Can you recall what a day at school was like just ten years ago? Now think about what it might look like ten years into the future. The way teachers and students experience learning, conduct research and inquiry, and respond to it has evolved in many ways in just a decade, and we can safely assume that change will continue in the coming years. So much of what students are reading, watching, presenting and producing is tied to computer devices and digital platforms. And teachers are planning, researching, collaborating, assessing, responding and reporting about learning using these same devices. The tools available to schools today have opened up many possibilities for more personalized approaches to learning, more creative ways to evaluate and respond to lessons, and opened up access to myriad resources across the globe.
But fundamentally, kids still rely on the teacher to point them in a direction, to coach them during the process, to keep them focused and to help them grow. But not all kids learn at the same rate. Some zip through math, while others struggle. Some read and write with ease, while others have challenges decoding and comprehending a narrative. One of the best things that a school library can do is fill in the gaps for the students who struggle, provide extra support for students who need a bit more help, challenge students who have already mastered the basics.
It is true, there exist some technology advancements to aid teachers in reaching students at their level and delivering material in a customized pace, however nothing replaces the human interaction of a trained teacher and teacher librarian in supporting the needs of a student in their learning.
How can a school library begin to provide that kind of personalized support? Michelle Easley’s article Personalized Learning Environments and Effective School Library Programs (2017) provides a framework for school library programs, with examples from the field, and recommendations based on research.
- Curate digital resources for teachers/students
- Offer students voice and choice in their assignments
- Provide equitable access to resources for all students
- Nurture a trusting, safe relationship between librarian and student
- Identify and evaluate materials from a variety of sources for use with curriculum and instruction
- Research, review and recommend technology tools to support personalized learning
- Collaborate with administration and teachers-and by extension students and their families– to fully integrate library services into the school program
- Adapt physical environment to cultivate the setting for personalized learning
- Adapt the school schedule to support time for personalized learning experiences
- Keep the web space and electronic resources available to students current, engaging and user friendly.
One thing that is clear is the whole school needs to embrace the relevance of the library as an important learning resource and the librarian as a trusted partner for instruction. Once the commitment is there, the possibilities for students and creative learning are quite powerful. Joan Frye Williams, addressing professionals at a 2014 ALA summit noted that future-oriented school libraries need to be places with an abundance of ideas–not a book warehouse but an idea center. And the librarian is the key player in ensuring access to these ideas. The web space of the library is a key platform for attention–to ensure access and to what the learner needs, when they need it. (source)
In the author’s own experience, the high schools of Fulton County, Georgia adopted a county-wide initiative to transform this type of learning, stemming from seven key principles as shown in the illustration below. The plan was created with the involvement of many stakeholders: instructional staff, administrative team, parents, and students. The results transformed the physical space, and the instructional strategy, and learning experience for every student.
Easley, M. (2017). Personalized Learning Environments and Effective School Library Programs. Knowledge Quest, 45(4), 16-23.
Foote, Carolyn School (2017) Libraries leading the way into the future. School Library Connection, April 4, 2017. Retrieved from http://blog.schoollibraryconnection.com/2017/04/04/school-libraries-leading-the-way-into-the-future/