Looking @ Coordinating Collection, Curriculum, and Library Lessons

Looking @ Coordinating Collection, Curriculum, and Library Lessons - As school librarians, it's our responsibility to develop a library collection that doesn't rely on generic 'balance,' but one that supports our grade level curricula. More than that, we must also create Library Lessons that use those materials for meaningful classroom activities and worthwhile assessments. #NoSweatLibrary #schoollibrary #librarycollection #librarylessons #socialstudies #ELASchool Librarians develop a school library collection based on the curriculum needs of teachers and students, not a ‘balanced’ collection based on arbitrary numbers of some purported authority. We know that we are the authority for our school library and better able to determine our print and digital needs than anyone else. We must be bold enough to trust our own judgment—to ignore ‘balance’ and support as much of our school’s curriculum as possible.

But it’s not enough to just add materials based on topics of study in the classroom. We must think deeply about how we can integrate resources into classroom experiences so they are actively used by students and teachers…and that means anticipating Library Lessons, especially those that bring authenticity and higher-order thinking to assessment products. Let’s follow the development of one such example.

BEGIN WITH CURRICULUM ALIGNMENT

Early on I begin to apply subject sticker-labels on fiction books to aid student choices. I notice a significant number of historical fiction books covering the same time period our 8th graders study in U.S. History—discovery of the Americas through Reconstruction. Instead of the Historical Fiction label, I put a distinct Historical America sticker on those books, already thinking I can promote them to 8th graders during their library orientation.

Around the same time, I learn that 8g English Language Arts does a novel study each semester using a classic historical fiction novel with a tie-in to Social Studies. It occurs to me that a novel study might be more interesting if students could choose their own individual Historical America book to read, and I store this in my mind as a possible Library Lesson.

DEVELOP THE TOPICAL COLLECTION

Though we have a considerable number of suitable historical books, there aren’t quite enough for the whole grade level. Determined to increase the Historical America collection, I run a report for relevant books owned by other district middle school libraries, but not ours (we’re only a couple years old), and find a good number to purchase right away.

Periodically combing through book reviews for good books of the time period adds titles to my acquisition book list. About this time one of our major book vendor representatives shows me how to do various searches in the online book vendor catalog. I perform one for “Popular” (which is as it sounds, the most popular titles purchased by other librarians) and filter for “Historical Fiction” and “U.S. History” which adds more titles to the book list.

Each year, as I begin my collection development, I search for newly published titles. As our school population increases, so does our special Historical America collection.

SEIZE A LESSON OPPORTUNITY

Eventually a new 8g Social Studies teacher approaches me…he wants students to “hear another voice of history” beyond the textbook by reading an historical fiction book. Because I thought ahead, I could show him our, by now, substantial collection of Historical America titles.

Looking @ Coordinating Collection, Curriculum, and Library Lessons - Looking @ Coordinating Collection, Curriculum, and Library Lessons - Make the school library collection relevant to curriculum with meaningful Library Lessons. Add Historical America subject sticker labels to historical fiction (from Discovery through Reconstruction), then promote a cross-discipline project to English Language Arts & U.S.History Social Studies with unique assessment products! #NoSweatLibrary #schoollibrary #librarycollection #ELA #socialstudiesWe plan the Library Lesson for shortly after the start of the 2nd semester. We’ll co-present the lesson to students, then allow them to move around the library to choose from the Historical America books I’ve arranged on tables. The U.S. History project criteria focus on the historical events of the story and how they align to what students study in class:

  • historical time period and location of the story
  • character’s conditions and lifestyle in historical context
  • political, economic, religious, environmental, or sociocultural issues of the historical event
  • historical accuracy of circumstances that lead to the character’s decisions

We decide students will have multiple product choices:

  • Academic – research paper or slideshow
  • Artistic – mural or foldable flipbook
  • Speaking – talk show interview or debate

REALIZE THE VISION

Returning from winter break, I discover the 8g English Language Arts teachers plan to assign a book report instead of doing the novel study. I see my initial plan coalesce: I approach ELA about the upcoming Social Studies Historical America project, and they agree that students can use the same book for both projects! I assure them we have enough books for the entire grade, with a few additions through Inter-Library Loan.

image of biocube-small sampleAlways alert for unique and meaningful assessments that fit with my lesson ideas, I’d found a Bio-Cube on ReadWriteThink that, with a few modifications for content, will be perfect for this assignment. I show the ELA teachers and they are delighted to use it. On each side of the cube students write “biographical” information about a chosen character from their historical story:

  1. character’s name and personality traits
  2. personal background
  3. time period and location of story
  4. significance in U.S. History
  5. biggest obstacle to overcome and pivotal choices (grading period theme) character makes
  6. important quotation from story

Copied to colorful paper, then cut & pasted together, finished cubes are suspended from the ceiling in the ELA classrooms. They are a real conversation starter for classroom visitors. Students also write a one-page summary of bio-cube information that contains a reflection segment.

