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.
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  • 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.
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  • 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 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!

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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 introduces media literacy and is coordinated with the study of Persuasive Text in the 6th grade ELA classroom. Each of 4 lesson visits follows the PACE problem-solving model, helping students to create one of 3 options for a Visual Persuasive Booktalk. | No Sweat Library You'll love using this School Library Lesson Unit that encourages students to read poetry books and gives them a simple, but meaningful, way to create & share their own poems. | No Sweat Library

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Best Way School Librarians Can Increase Student Reading Achievement

Best Way School Librarians Can Increase Student Reading Achievement - School Librarians can convince teachers that regularly scheduled library visits with Sustained Silent Reading will improve student reading achievement. Augment that success with these strategies & lessons. | No Sweat LibraryIn our modern globally-connected world, reading is the most essential literacy for anyone.

There are probably very few professions now where you are going to be able to make a living if you are not capable of reading and understanding instructions or rules about your business. (Steve Gardiner, Gamber-Thompson, 2019.)

So, when School Librarian listservs and Facebook groups post a question about how to promote more student reading, we jump in with dozens of suggestions. As I read, I rarely see evidence of an increase in student achievement, yet that is our most important purpose as a School Librarian! So how can a School Librarian identify the best way to increase student reading achievement?

WHY SOME READING PROMOTIONS MAY NOT WORK

Unfortunately, some honestly sincere suggestions may not have a significant impact on student reading achievement, because they are based on extrinsic rewards, rather than giving students the intrinsic motivation to read.

Gimmicks like food or party rewards, tokens for quantity reading, and other incentives may seem to get students excited, but I believe the results of success from such promotions are skewed. Prolific readers jump at such ploys because they know they can “win,” whereas nonreaders see no gratifying advantage to participate—the reward simply doesn’t override their reluctance to read. Not that we should cease doing it; just that we shouldn’t expect it to make a difference in reading proficiency or achievement for students.

Fancy bulletin boards and book displays also seem to excite students to read more because we’re inundated with requests from students to borrow the books shown. While these exhibits are a valuable way to boost the visibility of the school library, they still won’t increase reading proficiency because most nonreaders aren’t motivated enough to look at the titles, let alone read them.

As more schools push English Language Arts teachers to create classroom libraries, School Librarians lament the limitation of reading choices and the decrease in library circulation. The more important point is that having books in the classroom doesn’t necessarily boost student reading achievement. It depends on how a teacher implements reading activities; improperly done it can discourage reluctant readers even more, rather than make them more proficient.

THE ONE READING STRATEGY THAT REALLY WORKS

The One Reading Strategy That Really Works - School Librarians impact student reading achievement when they have regularly scheduled library visits with Sustained Silent Reading. Here are 5 strategies we can implement in the library to make SSR even more valuable. | No Sweat LibraryTo make a real impact on student reading and a commensurate improvement in reading achievement, School Librarians can push for Sustained Silent Reading. There is substantial research that SSR works to improve student reading proficiency and comprehension, in spite of criticism: “When the research facts are unraveled from misinterpretations and opinion, we find that SSR is … supported by research.” (Garan & Devoogd, p336.)

No matter your feelings about standardized reading tests—state, national, or international—they are a valid indicator of reading proficiency and comprehension. At the time my middle school implemented SSR, our state reading scores were the lowest in the district, but over a 4-year period they increased by nearly 20 points. This included special populations, of which we had more than the other middle schools: highest diversity, highest poverty, highest transience. Our results astonished district administrators into pushing for SSR in all middle schools!

One major component of our approach is regularly scheduled full-period visits to the school library for Sustained Silent Reading. Each grade level chooses a certain day of the week, and they visit every other week for the entire school year. ELA teachers still provide short in-class read time, but having longer, continuous reading sessions in the library enables teachers to include more reading comprehension skills in the classroom.

Sustained Silent Reading is proven to increase student reading achievement. Here are 5 strategies that a School Librarian can implement to make it even more beneficial. | No Sweat LibraryAs the School Librarian, I implemented 5 strategies that heighten the impact of SSR. These strategies are the focus of my school library orientations, introducing them to new-to-the-school students and reviewing them with returning students.

