How to Build a High Quality, Standards-Based School Library Lesson

How to Build a High Quality, Standards-Based School 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 this process is important. #NoSweatLibraryA 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? How can we build high quality, standards-based library lessons? 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.

My Library Lesson Curriculum Matrix - Composite example of an older version for the 1st grading period.

I’ve written about my Library Lesson Curriculum 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 if we show them how we’ll enhance their classroom learning. Thus, we need to bring them something concrete, a printed example of how we’re using their content to teach library skills. So before approaching them, we need to build the Library Lesson Plan.

MAKE LESSONS SHORT AND USEFUL

Think back to your college courses: 60 minutes, 2 or 3 a day, maybe 2-4 times per week—intervals of learning and study. Now think of your last education PD: two 3-hour sessions with a few 10-15 minute breaks and a lengthy lunchtime, and when the day is over we’re exhausted.

These two contrasting incidents are within our own discipline with which we’re 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!

This is an even more important consideration for a Library Lesson, because we rarely see students on a daily basis. 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 to follow this process.

NoSweat Library Lesson Planner Template - page 1

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NoSweat Library Lesson Planner - page 2

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LIBRARY LESSON PLANNER – 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 that 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 a library visit, but for most we’ll need more. It is, however, an ideal quick-planner to fill in when a teacher approaches us about a library visit. I print 2/sheet and cut in half to keep handy at the circulation desk when teachers walk in. (You can also find this on my FREE Librarian Resources page.)

LIBRARY LESSON PLANNER – 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.) When we use Subject Standards as the foundation of the library lesson, we show 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.

Start With Subject Standards When Planning School Library Lessons - School Library Lessons integrate perfectly with classroom learning when we begin our planning with Subject Standards. Use my FREE Library Lesson Planner Template to do it the right way: backward planning from Standards to Assessment to Instruction. #NoSweatLibrary #schoollibrary #librarylesson #standardsFrom 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 first—Standards to Vocabulary—ensures that the lesson is truly worthwhile.

LIBRARY LESSON PLANNER – 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.

Image of NoSweat Library Lesson Planner Section 2: Assessment

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 Library Standards chosen in Section 1. I may also include Behaviors from the Dispositions or Responsibilities Indicators.

The Final Product and Product criteria may already be specified by subject curriculum or the teacher’s lesson plan. That student product may indeed be a good one; however, it’s typically conceived by teachers who don’t have the 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 both authentic and possible with our library resources.

We can translate Technology Standards from Section 1 into Technology Integration criteria, then 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 their Subject Standards as the foundation for building our lesson, new product and performance task suggestions are more readily accepted by the teacher.

LIBRARY LESSON PLANNER – SECTION 3: INSTRUCTION & LEARNING PLAN

While working through the preceding sections, we’ve begun to accumulate ideas for this section, and possibly written some down. 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 NoSweat 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 NoSweat Library Lesson Planner - Section 3b,c (Instructional Activities, Differentiation strategies)

Library visits are rarely contiguous, often days—or even weeks—apart, so each Library Lesson 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 the Notes feature to write my speaking script so I only have to write the Slide# on the lesson planner with follow-up actions for the slide.
(I use PrimoPDF to convert the Notes to a PDF and print it out to use during the presentation.)

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….

LIBRARY LESSON PLANNER – 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 NoSweat Library Lesson Planner - Section 4 (Reflections and evaluation)

BACKWARD PLANNING IS WORTH IT

Use Backward Planning with my FREE School Library Lesson Planner Template - By starting with Subject Standards and progressing through each hierarchical step, we enrich our School Library Lessons with more meaningful and authentic elements. My Library Lesson Planner is available from my FREE Librarian Resources page as an editable MS docx or as a printable PDF. #NoSweatLibraryThis 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 editable 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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Middle School Students & School Library Lessons

Middle School Students & School Library Lessons - Middle school students are a challenge. When School Librarians understand this stage of physical and mental development, we can create scaffolded, grade-appropriate lessons that are engaging and content-rich, with activities that provide active practice. #NoSweatLibraryMiddle school—grades 6, 7, 8—is the most changeable time period for children. The student who leaves the building after 8th grade is very different from the 6th grader who entered the building 3 years earlier. And 7th grade? My principal says, “There’s a special place in heaven for 7th grade teachers.” I think it probably has padded walls.

