School Librarians Can Use Professional Development to Create “Essential” Lessons

School Librarians Can Use Professional Development to Create "Essential" Lessons - Teachers have "essential" lessons for CCSS, C3SS, and NGSS, but where are those for Information Literacy skills? School Librarians can use professional development to create Essential Lessons that integrate library skills with subject area classroom learning to enhance student achievement. #NoSweatLibraryWe who are School Librarians moved from classroom to library because we wanted to have a greater impact on all students in all subject areas. We are eager to collaborate with teachers—the reason a school needs a certified School Librarian—but we soon discover we’re the only ones who know that collaboration is supposed to happen.

Alas, most teachers and administrators view us as merely a paraprofessional who checks out books, and we lament that teachers don’t make time to collaborate. Well, we learned about teacher-librarian collaboration during our library coursework, so we can’t expect other classroom teachers to know about it either. It’s our responsibility as School Librarians to create collaborative opportunities. We can’t expect teachers to come to us; we have to go to them, and we need to show them how their students will benefit from Library Lessons.


I believe we need to quit thinking in terms of “marketing” our library or our resources or even ourselves as a way to promote collaboration. We’ve been advocating this way for years and no one understands us; I believe it’s because we offer collaboration as a “service.” Teachers are already overwhelmed with curriculum, grades, parent communication, IEPs, school meetings, and other duties when they aren’t working with students. Why would we expect them to set aside time to meet with us when we have nothing concrete to offer them?

Instead, let’s offer a specific “product” to teachers—an integrated Library Lesson that gives students an Information Literacy Skill and the teacher a better learning plan. Further, let’s offer not just any lesson, but an integrated Library Lesson for one of their “essential” lessons.

Classroom teachers have “essential” lessons for Common Core State Standards, C3 Framework for Social Studies, and Next Generation Science, many of which integrate ISTE Technology Standards. Significantly missing are “essential” lessons which integrate the Library Standards.

We don’t have to know why these lessons are considered “essential” in order to integrate library skills into at least a few of them. And we don’t have to do it alone.


PD & "Essential" School Library Lessons Ensure Student Success - School Librarians can use professional development to integrate Information Literacy skills into subject area "essential" lessons and increase student achievement. #NoSweatLibraryLibrarians in my school district have mapped out library skills at each grade level, building advanced skills from one grade to the next. This K-12 Information Literacy Scope and Sequence, coordinated with National School Library Standards, guides us as we create lessons for any grade, any subject. It doesn’t, however, ensure that all kids in X grade learn what they need to prepare them for X+1 grade because it’s hard to convince teachers to allocate time for a library visit to serve our needs. Thus we’ve begun to use our professional development meetings to make “essential” lessons of various subject areas even more “Essential” by integrating information literacy skills.

Since Info-Lit skills are applicable across all content, we first identify each grade’s “essential” lessons for each subject area throughout the school year. Then we determine where we can integrate the introduction, reinforcement, and mastery of grade-specific library skills with the subject-area lesson. For example, if we know kids at X grade level need to master Info-Lit Skill Y, then we can create Essential Lessons to

  • introduce Info-Lit Skill Y into Teacher A’s English/Language Arts “essential” lesson,
  • reinforce Info-Lit Skill Y through Teacher B’s Social Studies “essential” lesson, and
  • help students master Info-Lit Skill Y during Teacher C’s Science “essential” lesson.

This type of scaffolding is familiar to classroom teachers, and they will understand us scaffolding our Essential Lessons into their “essential” lessons, rather than teaching a discrete lesson for a random classroom activity. As we use our professional development to create more Essential Library Lessons, we’re improving student achievement, increasing use of the library and its resources, and enhancing our visibility in the school. We owe it to our teachers and our students—and ourselves—to do this!


My Library Lesson Curriculum Matrix - Composite example of an older version for the 1st grading period.I’ve written about my Curriculum Matrix and how I use it to create my Library Lessons. I actually began it during my second year in the school library. It has been so successful a way to scaffold my lessons and market specific lessons to teachers, that now my teachers seek me out for a library lesson if they even sniff an opportunity to visit the library during their units. The image at right is the overview tab of my Matrix spreadsheet.

Other spreadsheets in my Library Lesson Matrix I also have a tab for each grade level with every unit for every subject listed by week and grading period, with any school- or subject-wide testing dates, such as MAP and State tests noted. With these sheets I can scaffold grade-level skills across the different subjects within that grade, so I’m sure that, by the end of the school year, students will master all the necessary library skills for their grade level.

Finally, I have a tab for each subject across all 3 grade levels, again with every unit by week and grading period. With these sheets I can scaffold skills from one grade level to the next, building more complex and advanced skills upon what students learned the year before. This way I can be sure that students will fully master all the necessary library skills for middle school and are prepared for the increased demands of high school.

I encourage you to create your own Library Curriculum Matrix and look for which “essential” lessons of your subject area teachers can become Essential Library Lessons.


