On Tuesday, April 26, 2016, I drove I-71 north to Ford Intermediate School, one of seven schools in the Berea City School District and the only intermediate school. With 950 fifth and sixth graders, Ford Intermediate School’s Library is teeming with activity and school librarian, Gayle Schmuhl, is in the center of it as I walk into the library. Today, Gayle is collaborating with ELL teacher, Karen Griglak on a guided inquiry project that focuses on endangered animals.
Discover the World at Your Library, the poster that graces the entrance, reveals a lot about the rich learning environment Gayle is actively creating. Remodeled in 1994, the library has three computer labs with multiple desktop computers for student use. In the far corner, the former reference and non-fiction area is now a computer room with many desktop computers as well as an open area with tables, chairs, and an interactive whiteboard for instruction. Brightly colored posters surround the library’s walls. With testing over, the focus is now on School Library Month activities. One of the activities encourages students to decorate a bulletin board with messages about why they love the library. Work had just started on this project with some students sitting around a table filled with crayons, colored pencils, markers, and paper hearts and Ms. Lawson, the Library Assistant, posting the finished messages to the bulletin board.
All hands on deck when it comes to reading. Reading is everywhere and that is evident by the number of book displays situated prominently throughout the space – books by popular YA author James Dashner fill a dystopian- decorated display case; “Un-wrap a book – Read;” and “Take One – Leave One.” “Take One – Leave One,” is an active way for the library to encourage “re-use” as it enables students to bring in a book they no longer want and exchange it for a new book. The Greg Heffley (Diary of a Whimpy Kid) Contest, in honor of School Library Month, is another brainchild of Gayle’s to excite fifth and sixth graders about reading. Students decide whether Greg Heffley would prefer the Captain Underpants series or Harry Potter. Harry Potter was the winner. In addition to books, the library has an array of magazines that appeal to middle school students such as Girl’s Life, Boy’s Life, National Geographic KIDS and a well-organized workroom with back issues of magazines for students and teachers.
Among the fun spots to visit in the library is the Lego Wall of Fame. Students participating in an after school Lego Club build creations and then get the opportunity to showcase them in the Hall of Fame for others to see.
Schmuhl recently began genre-fying Ford’s fiction collection. Most of the fiction collection is now organized into genres such as historical fiction, mystery, sports, animal, humor, short story, fantasy, science fiction, Newbery Award and classics. As Gayle explains, with the ELL Reading and Writing Workshop model each child is encouraged to self-select the book(s) he/she wants. “Because children read across many genres, tying the collection into the classroom makes sense,” says Gayle. She smiles, points to the colorful posters and says “and I can return to teaching about genres.”
An educator for 33 years, Gayle comes from a family of educators. Results of a career inventory that she took in seventh grade indicated “be a detective, love to do research.” This coupled with earning a Girl Scout badge in repairing books led her to decide on a career as a school librarian in the Keystone and now Berea school districts. Gayle serves as the Berea City School District’s district library chairperson.
When I ask Gayle about her instructional role, she explains how she is using Guided Inquiry to transform learning for students. The most recent project is in collaboration with an ELL teacher, Karen Griglak (fifth grade). Gayle uses Google Classroom for this project about endangered animals. I observe Gayle and the students as she begins the project with a video about endangered animals to encourage questions. To immerse the students (Step 2), Gayle selects an A-Z endangered animals website to include among the resources in the Google Classroom. For the create step, Gayle directs students to three different sites – World Book, SIRS Discoverer, and Kid’s Planet (Species Animal Fact Sheet). For the create and share step, the guiding question is “How can I help save endangered animals?” Students post their responses. Students will also write a short informational paragraph on their particular endangered animal.
The sixth grade Guided Inquiry project centers around careers. Gayle refers to it as the “Linked-In Project.” To begin, Gayle created a LiveBinder in Google Classroom. LiveBinders is a site where educators can curate resources for their classrooms such as websites, images, videos and even their own resources. To open the question, students watch videos on a variety of careers. To immerse and explore, students search Linked-In using search parameters related to the career they would like to explore. As a result of the first two steps, students are now able to identify interesting questions that they would like to explore in more depth, Using books and resources such as Princeton Review, Bureau of Labor Statistics Career Exploration, and college lists by major, students are now ready to cite their sources using Citing is X-Citing and Easy Bib. The culminating project is a TED Talk where students use the TED talk format to present their own ideas about their career choice. For example, one very creative student talked about why he isn’t going to become an anesthesiologist.
As we finish our interview, Gayle identifies the biggest challenge for school librarians and that is having school districts and parents value the work that we do. We need to “keep the profession going and not have it morph into technology.” While at Ford Intermediate School, two teachers spoke to me about collaborating with Gayle and the ways in which Gayle’s approach to instruction has transformed learning for their students.
You can follow Gayle on Twitter @gschmuhl.
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