THINK AHEAD

We’ve done this singly and as a cross-discipline project a few times over the years…all because I thought of a curricular Library Lesson and built a collection to implement it. I use the same process to build other mini-collections, such as earth and environmental books for science, print/audio book kits for ELL, and careers.

As school librarians, it’s our responsibility to develop a library collection that doesn’t rely on generic ‘balance,’ but one that supports our grade level curricula. More than that, we must also create Library Lessons that use those materials for meaningful classroom activities and worthwhile assessments.

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Looking @ 5 Tips for Buying Non-fiction Books

Looking @ 5 Tips for Buying Non-fiction Books - Buying non-fiction books for the school library isn't quite as easy as choosing fiction. Here are my 5 tips for wise spending while getting quality titles to meet student and curricular needs. #NoSweatLibrary #schoollibrary #nonfictionbooks #collectiondevelopmentMany school librarians are former English Language Arts teachers. I, however, am a former science and social studies teacher, so I seek lots of input from others when choosing fiction titles for my middle school library. Non-fiction is my strength, but it isn’t just my background that helps me choose quality non-fiction for the school library. Allow me to share these 5 tips for buying non-fiction books to guide your nonfiction collection development.

USE MULTI-PUBLISHER BOOK JOBBERS

I find it’s OK to buy fiction titles unseen because the format is standard and there are reliable book reviews for the content. That’s not the case for non-fiction. There is such wide variation in non-fiction books by format, by publisher, by grade level, and by topic, so regardless of book reviews, we need to see the book and page through it to be sure it will engage students and serve the purpose for which we need it. Holding a non-fiction book in our hands, looking at the table of contents, flipping through the pages…this can give any school librarian a pretty good idea of content suitability, reading level, and attractiveness to students.

As a second-year librarian this became clear to me with my 900s country books. Of the 4 different—and all reputable—publishers, one was far too elementary for middle school (few pages and low reading level) and one was far too advanced for middle school (too many text-heavy pages). The other two were comparable in length and reading level, with shorter paragraphs and colorful illustrations spread throughout the book. I knew right away which ones were most useful and would be checked out more frequently.

Coincidentally, a book jobber representative called. A book jobber handles several publishers and the rep brings books out to the school so I can see them and select exactly what I want. When she arrived toting 3 huge carts of middle school non-fiction books, I knew I’d made the right decision, and vowed to invite other book jobber reps for non-fiction purchases. After a few years experience with several district-approved book jobbers, I settled on two who provided the widest selection of middle school titles and offered reliable processing and speedy delivery.

FOCUS ON JUST A FEW TOPICS

Book jobber representatives have access to hundreds of new and recent titles, on a wide range of subjects, but there’s a limit to how much they can transport—or how many books we can look through at one sitting! Before scheduling a visit, survey your collection and target 3-5 specific topical areas for which you need books, and relay those topics to your jobber. This allows them to bring as much as possible for those topics, along with the newest publications and a few topics other middle school librarians have chosen.

For my first book jobber appointment, I focused on country books (for 6g social studies), energy resources (for 6g science), and the Civil War (for 8g U.S.History). These were topics that had been requested for projects the year before and we needed more books. Additionally, I added biographies and careers because students had been asking for them.

I’m always amazed at the ample range of materials my reps show me and, because I focus on both curriculum needs and student requests, my choices are valuable additions for many, many years. With just 2 book jobbers, I’m able to address 6-10 different topical areas of the library collection every year.

SET A LIMIT ON HOW MUCH TO SPEND

If your collection is like mine, it’s about 60% non-fiction and 40% fiction, so I allocate book budget funds the same way. The quantity of books purchased won’t be the same: non-fiction books are pricier due to illustrations and better bindings. Since non-fiction tends to be useful over a longer time period than fiction, weeding is less extensive and the collection balance stays about the same.

Book jobber reps like to have a ballpark figure of your probable purchase to help them decide what to show you. It’s important to keep the spending ceiling in mind, because so many wonderful titles make it easy to go overboard. My reps create a computerized booklist and give me a running total. Some books are clearly “yes”, but I always have a “maybe” pile that I can add from if I still have have spending room.

