Thursday, March 08, 2018

To Flex or Not to Flex?

To Flex or Not to Flex? 

Flexible scheduling has been a recurring buzz word in the elementary library media services (LMS) world.  If your view of the elementary LMS is as a coteacher, an educator, and collaborator, then a flexible schedule is an excellent route for you! 

This time fifteen years ago, the position of library media specialist in my building meant helping students check out books, re-shelving books, and helping teachers find web pages that would be beneficial for them in the classroom with their students.  In the library atmosphere, students were expected to be quiet to silent while their one purpose was to check out resources.

Fast forward to today and our library looks significantly different.  It is filled with students talking, problem solving, and actively searching for various library materials.  A makerspace takes up one-third of our library space where students are encouraged to use their creativity, communication, collaboration, and critical thinking skills.  A Lego wall covers an eight feet by just under seven feet space so students can practice their engineering skills on a vertical space.

Just as our physical space in the library has changed, so has the position of the elementary library media specialist.  It is rare to find me in the library checking out books with students or re-shelving books.  More than not, you will find me in classrooms teaching research, technology, and project based learning skills to our elementary students.

To add to this change, we have recently moved to a flexible schedule.  This is where some people will gasp!  I, as an elementary library media specialist, no longer have set weekly times when I go to classrooms.  I now go to classrooms by request.  Don’t get me wrong, my fabulous library assistant still sees students on a regular basis for 30 minutes every week for checkout, but when a classroom teacher would like to collaborate, coteach, and have me come into the classroom to work with students in various library and technology areas, I am put into action.  Do not fret, a flexible schedule does not mean a free for all.  I am still required to teach specific library media skills, 21 Century Skills, and tie these to classroom content.  The big difference between what I was doing two years ago and what I am doing today can be summed up with the words authentic and relevant from the stand points of being tied directly to what students are learning as well as when they are learning it. 
Come on this journey with me as I take you through my experience of moving from a fixed to a flexible schedule as an elementary LMS. 

My first year as an LMS, I was in 13 classrooms for a half an hour every week and in an additional 12 classrooms for an hour every week.  This was in addition to our regularly scheduled library time. The hardest part that year was trying to find content to teach at a relevant time that was authentic and meaningful to the students.  I would scour the walls when I went into a classroom to see what the teacher had posted and then base my lesson for the next week off of that classroom content or I would stalk the classroom teacher when they would return to see how I could tie next week’s lesson into what they were doing in the classroom.  I always tried to connect this content to technology and introduced technology skills that would someday benefit the students outside of my LMS time.  My lessons, though related to the content I was seeing in the classroom, were not done in unison with the classroom and the technology skills that I was instilling may not be needed until a month or two down the line, if even then, where they may have already been forgotten.  It often seemed like I was preparing students with skills that they may or may not use and reviewing content they had already learned.  The exposure to these skills, while beneficial, didn’t feel like they were always as effective.

The last two years of my LMS career have been done utilizing a flexible schedule.  I get the opportunity to coteach with classroom teachers and enrich the content lessons they are already teaching.  I bring in technology skills that are being taught as they are needed so the work is authentic and students better remember the applications they are learning.  I am support for project based learning (PBL).  Where I would see a class once a week for a set amount of time on a fixed schedule, I may now see that same class four times a week for an hour each time to accomplish set learning goals through PBL.  There is consistency to the learning and it is done in a relevant amount of time. To better explain the time given to this classroom, in a traditional LMS fixed setting, in one month, I would have seen that class for a total of two hours.  With the flexible setting, I may see them for four hours in the same one month setting.  Not only did the time double, but the learning was genuine as well.  With the flexible schedule, I will come in and pre-teach a technology skill which will be utilized the next week for application with classroom content.  I will come in during that time as well to be support to the students.  Through a flexible schedule, I can coteach with classroom teachers. 

In kindergarten, I came in and helped with research where I showed students how to navigate data base sites and then stayed and helped students who were struggling to get their words down on paper.  This style of teaching allowed by a flexible schedule allotted for two adults to be actively engaged with students in the classroom to enrich the kindergartener’s research and writing experiences.

Another bonus with a flexible schedule, where collaboration and coteaching are the expectations, is that teachers are becoming more independent in their technology skills because they are in the classroom learning with the students as the LMS is introducing the skills.  When they use these specific applications for classroom work with their students, they have a better understanding of how the applications work and how to help students navigate them. 

You may be wondering if classrooms still receive the same amount of time they normally would through a flexible schedule.  When compared minute to minute the amount of time spent in classrooms during a fixed schedule to the amount of time spent last year in classrooms with a flexible schedule, I was over the minutes spent in classrooms with the flexible schedule.  The difference was that not all teachers received the same amount of time.  Some teachers received less as they struggled to find a time that worked for the classroom teacher and LMS to work together while the majority of classes were over what they would have gotten on a thirty minute, once a week fixed schedule.  To improve the difference in classroom time, this year I have tried to send out times that I am available to work with students through email to those teachers who struggle.  This has worked well helping to level the amount of time all classrooms receive.  As we are now into our second year of flexible scheduling, teachers are finding more ways that we can work together and are more willing to tackle larger projects through collaboration and coteaching to benefit the learning of the students. 

Flexible scheduling is new to the elementary library media specialist.  The benefits of flexible scheduling with the library media specialist for students continue to rise as we build the skills of collaboration, communication, critical thinking, and creativity as a unified team. 

Twitter Tuesday Questions:

Q1:  In the elementary setting, LMS are often utilized for coverage during PLC, what are other means of coverage that could be used instead for PLCs?
Q2:  How do we ensure that all students are still benefitting from LMS experiences?
Q3:  How can we continue to encourage collaboration and communication between classroom teachers and library media specialists?

Q4:  How can we make the learning in the classroom match the learning that is currently occurring with the LMS?

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