The bar for 21st-century literacy is set high, asking students and educators to step up our game. The constant state of society’s technological change requires educators to be resilient, flexible, and creative in order to keep learning relevant for children and youth. Students must also be willing and able to adapt as they are given opportunities to engage in highly motivating, personally meaningful learning activities.
While keeping an eye on constant improvement, school leaders know that students, faculty, staff, and families need to have fun all along the way. Motivation and enjoyment of learning are increasingly common topics in the research literature as well as in teachers’ lounge conversations. In fact, research shows that lessons containing elements of novelty, kinesthetic activity, self-efficacy, challenge, and creativity can increase students’ interest in learning (Abrams and Russo 2015; Honeyford and Boyd 2015; Roberts 2015).
In a recent research study, David Loertscher (2014) reported that classroom teachers at all levels of instruction noted a positive improvement in student engagement and learning outcomes when school librarians and classroom teachers coteach. Coteaching offers many opportunities for increased interaction between students and educators, more differentiated and individualized learning for students, and increased student engagement due to fewer classroom management issues. Coteaching also provides opportunities for school librarians and classroom teachers to model effective collaboration strategies and to show learners the personal and professional enjoyment they experience while working together as a team (Moreillon 2012, 2013).
When they are coplanning and co-implementing lessons, effective school librarians suggest creative ways to motivate and engage learners in exciting activities that appeal to students’ (and teachers’) sense of fun. In these examples from the field, school librarians demonstrate how they work with classroom teacher colleagues to interject humor, casual conversations, music, and plain old-fashioned fun into standards-based lessons.
Team teaching is one coteaching approach. In this model, educators teach together by assuming different roles during instruction (Friend and Cook 2010). In the opening or motivation section of a cotaught lesson, educators can co-read texts, role play characters from literature or history, re-enact scenes from students’ lives at school, online, or in their homes or communities, and more. These “hooks” can grab students’ attention and motivate them to engage and pursue the learning activity that follows. Most educators are familiar with actions such as these that make us let down our hair and become “vunerable,” and the students enjoy it when we do.
Using the book cover as a prompt, learners predict the outcome of the story and record their predictions on a graphic organizer. The educators model making predictions and if students are able to read independently, they co-read the second half of the story and record their predictions. The lesson extension involves students writing and publishing their own stories with predictable plots. You can find my published lesson plan, “Whose Lucky Day Was It? on the Web at: http://tinyurl.com/jmluckydaylp
Station or center teaching is another coteaching approach. In this model, educators develop multiple learning stations. Typically, two stations are facilitated by each of the educators, and students work independently of teacher support at other stations. If there are additional personnel in the library, such as a library assistant, student aides, or parent volunteers, they may also take responsibility for working with students in one or more stations.
Sabrina Carnesi, National Board Certified Teacher Librarian, serves a middle school in Newport News, Virginia. Along with her classroom teacher colleagues, Sabrina co-facilitates station or center teaching as a regular part of their joint instruction. Educators at all grade levels and in all disciplines get involved in this coteaching approach. For example in sixth-grade social studies, students take part in a hands-on activity using authentic artifacts from a local historical society, termed the “colonial trunk activity.” Seventh-grade social studies students participate in a similar set of stations involving World War II relics from a historical museum. These stations are designed to help students understand both cultural and historical events.
At Crittenden Middle School, these lessons are carried out over multiple class periods and can, at times, push students’ perseverance. Sabrina and her colleagues have found that students from all ability levels engage enthusiastically in learning stations, persist over time, and reap positive learning outcomes—with the added twist of musical cues. Musical cues are approximately thirty seconds of music played to cue transitions from one learning station to the next. The type of music is not necessarily important, but students are especially receptive when educators choose popular music for this purpose.
Prior to starting the activity students are introduced to the music cues that will be used to move from one station assignment to the next and the musical cue that signals the final transition for the class period. When students are prepped and are given clear parameters, the lesson runs smoothly and educators have no need to call out across the room when it’s time to change stations or to stop work and prepare for the lesson closure. Sabrina notes that “students become their own learning agents by monitoring their pacing at each station and knowing when the music starts, they have only thirty to forty seconds to ready their stations for the next group of students who will interact with the materials at that station.” Many students also enact these transitions quickly and efficiently because they want more time to move rhythmically to the next station. The final cue for the class period or the end of the unit is a more celebratory piece and can be played for a longer period. When multiple station days are involved, the final musical moment can even take the form of a dance off.
Play in school is not just for young children. In fact, adolescents also thrive in a participatory and playful approach to literacy (Abrams and Russo 2015). Many school librarians have added board games and various electronic gaming platforms for students’ curricular or independent use in the library. Kat Werner reports that some librarians are applying what they read in Meghan Hearn and Matthew Winner’s book (2013) about using Wii to help kindergarten through seventh-grade students improve their math skills.
National Board Certified Teacher Librarian at Petaluma (CA) High School Connie Williams uses scavenger hunts to introduce the library to students and teachers at the beginning of the year. Students enjoy the competitive game format and are motivated to participate. The hunt is structured so that students must talk with one another and the library staff, which includes the library assistant, the Career Center teacher, and Connie, too. The classroom teachers jump in and talk with students about the clues and what they are finding in the library.
Connie says, "It’s not an information literacy adventure; it’s a way to wander around the library and find the nooks and crannies." For example, one of the questions is this: "What is the name of our copy machine?" [Bob Marley because it’s always “jammin'”!] After this introduction students come in and ask if they can use “Bob” to make a copy. They find out where the staff keeps supplies and where they can buy pencils. They discover that the library has yearbooks dating back to the early 1900s. After the scavenger hunt, most students leave the library with a book. Connie believes this helps to set an adventuring, fun tone for the learning in which students and teachers will engage through the library program throughout the remainder of the school year.
Possibilities to embed fun are endless when school librarians and classroom teachers co-create welcoming learning spaces—in both the physical and virtual spaces of the library and the classroom. If we think of our libraries as classrooms and remember what it was like to serve as classroom teachers, school librarians will want to involve students and teachers in the playful aspects of learning alongside the serious business of educating youth for their future. Clearly, we can do both!
Abrams, Sandra Schamroth, and Michael P. Russo. "Layering Literacies and Contemporary Learning." Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy 59 no. 2, (2015): 131-135.
American Association of School Librarians. Standards for the 21st-Century Learner. American Library Association, 2007. http://ala.org/aasl/standards
Friend, Marilyn, and Lynne Cook. Interactions: Collaboration Skills for School Professionals. 6th ed. Pearson, 2010.
Hearn, Meghan, and Matthew C. Winner. Teach Math with the
Honeyford, Michelle A., and Karen Boyd. "Learning Through Play." Journal ofAdolescent & Adult Literacy 59 no. 1, (2015) 63-73.
Loertscher, David V. "Collaboration and Coteaching." Teacher Librarian 42 no. 2: 8-19.
Moreillon, Judi. Coteaching Reading Comprehension Strategies in Secondary School Libraries: Maximizing Your Impact. American Library Association, 2012.
Moreillon, Judi. Coteaching Reading Comprehension Strategies in Elementary School Libraries: Maximizing Your Impact. American Library Association, 2013.
Roberts, J. Christopher. "Situational Interest of Fourth-Grade Children in Music at School." Journal of Research in Music Education 63 no. 2, (2015): 180-197.
Werner, Kat. "Bringing Them in: Developing a Gaming Program for the Library." Library Trends 61 no. 4, (2013): 790-801.