Show Everyone What School Librarians Do! Make a KANBAN

School Librarians can create a Kanban—a large whiteboard with a grid to organize sticky notes—so we can stay on top of all our projects and show everyone the many tasks we perform to make the school library an effective learning center. | No Sweat LibraryA recurring lament on School Librarian listservs & social media is that our education colleagues don’t really know what School Librarians do. Some teachers have even said to us, “It must be nice to spend all day reading books.” If only it were that easy!

The amount of work we School Librarians expend to keep the school library functioning is daunting, not to mention keeping up with everyone’s curriculum and designing meaningful lessons for students. However, there’s a simple way to conquer misconceptions and reveal the enormity of school librarianship…

Hang a KANBAN!

Kanban is a visual process management system that allows us to plan projects, arrange priorities, keep track of progress, and manifest what has been accomplished. More importantly, Kanban is an eye-catching display that shows everyone—teachers, principals, visitors, students—just how busy we School Librarians really are!

THE ORIGINS OF KANBAN

Kanban, from the Japanese word for signboard, was developed by Taiichi Ohno, an industrial engineer at Toyota. Inspired by the “bin” system used in airplane factories in the United Kingdom during World War II, then later applied to shelf re-stocking in their supermarkets, Ohno adapted it as a method to implement “just-in-time” production that responds to consumer demand.

During the early 2000s, software development companies adapted the Kanban from a production system for manufacturing into a software development workflow to coordinate tasks in project teams. Since then it has morphed into systems for change management, marketing, human resources, knowledge work, and personal workflow.

The last—personal workflow—is why a Kanban is useful for School Librarians: the variety of tasks we do—from budgeting to collection development to facility management to creating lessons to professional development to school committees—can all be organized and tracked using a Kanban.

WHY USE A KANBAN?

Instead of a print or digital organizer that no one sees, use a Kanban so everyone can see what a School Librarian can accomplish during a single school year! | No Sweat LibraryWith so many print and digital organizers available, it may be tempting to use one of those for task organization—in fact, many School Librarians already do that. But I say DON’T—no one sees a print or digital organizer!

I do use print and digital checklists for myself during workdays at the start and end of the school year, but during the school year I use a Kanban whiteboard with colorful square sticky notes to display all my ongoing tasks and projects and how they are progressing.

That big whiteboard with its columns of bright-colored notes is pretty hard to miss. In addition to helping me stay focused, it prompts a lot of conversations with others, and conveys to them just how many things we School Librarians must do to make the school library a valuable learning space.

HOW TO CREATE A KANBAN

The simplest Kanban is a whiteboard divided into 3 columns and labeled TO DO, DOING, DONE. Each task is written down on a square sticky note and moved from column to column as the job progresses.

Image of a simple Kanban board with 3 columns labeled To Do, Doing, Done.

Lasovski, Jeff. commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/, 9 July 2022.

I recommend using at least a 24″ x 36″ whiteboard—remember, we’re planning for the entire school year, and it’s amazing how quickly the board fills up with tasks. Instead of drawing column lines with a whiteboard marker, use narrow black (or other color) tape in order to move notes around without smearing the grid.

I prefer to divide my whiteboard into 4 columns, adding an IDEAS column at the left to accumulate possible tasks or projects as they come to mind. I also use IN PROCESS instead of “Doing,” because I’m not always actively working on everything in that column. In addition, I merge the bottom of the two middle columns and label it AWAITING INPUT to indicate that other folks need to do or give me something in order to continue.

A whiteboard divided into 4 kanban columns labeled Ideas, To Do, In Process, Done with bottom of center 2 merged and labeled Awaiting Input. | No Sweat Library

No Sweat 4-column Kanban

To make my Kanban really useful, I color-code the sticky notes for categories of related tasks. In this way I see where the bulk of the year’s work will be so I can prioritize tasks & projects for a smooth workflow. Here are the colors and categories I use:

Image of color sticky notes labeled with my task categories. | No Sweat Library

No Sweat Color-coded Categories for Kanban Tasks

EFFECTIVE KANBAN STRATEGIES

Kanban is great planning & organizing tool for School Librarians. Here are 5 strategies that can make it even better! | No Sweat LibraryA Kanban makes it easy to prioritize activities. I put my most immediate or most important tasks at the top and less needful ones lower down. If timing becomes more critical for something, I just move the sticky note upward.

For large projects with several phases, I use a sticky note for each phase (with project title along the top) and stack them in consecutive order. As each piece of the project begins & progresses, I move notes to the appropriate column, stacking as needed, usually in a single row across the board, and slightly separated from disparate tasks.

One advantage of the whiteboard is being able to use a dry erase marker to draw arrows or symbols next to a sticky note, which is very helpful to align phases of a project. Plus, so much of what we do in the school library is interrelated, so if I have to work on something else before I can go ahead with a task, I can line-link the notes together without moving them.