Book jobbers rarely offer discounts like huge bid vendors, but I’ve learned how to save money on series books. The rep usually brings 1 or 2 of a series with a list of the rest. I’ll choose a couple enticing titles, then after the rep leaves, I can purchase additional titles in the series from my main bid vendor at a significant discount.

ALLOW AMPLE TIME FOR SELECTION

Looking @ 5 Tips for Buying Non-Fiction Books - You can't judge a non-fiction book by its cover...you have to see the whole book! Use multi-publisher book jobbers to choose the best for your students. #NoSweatLibrary #schoollibrary #nonfiction #booksWhen scheduling a book jobber, pick a slow day with no classes scheduled into the library. Sometimes that’s pretty difficult, so look ahead—even 3 or 4 weeks—to find a day that will probably have only incidental student visits. I’ve tried mornings and afternoons, and afternoons are better for me; I’ve gotten my “To Do’s” out of the way and am able to concentrate on choosing books.

For my first jobber meeting I figured about an hour. Big mistake: I spent more than 3 hours with her! Fortunately it was a slow afternoon with few interruptions, and we were able to get through most of those 3 carts of non-fiction books. Since then, I allow a 3-hour window as my default time period.

A few students do come into the library, so I invite them to look over the books. Not only do they appreciate having some input, they often offer choices I wasn’t considering. Students spread the news about the great books I’m buying, so when the order arrives students are already excited to check them out!

CHOOSE QUALITY OVER PRICE

When you have a couple hundred books spread out on tables in front of you, it’s tempting to choose less expensive books in order to buy more within the spending limit. But, that undermines the whole purpose of using book jobbers and viewing each book individually. I always choose the book that best meets student and curricular needs.

First I look at the table of contents to be sure it has the topical coverage I’m looking for. Then I look for charts, graphs, and other illustrations that amplify the topic. I want the text in readable chunks with plenty of white space around the pages. I try to stay between 60 and 125 pages in length: fewer has too little content at a lower reading level and more has too much text and is too daunting for middle school readers. (The exception is books specifically for ELL and Special Education—those need to be shorter and with lower reading levels.)

I consider DK (formerly Dorling Kindersley) books an exemplar of non-fiction. They have a wealth of organized information in small chunks with beautiful illustrations, so they work well for casual reading and for research. School library publishers realized their appeal and now it’s rare to find a middle school non-fiction book that is packed with just text, but we still need to look through them to find the best quality for our students.

SOME FINAL DO’S AND DON’TS

Most school districts send out an RFP (Request for Proposal) to dozens of vendors for district needs, and keep a list of approved bid vendors from whom they want us to purchase. The bid list for school library books and media should include both high volume vendors and book jobbers. It’s always best to go with those, since they offer perks for the expected high-volume purchases of a school district, such as discounts, free processing, and free shipping, plus the purchase order approval process is automatic.

Service from various jobbers varies widely, so if you don’t want to “sample” each one, talk to other local librarians for recommendations. Here are some general recommendations on what to look for:

  • Coordinate book jobbers to view many different publishers. Some crossover is OK, but it doesn’t make sense to look through the same books you’ve already seen from another rep.
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  • Don’t use anyone who doesn’t bring books. I had one lovely lady who brought only catalogs to look through—I can do that myself! The exception is for very narrow topical books. I used a small local jobber who only carried materials about our state; they earned my trust, so I’d buy books directly from their catalog.
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  • Expect high fill rates. Good book jobber reps want your business so they won’t haul around useless titles that aren’t available. Still, it’s not unusual to have a few titles that are delayed, but not more than about 10% of the amount spent.
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  • Processing is important. If they don’t do a good job, drop them. You don’t have time to redo and there are plenty of jobbers who offer good reliable processing.

I hope you find these tips helpful. Should you have questions about buying non-fiction books, leave a comment below and I’ll get back to you!

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Looking @ How to Build a Library Lesson

Looking @ How to Build a Library Lesson - At first glance, the complexity of my FREE Library Lesson Planner can be daunting compared to other lesson plan templates. Let me take you step-by-step through each section so you'll understand what it does and why it's important. #NoSweatLibrary #schoollibrary #librarylesson #lessonplanA school librarian may see young children every week, but the older students become, the less we see them, maybe only a few times a year. Fortunately, we have most of these students over a 3-5 year period, depending on whether we are an elementary, middle, or high school librarian. We can scaffold short lessons throughout the school year, so by the time students leave us, they’ve mastered what they need for their next stage of library use. The question is, how best to do that? I’m here to tell you: DON’T start with library curriculum—start with everyone else’s curriculum!