I believe understanding this stage of physical & mental development helps us adjust our expectations for the behavior of these 11-14-year-olds and create lessons that are appealing and engaging.

What do we know about adolescence & puberty? What is most common characteristic of 11-16 year olds? It is a time to ask questions & seek answers!!

6th GRADE

image of 6th graderOur newbies, the 6th graders, are just beginning the transition from the concrete childhood mind to the abstract adult mind. They are still accepting of adult guidance, but because they are now more capable of reasoning, they want to know why they are being asked to do something. They’ve not yet grown out of their ‘elementary’ self and are still a bit fidgety, so lessons for these students need to be short, visual presentations broken up with small segments of physical activity.

If you want to understand a 6th grader, visit a classroom during a testing session. It’s non-stop motion, hands, bodies, legs, fidgeting constantly. With all this movement, you’re sure the room must be infested with bugs.

7th GRADE

By 7g the body is now entering puberty, and everything—I mean every single cell—in a 7th grader’s body is connected to their mouth. They can’t do anything without talking—not walking, sitting, listening, watching, reading, writing, keyboarding, looking for a book, eating, or even breathing. If they are awake, they are talking.

For a real treat, stand outside a restroom when a single 7th grader is in there.
I guarantee they will be talking, even though they are the only one there!

image of 2 7g girls readingFor a 7th grader peers are everything so they want to do everything in pairs (bathroom, lunch, locker, nurse, office), but 7th graders are also “orphans”: parents are to be avoided at all costs. They’ll insist on Mom dropping them off a block from school in the pouring rain, just so no one sees them with a parent…which means telling them you’ll call a parent about behavior is met with disdain.

And 7th graders are intellectually brain dead. Tasked with coordinating all the physical changes to their bodies, their brains can’t handle complex mental exertion, just like those alternating—albeit shorter—spurts of physical and mental growth when they were babies.

8th GRADE

The most startling change in middle school happens during the summer between 7g and 8g. When 8th graders appear in the fall, they’ve grown a foot and have become young adults. Their maturity is evident—they are less self-involved and more future-oriented—so are capable of complex critical thinking with global outcomes.
image of 8th grade class

Most importantly, 8th graders expect us to treat them with dignity, but they bore easily and quickly, reverting to childhood shenanigans, so they need creative, independent activity.

MIDDLE SCHOOL  LIBRARY LESSONS

Customize Middle School Library Lesson Activities to the Grade Level - In middle school libraries, we can teach the same lesson to all 3 grade levels, but the presentation and activities must be very different for each grade. Creating such varied lessons opens up a realm of creative possibilities for School Librarians. #NoSweatLibrary

Link to my customized library orientations!

For me, being a Middle School Librarian is the best grade level because teachers are still willing to bring students frequently enough for continuity of lessons and the kids are now old enough to use a wider variety of resources and technology tools. Also, these 3 years are a long enough period to scaffold lessons from novice to proficient, but a short enough period that integrating lessons into all subject and grade level curricula isn’t overwhelming.

We can teach the same lesson to all 3 grade levels, but the presentation and activities must be very different for each grade. We can plan a similar type of project, but offering different tools for the products opens up a realm of creative possibilities for librarians.

For 6g lessons I still offer lots of structure and step-by-step instruction. I establish a process or procedure, then use a similar structure for every lesson, gradually adding variety as the year progresses. For example, my 6g orientation and 6g Dewey lesson use the same activity, and my ELA literary text units all begin with the same “book buffet,” so the focus is on the different materials, not on explaining a new procedure.

For 7g lessons I regularly partner students, especially to have them “discuss.” We have to find interesting ways for them to recall prior knowledge and blend that into new material. For example, my 7g orientation has students partner up for a scavenger hunt to activate prior knowledge of the library and to spotlight some materials they weren’t likely to use before.