Certain of our school librarian chores recur from year to year, so we can reuse those notes. For example, I do mini-inventories of sections of the library over a 5-year period instead of one big inventory—it takes less time and is less disruptive to students and teachers. I use five 3”x5” rectangle sticky notes and list a column of Fiction Subjects and a column of Dewey numbers for each year. When I complete each section, I check-mark it. At the end of the school year I move the top note to the bottom of the stack and put the stack back in the TO DO column, ready for the next school year’s mini-inventories.

Example of a recurring project: inventory with double-sized note for each year, 1-5. | No Sweat Library

When a task or project is finished, it’s tempting to throw away the note, but don’t do that! I accumulate them near the top of the DONE column until the end of the grading period so I am sure to include finished tasks in my Report to Principal. Then I move them as a batch toward the bottom of the Done column. There’s great satisfaction in watching the sticky notes build up toward the top in that last column, seeing how much I’ve accomplished throughout the school year!

Be sure to place your Kanban in a prominent place to easily check status and to show others what School Librarians do! | No Sweat Library

A No Sweat Library Kanban with Tasks & Projects

KANBAN IS A SPECTACULAR ADVOCACY TOOL!

It’s important to hang the Kanban in a prominent place where it’s easy to keep updated, and also where it can be seen by others. I hang mine on the back wall of my librarian office, where anyone at the circulation counter could see the colorful display through the windows. Many students and teachers ask about my Kanban, which gives me an opportunity to talk about how the school library can assist them.

At the end of the school year, I take a snapshot of the Kanban with all the finished tasks, then paste it into the final Report to Principal and include it in my professional evaluation report to visually emphasize how busy my year has been!

So, go to it! Create your own KANBAN!

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How to Design School Library Lesson Performance Tasks that Engage Students

Learn how School Librarians can design performance tasks that captivate student interest, yet meet standards, fulfill lesson objectives, and support classroom activities through backward-designed unit planning. | No Sweat LibraryHow do we know if students are really engaged in a lesson? Well, are WE engaged?

We must be as excited about our lesson at the end of the day as we were during first period, or there’s something wrong with the lesson. A truly engaging lesson has us continually fascinated with how students—even our toughest ones—are focused on performing the task we ask of them.

And that’s the secret to an engaging lesson: the performance task. It must be one that goes beyond recalling information; it requires students to apply their learning, and then transfer the learning to a new situation.

So, how can a School Librarian design a performance task that captivates student interest, yet meets standards, fulfills lesson objectives, and supports classroom activities?

UNIT PLANNING, NOT LESSON PLANNING

It’s rare that students visit the school library for days in a row, which is why we’ve become accustomed to planning a single visit lesson. Knowing we may not see them again for a while, we try to cram as much instruction as possible into a lesson, which results in student burnout before they even get to a task.

Instead, we need to take a unit approach to library visits so that each individual lesson builds on what we’ve already presented, adds a new element that is crucial to the task students will perform, and then gives students a purposeful exercise they can transfer to any content area. This holistic view of school library visits allows us to:

When we expand our planning in this way, a unit can also include multiple content area collaborations. Since each individual lesson activates prior knowledge of a library lesson, we can invite in any subject area class whose current classroom activity naturally aligns with the performance task of that lesson. The combination of continuity and transfer promotes higher level student learning and achievement.

ELEMENTS OF A LIBRARY LESSON PERFORMANCE TASK

Performance tasks need to focus on student learning, not responses to our teaching. The GRASPS elements set out by Wiggins & McTighe in their book, Understanding by Design, provide a guide for creating such tasks.

a clear
GOAL
calls for understanding, extended thinking, and transfer
a meaningful
ROLE
the student’s “job” within the situation
 an authentic
AUDIENCE
not just the teacher, but other students & the community
a real-world
SITUATION
establishes a purposeful content application of knowledge and skills
a PERFORMANCE
or PRODUCT
goes beyond surface features, recall, or a formulaic answer
STANDARDS NSLS & those from a subject area, along with criteria that state what different students are going to achieve:
◦ All students will… (lowest-achieving students)
◦ Most students will… (a majority of students)
◦ Some students will… (most able students)

Learn about the GRASPS elements for designing lesson activities that capture student interest and build essential literacy skills. | No Sweat LibraryIf we keep these elements in mind during unit planning, we can provide a series of lessons with intermediary tasks leading to a final, complex task. None of the performance tasks need to be copious or lengthy; in fact, the simpler and shorter they are, the more likely students will grasp the concepts or skills and use them for other assignments…while thoroughly enjoying them during the library visit.

The beauty of being in the library is that, if students finish before the period ends, they have time to check out and begin reading a new library book…which is a good purpose for every library visit—to promote reading related to what students have just learned!

EXAMPLE OF A UNIT-BASED SET OF LIBRARY LESSONS

Teaching informational resource lessons are often dreary presentations of Dewey Subject numbers and lists of the school’s online subscription services, with little connection to classroom learning. Applying unit-based lesson planning changes that.

