Creating a Culture of Literacy
Where can you find a room that houses computers, teaching spaces, books, and interactive white boards, as well as students making mummies, learning secret codes, debating the Elgin Marbles controversy, and viewing video clips of exotic animals? The Windward School libraries!
The libraries of today look and function very differently from those of even the recent past. The Internet and the availability of vast amounts of information at a click have forced school libraries to redefine how they function. The libraries of The Windward School have evolved into much more than a welcoming and quiet place to read, research, or borrow a book. Each library is charged with the mission to “provide appropriate and quality reading material and an excellent instructional program for children with language-based learning disabilities.”
Aside from being home to more than 30,000 books across all three campuses, The Windward School libraries are the largest multimedia classrooms on each campus. Each library is equipped with carefully chosen literature, modern technology, and valuable resources for research. The library collections, instructional curriculum, and library-related activities are integrated into all aspects of the School community. The resources, design, and programming of the library not only create a unique instructional program but also further the library’s mission beyond its walls.
A Unique Library Program
Windward libraries are unique; they are teaching libraries that support the Windward academic program. Library teachers, experts in Windward’s instructional strategies, present lessons that review concepts, strategies, and topics taught in all the content areas. The library program provides opportunities for students to find appropriate materials, practice the skills and strategies learned in the classroom, develop reading fluency, and pursue independent reading. The librarians collaborate with the director of language arts and curriculum, curriculum coordinators, and teachers to ensure that books, periodicals, reference sources, and databases cover all the content areas and support a culturally diverse curriculum.
Classroom and library teachers collaborate to take a topic beyond what is taught in class. Special projects linked to the curriculum are researched, and the students participate in related high-interest activities. For example, the second-grade students study communities in social studies. The culminating project is to study service animals and the contributions service dogs and seeing-eye dogs provide to communities. Third graders study countries from each continent, and in the library they learn about various aspects of each country’s culture. The fourth grade delves into research about New York, and students present their findings to their peers and teachers. Fifth graders learn about how secret messages were transmitted during the Revolutionary War and are then given the opportunity to create their own secret messages using lemon juice. While studying China, students receive an introduction to Chinese logograms, learn some of the meanings behind the symbols, and practice writing the graphics. When learning about Ancient Egypt and the mummification process, sixth-grade students utilize the library database to locate articles on mummification and then use a modified process to mummify their own apples. Students in the seventh, eighth, and ninth grades discover how to assess the reliability of a website by critically evaluating various online sources and learn to write and cite research papers on a variety of thought-provoking topics.
The library program is carefully sequenced, so students are able to build upon skills learned in the previous grade. In the lower school libraries, led by Ms. Joan Girardi and Ms. Helen Prichett, students begin the library program in first and second grade by learning basic library terminology (fiction, non-fiction, biography, etc.). In third and fourth grade, students study call numbers to help them navigate through the library. They also become familiar with the search databases and learn how to find books not only to read and enjoy but also to help them prepare for future research projects as they move up in grade.
The direct-instruction model continues in the middle schools with Ms. Prichett in Manhattan and with Ms. Stephanie Dunn, Supervisor of Library Services, in Westchester. Students learn how to build upon previously taught lessons in order to share research projects in PowerPoint and oral presentations. During their middle school years, students are introduced to website research by finding appropriate sources online. They analyze digital literature to review content, identify authors, and determine their legitimacy. The amount of information found online is vast, and the skills required to obtain quality information need to be taught explicitly.
“There will be times when students need to use search engines, so there’s a lot of discussion during library class on what’s reliable and what’s trustworthy,” says Ms. Dunn. “We want to help students be critical thinkers and know when to trust the sources they are using.”
Windward library teachers are essential to helping students learn how to evaluate and synthesize information from the many sources available. Students who understand and are able to use research tools wisely will have an advantage as they go on in their academic career.
“Libraries are more relevant today than ever due to the quantity of information that students are bombarded with on a daily basis,” states Ms. Dunn. “Our libraries house reliable
resources, and we provide direct instruction on how to access and evaluate various sources that students might find on their own.”
