When talking about teaching and learning teachers do not immediately think about a school library. Most teachers see a library as just a place filled with shelves of books and a librarian as someone who is cataloguing, collecting and issuing books. In my view, teaching staff is mostly confused about the role and responsibility of a teacher-librarian.
I try to challenge some librarian stereotypes, and I do my best to make our library a ‘hub’, a central place in school where students and teachers come together to share literature, read and learn.
School library is an invaluable resource for learning
Libraries are about Freedom. Freedom of ideas, freedom of communication, freedom to read, think and learn… Library is a safe space where everyone’s questions, suggestions and ideas are welcomed and encouraged; it is a unique place at school where each student is treated as an individual in their attitudes, needs and taste. A librarian responds to everyone’s enthusiasms and enjoys spending the time thinking/ recommending/ finding the right book for the right student.
In a school library teachers have the feeling of intellectual independence which is essential to the proper fulfillment of the teachers’ functions.
“The teacher, like the artist, the philosopher, and the man of letters, can only perform his work adequately if he feels himself to be an individual directed by an inner creative impulse, not dominated or fettered by an outside authority.” (“Unpopular Essays” on The Functions of a Teacher, Bertrand Russell).
Libraries are about values and ideals. School librarians strive for excellence in the profession by maintaining and enhancing their own knowledge and skills, and also by encouraging the professional development of co-workers. They are passionate about reading and books, and about maintaining philosophical values that reflect wisdom, truth, and intellectual independence. They always express a commitment to lifelong learning, and try to develop humanistic, idealistic, and aesthetic values in school.
Libraries are very collaborative spaces. By observing the inner workings of a school from a slight distance, a teacher-librarian is in the privileged position of being able to work with teachers across all subjects and students of all ages: in some collaborative projects, CLIL / TBLT /Dogme lessons, seminars and lectures, extracurricular activities, blogging/ writing teaching journals, e-magazines, etc.
Teaching is an increasingly important part of librarians’ work
I am broadly spending less time with collecting books and more time helping students with learning and doing homework… Thanks to my PLN (which is a great source of information and inspiration to me) and some online seminars on information and media literacy, I am knowledgeable about current research on teaching and learning, and skilled in helping students to access, evaluate, and use information from multiple sources in order to learn. I also provide students with materials and some useful tips on how to use the Internet, how to cite correctly and not plagiarize. Plagiarism is especially difficult for students to understand, as plagiarism has a wider meaning than just not being allowed to use a material without citing it.
ELT opportunities in the library
ELT extensive reading classes
Our school library has a large reading and study space. There is a wide variety of text types and topics to choose from. Students can read a lot and often and they can choose what to read. Reading purposes can focus on: pleasure, information and general understanding. Materials are within the language competence of the students. Reading is individual, and silent. The teacher-librarian is a role model… a reader, who participates along with the students.
In general English and ESP task-based lessons students can complete a task in pairs or groups using the language resources that they have as the teacher-librarian monitors and offers encouragement and help with the materials. In a task-based lesson the teacher/librarian doesn’t pre-determine what language will be studied, therefore the students are free of language control. The language explored arises from the students’ needs. This need dictates what will be covered in the lesson rather than a decision made by the teacher or the coursebook. As the students can use the quality online dictionaries or dictionaries and reference books in the library, they are exposed to a whole range of lexical phrases, collocations and patterns as well as language forms.
TBLT is a strong communicative approach where students spend a lot of time communicating; it is enjoyable and motivating. I have written before about a TBLT lesson in the library .
If you love Dogme teaching but cannot apply it in the classroom (because of the imposed coursebook/ grammar syllabus) you can bring your students to the library and enjoy unplugged lessons.
In Dogme lessons there should be no methodological structures that interfere with the free flow of participant-driven input, output and feedback. The source of all activities is the students and teacher themselves. If a particular piece of material is necessary for the lesson, a library is a perfect place where that material is to be found. The only recorded material that is used should be that recorded in the library itself, e.g. recording students in pair or group work for later re-play and analysis.
I’ve had a lot of interesting conversations with students in the library so far, on the topics they found relevant: food, travelling, sports, hobbies, future job(s), books and authors they love, etc.
A few weeks ago I enjoyed a conversation with Ana K., an avid reader and excellent 3d year student. Ana came in smiling and said hello to me, sat at a table and started writing something in her notebook. The library was bathed in sunshine; I was busy and quiet cataloguing some books. All of a sudden she said with a sigh that she was writing a poem for a poetry event, and that it was not at all easy because she is not a poet, but her teacher nudged suggested that she should write it for the event.
I suddenly thought that would be nice to ask her a few questions (in English) just for fun, as she once told me she loved English. We started talking spontaneously in English and I really enjoyed listening to her. I let her speak whatever came to her mind. She was talking fluently about some books she had read recently. I elicited some responses (re: giving opinions on the books) and then introduced some new words and phrases like: gripping, thought-provoking, witty, humorous, hilarious, make a pun, wordplay…
I explained these words by talking about the books I love, by giving some example sentences focusing on collocations/colligations and pronunciation, too. Then I wanted her to practise these words in context on her own, and so I mentioned a specific English humour based on wordplay and puns (which is often difficult to translate into our language). She nodded and gave me an example of a word with several meanings (tip), or read and red (words that sound similar) that can be used in a pun, just to show that she grasped the meaning of pun.
As we are both Monty Python’s fans we went on talking about Monty Python’s sketches and comedies, and their surreal humour based on wordplay, absurd situations and sublime silliness. We agreed about that there’s a barely a moment in either “Holy Grail” or “Life of Brian” that isn’t funny. I told her about my favourite “He’s not the Messiah” scene.
Then we returned to Ana’s notebook (of poems). I recommended her the film Paterson by Jim Jarmusch, a film celebrating poetry, and living in the now, and appreciating those little things – small details in life…
“Paterson wants every day to be a blank page in the same book – one worth filling, but only with the right words.”
A few days later Ana came to the library just to tell me that she watched “Paterson” and liked it very much. She told me that the film was somehow different from the mainstream movies, and that it inspired her to write a poem.