As School Librarians we believe we are the “experts” in the library and our passion urges us to “share” our expertise with students, especially as infrequently as we see them. But is that attitude really best for our students?
If we put student needs first, we can’t impart everything we know all at once; we must teach only the information or skill students need for the short time they are in front of us, and that is a very different perspective. What students deserve from us are short, simple lessons that support classroom learning and inculcate the multiple literacies important in our global society.
I regard the library’s materials as accessories for Library Lessons. If books and electronic devices were the most important part of the library, they wouldn’t need us at all. Yes, there are those in school districts, in the business community, and in the political arena who think just that, but School Librarians know that even if the library and everything in it burns down, we can still teach kids what they need for their future success, better than any physical materials ever can. So let’s focus on creating the meaningful Library Lessons that students need.
How to Plan for Library Lessons
Our biggest adjustment from classroom to library is that we won’t see students day after day for lessons; most of the time we have a single class period to influence and inspire their learning. The key to a quality Library Lesson is to support what students are studying in the classroom and avoid anything that does not achieve the purpose of the library visit. Our Library Lessons need to build on classroom experiences, otherwise, it’s all meaningless to the student and quickly forgotten.
Most kids, of any age, remember something they do better than something they’re told, so our Library Lessons need to focus on a single objective and have a meaningful activity so students can practice what they learn. We need to know every teacher’s curriculum—not the depth, but the breadth of all subject curricula through all grade levels—so we can determine when teachers are likely to bring classes to the library, what students are studying that brings them to the library, and what they need to know about the library to do what the teacher expects them to do.
To keep track of lessons, I created a visual guide: my “Library Lesson Matrix.” I examined subject area curriculum guides for classroom assignments that would need library visits or materials, then entered the name and time span for each unit on my Matrix. Once completed I could anticipate how to progressively build Information Literacy skills for each grade level using short lessons throughout the school year. My matrix changes as standards and course curricula change, and I can maintain a broad view of Info-Lit visits to (and collection needs for) my middle school library. It’s also pretty impressive to teachers when I pull it up for scheduling their library visit—they really see what a School Librarian’s job is all about!
I learned pretty quickly, that if I wanted the principal and teachers to regard me as a teaching professional, I needed to have a formal lesson plan for the lessons I taught. Other lesson planners I used had flaws when planning Library Lessons, so I combined the best of them into my own Library Lesson Planner. I can easily integrate subject content from the teacher’s lesson plan and keep the purpose of the library visit clearly in mind throughout the planning process.
Integrating & Simplifying is our Specialty!
I’ve always tried to see the big picture, then take a complex concept or process and simplify it. This has helped me create successful and meaningful lessons for students, first in the classroom as an at-risk alternative high school Science Teacher and then as a School Librarian for grades 6-8. Here are some tips on how to create a good Library Lesson:
- Customize lessons for the age of your students; what works for 6g may not work with 7g and definitely won’t work with 8g.
- Teach only what students need to perform the task at hand; if they won’t need it, don’t mention it. Less is better!
- Limit slide presentations to 10-12 slides with only one bit of content per slide. Use illustrative graphics, whether images, charts, or examples, to provide anticipation for what you’ll say.
- Use lots of infographics and graphic organizers rather than textual worksheets. Save the reading for the books!
- Model with students what you want them to do. Seeing is not only believing, it is learning!
- Always give students a chance to move around sometime during the class period.
One example of how I keep a lesson short, simple, and relevant is teaching students the different type of stories in the Fiction section. The first time I tried teaching adventure, mystery, etc. as “genres“, the kids were completely confused because they’d been learning in their ELA class that genres are types of literature: narrative, expository, drama, poetry. I quickly changed the term to Fiction “Subjects” and they completely understood—they already associated Subject with their different classes, with the arrangement of Dewey books, and with an online book search for a type of story.
Another example of a short, simple, and relevant lesson is introducing the Dewey book section with math classes so they can practice decimals at the start of their unit. The teachers love it because it’s more fun than a review test and they can interact with students during the lesson to see who might need some extra help.
I discovered that by keeping students and Library Lessons as the priority, and treating the school library as just a bigger classroom with a lot more stuff, everything else about the library falls into place: collection development, facility organization, library scheduling, library promotion and advocacy, and even professional development. Simplifying my Library Lessons helped me simplify managing my School Library, and I’m sure it will help you do the same.