Book Fair, Author Visits, and More
To further build upon the libraries’ culture of reading, researching, problem-solving, creating, and learning, the Windward Parents Association orchestrates a three-day book fair on all three campuses during the November parent/teacher conferences.
Aside from curating the available reading selections, the librarians also assist students in picking out books. Students are able to develop a wish list for their parents or guardians to pick up books they have selected, and there are even a few titles for adults to add to their own reading lists.
In the spring of each year, distinguished children’s authors or illustrators visit the students. Prior to an author’s visit, school librarians thoroughly prepare students for each presentation. Students read their visiting author’s books, discuss the research that has gone into writing them, and prepare questions to ask the author. As a result of this process, the students are immersed in reading as a community due to a positive and informed experience with the author or illustrator.
Meghan McCarthy, author and illustrator of nonfiction picture books including Pop!: The Invention of Bubble Gum and The Astronaut Handbook, spoke to Westchester Lower School students about how her career came to be. She shared that despite encountering obstacles both in school and in her early career, she persevered with hard work and ultimately achieved what she thought was unattainable: the publication of her own books for children. She gave an interactive presentation and engaged the students by showing her unique illustrations, playing a video from her art school graduation, explaining how a book is printed, and inviting students to participate in a live drawing. To cap off this special day, each student received an autographed copy of The Astronaut Handbook.
Manhattan Lower and Middle School students and Westchester Middle School students received visits from award-winning author Doreen Rappaport. She shared how she had become an author of 48 nonfiction and historical fiction books. Students in the lower school received an autographed copy of Martin’s Big Words. During her presentation, Ms. Rappaport had the students on the edges of their seats, telling them about her experiences teaching in a Freedom School in Mississippi and developing a passion for storytelling. She shared her writing process and reminded the students how lucky they are to have teachers as editors to work with on a daily basis.
Windward librarians are curators of the library collections and resources. “I like to think of librarians as ‘information curators,’” says Ms. Prichett. “It is our job to gather and acquire reliable and trustworthy resources and then help students develop the critical thinking skills they need to make sense of that information.”
The library staff members at The Windward School not only maintain, expand, and curate the School’s print and digital collections but also embody the connection between resources and students. Through creating multisensory lesson plans, recommending and sourcing books based on students’ interests, and hosting engaging programs and activities, the librarians create a culture of literacy by helping students acquire new knowledge and a curiosity about the world around them.
The Windward libraries have been designed to foster collaboration, exploration, research, and exposure to new ideas and places. As the most visited place on each campus, the library staff members are regularly updating their spaces. In 2014, the Westchester Middle School library was remodeled to include an enhanced book collection, a media center, a recess and study area, and a new self-contained classroom complete with SMARTdesks and interactive white boards. The new Manhattan library center houses both the lower and middle school libraries with dedicated spaces for teaching, a resource center, and computers. The Westchester Lower School library also includes a dedicated space for direct-instruction teaching and features an interactive white board. It is the original library of The Windward School library system and includes a bank of computers utilized by fourth graders. Books on display throughout this bright space are inviting ways to showcase what’s new to the collection and encourage students to check out books to read.
New Items Debut for 2017-2018 School Year
For the 2017-2018 school year, new library items will debut. On all three campuses, graphic novels and audiobooks will be added to the library collections. While these are not part of Windward students’ curriculum, they are types of books that students enjoy reading for pleasure, and they support the library’s goal to encourage a life-long love of reading. In addition, since many students commute long distances to school, they will have the ability to check out an audiobook for their daily commute.
The Westchester Middle School campus library will host a pilot program by adding iPads for students to search the library’s online card catalog, enabling students to locate books without having to write down or remember call numbers. In addition, students will be able to visually verify that the book they found in the stacks is the book they are looking up in the online catalog. If the pilot program is a success, research iPads will be installed in the Manhattan Middle School library at a later date.
The Windward School libraries continue to evolve to meet the needs of students and faculty members. While an intellectual hum has replaced the shushed quietness of these centers of learning, the libraries remain places that cultivate student engagement, curiosity, and excitement about new knowledge.