Engaging young minds during early adolescence is commonly a challenge for the adults that interact with them. Teachers and parents are competing with all the distractions that occupy young people in our technology laced culture combined with social and physical changes that take place during these years. Experimenting with new ways of teaching and learning is necessary in order to keep middle school students engaged and interested. Allowing them to participate in their own learning in an environment conducive to creativity makes the development of a learning commons something that could only help the students. The inclusion of teaching content in combination with information literacy skills in the learning commons will embed digital literacy and citizenship into everything taught in the learning commons and eventually in the classroom.
This plan identifies ways in which the middle school library can be a dynamic multi-use space where students and teachers can access, create and experiment with learning. By re configuring the space and adding furnishings and infrastructure that will enhance existing technology and support others, the library commons will invite more integration of information literacy curriculum into key subjects and professional development. The creation of a library commons in a middle school library would offer students and teachers the ability to broaden teaching and learning experiences with 21st Century skills and technology in an environment that lends itself to creativity, design thinking and collaboration. It would offer teachers support for their efforts to integrate information literacy skills and technology into their lessons. These skills will hyperlink to the classrooms and homes via the virtual learning commons space using single sign on where applications and online learning systems for teachers, students and their families can be accessed.
The goal of this project is to offer individuals, classes, teachers and the community at-large an information and technology rich environment for:
- Experimental Learning and Design
- Digital experiences
The objectives of having a learning commons space is firstly, to make users comfortable in making decisions concerning their mode of learning. To offer spaces where different types of learning can take place. Quiet areas for those who learn better in low stimulus environments; active areas where collaboration can ensue with furniture that can be easily moved for to accommodate groups. All of this to build a community of learners and a body of knowledge where users can breach barriers to anything that holds them back from success.
Another objective of the learning commons space would be to showcase great teaching and learning through the use of technology to capture activity through digital media using tools like a Swivl robot and video equipment for further study of what works in the learning commons and what does not.
The Middle School Community
As stated, the physical, social, emotional and intellectual changes that take place for students during the middle school years make this community unique in many ways. These factors require accommodation when considering the way in which teaching and learning take place. According to the American Psychological Association, traditional methods of teaching applied in most middle schools fall short of providing their students with opportunities for decision making and lower levels of cognitive involvement, and place them in a complex social environment. In transitioning from elementary school to middle school, students undergo several layers of change. Physical changes combined with social and identity awareness creates a shift from to how they fit in it as individuals to how they conform to belong to the group. The emphasis in education shifts from task mastery to goals of attaining the highest grade.
Also included in this community are the teachers and parents that are involved with these students who believe that change is possible even with all the obstacles placed before these young people.
Action Brief Statement
In order to convince school administration that by purchasing new furnishings and technology infrastructure for the school library they will see greater results in innovative learning and teaching which will increase student participation because they will be active participants in their own education.
Evidence and Resources
What is a learning commons? (This video is an example of how the learning commons might be explained to staff)
What to expect from libraries in the 21st century (This video illustrates the mindset of change)
Loertscher, D. and Koechlin, C. “Climbing to Excellence: Defining characteristics of successful learning commons” Knowledge Quest, March/April 2014.
In the effort to elevate student success, the library commons will provide the school with a space that will offer opportunities for teachers and students to experience teaching and learning in a setting that is conducive to research and creativity.
The library commons is a flexible learning space within the library of approximately 3000 sq. ft. that will accommodate areas of quiet study, technology usage both for individual and group use, a presentation area equipped with technology, a makerspace, a computer lab, and an area with print information. It will be used by individuals, small groups, classes and possibly more than one class at a time. The scheduling for these spaces by teachers would be accessed by using online calendars and students could reserve spaces for groups by contacting the librarian via email or face to face.
The policies for the use of the learning commons will be developed through a committee including, the librarian, an administrator, teachers, parents and students. This committee would examine the existing school library policy and recreate it to include the library commons.