  1. Fiction Subject Spine Labels – Krashen’s evaluation of SSR research found that having interesting books was critical for success with SSR, and we must accept that most students have a preference for the kind of stories they like to read. So, adding Fiction Subject spine labels to books makes a huge difference for student buy-in of SSR. I eventually added color-coded transparent labels over the call number label and distributed books into Subject sections to make book selection even easier.
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  2. NoSweatLibrary IT IS FOR ME appIT IS FOR ME checklist – This form—and the short video I created to introduce it—helps students quickly scan a book so they can decide if it’s right for them. They take one with them to the shelves at every library visit, and ELA teachers collect them for a no-stress daily participation grade.
    Get the checklist from my FREE Librarian Resources page!
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  3. The 5-Finger Test – For SSR to succeed with reluctant and/or struggling readers, their book choice must be at an appropriate reading level, but we don’t want to label books. The 5-finger test helps them: Turning to the middle of the book they read the two pages in front of them, holding up a finger for each word they come to that they don’t know. If they reach 5 fingers, the book is a bit too hard and they need to find a better (don’t say easier) book.
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  4. 20-page Guide – Students only read freely a story they like, and nothing is more discouraging than requiring students to finish a book they don’t like. I tell students to allow the author to introduce the story setting and characters, so read 20 pages and if they still don’t like a book, then definitely return it and get a different one—that’s why we offer them thousands of choices in the school library!
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  5. Silent Invited Book Checkout – This is the one that made the most difference! I give students plenty of time to find a good book—at least 5-7 minutes–and they return to the table for Sustained Silent Reading time. This allows students to become immersed in their book so they’re more likely to continue reading and finish it. After a while, I walk over to a pair of tables and signal students to come up for book checkout. They line up single file, still reading. When finished with that group, I invite another pair of tables for checkout, continuing until all tables are done. Just a few students at a time for checkout ensures an orderly & quiet environment and I can do 2 full classes in about 10 minutes. Typically students have about 30 minutes total for SSR.

ENHANCE SSR BY SUPPORTING CLASSROOM LEARNING

Sometimes, I augment an ELA library visit with a short lesson to support classroom learning, which research confirms can make a difference in student reading achievement.

Indeed, having librarians take an instructional role — and do it well — has been correlated with students’ success at meeting academic standards. … [when] librarians did an “excellent” job teaching to state reading and writing standards, students in their schools were more likely to excel and less likely to score poorly on corresponding tests. (Lance & Schwarz, 2012 in Lance & Kachel, 2018.)

Rendering “do it well” and “an excellent job” demands a School Librarian know best practices of SSR in order to bridge it with ongoing classroom instruction:

…reading widely across selected literary genres, setting personal goals for completing the reading of books within a timeframe, conferring with their teacher, and completing response projects to share the books they read with others. (Garan & Devoogd, p 342.)

School Librarians can use these standards-aligned lessons to ignite student independent reading and increase reading achievement. Use with library classes or as collaborative unit supporting ELA narrative literary text. | No Sweat LibraryGiving students a glimpse into the world of books expands their appreciation for reading and the school library. That’s the hook for my 3-Lesson Reading Fiction Books Unit that supports 6g ELA study of narrative literary text. Each of the lessons incorporates one practice mentioned above:

  1. How do folktales relate to fiction Subjects? helps students identify the characteristics of different kinds of fiction stories by associating them with types of folktales they learned about in elementary school. It incites students to try out different “Subjects” of fiction they hadn’t considered before.
  2. How can I find the “best” books to read? introduces national book awards, multicultural books, and state awards & reading lists, and provides a personal Reading Record for students to track the books they read.
  3. How can I help others find a good book to read? uses the 5 elements of fiction literature and a 3×5 index card to help students create a simple book “quick-talk” that they can share with peers.

The beauty of this unit is that it can be used as a collaborative ELA lesson or by those School Librarians who are “in the rotation” with regularly scheduled library periods. It’s a perfect follow-up to the library orientation, with enriching activities that continue to promote reading.

TIME TO READ IS THE GREATEST GIFT

The greatest gift a School Librarian can give students is time: plenty of time to find a good book to read, and then plenty of time to begin reading and become immersed in the story. When we provide a guide to make browsing time profitable and offer evidence that Sustained Silent Reading works, we can convince teachers that this “time” is necessary for students to improve their reading achievement. The true value of Sustained Silent Reading is expressed by teacher Steve Gardiner:

Then my students would come back from college and say things like, “Wow, I got into this engineering program and I never imagined how much I was going to have to read for it. Thank you so much for teaching me, giving me that SSR that helped me learn that I was a reader, that I could read a full book from start to finish, and that I could stick with reading projects.” They would say things like, “It’s been so valuable for me now.” Dozens and dozens of students came back and thanked me for SSR. (Gamber-Thompson, 2019.)

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Gamber-Thompson, Liana. How Sustained Silent Reading Keeps Students Curious and Engaged. EdSurge Oct 7, 2019
https://www.edsurge.com/news/2019-10-07-how-sustained-silent-reading-keeps-students-curious-and-engaged Accessed December 27, 2021.

