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A Tale of Two Libraries - Tech Learning

A Tale of Two Libraries

Dale Hodges is a library chairperson, a role that carries clout in the William Floyd School District, where the library is a full-fledged department. Located on Long Island in New York, the district has eight schools, more than 10,000 students, and a remarkably vital library program. A Department of Their Own The
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Dale Hodges is a library chairperson, a role that carries clout in the William Floyd School District, where the library is a full-fledged department. Located on Long Island in New York, the district has eight schools, more than 10,000 students, and a remarkably vital library program.

A Department of Their Own

The power of the program stems from its single-minded focus: helping students succeed in their curricular units as measured by state and district standards. As such, all conversations between teachers and librarians start and end with curriculum—technology happens to be one of the tools that helps them achieve their goals.

The way it works is simple enough. When a teacher has an idea that involves the library media center, Hodges meets with librarians to plan the lesson and suggest ways to integrate technology into it. For example, when an English teacher realized that her eighth graders lacked PowerPoint skills, she and the library staff created a lesson in which students wrote author reports and presented them in PowerPoint. "The students became very fluent in PowerPoint, effortlessly," Hodges says. "[The technology] became, all of a sudden, invisible to them."

Information literacy is integrated in the curriculum in the Postcards from the Continent lesson, as well. In lieu of a boring atlas exercise, the teacher and librarian assign groups of third grade students a continent to study. Each group uses atlases and online resources to gain familiarity with their continents. Later, they use computers to create informative postcards for friends and family.

Fortunately, the William Floyd School District has no shortage of technology to weave in to the curriculum. Instead of computers labs, the district stocks the library media centers with 12 to 36 desktop computers that can access the Internet, the catalog, and online databases.

A prime challenge for students, then, is selecting from the bounty available to them. With this in mind, the library staff systematically exposes students to print and electronic resources. Starting in kindergarten, they guide students through resource evaluation, teaching them how to sort for relevance, accuracy, and credibility. In time, students become adept at weeding through information, seeking out the main ideas, and proving thesis statements.

The librarians are active in professional development, too. They've taught Connecting Technology and Teaching and Advanced Web Quests workshops to their peers and recently proposed a technology-infused unit that integrates literature, music, painting, and poetry.

William Floyd's secret to success? "There's an understanding that team learning has an edge over individuals muddling through on their own," says Hodges. "We take that precious opportunity and run with it."

Better Together

When Kathy Lowe was hired by the Boston Arts Academy/Fenway High School seven years ago, headmaster Linda Nathan charged her with making the library the intellectual center of the community. To get the job done right, Lowe knew what would be required. "I'd need to work with teachers and I'd need to teach students, and I'd need a library staff to make that possible," she told Nathan.

Today, with the support of a library technology specialist, two library assistants, and one archivist, Lowe is doing just that. "From the start, collaboration was a given," says Lowe, who works with faculty and students from BAA and Fenway, public high schools that share a campus and library next to Fenway Park.

Lowe uses departmental planning time to meet with teachers, introduce resources, and plan how to integrate those resources into curricula. One result of this effort is Artwork of the Millennium, a project in which ninth graders investigate works of art. To prepare students for their research, Lowe leads workshops on how to locate online sources and perform database searches. She also teaches students to evaluate Web sites, checking credentials and determining biases. "We want students to be critical users of information rather than grabbing the first thing that comes across the screen," she says.

So serious is Lowe about collaboration, she's created a rubric that defines the various levels of cooperation between library staff and teachers. At the bottom end of Lowe's "Collaboration Continuum" is consumption—people show up at the library but don't really know what they're doing. At the high end is full collaboration, when the librarian and the teacher plan curriculum projects together. "In my nirvana, the [teachers '] grading rubric would include an evaluation of their library process," says Lowe. "To truly collaborate you have to plan and teach together, then you have to evaluate." That evaluation piece is now in place—the latest upgrade to the Artwork project.

Rich with resources, the library also has a special arts center funded by the Boston Symphony Orchestra's Education Program. Its multimedia collection includes videos, CDs, and 5,000 art slides courtesy of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. The Boston Symphony also funds extended hours for the whole library after school until suppertime, on Saturday mornings, and during the summer.

Another crucial service is the library Internet portal, available to BAA/Fenway's students and staff as well as faculty from other Boston schools. The library catalog is open to anyone with Internet access and a password, so teachers and students can do research from home. The portal also offers bibliography generators, Web site evaluators, and links to school projects.

Evidence shows the portal has been extremely successful. When the Boston Public Schools issued monthly usage rates for SIRS databases, for example, it showed BAA/Fenway's SIRS use was greater than the city's other high schools combined. "I attribute that to our level of collaboration with teachers and to the amount of teaching we're doing with our students," Lowe says. "I feel like the luckiest librarian in the universe."

Stephanie Gold is an educational consultant and freelance writer.

William Floyd's Toolbox

BAA/Fenway's Toolbox

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