Five Ways a Classroom Teacher Utilizes a Certified Teacher Librarian to Enhance the Secondary English ClassroomBy JoAnn Gage
At a recent EdCamp for English teachers hosted by ICTE, I was saddened to learn that many schools right here in Iowa are losing their teacher librarians. With tightening budgets and a drive to spend money on the newest technology, it may seem like a simple choice to cut the librarian’s position.
The problem is that the people who make budgetary decisions in education may not understand the many important roles the teacher librarian fills, and when those roles are eliminated, it can easily lead to problems that classroom teachers are blamed for, such as lessened use of technology and the loss of a culture of reading among students.
After the cut of a librarian is made, students’ reading and writing skills decrease, yet these results are rarely tied directly to the cause of losing a librarian. However, research shows there is a direct connection between having a full-time librarian and high reading and writing skills among students.
When our teacher librarian position was cut from full time to half time a few years ago, I found it difficult to articulate what our collaboration looked like. I was unsuccessful in helping others understand the complicated connection between a high quality librarian and high reading and writing skills among the student body.
Did you know that having a full-time librarian positively impacts student writing even more than it does reading? Schools with a certified full-time librarian are about three times as likely to have students classified as “advanced” writers as those without full-time librarians (Kachel and Lance). See the research here:
Full Time School Librarian Makes Critical Difference
According to another study cited by School Library Journal, “Students who have access to a full-time, certified librarian scored higher on the PSSA Reading Test than those students who do not have such access. This finding is true for all students, regardless of their socioeconomic, racial/ethnic, and/or disability status” (Diaz and Baylis). See the article: Full Time Librarians Boost Student Test Scores
Higher reading and writing test scores often correlate with higher social studies and science scores, and they also correlate with higher graduation rates. So how is a librarian making such a huge impact on areas of student learning? Below are five ways in which my teacher librarian helps me as an English teacher on a daily basis:
1. Meeting IEP and 504 accommodations
An increasingly common accommodation for students is to have books we read as a class available as a recording they can listen to. Although many of these students have special education teachers who can help meet these accommodations for their English classes, students with 504 plans do not have a directed studies teacher, and there are many students who have not been formally identified as needing an IEP, but who benefit greatly from talking books. My teacher librarian meets the needs of all of these students by providing MP3 files of books.
My teacher librarian has ordered several MP3 players to check out to students with the books we read as a class on them. Students can request these if they are available, and many students bring in their own devices and have our teacher librarian upload the files onto them. Recorded books can benefit students greatly by helping those with reading disabilities or physical limitations, as well as students who have long bus rides for nightly activities, where reading a book would be difficult. I know that I have students who would not have passed my classes, or who would have simply struggled through rather than thrived, if not for my teacher librarian’s help.
2. Matching students to books
While I enjoy getting to know students and introducing them to wonderful literature, many of the books that I read myself are ones recommended to me by my teacher librarian. While I am planning for five different courses and responding to piles of students’ essays, my teacher librarian has scheduled time dedicated to focus on new young adult literature. She reads reviews, orders current titles, and presents book talks to my classes. My teacher librarian creates displays that spark student interest, such as a March Madness bracket with books, or a display of banned books with the reasons people wanted to ban them, or a blind date with a book, where all the books are dressed in a brown paper covers with only a written description to intrigue the possible partner.
My teacher librarian tricks us into reading and liking it.
In addition to helping students find books they will enjoy, my teacher librarian is also a pro at matching books to students by reading level. She knows how to find the lexile level of books and works with teachers and students to find books that will not be too easy or too frustrating. She knows that the independent reading portion of our English classes allow for students to challenge themselves at their own level, and that improving fluency in reading is key.
Although people like to say “all teachers are reading teachers” because reading is necessary in all classes and we need to teach how to read in the content areas, the truth is that most teachers have little to no training in the technical aspects of teaching reading. We depend on our teacher librarian to help students find the right level of book or research article for them.
3. Teaching current research methods
Back when I was in high school, we used the Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature and found dusty copies of journal articles stacked on the shelf of the public library. Today, students have access to thousands of periodicals in full text online through databases like SIRS and EBSCO.
Every year, the sources change in look and use, and our subscriptions to services may change as well. As the one who orders and subscribes to our research services, my teacher librarian is best suited to keep us up-to-date on how to access them. She teaches my classes every year how to use these services, and I become up-to-date in my teaching by listening to her presentation. She also shows us how MLA citations have changed for the year, so as a teacher, I am requiring the most current method of citing sources.
4. Helping classes use technology effectively
We have invested thousands of dollars on new technology in our building. However, if teachers and students do not feel comfortable using it, or do not know how it will enhance their learning, then it is not used effectively.
This year, our school purchased a new lab of iMacs. For much of the year, I did not use this lab, but after my teacher librarian was able to spend a period with my class teaching my students (and me) how to use iMovie, I was able to make great use of the lab. These computers met my needs much better than what I had used in the past for newscasts in my journalism class. They are saving us class time to do the same job, and my students are more excited about the reporting they are doing in journalism because of the ease of use as well as the advanced applications.
Similarly, two years ago, my teacher librarian worked with my classes teaching us how to use WeVideo on PCs. Technology changes daily. The video software of two years ago is not meeting my needs today. In two years’ time, we may be switching software again.
My teacher librarian keeps me up-to-date with new websites, software, and machines. She emails me links to sources that may help my class. When our school purchased a new set of iPads, she showed teachers how to use them and listed some apps that we might find useful. She continues to send us emails about new apps that come out. As teachers, we are not always aware of what we don’t know. Sometimes, it takes a teacher librarian to point out to a teacher what he or she does not yet know—to introduce to us what would aid in our roles as teachers.
5. Correcting technical difficulties
My teacher librarian is a media specialist. She fixes problems when they arise so that my time with students is not wasted. If my projector won’t project, my students’ files won’t print, or our work won’t save, my teacher librarian can usually solve the problem in minutes. When my old VHS tapes start to go bad, I have had her transfer them to DVD. If I need to give a presentation, she helps me set up the equipment.
Having a teacher librarian is essential for a well-run school. Without one, student achievement suffers and teachers are less effective. The question is, will anyone make the connection?
Waiting until your school is considering cutting a teacher librarian to point out the necessity of the position is too late. Vocalize the importance of librarians as often as you can so that the community values them.
Your school wouldn’t have a football team without a coach. It wouldn’t serve lunch without a nutrition director. It wouldn’t expect class to meet without a teacher. It is not acceptable to have a library without a librarian.
Diaz, Shelley M., and Sarah Bayliss. “SLJ Summit 2012: Full-Time School Librarians Boost Student Test Scores in Reading, Writing, Says PA Report.” School Library Journal. 25 Oct. 2012. Web. 09 June 2014.
Kachel, Debra E., and Keith Curry Lance. “Latest Study: A Full- time School Librarian Makes a Critical Difference in Boosting Student Achievement.”School Library Journal. 7 Mar. 2013. Web. 09 June 2014.