Let’s Expand Our View of “School Library Orientation”

Let's Expand Our View of “School Library Orientation” - School Librarians can make each subject-area's “first” library visit of the school year more powerful if we think of it as a “school library orientation” especially for them! Here's how I customize unique orientation lessons with 6 different subjects. #NoSweatLibrarySchool Librarians know the importance of our students’ first library visit, so at the beginning of each school year, “school library orientation” becomes a hot topic on library listservs, social media, and blogs. Folks request ideas, asking, “What can I do differently this year?”

A couple years after I simplified and customized my school library orientations with English Language Arts classes, I came to an astounding realization:

EVERY subject-area’s “first” library visit of the school year is a “library orientation” for THEM!

I’m suggesting that you don’t need to keep trying new things every year with the same subject class. Rather, expand your view of what “library orientation” means and customize an “orientation” lesson for every grade level and subject area in your building!

Allow me share how I developed a series of “library orientations” that brought 6th grade ELA, Social Studies, Math, Science, and Elective classes into the library at various intervals during the first several weeks of school. Once you try this, I know you’ll love it, and your subject area teachers feel pretty special having their very own unique library orientation customized to their content. (Even an elementary librarian can focus each class’s visit on new library materials or features, so it’s a like another orientation.)

ENGLISH LANGUAGE ARTS “ORIENTATION”

I’ve written about how I simplified my 6th grade library orientation, so students aren’t overwhelmed with too much new information. Keep in mind that for lowest-grade-level, new-to-the-school students, our school library is completely new to them, and our lesson is “fresh” for them, even if we’ve done it a dozen times! Because each new year is a totally new group of students, I’m as enthusiastic about this lesson as I was the first time.

Our ELA classes begin the year studying narrative text, so we focus on how to choose one good book from the new-to-them Fiction area. My lesson is followed by plenty of time to browse the Fiction area of this “new” library, after which we have extended silent reading while I do a quiet invited checkout. This standard procedure establishes a reading culture for ELA’s every-other-week library visits for the rest of the school year.

SOCIAL STUDIES “ORIENTATION”

After the ELA visit, we can bring in other 6g subject-area classes and do a “library orientation” customized to their particular content. I’ve written about my Special Collections for Social Studies, so I have 6th grade Social Studies classes visit a couple weeks after ELA to learn more about their “new” school library: the GlobeTrekkers Special Collection of fiction & Dewey books that support their study of World Cultures.

Photo of the GlobeTrekkers Special Collection for 6g Social Studies

The first part of the lesson is returning books and a library expectations lesson, giving students a few policies & procedures for their “new” school library. Then I introduce Content Area Reading and why it is important.

Educators have learned that reading comprehension isn’t so much about word recognition as it is about conceptual understanding in context. That is, students become better readers as they accrue background knowledge of various topics, so the more they read, the more they know.

Yes, Dr. Seuss instinctively told us this years ago in his book
“I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!” and it just took brain researchers a while to confirm that.

Now I don’t tell all this to kids…I just tell them that the more GlobeTrekkers books they read, the better they’ll do in Social Studies and get better grades!

I show them how to identify GlobeTrekker books in the search results from our online book catalog, and when they hear they can check out a GlobeTrekker Dewey book and, if needed, a new fiction selection for their ELA class they are excited to begin browsing. We follow the same procedure—silent reading & invited checkout—which reinforces with Social Studies the reading culture that was established with ELA.

MATH “ORIENTATION”

I’ve also written how it makes sense to do our Dewey lesson with math classes which has students locate decimal numbers on the bookshelves. When 6th grade Math classes enter the library, students are so puzzled about what they are doing here…with their math class? That, in itself, sustains engagement for students—who apparently have never done anything like this before.

