Scene 1: It’s a Tuesday in the Middle School library, and Sophie–a 5th grader–is arriving for library class. She has her iPad in her hands, and has evidently walked all the way from the Middle School building (close to 100 yards, admittedly across mostly open grass) holding it in front of her face, playing a game that the ever-resourceful tween population has been able to get to despite the firewall.
Having made it all the way across campus, up the wide concrete-and-steel stairway (I tried not to imagine that part), across the lobby and through the library doors, Sophie is headed straight for the massive column that separates the circulation area from the seating area.
Surely she sees that column?
Surely she’ll stop before she–
She looks up and does a last-second course correction before placidly making her way to the chairs where her class meets (back at the game, of course).
Scene 2: On another library-class day, I tell the 5th grade that we will be using their iPads to access our library catalog. Several of them do not have the catalog app downloaded on their iPads, and their school-controlled App Manager doesn’t have it as an installation option either. Frantic swiping through home pages ensues.
“What does it look like?!”
“Mine doesn’t have it!”
“I can’t find it!”
“That’s okay,” I say, “I’ll show you how to make a shortcut for your home screen.” They are still staring at their screens, swiping and yelping and talking to one another about how they do or do not have the app installed.
“Guys,” I say. Swipe, swipe, yelp, yelp.
“Boys and girls.” Swipe, yelp, swipe.
“People!” They stop. “It’s okay. I’ll walk you through it step by step. Go to your home screen and open Safari. Now type this address: heathwood dot–”
“It’s not working!”
“How do you spell heathwood?”
“Mrs. Falvey, it’s not working!”
(Meanwhile those who did have the app already installed are back to playing a game.)
Breathe. Breathe. Breathe.
Of course it all works out all right, but scenes like these underscore the fact that we may be in the middle school library, but this isn’t middle school. In all but geography, these are still Lower School students.
I don’t know how many schools have moved their 5th grade classes up to the middle school. Our school did it a number of years ago as a response to running out of room in the Lower School classrooms, and overall it has worked very well; our middle school is divided, with the first floor limited to 7th- and 8th-grade classrooms, and the second floor to 5th and 6th. Day-to-day procedures and teaching methods are different for each section, even 5th grade compared to 6th, and these accommodations work well. As I’m sure all of us have noticed, there is a world of difference between a 5th grader and an 8th-grader! Fifth-graders may have shot up over the summer–especially the girls–but they are still, as our counsellor says, much more like little kids than teenagers.
In the library, as well, we make distinctions between 5th graders and the rest of the middle school.
For example, I have found that I need to introduce new concepts gradually, especially involving tech. Our 5th graders may be digital natives, but they do need guidance in approaching tech as an academic tool (and in being willing to stop and listen to directions!). At the beginning of the year, especially, when we are not actively using the iPads we put them down out of reach. Impulse control–the struggle is real!
Also, our collection has to be carefully managed. The Middle/Upper School library serves students in the 5th through 12th grades. While I hope we will one day have a new building with separate space for the middle-school collection, in the meantime I have to manage two very different collections catering to a wide range of tastes and interests. My predecessor handled this by choosing to skew the collection to the middle-school level; while this avoided any potential problems of inappropriate checkouts, the result was an entire group of students who were left without a collection. This year, I am developing a YA collection separate from the general fiction collection. These books have a different spine label, as well as a silvery holographic dot just above the spine label as a way to try and prevent “mistake” checkouts. These books are also in a separate area of the library where I can easily see who is browsing. While I do not plan to be a martinet about letting students browse that area, I do plan to limit checkouts to Upper School students. We’ll see how it works out!
Finally, I have found that I have to be careful about seating for my 5th (okay, 6th too) graders. I purchased some awesome beanbags (stuffed with foam pieces, not polystyrene beads–highly recommended, with reservations as noted next) from Ultimate Sack (http://www.ultimatesack.com/) this fall. The students love them–mostly because they are actually big enough to take a nap in and therefore nearly impossible to move (hence the conditional recommendation as mentioned above). Did I mention that I bombed the spatial reasoning section on my high school career-skills test?
Yep, these are very popular. So we began the year spending anywhere from 5-10 minutes at the beginning of every class discussing where the beanbags were (Upper Schoolers take them to the back to nap on), how to move them (roll them like you’re a dung beetle), who should to sit on them this week, who got to sit on them last week, and who can do the best parkour pattern using *all* of the beanbags. (Mrs.Falvey = facepalm). Needless to say we had to lay some ground rules for the beanbags!
All this to say that even though they may be located in the middle school, 5th grade is still very much still in the Lower School for most of the year. And that is okay! iPads and pillar-obstacles and beanbags and keyword searches are all learning opportunities in their own right. I try to keep in mind that early-middle school students are still learning a lot about navigating life, and overall they are a joy to work with. I love their wide-open enthusiasm, the fact that they still love to read and be read to, and the fact that they will still speak to me when I see them on campus! But oh, how I wish I had measured those beanbags ahead of time!