CREATE A CURRICULUM MATRIX

School Librarians are masters at integrating Library Information Literacy Skills into any subject. To do that, we don’t need to know the depth of a subject as teachers do, but rather, we need to look at the breadth of subject curricula and determine when students are likely to benefit from a library lesson.

I’ve written about my Library Lesson Matrix and how I use that visual organizer to plan when each subject area needs a Library Lesson and what Info-Lit skills students are likely to need. The next step is to develop the actual lesson plan.

You’re thinking, “Wait, shouldn’t we collaborate with the teacher first?” Uh, NO. In my experience, teachers who are unfamiliar with librarian collaboration can’t envision how we might help them. But, they will consider a library visit when we bring them something concrete, a printed example of how we’ll enhance their classroom learning. So before approaching them, we need to build the Library Lesson Plan.

MAKE LESSONS SIMPLE AND USEFUL

Think back to your college courses: 60 minutes long, just 2 or 3 a day and each only 2-4 times per week—intervals of learning and study. Now think of your last education PD: two 3-hour sessions, a lengthy lunchtime, a few 10-15 minute breaks, and by the time it’s over we’re exhausted from a single day.

These two contrasting incidents are within our own discipline with which we’re already familiar, yet we expect kids aged 5-18 to spend 7 hours a day, 5 days in a row, learning new information in 6 or 7 or 8 subjects with a 3-5 minute break and 30 minutes for lunch…and we wonder why they can’t pay attention and don’t remember all that wonderful stuff we tell them!

If we want students to learn and remember, we need to make each lesson memorable. First, teach only the information or skill they need for the task at hand. Second, kids remember something they DO, so give them an activity that allows them to practice what they learn.

MY LIBRARY LESSON PLANNER

Through my 25 years in classroom and library I’ve used many different lesson plan forms, depending on what the district specified, the principal wanted, the teachers used, or the library director liked. I tried all the “best” models for lesson planning, but they all had flaws when planning library lessons.

The AASL Standards for the 21st Century Learner in Action has a lesson template (p.116) that inspired me to combine the best of other planners and create my own. I’ve written about my Library Lesson Planner but its complexity can be daunting compared to other lesson plan templates. Let me take you step-by-step through it so you’ll understand what each section does and why it’s important.

NoSweat Library Lesson Planner Template - page 1

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NoSweat Library Lesson Planner - page 2

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Download a FREE Library Lesson Planner
& print it out so you can follow along!

OPENING SUMMARY

The top section of the Library Lesson Planner gives a summary of the classroom topic, why students will benefit from a library visit, and what the Library Lesson is about. We use our curriculum matrix to fill out this section, because we’ve already compacted into it the information from the subject area scope and sequence document.

Image of my Library Lesson Planner - Summary section

By starting with a clear purpose for the library visit we can keep it clearly in mind throughout our planning process. Showing just this part to an open-minded teacher could persuade them to schedule the library visit, but for most we’ll need more. (It is an ideal quick-planner to fill in when a teacher approaches us about a library visit.)

SECTION 1: DESIRED RESULTS

We know it’s important to start with the end in mind, answering the question, “What do we want students to understand and be able to do by the end of the lesson?” Begin with Subject Standards for the classroom lessons with which we’ll correlate our library lesson. (We can also add Technology Standards that apply to the lesson and/or the final product.) Using Subject Standards as the foundation of the library lesson shows the teacher that we are enhancing their subject material…plus it keeps us focused on integrating library skills into classroom learning.

Image of NoSweat Library Lesson Planner Template Section 1: Desired Results (Standards, Understandings, Key Questions, Objectives, Vocabulary)

Next enter any National School Library Standards that are pertinent to the Subject and to our preliminary ideas for the lesson. Enter more than can be completed during the actual lesson, and as you work through this section, decide which are imperative and delete those that aren’t.

From Subject and NSLS Standards, we derive the entries for each following field, incorporating at least one entry that addresses the Subject Standards, to connect what students are learning between library and classroom. Since each field builds upon the previous one, we refine the Library Lesson to those essentials of both Subject and Information Literacy that fulfill the purpose of the visit.

From chosen Standards, construct 2 or 3 Long-Term Understandings; these are the “big ideas” we want students to remember and apply to future learning. From the understandings create 2 or 3 Key Questions that focus on the content needed to attain those understandings.