Garan, Elaine & Devoogd, Glenn. (2008). The Benefits of Sustained Silent Reading: Scientific Research and Common Sense Converge. Reading Teacher – READ TEACH. 62. 336-344. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/250055938_The_Benefits_of_Sustained_Silent_Reading_Scientific_Research_and_Common_Sense_Converge Accessed December 30, 2021.

Krashen, Stephen. Non-Engagement in Sustained Silent Reading: How extensive is it? What can it teach us? Colorado Reading Council Journal 2011, vol 22: 5-10. http://www.sdkrashen.com/content/articles/non-engagement_in_ssr.pdf Accessed December 28, 2021.

Lance, Keith Curry, and Debra Kachel. 2018. “Why School Librarians Matter: What Years of Research Tell Us.” Phi Delta Kappan Online. http://www.kappanonline.org/lance-kachel-school-librarians-matter-years-research Accessed December 27, 2021.

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How School Librarians Can Integrate the Workshop Model & Classroom Libraries

How School Librarians Can Integrate the Workshop Model & Classroom Libraries - School Librarians must make the school library about more than just reading. When we focus on integrating Library Lessons into all subject curricula, we won't lament curriculum changes, such as the ELA workshop model & classroom libraries. #NoSweatLibraryIt’s not unusual to see a School Librarian post something like this on my listservs:

The English Language Arts department adopted a reading & writing workshop model and classroom libraries. Students choose books in their classrooms and read for 10-minutes at the start of class, so teachers no longer bring them to the library. Our library circulation has plummeted and I don’t think students have the time and freedom they previously had for free reading.

Friends, this is why our library program MUST be more than just books and reading! If we focus only on promoting reading and checking out books, we will suffer when classroom libraries and reading workshop programs are implemented. Our school library must be a multi-faceted learning space, not just a book repository.

I’m a School Librarian who has gone through this experience, and I can tell you that, because I built strong curricular relationships with ELA teachers, I wasn’t adversely affected when our district adopted such a program. Well, we did follow the “rules” for the first semester, but teachers were very unhappy with our reading results, so the following semester we reverted to our already-successful regular recurring ELA library visits with sustained silent reading. Yes, because of our long record of DEAR/SSR, we were able to see the shortcomings of the new model.

PITFALLS OF POOR WORKSHOP IMPLEMENTATION

  • 10-minute reading doesn’t allow story immersion
    Students need 2 or 3 chapters to really get into a story, and that takes a lot longer than 10 minutes. Teachers found that students weren’t continuing to read a book they’d chosen the day before, but would look for a new one. Limiting their browse time didn’t solve the problem and students just grabbed any book off the shelf, read for the allotted time period, then put the book back and grabbed a new one the next day. Students weren’t really “reading” nor finishing books; they were just fulfilling a “requirement.”
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  • 10-minute reading doesn’t foster comprehension
    Try it yourself. Pick up a new book and read for 10 minutes, then mark your place and put it away. The next day, pick up the same book and begin reading where you left off—don’t reread—for 10 minutes. Do the same thing for a third day, and when you put the book down, write a short summary of the story. The fourth day, start a brand new book at the beginning and read for 25-30 minutes, then write a short summary of the new story. Compare the two summaries: you’ll shake your head at the shallow understanding those short reading periods gave you and how much more you got out of the longer sustained reading session. You’ll also want to continue reading that second book!
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  • 10-minute reading doesn’t build reading endurance
    When we reverted back to our regular library visits with DEAR Time, kids would look at the clock after 8 or 9 minutes to see if the “10 minutes” they’d gotten used to was over—and then they’d get restless and disruptive. Even upper grades who had enjoyed extended reading in prior years did this. We cajoled and stuck with it–providing the same long DEAR Time in classrooms in the off weeks–and eventually students settled into reading for 25-30 minutes.

So ended our experiment with daily reading as a “bell-ringer” activity. In all fairness, the workshop model is intended to provide lengthier reading times, but all too often teachers make “reading workshop” into chopped-up text analysis instead of free reading and an ending summation activity.

DON’T FIGHT CLASSROOM LIBRARIES – SUPPORT THEM

I rarely purchase more than 2 hardback copies of any book, even if popular, because extra copies sit on the shelf after the first burst of interest and are weeded for non-circulation within a couple years. I’m happy to have teachers build classroom libraries with several paperback copies of best sellers. By the time popularity wanes, the books are worn out and latecomers are satisfied by the 2 library copies.

Classroom libraries mean fewer intermittent book checkouts, but those aren’t a huge contributor to circulation. With nascent classroom libraries, teachers limited students to 1 book at a time from their shelves, and with the workshop model’s increased reading, I decided to increase book checkout limits from 2/student to 3/student and, by the end of the school year, to 4/student. Students also read during downtime in other subject areas, so by having an extra book from the school library, they can start a new story instead of waiting for ELA class or bi-weekly library visit. Continued reading increased our circulation beyond what was expected from just increasing checkout limits!

