The library media center at my school, Richmond Elementary in Richmond Vermont, has received an enormous gift: a pilot year with a flexible schedule. It’s the ideal situation for school library work: an opportunity for collaborative teaching and creative learning far beyond what fits into a fixed schedule of once-a-week library classes. Please join me for the journey.
After the first two trimesters of the 2015-2016 school year, it’s clear a more flexible library schedule has brought new opportunities for my elementary students. In the past, kindergartners, first graders, and second graders visited the library once a week on a fixed schedule. Their classes consisted of a 40 minute period divided into a 20 minute readaloud or lesson, and 20 minutes for book selection and checkouts. Third graders had a combination of 40 minute readaloud-and-checkout classes on a fixed schedule, and “embedded” research and technology lessons in their classrooms. Fourth graders had combined enrichment library class on a fixed schedule, and did their book selection individually whenever they needed new books.
This year, during the first six weeks of school every grade level visited the library on a fixed schedule. This gave students the chance to relearn library expectations and the locations of their favorite materials. Third graders also did hands-on learning with the library’s online catalog. This six week introductory period gave classroom teachers the time to meet with me and collaborate on units for the first trimester. This collaboration included planning content, and scheduling times for classes to visit the library or for me to teach in classrooms.
After the first six weeks of school, the library program moved into new flexibly scheduled lessons. Classroom teachers and I have repeated this process of collaboration and planning for the second and third trimesters.
Here is what the library program was able to provide for students under the new flexibly scheduled system:
Kindergarten: Small groups twice a week for library learning and for literacy work in their classrooms. Half a kindergarten class at a time comes to the library for lessons, readalouds, and book selection. The other half remains in their classroom for small group writing work. I spend twice as much time per week with kindergartners under this model as I would have in the past. It has been completely worth the extra time, because I can give more individual attention to each student as he or she learns how the library works. The kindergarten teachers have been happy with more small group time for literacy in the classroom. After two trimesters, I am finding that the kindergartners have a much stronger understanding than in past years of what kinds of books are in the library and how to find them, check them out, return them, and share them with friends. It has been a win-win-win for students, teachers, and the library.
First grade: Readalouds connected to classroom literacy units. First grade classes visit the library once a week on a schedule determined by the classroom teachers and librarian. The first half of class is a readaloud and the second half is book selection. In past years the readaloud stories were not connected to classroom curriculum. This year, by collaborating with the first grade teachers I was able to plan readalouds that reinforced classroom lessons on nonfiction text structures, reading comprehension, and story elements. This has made the library readalouds more valuable for the students than in the past.
Second grade: Informational blog posts, Voicethread biographies, Culture eBooks. Second graders have worked on a variety of units combining science and social studies content, research and citation skills, writing, and technology. Before each unit, the second grade teachers and I meet to design the learning and final projects and to set up a schedule. Students work on their projects during time with me in the library, school computer lab, or their classrooms. Each class also visits the library for a 20 minute book selection time each week. As with kindergartners, I am spending more time each week with second graders than in past years and I think it has been completely worth the extra time. The students have done some amazing, creative learning that would never have been possible under the previous fixed library schedule. Below are links to some of their projects; this is a huge difference from readaloud-and-checkouts every week which was the second grade library model in the past.
- Second Grade Informational Blog – Animals
- Second Grade Voicethread biographies – Darling
- Second Grade Voicethread biographies – Riggs
- Second Grade Voicethread biographies – Robinson
- Research for Culture eBooks with students in Hong Kong
Third Grade: in-classroom teaching and support for research and technology. After a scheduling challenge in the first trimester, the third grade classroom teachers and I decided that I could best serve third graders by teaching research and technology skills during their writing blocks. I spend 45 minutes to an hour each day in third grade classrooms, switching classrooms each day unless the teachers request that I stay with a particular classroom for a certain project. As with kindergarten and second grade, I am spending more time with the third graders than in previous years, and I think the extra time has truly paid off.
Students have learned to use databases, Internet searching, and citations as needed for writing assignments. At the same time I have been able to teach the information skills required in my library curriculum as part of classroom units, rather than as standalone library unit. This makes the skills more relevant and easier for students to remember in the future. I also helped students learn to use technology such as blog commenting and Voicethread. Below is a link to one Voicethread presentation for which the student did excellent research about gerbils. The third graders visit the library whenever they need new books, using the self checkout station if I am teaching another class.
Fourth Grade: Enrichment Library Class. This class looks the same as in previous years. Fourth graders have a combined enrichment library class on a fixed schedule, and they do their book selections individually whenever they need new books.
Going Forward: Based on these first two trimesters, I would like to continue the flexibly scheduled library model. I have seen deeper, more connected, more creative learning for students at every grade level where this model is in place.
In a final blog post in this series, I plan to write about the logistics that made this pilot schedule possible for a year. If you are reading this post and have any questions, please let me know in the comments. Thank you!