Sunday, September 16, 2012

New Learning Commons - trying to keep positive

As I read The New Learning Commons: Where Learners Win! by Loertscher, Koechlin and Zwaan (2008), I kept finding myself having to fight my negative side - the curmudgeon who's always frustrated with our situation here in California. This resource is full of great ideas, but I struggle to see how we can make them a reality in my cash-strapped California elementary school.

I see my mission as an elementary school librarian first and foremost to get kids excited about reading. Our biggest mission is to turn kids onto reading, help kids see how reading empowers them, enriches their lives. Our school is fantastic at focusing teaching time toward authentic, clear reading instruction using the reading-workshop model. Kids read fiction and nonfiction, choosing books both at their level and above/below their level when the mood strikes them. 

I know our district values the elementary school libraries - we are lucky to have open, operating libraries in each elementary school. And yet, we do not have the funds to hire teacher librarians at any of the elementary schools, and we do not have the budget to purchase materials to adequately support our students. I struggle each day to get new books to hook our kids on reading - they want new books, popular books. Over half of our student body receives free and reduced lunch, so they depend on the school library to feed their reading appetite. Our school is one of the smallest in the district, so we receive the smallest materials allotment in the district. It just isn't enough to purchase books for readers from kindergarten through above 5th grade reading/interest levels, let alone enough to purchase the nonfiction for all of their information needs.

So when Loertscher et al. write that the learning commons is staffed by "multiple professionals, support personnel and volunteers, vs. a single adult consultant" (Loertscher et al., 2008, p. 65), it really jars with  my experience of reality in a California public elementary school. Later, Loertscher and his colleagues acknowledge the realities of the learning commons staffing problems. The lack of staffing and materials in our school libraries is a serious problem. As they write,
"The result has been little impact for dollars expended with the conclusion being that neither the library or computer labs earn their keep. It is as if the school was to buy a school bus without wheels and then wonder why kids are not getting to school" (p. 73).
But I must be frank - Loertscher and his colleagues do not provide adequate suggestions of how to work within this existing system, how to create meaningful incremental change.

I took the most significant suggestion from the teacher librarian forced to split her time between two schools. Each site had a full time support person staffing the library, but she now had to divide her time between two sites, supporting learners and teachers at each location. As she wrestled with this difficult situation, she "asked herself, 'What is it that I do that makes the most impact on teaching and learning?' She decided that it was not the day to day operation of the facility, but the planning, co-teaching, and assessment of learning activities" (p. 74).  This question hits the nail on the head for me.

As I evaluate how I contribute to the teaching and learning in my school, I want to continually ask myself, "Of the things I do on a daily and weekly basis, what makes the most impact on students' learning?" How do I focus my day, juggle my priorities so that I can make the most impact on teaching and learning? That's the key. Then, how do I show this impact to administrators who control budgets, scheduling and space allotment?

Loertscher, D., Koechlin, C., and Zwaan, S. (2008). The New Learning Commons: Where Learners Win! Salt Lake City, UT: Hi Willow Research and Publishing.

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