Keeping the lesson focused on numbers makes it easy for students to relate the Dewey number they see in a book search to a location on a shelf, regardless of the topical content of the book. After the lesson there is plenty of time for students to browse for up to new books, either Fiction or Dewey depending on what they already have checked out. The 6g boys are especially eager to find their favorite informational books in this “new” school library: aliens, cars, sports, and drawing, as well as the Guinness and Believe-It-Or-Not books. And we continue our standard reading & checkout procedure, which reinforces with Math the reading culture we established with ELA and Social Studies.

Expand School Library Orientation to All Core Subjects - Don't overwhelm new-to-school students with a long, complex library orientation. Scaffold it into a customized library orientation with each of the 4 core subjects--English Language Arts, Social Studies, Math & Science. #NoSweatLibraryThree customized lessons with 3 different subject area classes have progressively given our “newbies” what they need to effectively use their “new” school library.

  • We have imparted our policies & procedures when applicable, so students are not overwhelmed with too much new information to remember.
  • We have established our school’s reading culture of silent sustained reading (we call ours DEAR—Drop Everything And Read).
  • We have gradually built up the number and type of books students can check out, so during the early weeks of their new school experience they needn’t keep track of too many books.

SCIENCE “ORIENTATION”

By now our 6th grade Science classes are well into their unit on Energy and are ready to begin their project on alternative energy resources. The timing is perfect for an introduction to our online subscription services for middle school, which are completely different from those in elementary school.

Most “newbies” come to us from feeder elementaries, but many are new-to-district students. Thus, I begin this “online library orientation” with Digital Citizenship and direct students to our online library resources webpage to prepare for the WebQuest lesson.

I’ve written about my guided WebQuest that introduces just 3 subscription services to 6th graders—an encyclopedia, a periodical database, a topical reference e-book—with each segment looking only at the specific features of a service they’ll need for the project.

This is a full-period lesson, and each segment has students reading for content information and citing sources as they fill in the WebQuest worksheet (or HyperDoc). Students come away well-prepared to research their project, and I also provide a cart of books for the classroom to supplement the online tools.

To illustrate how favorably teachers respond to customized lessons, shortly after this, 6g Social Studies has an “online orientation” WebQuest using our countries of the world databases. Students gather country data into a spreadsheet app for comparison, and then learn to automatically generate a graph.

ART & SPANISH “ORIENTATION”

By this time we are through the first 9-week grading period, yet I’m not quite finished. Remember, any subject-area class that visits the library for the first time gets a “library orientation.” So, I begin the second grading period with a customized orientation for 6g Art and 6g Spanish. Because these 2 subjects alternate semesters, all 6g students receive this lesson during the first semester.

Both these lesson visits introduce Cloud Computing & Netiquette featuring our online email service. It is a guided lesson, similar to the WebQuest, that examines 3 features of the service: email, blogging, and discussion forums. I always let the other 6g teachers know when I do this popular lesson, so they can begin using the service for their own courses.

INFORMATIONAL CONTENT “ORIENTATION

8 Collaboration Ideas That Bring Subject-Area Classes into the School Library - School Librarians are always looking for new ways to collaborate with teachers and integrate library skills into subject area curriculum. Here are 8 Library Lessons I have with 6th grade content-area classes during the 1st semester...plus a list of 8 more lessons with 7th & 8th grade! #NoSweatLibraryI’ve written, too, that making ELA and Math orientations about location allows me to bring other subject areas into the library for content-specific lessons. During the second grading period, 6g Science returns to the library during their Classification & Organization unit.

The lesson allows students to explore the Dewey 590 Animals section, whose disciplinary organization mirrors that of scientific classification, thus reinforcing content for both science & library. The lesson also reviews the parts of informational books so students learn ways to dig into a book’s content to find and extract what they need.

