Monday, January 2, 2017

Stations Provide Choice and Exploration During Book Checkout

How Stations Can Provide Choice & Exploration During Book Checkout, While Reinforcing Curriculum Goals. 

Osmo Tangram Station
On a typical day in the library, our K-2 students spend the last 10-15 minutes of their 30-minute library class freely checking out books. Since transitioning from a classroom middle school teacher to elementary library media specialist last year, I often struggled with how to engage some reluctant students during this flexible time. While most students used this time to locate and read books, inevitably a handful of students in each class would forget to return a book (which prevents them from checking out a new one). Others sought to play hide and seek in the stacks, or watched the clock until this time ended. My classes share the space with a second media specialist's class, resulting in upwards of 45 students using the space at a time for checkout. This can pose some real management problems if the students are not engaged. Given our situation, the other media specialist, Erica, and I began to explore how we could incorporate open choice stations during book checkout time. These stations, which would be aligned with our learning commons curriculum goals, would engage students through free choice and exploration.

We rolled out stations with little to announcement or instruction:
An hour of code computer station ( 6 computers)
We decided to roll out the stations over the period of a couple months, with little to no announcements or fanfare each time a new one was introduced. By taking our time with introducing the stations, we were able to see how the students engaged with them, allowing us to plan considerations for future stations. By providing little to no introductions, we attempted to prevent large groups of students from simultaneously flocking to a new station during book checkout.  We also wanted students to take ownership of how they engaged with the stations, and to learn independently through exploration. My inspiration for this approach was the "hole in the wall" in New Dehli, where Sugata Mitra learned that children working in groups could teach themselves to use a computer without any formal instruction.

Listening Station (1 of 3)
Our first stations were simple and aligned with literature appreciation:
Our first stations to be introduced were the "Readbox" and listening stations. The Readbox had been introduced last year as the only station during book checkout (link to blog post). At this station, students can scan a QR code next to a book to view a 30 second ChatterPix review of it created by a peer. At our listening stations, students in groups could read along with a book on a tape. Along with providing comfortable bean bag chairs for quiet reading, we saw an immediate transformation in how students engaged during book checkout time. The need to manage student behavior during this free time dropped significantly. Students who forgot to return a book could immediately join a listening station or explore the Readbox. Other students who quickly found a book had choices to engage in if they wished to read it at a later time. 

Our Readbox of student created book reviews

1 of  3 quiet reading spaces

Students watching/reading along with Bookflix videos

After finding the students engaging well in the initial stations, we next introduced our final literature appreciation station - the Bookflix Station.  We logged a row of 6 computers on to the Scholastic Bookflix database. Initially we chose a specific Weston Woods video ahead of time for the students to watch, but quickly found that students learned from each other how to navigate the site and find the stories that interested them. After seeing our own "hole in the wall" experiment work we no longer selected the videos for students and allowed free choice.
Bookflix home page

After building a culture of engaging in free choice stations, our next ones involved greater use of technology and focused on collaboration, tech skills, and problem solving:

After a month of rolling out our various literature appreciation stations, we placed two Osmo Tangram stations in the library without any explanation. When groups of students inevitably found and flocked to these stations, we discussed common sense rules for taking turns, sharing, and collaborating.  These two Osmo stations became so popular, that we had to introduce a new rule to our stations - you must check out your book before engaging in a station. This rule helped prevent students from waiting until the last minute of library to check out their book (an unintended consequence of our stations that we hoped to avoid.) Given the success of the Osmo Tangram station, we added three new Osmo stations. This included one "Newton" station, and two Coding stations. While occasionally we will need to intervene in groups that struggle to take turns, I have been  incredibly impressed and thrilled by the level of collaboration and teamwork seen at these stations. Our final station to be introduced was during the Hour of Code week, when we logged another row of 6 computers on to Kodable. Again, we provided no instructions and allowed the students to explore and learn together. 

Osmo "Newton" Station

Our Takeaways:

It has been a wonderful experience watching the "hole in the wall" experiment succeed in our library learning commons.  By providing these free choices during book checkout, we have tapped into a significant amount of time each class to provide learning opportunities aligned with our program goals (literature appreciation, technology skills, digital citizenship, communication collaboration and innovation, and inquiry).  Students are excited to use the space and explore together, and while some students still choose to engage in off task behavior from time to time, these occurrences are significantly reduced. The balancing act at this point is to not detract from the experience of checking out books during this time. For the most part, we find that some students need simple reminders to find their book before engaging in a station. Whether it's avoiding large groups or having a diversity of interests, we also find that for the most part students tend to spread themselves well across the library without being assigned a specific station. Some students still decide to read quietly or together with friends on the bean bad chairs and not engage in any station.

In the week leading to our holiday break, a 1st grade student asked me if she had library class on December 23rd. When I asked why, she told me with a somber expression that her family was leaving for Disney World on the 23rd, and she didn't want to miss library. If for that student, her elementary school library can compete with Disney World for her interest, then I like where we are heading.

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