The Old Turnpike School Library Media Center is a hub of learning, creativity, and problem-solving. My colleagues and I refer to the library media center as the “Learning Commons” because it’s a space that is so much more than a library. In the article “Climbing to Excellence: Defining Characteristics of Successful Learning Commons,” authors David V. Loertscher and Carol Koechlin, (gurus of the school library world for you non-librarians out there!) explained that “although the learning commons will look and feel different in every school, it must be the center of inquiry, digital citizenship, project-based learning, collaborative intelligence, advanced literacy, as well as the center of creating, performing, and sharing”(E4).
As a 21st century teacher-librarian, it is my professional responsibility (and passion!)
to make sure that the library is a learning commons for our students. Due to tremendous support from the Tewksbury Township Board of Education, the administration, the Tewksbury Education Foundation, and parents, we have been able to create a learning commons where students can come to explore their interests, share ideas,
create, and learn.
Center of Inquiry and Project-Based Learning
Students in grades five through eight spend one marking period each year in my research-driven and project-based learning class. Rather than simply researching an assigned topic and writing a report, students are asked to investigate real-world problems and challenges. Students read, take notes, and then organize and use the new information to create knowledge and, in turn, develop solutions they can share with their community.
Collaborative Intelligence, Advanced Literacy, and a Center of Creating, Performing, and Sharing
Through generous grants from the Tewksbury Education Foundation and parent donations, we have created several makerspaces in the Learning Commons. Our makerspaces include a podcast and video studio, Sphero balls, Little Bits, K’Nex, and Brain Blocks. Students work together and build and create while having fun. It is amazing to see how the students’ creativity and problem solving skills show through during these non-traditional school activities. Students are involved in the after-school Podcast Club where they write and record original podcast series.
While the Learning Commons is buzzing with technology, it is still a place where students can sit and read a book. I spend time talking with students and helping them select a book that is match in terms of interest and reading level. Not only can students check out and read wonderful print books, they can log in to our school catalog where they have access to eBooks and audiobooks.
Our Learning Commons is also equipped to host events and school assemblies. Our space is flexible, so it easily transforms from a classroom into our version of an auditorium. Last year we had representatives from our recycling company meet with our seventh grade students on how we can work together to improve our recycling efforts in school. In the spring, our students showcase their artwork in the annual art show.
No matter what our students grow up to be, they will all face challenges and problems that will require them to find information and then make decisions. That is what drives me in this profession, and that is why the Learning Commons staffed with Certified School Library Media Specialists is so important. I want our students to be adults who know where to go for good information, know what to do with that information when they get it, and have the skills to use that information to create solutions and help themselves.
Emily Searle is the Library Media Specialist at Old Turnpike School in Tewksbury Township, where she teaches problem based learning classes to students in grades 5-8. She is also Co-President of the Hunterdon County Librarians Association.