School’s out….

Today is the last day for our students and tomorrow is the last day for teachers.  As much as I dislike our early start of the year (we report back at the beginning of August), it is nice to be done with school by Memorial Day.  This is always a time of reflection for me as I review the previous school year and (attempt) to clear my head for next year’s planning. This year has been one of growth and change for me.  Frankly, at this time last year I was disheartened, and I entered the summer with uncertainty.  I was not sure how I fit into the vision for the school.

Original artwork by former teacher, displayed in MS Library. I found myself contemplating this piece many times over last summer.

My day-to-day activities changed as I moved into the middle school library full time.  I was able to fully collaborate with the 6th grade students and teachers and build a scaffold for both technology and library instruction.  The year also brought the opportunity to build personal relationships with teachers in the other two grades with the goal of deeper collaboration next year. I am happy to say that the uncertainty that I felt last summer has disappeared.

As I reflect on the 2023-2024 school year there are definite wins!

  • Regular meetings with all 6th grade students.  During English class, we met twice per month during the first semester and at least once per month in the second semester.  We worked together to hone citation skills, basic evaluation of digital resources, and work on building effective notecards.  Additionally, I met with these students during Science class beginning in October.  I became an embedded librarian for the duration of their science fair research project.
  • Increased circulation of library books. For the past 6 years, I was only part time in the middle school which made it difficult to consistently promote reading and check out of books.  With an increased presence and more opportunity to talk books with kids circulation increased by 15% over the 2022-2023 school year.
  • Connections with students. The library became a “third space” for a significant number of students before school and during our morning break.  Getting to know my regular visitors was such a treat.  We connected over books, I learned more about what was going on in their lives outside of school, and several of them became unofficial library helpers.  When shelving books moved to the back burner, these kids jumped in and helped me empty by shelving cart.

What does the 2024-2025 school year bring? I’m not entirely sure.  I have a great relationship with my building administration and feel fully supported in the library activities.  I have a few big programming ideas that I am working on implementing and I have plans to increase my collaboration with classroom teachers.  But first…..I’m going to work on my personal summer reading list! 

Research Reflections

Winter is over… spring is springing and…

…research season is (almost) over!  I love helping our students practice their research skills — it is the main reason that I became a librarian.  But I would be deluding myself if I said it was all rainbows and unicorns.  Research skills are not intuitive. There is much trial and error involved and some of my students are frustrated at the slower pace that the classroom teacher and I insist on during this process. As I reflect upon my first real full-time year in the middle school, I can count some definite wins and see room for improvement.

My biggest hurdle was how to divide my time between 3 grade levels (approximately 290 students) so that I can provide the instructional time and maintain an open library.  For the bulk of the third quarter all in person instruction time was spent with our English department. Instruction for the other departments was primarily via Libguides, which naturally limited the types of lessons that I could do with these departments. The English teachers and I planned our library visits prior to the start of the semester, and we had a solid plan in place for how to stagger the instructional time.  Losing a week to snow caused us to shift plans, but we managed.  The timing of all three grades starting the major research project at almost the same time isn’t great, but I doubt that it can be adjusted in future years.  The third quarter is the best time for all three grades to work on the research project.  It is what it is.

My plan for individual meetings with all students mostly worked.  We shifted to small group meetings for both 7th and 8th grade, and we narrowed down the number of groups. For our honors classes, I was able to quickly move through the research forms during a few class times.  I joined the classroom and worked with students as the classroom teacher worked with groups on the technical writing skills.  The remaining groups came to me in the library over the course of a few weeks and I worked with the students on individual issues and gave them a chance to receive feedback on quality of sources and citations.  These meetings strengthened their confidence when evaluating sources and, I believe, provided a stronger set of sources and notecards. I also did the primary grading for source lists and notecards, and I found far fewer mistakes and omissions than in years past.

