By: Betty (BT) Bouton, South Carolina Teacher-librarian
Right off the rip, I prefer the title teacher-librarian (TL). That’s what we are, and “media specialist” sounds inflatedly special. And as for whether TLs have anything to offer teachers in the world of unlimited access to almost everything, “Dang right, we do!”
Given the ongoing COVID-19 changes in instruction, I’ve divided my comments into two parts, like the vinyl 45 records that were THE medium in my youth.
Side A (also known as the “Big Hit”): Dream Dream Dream
Side A is the big hit — what your teacher-librarian is itching to do to help embed literacy skills in your classes in the “normal” school environment. (Warning: focus on SS, science, ELA, arts, and exceptional children. Math, I need help.) TLs truly “dream” of ways we can help our colleagues plan, gather resources, teach, and evaluate, using our standards along with state curriculum standards.
Teachers need resources to deliver personalized and differentiated instruction, and Google supplies LOTS of results. Your TL is popping to be your teammate in selecting the BEST sites and sources.
We will curate the open-source material; but even better, we can guide teachers and students to powerful information resources and student-friendly tools (leveled articles, translations, audio, built-in dictionaries, and citation creators) available in databases, which are not the natural go-to sources for students and many teachers. For example, Charleston County School District provides access to SC Discus and additional databases through MackinVia, and our Destiny library system allows for TLs to create resource collections (on any topic/standard) that include books, websites, and database articles — all available to teachers and students. Ask, and we will collaborate!
But even Side A has its challenges: teachers create and assign great projects, but then are disappointed with students’ underwhelming results. Again, TLs are classroom teachers’ backup when it comes to down-and-dirty teaching: collaborating in direct instruction to guide students as they form research questions, evaluate sources, process information, and synthesize their results. TLs can also help with innovative methods for students to “publish” their work.
Some of my most productive teaching experiences recently have been in science classrooms, collaborating on DBQs. As a co-teacher in an eighth-grade science unit about travel to Mars, the classroom teacher was the “science,” and I was the “search, source, cite.” Together, we addressed the needs of a range of students: the high fliers, students with IEPs, students with English as their second language, and struggling learners. The science teacher and I together planned, delivered instruction, created the scoring rubric, and graded students’ work.
But there’s more! I’ve just begun using MakerSpace projects to support literacy, admittedly late realizing how powerful hands-on activities are in improving literacy and learning. This year I hosted Maker lunches for 6th graders, using simple, fun activities to complement content standards. In a session on electrical circuits, students watched a short BrainPop video twice: before and after I led them through directions for a pre-made activity (with their hands on the supplies and directions). Then we let it roll. The light bulbs went off literally, and also figuratively for several at-risk students: “Hey, this is what we’re doing in science!”
And the possibilities for Ozobots in HS history and MS SS, especially for interactive timelines! Here’s an elementary-level project provided by Ozobot – substitute your content and start dreaming of teaming with your TL.
Side B (also known as the “Flip Side”): Hang on Sloopy
Well, this side of the vinyl is not yet a hit. The 12 weeks of “online learning” were a cipher and challenge to me as a TL. As I try to plan for the new school year, some days I can’t even get my Side B to spin on the turntable. That chipper “song” writer for Side A has been replaced by this less confident, but still hopeful TL.
On the plus, I did district-wide read-alouds of Some Kind of Courage by Dan Gemeinhart, my school’s guest author in 2019. Dan participated in one of the first sessions, trading time reading with me and talking about his next novel. But student engagement was low, as it was for most of our district-sponsored read-alouds for MS and HS.
On the minus, I struggled to find my traction for how to help content-area teachers. I created/updated a spreadsheet with online resources that supported the Quarter 4 standards for each subject/grade level; worked with some Related Arts teachers to set up Google classrooms (which they had not previously needed), and trouble-shot teachers’ and students’ technical issues. But I did not establish new and meaningful ways to support literacy. Shame on me.
But even during this summer limbo, TLs are spinning the turntable: sharing ideas about supporting literacy with new instructional models. As we teachers “hang on” to learn what instruction will look like, your school’s TL is ready to jump in to make the new model work for you and your students. With collaboration, Side B has the potential to be a chart-topping hit!
About the Author
BT has been teaching for 36 years, the last 12 as a teacher-librarian at Camp Road Middle School on James Island, SC.