Collaborating for a More Effective Library Program by Guest Blogger Becky Nation

By Becky Nation, Avalon Middle School in Santa Rosa County

Photo of breakout boxesHave you ever felt like you were spinning your wheels even when constantly working hard to bring quality books, information, and skills to your library patrons? Does it seem like everybody else has the latest, greatest program going on in their libraries and you’re behind? This is the point I was at before attending ALA Midwinter. As I soaked in the sessions about Makerspaces, coding, augmented and virtual reality, new and exciting educational apps, and creating spaces where patrons really want to be, I reflected on my program and ways that I could make a more positive impact in my library. Thus, the journey toward a more effective, collaborative program began.

Each school year starts with two weeks of orientation followed by two weeks spent introducing the RARE (Random Acts of Reading Enjoyment) reading program as I do book talks, book passes, and thirty-second brain dumps using the SSYRA books. Because students need this information, these two lessons are non-negotiable; however, the rigid two-week rotation of library lessons for every student in the school is. Library activities are now planned around content being taught in each language arts teacher’s classroom at the time of their visit, which means that some visits are for checkout only. Planning library visits like this has enabled me to open up the library to meet the needs of other subject areas while teaching skills in context so they are more relevant. It has also allowed me to create STEM lessons that tie into other subject area teachers’ curriculum.

Photo of breakout boxesTo give a better idea of what this looks like in practice, I’ve been collaborating with each of the language arts teachers to determine their scope and sequence. We have then brainstormed to plan activities in the library where I teach students the process they need and their language arts teacher then applies that process to the content or skill being studied in class. For example, sixth-grade students struggled to locate books needed to meet their class reading requirement, so we used a GooseChase scavenger hunt to familiarize them with materials location and reinforce library procedures from the previous orientation lesson. Two other language arts teachers are focusing on setting and characterization using the horror genre. We’re collaborating to have a “campfire” and tell scary stories in the library at the end of October. Students will then use the experiences from our storytelling as examples when writing their own stories. A seventh-grade teacher is trying to motivate her students to read from a variety of genres, so a book shopping activity is in the works. An eighth-grade language arts teacher is looking for a creative way to teach context clues, so I’m currently brainstorming ways that I could turn a traditional lesson into a STEM activity in my media center. Another upcoming lesson involves teaching students the process for using ebooks and the language arts teacher introducing her debate project using an unlimited access Thinking Critically ebook that covers both sides of the topic. Through these collaborative lessons, I’m still teaching those same processes that I would have taught during my old two-week rotations, but now they’re relevant to classroom content and are being practiced in context.

While still working consistently with language arts, having a more flexible approach to programming has allowed me to focus on other subject areas who don’t normally frequent my space. In an effort to lure math teachers into the library, I am creating a nine-hole mini-golf course using a different book theme for each hole. Sixth-grade math students will cycle through playing each hole and gathering their real-world data on scorecards to use for practicing mean, median, and mode. The seventh-grade civics classes needed a way to recognize Constitution Day, so we collaborated to set up ten Breakout boxes in the library. Breakout boxes are similar to an escape room, but students solve the clues to break into the box rather than out of a room. Thirteen classes cycled through to attempt the constitution Breakout while learning about the Bill of Rights and Articles of Confederation. Another Breakout box about fossils was the result of collaboration with a seventh-grade science teacher.

Through collaboration with teachers from every subject area and a focus on creating lessons and activities that encourage critical thinking, collaboration, creativity, and communication, my library program is more relevant and beneficial to our students. Skills are no longer taught in isolation but are practiced in context for better retention so students make connections to the standards being taught in class. Those collaborative relationships with teachers are being developed so they are now coming to me asking how we can work together to create a STEM activity in the library. The wheels are still spinning, but now we’re actually moving forward together.

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