Before the Common Core Standards were introduced across the states, Middle School English Language Arts classes still visited the school’s library each week as part of its ninety-minute block. During this time, students worked with the media center specialist and their teacher to do a number of short tasks. Schools differed, but the age of the “Accelerated Reader” program became a platform for quick check reading comprehension at the independent level of each child. Books were color-coded and labeled, students knew which books were at their “best fit” level and a comprehensive program with built-in rewards motivated every child during their school’s “Drop Everything And Read” time. Teachers watched students take their A.R. tests and get new books as they earned points and prizes.
The library also paved the way to engage children in their first research experience. The media specialist began to envelop skills that still demanded readers to find print books about their topics and look on the school’s portal to find multiple primary sources to develop their information center for creating a formal paper. The internet, while valuable, didn’t lose to the idea of a text-based project.
Fast forward fifteen years and our Internet is now the research hub students use to gather information. Five and six-years-olds are unable to define an encyclopedia, atlas, or periodical. Upper elementary students rely on Wikipedia for their information and middle school students can pay for a written paper online, without ever having to research the topic. The middle school library has been forgotten as a hub for printed history, geography, and most importantly joy.
Public Library Programs Are Thriving
Summertime is a season for library specials, but it’s not the only time of year that public library programs are still booming with text-filled inspiration. Parents bring their infants, toddlers and pre-k children in for story hours, crafts, puppet shows, and plays. Alphabet letters, puzzles, and games are found all over the place. As the school year commences, reading programs pull in school-age children by offering incentives and activities each week. The older the child, the less demand and availability of the library program. Where is the disconnect between middle school readers, and middle school reading programs?
School Libraries Can Bring Back Text Joy
After the initiation of Common Core Standards, educators had the perfect opportunity to bring back the library time to the middle school student. Reading programs were substituted with Chromebooks, Ipads and other digital tools to increase “student engagement.” With this digital explosion, our libraries have become a WIFI hub, instead of a museum of text history. Teachers, media specialists, and administrators have all the power in the world to bring back library joy, so why don’t they? Why do schools move further away from books and reading books for research?
Libraries and media centers can serve as both collaborative zones for project-based learning and places for middle school students to employ text for tools of information, but stakeholders and patrons have to see the value. Educators can do this by bringing library time back once again. Spending two to three minutes with each student and helping them finding a novel or book that is on a topic they are interested in discovering is a great start. YouTube book reviews can take a book report and digitalize it into a project that students are geeked to record and produce. Teachers can assign projects that push students to use print books as a source, by making it a requirement in their research design. Students of all ages can compare and contrast the information that they find both online and in print while rediscovering what it is like to see topics presented in different ways.
The Gifts the Library Can Bring to A Middle School Student
Middle school libraries are the place that can provide exactly what the preteen and teenager need in terms of human development. Unfortunately, a lot of times, middle school students are expected to visit on their own time and it might just not be enough motive for the “on the fence” reader. The already engaged readers can tap into interests and find a secure spot with plenty of pieces of text to support what they want to learn about. Middle school media centers can also give students a safe space to explore independently on a campus that might be large, or intimidating to a new student. Spending time each week being present in the media center gives students who may never have the summer library opportunities a chance to go back to one of their favorite spaces from the elementary school. A media specialist can also take the time to dig into digital media, digital safety and the newest releases of books perfect for the ever-changing tween and teen. This is a twenty-minute segment that needs to be recharged and turned back into a school “special” so that we send the message into High School and beyond that libraries are so much more than a WIFI hub. We can build trust back in the system of literacy, research, and development, while also helping supplement our students with new things to see and explore. Instead of trying to put more into our ‘Common Core’ Language Arts classes, we can revisit some of the best resources that will invitingly prepare our digitized learners for careers, college or beyond.