Classroom libraries did produce 2 problems for ELA teachers: lack of shelf space for books and lack of funds to keep purchasing new books. Because they were so supportive of the library program, I wanted to help:

  1. Support Classroom Libraries: An Idea for Surplus Shelves - If your school library has extra bookshelves laying around, use them for short paperback bookshelves that fit under a whiteboard. English Language Arts teachers LOVE them for classroom libraries, your principal is impressed with your initiative, and you've gotten rid of dust-catching clutter! #NoSweatLibraryFor the library’s 5-foot high bookcases I use 3 shelves for books and the bottom shelf to display new or topical books. Since each bookcase came with 5 shelves, I had more than 100 extra solid oak shelves stacked up.
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    Deciding to use these extra shelves, I designed a 6” deep, 2-shelf bookcase to fit under whiteboards in ELA classrooms. I had a high school construction class build 4 of these for each ELA teacher. You can imagine their surprise when I gave each teacher 20 feet of additional paperback shelving that didn’t eat into their classroom space!
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  2. I’d been running a school store during lunch in the cafeteria for a couple years. Priced from 25¢ to $2, students gobbled up these fun & flashy school supplies, and the income purchased more supplies. Still, I had accumulated some significant profits, so I decided to donate $385 of school store profits to the ELA department to purchase new books for their classroom libraries.
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    If ELA teachers were delighted with the bookshelves, they were over-the-moon about the money! They met at our local brand-name bookstore that very weekend and chose dozens of new books–substantially discounted, thanks to a supportive store manager. They praised students for helping to get those books by supporting the school store, and my business boomed even more during ensuing weeks. At the end of the school year I donated another $160 to ELA teachers.

The point here is, instead of complaining about classroom libraries, I found a way to solve the problems my ELA colleagues were having with this curricular change. Instead of a drop in circulation, ELA teachers were even more consistent about bringing students to the library and my circulation soared!

INTEGRATED THEMATIC LIBRARY “WORKSHOP” LESSONS

School Librarians Can Re-align Library Lessons to Fit a Workshop Model - The 4 Instructional Activities of my Library Lesson Planner align with the 4 steps of the Workshop model. Through collaboration with ELA teachers, each literary text unit now has meaningful Library Lessons that align with classroom learning and ensure continued library visits. #NoSweatLibraryIn its simplest form, the workshop model has 4 parts: opening, mini-lesson, work time, and debriefing. This coordinates with the 4 instructional steps of my Library Lesson Planner: direct instruction, modeling & guided practice, independent practice, and sharing & reflecting, so I configure our library visits as Reader Writer Workshops:

Warm-up – I share Learning Targets and allow for the return of books.
Mini-LessonDirect Instruction and Modeling & guided practice to the whole class.
Workshop is Independent practice. Usually we have Reader Workshop where students browse for new books and have DEAR Time free reading. Sometimes the lesson is Writer Workshop where students complete an activity.
Sharing & reflecting – The last several minutes of the period is our by-table book checkout and I can talk to each student about the books they’ve chosen.

With the first Library Orientation visit, 6g ELA teachers liked my adoption of the Workshop model, but I knew I could do more. I studied the new scope & sequence, and I could see opportunities for Library Lessons that would provide a more enriching experience covering the entire class period.

Teachers and I collaborated to customize Library Lessons with Literary Text Unit Themes and integrate their classroom learning activities into a full-period Library Lesson visit. The new Library Lessons are spread out over the entire unit, yet we still allow plenty of time for book browsing and silent reading. Because we collaborated, English Language Arts is intricately woven into every-other-week library visits, and the content and pacing of curriculum is not just preserved, but enhanced.

I’ve adapted 6th grade Literary Text Units for use by any middle school librarian. Units for Narrative text, Expository text, and Persuasion units are available from No Sweat Library, my TeachersPayTeachers store. A poetry unit is under construction.

MAKE EVERY LIBRARY VISIT IRREPLACEABLE

I clarify that my school library program wasn’t negatively impacted by the workshop model and classroom libraries for 3 reasons:

  • We’d already established regularly scheduled library visits with silent reading every other week for all ELA classes.
  • I’d already created short Library Lessons for some visits that supported classroom learning.
  • The strong relationship between School Librarian and English Language Arts teachers prompted collaboration to overcome the deficiencies of the workshop curricular plan.

The School Library can’t just be about reading books. School Librarians need to rigorously contribute to student learning by fully integrating Library Lessons into all subject curricula. Otherwise, we can’t lament a lack of appreciation for the library when curriculum changes affect our circulation.

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