Reaching Beyond English: Collaboration with Teachers in All Content Areas

This November, when an art class walked into the library with their teacher, the students didn’t seem incredulous that they were there. Rather, there was curiosity brewing on their faces: how in the world would the library connect with what they were learning in art? they seemed to wonder. It’s one of the things I enjoy most about my job: my students know that my co-librarian and I can show up in just about any class–or any class can visit us in the library. We make it a point to truly see our entire school as our responsibility to support and collaborate with, whether it is book browsing activities for English, providing print and digital resources for history, teaching credible sources to science classes, or in this case, introducing Creative Commons to our Computers in Art class.

Since our middle school library has a fully flexible schedule, we prioritize scheduling classes across the curriculum and building relationships with all staff. While we certainly help our students select books to read for independent reading in English class, we have truly embraced the idea that library skills should be learned in all content areas.

A few of my favorite activities that reach beyond English class:

  • The Art of Reading Picture Books in Family & Consumer Science: Students learned various techniques for how to read picture books to young children as part of their unit on babysitting and taking care of young children. We talked about strategies and then students paired up to choose a picture book from our collection to read aloud to each other.
  • Practicing Reading Fluency in Spanish: Students in Spanish class made use of our extensive Spanish books collection to practice reading aloud to partners. We talked about context clues, using pictures to infer unknown words, and even connected reading aloud to listening to audiobooks!
  • Creative Commons, Intellectual Freedom, and Licensing Your Digital Work in Art: (This is actually the lesson referred to at the beginning of this post!) Students learned about intellectual freedom, copyright, Creative Commons, and how to license the work they create in the Computers in Art class. Many students have never heard of Creative Commons before and there is always good discussion about being on the artist side of work being stolen digitally.
  • Harlem Renaissance and Book Lists in History: A pre-pandemic lesson we collaborated on with a history teacher included researching artists, musicians, and more from the Harlem Renaissance using a biographies database. Then, students used our makerspace to create something to represent their person or what they learned as a visual aide. The next class, students presented the information on their person and showed what they made in the makerspace. It was a great project! As an honorable mention, we also have supported history by matching historical fiction and nonfiction in our collection with their units of study. At the beginning of each unit, students have a list of related reading that supports their learning for that unit. It’s been really successful so far!
  • Fun Friday with English Learners: Each month, we collaborate with the Beginning English classes to do a fun activity in our makerspace. Sometimes we do stations of fun activities like coloring or LEGOs just for students to have some down time, while other months we have done more content- and language acquisition-related activities, including making a creation with various materials and having to describe it to a partner, who has to make the same creation without seeing it. This helps with vocabulary but also supports their learning of prepositional phrases (on top of, in front of, behind, etc.) and adjectives (small brown tube, red plastic cup, etc.). We have also done activities with sequencing to include the words first, then, next, finally, among many other activities. Read more about some of these activities on my blog here.

Each of these lessons teaches skills that are fully supported by AASL’s National School Library Standards and are valid ways of collaborating with staff at your school to support student learning across the school. When you and your library are fully integrated into your school’s curricula, you truly become the heartbeat and hub of student learning.

As 2022 begins, consider which content areas you support and a content area (or two!) that might be receptive to a new collaboration opportunity. The year is full of new possibilities!

What lessons or services do you provide teachers that are across the curriculum? Feel free to share!

Author: Rachel Grover

Rachel Grover is a middle school librarian in Fairfax County, Virginia, and a member of the board of directors for the Virginia Association of School Librarians. She has published articles on ways to make school libraries accessible for Knowledge Quest and on genrefying the library collection for School Library Connection. She also has developed workshops for beginning librarians for School Library Connection. Rachel was an elementary school teacher for two years before beginning life as a middle-school English teacher in 2009. In 2014, she joined Libraryland, finding a dream job she didn’t even know was her dream! When she is not working, she loves reading, tinkering with technology, traveling, taking photographs, and sleeping in. Her passions include genrefication, makerspaces, technology, collaboration with teachers across the curriculum, and making school libraries equitable and accessible for all learners.

Categories: Blog Topics, Community/Teacher Collaboration, Makerspaces/Learning Commons

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