Initially, the virtual space of the learning commons will not require any outward funds except for manpower hours to design and implement a website that will complement the use of technology with single sign on feature and all school applications on one screen. This will save time for teaching and learning by minimizing time used for logging on to the network.
The further development of the learning commons will surely depend on the amount of funding that this project can procure. The search for appropriate grants would begin as soon as possible so the project could commence as soon as it is approved. Fund raising efforts would begin with the formation of a committee that would brainstorm ideas and make contacts. The committee would present and organize the fundraising events through the protocol that the school recommends.
Action Steps & Timeline:
- Committee will bring forth ideas for creating learning commons. Lists of supplies and actions will be made and the funds will be appropriated.
- Committee will present ideas to administration for final approval and go ahead with purchases and work orders. If it is not approved, the learning commons will go ahead with cleaning and painting. The virtual learning commons will continue to be developed to inspire creative learning.
- If the decision to begin work on the learning commons should be made by the end of the school year, the actual work can happen during the summer for implementation at the onset of the next school year.
- Furniture ordered and space made clear and cleaned.
- Mapping out of structure and furniture placement.
- Painting and movement of large furniture to make room for movable furniture areas and any construction that needs to take place for technology infrastructure, i.e. power, network ports, etc.
- The library commons will be prototyped upon the work of Loertscher and Koechlin in the article Climbing to Excellence: Defining Characteristics of Successful Learning Commons. Their concept of the library commons being a shift from the top down model to a more flat or “common” model where all users are able to participate in the building of both the physical and virtual environments using rich information and cutting edge technology. According to this model the learning commons would embody the following characteristics:
- Collaborative physical and virtual environment that invites and ignites participatory learning.
- Investment in school-wide improvement through an evidence-based process of design, modify, rethink, redesign and rework.
- Leadership team consists of those who can lead out front, from the middle or push from behind.
Staffing for most public schools only includes the professional librarian and possibly a paraprofessional library aide depending on the number of students enrolled in the school. However, to make a learning commons successful, a full-time library aide would be ideal so as the librarian would be free to participate in co teaching and management of the learning commons. If funding for a full-time aide is not feasible, responsible student aides may be able to perform the circulation and clerical duties needed to keep the librarian flexible.
During school hours the librarian, aide and teaching staff would be on hand to staff the learning commons. If the space is being used after hours, responsible adults will be on hand.
Training for using the space in the learning commons will take place during scheduled professional development days with all teaching staff present. The training will be designed to show the teaching staff what the space has to offer, how to sign up for time, how to contact the librarian for co teaching opportunities or one on one training.
Training for use of the website portal to the learning commons, the virtual space, will take place on the individual staff’s own time through learning modules offered through the school district’s learning management system.
A page on the school website will be dedicated to the learning commons and the activities that take place there will be showcased in slide shows, videos and blog posts. Student work will be displayed in the learning commons for further study and commentary by other students. Special events in the learning commons will be promoted to students via flyers and announcements.
A continual process of evaluation will take place as described in Loertscher and Koechlin to rethink, redesign and rework teaching and learning. The process would entail a transparency that would encourage input from all stakeholders to include teachers, students and administrators. Just as the activities that happen in the learning commons will be available to all students and teachers likewise, the sharing of information between teachers, students, and administrators will take place out in the open and this transparency will provide genuine input into where changes need to occur and provide for ongoing innovation.
Green, Lucy Santos. “Through the looking glass: Examining technology integration in school librarianship”. Knowledge Quest 43 (1) (09/01): 36-43, 2014.
Loertscher, David, and Koechlin, Carol. “Coteaching and the learning commons.” Teacher Librarian 43 (2) 2015.
Mueller, L. “From library to learning commons.” Teacher Librarian, 43(1), 2015.
Sykes, Judith Anne. 2016. The whole school library learning commons: An educator’s guide. Libraries Unlimited: Santa Barbara, CA.