The sixth grade is moving more slowly through the research process and will not complete the project for another two weeks.  The groundwork laid in the fall semester is showing as we work together.  The students have a much stronger understanding of the research process as whole than in previous years.  Students are not frustrated with the cyclical nature of research and are more willing to go down the rabbit trails that make research so interesting.  Another win is the improvement of the citations created by students.  Our work together on the parts of the citations and the reasons we include the information is showing in the works cited pages that I am seeing at this point.

Moving forward, my goal is to become a more embedded librarian in these classes.  Luckily, my classroom teachers are willing to collaborate with me on various projects.  My success with the sixth grade will be a springboard to increased involvement in the remaining two grades. This is my 22nd year as a librarian and I’ve worked with students from college age to elementary. These middle school students keep me on my toes and keep me laughing (most days).  I appreciate the opportunity I have to work with these students and teachers.

As the only librarian in my building, I often feel on an island and do not have the opportunity to bounce ideas off others.  What are some of your tips for engaging students in the research process?  How do you keep your instruction fresh each year, while still covering the necessary steps

Snow-pocalypse, research, and change…

As I began drafting my first blog post, my weather app began showing snowflakes for the upcoming week. Snow warnings are not an infrequent occurrence, but my town usually does not get anywhere near the predicted amounts of snow and often we end up with no snow at all.  Not this time.  Snow started falling on Monday and we ended with 8-10 inches of snow and ice across our town.  As a mid-sized Southern city we are not prepared for this level of winter and the city basically shut down.  Last week was spent at home, all appointments canceled, and a total of 6 school days were canceled.  Coming so soon after our winter holidays, the extended break was not “needed,” but I did appreciate the slow days and ability to leisurely finish planning for this year’s research season.  My forced time at home, away from the distractions of my daily work and interruptions, allowed me to reflect on our current research practice and make some plans for improvement.

After six years of splitting my time between the high school and the middle school (and feeling like I was not fully successful in either building), I am now full time in the middle school library.  While change is always hard — and not always something that we choose — I am embracing the opportunities that I have to lay a strong foundation for information literacy and research skills.  My previous interactions with students were often limited to a few one shot info lit instructions, with an extra lesson or two during research time.  Students often viewed me as the one who popped in to tell them not to plagiarize, but not as a true partner in the learning process. This year, I am able to change that perception.

During the 2023 fall semester, I focused on working with our 6th grade team across the curriculum on a variety of lessons.  We talked about everything from the basics of the internet   (what is the difference between a browser and a search engine?) to where to find our library databases to how to write a citation.  A lot of this work built upon the knowledge they received in lower grades so I was not starting from scratch.  As their research project begins in earnest around the middle of February, I scheduled a few more lessons for foundational work with the research process.

The other two grade levels start their research projects this week. Both projects are familiar ones and I have supported the classes in the work over the years.  I am looking forward to more daily involvement with the classes and the opportunity to have small groups and one-on-one work as needed. We planned staggered start dates beginning last week, to give both the students and myself time to work together over the course of a few days, but our snow event has compressed that schedule.

Small group work is the new piece for this year’s projects.  With almost 9 weeks to work on the various steps of the projects, I have time to meet with students in groups of four or five to fine tune keywords and to record the first two sources.  I plan to share a digital copy of the form below via Google Docs so that I (and the teachers) can see the work completed.  We will also use Noodletools for the citations and notecards so instruction for that part will be woven into our sessions.  Most of the 7th and 8th graders have used Noodletools on previous projects so my work will be mostly a refresher session.  Using a shared document with a rubric will allow both the classroom teacher and me to see the work in real time and provide guidance as needed.  As we move through the project the small group work will change as we approach new milestones. 

This has been a year of change in ways that I did not seek out or anticipate.  Embracing these opportunities means that I am more deeply involved in the classrooms and can make a stronger impact on my students’ learning. As we move through these projects I look forward to finding new ways to improve my work with students! I would love to hear more ideas about how you connect with students during the research process.