HIGHER GRADE LEVEL “ORIENTATIONS”

Lest you think I ignore our 7th and 8th graders, here’s a list of the “library orientations” I’m providing for them during this same time period:

  • 7g & 8g ELA – Narrative Fiction & first book checkout
  • 8g Social Studies – The American colonies, a U.S. History project
  • 7g Math – adding/subtracting decimals & locating Dewey numbers
  • 7g Social Studies – First Texans, a TX History cooperative learning activity
  • 7/8 Theater – Multicultural folktales, creating one-act plays
  • 7g Social Studies – WebQuest on European explorers, a TX History project
  • 8g Spanish – Weather reports & introduction to video broadcasting
  • 8g Health, 8g Careers – books, ebooks, online services & websites

I know you may not think of these as “orientations,” but if view each library visit as an entirely new experience for that group of students in that subject class, all our lessons become “library orientations.”

THE POWER OF “SCHOOL LIBRARY ORIENTATIONS”

I’ve discovered it doesn’t matter how good a librarian students have had before they arrive in our school. These “library orientation” lessons are always powerful because they are bite-sized pieces, scaffolded over time, helping students gradually learn—and remember—how to use every aspect of our library services.

To make successful, carefully crafted lessons, we must have a comprehensive view of each grade level’s total library experience, for both subject-area curricula and the library curriculum. I created my Curriculum Matrix for just this reason, and I keep it updated so it is always ready to be referred to.

Our attitude toward “library orientation” is a reflection of our mindset about our entire School Library Program. We want every student experience with us to be a memorable one, offering meaningful lessons that never get old.

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Student Interview Projects with the School Librarian

Student Interview Projects with the School Librarian - Interviews can spice up any student project and give students a new perspective on their content. Here are 2 examples of how School Librarians can collaborate with subject area teachers to give Library Lessons on research & interviewing techniques. #NoSweatLibraryWho doesn’t love hearing stories and insights from interesting people? Interviews can spice up any student project and give students a new perspective on content they are learning. Middle schoolers especially enjoy interview projects and I can tell you they are a very creative bunch.

School Librarians can find several opportunities to integrate student interviews into collaborative lessons. Whether live interviews or mock interviews, the process is the same, and regardless of theme or topic, research and information literacy skills can be taught as students gather background for their interviews.

Let’s look at two popular projects in my middle school, one at the start of the school year and the other at the end.

A 7TH GRADE CROSS-DISCIPLINE PROJECT

During the 1st grading period of the school year, our 7th grade Social Studies students learn about the immigration of various groups into our State. During this same period, 7th grade English Language Arts students write personal narratives, so the teachers and I decided to combine the two assignments into a cross-discipline collaborative unit called “My Heritage—How and Why Am I in This State?

Many students don’t know their own history of how they came to be in their State, so we ask them to interview family members to find out. This project gives students a sense of their own identity (important for middle schoolers) and provides a personal understanding of conceptual factors that have brought people into our State.

KWHL Chart for Alternative Energy Project - ExampleEnglish Language Arts classes visit the Library first for a brainstorming lesson. I begin the Library Lesson with a read aloud: Allen Say’s picture book Grandfather’s Journey, a personal story of how he reconnected with his family background.

We pass out a KWHL worksheet (example from another unit at left) and I guide students in writing down what they Know about themselves and their families. Next I help them generate Want to know questions on the worksheet, which they take home and use to interview their parents—who are Source #1, which allows me to teach a personal interview citation. On a subsequent day in the classroom, ELA teachers model letter form and good letter writing so students can mail questions to family members living elsewhere.

State History Social Studies classes are the second Library visit. I tell students they are learning the history of themselves in the same way they are learning the history of our State. During this Library visit they will gather historical background on our State to answer W questions their parents couldn’t answer and also to create new interview questions.

I start with my Keyword Search Form and review search strategies so students can use various print and online primary and secondary sources related to State History, such as biographies and autobiographies; speeches, letters & diaries; and songs & artwork. I also model note-taking on the back of their KWHL worksheet—students have a tendency to write out everything, so modeling “Does this answer the question on my KWHL sheet?” keeps them focused.

