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.
Moving from a mostly fixed to a completely flexible schedule will be a big step for my elementary library media program. Although high schools and middle schools have largely adopted flexible scheduling for their library programs, elementary schools are more likely to have fixed schedules in which each class visits the library at a preset day and time each week.
A fixed library schedule benefits schools in some ways: it assures that each student visits the library at least once a week, and it provides a preparation period for each classroom teacher if he or she doesn’t coteach the class with the library media specialist. But it also comes with some drawbacks: it’s difficult for librarians and teachers to collaborate on instruction under this model. It can also prevent students from accessing the library at the times they need it, whether for research or for finding new books for independent reading.
A flexible library schedule benefits students in many ways. It allows teachers and library media specialists to work together to plan instruction that is “dependent on learning needs rather than a fixed library time.” (AASL position statement…more on that below). Rather than working around fixed classes in the library during the same blocks every week, classes can visit the library during the times that best fit their own schedules. A flexible schedule also encourages individual students to visit the library media center at the times they actually need it, whether for research or for independent reading materials.
There are many studies and resources that speak to the learning benefits of a flexible schedule. Several are listed below, but the most persuasive to me is the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) “Position Statement on Flexible Scheduling.” AASL is the primary professional organization for school library media specialists in the United States, and has researched best practices for learning in school libraries for over 60 years. In part the statement reads,
The integrated library program philosophy requires an open schedule that includes flexible and equitable access to physical and virtual collections for staff and students. Classes must be flexibly scheduled into the library on an as needed basis to facilitate just-in-time research, training, and utilization of technology with the guidance of the teacher who is the subject specialist, and the librarian who is the information process specialist. The resulting lesson plans recognize that the length of the learning experience is dependent on learning needs rather than a fixed library time. Regularly scheduled classes in the school library to provide teacher release or preparation time prohibit this best practice. Students and teachers must be able to come to the library throughout the day to use information sources, read for pleasure, and collaborate with other students and teachers.
Collaboration with classroom teachers to design, implement and evaluate inquiry lessons cultivates high level learning experiences for students and is the catalyst that makes the integrated library program work. The teacher brings to the planning process knowledge of subject content and the student needs. The school librarian contributes a broad knowledge of resources and technology, an understanding of modern teaching methods, and a wide range of strategies that may be employed to help students learn inquiry skills. Together they are able to provide differentiated and adaptable experiences for students of all abilities and interests to meet the requirements of the curriculum.
Resources on the benefits of flexible library scheduling
American Association of School Librarians. “Position Statement on Flexible Scheduling.” American Association of School Librarians. American Library Association, June 2014. Web. 15 June 2015. <http://www.ala.org/aasl/advocacy/resources/statements/flex-sched>.
Library Research Service. “School Libraries Impact Studies.” Libraries Research Service. Libraries Research Service, 2013. 16 June 2015. <http://www.lrs.org/data-tools/school-libraries/impact-studies/>
The resources below were provided by the Fairfax County, Virginia public school system at http://www.fcps.edu/is/libraryservices/librarymanagement.shtm
- Capitalizing on the School Library’s Potential to Positively Affect Student Achievement
- By Gary Hartzell for the White House Conference on School Libraries
- Findings from the Evaluation of the National Library Power Program
- An initiative of the DeWitt Wallace-Reader’s Digest Fund
Clocks image: Reynolds, Leo. Squared Circles. January 22, 2012. Online image. Flickr. January 22, 2012. https://www.flickr.com/photos/lwr/60496147/in/photostream/ License information at https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/