Thank you so much for the compliments, comments and questions about library centers that you've been sending me! I love to hear about YOUR school libraries!
Because I've had the same questions asked often, I'm setting up this page so that, if you have the same question, you won't have to wait for an email response to get an answer. If this doesn't answer your concern, use the comment form at the bottom of the page, and give me a day or two to get back to you.(Unless I'm in the midst of book fair or an author visit, and then it might be a little bit longer!)
Question: Thank you for your great ideas and I'm looking forward to your book. When is your book coming out? I would love to buy it and incorporate some of your ideas in my library.
Answer: My book, The Centered School Library, is now available online from Upstart. It provides complete instruction for 12 different library skills centers, each with several variations, literature connections, and links to whole-group lesson ideas. These library centers are simple and work with multiple grade levels.
Question: Your site has been a treasure of a find for me. Perhaps you could help figure out the answer to this question...do you allow the students to choose a center more than once or do you change them each time they visit?
Answer: At my school library, each class visits once per week as a group to check out books. I change my library centers every Friday afternoon so that they will be new for every class visit.
During the week I plan and gather my materials so that I can make the switch pretty quickly after school gets out on Friday. Occasionally a center stays for more than a week. For example, when we were working on the Wimpy Kid 200-piece puzzle, it took us all of two weeks to finish it.
Question: How much time do you have for centers? Do you do a story first then centers and checkout? How long do you have your classes when you do centers and do you also do checkout during this time?
Answer: As I said, at the school I'm in now, each class visits for 20 minutes, once per week to check out books. I begin our time with a 2-3 minute mini-lesson, which might be an introduction to a new library center. Then the students who can't check out (forgot their books, lost a book) go straight to centers. The rest of the students check out their books first, then go to a center until it's time to leave.
I've also used centers at a fourth and fifth grade campus of about 400 when I was on the "specials" rotation and had every class for 45 minutes once a week. On that schedule, I taught a 15-20 minute lesson first (read-aloud, Dewey scavenger hunt, online databases, etc.) and then students went either to centers or checkout, then centers.
Question: I had a problem with switching the centers for each grade that came in next (I have 5th then 2nd back-to-back so very time-consuming). Anyways, my question is this: do you have the same center topics for each grade and just change the level/difficulty of the work?
Answer: I do NOT change centers for different grade levels. That would be way too much work! Like all of you, I have a busy day with all different grade levels in and out of the library.
I try to design each center to be multilevel, 1st through 5th grade. I do a whole different activity with my kindergarteners. For example, if the activity is observing an animal, 1st through 5th can do this, but I would expect the 5th graders to write higher-level observations.
In the puzzle center, the 5th graders like being able to assemble a 24-piece puzzle before they leave, while the 1st graders may only fit a few pieces in during their library time. I do dis-assemble completed puzzles in between class visits, so that more students get the satisfaction of completing it.
Listening center is loved by all ages. I think the fourth and fifth graders get a kick out of it because no one reads aloud to them any more. All age levels can press "play" and "stop" buttons.
If a center is too easy or too hard for a particular student, he or she just moves on to another. That's how it works for me!
Question: Do you use different topics for each grade depending on what their teachers are teaching that month?
Answer: As I said above, I do NOT change library centers for each grade level. But, often more than one grade level is studying the same science topic (like soil) at the same time. I look at the pacing guides for our classroom teachers, and when I see that happen, I try to design a center for that topic, to reinforce classroom instruction.
Question: When I've brought up the idea of using library centers with the teachers in the upper grades, many of them ask me,"but how/when will my kids learn how to do research?" Have you encountered this situation at all, or is your library media curriculum not heavily centered around research projects?
As you know, a research project is made up of many skills. You might, for example, introduce your subscription databases to your students by direct instruction, then create a library center with a trivia question contest to let them practice that skill. The library centers allow you to provide your students with additional practice in the skills you are teaching them.
Those huge projects can be broken down into smaller components, and centers can provide independent practice in those skills. To me, that's a better way to do research, in small steps, allowing the new skills to be learned and practiced, instead of doing one huge research project for a couple of weeks, then ignoring it the rest of the year. You can use library centers to practice those component skills, and show that they can be applied in other contexts.
Question: What do you mean by a Level 1 Voice?
Our school uses the CHAMPS program for behavior management. In that program, you have signs letting students know what the appropriate conversation level is for each activity. There is a cute sign which summarizes the voice levels here.
As you can see from this chart, voice level 1 is a whisper. Our students know that this is the expected conversation level in our library. They don't have to be silent; in fact, I want them to discuss books with each other. But when I'm teaching a lesson in one part of the library, several students can't be talking with a normal voice in another. That would be disruptive. Whenever I make a sign stating the expectations for a learning center, I include "Level 1 Voice" in the instructions, as a reminder.
Question: Do you allow students to change centers once they have chosen one? I could see where Kinder or 1st graders might want to move about to other centers. This might become chaotic and defeat the purpose of them having something "quiet" to do while learning. How does that work?
I do allow students to change centers. Sometimes it takes them (especially the younger ones) a few minutes to figure out what's going on at a center and whether that's an activity they want to participate in. I'm not giving them a grade on their work station activities. As long as they are whispering and walking, not disturbing others, I don't mind if they move around. I feel like after they've been sitting in class, the freedom to move around might be just what they need.
If you have more questions, comments, or ideas to share, please contact me with a comment! I would be glad to smooth the way for learning centers in YOUR library!