What does it mean to be a “library” (now, in many places, transitioned to the “learning commons” model) and “librarian” in the 21st century? So many people think back to their past experiences of what a library looked and felt like. Many people probably have a vision of the stereotype: “SHHHHHH!” being hushed at you for talking too loudly. No food. No drink. Computer “lab” spaces with the advent of the first personal computers in the 1990s. Rows and rows of stationary computers, in a separate room.
Our school board has made great strides in the transition to the learning commons model. The vision for our LC model is as follows:
A Learning Commons is a physical, virtual and shared space, designed to encourage students to explore their environment and the world around them. The Learning Commons is an innovative centre offering students a place to engage, explore and collaborate with others. (OCSB)
The focus on developing literacies, learning partnerships, flexible and collaborative learning spaces and leveraging digital resources to make this space a “hub” - buzzing with conversations and learning opportunities. In my school, I have never seen this space as popular as in the past few years; not by students reluctantly dragging their feet to go sit at desk to plug away at math homework or English reading, but by students who are actively choosing to spend their lunch, with their friends, in the Learning Commons!
In light of this, I chose the article: Formulating a Vision for Learning Spaces in Libraries, to get me thinking about how the structure of a “learning commons” lends to different experiences than that of a “library” and how the teacher-librarian plays a key role in the success of these spaces.
As Forrest and Hinchliffe explain, “collaboration and team-building have become common components of the teaching and learning process throughout the curricula. Group research projects and conferencing are the norm, and active learning techniques are common in both the ways faculty teach and how students learn from each other. Facilitation techniques are being used not just to "run a better meeting" but as part of how groups can work together in the learning environment. Students need space to meet, to discuss, to collaborate” (Forrest and Hinchliffe 296). Now that we are into the second decade of the 21st century, there is no denying that we are immersed in the digital age and that the 21st century learner, worker and leader will need vastly different skills and experiences than their counterparts in the last century. While the pendulum swung away from group work in schools (individual assessment as the most authentic assessment) in the late 90s and early 2000s, collaboration is the 21st century skill that is everywhere.
Michael Fullan, one of the leading experts on “Deep Learning”, includes collaboration (and thereby, communication) as two of the top six skills needed in the 21st century.
Knowing that these are key skills for success, we must explore:
What are the characteristics that should define these new spaces? And how can teacher-librarians effectively advocate for new learning spaces? What partnerships can help develop this potential for making libraries more integrated educational spaces?
Through their examination, the authors looked at a few libraries for their models. The Main Library at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign was one example. This library shared their vision through their statement on learning spaces, explaining that they “believe that the Library should have appropriate spaces for instructional activities and informal learning that accommodate a variety of learning styles, instructional situations, and teaching preferences. Such teaching and learning spaces thus need to be varied, flexible, and conveniently co-located with library services and collections as well as designed specifically for learning” (298).
This vision certainly encapsulates the key features of a “learning commons”, as opposed to a traditional library. A learning environment in which students can work towards these key 21st century skills and use this space for both formal and informal learning experiences and activities. Circular tables with whiteboard paint to solve math equations. Green screens to make video tutorials. 3D printers for makerspaces. Chairs on wheels to move quickly and easily from one side of the table to another, from group member to group member. Smart Projectors for interactive note taking and sharing. Bright, natural light! And talking. Lots of talking. The possibilities are endless. This is how we meet the standard to design Learning Environments to Support Participatory Learning (Standard 5) and how we Facilitating Collaborative Engagement to Cultivate and Empower a Community of Learners (Standard 1).
And who better to facilitate this transition and encourage and model the effective use of the learning commons than the teacher-librarian?! While the title might sound like a bit of a cliche, the article “Why School Librarians Matter” offers a research based look at exactly why high quality library programs, facilitated by librarians who share their expertise, result in gains in student academic achievement. In fact, several studies cited by the authors indicated that school “graduation rates and mastery of academic standards” rose in schools with strong school libraries (Lance and Kachel 15). Remarkably, the “mere presence of a school librarian is associated with better student outcomes” (16). If you add in the contributions of an active school library and librarian in which they plan collaboratively with teachers, host workshops on research and writing skills, organize book clubs, invite authors to guest speak … the possibilities and opportunities for students to thrive are truly endless. Most importantly, in my opinion, is that the the benefits associated with a good library program had the most impact on marginalized members of the school community, including those experiencing financial struggles and those with disabilities.
That’s my vision: the teacher-librarian as a leader, a mentor, a facilitator in creating collaborative, enriching learning spaces and experiences for students led, authentic learning experiences.
Duckworth, Sylvia. @SylviaDuckworth via https://bookcreator.com/2017/10/what-are-the-6cs-and-why-are-they-important/.
Forrest, Charles, and Lisa Janicke Hinchliffe. “Beyond Classroom Construction and Design: Formulating a Vision for Learning Spaces in Libraries.” Reference & User Services Quarterly, vol. 44, no. 4, 2005, pp. 296–300. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/20864404. Accessed 27 Feb. 2020.
Lance, Keith Curry, and Debra E. Kachel. “Why School Librarians Matter: What Years of Research Tell Us.” The Phi Delta Kappan, vol. 99, no. 7, 2018, pp. 15–20. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/26552375. Accessed 27 Feb. 2020.
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Who am I?
Hi! I'm Megan. 21st century learner and teacher. I am passionate about DI, assessment, student success and #edtech. My blog is where I share what is happening in my classes, my professional learning and sometimes things that are on the outer circle of education. Comments always welcome!