Since 8g students are 13 they are able to use more online tools. For example, my 8g orientation has students use smartphones to view video book trailers to interest them in topical books they may not have considered. I can also introduce them to a wider range of subscription database services than I could in previous grades.

My Library Lesson Curriculum Matrix - Composite example of an older version for the 1st grading period.

We also need variation between grade levels when teaching information literacy skills. I’ve written about how I use my Library Lesson Matrix to scaffold Info-Lit lessons throughout subjects within a grade level, and embed subject standards and content vocabulary to support content literacy. My Matrix also helps me bridge the grade levels by using similar processes to introduce new Info-Lit skills and tools, and to develop independent learners.

DEVELOPING INDEPENDENT LEARNERS

Middle school content encompasses the transition from simple concrete lessons of elementary to the higher-level critical thinking that students are expected to use in high school. It’s the ideal time to develop independent learners, but we can’t expect our students to become independent learners by themselves—it’s a logical extension of having learned and practiced. We need to develop independence by design, not by chance, through scaffolded instruction and activities that allow students to practice in a gradually more independent manner.

Middle school students will not fully attain independence, but showing them how to become independent learners is part of our responsibility.

Infographic of How the Mind of a Middle Schooler WorksStudent independence is relative to concepts studied, resources used, and maturity of the learner. One mistake teachers often make is to think that just because students can read, they can read and learn subject-area content with minimal further instruction. Actually, we need to provide instruction to specifically support content-intensive reading materials:

  • teach reading and reasoning processes as a natural part of the curriculum
  • bring in concepts from multiple curriculum areas
  • guide independence relative to abstraction and complexity of materials.

We can do this if we organize instruction into 3 transitional types of activities: preparation, guidance, independence:

  • Preparation gets the student ready for reading, through predictions, curiosity arousal, Conceptual Conflict (what if or how did that happen?), and anticipation guides.
  • Guidance activities like extended anticipation guides, graphic organizers, and self-generated questions teach students how to apply reading and reasoning skills. Self-questioning aids retention, and students need to be led through such metacognitive activities so it becomes automatic.
  • Independence allows students to work on their own, applying what they’ve learned. Discussion models such as think/pair/share, accountable talk moves, and Socratic seminars give students a chance for interaction with peers, yet rely on the teacher’s guidance when needed.

Independence does not mean isolation; it has to do with who is in charge. We cannot be impatient for our students to be independent, nor limit the time they need for becoming independent.

Library Lesson Planner template, Part 3

click to enlarge

Our middle school library lessons can incorporate these activities into each and every library visit. My Library Lesson Planner does that with Direct Instruction, Modeling/Guided Practice, and Independent Practice. When I show my completed Library Lesson Plan to a teacher, with their subject standards, content vocabulary, and these activities, they regard me as a teaching professional and are more willing to collaborate then and in the future.

Here are two resources which you may find helpful in developing lessons for middle schoolers:

SOME TEACHING “HELPERS”

6 Middle School Teaching Tips - Middle school students can be a challenge, especially in the school librarian. Here are some day-to-day "helpers" I've learned over the years... #NoSweatLibraryMiddle school students can be a challenge. There are days when they aggravate us so much we’d like to ship them off to an island somewhere. Then there are joyful days when we can’t imagine teaching anywhere else! To help handle the day-to-day stresses—both ours and theirs—here are some general reminders I’ve learned over the years:

  • Stand still when you’re giving directions (don’t do 2 things at once)
  • Be specific about what to do (what to have on desk, what not to have)
  • Thank them as they complete task, but reserve praise for what’s truly special or exceeds expectations (“Thanks for [behavior that meets expectations].”) 
  • Control should be for purpose, not power. Correct misbehavior with the positive expectation, not the negative wrong. (“We don’t do that in this classroom because it keeps us from making the most of our learning time.”)
  • Go from student who gets it wrong to students who get it right, then back to student who gets it wrong by asking a follow-up question to make sure they understand why they got it wrong and understand why the right answer is right.
  • Reaffirm expectations: I am respectful; I am responsible; I am ready to learn.

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