Engage 6th grade students with informational books, print magazines, and online information services using this 3-visit Library Lesson Unit. Aligned to National School Library Standards, this unit can be used with fixed library classes or as flex-schedule collaborative lessons. Visit my store & learn more! | No Sweat LibraryIn my unit Reading Informational Resources, I incorporate subject content and literacy skills to create a purposeful, transferable performance task for each lesson. First I identify the 3 main types of library resources students are likely to use—print nonfiction books, print magazines, and online subscription services. Next I contextualize the lessons with what students have learned and are likely to use in their content area classes, in this case ELA and any subject area class that asks students to read and gather information. Finally I design tasks that allow students to build up skills to a final shareable product.

Here is the overview of my “Reading Informational Resources” unit for 6th graders:

  • Visit 1 gives students a historical view of information books for youth, then has them identify the organizational structure of selected library books using expository text features they learn in their ELA class, then apply that by inferring Dewey Subjects from the books they’ve analyzed.
    linebreak
  • Visit 2 uses a simple process to help students extract information, summarize, and cite a short print magazine article. This information literacy skill can transfer to any content area when students need to retrieve information, whether from a textbook or other informational resource.
    linebreak
  • Visit 3 introduces students to selected online articles from a school subscription service in order to create an index-card poster comprised of expository text paragraphs with citations. This lesson can be customized for any content area assignment or any online resource, and it uses the ELA and information literacy skills they’ve already learned during the two prior lessons. Should a librarian not have a pertinent subscription service to use, I provide an alternative set of online articles from free student news sites to create a Technology News poster.

How do the performance tasks align with GRASPS?

GOAL Learn skills for extracting, summarizing, and citing information
ROLE Be a partner or group member for discussion and production
AUDIENCE Fellow students and visitors to the school
SITUATION Use acquired skills to present content in abbreviated form
PERFORMANCE/PRODUCT Each performance builds skills to create final product
STANDARDS NSLS clearly defined at beginning of planning process

While this unit’s performance tasks may seem rudimentary for sixth graders, they are the start of the scaffolding needed to bring students up to benchmarks by the end of their stay in middle school—especially if students have not had a strong library program during their elementary years.

ENGAGING TASKS FOR FLEX OR FIXED SCHEDULES

Having used these performance tasks with my own students, I know they are engaging. They provide interaction between students (an important consideration for middle school), they are short enough to “stick,” and they all provide a product for teachers to give a daily grade, something I have for all of my library lessons.

The adaptability of unit planning allows these 3 lessons to also be used by a School Librarian who has a fixed schedule of library classes with students. In fact, my Essential Literacies units could comprise several weeks of scheduled library lessons with sixth graders!

Excite 6th grade students to read a variety of Fiction books with this 3-visit Library Lesson unit focused on Reading Literacy and aligned to National School Library Standards & ELA Common Core. Can be used with fixed library classes or as a flex-schedule collaborative unit with ELA study of narrative literature. | No Sweat Library Engage 6th grade students with informational books, print magazines, and online information services using this 3-visit Library Lesson Unit focused on Reading & Information Literacies. Aligned to National School Library Standards & ELA Common Core, this can be used with fixed library classes or as a flex-schedule collaborative unit with ELA study of expository text or with another Subject area on a chosen topic. | No Sweat Library This ELA Common Core- and National School Library Standards-aligned unit of Library Lessons is coordinated with the study of Persuasive Text in the 6th grade ELA classroom. Each of 4 lesson visits introduces Media Literacy and the PACE problem-solving model, so students can create a Visual Persuasive Booktalk

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“Children Learn What They Live” – Inspiration for Parents, Teachers, & School Librarians

The poem, “Children Learn What They Live,” by Dorothy Law Nolte, can inspire teachers & school librarians to make the classroom a learning experience for life. | No Sweat LibraryFor decades a light-catcher with this poem hung in my kitchen window to remind me every single day how important a job it is to raise children.

When my own were in middle school, I returned to education as a science teacher in an at-risk alternative high school. The impact of these words became even clearer as I met and taught those youths.

Today I share these words with you, hoping that, in these troubled times, they will inspire us to raise young ones with sensitivity and compassion, and teach them with zeal for developing caring, responsible global citizens.

Children Learn what they Live

by Dorothy Law Nolte
(with my adjustment to the pronoun)

If a child lives with criticism,
S/he learns to condemn.

If a child lives with hostility,
S/he learns to fight.

If a child lives with ridicule,
S/he learns to be shy.

If a child lives with shame,
S/he learns to feel guilty.

If a child lives with tolerance,
S/he learns to be patient.

If a child lives with encouragement,
S/he learns confidence.

If a child lives with praise,
S/he learns to appreciate.

If a child lives with fairness,
S/he learns justice.

If a child lives with security,
S/he learns to have faith.

If a child lives with approval,
S/he learns to like her/himself.

If a child lives with acceptance and friendship,
S/he learns to find love in the world.

NOTE: Dorothy Law Nolte, born January 12, 1924, wrote “Children Learn What They Live” for a weekly family column in The Torrance Herald in 1954, and copyrighted it in 1972. Learn more at childrenlearnwhattheylive.com/

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