“Essential Lessons” can boost our teacher collaborations at every grade level and subject area across our entire school district, as we use these “products” to convince each teacher that our lessons provide value to them and to their students. And when students produce a new authentic assessment product, the teacher will want us to teach another lesson later on, which gives us an opportunity to introduce or reinforce another Info-Lit skill through another Essential Lesson.

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5 Ways a School Librarian Can Improve Your Project Based Learning

5 Ways a School Librarian Can Improve Your Project Based Learning - Project-Based Learning provides a superior learning environment for students. School Librarians can download the PDF "How a School Librarian can help with PBL" to encourage collaboration with teachers who have been reluctant to try PBL or had a bad experience with it. #NoSweatLibraryEducators have known for years that student projects are great assessment strategies, but the current trend in project based learning shows us that projects also provide a superior learning environment. Students are more engaged in critical thinking, their learning is contextual instead of disparate, and they make more authentic connections to the ‘real world’.

Many teachers struggle with Project Based Learning or have had a disappointing experience, and that doesn’t need to happen. I’m revealing the very best way to make Project Based Learning more successful: collaborate with the School Librarian!


An Edutopia article Project-Based Learning vs. Problem-Based Learning vs. X-BL, by Buck Institute for Education (BIE) Editor-in-Chief John Larner, states that “The term ‘project learning’ derives from the work of John Dewey and dates back to William Kilpatrick, who first used the term in 1918,” and “The use of case studies and simulations as ‘problems’ dates back to medical schools in the 1960s.” Thus there is a rich background for the success of PBL as a learning system.

According to Larner and BIE, project-based learning has an array of new monikers that take various forms, but it is primarily an “extended learning experience” that may include one or more of the following:

  • “investigating a topic or issue to develop an answer to an open-ended question”
  • “solving a real-world problem (may be simulated or fully authentic)”
  • “designing and/or creating a tangible product, performance or event.”

According to Larner, PBL et al. falls under the general category of inquiry-based learning—which also includes research papers, scientific investigations, Socratic Seminars or other text-based discussions, etc.” (Nice to know those research papers we’ve been assigning all these years are still relevant!)


School Librarians Are Perfect PBL Partners - Teachers collaborating with the School Librarian can make Project Based Learning more successful for students and generate higher achievement. #NoSweatLibraryIf you’ve been reluctant to try PBL or had a bad experience with it, here are 5 ways your School Librarian can be an invaluable PBL partner:

  1. We can show students the best research process model to guide them through the project/problem/design/challenge they’ve chosen. I’ve created a chart of the best research process models out there and it’s a FREE PDF download. All PSMs have 4 basic phases: plan, aggregate materials, create a product, and analyze outcome. Some have more steps, some fewer, and all develop in students a problem-solving mindset. NoSweat Research Process Models Comparison Chart- imageSince each model has its benefits and flaws, a School Librarian, experienced in teaching these models, can determine the most suitable process for the project a teacher has in mind, can present it in a manner that supports student inquiry, and will scaffold the learning so students master each step.
  2. We can show students the best ways to develop meaningful questions.My 6-Question Topic PlannerStudents rarely have an opportunity to plan a research assignment, so they may not be adept at creating meaningful questions for PBL. School Librarians have brainstorming tools to help students formulate questions as they begin their projects. We can also show students how good questions help them sift through resources for specific information—saving them time—and how to analyze the value of that information to create a quality product or outcome.
  3. We can show each student the best information resources for their needs.
    My school library had 10,000 non-fiction books, along with more than 50 different online services. Imagine the confusion for students trying to determine what to use for their information need. A school librarian knows all the resources available to students, and more importantly, knows how to match the most useful print, audio, video, digital, or web-based resources with the needs of each student’s project. We are the ultimate curators of information resources!
  4. We can show students all the best search strategies for those sources.
    Before the Internet came along School Librarians taught students how to generate keywords to search an Index or Table of Contents in print materials. Our purpose has not changed; teaching students to generate keywords is essential for searching online, whether for text, graphic, audio or video materials. "Google can bring you back 100,000 answers; a Librarian can bring you back the right one." Neil GaimanWe’ve also mastered ways to fine-tune a search in online subscription services and search engines, such as Google. We can help each student customize their search for whatever their own project requires.
  5. We can show students the best way to gather information ethically and proficiently.
    NoSweat Library Academic Honesty SloganA prior blog post talked about Academic Honesty and teaching students note-taking methods for the ethical use of information. School Librarians also know a range of digital and online apps to assist students in gathering and organizing their information, some of which are excellent for presenting the final project/product.

Teachers can gain confidence for doing Project/Problem Based Learning by collaborating with their School Librarians. If you are a Teacher, now is a perfect time to visit with your School Librarian about planning PBL lessons for the coming school year.

image of 5 ways SL helps with PBLIf you are a School Librarian,  here is a downloadable PDF document to share with your teachers about this article’s 5 Ways to collaborate with them for some exciting Project Based Learning experiences for students!

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