From the questions generate the ‘answers’ that “Students will know” by the end of the lesson, that is, the specific content Objectives for both Subject and Info-Lit. Finally, from Objectives choose the Critical Concepts and Vocabulary to emphasize during the lesson. These last two fields—objectives and concepts/vocabulary—help us build the teaching and learning activities in Section 3, but going through this process from Standards to Vocabulary ensures that the lesson is truly worthwhile.

SECTION 2: ASSESSMENT EVIDENCE

How will we know the Desired Results listed in Section 1 have been achieved unless we have some evidence? More specifically, we must give the teacher something on which to base a daily grade that demonstrates student learning. This section, more than any other part of the lesson plan, will convince a teacher to collaborate with us because they now have documented accountability for “deviating” from their own lesson plan.

NoSweat Library Lesson Planner Section 2

The Final Product and Product criteria may already be specified by subject curriculum or teacher’s lesson plan. That student product may indeed be a good one for the subject; however, it’s typically conceived by teachers who don’t have a background in Information Literacy (planning, problem-solving, research, resources, media and technology) that school librarians have. Therefore, we must conscientiously fill in this section to be sure the final product and its criteria are not only authentic but possible with our library resources.

Performance Tasks—what “Students will be able to do”—must be specific and measurable. For this entry I still use Benchmarks from Standards for the 21st Century Learner in Action that relate to the NSLS chosen in Section 1. I may also include Behaviors from the Dispositions or Responsibilities Indicators.

We can translate Technology Standards from Section 1 into Technology Integration criteria, and add that and our Info-Lit criteria to Product criteria—teachers appreciate seeing these written down to include in their rubrics and checklists.

If it’s difficult to coordinate entries in this section, we need to reconsider what the teacher is expecting students to accomplish and suggest an alternative product. Because we use Subject Standards as the foundation for building our lesson, new product and performance task suggestions are more readily accepted by the teacher.

SECTION 3: INSTRUCTION & LEARNING PLAN

While working through the preceding sections, we’ve begun to accumulate ideas for this section. (I enter mine as colorful italicized text) The top areas that list student resources and teaching aids, such as handouts, online sites, equipment, and examples, means we can quickly glance here the day before the visit to be sure we have everything ready when students arrive.

Image of Library Lesson Planner - Section 3a (Student resources, Instructor resources)

Now we’re ready for Instructional Activities—exactly what we teach and what students do. I like to have a Theme for each library visit, related to a Key Question. Learning Targets and Differentiation Strategies are typical requirements in most schools/districts nowadays. A learning target is simply a student-friendly version of an objective from Section 1.

Image of Library Lesson Planner - Section 3b,c (Instructional Activities, Differentiation strategies)

Library visits are rarely contiguous, often days—or even weeks—apart, so each visit must cover a complete lesson cycle. The AASL Standards for the 21st Century Learner in Action template (p.116) is perfect for a library visit: Direct instruction, Modeling & guided practice, Independent practice, Sharing & reflecting.

The prompts from other lesson planning tools such as UbD, UDL, and 4MAT help me formulate my lesson activities, and I delete the prompts after I’ve completed each part. If I have a slide presentation, I use its Notes to write the script so I only have to write ‘Slide#X’ on the lesson planner with follow-up actions to the slide.

Because this lesson planner lends itself to single lesson or whole unit planning, we can use the Instructional Activities section for one or for multiple library visits. If I have multiple visits, I copy & paste a new Visit Theme-through-lesson cycle below the first, then add a number to each: Visit #1 Theme, Visit #2 Theme.

SECTION 4: REFLECTIONS & EVALUATION

After presenting a lesson we always think of ways to make it better, so a section to record problems encountered or suggestions for improvement means we won’t forget them when we prepare the lesson the following school year.

Image of Library Lesson Planner - Section 4 (Reflections and evaluation)

BACKWARD PLANNING IS WORTH IT

This may seem like a lot of work for a single 40-50 minute lesson, but taking time for detailed planning—even more time than the actual lesson takes—makes a better lesson and makes us a better teacher-librarian. By starting with Subject Standards and going through each hierarchical step to the specific actions students will take, we enrich our original idea with more meaningful and authentic elements.

A teacher will surely be impressed with our efforts, and once we’ve completed and refined the lesson, it’s useful for many years. Using the Library Lesson Planner, alongside the Library Lesson Matrix, for all our lessons can positively influence our entire school library program.

My Library Lesson Planner is available as a digital MS docx from my Free Librarian Resources page. If you have questions about my Library Lesson Planner or how to use it, feel free to put them in the Comments below!

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