or Webjets.

Regardless of the subscription services we have or the other online tools we might use to facilitate lessons, the essence of teaching online subscription services to our students is this:

  • Limit lessons to grade-appropriate services
  • Refine choices to only 2 or 3 different services
  • Focus on content-relevant features

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