History & Heritage: Student Interview Project With Family Members - School Librarians teach students research skills, interviewing skills, and web design in this exciting project for a middle school State History project. #NoSweatLibraryDuring the next few days students continue to gather information through interviews and research. We don’t expect a family tree from the time of the conquistadors, but every student can learn about the lives of their parents and grandparents. State History teachers help them compare and contrast the historical events they are learning about and the lives of their own family.

For their final product we offer students 3 product options—written, crafted, or oral, and two of them integrate technology:

  • During a library visit I show students how to create a webpage so information can be shared with family members who live far away. Students learn that information displayed on the Web must be well-written and concise, forcing them to thoroughly think through and edit their research results.
  • The crafted choice is a photograph poster of family mementos. For students who choose this option, I show them how to use our digital cameras and check them out, usually over a weekend. When they return I show them how to download and print out the images.
  • 7g students enjoy playacting, so mock interviews or newscasts appeal to them. Students with common events in their background can group together to give “eyewitness” accounts. This helps students discern that historical “truths” often depend on one’s point of view—a valuable lesson as they study State history.

At a final Library visit we watch oral presentations, followed by a walk-around to view webpages on computers and crafted photo posters hung along the bookcases. It’s a great way to begin the school year and satisfies the curricular needs of both English Language Arts and Social Studies.

AN 8TH GRADE SPANISH TELEVISION SHOW

In the spring, our 3rd year Spanish students demonstrate their language skills with a group project en Español: a game show or an Oprah-type entertainment show, which we broadcast into the classroom through our closed-circuit TV channel. Both shows require students to do interviews, a short one for the game show and a more in-depth celebrity-type interview for the entertainment show. For this project we have 2 Library Lesson visits: at the first visit students learn about creating good personal interview questions, and during the second visit students learn how to prepare for the TV broadcast.

Here's How a Student Interview Project Becomes a TV Show - School Librarians can make a student interview project more authentic by putting it "on the air" with this Library Lesson. #NoSweatLibraryThe short interview is a 30-60 second introduction of the game show Players; the show host says “Tell us a little about yourself” and each Player responds with his/her fabricated character’s “bio”: home city/state (it can’t be ours), career or job, something about their family (this can be true or made up), and a favorite hobby, song, or movie.

For the in-depth interview I provide students with books on video & TV interviews and short celebrity biographies. I help them generate open-ended questions that prompt the responder to answer with greater depth and variety than just yes or no. The goal for both interviews is that students show their competence using Español, so we encourage them to be imaginative with their responses and in creating the activity.

The second visit is a Library Lesson about good “on-camera presence.” Students learn to look at the camera while answering questions, how to modulate their voice & pace their talking, to avoid distracting gestures, and about best on-camera colors for clothing. We critique demonstrations, then students break into groups to practice their TV shows, during which I schedule their broadcast times over the next week.

Watching the “on air” TV broadcast in the classroom lends an authenticity to this lesson that excites students. After we did this the first time, word got around the school that “Ms. P has a Television Studio in the Library!” and students from all grades began asking teachers if they could “do TV shows with Ms. P” for their various projects. A School Librarian can be kept pretty busy giving lessons on interviewing and then transmitting TV broadcasts to classrooms!

A RESOURCE FOR INTERVIEW QUESTIONS

Visit Story Corps - Story Corps is dedicated to providing a legacy of real voices that are archived at the Library of Congress. Their website, storycorps.org, has "Great Questions" that anyone can use for effective interviews. #NoSweatLibraryIf you’ve never heard of StoryCorps, you’ll want to check them out. They began in 2003 with a Storybooth in Grand Central Terminal in NYC and they continue to give people a way to share conversations. They have recording sites, mobile story tours around the U.S., and an app on their website, all dedicated to providing a legacy of real voices that are archived at the Library of Congress.

“Our mission is to preserve and share humanity’s stories in order to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world.”

Great Questions” on their website is a wonderful resource that anyone can use to promote more effective and enjoyable interviews. (I receive no compensation for this endorsement.)

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